Alex Ahlin of Bamberg takes aim during the U.S. National Shotgun Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Alex Ahlin of Bamberg takes aim during the U.S. National Shotgun Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Image Credit: USA Shooting

Bamberg County 15-year-old Alex Ahlin became one of the youngest shooters ever to make the U.S. National Open Men’s Shotgun Team and took one step closer to realizing his dream.

“I want to go to the Olympics in 2020 and win gold,” said Ahlin, who started competing in 4-H shooting competitions when he was 8.

Ahlin earned a shot by placing third in the U.S. National Shotgun Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., this summer. He’ll now participate in international skeet shooting competitions the next two years with an opportunity to make the U.S. Olympic team.

“There is only one other shooter ever to make the U.S. National Open Men’s team at age 15. The other person is Vincent Hancock, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is considered one of the best shooters ever,” said Rick Willey, South Carolina 4-H shooting sports coordinator and coach of the Clemson University Shotgun Team.

Ahlin is now training with Hancock’s father as he aims for an Olympic run.

Ahlin, a sophomore at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School, started dove hunting with this father, Kenneth, when he was 5. Kenneth bought him a one-arm throwing machine when Alex was 7 so he could practice target shooting.

At age 8, Ahlin joined the 4-H Shotgun Club in Orangeburg County and quickly impressed Willey. Willey and the Ahlins have been close through the years, traveling together to tournaments throughout the country – Willey’s son Adam also competes.

Alex Ahlin, center, with South Carolina 4-H shooting sports coordinator Rick Willey, right, and shooting coach Bernie Till.

Alex Ahlin, center, with South Carolina 4-H shooting sports coordinator Rick Willey, right, and shooting coach Bernie Till.
Image Credit: Kenneth Ahlin

Many of the competitors vying for the Olympics and competing against Ahlin in the U.S. National Shotgun Championships enroll in military marksman programs so they can shoot full time. Ahlin balances shooting practice with schoolwork and other extracurricular activities. He competes in cross country in the fall and plays soccer in the spring.

“To have a kid who is still in school and excelling at this level is really special,” Willey said. “It’s quite a feat.”

Ahlin shoots about three times a week and hopes to start practicing six times a week. This fall, he’ll compete at the USA Shooting Fall Selection tournament Sept. 29 to Oct. 8 in Tillar, Ark., to attempt to make the U.S. World Cup team. Next year, he’ll compete to make the U.S. National Championship Team as he continues his quest to make Team USA. After graduating high school, Ahlin hopes to attend Clemson University and join the Shotgun Team.

“I’m trying to get my mental game really strong and trying to improve my consistency,” Ahlin said. “I really started believing in myself at junior nationals at Colorado this year.”

South Carolina 4-H operates shooting clubs throughout South Carolina, teaching young people gun safety, basic operation and marksmanship, along with life skills such as responsibility, teamwork and respect. Participants have opportunities to compete in state and national 4-H events. South Carolina 4-H has fielded competitive teams, placing first in national 4-H skeet, trap and sporting clay competitions.

“4-H really helped me with my shooting,” Ahlin said.