U.S. International Skeet event returns to Red Eagle Skeet and Trap Club thanks to upgrade

By David Raines
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Posted 4/20/22

Imagine trying to hit a clay target flying almost twice the speed you're accustomed to at the skeet range. And you must start with your shotgun at a lowered position. That is what competitors at the …

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U.S. International Skeet event returns to Red Eagle Skeet and Trap Club thanks to upgrade

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Imagine trying to hit a clay target flying almost twice the speed you're accustomed to at the skeet range. And you must start with your shotgun at a lowered position. That is what competitors at the Marble City Cup at Red Eagle Skeet and Trap Club in Childersburg faced at the first U.S. International Skeet event held in Alabama in decades.

Thanks to a Pittman-Robertson grant through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, Red Eagle was able to upgrade its trap machines to be able to hold international skeet competitions at the range.

Marisa Futral, WFF's Hunter Education Coordinator, said these trap machines make Red Eagle the only range in Alabama where you can shoot Olympic-style targets.

"This gives Olympic hopefuls in Alabama and surrounding states a place to practice without having to fly across the country," Futral said. "WFF is excited to be able to offer this opportunity to its citizens by partnering with Red Eagle in this endeavor."

Angus MacGreigor, an international shooter and coach who is a fixture at Red Eagle, said WFF was asked four years ago to make an investment in the skeet and trap facility for the youth of Alabama.

"They did that," MacGreigor said. "They purchased the machines for us that have the ability to throw international and Olympic targets. They made that investment. The members of this club have worked their tails off to get the facilities up and running. From the stars and stripes in the paint, they've taken care of every detail to prepare for this competition. I think we have met the expectations of the state of Alabama. We hope to work even more with the state of Alabama to grow this into a world-class shooting facility."

MacGreigor said Red Eagle once had the capacity for international shoots several decades ago when the U.S. Army Marksmanship Team, based in Fort Benning, Ga., trained at the Childersburg facility.

"To have the competition here with a shooter who has just gotten off a plane from Peru for a World Cup competition, and the Army Marksmanship Unit is here, it's just phenomenal for Alabama," he said. "It is also phenomenal because of the junior shooters here.

These are our junior development kids, which this is all about. Now they have the opportunity to drive somewhere to see the best in the world competing. It's hard to run a marathon when you don't know where the finish line is. Now, they get to see the finish line and what's possible. To see the shooters we have here, some of whom will shoot in the Olympics, it's phenomenal for Red Eagle and for the junior development.

"Like I said three years ago at the 4-H State Championships, competitive shooting is a metaphor for life skills – the process required for desired outcomes. Seeing these top shooters with notebooks and working the process with their coaches, you do what you see, what you surround yourself with. I can't be more excited."

MacGreigor said he had conversations with Craig Hancock of Hancock Shooting Academy in Eatonton, Georgia, and other Olympic shooting coaches at the event to develop Red Eagle as a training site for young shooters.

"There's nobody here, other than myself, to teach these young shooters Olympic and international skeet," he said. "There are actually three shooters here, two from the state of Alaska that I developed, that are now on USA teams. To be able to have the coaching and clinics here in the future, they too can reach out and aspire to become an Olympian."

One of those Alaskan shooters was 16-year-old Sam Stewart from Anchorage, who donned a t-shirt and shorts on a blustery, cool day to shoot the competition.

"It's definitely a nice thing to come down to the South to get to practice," Stewart said. "I don't get the same opportunity back home. It's nice to get out of coats and pants."

After two years of shooting five-stand competitions, he was invited to join the Northern Lights shooting team, where he met MacGreigor.

"Angus came up to Alaska and introduced Sam to international skeet," said Sam's mom, Sonya. "It came naturally to him, and he's worked really hard to get to where he is now. He's also been working with Craig Hancock out of Georgia. Sam's been to 17 states to compete. It's been a great family experience to watch him develop and grow."

Sonya's heritage is Native Alaskan with lineage in the Sug'piaq and Yupik people. She narrated a documentary "Cannery Caretakers" that is available on YouTube.

"We grew up in a salmon fishing world in a village in Alaska," said Sonya, who dined on Alabama fried catfish for the first time at the Friday night meeting. "Now we're in the international skeet world. It's been a lot of fun. Sam likes to come to places where he doesn't have to wear a coat and gloves when he's shooting. Down here, he can shoot in a t-shirt."

Another one of those young shooters is 17-year-old Grace Fulton of Tucson, Arizona, who flew to the Marble City Cup after shooting in World Cup competition in Peru. Fulton said international skeet is definitely a demanding sport.

"It's also more repetitive than anything out here," Fulton said. "You're shooting the same two birds at every single station. The birds fly faster and farther. You also start with a lower mount at your waist."

After the shooter calls "pull," a zero- to 3-second delay occurs before the bird is released from the trap machine. Shooters can't move until the bird is released.

Fulton, who is the sixth-ranked female in international skeet in the nation, didn't immediately embrace the sport when she first started shooting.

"My dad got me into shooting," she said. "I got into shooting in 2019, and I hated it when I started. But now I love it. There's nothing I'd rather do more. I'm going to the Olympics in 2024 or 2028, that's the goal.

"I'm here (at Red Eagle) for the practice, experience and fun, and to take a break from the pressure of the bigger tournaments. I want to lay back and have fun."

Fulton not only had fun, but she also won gold medals in the junior and women's divisions, edging Faith Layne of Columbia, Tennessee, in both finals.

Former Olympic shooter and USA Shooting Team coach Todd Graves watched the shooters make the rounds at Red Eagle and remembered when he was in their shoes.

"I used to shoot here back in the late '80s and early '90s with Tommy McGilberry," said Graves, who won a bronze medal in skeet at the 2000 Olympics. "It just went away. We didn't have any international competitions here anymore. I live about 30 minutes north of Fort Benning, and I coached the Army team. It was great to have the international shoots here. To have a shoot here in Alabama helps a lot, especially with the young shooters. This is the first one, and I'm sure the next one will be even bigger."

Hancock, whose son, Vincent, won three Olympic gold medals and four gold medals at the World Championship, was also observing the young shooters and offering advice on the mental aspect of the competition.

"This is where our Olympian and World Cup shooters come from," Hancock said. "This is how we keep our pipeline full of athletes. This is a great club. They cater to youth in other shotgun sports. We're trying to bring the Olympic side to let them see what this looks like. This increases our talent pool."

McGilberry, a former Army team shooter who had the new Red Eagle Field 1 dedicated in his honor during a break in the competition, said having a facility that is capable of throwing international targets is a rarity.

"The Army team told me 20 years ago that they liked coming here because they didn't have to get on an airplane to shoot international," said McGilberry, who has been managing Red Eagle for the past 20 years. "They could leave Fort Benning and be in Childersburg in an hour and 45 minutes. Our history with the Army team goes back a long way.

"This is my hobby, my desire. I always wanted something like this to replace the old family farms. Most kids nowadays don't have anything like that. I grew up on a family farm. I realize now how lucky I was. This is the closest thing I can do to promote that lifestyle, to promote conservation, to promote responsibility and the Second Amendment in a club like this, where we have youth programs. We have the largest youth program in Alabama with 4-H and Scholastic."

Visit the Red Eagle Skeet and Trap Facebook page for tournament results.

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