Four years after they were formed, the Arizona WildGats have become expert marksmen.
In 2014, Tyler Browne, and Bill Perkins, sat down at Boston Market to discuss bringing a shooting team to the University of Arizona.
Brown was a freshman at the university, and Perkins was an employee at the Scholastic Action Shooting Program, a which provides student athletes from elementary to college with a safe environment to use firearms.
It took over a year for the two to get the team started, but the process paid off this March when the WildGats won the first-place trophy for the rim-fire-irons rifle event in the iron rifle discipline at nationals in Talladega, Alabama. The WildGats have come a long way in their four years.
“Our original team was four people. In the last two years we’ve gone from four athletes, to eight athletes, to 18 athletes and now it’s 28 athletes,” said Browne, 23. The team also has six coaches, including Browne who is an athlete, president and coach.
Perkins, 51, is the head coach of the team. The main reason he started the team was to promote firearm safety. Perkins said he is dedicated to teaching sportsmanship, firearm safety and the fundamentals of marksmanship to all athletes.
“My role is to teach safe responsible use of firearms. In society we teach drivers education and teach people how to swim, this is no different. I want to teach people firearm safety because firearms aren’t going away. They are in society,” Perkins said, “I want to empower people to have gun safety skills that they can rely on for the rest of their lives, so they are trained and comfortable.”
The WildGats are made up of international, females, handicapped and graduate students. The team is trying to recruit more female members, but they are finding it difficult to do so.
“I believe we have four females, which isn’t too bad, but it can certainly be improved. The challenge of getting females is it’s hard to walk around campus as a male trying to recruit sorority girls to join the shooting club. It’s a goal of mine to have people in our university community to come forward and break down that stereotype.” Browne said.
Females make up a large part of the sport and are often talented shooters, according to Browne. “The sport in general is almost 40 percent female, our team is below that average and I really want to fix that because females are incredible shooters,” Browne said, “Generally, they are more accurate than males. They are expert marksmen for a reason. They tend to have very fine motor control and emotional control, which are big parts of shooting.”
People tend to think firearms are dangerous and that injuries occur in the sport, but that’s false according to Browne. “I haven’t found another sport with a lower rate of injury than ours. Injuries rarely occur in our sport,” Browne said.
In its fourth year, the team has a solid foundation set. “This team is doing fantastic. It’s got great leadership. We have great support from our university, which sent us to Talladega for nationals in March,” Perkins said.
The team won its first event at the NCAA shooting competition in March while competing against top teams from all over the country. Some of those schools like West Virginia University and Texas Christian University have been powerhouses for decades.
One explanation for the quick rise is the WildGats team chemistry. Kyle Patterson, who serves as treasurer, coach and athlete said, “We have a lot of fun and goof around as a team, but when we pick the guns up, it’s time to get serious.”
Patterson picked up the sport for fun but never envisioned himself as a competitive shooter. “I didn’t think I was good enough, but I got sucked into it. Once you start really getting into it and learning the mechanics of it, it becomes a strategy game and it’s really fun to shoot then.” Patterson said. Patterson was one of the four shooters who participated in the first-place finish in nationals.
Browne is set to graduate in May and wants to put his shooting skills to work for the Tucson Police Department. Patterson, who is an athlete, coach and team treasurer, is set to take over as team president after Browne graduates.
Conor Redmond, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org