Allister Helton came very close to quitting cadets three years ago, but something kept pulling him back. Now, he’s very happy he stuck with it after winning five medals at a shooting competition in Ontario.
The 16-year-old sergeant in the 676 Kittyhawk Air Cadet Squadron in Sidney finished in eighth place out of around 120 cadets from across the country in a national air rifle competition May 4 to 11 in St. Catherines, Ontario. For Helton, it is a big improvement over his 15th place finish last year — and now he has his sights set on doing even better next year.
Early on, however, he said he was looking for reasons to stick with the Air Cadet program.
“I was ready to leave cadets after my first year,” he said. “I didn’t think there was anything for me.”
He had been learning how to shoot air rifles with the local squadron under the training of Second Lieutenant Doug Tellier, the squadron’s range coach and supply second in command. Helton admitted he found Tellier a little scary at the time. After trying many other things – including the flight simulator – Helton said he decided to stay and even try shooting again.
“I was more committed to do something in my second year,” he said. “I really wanted to stay in cadets, so I wanted to make it work.”
What made it click, he continued, was he found that the effort he was putting into his shooting was starting to pay off.
Tellier said he saw talent in Helton early on and has since been working with him to improve his technique. For Helton, his biggest challenge is the mental side of the sport. He said he can get nervous in competition — and that has a big impact on his accuracy.
“It’s his stumbling block,” added Tellier.
To help get past that, Helton is firing 3,000-plus rounds in both practice and in local competitions throughout the season. Come the nationals, said Tellier, and Helton shot between 250 and 260 rounds.
“You have to be aware of every shot,” said the coach, “and try to hit a pinhead every time. Everything has to be meticulous — you cannot waver — and to do it time after time, after time, it can be mentally tough.”
Helton, who lives in Central Saanich, said his goal to improve his shooting is to hone his concentration and try to relax as he shoots. He is getting better at it and earned three third place and two second place finishes at the national event. He was also given a laminated scorecard of a perfect 100 he achieved during the competition. Tellier added that if Helton earns a few more of those 100s, he will set a squadron record.
The season is almost finished for Helton and his peers with the air cadets. The squadron holds its annual cadet review on Saturday, June 1 after which they stand down for the summer. Cadets go back in session in September and for Helton, it’s back to practice and concentrating on returning to the national shooting competition.