The 2022 North American Monarch Cup Champion and highly decorated silhouette shooter Dustin Flint recently wrote about the “Rise of the Children.” In his report, he covered the top matches in Silhouette, all of which had juniors running neck-and-neck with sponsored, national champions.
One of these juniors is 18-year-old Aidan Cole of Gonzales, Louisiana. He competes in both air rifle and smallbore Silhouette in one of the most competitive Silhouette communities in the country. (Dustin Flint reported that the average winning score at a smallbore or air rifle Silhouette club match in South Louisiana is 38.2/40.)
Part of this phenomenon is driven by the prevalence of 4H shooting sports. Aidan started shooting competitively when he was nine, though he was introduced to firearms and safe handling at a much younger age. He started competing in 4H BB gun, then went on to win the 2021 4H .22 Rifle Team National Championship, as well as the 2022 4H Air Rifle Team and Individual National Championships. His favorite discipline in 4H rifle shooting was Silhouette, which he started competing in individually to practice for 4H. Once he aged out of 4H, he transitioned fully into the discipline.
Aidan says he likes the “mental competitiveness and the challenges that come with silhouettes over other disciplines. I enjoy being challenged not only physically against the elements and other competitors but mentally against myself in high pressure situations.” While this is relevant to many shooting sports, he went on to clarify. “Silhouettes always have something different to throw at you and it’s up to you to figure it out and get yourself on track.” The scoreboard is typically kept close to the line so it’s easy to see exactly how you stand compared to everyone else. Silhouettes are shot from the unsupported standing position, so mental toughness is especially key to not getting rattled.
Though you are competing not only against yourself but everyone on the line, everyone is especially willing to help lend a hand. “Everyone is always there to help and create friendships and connections while shooting,” Aidan said. “The matches are generally laid back, and everyone is relaxing and talking in between relays, and everyone is selfless and ready to do anything for anyone, because they want to compete with people on their best days.”
A fantastic example of this is what happened at the 2023 Conard Bernhardt Cup held in Pe Ell, Washington. During the second match, Aidan realized something was wrong with his rifle and he was out of elevation. There was no way to fix it during the match, so Aidan’s friend and fellow junior Jake Stine, let him borrow his gun. “The whole match I shot an animal ahead and a relay ahead…so I would shoot and bring him back the gun and then when it was my turn, he would bring it to me and set the clicks. Jake allowed me to use his ammo, his gun and everything else I could, and with everything I was able to shoot at 38 [a personal best of mine] and win the first Hunter match.”
The year 2023 has been stellar for Aidan. In addition to his Conard Bernhardt win, he claimed second Open .22 Rifle, third open M in air rifle and High Junior in both .22 and air rifle in the Spindletop Aggregate. What is perhaps most impressive is Aidan’s rapid ascension from AA class to M class in less than one year. This is a jump from the middle of the pack to the top of the sport!
Aidan currently wears a Hardscrabble Mountain vest made by Chris Winstead across all disciplines. His smallbore rifle is a CZ 457 with a Steve Wooster Stock, Timney Trigger, and 12-32x40 Sightron scope in D3 rings. He has two different air rifles so he can compete in both open and target class. His open rifle is a Walther Dominator with a 8-32x40 Bushnell Elite scope and a button trigger. He shoots a Walther LG300-XT with a 8-32x40 BSA scope and button trigger in the target class. Working with a spotter is key to success. He usually teams up with Kaeli-Gracyn Bourgoyne and uses a 20-60x80mm Celestron Ultima 80 spotting scope. No matter what he’s shooting, Aidan brings a pair of earplugs to the range and keeps his projectiles in ammo boxes and pellet cans custom-made by Dewey Stewart.
Though Aidan depends on his gear to perform, he makes it clear that you don’t need the most expensive gear to succeed in Silhouette. “Just find what works for you and use what makes you comfortable. As long as you are comfortable and can learn to play the mental game in shooting, you will be set because the mental aspect is the biggest obstacle stopping you from getting better.”
Shooting has also had a remarkable impact on Aidan’s life and development. He’s currently attending Louisiana Tech for mechanical engineering, but is not giving up on shooting or the lessons it has taught him. “Marksmanship has taught me the importance of self-control and knowing what I can and can’t help change,” he said. “It has taught me resilience and cool headedness when everything seems to be going wrong and how to ‘embrace the suck’ and find comfort in the uncomfortable things in life. Through shooting I’ve learned how to conduct myself in a manner in which I can achieve my destined goals regardless of the obstacles and conditions that surround it.” Quite poignant and mature words for a young man of 18.