During a visit to the NWTF headquarters located in Edgefield, S.C., two-time Olympic gold medalist and Georgia native, Vincent Hancock, opened up about his shooting career and what the Palmetto Shooting Complex means for the future of the sport.
NWTF: What life events or moments led you to pursue competitive shooting and at what point did you start planning to compete at the Olympics?
VH: My dad and my brother were both competitive shooters while I was growing up, so I’ve been around it since I can remember. When I was 10 years old my dad took me to the range near Covington, GA, and I shot my first skeet target. I loved it. I shot sporting clays tournaments for a while on the weekends and right around my 12th birthday, I went to a 4-H match in Eatonton, GA, where another kid mentioned trying out the Olympic discipline of shooting where they had the 1996 Olympic games. I didn’t even know shooting was in the Olympics. I thought I’d give it a try and did really well. I shot a 21 out of 25 my first time and a 17 out of 25 the next day. The Olympics were near and dear to my heart because Atlanta hosted it in 1996. I watched it on TV, and actually, my music teacher ran the torch through my town. The Olympics were really cool. I didn’t know what role it was going to play in my life in the future, but after that second day of shooting in Atlanta, on the way home I told my mom and dad that I wanted to go to the Olympics, and I wanted to win a gold medal. It was a few months after that, that I had a range built in my backyard and started shooting Olympic skeet.
NWTF: That’s awesome! How often did you shoot when you were younger?
VH: Pretty much every day. I’d shoot after school for as long as my parents would let me, sometimes even under the lights, go inside, eat dinner, do my school work, and then do practice mounts until my parents told me to go to bed. I’d wake up in the morning, do more practice mounts, go to school and do it all over again.
NWTF: Do you ever remember being sore or fatigued?
VH: Yea, all the time! At the height, I was shooting over 50,000 rounds a year.
NWTF: What did you do to overcome it?
VH: I would go back out and keep shooting. The more you shoot, the less you hurt.
NWTF: What equipment do you prefer to use?
VH: I have sponsors, but I don’t accept any sponsorship until I actually get a chance to test the product for at least a few weeks. People on the outside think that you just go where the money is, that isn’t true. There are different opportunities that are out there, but they have to fit with who I am, my morals and ethics. Anyway, I’m a big Beretta guy and always will be. I’ve shot a Beretta since I was 11 years old. I’ve tried others but there is nothing even close that compares to a Beretta for me. I shoot Müller chokes and Nobel Sport Italia shells. NSI actually allowed me to design my own shell and pick all the components I wanted. My glasses are Pillas.
NWTF: When you aren’t shooting or training, what is your go-to pastime?
VH: I like to go hunting. It isn’t easy to do with the lack of public land in Texas, but when I get the chance, I take it. The same goes with fishing. We have a pond at the house and it has some really, really big bass in it. I’m stoked to go out this fall. I love to golf, as well.
NWTF: In a sentence or two, describe what it feels like to go to the Olympics.
VH: It’s a surreal feeling knowing what you represent. Being able to represent, not just myself, not just my family, but my country as a whole is the biggest opportunity I could ever ask for.
NWTF: What’s the most interesting place you have visited because of your involvement in competitive shooting?
VH: To be honest, it is hard to pick a place. Before, I never had a reason to travel out of the U.S., but because of competitive shooting, I’ve been to more than 27 countries. I’ve been to China and the Great Wall, London and Big Ben, Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia… I’ve become a world traveler! My favorite place to travel to is Italy. I’m good friends will all the Italian shooters; my mom is half Italian and of course, with Beretta being Italian, it works out perfectly for me.
NWTF: Very cool. Switching gears here, what role did the NWTF play in your life?
VH: The NWTF is one of the largest conservation organizations in the United States. They were a big part of the community, so it was easy to get involved in events. Growing up, one of the biggest shoots in the south was the NWTF Turkey Shoot. I started shooting in that and NWTF still target events. I’ve grown up believing in what the NWTF does for hunters, shooters, conservationists and the habitat.
NWTF: As a spokesperson for the NWTF, why are you interested in growing the popularity of hunting and shooting sports in today’s youth?
VH: I want to pass on my passion for hunting to my kids. I see the joy that wildlife gives to them, and I know what it gave to me growing up and what it still gives to me now. To me, shooting sports is an avenue to hunting and vice versa. I know that the first step to getting people interested in hunting or shooting is just introducing them to it. That opens the door for them and allows them to grow from there. I’d like to teach kids about firearm safety and responsibility, and then give them the chance to go out and have fun shooting at a range. Presenting those opportunities are critical.
NWTF: Why is it important to teach shooting safety, education and responsibility to youth?
VH: Because it sets the tone for them as growing young adults. I believe people in the shooting sports are some of the most upstanding citizens because we have respect for something other than ourselves. Having a firearm, owning a firearm and shooting a firearm teaches us the responsibility of our actions. A gun will only do what you make it do and if you were to do something dangerous, bad or wrong, it could cost a life. That’s something engrained in everyone who steps foot on a range. The first thing I ask students or new kids who are getting into the sport is, “What is the first thing that you lose if you get in trouble and commit a felony?" The answer is your right to bear arms. They lose the opportunity to do what they love. That goes a long way with youth because they know they cannot mess up.
NWTF: What role will the Palmetto Shooting Complex play for the future of shooting sports?
VH: The PSC is truly one of the first places in the United States that is a one-stop-shop for hunting, conservation and shooting. It’s going to provide a great opportunity for youth and for the public to come out and experience several aspects of the outdoors. And in general, just getting people to respect and understand the outdoors more is always going to be a positive thing.
NWTF: Anything else you’d like to add?
VH: I don’t have a coach, but my wife is incredibly supportive and is definitely one of the biggest things that helps me get through. I’m grateful for her and the opportunities that God has given me. He has certainly blessed me with a lot of fun and interesting times and I thank him for the talent he has allowed me to have. I’ll be back in 2020.