The five members of the Kentucky 4-H shooting sports muzzleloading team recently earned an opportunity no others in the state have before this year: the chance to shoot at the national competition.
Three members from Russell County — Sarah Stephens, Eli Foley, and Cass Foley, who is the alternate on the team — as well as Katie Cecil, of Nelson County, and Joseph Koch, of Bourbon County, are currently in Nebraska at the 2022 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships.
According to Cecil, muzzleloader (also referred to as “black powder rifle”) shooters from across Kentucky got the chance to compete at the state event, and the top eight advanced and trained for the chance to make the Kentucky team.
The team was eventually whittled down to four members and an alternate.
“My coach called me at 9 o’clock at night,” Stephens said, “He said, ‘Hey. I’ve got some pretty big news.’ And then he told me, and I pretty much freaked out.”
“It’s pretty cool whenever we got that call,” said Eli, as he and his brother, Cass, learned from their father, who is their coach. “It’s something most kids don’t get to do.”
Cass said making nationals was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” and it is in fact something that they will only be able to do one time, at least in black powder.
Once a 4-H member competes at nationals in a certain discipline, they are no longer allowed to participate again in the same area.
This year is the first time a Kentucky shooting sports team has made it to nationals, and two teams from Kentucky actually qualified for nationals, as the shotgun team also made the cut.
“I think it’s cool that we are able to represent Kentucky in a national shoot,” Cass said.
“It’s something we will always remember, being the first team to ever go from Kentucky,” his brother added.
Stephens expounded on that idea and said that she was excited because she hopes this achievement will be able to encourage younger shooting sports to take up the discipline.
“I hope that now we have kids that are gonna hopefully want to shoot black powder,” Stephens said.
“I second that because our black powder program in [Nelson County is] small, and I love black powder, of course,” Cecil added, “and so I always try to get people to go and shoot it.”
Black powder is a very unique discipline in the 4-H shooting sports world.
“So, these guns are very old style,” Stephens explained. “We load them with powder, patch, and ball, and we have to ram it down.”
“For an example, black powder guns are kind of like the Revolutionary War style,” Koch said. “They’ve gotten more modern, but if I were to explain to somebody what I was shooting, I’d start there because that’s the most common example people recognize.”
The discipline is even harder on the national level than it is on the state level. While competitors only shoot from 25 yards at state, the group is shooting from distances of 25 yards, 40 yards, 50 yards, 60 yards, 77 yards, and 100 yards at nationals.
“Not to mention, the 100-yard targets are smaller than our 25-yard targets for state,” Cecil said.
“I don’t know how it differs (from state to state),” Koch added, “but I’d say every state probably has a little bit of some change necessary, going from state competition to nationals. The 100 yards are probably — area-wise —the 100-yard targets are probably a little bit bigger than a dinner plate area, I’d say.”
The group shoots .50 caliber round balls. One team member shoots an inline, one shoots a flintlock, and the three from Russell County all shoot caplock muzzleloaders.
“60 grains of powder is the maximum we can shoot at 100 yards,” Eli said, before Cecil added with a laugh, “which is not a lot.”
For Stephens and the Foley brothers, being able to represent Russell County on the national level is something they are looking forward to, since the local community has been so supportive of them.
“Russell County, they’ve done so much for us,” Stephens said. “It’s a great county. They’ve supported us financially and other ways. It’s just a very supportive county.”
“And I’m proud we’ve got the opportunity to be able to represent the county in this national competition,” Cass added.
The team began competition today and will continue through Thursday.
Kentucky’s national coaches are Jim Scout, who is Cecil’s local coach, and Jared Foley, who is Eli’s and Cass’ father.