By Devin Golden
Chatsworth’s Braxton Bates isn’t old enough to drive, but he is old enough to fire a gun.
And he does it quite well.
Braxton, 12, a sixth-grader at Woodlawn Elementary School, won the Georgia Outdoor News pellet rifle competition, the Truck Buck Shootout, which was held Aug. 3-4 at the Gwinnett Center. His prize for winning was a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 from John Megel Chevrolet in Dawsonville.
“That’s going to take a huge burden off us,” said Brad Bates, Braxton’s father. “We’re going to hold it for him, and we told him we’re going to keep low mileage on it and use it a little but save it for him when he becomes of driving age.”
In Georgia, you must be at least 15 years old to obtain a driver’s permit. You must be at least 16 years old and have held a permit for at least one year before earning a provisional driver’s license.
This isn’t the first sign of the younger Bates’ skill at hitting his mark — other competitions have also shown his superb aim. He was on the Woodlawn archery team, which is coached by his father, that captured the National Archery In the Schools Program (NASP) World Championships in St. Louis, Mo., in June. Braxton scored a 287 out of 300 possible points to finish third individually in the elementary school division.
But at the Truck Buck Shootout, Braxton was the only shooter still in elementary school. The Bates said the only shooters in the finals not 18 or older were Braxton and a 15-year-old.
“I was the youngest one there,” Braxton recalled.
But the young outdoorsman is accustomed to doing more than shooting arrows and pellet guns. Braxton’s skill with a deer rifle in the field is what took him to the contest.
To qualify for the event, shooters had to kill the best buck from their respective half of Georgia during a given week of this past hunting season. Each week for 17 weeks, one shooter from the north and one from the south were added for killing the best-scoring buck — the score is based on the overall size and quality of the buck — until the field totaled 34 qualifiers. Then there were four wild cards from each half of the state, and two of those were slotted for a shooter 15 or younger who had the best-scoring buck from his half of Georgia. That’s how Braxton qualified.
At the Truck Buck Shootout, Braxton and other competitors had to shoot a moving target from 10, 15 and 20 yards, then a stationary egg from the same distance. The first day included head-to-head matchups to eliminate half of the 42-person field.
On the first day, Braxton had to eliminate his southern counterpart, a wild card from the south. They were the final two to compete that day.
“They made it all the way to the 15-yard egg before the kid from the south missed and Braxton hit it,” Brad said.
On the second day, with half the field already gone, the tournament switched an elimination format. If you missed, you were out.
Braxton didn’t miss for a while.
“Braxton kept hanging in there,” Brad said. “Finally they got to the 10-yard egg and there’s only eight people left. Four missed and Braxton was one of the four to hit. The first three people missed the 15-yard egg, and Braxton could’ve won there, but he missed. All four get to do it again, and two of the adults missed and the 15-year-old hit and Braxton had to hit to stay in it and he did.”
So the two youngest competitors, both without driver’s licenses, were the final two competing for a new truck. The runner-up would bring home a Suzuki four-wheeler.
It only took one shot from each to find a winner.
“He missed and I hit,” Braxton said. “If we would’ve both hit or missed, then we would’ve kept going.”
Said Brad, “There were about 500 people in there, and the place erupted. They went nuts.”
Hopefully nothing happens to the truck in the next decade, for the other shooters’ sake.
“Since I got the truck,” Braxton said, “I’m eliminated from it for 10 years.”