Stephens County 4H Rifle Team earns first place in Telescopic Junior Division at State
By Jessica Waters
The Stephens County 4 H Rifle Team walked away from the State match this past weekend with the first place plaque in Telescopic Junior Division for the second year in a row, and brought home a number of individual awards from the competition. The rifle team is coached by Bruce Grant, Michael Mayo, and Stephanie Byrd.
Junior Team members: Bethany Byrd, Hayden Hosper, Haley Zigan, Lily Ware, JJ Ginn, Kylar Weaver, and Lucas Canady
State Winners in Open Sight Junior Division Individual class:
Bethany Byrd-1st place
Lily Ware-2nd place
Hayden Hosper-3rd place
State Winners in Telescopic Junior Division Individual Class:
Bethany Byrd-1st place
Three of this year’s team members, Bethany Byrd (junior team), Lucas Canady (junior team) and Lily Ware (junior team) were part of last year’s team that brought home first place. Kyler Weaver (senior team), JJ Ginn (senior team), Haley Zigan (junior team) and Hayden Hosper (junior team) are new to the team this year.
The Stephens County Rifle Team, coached by Mayo, Byrd and Grant, begins practice in October, with the season culminating in a challenging State Match in May at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center near Eatonton against teams from all over the state.
Grant said the team’s shooters put in long hours of practice and hard work, and learn both the technical skills required for accuracy and speed in shooting, but also the mental discipline and ability to think and reason that makes up the bulk of the learning process.
He said “There are basically six steps in being able to make the shot, and any of those six steps will mess up that process. So i think one of the biggest issues they have is this is really a mental game, People don’t think it is. You have to have a certain amount of muscle tone, but to make all six of those steps work, you have to use your mind. If something is not going exactly right, if your bullets aren’t hitting that paper where it’s supposed to be, then you have to figure out what is going on. Position – whether you are jerking your trigger, whether you’re not focused, whether you need to rotate half an inch in one direction or another – I think the biggest challenge is teaching them to learn to think.”
The Stephens County team includes shooters from Stephens, Habersham and Franklin County, due to the fact that neither Habersham or Franklin county 4-H programs offer rifle team programs.
“The way the system works in 4-H is that if a 4-H program doesn’t have your specific activity, you can cross enroll in another county. So if Franklin County decided they wanted to start a rimfire sporter team, we would lose one of our shooters,” said Grant.
He added that they are glad to be able to offer the opportunity to shooters from neighboring counties, and that all three coaches spend a large amount of time with the team, and have established a successful coaching system, and a very generous group of local and national supporters.
In addition to the technical shooting skills, and the critical logical-thinking and problem-solving skills taught by the sport, Grant said he sees an increase in confidence in each team member over the duration of the season, and that many times, participants in the sport include kids who would not be involved in other sports.
“One of the things we have found is, a lot of the kids we’re seeing are kids that don’t want to, or can’t participate in other sports. They may not be big enough or strong enough or fast enough to play some other sports. But you don’t have to do all those things here. So we have a number of kids here that wouldn’t be doing something else,” he said.
Due to the support from local sponsors, fundraising efforts, and national support from the NRA, the Stephens County team is able to also give opportunities to shooters who may not be able to afford the expense of participation.
“We have enough very generous supporters that we could outfit 12 complete shooters, almost enough to do 14,” Grant said. “A kid could come here and mom and dad say they don’t want to spend $350 on a rifle because they don’t know if their child will stick with the sport, or can’t afford the $800 to outfit their child – we can put a rifle in that kid’s hands.”
Grant said the team had shot nearly 21,000 rounds of ammunition during the 2023 season, and local supporters had funded that ammunition.
“We are not a three-month program, we start in October and shoot until May; that’s a big commitment. We started with 12 shooters and ended up with seven this year,” he said. “We’re hoping to have 12 or 14 shooters next year, and if we do, we have 45,000 rounds of ammunition to start next year with because of generous donors,” he added.
There are rewards for working hard in the sport, outside of championship wins and local pride, and those rewards can include college scholarships, just like with many other high school sports programs, Grant said, adding that the talent on the current Stephens County Rifle Team is exemplary, and may qualify students for future rewards.
“We have one shooter right now, I wish we could pair him up with a better coach than me because I think he could have a shot at an Olympic bid, possibly,” Grant said. “And there are at least three that are shooting that could maybe get college scholarships.”
The Stephens County Rifle Team will hold an activity day in August to give interested students the opportunity to learn about the team and the sport.
To find out more about local 4-H activities and opportunities, visit https://extension.uga.edu/county-offices/stephens/4-h-youth-development.html.
To find out more about the 4-H Rifle team program, visit Project SAFE Shooting Sports – Georgia 4-H.