Sure Shot

Maumelle teen’s goals are right on target

By Dwain Hebda

 

Photo by Sara Blancett Reeves

Photo by Sara Blancett Reeves

Like a lot of high schoolers, Grace Hambuchen of Maumelle is hearing a lot about “aiming high” and “hitting whatever you set your sights on,” these days. And while that’s never not good advice, in her case it’s a little redundant.

As an elite young trap shooter, Grace, 17, has hit well more than her share of where she sets her sights. In fact, in one round of USA Shooting’s National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships last summer in Colorado Springs, she drilled a perfect 25 of 25 targets, one of only four perfect scores in the women’s competition. She was so deadly she ultimately placed second only after tournament officials went to a series of tiebreakers.

“I’m just happy I made the Junior Olympic team,” says the vivacious 17-year-old. “It was the best week of my life.”

It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that a hunting-heavy state like Arkansas would produce such marksmanship. Grace’s introduction to shooting was like a lot of youngsters’—first BB guns, then pellet guns. Family lore puts her first firing of an adult weapon at around age 7.

“The first time I actually shot a real gun was in my grandpa’s back field,” she says. “I picked up this tiny little .410 shotgun—they’re itty bitty, they’re like a pellet gun—shot it, and cried for hours because I thought a mule had kicked me. I shoot a huge 12-gauge shotgun now so it’s nothing. My brother always makes fun of me, ‘You cried the first time you shot a gun.’”

Today, her firepower is considerably more sophisticated. Elite competitive shooters (and those who aspire to be) are very selective about their sporting arms. Grace’s Krieghoff K-80 12-gauge is a splendid example—sleek, polished and tailored to fit her like a fine suit.

Of course, the best gun in the world is useless without natural ability honed by dedication and hours and hours of practice. In international trap shooting—the kind contested at the Olympics—competitors try to hit a flying clay disk smaller than a salad plate moving in excess of 60 miles an hour. Fifteen fixed traps—three per shooting station—are programmed to launch the targets more than 80 yards at varying heights and in random order so the shooter can’t fall into predictable flight patterns.

“I just have to train really hard,” Grace says. “I would love to be able to compete overseas, and I would love to make the national team and someday make the Olympic team. That would be fantastic.”

Arkansas produces some of the sport’s top caliber talent (four women and one man placed in the top 10 at the national JO contest last summer) but there’s still room to grow. Grace’s elite status has turned her into an ambassador for competitive shooting at the high school level. Last year she participated with Little Rock Catholic High School’s team, making it all the way to state alongside her younger brother, Anderson.

She’s also spearheaded efforts to get a shooting team started at Mount St. Mary where she is a senior, to an enthusiastic response. “It surprised me, honestly. I expected a bunch of girls saying, ‘You shoot with boys? You’re doing a boy’s sport.’” she says. “But there’s actually a lot of girls who go out and hunt every weekend with their family. I’ve had a lot of other girls come to me and say, ‘Grace will you please take me hunting, I’ve never been, but I really want to go.’ ”

The reaction hasn’t always been so positive. During a period when her family lived in Boston, a period she coincidentally made the switch from pistol to shotgun, she discovered just how different the local culture was from her native Arkansas.

 “There were people at my school that would walk up to me and be like, ‘My parents don’t like you because you shoot guns,’” she says. “So, shooting has made me more educated in worldviews. Hearing all these gun activists that are like, ‘We don’t believe you should

carry a gun, especially children carrying guns,’ just really made me more open to everybody else’s political views about gun rights. And, it’s also given me very good arguments to take other places.”

One such place will be college. Grace will attend the University of St. Louis in the fall with thoughts about studying history, perhaps ultimately studying law. Her shooting career has earned her friends nationwide so she already has a social circle waiting for her at college. And, there’s always the opportunity to head to the range if she gets homesick.

“Actually, I cannot wait to go to college,” she says. “I mean, I love high school and I love the Mount, but also love trying new things and meeting new people. I definitely think having shooting with me and knowing I can do that wherever I go is really comforting. Plus, it’s fun and it’s a nice stress reliever and I’ll need that in college, too.”