When Grayson Melton was younger, his dad hunted and killed a turkey and took it to Frankie Barham to get it mounted.
Barham was head coach of the Powhatan 4-H shooting team at the time, and Grayson’s dad saw that he had shooting targets. He told Grayson about them, and Grayson, who had just gotten a new bow, went by to try it out.
After Grayson shot his bow, he recalled Coach Barham wanting him to join his team. He did so at the age of 9.
Now 18 and a recent graduate of Powhatan High School, Grayson has been a member of the Powhatan 4-H Shooting Club for almost 10 years.
He’s attended shoots at locations across Virginia; every year, he and his team would partake in a state competition, and from that competition, the top 10 individuals would be formed into a development team.
Those 10 shooters would practice together for six months or so, and then the best four individuals from that team would head to the outdoor National 4-H Shotgun Championship in Nebraska, with the top three scores counting.
Grayson knew he had made his way to that best group of four in Virginia, so his goal with the national competition – the first time he had traveled out-of-state for the sport – was: “to go out there and to do the best that I could and to show them how good I can shoot – or how bad I can shoot, however it turned out.”
Competing in a field of 117 youths from 32 different states, Grayson placed fifth individually in the nation…
…and first overall with his fellow Virginia teammates to win the national team championship against the likes of Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
“Not trying to point fingers or nothing, but we were definitely trying to beat Texas. Everybody that goes out there wants to beat Texas…because, in our state shoot…last year I think we had 85 competitors…they had like 1,020 people at their state shoot, so they have so much more potential for skill than we do,” Grayson said. “It feels really good, leaving knowing that we beat ‘em – us four beat pretty much everybody in Texas. Anybody that could’ve participated, we beat pretty much all of ‘em. That’s kind of the look I had on it.”
All four Virginians placed in the top 20. Mattison Russell from Mecklenburg County took third place, Walker Coleman from Nottoway County finished seventh and Charlie Maddox from Appomattox placed 19th. They were led by head coach Jinx Baney, a retired Brunswick County extension agent, and assistant coach David Maddox.
Using the Browning Citori Crossover Target shotgun that he bought a few years ago, Grayson took ninth overall in trap – in which targets travel away from the shooter – sixth overall in skeet – in which the shooter tries to break a high target and a low target, both of which are launched by two fixed machines – and fourth overall in sporting clays, a hunting scenario-type competition in which targets fly in all directions.
“Skeet is mostly a mind game – it does take a lot of skill, but it takes more of a mind to keep it all together and be able to put it all together, and the trap…you don’t really ever know where [the target] is coming from; wherever you’re at…it’s still in front of you, but either to the right, to the left, straight in front of you,” Grayson said. “And then sporting clays…that really shows what kind of shooter you are. You can never go out there knowing what it’s going to be. It’s going to be different every single time. No matter where you go, it’s always different.”
When Grayson started with the Powhatan team, there were three disciplines: shotgun, .22 rifle and archery.
“Shotgun has always been my favorite and that’s the one I pursued the most,” he said. “That one’s just the most fun to me – just being able to shoot all different targets depending on skeet, trap or sporting clays…it’s more of a challenge, to me…than the .22 and the archery because it’s a moving target…”
Taking on the national competition, Grayson said he definitely kept his head straight.
“If I did miss one, I wouldn’t let my head affect me – I would keep my head focused,” he said. “I wouldn’t let my one miss cause another one.”
It takes a lot of practice to reach Nebraska, and in addition to shooting continuously for almost 10 years, Grayson estimates that he shot about 250 shells a day while practicing almost every day in the two weeks leading up to the trip to nationals.
“I shot a lot of shells, and that’s really what it takes,” he said. “You can’t just go out there and expect to compete with these competitors – you’ve got to shoot the shells, you’ve got to have the practice to be able to even compete…practice is definitely the biggest thing that would put you where I ended up.”
He learned plenty about the sport from Barham and current head coach Steve Wooten. His team, he said, feels like a family.
“All the coaches and all my teammates – it was always fun to go to shooting practice, not only to shoot but to be with everybody that was there and all the teammates and everything,” Grayson said. “It just kept me going, wanting to do it and wanting to do it, and then once I saw that I could have some potential, I kept with it.”
The coaches, Grayson observed, are there to help you not only with shooting, but with anything going on in your life – they’re that close with you. He added that current head coach Wooten “will help you with anything you need.”
“If your gun’s broken, if your bow’s broken, he’ll fix it,” Grayson said. “He’s been a huge impact on my shooting career, for sure – him and Frankie.”
Grayson’s parents have always been there to help with anything he needed, whether it meant helping him to buy shells, helping to pay for practices at locations like Arrowhead Gun Club or going with him to practices.
“They would give me the encouragement to go and to do the best that I could,” he said.
Grayson has a full-time position with Tolley Electric and will start apprenticeship school in September. He hopes to advance his shooting career through organizations including but not limited to the Scholastic Clays Target Program and the Amateur Trapshooting Association, and he plans on finishing on the high end again in this year’s upcoming state competition.
For those coming up after him, Grayson said the sport is a great thing to get into.
“If football’s not your thing, baseball’s not your thing – even sports in general’s not your thing – try out shooting,” he said. “It’s a great thing not only to be able to do things with other kids, but…it teaches you tons of life skills – how to interact with other people, how to just go along in life pretty much. It helps you with your social skills and everything.”
While the shooting competition landscape will continue to change both in quantity and quality with every passing year, Grayson Melton, from Powhatan, feels really good to know that, in 2019, he left the National 4-H Shotgun Championship as a top 5 placer in the United States.