Trap door to success

Jacksonville teen casts big shadow in shotgunning world

Posted: March 19, 2017 at 2:31 a.m.

Jacksonville’s Ryan Bowen dusts a clay target Friday at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in Jacksonville.

Ryan Bowen of Jacksonville has a weakness for fine automatic wristwatches and expensive shotguns, but his future is bright in competitive shotgunning.

Ryan Bowen of Jacksonville is one of the nation’s premier youth trapshooters. He was the high all-around champion at the 2016 Arkansas State Shoot, wh...

The past and present haven't been too shabby, either.

Bowen, 16, is the top youth shotgunner in Arkansas, and he's one of the best in the country. At age 15, he was the high all-around champion at the American Trap Association State Shoot, and he won it by breaking 200 consecutive targets. He is the youngest in state history to accomplish that feat.

Bowen's passion for shooting clay targets started at 5, when he watched a pair of cousins shoot skeet with a portable thrower in a family field. A year later, he talked his father, Tom Bowen, into letting him try it. Tom fired twice to show Ryan the ropes, but he missed both times.

"He gave me the gun, and he said, 'I'll let you shoot 'til you miss,' " Ryan said. "I shot 18 in a row."

"He did it with a .410 single-shot shotgun," Tom Bowen said, still with a hint of awe.

Tom sensed that he had a prodigy on his hands. Carol Bowen, Ryan's mother, was supportive, but she urged Dad to take it slow and ease the boy into it.

That part was self regulating because there wasn't a competitive shooting outlet for 6-year-olds at that time. The Pulaski County 4H-Club had a shooting team, but the minimum age for participants was 9. Ryan practiced until he was eligible to join. The 4-H experience led him to the local American Trap Association, and then to the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program.

In February, Bowen was named to the ATA Sub-Junior All-American Team for shooters under age 15 for his performance in the Grand American, an 11-day world tournament that drew 3,400 contestants to the World Shooting & Recreational Complex at Sparta, Ill.

To be considered for the All-American team, Bowen had to meet a minimum target requirement, and he had to have competed in at least three states. Selection was made based on All-American points accumulated while winning trophies and posting high scores at tournaments throughout the country during the 2016 ATA target year.

At the Grand American, Bowen was the top sub-junior athlete in the Winchester Super 500 Doubles, where he broke 497 of 500 targets.

He also posted two perfect 100-target scores from 16 yards in the Sterling Cut Glass and the Champion of Champions events. He broke all 200 targets in the prestigious ATA World Clay Target Championship, but he finished second in his category after a tie-breaker.

"The Grand American is a huge shoot, and there's a lot going on, a lot to keep up with," Carol Bowen said. "You're not even aware of all all the other competitions that he's in the running for, but they just kept bringing us all these trophies he won."

At the Southwest Zone, a regional shoot, Bowen won five trophies and was the sub-junior champion in the doubles championship with two perfect scores of 100.

Besides winning the sub-junior singles championship at the Arkansas State Shoot, Bowen also was the 1,000 target High-Overall performer.

At the Missouri State shoot, Bowen won seven trophies as a nonresident sub-junior, which included winning the 1,200-target High-Overall shoot.

The awards are great, but Bowen said the quest for perfection motivates him most.

"Whatever I do, I like to be good at it, but I also have this curiosity of, 'What more is there? What else can I do to improve myself?' " Bowen said. "That and the ability God has given me is what really does it all."

Ability is defined as quickness, and sharp eye/hand coordination, but success depends on other factors, especially concentration. In a trap shoot, your mind cannot wander. Not once.

"It's a game where one bird is the difference between winning and losing," Tom Bowen said. "There's no margin of error. None."

It also requires stamina to stay focused through hundreds of targets in all kinds of weather.

"This game isn't a sprint, it's a marathon," Ryan Bowen said. "If you shoot 200 rounds, the major part is your focus, but you need the endurance to take it whether it's 105 degrees or 45 degrees."

That degree of focus has bled into other parts of Bowen's life, including school. He was recently selected to the National Honor Society.

"In class, people can be talking, but I can block them out and do my work because my mind is trained to do that from this sport," Bowen said.

Carol Bowen said the benefits of shooting are more than superficial. The sport and the shooting community as a whole are a distinct lifestyle.

"He's definitely found his niche," Carol said. "He's a very careful person because he's used to dealing with firearms, and he's detail oriented. He was before, but having this discipline, he emphasizes it even more."

When we met to shoot photos, Tom carted Ryan's trophies in a wagon. He won them all with a Browning Citori XT Trap model, but he's upgraded to a Krieghoff, the Rolls-Royce of shotguns.

"If I could design the perfect shotgun, I'd make it a copy of the Krieghoff," Bowen said, "but I'll always keep the Browning. We did a lot of good things together."

Carol is a secretary for the Sherwood Police Department. Tom is an auto body technician for Service King. They bought the Krieghoff to reward their son for his excellence.

Despite his accomplishments, Bowen is relatively anonymous in football and basketball culture of Jacksonville High School.

"Not a whole lot of people at school know I do this," Bowen said. "I don't go around talking about myself and what I've accomplished. There's not a whole lot of recognition for this sport, and most people don't talk about it much because they don't know about it."

When Bowen's not shooting a shotgun, he shoots a rifle. He bagged a 10-point buck in 2015 that scored 132 7/8 Boone & Crockett. Its rack was recognized as the biggest taken in Ouachita County at the Arkansas Big Buck Classic.

"I like hunting and fishing," Bowen said. "I don't avidly play sports, but I do love doing anything outdoors."

Sports on 03/19/2017