May 14, 2014 - A shotgun is typically used to put wild game on the dinner table, but in Nathan Eisenhardt's case, it helped him bag a gold medal.
OHS sophomore Nathan Eisenhardt practices skeet shooting at Hunter's Ridge in Oxford. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
The Oxford High School sophomore took first place at the Michigan Junior Olympic (JO) Scholastic Clay Target Program State Shoot held May 3 at the North Macomb Sportsmen's Club in Washington Township.
Eisenhardt busted 109 out of 125 clay targets shooting international skeet. The second-place finisher busted 96.
His victory qualified him to compete in the 21st annual USA Shooting National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships July 8-13 at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"I'm hoping to win it," Eisenhardt said. "I'll keep my confidence up and keep training. If I go into this like I went into the state shoot, I will win."
Placing among the top shooters at this competition would get the 15-year-old one step closer to his dream of competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"The Junior Olympics is just a stepping stone to make it to the Olympics," said his dad Eric Eisenhardt. "I think he's going to go all the way. I really do. I think he has the capability to do it. We're all super-proud of him."
Eisenhardt's skill caught the eye of longtime USA Shooting shotgun coach Lloyd Woodhouse, who's taken the teen under his wing and is personally mentoring him.
Woodhouse led six U.S. Olympic teams between 1988 and 2008 and established the most dominant shotgun program in the world. He then coached the Egyptian team in the 2012 Olympics. Today, Woodhouse is back with USA Shooting, overseeing the ranges and offering one-on-one help to those shooters who want it.
"After he saw Nathan shoot, (Woodhouse) asked if he could adopt him for a while," said Eric Eisenhardt. "He told me that for the amount of experience he has, he's the most advanced student he's ever had."
"I was very impressed with him the first time I saw him," Woodhouse said. "When I saw Nathan, I went, 'Holy mackerel! This kid has got something very special.'"
But it's not just Eisenhardt's prowess with a shotgun that impresses Woodhouse. His overall attitude is important as well.
Woodhouse said he evaluates people based on how well they listen and follow instructions. If he's going to work with a shooter, the person must have the "internal motivation" and "desire" to practice and improve at the sport as well as the "willingness" to make necessary changes.
"A lot of times you have to back up a little bit to go forward a lot," Woodhouse explained.
Based on what he's seen so far, Eisenhardt "has all of those things."
"We had to make some changes and he was willing to do that," Woodhouse said.
"Beside that, he's just a really nice kid," he added.
Of Eisenhardt's hitting 109 out of 125 targets at the Michigan shoot, Woodhouse said, "That's a starting spot. Now, we've got to go from there and get better and better."
"If he continues to have the motivation, if he doesn't find something that's more important to him other than his school (work) . . . he's right on course to be one of our nation's better top shooters," Woodhouse noted. "Only time will tell on that issue. With his desire and his biomechanical skills – he's got some really nice bio skills – he can get there pretty quick."
Eisenhardt's only been shooting skeet for two years. What's his secret? Two things.
The first is lots of practice.
He shoots three times a week, going through an average of 750 shells. Every night, he practices his gun mounts and visualizes "the perfect round."
"It's just not something that's gifted to you. You've got to work for it," noted Eric Eisenhardt. "He's been working really hard. He gave up his high school sports because of it. He's pretty focused."
The second is maintaining a positive frame of mind. "You will hit the target if you think you will," Eisenhardt said. "Every time before I shoot, I visualize a perfect shot."
He said it's important not to dwell on missed targets.
"If you let a target get to you, the next target's going to be a loss, too, because you're thinking about the previous shot," Eisenhardt explained. "Once you have the technique down, it's all in your head. Once you get over the mental part, you can be one of the best shooters."
For those familiar with American skeet, shooting international (or Olympic) skeet is more challenging.
International clay targets are thrown at far greater speeds, over much wider arcs and angles, and to a much greater distance than targets in American skeet events, according to USA Shooting.
International targets are thrown 72 yards at 65 miles per hour (mph), whereas American targets travel 61 yards at approximately 50 mph.
In international skeet, there is a random delay of zero to 3 seconds after the shooter calls for the target. Shooters start with the shotgun's buttstock at mid-torso level and then call for their targets. The gun must remain at that level until the target appears.
"In American skeet, right when you say pull, the target comes out," Eisenhardt said.
Because of the random delay, international skeet requires quick reflexes and a clear head.
"You don't want to be thinking too much because then you won't be (moving) at the same speed as the target," Eisenhardt said.
International targets are flatter and more durable than American ones, so they must be hit by a greater number of shotgun pellets in order to break.
So, what type of gun does a potential Olympian use? Eisenhardt hits the range with his Perazzi Mirage 12-gauge over-and-under shotgun with Kolar choke tubes.
"It's a reliable, good gun," he said. "I haven't had a problem with it yet."
He shoots 24-gram loads with #9½ shot.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.