Having a lot of interests tends to make a person more, well, interesting. But what if one of your interests is really four different interests rolled into one – and you’re good at all of them?
For Gonzales High School sophomore Cooper Lindemann-LaBuhn, his passion for hunting has landed him on a team that will represent Texas in the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championships in June.
In all, Texas is sending nine four-person teams to the nationals in Grand Island, Nebraska. But while the other eight teams will compete in individual events, Cooper’s team with compete in Hunting Skills, which requires participants to perform in four events: using a shotgun for sporting clays, a mussel-loader rifle for a three-dimensional target, a bow and arrow for a three-dimensional target, and a .22 rifle for fixed targets are varying distances.
“When you’re on this team, you kind of have to be proficient in everything,” Cooper said. “You have to be able to shoot a rifle, as well as a bow, as well as a muzzle loader, and a shotgun. It’s difficult.”
Cooper has been competing in the event for three years – including the 2019-2020 season that was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But his time in 4-H and hunting are among his early childhood memories.
“I’ve been in shooting sports since I was Kindergarten-age,” said Cooper, who turns 16 in January. “I think that is one of the great things about this organization is that it is more than just shooting; it is teaching kids that are so young the right way to handle firearms and be proficient in everything.”
Cooper remembers starting out single-shot .22 caliber rifles and pistols.
“They all had minimal moving parts to keep things simple,” he said. “We worked our way up slowly, shooting a little bit of everything.”
Both of Cooper’s parents – Erin and Brennon – are avid hunters. His younger brother, Coy, 13, is part of the same 4-H shooting club and competes in the sport clay event.
Making the team
Like many other activities, competitions shut down after Spring Break 2020 due to COVID-19. In selecting a four-person team for the Hunting Skills competition, state organizers took into account everything from practice rounds to competitions from the previous season.
Cooper thinks his performance at the state 4-H shooting competition in Manor in July 2019 was pivotal in his selection.
“I did very well in the last competition that I went to,” he said. “I believe that is what secured my spot this year, just because I excelled in the hunting and wildlife event – which I have never really done before. So I showed very big growth. That’s what really, really secured me a spot.
Cooper stressed that there was more to the competitions than shooting.
“Shooting makes up small part of score,” Cooper said. “There are four categories that test your knowledge – not just of hunting, but of fishing and other outdoor sports. Three are written and one is where you presented scenarios in person.
“Presentation of skills, answering verbally – all 4-H activities require it. Shooting skills do not get enough credit in developing verbal and social skills.”
Prepping for June
With teammates in Grimes, Travis, and Van Zandt counties, coordinating a joint practice creates some logistical challenges.
The team hopes to get together as many as 12 times ahead of Nebraska.
Cooper said one of his teammates alternated between first and second in each of the four Hunting Skills events in their last competition.
“There’s a little bit of a love-hate relationship there,” Cooper said with a laugh.
While Cooper competes with the Gonzales County-based Sundowners 4-H Club, he practices with the Guadalupe County 4-H, which has one of the best programs in the state. Cooper and his mother are looking to solidify a shooting team in Gonzales County in the near future.
Erin and Cooper trying to develop club within Gonzales County.
“My sister and I learned shooting through the 4-H and the NRA,” Erin said. “We recently received a grant from the NRA for the Gonzales County 4-H shooting team to buy new equipment. Some of the equipment we have now my sister and I used.”
Cooper says the archery portion of the Hunting Skills is his favorite.
“Archery is the best:100 percent, absolutely, no question,” he said.
His least favorite is the sporting clays. He said he puts in the most practice on the clays, trying to improve what is usually his lowest score in the shooting competition.
“It’s so hard to get it,” Cooper said. “You have to be naturally gifted to shoot a shotgun. It keeps me on my toes and is the most challenging. It hurst my score the most.”
There is no set layout for the shooting clays. Distances vary. Launchers are hidden from view. The competitor never knows where the clay will be coming from or the direction it will go.
Once at one of the shooting positions, the competitor yells “pull.”
“Sometimes they throw clays on the ground – called rabbits,” Cooper said. “Sometimes they shoot straight up – that’s very difficult. I’ve never had a bird fly straight up on me. I think they do that to keep us on our toes. They can be at an angle in front of you like a pheasant, towards you like a duck going over your decoy, fly laterally like a dove.
“… Something is going to happen. You just don’t know what it is going to do or where it come from. It could be a hole in a bush which gives you very little time to shoot, or it could be across open pasture and you have all the time in the world.”
Scoring is based on either a “hit” or a “miss.”
Cooper said muzzle-loaders bring their own set of challenges. Competitors load a .50 caliber lead ball through the barrel opening, using a ramrod to pack the percussion cap, black powder, and the lead ball.
The challenge is that there is a delay between the time the trigger is pulled and when the cap ignites. That means the shooter has to stay steady after they pull the trigger.
“I see a lot of people struggle – when I try to help a lot of people – who struggle with that event because it is so difficult to not look where you shot immediately after you pull the trigger, which you can do with a modern gun, but can’t with a muzzle loader,” Cooper said.
The event is scored on a hit-or-miss basis, which the target mounted on the kill zone of animal-shaped targets.
A .22 caliber rifle is used for a fixed target rifle event. Targets can vary in distance from 20 to 60 yards, and in the size of the kill zone with targets ranging from the size of a squirrel to that of a bear. In addition, portions of the competition may require shooting uphill or downhill. Competitors are not allowed to measure distance, so they must estimate distance when using the front and rear sites – no scopes – on the rifle, while also adjust for wind and trajectory.
Competitors get one shot at each of six targets and are scored on a hit-or-miss basis on the kill-zone target.
Cooper used a compound bow for his favorite event.
Three-dimensional targets of turkeys, antelope, deer, bears and other critters are placed at distances from seven to 80 yards.
Unlike the hit-or-miss, there is a ringed target over target’s kill zone. A hit in the inner circle (heart) is worth 12 points and the outer circle (lungs) is worth 10. A miss is zero; however, a hit outside the kill zone will deduct points from a score.
“It’s better to miss than to hit outside of target,” Cooper said. “It mimics the ethics of hunting.”
Off the range
Cooper’s interests go beyond shooting sports. He is fascinated by the medical field and is exploring becoming a cardio-thoracic surgeon. He also plays on the Apaches’ baseball team, has a breeder goat herd and shows goats in both 4-H and FFA events.
“I’m a busy guy. I love to hunt and fish,” Cooper said at the end of the phone interview – while sitting in his family’s hunting Jeep on the way back from a hunt.