STORY BY EMILY ROBINSON * PHOTOGRAPHS BY RODNEY ROBINSONI have always been a pistol shooter. Even the first time I was out on the range, I loved everything about shooting, from the smell of the gunpowder to the sound the steel makes when it is hit by a bullet. I think that’s what got me hooked on competitive shooting. I was 9 years old when I attended and watched my first Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) match in Columbia, S.C., and my whole family attended to see what it was all about.
The second match I attended was the GSSF annual shoot in Conyers, Ga., and although I did not shoot in that match, I was allowed to borrow a Glock with a .22 conversion and shoot the plate rack. Right after this event, my parents bought my brother and me a Glock 17 and I actually competed in my first match two months later. I loved how everyone was so friendly, supportive and helpful. Since I was so small, people gave me advice on how to hold the gun, my stance and other tips. Some of the people who helped me that day have become longtime friends and are now like a second family. After several years of shooting GSSF matches all over the Southeast, it was a natural progression to move to United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).
MY FIRST USPSA MATCH was the North Carolina Sectional in 2012. I had never even been to a USPSA match, nor had I ever practiced for anything like it. It was all new, and I was even a little intimidated. It was so much fun watching everyone on my squad shoot during their round, but when it was my time to shoot, I felt like a deer in the headlights. After I completed the first stage, I was a little surprised at how well I had done. I was really slow, but the accuracy was there and that was most important to me at that time. Just as I had been taught in GSSF, accuracy was first on the priority and speed would eventually come, and that’s exactly what happened. To date, I have won three state-level titles in USPSA.
After three and a half years of USPSA and even longer in GSSF, I got the itch to try 3-Gun. I had met so many people who shot 3-Gun that I really wanted to give it a try. Since I had not worked with shotguns or rifles very much, there was definitely a learning curve. When it was time to get started, I had to gather equipment and get it ready. For Christmas I received a Mossberg JM930, which can be used for 3-Gun right out of the box, so that was a great surprise. Then I had the amazing experience of attending the SHOT Show for the first time in 2016. I set up appointments with several potential sponsors, one of which was NightForce, which turned out to be huge for me. Coincidentally, my interviewer had been a range officer and fellow production shooter at the Georgia State USPSA Championship, so he had heard of me. He gave me a chance and supplied me with an awesome NightForce NXS 1-4×24 optic and mount even though I hadn’t yet shot a 3-Gun match.
Similar to my first USPSA match, I had never attended a 3-Gun match. The closest I had come to seeing one was on TV, and I was really excited but nervous. I had enough time to shoot about 100 rounds through my shotgun and get my rifle zeroed from the 100-yard line with my new NightForce optic. I was dead-on within 10 rounds. Awesome optic! I also shot a few rounds on the move to try to get comfortable. My Glock 34 would round out my 3-Gun trio. Items such as shotgun-shell carriers and rifle-magazine pouches were borrowed from friends, but I felt just about ready.
THE DAY HAD ARRIVED and it was time for my first 3-Gun match. I arrived at the range and everything was new. I’d never been to this facility, didn’t know very many people there and the stages looked longer and more complicated than pistol stages. My nervousness subsided as I watched a few people walk the stages. I realized that the stage prep is pretty much the same as in pistol matches. You have to understand the layout of the stage and the stage brief, then develop a plan that works for you. I talked to a few people about their stage plans, and once I broke the stages down between the three weapons, everything seemed to fall into place. I wasn’t worried about the pistol stages, and I knew I would just have to slow down a little on the rifle and shotgun.
I knew the rifle and shotgun were going to be obstacles due to my lack of trigger time. The match started off a little rocky. My shotgun magazine spring created a problem that stopped my rounds from feeding into the chamber. One of the match directors had an extra spring that I borrowed and fixed the problem – another example of how great people are in the shooting sports! By the second stage I started to feel more comfortable, and overall felt that I did pretty well.
The last stage was probably my best. It started with three pepper poppers that threw clays into the air. These are reactive steel targets that fall to the ground when you shoot them, and as soon as they hit the ground they throw a clay pigeon into the air as a secondary moving target. I’d never shot clays like that before, but I hit them all. I even had to do a pick-up shot on one of them and still got it in the air! The next string was a pistol stage, which I shot on the move to make up some time. After that, there were four long-range rifle targets at 55, 110, 160 and 210 yards. It was time to really test that rifle zero. I set up for the shots, took a long breath and exhaled and fired the first shot. Hit! The next two shots were both hits. My confidence was pretty high. I fired at the 210-yard target and missed. I remembered to adjust for distance using my optic and fired again. Hit! I was so proud of myself. I was pretty happy with how I did on that stage especially. There were several things I had never encountered but I worked through them. In the end, I had no misses and no penalties. My time wasn’t the greatest because I wanted to make sure I was safe and my hits were all good, but I was pretty happy with my results.
IF I COULD HAVE CHANGED anything about my first match, I would have paid more attention to other competitor’s stage plans and applied what I observed to my own. It was a lot different than I had expected, but overall I expected to make mistakes since this was my first 3-Gun. I got a little aggravated with myself over simple mistakes, but I will learn from them!
One of the similarities between 3-Gun, USPSA and GSSF are the people. These are some of the friendliest, supportive and helpful people you will find anywhere. The people on my squad offered help throughout the entire day, and I really appreciated that.
MY ADVICE for anyone looking into 3-Gun or any shooting sport is to be confident when you go out there. If you need help or equipment, just ask. Ninety-nine percent of the time someone will be there to help, whether you know them or not. Even if it’s your first match, match directors and range officers will walk you through it to get you started. One thing I’ve learned about the shooting world is that someone will always be there to lend a helping hand.
Everyone is new at some point and no one started out as a pro. All you have to do is apply hard work and dedication, and have fun. You can learn something from everyone on the range, whether it’s your first match or you’ve been doing it for 20 years. It’s all in the way you look at things. ASJ
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