Certified instructors Bob Burton (left) and Bob Arnold (right) lead the shooting sports program for Walworth County 4H. Two of their students, brothers Cole (second from left) and Jack Flitcroft, of Elkhorn, recently competed at the national level in the air pistol discipline with Jack winning the bullseye event. (Heather Ruenz photo)

Brothers represent Wisconsin at national 4H shooting competition

By Heather Ruenz

SLN staff

The Flitcroft brothers – Jack and Cole – have been involved in shooting sports since third grade but recently took their skills to the next level as part of the Wisconsin team at the 4H National Shooting Sports Competition in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The boys credit a consistent practice schedule and their coaches – Bob Arnold, Bob Burton and Al Liseppon, shooting instructors with the Walworth County 4H Club – for their improvement in shooting, including Jack’s first-place finish at nationals.

“We tried to practice every night for an hour to an hour and a half, and two or three nights a week, Bob A. would come over,” Jack said.

“The Walworth County 4H Club holds two shooting practices a month, usually, so the one-on-one coaching really helped,” Cole added.

The road to nationals for Jack, a senior at Elkhorn Area High School, and Cole, a sophomore, began with state qualifying at invitational events hosted by different counties. The more invitationals a shooter competes at, the better chance they have at achieving a state ranking.

The top 10 ranked shooters in each discipline get first choice at what discipline they want to compete in at nationals. Each shooter can only shoot one discipline at nationals and cannot shoot the same discipline at nationals again.

Though both of them shot small-bore pistol, rifle and air pistol at the county and state levels, in air pistol, Jack was ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin, Cole, No. 2 so they earned first choice at shooting air pistol at nationals, which is what they chose.

“I’ve always been better at air pistol so focused on that for the past two years to really try and take it to the next level,” Jack said.

“I didn’t really shoot air pistol prior to state so was surprised to rank second. I decided to do it because Jack was,” Cole said.

“Cole is a really good shot,” Jack said.

“I told Jack he had to do well because Cole was right on his tail,” Arnold added.

Arnold explained that in air pistol, competitors shoot from 10 meters, or about 33 feet, at an x-ring about the size of a small pea.

“They have to stand up and shoot one-handed with no support,” Arnold said.

Jack and Cole said many things play into shooting accurately.

“For pistol, it’s so many things… the angle of your feet and body, hand placement and even breathing technique,” Cole said.

“In addition, your heart rate increases which can trigger pulses in your finger,” Jack explained.


The big event

At the national competition, held the last week of June, there are nine different discipline state teams consisting of up to four members for each team. This year, 712 kids from 36 states competed.

“Many of the kids that compete are on Jr. Olympic, USA Shooting, D-1 collegiate teams or striving for a D-1 scholarship. There are several states that compete year round and host kids with incredible shooting skills. To say the least, it’s highly competitive,” Kim Flitcroft, Jack and Cole’s mom, said.

Jack and Cole shot air pistol three different ways: rapid fire, silhouettes and bullseye (the main event.) Jack placed 11th in rapid fire, missing a top 10 award by two points, and first in bullseye with a score of 360 out of 400 before the shoot off. Cole placed 21st and 23rd respectively, out of 57 competitors.

In the bullseye shoot off, the top eight shooters from the initial round compete for the final placing.

“The finalists all had five seconds to load a pellet in their air pistols and then had 50 seconds to shoot. Jack also had to manually move a long lever to pressurize his air cylinder whereas all the other shooters had different makes of air guns that did this automatically. Consequently, Jack was the last to shoot each shot. The crowd was told of the shot values and running totals after each shot. They clapped, hollered and made noise that naturally hindered Jack’s ability to concentrate – and the second place shooter was gaining,” Arnold said.

“On the 10th shot, Jack shot a perfect 10X and the second place shooter a 5, with Jack winning. What a finish!” Arnold added.

Air Pistol Team Wisconsin – comprised of Jack and Cole along with Meggan Daniels and Brady Cebulla, from Pierce County, placed fifth out of 16 teams in bullseye.

Jack and Cole said wisdom from Arnold stays with them when they’re shooting.

“He taught us that if you have anything other than a good feeling to pull the gun down and try again. Also, you’re not making the gun go off, you’re squeezing the trigger and you know where your sites are lined up,” Cole said.

“I had a pump gun so they all got their shots off before me and they’re all screaming behind me. Bob A. always drills into us, ‘don’t worry about what other people shoot; focus on how you shoot,’” Jack said.


Safety the top priority

Arnold and Burton said when working with kids in shooting sports, safety is the top priority.

“We get kids coming into this in the third grade. We tell parents, safety first and every time. We’ll make sure the kids have fun but if they want to be good at it, we’ll work with them more,” Burton said.

“As a parent, I was very happy to see that safety was the most important thing, everywhere we went,” Kim Flitcroft, said.

Burton said Walworth County is one of the strongest “in the state for shooting sports with all the disciplines.”

The instructors volunteer their time and are certified.

“Our rules are simple: safety – every time; fun; marksmanship… in that order,” Burton said.

Arnold, who is 85, is quite the marksman himself, though he’s humble about it. He started shooting pistol when he was in the Army and stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, and then went to the Fifth Army Pistol Team.

“All I did that summer was shoot pistols. I also have a Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge with the Civilian Marksmanship Program,” Arnold said.

“Bob is very humble but on a good day for me and a bad day for him, he’d still out-shoot me,” Burton said.

“We are so blessed in this county with these guys who volunteer their time and get certified. I kick myself for not knowing about it earlier and not getting my older kids involved,” Kim Flitcroft said.

“The county owns air pistols so kids don’t need to own one initially. If they’re going to be competing regularly, they’ll want to get one but the club can help them get a good gun at the best price,” Arnold said.

Any kid who is a member of their local 4H club can take part in county 4H events, including shooting sports.

“You don’t have to be 7 feet tall and 340 pounds to do it,” Arnold said.

“Other kids may see this and think I was really good but that wasn’t always the case. I realized I could get better so put time in practicing and working with the coaches,” Jack said.

For more information about 4H clubs in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties visit 4h.uwex.edu.


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