Brandon Hegert is making a practice of bucking the odds.
For it seems several things keep the 14-year-old from Port Angeles from his target, be it distance — his team practices more than 100 miles away — or experience — he’s into just his third year of shooting — or the simple reality that the human body does not keep absolutely still, particularly when the mind is racing, the pressure to be perfect is on and the team needs a good score.
Hegert’s bucking the odds the same way he and other good air rifle shooters practice their trade: quiet, alert and on target.
“I try to keep (my mind) blank,” Hegert says. “You have to stay focused.”
Hegert and members of the Capital City Junior Rifle Club team had plenty of focus this summer as they took the team title at the National Junior Olympic Three-Position Air Rifle Championship on July 11-12 in Alabama.
Hegert was one of only seven shooters to complete a perfect score in the prone (lying down) position during the event, helping his team top the Riverside Shooting Club of Michigan by 12 points and the Spalding County 4-H team from Georgia by 45 points.
Despite its popularity in some regions (Tumwater High School has a rifle club), Brandon’s father Kevin, a city of Sequim employee, says the sport isn’t nearly as popular as it used to be.
“It’s kind of a dying sport,” Kevin Hegert says. “It’s been nice to see (Brandon) come along. He’s excelled at it.”
For Hegert, the only member from Clallam County, the team win in Alabama is another in a series of promising competitions. The freshman-to-be has a number of solid finishes in events across Washington and Oregon, including a first-place finish in the Intermediate Juniors division at the National Rifle Association Junior Three-Position Air Rifle Sectional in Seattle on March 16; first in the Intermediate Juniors division at the NRA National Junior Indoor Sectional Air Rifle Championship at West Seattle Sportsman’s Club on March 1-2; and second in the Intermediate Juniors at the 2008 Pacific Northwest Schutzenfest & Washington State Outdoor NRA Three-Position Championship in Tacoma on May 31-June 1; and, in 2006, first in the “C” class at the Fall Schutzenfest in Tacoma.
But it doesn’t all come easy. Based in Olympia, the Capital City Junior Rifle Club practices twice a week and shoots year-round with an indoor season of October to April and the rest outdoors; Hegert can only make the 100 mile-plus trek once in a while. Though opportunities exist to shoot on the peninsula with 4-H clubs, Hegert wants to shoot in more events; hence, the long drive.
But once he’s shooting, all the details fade away — sort of.
“You can control the physical part by position and breathing,” the youth says, but the mental part remains the toughest. In practice, targets are 50 feet away, and slight movements with the .22-caliber rifle club members use can ruin a good score quickly.
In three-position air rifle events, competitors generally are challenged with a two-day sessions in the prone, kneel and stand positions with targets the size of a sheet of paper 33 feet from the shooters.
The prone position, Hegert notes, is the easiest, while kneeling is harder. Standing is the toughest, he says, and, “that’s where matches are won.”
The challenge is fun, Hegert says, and air rifle is particularly appealing in that, unlike many other sports, boy and girl shooters are often evenly matched, if not favoring the females. The numbers bear the truth: at the
Junior Olympic finals in Alabama, seven of the top nine individual shooters in the oldest age group (those born in 1989-1991) were females, including the top four.
Kevin Hegert says his son is learning more than just how to shoot a rifle.
“(He’s learned) discipline; it’s a sport where they have to watch what they eat, lift weights,” Kevin says.
The work paid off for Hegert and the rest of the Capital City Air Rifle Club team — Daniel Lowe of Olympia, Josh Pagel of University Place, Kyle Rebillion of Tacoma and alternate Jennifer Greeves of Lacey — as they racked up a three-day total of 4,655 points, topping the 21 other competing teams.
But Hegert isn’t satisfied. A win is nice, but is the Olympic Games a dream he’s chasing?
He thinks, shrugs and grins.
Quiet, Focused. And right on target.