WEST POINT • Late at night, when all the world was quiet, Garrett Vaughn dialed the number of his shooting mentor’s phone. The calls would go unanswered, but the voice mail greeting held the memory of a friend who had guided him, encouraged him, introduced him to worlds he would not have known.
“I met Stephen Imes when my dad repaired a warehouse for him,” Vaughn said. “My dad told him about me shooting with 4-H. Stephen brought me out to his house and we shot clays, then he soon introduced me to helice, which was brand new here.”
Imes, 68, of Columbus, died unexpectedly last summer. Over the course of the several years prior, he led the charge to bring helice to his friend Jimmy Bryan’s place in Clay County. He’d been instrumental to introducing Mississippi’s shotgun enthusiasts to the fastest-growing game in the trade through Black Prairie Helice at Prairie Wildlife. He’d also been irreplaceable in bringing one young man into a journey of competition that’s now showing him the world on its own. Garrett, 18, leaves this week for Sicily and the World Helice Championship, a shot at the Beretta World Cup.
Exchanging the banks of the Tombigbee for the shores of the Mediterranean is quite a step to take, but it’s one made possible by the universal language of competition and the shooting sports.
Head, Heart, Hands, Health
“He’s grown up in the shooting sports and, the best part about all of it is, he gets to be around a really good group of people,” Jim Buck Vaughn, Garrett’s dad and owner of Golden Triangle Renovations, says. “It’s good for character building, both personally through the ups and downs of competition, and by association with everyone else there doing it too.”
Garrett grew up shooting air rifles and .22s in competition through 4-H, so performing well under pressure came to him naturally once he was introduced to helice.
“I got really into it and started shooting tournaments,” Garrett said. “I really enjoy helice. I find peace in it. I’ve gotten to travel and meet a lot of good people through it. It’s satisfying and a lot of fun.
“I was decent when I started out and got better over time. I shot tournament after tournament and was fortunate enough to earn enough points to get on the national team.”
He’ll join shooters from all across the country to represent the United States in Italy in the coming days.
Garrett has spent summers working alongside his dad on construction projects. There he’s learned the rewards of honest toil, the value of a dollar earned and countless other aspects of life a young man can only get by putting his boots on the ground, walking through the world one step at a time. He’s been fortunate to get to do so by his dad’s side.
Still, there are things dads just can’t teach. The burden of being a good parent makes it tough to also be a mentor and a friend. People lucky enough to have someone like Imes in their life get the guidance of a father and the camaraderie of a brother. They get supervision without restriction, conversation without concern and an unfiltered look at life without the pain picked up along the way. For time spent in company of such a pair, age does not matter. The years have only set the older half free.
“I never went to helice practice without Stephen,” Garrett said. “He would always call me when he was going to shoot and I would go with him. He taught me how to do it. He helped make sure I had what I needed to shoot and compete.”
Slow is smooth
Helice is a shotgun game that tests every aspect of a shooter’s skill. Form and follow-through matter, but psychology may matter even more. A day’s shooting involves tackling 30 targets but, in world competition, those targets are only offered in consecutive runs of two or three at a time. Between, the shooter must walk and wait, move among his competitors, hear his performance and others described and discussed. After a time, his turn comes again and he steps to the line. There it’s time to take a deep breath and a short pause, then close his eyes and clear the mechanism all over again. Shooting well through a single day’s targets is a tough job, and the world championship is many days long.
“The thing about it is, he has the talent, we just have to reassure his confidence,” Xavier Fairley, Director of Shooting Sports at Prairie Wildlife, said.
Lifting weights, not to mention building materials, and doing a man’s job has given Garrett a man’s physique. The development has put the fit of his shotgun into a state of continuing change. It impacted his performance at the U.S. Helice National Championship in July, but the lessons of that experience have him more than ready to step onto the world stage in the next few days.
“I’m back and better than ever now,” Garrett said.
Smooth is fast
“He has to go into the zone, shoot two or three targets at a time, pulling the trigger when he’s supposed to,” Fairley said. “When he does miss a target, he has to be able to recover quickly, step back, use his smooth technique, get his face on the gun, shoot when he’s ready and let his God-given ability do the rest.”
“Stephen always said, ‘Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,’” Garrett said. “I’ll never forget that. Without Stephen, without people like him and my dad and Mr. Xavier, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now. Mentorship means everything in this game.”
On his vest, Garrett wears a button commemorating who Stephen Imes was, what he meant to those who knew him. Competitors in Sicily will see it next. The button sits low on his vest and faces out toward the world.
For himself though, Garrett carries his best memories closer to the heart, keeps them deep inside, where the example of someone who meant the world and introduced a world are always with him. He carries them where slow is smooth, where smooth is fast, where encouragement and determination matter, and where reassurance is a lot closer than a phone call away.