Vincent Hancock poses following the men's skeet finals at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Asaka, Saitama, Japan.
Pinecones and aluminum cans hardly stood a chance against a gun-toting toddler named Vincent Hancock nearly 30 years ago. The youngster spent hours popping away at inanimate objects with a BB gun near his northern Georgia home, but it was one day when he brought home a bird to his mom that he got his first real lesson about guns.
“I would see birds and think I can hunt like my dad,” Hancock recalled. “Then my parents taught me it was wrong. They taught me how to respect a gun, and my dad taught me gun safety.”
That scenario is a sketch of Hancock’s beginnings in becoming a U.S. Army veteran and one of the best shotgun skeet shooters in the world. His path from preschool led him to competitive shooting by age 10, joining the Army before his senior year of high school and eventually three Olympic gold medals and four world championships.
Hancock, 33, feels he has two more Olympics left in him before retiring.
With Veterans Day this weekend, Hancock recalled the sacrifices of not just his military brethren, but their families who also made sacrifices.
“Being in military, I want to thank people who are serving or who served in the past,” he told TeamUSA.org this week. “Thanks to all the military families, including my wife, who put up a lot with me being gone a lot.”
Hancock’s own journey really began when he started shooting shotguns just prior to his teenage years. By age 16 in 2005 he won his first world title, and that’s when the Army began aggressively recruiting him to be part of its U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.
“I was competing against their best shooters at the time and winning,” Hancock said. “They said I could be part of the best team in the history of the United States.”
He attended basic training on June 1, 2006, just after his junior year at Gatewood High School in Eatonton, Georgia, concluded. He spent his entire summer before his senior in boot camp as a 17-year-old. He returned to school that fall in phenomenal shape and more mature than he could have fathomed.
There were 64 men in his unit — so many that they overflowed their barracks, requiring some to sleep in a storage closet, he said. The guy who slept in the bunk next to Hancock was 35-years-old. Boot camp was more than push-ups, running, obstacle courses, polishing boots and squaring away foot lockers. It was classroom time and learning the basics of the Army.
It was also a time to learn about different people from different cultures and different parts of the country. It was a time to learn that there was more to life outside of being a high school teenager.
“It was eye opening to say the least,” Hancock said. “At 17, we think we know a lot. We go through struggles. I felt a maturation process happen over that summer.”