Somewhere in the Sawtooth mountain range of Idaho, a pack of wolves helped launch one family to shooting stardom.
Now the family known as the Brown Cartel travels as a group to the top shooting events in the country. And they shoot well.
Last week Susan and Will Brown became the first mother and son to become teammates on the USA Shooting national team.
As Susan stood at the award ceremony of last week’s USA Shooting national championships for rifle and pistol in Ft. Benning, Georgia, the communications director Jessica Delos Reyes for USA Shooting told her congratulations, but for another reason.
“I didn’t know we both made the national team,” Susan recalled. “It’s hard to follow because the women’s event usually starts during the men’s final.”
Will and his mother both won bronze medals in their respective 10-meter air pistol events.
The Brown family foursome of Susan, her husband Dan and sons Will and Wyatt live in Twin Falls, Idaho. They all shot together at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for 2016. Susan said the family quickly started affectionately getting called “The Brown Cartel” by other shooters.
Will qualified for the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where he placed 10th in free pistol and 12th in air pistol. The rest of the family stayed home, not making the trip to the Games.
The Browns’ journey in shooting began at their cabin in Hailey, Idaho, at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains. They have plenty of rifles as they’re avid deer and elk hunters.
“We started having wolves show up around our cabin, so we started bringing pistols. When it’s not hunting season we can carry a handgun,” Susan said. “Then we all started going to the local indoor pistol range and competed in their events and competitions.”
The tight-knit family is outdoorsy. When not hiking or backpacking in Sawtooth Range, they’re out hunting something with antlers. Susan said the family doesn’t keep the racks, save the first one each of them shoots. For Susan, the rack of the elk she shot hangs above the TV — the only mount allowed in the living room.
Will grew up shooting for recreation at an indoor range with Dan, and one day while shooting with a club, international rifle coach John Pitts convinced Will to try air rifle. Then while shooting at a club event in Blackfoot, Idaho, he met another man ho convinced him to try air pistol. Will took Randy Shikashio’s advice and quickly shot up the ranks.
In 2009, Will became the Junior Olympic men’s champion in air pistol — a title he won three consecutive years (he also won free pistol in 2009). He still holds the air pistol junior national record for points with 585. He placed fourth in the air pistol at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and then went on an international tear.
He was second at the 2013 national championships and has placed seventh or higher at seven world cups, all in air pistol.
Susan didn’t take up competitive shooting until she and Dan started right before the 2012 London Games.
“I wish I’d found this sport when I was a young girl,” she said. “I’m a competitor, and I like to compete.”
When she and her son both qualified for the team, they weren’t the first parent-child duo to do so. That happened in the early 1980s when Lones Wigger and his daughter, Deena, made the squad together.
“It’s great that we’re together on it,” Susan said. “I’ve been working hard, and shooting well enough to make the team is rewarding to me. The fact that Will happens to be on the same team is great. We didn’t set out to make this an historic thing, it just happened that way. It’s taken me six years to be consistent enough to pull it off.”
Susan said Wyatt has backed off from competitive shooting as he recently obtained his real estate license and is concentrating on getting his business rolling.
Will said he’ll keep competing while he’s still having fun in the sport.
“I’ll keep doing it until they kick us off the team,” said a joking Will, who’s usually quite reserved.
As for having family on the same team, Will said it’s good to have the support there, although once he’s out on the range it’s a sheer mental focus.
Susan? Well, she’s still a wife and mother.
“For me I wouldn’t mind, I like to have my family there,” she said. “My husband and I are very close and we do everything together. And of course I want to see my children do well.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.