Coolness under fire
By TONY WHITE
HIS mum calls him 'Cool Hand Luke'. His senior competitors can't figure out how a young whipper snapper can beat them at their own game.
Dean Caldwell, a 15-year-old Cathedral School student from Great Marlow, is recognised as a top gun in clay shooting.
Dean has a keen eye, steady hands, nerves of steel and a competitive nature, all pre-requisites for success in his demanding sport.
His performance at the recent Northern Zone Championships in Cessnock earned him high acclaim.
Competing in the double barrel shotgun event in the open division against older, more experienced rivals, the young tyro shot a clean round of 50 targets to tie with 13 other rivals for a 'shoot off'.
One by one, Dean's rivals fell by the wayside as he continued to shoot clean, hitting clay targets propelled in a random pattern from a machine 15m away.
It took 175 shots before Dean won the event and he still hadn't missed a target.
"My previous best was 97, then I missed one," he said humbly.
Rus Wesslink, Dean's coach and secretary of Grafton Clay Target Club, said it was virtually unheard of for a junior like Dean to win the open double barrel section.
It was a nerve-racking affair, especially for his family watching the drama-charged events unfold.
"The parents were more nervous than Luke.
"It was more stressful for us. He's Cool Hand Luke, this lad," mother Narelle Caldwell said.
"I was quiet relaxed, not really nervous," Dean said of the shoot out.
"I concentrated and did my best."
Dean, after just under three years competing, is already rated AA, the highest category, and his performance at Cessnock also earned him the Junior High Gun Award.
He has now been selected to compete in the NSW Titles at Wagga Wagga over the long weekend in October.
Dean's elder brother, Mathew, 28, was the lad's inspiration to take up clay shooting.
"My brother used to shoot and one day I went down to the Grafton Clay Club and had a try," he said.
"I loved it straight away. I just really enjoy the whole thing and competing."
"He'd always had a yearning to shoot a gun," mother Narelle conceded.
Clay shooting is strictly regulated and Dean had to wait until he turned 12 to be licensed.
Wesslink took Dean under his wing and he travels to competitions most Sunday's to places like Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Dorrigo and Yamba.
Dean's prowess and promise has been recognised by clay shoot officials.
He was one of 22 from throughout Australia to be selected to attend a junior development school under the tutelage of Olympic gold and silver medalist, Russell Mark.
"We get to go to three camps. I attended one earlier this year and it was really great. I learned a lot," Dean said.
"Russell was fantastic."