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BAMBERG -- There was a time when Alexander "Alex" Ahlin of Bamberg carried a shotgun and it looked too big for him to handle.

But that was seven years and a few thousand shattered skeet shooting targets ago. Now Ahlin has grown up quite a bit and, as of this month, has a medal from national competition to prove he knows how to handle a shotgun quite well.

As of last week's USA Shooting National Championships for Shotgun in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the 15-year-old has qualified for a spot on the U.S. National Open men's shotgun team.

Ahlin broke 244 of 250 targets in the qualification rounds of the national championships through the weekend of July 16, which advanced him to the men’s open finals in men's skeet. Then to finish the four days of competition, it took a shootoff in the final round on Monday, July 17, in which Ahlin edged out Robert Johnson of Phoenix, Arizona, by a 10-9 score.

Johnson had his first miss of a target on station 5, after which Ahlin closed the door by breaking both targets at the station to clinch third place and the bronze medal. Ahlin is one of the youngest competitors to ever make the national open team.

More than 230 competitors from across the country traveled to the International Shooting Park to compete for World Championship Team slots and National Championship titles in trap and skeet. Ahlin will represent the USA in future competitions in international skeet. The next event, International Shooting Sport Federation World Championship for Shotgun, will take place in August in Moscow, Russia.

Ahlin started shooting sports competition in the South Carolina 4-H Youth Shooting Program with the Mid Carolina Gun Club youth shooting team when he was 8 years old and about as tall as a shotgun.

South Carolina 4-H shooting sports director Rick Willey recalls when Ahlin first arrived on the scene.

“I remember pulling up to Mid-Carolina Gun Club during one of their practices and seeing this small kid on the range," Willey said. "I called the head coach over, Bernie Till (S.C. SCTP state advisor), and informed him that he (Ahlin) looked too young and too small for shotgun.”

For safety purposes, 4-H has a recommended age of 10 years old for shotgun training and competition to begin.

Bernie asked that Rick watch the youngster for a while first before making his final decision. After watching him shoot, with a 4-H-certified instructor alongside, Willey became comfortable with Ahlin continuing on with his training.

Even at such a young age, Ahlin had a pleasant demeanor and a very conscience understanding of gun safety, and Willey recognized that. His concerns faded away, as did his objections.

“I often wonder what would have happened had I removed Alex from shooting a shotgun on that day," Willey said. "I suspect he would not be where he is now

“Shotguns are not for every 8-year-old, which is why we have the recommended age of 10. But every now and then, a special case comes along. Alex Ahlin definitely fit this mold."

Ahlin will be starting his sophomore year at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School in the coming days. He will continue shooting and training at Mid Carolina Gun Club on Kennerly Road in Orangeburg.

“I am not surprised by Alex’s success," Willey said. "He is a true competitor and has worked very hard to achieve this milestone.

"His demeanor hasn’t changed since that day I first met him 7 years ago. I couldn’t be more proud of Alex. Just as he did in 4-H, he will represent the USA very well, both on and off the field.”

Also during the four days of national championship competition in Colorado, Dania Vizzi (Odessa, Florida) set a national record, hitting 246 of 250 targets presented to her as she won the women's skeet title.

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