You might say William Shaner of Silt is gunning for a title in a prestigious competitive shooting event as one of the youngest youths from Colorado to aim high.
The 11-year-old will compete for the first time in the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships next month against youth from around the U.S. He will demonstrate his proficiency in men's air rifle, men's smallbore three position, and men's smallbore prone at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs.
Shaner, a seventh-grader enrolled on the online Colorado Virtual Academy school, began competitive shooting at age 8 when his father, Gregory Shaner, suggested he try shooting sports in the Garfield County 4-H program.
"A lot of it is in my genes," explained Will Shaner.
His great-grandfather was a U.S. Army marksman, he said.
Just five months after Shaner began precision shooting, he attended his first 4-H state championship. In December 2011, he joined USA Shooting's National Training Center Junior Club in Colorado Springs, where he's practiced alongside Olympic champions Nicco Campriani and Michael McPhail.
"It was pretty cool," said Shaner, who isn't easily starstruck.
In fact, Shaner doesn't brag at all about being a 4-H Junior Champion athlete, unlike his proud dad, who told a reporter that his son won first place last summer in the 4-H State Championship's .22 hunt class, air rifle Olympic offhand, and air rifle three-position competitions, as well as reserve champion in the .22 sport class. Last October, Will Shaner was named Garfield County 4-H Sportsman of the Year.
USA Shooting, the national governing body for Olympic shooting sports, runs the invitation-only championships. Officials compile state scores and develop benchmarks for three age groups. That means the younger Shaner had to meet or best the benchmark in the 14 and under category to get an invitation.
"He won in his age group," said Gregory Shaner, who is a USA Shooting coach.
Will Shaner is the only under-14 youth in Colorado to qualify for both the air rifle and smallbore competitions. He said it takes stability and balance to hit the bullseye, or "10," as it's called on the Olympic shooting range.
"I focus on making the perfect shot," he explained. "My mind goes blank and I wait for the opportunity to take the shot."
To win the air rifle competition, Shaner must hit the center of a one-inch diameter, black circle the most out of 60 shots from a distance of 33 feet. He lines up the front sight of his Feinwerkbau 700 Junior air rifle with the outside of the circle and then matches two rear sights with the front sight. When they're all lined up, that's the opportunity for the perfect shot, he said.
Shaner's personal best is 563 bullseyes out of 600 shots, or about 94 percent - not far behind Campriani, whom Gregory Shaner said shoots 598 out of 600 on an off-day.
"It's hard to believe that you're shooting that great and you're at the Olympic Training Center," said Will Shaner, who seems a bit surprised by all the fanfare over his success.
For the men's smallbore three-position and the smallbore prone competitions, Shaner uses a modified Anschutz 1907 .22 gauge long rifle. He shoots standing, kneeling and prone, aiming for the middle of a 5-inch diameter circle from half the length of a football field.
Gregory Shaner said that living in a rural area, Will might not have the same opportunities as those from the city.
"He doesn't have all the fancy stuff, but he still beats the pants off them," he exclaimed with a gleam in his eye.
Will Shaner's goal is to compete in the 2020 World Olympic Games and to earn a shooting sports scholarship to an NCAA Division I university. He said precision shooting sports has helped him out of his shyness and has taught him independence and confidence.
"You have to be independent," he said. "Because it's you on the line by yourself."