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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

Triple gold medalist Vincent Hancock has few peers in the international skeet shooting world. 

Sports pundits love to argue about the best athletes of all time. LeBron or Michael? Brady or Montana? Because these players competed in different eras, the debates can rage on forever. But in international skeet, there is only one best of the best.

His name is Vincent Hancock, a 34-year-old guy from a small town in Georgia, who has won three Olympic gold medals — more than anyone in the history of the sport. Next summer in the 2024 Paris Games, Hancock will vie for a fourth gold if all goes according to plan.

About Vincent Hancock

International skeet is a souped up version of American skeet. The clays are smaller, move faster at about 65 miles per hour, and when you call for the bird, the stock of the gun must be at or below your mid-section (think belly button). Clays can also be thrown between one and three seconds after the shooter calls for the bird. The best shooters in the world will break a true pair—each station throws two targets—in about 1.2 seconds or less.

Hancock grew up quail hunting on plantations and public land with his family’s Llewellin setter and English pointer. In recent years, he has taken to duck hunting and wants to kill a bugling elk during the height of the rut. But there is not much time for such pursuits when you’re running a shooting range in Texas (he lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with his wife and two daughters) and training to make Olympic history. 

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to duck hunt with Hancock a few times during breaks in competition. We chatted off and on about his career and what it takes to be an Olympic champion. I recently caught up with him after he returned from the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he finished fourth in individual skeet and won a pair of golds in men’s team and mixed team events.

H&B Interview: Vincent Hancock

vincent hancock

H&B: So, you had a skeet range at your childhood home and that’s how you started shooting?

Vincent Hancock: I grew up in Eatonton, Georgia. It’s a pretty rural area; literally the last drop-off on the school bus each day. But that afforded me the opportunity to grow up on my family’s property, where we built a skeet field in the backyard. That’s where I got a majority of my practice as a teenager.

I grew up shooting and around guns. My mom has pictures of me in a stroller, sitting behind the firing line as my father and older brother shot. My dad brought me out to the range for the first time when I was 10 years old to shoot my first round of skeet before I quickly transitioned over to sporting clays and shot that for a couple of years. When I was 12, I found out that skeet was an Olympic discipline, and so I went and shot at the same range where they held the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for skeet. Within a few days, I fell in love with it and knew it was what I wanted to do.

I assume that means your dad was your coach growing up? How’d that go?

In some ways, it was a good thing, because I always had someone looking over my shoulder. But it was also a problem as well…because he was ALWAYS looking over my shoulder. That father-son, coach-athlete dynamic has historically been a tough thing to navigate. There’s just no separation between the two. And so it was difficult growing up, and I am sure I was the reason for the vast majority of that difficulty, because I was a hard-headed teenager, who didn’t want to listen and wanted to do things my way.

At the same time, he had no idea what he was doing. His experience had been in registered trap. He had never shot international skeet before. We didn’t even know shooting was in the Olympics prior to me starting my career. So we kind of learned together. One thing I have learned after spending so many years in this sport is that to be a good coach you almost have to have competed at the highest levels. 

You built your own shooting complex in Texas where you coach some of the best shooters in the world. Many of them are direct competitors. Why would you help the competition?

vincent hancock, coaching

The goal is to teach them in a way that they can eventually beat me, so that they won’t need me anymore. It may be bad for business on my end, but that’s how you make the best athletes. I work with Conner Prince regularly, and he and I are tied for first in the Olympic selections (there are two slots for the U.S. for the 2024 Paris games). We both earned 249 points this spring in Hillsdale, Michigan, out of a possible 253 points. He broke one more target than me in the qualifying rounds, and I won the final; he took silver. The next match in March decides who makes the team.

What’s the most pressured shot you have ever made?

I’d have to say that was at the last Olympics in Tokyo. I had a perfect match going, and then I dropped three targets, which almost put me out of the final. There was a shoot-off for the last three spots between me and six or seven others. I could feel that something was wrong, that I wasn’t comfortable. Then, I came to the conclusion that I was being too aggressive with my posture, which affected my mount and movement. I told myself to get a good mount, make a good move, and see what happens. I stepped up, did that, and the targets broke. It felt good, and I ended up winning the shoot-off. 

You were a teenager in Beijing when you won that first gold medal. At 34 years old, do you still remember what that felt like?

I was 19, the youngest guy on the team. I had already won a world championship and was ranked Number One in the world. But it really cemented for me in my mind that this is where I belong. I knew that I was the best in the world. At the time I was a cocky teenager, who was very confident in himself, but still needed to prove to myself that I could go out and win a gold medal. It came down to a sudden-death shoot-off for gold and silver.

Can you explain what makes you so good in competition? 

I just remember sweating profusely, even with an ice vest on. The pressure was intense. But I came to find out that the guy I beat (Tore Brovold of Norway) was shooting in front of the king and queen of his country. So he had even more pressure on him.

Seeing the target is incredibly important. Your eyes have to lock onto it immediately. To break any target you need to lead it. After breaking thousands upon thousands of targets, you learn what the leads look and feel like. For a long time, people (including myself) thought you needed to see the front edge of the target; to look for the rings on top of the target much like a hitter would see the seams of a baseball. That’s mostly true. But you also need to have an awareness of where the barrel is. You have to know where to insert the barrel so that you can make the same move over and over again.

Does the way you shoot change when you are hunting versus when you’re shooting skeet against the best competitors in the world?

When I go quail hunting, I count to three before I pull the trigger, otherwise, there won’t be anything left of the bird. When a covey flushes, if I don’t take my time, the birds will split in half, and that’s not good for the dogs, and it’s not the reason you go hunting. You want to bring those birds home.

Even as the best skeet shooter in the world, you have dealt with failure. When you finished 15th in the Rio Olympics after winning gold in Beijing and London, how did you handle that?

If I would have just enjoyed being at the Olympics and enjoyed doing the thing that I love to do, I would have shot so much better. When I got to Rio, the officials there made me tape over the logos on my gun, hat, glasses, shooting vest, and shoes because you can only have one logo visible on each piece of clothing and your shotgun. Then I got to the event, and the targets were not set well at all; absolutely horrible targets. Then I missed a few targets and didn’t advance.  And it frustrated me.

After Rio, I didn’t touch my gun for seven months, and it was wonderful. I felt like a whole new person coming back. Rio is the only final I haven’t made in the last eight years (top six shooters). And that’s because I’ve realized that I shoot a gun for a living — it doesn’t get much better than that.

You have two daughters — 11 and 13 — who are starting to shoot. What’s that like being in the same position your father was all those years ago when you began shooting?

My expectation for the girls is that they have fun and enjoy themselves. If they want to do something beyond that, then, yes, they have to push themselves. When it comes to shooting, I don’t push them as hard as my dad did at the beginning. If they want to shoot at a high level, then I will have to push them, but it will be in a constructive way.

And the great thing about teaching my kids how to shoot is they don’t second guess me. They know this is what I do and that I am one of the best in the world at it. I think girls tend to listen better than boys anyways, and so far they have done a great job of that. But we will see how much longer that lasts.

What does life look like for you after the 2024 Paris Olympics?

My expectations for Paris are to do my best and to be in peak form and in peak shape. I want to go there and win gold, but nothing is guaranteed. After that, my intention is to compete in 2028 at the Los Angeles Olympics, but I will take time off to spend with my family. In 2028, my oldest daughter will graduate from high school. So for the next five years, it’s really important that we are together as much as possible.


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