Moffat County 4-H shooters on target at national contest |

Moffat County 4-H shooters on target at national contest

Andy Bockelman
For the Craig Press
Joey Gates poses with her rifle ahead of her competition in Nebraska at the national finals. Gates went on to place second in the country.
Andy Bockelman / For the Craig Press

With preparation and patience already major assets in their sport of choice, Moffat County 4-H competitive shooters Joey Gates and Alexander Nichols were ready and raring to go amid high-level competition.

Gates took second overall in the country in individual air rifle scores, and Nichols tenth in compound archery, each leading their respective state teams in scoring during the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships June 20 to 25 in Grand Island, Nebraska.

An air of excellence

Gates — also a national competitor in 2019 in the .22 rifle contest — scored only behind national champ Ben Rogers of Kansas in total scoring during the event.

She had a strong start during the first day’s 3-Position round, her best as far as solo scoring with second place — only three points away from first thanks to a successful practice — as well as a team win shared by the rest of the Colorado group.

While her first go at nationals two years earlier allowed her to compete alongside familiar faces from her corner of the state, Gates said she appreciated the opportunity to form new bonds.

“I had only had very brief interactions before the competition. Leaving nationals, I knew I made lifelong friends,” Gates said. “We worked so well together and had instant connections. As far as the entire Colorado team goes, I always felt relieved when seeing someone with a matching shirt.”

The subsequent days were a little more difficult, as Gates placed eighth in the standing position and was in a six-way tie for third in the silhouette round — ultimately ranking sixth — again gaining the best scores among Colorado kids, with the state team ranking fifth in standing and third in silhouette.

Altogether, the Colorado shooting team placed third.

Gates said she was able to make many connections within the world of competitive shooting, in which she hopes to continue as she moves along to University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

“I am now confident that I will be able to work with some Olympic-type training when I’m in college,” she said. “I just got my USA shooting number and I plan to go to my first PTO competition, a small scale competition that mimics Olympic trials, in August.”

She added that besides a considerable finish for her personally, the national event was thrilling for all involved after 2020’s many cancellations and postponements.

“There was an excitement in the air that came from a place of love for shooting and a thankful attitude from the athletes that get to finally compete,” she said.

Alexander Nichols poses for a photo ahead of his competition in Nebraska for the national finals.
Andy Bockelman / For the Craig Press

Nocked and loaded

Unlike Gates, Nichols had not yet shot at the national level, but much like his fellow Moffat County shooter, he was ready to succeed.

Nichols also had his best round on the opening day of the competition, placing fifth in the FITA contest — Fédération Internationale de Tir à l’Arc — leading the Colorado team for the day with a score of 663. The group took sixth in the FITA round.

“My teammates were from Meeker, Trinidad and Alamosa. The team supported each other and helped one another out when we needed it,” Nichols said.

Nichols’ teammate Antonio Moltrer took fifth in the field competition for the best Colorado score on the day, with Nichols placing 18th and the group again finishing fifth.

In the 3-D target contest that rounded out the week, Nichols tied for 12th and wound up in 13th after the tiebreaker, with the Colorado group 10th in the final discipline to finish the week seventh as a whole.

“I had been practicing shooting the long distances and going to tournaments to get a feel for a competition scenario,” Nichols said. “One of my weak points was judging how far I needed to hold my sights over to compensate for all the wind during all the days. However, as the week progressed, I got better at it.”

Nichols had first qualified for nationals in 2019 before seeing the 2020 event shut down amid the COVID pandemic.

“I had definitely lost some excitement after it got canceled the first time I qualified, but the experience was definitely worth the wait,” he said.

Shooting at such a high level also inspired him to possibly go back to Grand Island in a different format.

“As soon as I got back from nationals, I immediately picked up a recurve bow. I’m going to practice as much as I can to qualify for state and hopefully nationals, again,” he said. “I will also be continuing to take my compound bow to compete in other events around the country.”

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