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Clay County shooters set their sites to win at state

July 11, 2011

Steady hands and a good eye are key when shooting a bow or rifle.

Saturday, four Clay County natives, Curtis Smith, Heather Wilson, Elizabeth Nolan and Kelsey Blackford, will put their nerves to the test when they take on the best in the state at the 2011 Mississippi 4-H Shooting Sports State Invitational. Smith and Nolan are shooting the compound bow while Blackford shoots recurve and Wilson will fire a
.22 rifle.

The two day competition, held at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Academy in Pearl, features archery, both compound and recurve, rifles, shotguns, pistols and muzzleloaders. The top four advance to the nationals next June.

Larry Smith, who is a volunteer instructor with the group, says he does it to give back to the community.

"Years ago, folks gave us a start," he said. "We have to give the kids the same start."

Curtis, Larry's son, has been shooting for the last four years and Larry says he has become a better shooter in that time frame. Curtis is a member of the Mississippi Bow Hunters Association and participates in weekly competitions across the state which help him prepare for shooting at 3D targets. Curtis, who shot a 262 out of 350 at his latest competition says he just loves to it.

"I like being out here doing it, it's something nice to do," he said. "Keeps you occupied in the summer."

Curtis has learned to shoot several different weapons including the .22 rifle, shotgun, .22 pistol and bow. This will be his second trip to the state championships after finishing 21st last year.

"I just keep coming back because I really enjoy it."

The competition is fairly simple as 4H coordinator Reid Nevins explained. Shooters move through the forest and aim at targets from a certain distance, before shooting 3D targets such as deer and bear. Archers then shoot in the JOAD (Junior Olympic Archery Development) FITA round where they shoot at targets from various distances.

Nolan, 15, has been shooting the compound bow for three years after trying to find a hobby to get into.

"I was looking for something to do other than horse back riding," she explained. "My mom looked into 4H and archery. It was really easy to pick up and learn." She's been consistent at competitions, winning first in her age group at every one she's entered.

"There are a lot of young girls that are great shooters," Larry said. "There's going to be a lot of good ones in Jackson this weekend. They really enjoy it."

Blackford, 17, has finally picked back up the sport she started a few years ago. She qualified for state after really working at it. She says she's never shot a compound bow and has found success shooting the recurve. Nevins said it's a lot harder than it looks.

"A compound bow has sights," he explained. "But with recurve, she needs a lot of instinct. It takes a lot of shooting to get an idea of what you have to do to hit the target every time."

Clay County 4H has grown every year since Nevins joined almost five years ago to almost 50 active youth. And they've had success in the field. This past April they brought home 30 medals at the district shooting competition in Blue Springs.

"When you see a 4H kid, you know they've been in 4H," Larry said. "They're not forced to do anything. They strive to out shoot one another and get better and better at it. They just take it upon their self. It's with everything in 4H."

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