A Young Gunslinger

Scott Tatum, 15, who represented Montana as Park County’s sole air pistol competitor in the 2017 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships in Nebraska, is pictured with his air gun on Wednesday afternoon in Livingston. Enterprise photo by Hunter D’Antuono.
Jordan P. Ingram
Enterprise Staff Writer

During the final week of June, more than 700 well-armed hale and hearty youth from 36 states gathered for the 2017 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships on the kelly-green lawns of the Heartland Public Shooting Park in Grand Island, Nebraska. For the next three days, a small-arms salvo as thick as pea soup would erupt over the traditionally quiet skies of the Cornhusker State. 

Scott Tatum, a 15-year-old Park County resident, joined his teammates for his first-ever air pistol competition. As he walked around to “gather intel” on his competitors, he noticed something different about their technique during Silhouette practice. 

‘Taco Hold’

Tatum held his Russian-made Baikal IZH-46M pneumatic air pistol the traditional way, with both hands gripping the custom wood handle and arms extended from his chest to form an equilateral triangle. 

But some of the more experienced shooters were gripping their pistols as if they were holding a taco.  

“This was a new thing for me,” Tatum said. “And a guy from Mississippi told me it was called the ‘Taco Hold.’ So, I tried it and I shot 8 out of 10 of my Silhouette targets.” 

After adopting the Taco Hold, Tatum and his teammates Ben and Sean Rogers and Levi Gibson went on to grab 73 team points to finish fifth overall among 16 total teams. 

Tatum said his team remained calm, cool an collected throughout the entire three-day tournament, helping them overcome the intimidation factor that most young kids may experience at large-scale competitions.

“There was a girl from North Carolina who hadn’t drank soda or had any sugar so her hands wouldn’t shake,” Tatum said. “I beat her in every event. I think we were able to do well because our team was pretty chill about the whole experience.” 

Tatum and Co. took 6th in the Slow Fire and 8th in Rapid Fire air pistol events, proudly representing Park County and the Treasure State on a national stage. The local group received donations and support from local businesses such as Rick’s Refrigeration, Treasure Lanes bowling alley, Town and Country and Park County Rod and Gun Club.

Despite his success at air pistol, since 4-H members can only compete at an event once, this will be the teenage sharpshooter’s final air pistol competition. But Tatum said he plans to try his proven hand at competitive muzzleloader, an event featuring a classic firearm in which the projectile and charge are loaded directly into the musket snout.  

“It’s got some kick to it and any kind of flinch will effect your shot,” Tatum said. “It’s pretty cool.”

A lifetime of service

Since age 9, Tatum has been a member of the Montana 4-H program, a national youth development organization which promotes mental and physical health, good citizenship and research-based science through a variety of hands-on activities. 

The 4-H pledge, adopted in 1927 based on the original words of Kansas state leader Otis Hall, reads: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” 

Over the past six years, Tatum has learned to shoot both air rifle and pistol along with compound and bare bow archery through 4-H. 

Hunting legacy

Tatum started hunting for sport when he was 12, the  legal minimum age for Montanans, and tagged out in his very first year. Tatum said he dropped a 6-point bull elk, whitetail doe, muley buck and several turkey, ducks, pheasants and geese. 

Shooting seems to come naturally to the Park County teenager, who grew up in a large hunting family that hails from the farmlands of Virginia. 

“My grandparents were both hunters until my grandma scoped herself,” Tatum recalled. “She was bleeding with a black eye and had to quit. It was pretty bad. So my mother had to learn how to shoot.”

And Tatum has tracked and hunted in his family’s footsteps ever since.

Tatum is also on the Livingston Braves baseball team and works at Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream Co. in Livingston. When asked what he wants to do after high school, Tatum is torn between two very different fields. 

“I either want to be an orthopedic surgeon or a stone mason,” Tatum said. “I think it’s fun to do masonry but if I become a doctor, I could work a lot longer.”

And perhaps, he can shoot a little longer as well.