Sports

SK teen on target in Junior Olympic match

John Mullins’ philosophy is simple. “See the bird, shoot the bird.”

It’s a strategy that has garnered the sophomore at South Kitsap High School three state titles in trap shooting.

It’s also a philosophy that earned him a third-place finish in the Junior Olympics last August in Colorado, Springs, Co., in his chosen sport.

And it’s a philosophy that has led the 16-year-old from Gorst to place 20th out of 67 shooters vying for a spot on the 2004 United States Olympic team that will compete against the world in Athens, Greece, next summer.

And while finishing 20th in the nation is nice, Mullins has a chance to move up in the standings since the trials consist of two parts.

The second part takes place this spring at Fort Benning, Ga. The top two combined scorers make the Olympic team, with the third-place finisher getting an alternate position.

“I was surprised at how well I did,” Mullins said. “I never thought about the Olympic part of it. I just tried to relax and get one bird at a time.”

Mullins, who hit 133 out of 150 targets in the Junior Olympic competition, was up against some of the best trap shooters the country has to offer, including many from the Army and Air Force.

Trap shooting differs from the more common-known skeet shooting in one major way. Skeet shooters look for birds, which are circular targets made of clay, coming from their left or right in varying heights. Trap shooters face the more difficult task of hitting the same kind of targets launched directly in front of them but traveling away from them.

The bird is sent from one of many bunkers placed 16 to 27 yards in front of the shooter in American trap and 15 meters in International trap.

Either way, the bird is moving away from the shooter, immediately, which makes it a smaller, harder target to hit.

“It’s challenging,” Mullins said. “You never know if it’s going to come out high or low, from the left or from the right. You never know what to expect.”

Using his Perazzi .12-gauge shotgun, a hand-me-down from his father, Mullins has moved quickly up the ladder as a target shooter.

Mullins was introduced to the sport at a young age. Both of his parents, Jim and Linda, excel in the sport. Both have won championships at some level.

“We taught him gun safety first,” Jim Mullins said. “We gave him the option to learn about guns first. If he wanted to shoot, it was up to him. We never forced it on him. He’s been around guns his whole life and it was always up to him, but it was always safety first.”

The younger Mullins, who carries a 4.0 grade average entering his first year of high school and earned Eagle Scout at age 15, is both sheepishly shy but fiercely competitive at the same time.

“The funny thing about this is it’s such a subconscious sport,” Mullins said. “ You have to relax and take it one bird at a time.”

His father elaborates on that.

“In our sport, there is no guessing, no assuming,” Jim Mullins said. “If you anticipate and you’re wrong, then you miss and the bird falls. And that’s the worst thing that can happen to you.”

The elder Mullins likens trap shooting to baseball or golf. It’s all about eye-hand coordination.

“If you can play golf or hit a baseball, then you might be able to trap shoot,” John Mullins said. “It’s tough to do. You have to have the ability to see it and hit it. Not everyone has that.”

Mullins is hoping that his skill in shooting will turn into a college scholarship. He has already caught the eye of coaches from Texas A&M and Missouri.

“It doesn’t matter to me (where I go) as long as I can find a place to fish and hunt,” Mullins said.

But for now, he’ll be content to collect more medals and belt buckles from various meets and hope to improve his standings next summer in the second half of the Olympic Trials.

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