When the 200 shooters in the Alabama 4-H State Shotgun Championship arrive in April at the Red Eagle Skeet and Trap Club on the outskirts of Childersburg, Alabama, those participants will be able to compete at one of the top shotgun shooting facilities in the South.
Because of its long history of working with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Hunter Safety Program, Red Eagle was able to partner with the Division to upgrade its facilities to international-level standards through the use of matching federal funds from the Pittman-Robertson Act.
For those not familiar with the Pittman-Robertson Act, it levies an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and hunting equipment. Funds from Pittman-Robertson go to states based on land mass and the number of hunting licenses sold. The funds are used for a variety of wildlife conservation efforts, hunter education and the development, maintenance and improvement to shooting ranges.
Red Eagle is a club open to the public with a mission of firearms safety and youth development. The facility is open to the public four days a week – Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Members have access to the facility seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Club Manager Tommy McGilberry said the club, formed in 1956, understands the contribution hunters make to the shooting sports, so they offer license holders a reduced fee structure due to this partnership with the Division.
“We let anyone who has an Alabama hunting license shoot here as a guest for only $1 more than members,” said McGilberry, who joined the club in 1974. “Members pay $5, and those with a hunting license pay $6. That’s quite an advantage for the people of Alabama to be able to come out here and shoot at a facility like this for a reasonable price.”
And for that low price, shooters can gain access to a world-class facility.
“Right now, we’re trying to come online with our bunker trap,” McGilberry said. “We’re trying to get the bunker dug to get that into operation. This will give somebody in Alabama the opportunity to start shooting in the 9th grade with the 4-H program and make it all the way to the Olympics with the equipment we have here. This will be the only place in Alabama with a bunker trap. The closest places now are Nashville, Fort Benning (Georgia) or Gainesville, Florida. Since we are centrally located, this will give Alabama a great asset for people to come here and shoot while they’re young.”
McGilberry, who served as a shooting coach in the U.S. Army and competed in international skeet from 1991 to 2003, said the shooting sports could be the perfect activity for those who don’t have the skills for other sports.
“All you have to have is hand-eye coordination and a place to practice,” he said. “If you’ve got the facility and you’ve got the talent, you can be an Olympian; you can be a champion.”
McGilberry was recruited by the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service to coordinate firearms safety instruction in the 4-H program. During McGilberry’s years, the program has expanded immensely from just firearms safety to intense competition. McGilberry worked with two interns during that process – Marisa Futral and Shannon Andress. Futral is now the Alabama WFF Hunter Education Coordinator and Andress is the coordinator for the Alabama 4-H Shooting Program.
Angus MacGreigor, an Alabama professor, coach of the Alabama Shotgun Shooting Team and competitor in international shooting, said the Pittman-Robertson funds have paid great dividends.
“As the 4-H program has grown, the club (Red Eagle) needed to grow as well,” MacGreigor said. “It needed to update its machinery so it could throw competition birds to train the shooters so they could go on to shoot the 4-H National Championships or for the Alabama or Auburn shooting teams or to shoot competitively around the world.”
The new machines are current, cutting-edge machines able to throw targets that meet national standards on six fields of skeet and three fields of trap.
“The return on the investment is that we have five 4-H teams that are training out of Red Eagle now,” MacGreigor said. “We are also the home of the Alabama 4-H State Shotgun Championship (April 17-19) with 200 shooters. The team that wins that championship will go on to the 4-H National Championships in Grand Island, Nebraska.”
Adam McNutt, who shoots for the St. Clair County team, competed in last year’s 4-H National Championships and finished in sixth place overall among 200 of the top high school shooters in the country.
McNutt, who signed to become a member of the Alabama Shotgun Shooting Team in January, joined Auburn Shotgun Shooting Team member Brian Lansdell for a round of practice last week.
Lansdell is the exception to the typical participant in the shooting sports. He has shown that a successful shooting career can start a little later in life.
“I’m a little different in that I come from a family that doesn’t like guns too much,” Lansdell said. “I didn’t even know about 4-H shooting. I shot a little bit, but I really didn’t start shooting until I got to Auburn. Even if you don’t grow up shooting, you can come to Auburn or Alabama, join a shooting team and get really good at it. I started out breaking from five to eight birds out of a round of 25. Now I’m shooting in the 90s (out of 100) in competition. As long as you get out there and practice, you can get good at anything you want to do. Being on the Auburn team is the best thing about going to Auburn for me. It’s a great group of guys and girls to hang out with and represent the school in something you love to do. It’s a ton of fun.”
McNutt, on the other hand, started shooting when he was in the fifth grade.
“We had a 4-H representative come to school and talk to us about 4-H,” McNutt said. “When you think about 4-H, you think about livestock shows and stuff like that. But they happened to mention a shotgun program. Coming up shooting birds and hunting, I thought that was interesting.”
A four-man team was formed, and the shooters excelled to the point of competing on the national level.
After signing with Alabama, McNutt went with the team to the Lower East Coast Regional in Savannah, Georgia, recently.
“It was really a fun experience, and it makes me feel proud to be a part of the team,” he said. “Alabama has a such a reputation around the country because of sports. To be on a team at Alabama is a proud feeling. It’s amazing.”
During his years of coaching the St. Clair team, Joel McNutt has been able to watch his son develop his shooting skills.
“4-H is where it all starts,” Joel said. “I’ve been coaching the team for eight years now. We have kids come through every year who start through a 4-H program or other youth programs, and they go from there. It’s amazing how far they can go once they get started. Like when our team started, we’d come out to shoot here for our very first competition. The kids shot and had a good time. They heard about the national competition and were talking about how great that would be to shoot in it. You think it would be great, but you don’t realize at the time it’s possible. Having a facility like this, with the equipment they have here to allow us to practice, it made it possible. The four kids we started with eight years ago, they all made it to the national competition. It was surreal to see them be able to do that, to see them start so young, go through the process and then achieve their goals of making it to the nationals.”
MacGreigor suggested that an Iron Bowl for shotgun shooting might be in the future because of the natural competitiveness between the two schools.
“If you look at the statistics, the shooting teams from Alabama and Auburn are not that far apart,” MacGreigor said. “Although there is not an official shooting Iron Bowl, there is a little Iron Bowl at every competition we go to.”
MacGreigor also expects the number of shooting teams to grow as the word gets out.
“Because of funding to purchase new machinery and infrastructure and because of the success of some of our shooters on the Auburn and Alabama teams, we’re getting parents who are driving their kids up at nighttime to participate and start a team for their areas,” he said. “We’re starting to see an explosion of towns wanting to build teams, and this is the facility they would use. But it wouldn’t be possible without the Pittman-Robertson dollars and the volunteers at Red Eagle. This is really a metaphor for life – the lessons they are learning in shooting apply to academia. They apply to a job. It is developing and building a process to achieve the desired outcome.”
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.