The Young Eagles Rifle Team is the official U.S. national junior fullbore squad. Team official John Friguglietti Jr. describes the group as, “Our development team for future members of the adult U.S. team.”
Rifle shooters under 25 are eligible for the team, and there are no Palma- or fullbore-specific shooting requirements to qualify. However, if one wants to join the team without previous experience in those arenas, they should be ready to learn.
“To make the under 25 team, we do not have any criteria other than be ready to dedicate a good portion of their training time to shooting the Palma rifle,” Friguglietti said. “The team hopefully has enough shooters available at big matches throughout the year to field [one] team or more in competition.”
Being a member of this team provides memories that will last a lifetime. Current Young Eagle Jedidiah Gaddie, age 22, of Mason, MI, described a special moment at the 2019 World Shoot in Trentham, New Zealand, that added to his overall experience.
“Right before the World Championship began, the New Zealanders invited all the teams to come to the range, where they held a ceremony. All of [them] were on one side of the range and all of the competitors from around the world were on the other side, separated by a 50-yard gap. They explained the history of New Zealand and how proud they were to have us there. And they invited us to come across the gap and join them on the other side. They told us that we were now a part of their family, and that we were welcome to be there. This was their way to make us feel at home.”
It’s not just the glamour of international travel that makes the team unique, though. The relationships formed between members team members are strong ones that last beyond individual matches and time spent on the team.
Eric Eilberg, a former Young Eagle who attended the 2007 World Shoot in South Africa, attests that, “You’ll make friends for life. I still see teammates on the range 10 years after our cycle, and have shot ‘Young Eagle Alumni’ teams at the U.S. Nationals.”
Other relationships start outside the team. Gaddie followed in the footsteps of his sisters, Vikki and Hannah, who were previously on the team before aging out. Siblings Robert and Jessica Hudson had the opportunity to attend the 2019 World Shoot together, though within different age brackets.
J.J. Jackson was the assistant manager of the Young Eagles from 2000 to 2007, and volunteered his time when the Young Eagles first started. He explained the genesis of the team.
“The U.S. Young Eagles team is the result of Ian Cheeseman’s efforts after the 1999 World Championship in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Ian was competing and noted a complete lack of U.S. junior shooter representation. The U.S. Young Eagles debuted at the Millennium Matches at Bisley Camp, England, winning gold medals at the 2003 and 2007 World Championships held again at Bisley and the Connaught Ranges in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.”
The Young Eagles participate in ICFRA’s (International Confederation of Fullbore Rifle Associations) series of world matches every four years, cycling through host countries—the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. There are a variety of individual and team matches in these matches, depending on the host country’s format.
“It’s the equivalent of the Olympics for long-range rifle. They must always follow a national championship, so world competitors tend to shoot the local nationals first,” said Eilberg.
Luke Rettmer, age 20, of Ferndale, WA, has won several other titles over the course of his career in marksmanship and is currently in AIT, joining the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. He appreciates the unique camaraderie the Young Eagles team has to offer.
“The greatest experience being on the team is shooting with the best young shooters in the country and world and being able to share knowledge through friendship with them.”
Jessica Hudson, age 20, of Halifax, VA, advises new shooters to not overthink and not to compare yourself to other shooters.
“The world shoot experience, and Palma shooting in general, has many rewards outside of titles.”
She added that Palma shooting has positively impacted her confidence.
“I would never have thought that I would be able to take a shot from 1,000 yards calling my own wind and hit the target. I have gone from an off the paper miss to a X with the next shot. I no longer hesitate with a lot of things I normally would.”
Her brother Robert notes that the sport has taught him extreme patience.
“You can’t do anything about the things that are out of your control.”
However, team members are expected to represent the U.S. as best they can, which is something they can control—regardless of any challenges that come their way
“Young Eagles need to make our supporters proud of not only our shooting accomplishments, but our conduct on and off the range,” said Friguglietti.
For the World Championship, Young Eagles members are selected to attend based upon their scores and how they perform as shooters, coaches and team members. There is not a set number of Young Eagles.
“The more we have on the team, the more talent we have to choose from and available for any given match,” Friguglietti concluded.
The Young Eagles are always looking for new shooters, as well as financial support. To be considered for the team you have to send in scores and plot sheets of matches.
“For the 2023 World Long Range Championship, shooters will need to be under 25 years old at the time of the match,” said current Team Manager Jimmy George. “Funding is always tight and we need sponsors to help us.”
See more: World Long Range Championship: U.S. Under 21 Team Wins Bronze Medal