Lea County’s 4-H Muzzleloader team is New Mexico’s team.
The Lea team won its 4-H state title competition in April and competed last month, representing all of New Mexico, at the National level.
The four members of the team come from three of Lea County’s seven 4-H Clubs.
Danni George and Sadie Savage, both of Hobbs, are members of the Monument 4-H Club. Nathan Burford, of Lovington, is a member of the Chaparral 4-H Club, and Bradley King, of Hobbs, is a member of the TVC 4-H Club.
The successful quartet all competed despite the rigid COVID-19 restrictions put in place by the state that kept them from practicing much of the past year.
“It feels pretty good,” Burford said about winning the state team title.
Burford and George both also received individual state awards with George placing second and Burford placing third.
The state competition was run differently, because of the state restrictions issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Team members participated at their local shooting range in front of a state official who verified and turned in their “score sheets.” Those score sheets were then compared to the state’s other muzzleloader teams.
Despite the adversity the kids were thrown into, having not attended or participated in national’s last year, they turned around and gave it their best shot at nationals in Grand Island, Neb.
“In a sense it (COVID-19 restrictions) really affected us,” George stated. “We weren’t allowed to practice for a year. I knew, because we talked to Texas (kids), they knew in December they were going to nationals so they had longer practices. We didn’t know until the end of May that we were getting to go to nationals.”
“We didn’t even get to shoot at all, not even in the state,” Savage agreed. “We didn’t know until March that we were going to be able to do shooting sports. It was March that we got to know (competition would be held) for shooting sports in general and in May we got to know for Nationals.”
The team placed eighth as a team at Nationals. Individually, Savage placed (25th), George (27th), Burford (31st) and King (38th).
“Their shooting skills are fantastic,” said the team’s assistant coach, and parent of Danni, Carl George. “I think the biggest thing was the mental aspect of it. We shot with these four kids, in our own county, in our own state, and then we ship them to nationals where it’s the top junior shooters in the country that they’re competing against and I don’t know how to prepare them for that big of a change. If they would’ve competed at state, like Sadie, I don’t think Sadie has ever competed in 4-H shooting sports in actual competition.”
According to King, his interest in Muzzleloading came from its history and dynamics.
“I was kind of the one they asked so that they could complete a team,” King said. “It kind of piqued my interest a little bit because of the dynamics of it and how long it’s been around and how old it is. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really want to get into any other shooting sports. I was really hell-bent on doing ‘22, but as soon as everybody else started saying I was a really good shot and should join (the muzzle-loader team) is when I kind of got inspired to do it.”
A typical day of practice for the muzzleloading team focuses on more than just going out and trying to hit a target, the team said. More of the aim is “just trying to improve yourself” and not comparing yourself to others.
“You can’t look at someone else and say ‘Oh they’re doing better than me,’” Danni George said. “(If you do), you’re never going to improve as a person because you’re always going to be focused on something someone else is doing. At the end of the day you are just trying to beat yourself.”
During the next year are a number of different “specialties” fr the team – due to the fact they cannot compete in Muzzleloading for a second time together at the state or national level.
Burford wants to try archery. George wants to compete in air rifle and rifle. King wants to try out hunting skills, and Savage is unsure on what she wants to compete in.
The team, coaches, and families thanked their donors and families who contributed and made the nationals competition possible.