Tuesday, July 12, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville youth dazzles at shooting event

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville trap shooter Ryan Bowen has been a standout with a shotgun for most of his life, but at last month’s Arkansas State Trapshooting Tournament that took place at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex, Bowen did something not even he had done before.

In the singles competition that took place June 25, Bowen was the lone participant in the sub-junior division to shoot two perfect rounds of 100, claiming first place in that competition.

The next day, June 26, Bowen hit 97 out of 100 targets in the doubles competition to claim first place in that category, and he finished second in the handicap round by blasting 96 out of 100 targets. With his stellar showing in all three categories, Bowen won the prestigious high all-around award to leave the tournament with handfuls of hardware.

Collecting trapshooting hardware isn’t anything new for the soon to be Jacksonville High School sophomore, but hitting 200-straight targets is. He was one of the handful there, out of the around 500 participants, to hit 200 targets in a row at the competition, and was just one of two in his age range to do it, and the only one from central Arkansas.

“That was actually my first time,” said Bowen. “I’ve shot numerous 100s (100 out of 100). I’ve shot 199 out of 200, but that was the first time I had ever shot 200.”

The singles competition consisted of two rounds of 100 targets. The trap shooters compete five at a time on one field, taking turns after each shot, so staying patient and maintaining focus is necessary to be successful. Bowen said he averages 98 out of 100 targets, but he said the fact that it was a meaningful tournament aided him in maintaining his focus through both lengthy singles rounds.

“That’s one of the key things is to keep your focus,” Bowen said. “It was a big deal. I was going for, and still am, to make the All-American team. So winning that, I would get points to be on the All-American team. So I really needed to win to be able to get points to make that accomplishment.”

It goes without saying Bowen, 15, is no novice when it comes to shooting. The first time he andhis father, Tom, had a good indication that he’d be pretty good at trap shooting was when Ryan was just 5 years old.

“Me and my dad one day, I wanted to go squirrel hunting,” Ryan said. “It was hot outside, but I wanted to go. So we went squirrel hunting. We didn’t kill anything, but we came back and my cousin had a one-arm skeet thrower. You just pull it back and you pull the string, and it threw the target.

“I had a .410 shotgun – I believe it’s a Remington .410. So we went over there and we shot, and my dad, he wanted to demonstrate to me how to do it. I pulled the string, he shot at it and he missed. And he did that again, and he missed. He said, ‘I’ll tell you what, it’s hot out here, we’ll just shoot till you miss.’ And I ended up shooting 18 targets straight at 5 years old, and then I missed my 19th.”

Bowen was a natural.

“Well, ever since that day, yeah,” said Tom Bowen. “I knew there was something to it, and I wasn’t (originally) going to go over there and do it. He was like, ‘let’s go over there and do it.’ I was like, ‘man, it’s too hard, dude.’ There ain’t no way. And he kept on, and I was like, alright, it ain’t gonna hurt nothing. We’ll go try it and give it a whirl.

“Yeah, it blew me away. About that first three or four, I was like, well, beginner’s luck. But he just kept on doing it, with a .410, no less.”

Bowen’s first shooting competitions came when he was 9 years old at the nearby 4H club. While there, he came across the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program, which is sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The AYSSP is the program that features high school events, but participants can join once they reach sixth grade.

Bowen joined AYSSP as soon as he was able, and did the same with the Amateur Trap Association (ATA) and Academics, Integrity and Marksmanship (AIM) programs, which are the programs associated with the Arkansas State Shooting Tournament that took place last month.

The benefits of getting involved in ATA and AIM are getting the opportunity to compete more than would be available through just AYSSP.

“We wanted to compete more and shoot more, so we went on to ATA and AIM,” Ryan Bowen said.

Getting to 200 targets in a row has been a steady climb for Bowen. His first year of competitions, at age 12, he remembers it being a big deal hitting 25 targets in a row. And, of course, he only got better and better with time and practice.

He eclipsed the 50 and 75 targets in a row mark in the same day, and during the 2014-15 shooting season, he hit 100 targets in a row for the first time in ATA competition.

Bowen competed in the ATA’s Missouri State Shooting Tournament in late May, and he hit 199 out of 200 targets in that singles competition, and finished sixth overall out of close to 600 people, and that includes all ages.

This shooting season alone, which takes place from Sept. 1, 2015 through Aug. 31, Bowen has competed in over 20 ATA competitions across the state and surrounding area, and said he doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

“I hope I can do it for the rest of my life,” Bowen said. “I do plan on going to college, and hopefully, I can go to a college that has a shooting team so I’ll be able to do it while I’m in school, you know. But I definitely don’t want to stop.”

Bowen’s next shooting competition will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the AGFC Shooting Sports Complex in the Southwestern Zone Shoot, which will feature shooters from eight states.

At last year’s Southwestern Zone Shoot, Bowen was the only one in his division, out of all eight states competing, to hit all 100 targets in the singles round.

As far as what Bowen said he enjoyed most about the sport, he said it was about a lot more than just going out and shooting.

“I like hanging out with all my friends and family,” Bowen said with a smile, “getting here and having a good time. Because it really and truly is a good time to come out here. For other people that aren’t into the sport, it might just look like you’re just sitting around, talking and shooting guns, but it really is just fun for all age groups.”

There’s one other thing Bowen added.

“And definitely, winning’s a bonus.”