As an Olympic trapshooting hopeful and honor student, Thompson maintains an intense, disciplined schedule that includes shooting up to four days a week during the school year and living full time at a training center during the summer. This arrangement allows him to train every day when school’s out. While living at the training center he stays with one of the team members, a 25-year-old female shooter, in an efficiency apartment 100 yards from the range. This summer marks his third season living at the center.
FINDING HIS CALLING
Lance found his calling in a roundabout way when his dad enrolled him in an NRA shotgun class at their local gun club. Although he was only 9 years old at the time, Lance was big for his age and the instructor made an exception. He allowed him to participate in a class that normally required a minimum age of 12. Now, 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, Lance says that even at age 9, he was one of the best shooters in the class. His mother and father, realizing their son had a gift for pointing a shotgun, saw to it that he began training in the sport of Olympic trap at the prestigious Keystone Shooting Park, in Dalmatia, Pa., north of Harrisburg.
“I am not an Olympic trapshooter, so this isn’t ‘Dad’s dream,’” says Lance’s father, John. “I never even knew what Olympic trapshooting was until Lance started shooting it. So it’s not like I’m an old ATA shooter and got my kid involved in this.” The elder Thompson spent 20 years as an elite cycling trainer, so he entered into the Olympic commitment with eyes wide open – he knows what it takes to compete on an international level. In support of his son, John now holds an NRA Level 2 Shotgun Coaching license, and is one of only a handful of International Shooting Sports Federation-certified instructors in the United States – a certification that required a trip to Ireland to attain.
“To do this at the level we’re doing it, it’s all-hands-on-deck. Everything revolves around Lance’s shooting schedule and what he’s got going on. Even though he’s got some really good sponsors, there are obviously still expenses. It’s a 100 percent commitment – you can’t dabble. If you want to become a world champion, you can’t just dip your toe in or just do it on the weekends” says John in regards to what it takes to shoot at Lance’s level.
Both parents lend 100 percent support to their son’s goal of making the Olympic team, with mom Patty usually driving Lance back and forth to Keystone to train several times each week during the school year. “Keystone is about an hour and fifteen minutes away from where we live, so once or twice during the week and both days on the weekends we’re driving to and from – two and half hours in the car, and then spending six or seven hours a day there on the weekends. At least one of us is there, if not both of us,” says Patty. She also accompanies Lance overseas when he competes in Europe – a place where “Olympic Trap is much more a part of the culture than in the US” according to John.
Lance has already shot in Germany, Italy and France, with “the hexagon” probably providing his fondest international shooting memory. “One of the best places I ever shot was in France. I was shooting for the junior division, and I ended up first. I was the youngest junior to ever win the junior division in 32 years.”
OLYMPIC TRAINING REGIMEN
When other students his age are likely home playing video games, Lance works out on a balance board to strengthen his core muscles while passing the time watching TV. On those school nights when he’s not making the trip to Keystone, he’ll mount his gun one hundred times to build muscle memory and strength. Not all of his training is physical, however. He uses Olympic Gold Medalist rifle shooter Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management program for mental training, something he says helps him relax while shooting under pressure, and he uses Vizual Edge two to three times per week, a software program developed by medical professionals to assess and improve one’s visual performance. Lance thinks Vizual Edge helps him track targets and improves his peripheral vision. Shooting coach Allen Chubb is currently helping him find his optimal balance point, so that he’s not leaning too far into the gun, and he’s not being rocked backwards onto his heels upon firing.
INTO THE FUTURE
Last year was a successful one for Lance, having won six gold, three silver and four bronze medals in Olympic-style competitions. His 2016 shooting schedule will take him to Malta and Italy, where he hopes to add to his growing medal collection. At the ripe young age of fourteen, he’s already amassed a long list of sponsors whose support helps defray the cost of his rigorous and expensive training schedule. Among his sponsors are B&P ammunition, Perazzi firearms – Lance shoots a 30-inch-barrel Perazzi MX8 – Pilla eyewear, Giacomo Sporting USA, Eurotarget USA, Salomon footwear and 5.11 Tactical.
What does this highly driven Olympic hopeful do for fun when he’s not training? “For fun I usually shoot sporting clays, because if I shoot any other sports, it throws off my timing for Olympic trap, so it’s hard to transition back.”
Look for Lance Thompson in the 2020 Olympic games. In the meantime, he’ll be hard at work developing the skills needed to earn that coveted spot on the USA Shooting Team. ASJ
Story and photographs by Dana Farrell
When I received an invitation from a friend to hunt spring turkeys in the pine hills of northwest Nebraska, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try out some new gear, and having previously only hunted easterns in my home state of Michigan, possibly put a Merriam’s turkey fan on my wall. Every couple of years, I look forward to making my way west to hunt big game, and this time, turkey hunting in the Cornhusker State would be the first stop on a trip to Idaho for black bear – not a bad way to spend two weeks in the springtime, and a lot more fun than sitting at my desk.
During this hunt, I would be field testing CZ-USA’s 612 Waterfowl, a 3½-inch 12-gauge pump shotgun with a synthetic, camo-clad stock. This, along with one of Hevi-Shot’s special heavier-than-lead turkey loads, would be an enjoyable litmus test of two leading-edge products. My experience with CZ has been very positive. I think they’re doing a lot of great things with their product line and I wanted to try their waterfowl pump-gun on turkey. I’ve been a fan of Hevi-Shot’s denser-than-lead products for some time, having used them on Michigan turkeys and decoyed waterfowl, but this would be my first experience using their Magnum Blend; a 3-inch, 2-ounce triplex payload of No. 5, 6 and 7 shot. A pretrip pattern-testing session, using an extra-full choke, produced concentrated, dense patterns on paper at 30 yards. This left me anxious to try this hard-hitting combo on a Nebraska gobbler.
The area where I hunted looks like the Black Hills of South Dakota. In fact, the Black Hills are only a short hop, skip and jump across the state line about 75 miles to the north. Like the Black Hills, the northwest corner of Nebraska is timbered with tall pines separated by large rolling grasslands interspersed with hardwood draws, laced with small winding streams. Elk, mulies and pronghorn roam the hillsides, along with a burgeoning population of Merriam’s turkeys. It is beautiful country, and with a mixture of public and private land holdings and a local community very welcoming to the economic bonus traveling turkey hunters bring to their area, access is not hard. The nearby 22,000-acre Fort Robinson State Park is open to public hunting and has a variety of camping and cabin rental options well suited to the needs of the traveling sportsman. Other private holdings provide combination hunting access and on-site accommodations as well.
I was hunting a steep river gully that was maybe 100 feet from top to bottom, all full of hardwoods and surrounded by gently sloping meadows on both sides. A lazy stream wound its way through this break in the land and grassy patches. This looked like prime strutting arenas for love-hungry toms. Springtime was in full swing when I visited in late April, with trees leafing out and colorful wildflowers making their annual appearance. Nights were cool with daytime temperatures approaching a pleasant 70 degrees.
This would prove to be a most interesting turkey hunt, and one that required a good measure of woodsmanship to pull off. I set up on a small meadow, near the lip of a gully just before daybreak, and put out a pair of decoys, a hen and jake then settled against a tree while several toms sounded off from their roosts. Gobbles came from different directions, enthusiastically answering my soft yelps as the sun edged over the horizon. Ninety minutes after sunrise, when no toms had followed through with their chest-beating promises, it was time for me to make a move. Judging by his gobbles, one bird had moved into the open field behind me but was playing hard to get and resisted the urge of my mournful yelps. Moving carefully to avoid skylining, I got up and crept to the edge of the rise behind me to peer out into the adjacent meadow. Over the ridge I spied a strutting gobbler about 75 yards away. He held a commanding view of his surroundings and was anxiously awaiting a lady friend to take him up on his unabashed invitations. Slowly backing down behind the hill, I weighed my options and made a plan to belly crawl towards the bird’s position, closing the distance by about 25 yards and putting me just out of range for a comfortable shot. At the top of the draw within view of the bird was a yucca, which I crawled up to and behind for cover. Reaching the end of the draw I attempted a call to bring the bird within a shootable range. It was a stretch, but I had nothing to lose.
Lying down flat on the ground, I army-crawled my way towards the spiky plant positioned at the crest of the ridge. A few minutes later while peering through the yucca towards the end of the depression, I could see the bird at around 50 yards, still struttin’ his stuff. I yelped softly on my slate call, immediately gaining his attention and coaxing him in my direction another 10 yards. At that point he was a comfortable 40 yards away and close enough for a confident shot; I didn’t wait. One poke from the CZ 612 and the Magnum Blend rolled him over and closed the deal. You’ve got to love it when a good plan comes together.
His fan looks really great on my wall, and contrasts nicely with a Michigan eastern I took a few years back. ASJ
Nebraska turkey tags are $23 for residents
and $90 for nonresidents, and a $20
habitat stamp is required. Crawford, Neb.,
is the nearest town and has all the needed
essentials. A place worth checking out is
the High Plains Homestead, a throwback
to the 19th century American West.
Rooms are $68.50 single occupancy per
night and good steaks, grilled over a wood
fire, are available at their Cookshack. Visit
them at highplainshomestead.com.
For camping options, Fort Robinson
State Park is only a few miles from
Crawford and offers an assortment of
camping facilities and cabins for rent. –DF