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Hardcore 4 riflery team wins big in first sseason

POSTED: July 16, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Photo Courtesy Becky Bowen/

The Hardcore 4 team poses with their air rifles. The young team has already found great success at national competitions.

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With miniature cameras and laser targeting boxes set up on the wall, Al Bowen’s basement looks more like the setting to a grand heist film than anything else, but the high-tech set-up serves an even more important purpose than just serving as a great conversation piece.

Bowen coaches the Hardcore 4 marksmanship team out of his Barrow County home and uses the various technology to help his team be as prepared as possible for their high-pressure matches.

“It goes up pretty quick, but in all total it took probably two months to get everything set up,” riflery coach Al Bowen admitted. 

He takes the shooting equipment down on occasion when his team needs to practice somewhere other than the basement of his home, so it has to be portable as well as functional.

Bowen’s Hardcore 4 is a relatively young team with just one year of competition on their resume, but that has been a successful year. Already, the team broke the Junior Olympics record for four-man, three-position shooting with a score of 2,345. 

Hardcore 4 initially came about, though, because nobody close by was offering something like this. Bowen and his wife would drive their children almost two hours to join a competitive team, and that just proved to be too far. 

“First my son shot, then my daughter shot, but there just wasn’t enough. Brandon [Thomas] has been along the way for all these years, but we never had enough for a full team,” Bowen acknowledged. “When we saw that some folks who weren’t too far away were driving almost two hours away to shoot, it just came about that we all needed to get together and form one team closer to here.

“So it’s all worked out really well, and once they came along, more folks have come from Walton County and around here to shoot together.”

Bowen’s team is comprised of students from Walnut Grove High School and Monroe Area High School as well as the three Barrow schools, Winder-Barrow, Apalachee and Bethlehem Christian. Both of the public schools offer riflery as a varsity sport, so those students also compete on their school teams.

Hardcore 4 has won multiple events nation-wide in their first year, including the Junior Olympics where they broke the record. 

Many of their events are similar to the high school competition, which features three positions and ten shots at each position. Each competition could be slightly different, though, as the Junior Olympics feature twenty shots per position. At the same time, some competitions follow the international standard of 60 shots from just the standing position.

“Standing is by far the most difficult position. None of them are easy, but standing is by far the hardest,” Bowen explained. “The further you get that rifle away from the ground, the further it wants to move around.”

During Tuesday evening’s practice session, the Hardcore 4 team members present wore thick, stiff equipment to help hold their form. In the warm basement, those uniforms were almost as much an aid as a distraction, but Bowen welcomes distractions during practice.

“Some places you go are cold, some places you go are warm, so we have to get used to both,” he mentioned. 

The coach will often play the radio during practice, too, to give his athletes one more measure of distraction to contend with. While a lot of competitions are calm and quiet, the crowd’s demeanor from venue to venue can differ just as much as that competition’s rule set. Thus, they need to be ready for distraction.

One of the most important elements of marksmanship according to Hardcore 4 member Maggie Mason is that focus. 

“It is so important to shoot with a quiet state of mind under pressure,” Mason said, stating how her focus in competition has helped her improve overall focus outside of the range.

“It makes me a better person all-around,” Rachel Kimbell, another member of the team, said.

With the varying types of competition, Bowen encourages his team to always be growing and working, especially in building that focus.

“We consider most of our matches to be practice matches. We always go in working on something at each match. There’s a lot of mental preparation going on, how to deal with competitors, how to deal with other people, how to deal with mom and dad. There’s a lot going on, on top of how to shoot 10.9s,” Bowen explained. 

With such a grueling sport, many of Bowen’s shooters practice upwards of 10 to 14 hours a week. The time commitment goes beyond practice, too, as shooters have to travel more than a day to some events and have to spend a considerable amount of money to participate.

With all that marksmanship costs, both in time and in financial amounts, it is not a commitment to be taken lightly.

“It’s the worst sport in the world, if you ask me. It’s unglamorous. You have no spectators. It’s really difficult and it’s really expensive,” Bowen rather unexpectedly said. 

Then again, he has an answer for why the athletes do it, too.

“Why climb Mount Everest? It can be done, so do it,” Bowen added.

Perhaps that is why both the athletes and the families involved in Hardcore 4 take their commitment so seriously.

“The real reason these kids are successful is because their parents are behind them. If they weren’t, it wouldn’t happen,” Bowen acknoweldged. “I can’t make it happen.”

In addition to parental support, Bowen admitted that the shooters themselves have to bring determination and a positive attitude to the range every day.

“They can have their best day and still walk off and say, ‘I should’ve done better,’” Bowen said. “These are very determined kids.

“They know that they will shoot a 600,” Bown added, referencing a perfect score in international standing procedures. “A lot of kids will say, ‘I can’t do that. That’s not possible.’ These kids? No, they can and will. Not can it happen. When.”

With such exemplary athletes, Bowen knows that his young talent will continue to make a name for themselves in the sport of marksmanship long after they leave Hardcore 4.

“I expect to see our kids in world cups. I just do. They’re going to be there,” Bowen noted. “They set themselves apart. They put in the time and the effort.”

The season is mostly over until August, but a few of Bowen's athletes will participate in this weekend's Georgia Games. 

Come August, though, the hard work starts back full speed until next summer.



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