VANOSS — Mason Laxton and Jesse Mowdy became the first Pontotoc County shooters to make the 4H All-State Shooting Sports Team, Shotgun Division, under the new all star selection format.

This new format ranks individual shooters by their total scores at three separate state level competitions and then selects the top four combined scores as the All-State team. The fifth place shooter is appointed as the Alternate All-State team member. The All-State team will represent Oklahoma at the national 4-H competition which will be held in Grand Island, Nebraska from June 23-25 next summer.

Mason, a junior at Vanoss, finished in a two way tie for first place in this process and Jesse (a Vanoss ninth-grader) finished just one point out of the top four to be named to the alternate position. If one of the top four shooters can not attend the national competition, Jesse will move up and take their spot on the team. Cason Laxton (another VHS freshman) also finished a very respectful 10th this year. This is only the second year of the new selection format and both Mason and Jesse came close to making the team before. Last year, Mason finished 8th overall in the state, and Jesse finished 13th. Although Cason’s combined skeet and trap score qualified him in the top 25, he was not invited to the final leg of the state tryouts last year due to the minimum age requirement of 14. Once achieving the All-State team, a shooter may not participate at nationals again in their high school career so this is truly a once in a lifetime achievement for these young men.

Selection to this team started back in September with the first competition being held at the skeet ranges of Arcadia, OK for the state skeet shoot. At that shoot Mason shot a 42 out of 50, Jesse broke 40 and Cason broke 41. None of the shooters scored as high in this leg of the race as they normally do and felt they were going to have a bad year. The Pontotoc County Junior team of Kenzie Akers, Logan Scott, Chat Henry and Caleb Stone won 2nd place at Arcadia breaking their streak of 6 straight junior state championship team trophies. The only Pontotoc County shooter to place in the individual races was Chisum Henry who won 4th place in the 10-11 age group.

Next the Pontotoc County group headed to the trap fields of El Reno to compete in the state trap shoot during the month of October. No Pontotoc shooters placed either individually or as a team at this shoot. Mason shot a 41 out of 50 and Jesse had a great day with a 45 while Cason finished with 38. The state selection members then totaled all of the scores from the state skeet and trap competitions and invited only the top 25 shooters to the final event. After this second leg of the selection process Jesse was ranked 13th in the state and Mason was 17th. Cason was invited in the 21st spot.

The final leg of the selection process is the toughest and the three Pontotoc County kids really showed their stuff on this field. On Nov. 10, these three individuals participated at Guthrie’s Silver Leaf sporting clay ranges in the 5stand event. Any score above 30 in the final competition is considered good. Mason had the highest score of the day posting a whopping 39 out of 50 and moved from 17th place into a tie for first with his combined score of 122 out of 150. Jesse broke 34 out of 50 and moved from 13th up to 5th place with a combined 119 out of 150. Cason also had a good day posting a fine 32 out of 50 and moved all the way from 21st to 10th place with his combination score of 111.

The national competition differs from the state level in that the All-State team members will each shoot 100 rounds in each of the three competitions of skeet, trap and sporting clays for a combined possible score of 300 verses 50 rounds at the state level for a possible score of 150. In addition, the national 4-H competition coordinators are considering splitting the 100 rounds of 5-Stand sporting clays in to 50 rounds from 5-Stand and 50 Walk Throughs. The walk through sporting clays field at the Heartland Public Shooting Park in Grand Island, Nebraska covers 75 acres. Since Walk Through Sporting Clays are not a state competition the team will have to learn the art of this event and hopefully master it within the next seven months and travel to Guthrie each time.

The other three All-State team members are Derik Neill from Oklahoma County and Russell Staples and Greg Keller of Pawnee County. These three team members and Mason and Jesse will be meeting many times between now and June to practice and condition themselves to shooting 100 rounds at a time instead of 50 as well as spending time getting to know one another in the spirit of teamwork and one of the 4-H goals which is to promote our youth.

The team will shoot approximately 5,000 rounds of ammunition between now and June. During the three days in Nebraska they will shoot approximately 700-800 rounds between practices and competitions. Typically 35–40 states are represented at nationals each year.

Like many outdoors sports, competitions are canceled only if lightning is a possibility making this a true sporting event. In addition, shooters must not only possess a natural talent of hand-eye coordination, they must learn to manage it during personal illness and other emotions of life in general and teenage life as well as during unfavorable outdoor conditions that can effect the game.

Winds, especially high winds tend to grab the targets and send them out of the intended flight patterns associated with the specific event e.g. skeet, trap or sporting clays making higher scores harder to obtain. Shooters also have to deal with rain, heat and extreme cold which can effect a shooters’ vision and concentration as well hardware. Ammunition misfires and firearm malfunctions can cause a shooter to lose a point so shooters have to be prepared to deal with these issues on the field and make sure they have alternate ammunition and firearms with them. Having to switch firearms in the middle of a competition can be damaging to scores in that a major component of the game is using a firearm that fits the shooter physically. Learning and adjusting to an alternate firearm and or ammunition during a competition and still scoring high is truly a feat for anyone and these youth have learned that focus and coordination can help overcome these obstacles.

Firearm safety is one of the main goals of this program and our youth have learned and continue to learn the importance of it. This program helps to initiate respect for others, for the property of others, the outdoor elements and firearm safety all of which promote our youth, their families and our social environment in general.

The cost of firearms, ammunition and fuel for traveling is expensive so one of the reasons the Pontotoc County 4H shooters feel they traditionally do so well in the state level competitions is because of the support they receive from the NRA and the Ada Skeet and Trap Club. These kids get to practice more than most counties because the NRA donates ammo and spare guns for youth who do not have access to a firearm to use during the year through a “Friends of the NRA” grant. Also, the Ada Skeet and Trap Club provides them with a high quality place to practice and lots of support. Club members have always been gracious in their time, knowledge and resources for these young shooters. Without either of these organizations, they would surely miss out.

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