Pistols on Campus: Story of the Shooting Team at Hillsdale College

By Peter Suciu
Posted in #Skills
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Pistols on Campus: Story of the Shooting Team at Hillsdale College

May 16th, 2022

3:47 runtime

Whether it is actually true or not, there is a common perception that colleges and universities have become centers of indoctrination. With many college students embracing “cancel culture,” and universities offering “safe spaces,” it isn’t hard to see why such notions exist.

Hillsdale College Shooting Center
Hillsdale College fully supports the Second Amendment and its award-winning shooting team. Its John Anthony Halter Shooting Sports Education Center is shown here.

Yet, in Southwestern Michigan, there is a center of higher education that hasn’t been overtaken by students pushing for political correctness. In fact, the students of Hillsdale College, which features a “liberal arts” curriculum based on western heritage, are serious young adults focused on striving to work hard and push themselves.

The private Christian college, which was founded in Hillsdale, Michigan, by abolitionists in 1844, is among only a small number of U.S. colleges today to decline any government financial support. In addition, the school requires every student to a complete core curriculum that includes courses on the U.S. Constitution, biology, chemistry and physics.

Hillsdale College campus
Hillsdale College is one of 53 schools in the United States to have a sponsored varsity shooting team.

What also sets Hillsdale College apart from other centers of higher education is its world-class shooting range, and its understanding of the Constitution and the Second Amendment. According to the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SSSF), Hillsdale College is now just one of 53 schools to have a sponsored varsity shooting team.

The Chargers were well equipped with Springfield Armory-supplied handguns that meet the requirements for competition in the Stock Service Pistol and 1911 Pistol Divisions. Springfield supplied their 9mm XD-M Elite 5.25”-barreled Precision Pistol with fiber optic front sight and fully adjustable rear sight, and for the 1911 category, they supplied Springfield Armory 9mm 1911 pistols with fully adjustable rear sights.

Meet the Team

The Hillsdale Action Shooting varsity team is currently led by Head Coach Adam Burlew and consists of 10 students, including three U.S. military veterans. It currently plans to compete in both the Center-fire Pistol and 1911 Model divisions at the 2022 SASP Nationals. The team began training during the fall 2021 semester with both dry-fire and live-fire practice rounds.

Hillsdale College pistol team
The Hillsdale College shooting team trains year-round. Michigan winters and snow don’t keep the team away from practice.

In recent years, the Hillsdale Chargers Action Shooting varsity team has increased its presence in the shooting sports arena. In 2021, Hillsdale even hosted the USA Shooting National Olympic Skeet and Trap Championships at its John Anthony Halter Shooting Sports Education Center; while other competitive shooting events at Hillsdale included last year’s USA Shooting Junior Olympic Shotgun Camp and National Junior Olympic Rifle Championships.

“The team and I are determined to represent Hillsdale College and Springfield Armory well at this year’s College Nationals,” Coach Burlew told The Armory Life.

“We have been dutifully training hard since the fall to maximize our chances of success,” Burlew added. “These students are dedicated to being the best competitors and have put in the time and effort to achieve this goal. I’m proud of what they have accomplished over the last six months.”

History of the Shooting Team

In a very short time, Hillsdale has become to competition shooting what a university like Harvard is to rowing or Ohio State is to football. Yet, those centers of higher learning have a long history with their respective collegiate sports, whereas Hillsdale College is actually a newcomer to the world of shooting sports.

Member of the Hillsdale college shooting team in action
Springfield Armory supplied handguns that meet the requirements for competition in the Stock Service Pistol and 1911 Pistol Divisions.

Furthermore, what it may lack in years, it has already more than made up for in dedication, drive and commitment – while it also has facilities that rival nearly any in the nation.

Hillsdale Action Shooting varsity team was born out of the Shooting Sports Club, which was established in the fall of 2009, and since its founding, it has welcomed members of all skill levels. The club currently meets multiple times a week with certified instructors and remains focused on helping students develop shooting skills for competition.

Fast forward two years, and what began as a club, transformed into an intercollegiate shooting team that competes in multiple Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA) events and the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) Intercollegiate Clay Target Championships. Moreover, just one year after being established, Hillsdale’s shotgun team won the Division III national title at the 2012 ACUI championships in San Antonio, Texas; while in 2013, the team competed in ACUI Division II events, earning seventh place.

Hillsdale College shooting team practicing at the range
Springfield Armory 9mm 1911 pistols with fully adjustable rear sights are used by the Hillsdale team.

Even with its impressive track record, its recognition has been limited. But that’s because, unlike college football or basketball, the shooting sports aren’t likely to get major broadcast deals and no student-athlete will grace the cover of a video game from EA Sports.

“First of all this isn’t really a high-profile sport; not like football or basketball,” explained Dr. Charles Steele, professor of economics at Hillsdale College, and the team’s faculty advisor.

Hailing from Montana, where he grew up shooting and later took part in big game hunting, Steele was a self-described “reasonable choice” to step in as the advisor – certainly for a specialty or niche sport. He also agreed that the culture at many universities wouldn’t be so conducive to any activity involving firearms.

Coach Adam Burlew of the Hillsdale College shooting team
Coach Adam Burlew oversees winter training in this photo. Team members demonstrate a high degree of dedication by training in all weather conditions.

“There are probably a few schools that wouldn’t be so friendly to this type of sport,” admitted Steele. “But it is important to explain and to understand that we’re pushing ahead with the importance of rationalization of the armed citizen and how this is really part of the American heritage and the ability to protect one’s self.”

Steele further added that much credit for the team’s success is truly owed to the caliber of the students and their dedication to hard work and focus.

“The school has some highly disciplined young adults,” said Steele. “We have a culture of doing serious work. They are still young people and they still party, but you can come to the school on a weekend to find the students in classrooms studying.”

A Serious Team

The seriousness that the students show in their academic pursuits continues on the team.

“We have three basic concerns when it comes to the shooting range,” Steele told The Armory Life. “The first is safety, the second is safety and the third is safety. We’re always focused on making this a very safe sport.”

Hillsdale College shooting team practicing action shooting
Much of the team’s success is due to the caliber of the students and their dedication to hard work.

Steele also explained that while this grew out of the shooting club, there are still those who are safe and disciplined but yet might not be good enough to compete at the collegiate level. As such the 10 individuals on the team are truly a cut above the rest, and have earned their place through hard work and determination.

“Currently, I have what I’d call a relaxing schedule,” suggested senior Konrad Ludwig, a U.S. Army combat veteran, who had served multiple tours in Afghanistan. That relaxed schedule still includes early mornings, practice in the afternoon and evening studies.

“There were semesters where I had to get up very early for my classes, but still found time to get out at three or four, grab my range bag and do live-fire drills or spent some time at the range,” Ludwig added.

While he had never handled a pistol much while serving his country, Ludwig said that his time in the military provided him the discipline to work hard. And in short time he not only made the team, but now enjoys competing at the national level.

Konrad Ludwig, a member of the Hillsdale College shooting team
Konrad Ludwig, a U.S. Army combat veteran who had served multiple tours in Afghanistan, is a member of the shooting team. The team has brought home multiple medals in 2022.

Challenge Accepted

Everyone on the Hillsdale Action Shooting varsity team is up for some level of challenge, or else they wouldn’t have applied to the college.

“I knew it was going to be more rigorous and more conservative than other schools,” explained Greg Clement, a senior who is studying biochemistry. “I wanted to go to a school where I could think for myself, and not have the professors push an agenda on me.”

Clement, who grew up shooting with his father, hadn’t been involved in a lot of teams in the past. Yet, he managed to find his place and is now a college varsity athlete.

“Nothing is hard until you start to do it better than someone else,” Clement continued, and said that attitude is shared by his teammates. “We’re trained for competition.”

Pistol recoil during training at Hillsdale College
In the hands of the Hillsdale College team members, these Springfield 1911 pistols helped bring home medals.

As with others on the team, his schedule is rigorous. In addition to a full course load that begins early in the morning and doesn’t conclude until the late afternoon, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is an hour of dry-fire, while Tuesdays and Thursdays include two hours of live fire at the school’s gun range.

After that it is dinner and study, sleep, and the schedule repeats. During the competition season, it often includes weekend travel. It is easy to see why there is little time for bar-hopping and partying.

“Balancing time to get everything done comes down to a personal commitment,” said Clement, while Ludwig was in agreement. Students at Hillsdale College know how to get 25 hours worth of work and studies in each day, and the shooting team members cram in even more.

Michigan Winters

The shooting team at Hillsdale also has a disadvantage over those athletes at Harvard and Ohio State. The football season ends before winter sets in, while the rowing season begins in the spring, with indoor conditioning beginning in December.

Pistol training in the winter at Hillsdale College
The team only lost one practice to weather between Christmas and President’s Day, despite temperatures being in the teens for much of that time.

At Hillsdale College, the Chargers are out in the cold throughout the cold winter months.

“We’re in Michigan, so the academic year is when it is freezing cold,” said Ludwig. “Standing out in the cold twice a week is the hardest part before heading in to hit the books. This winter especially has made it hard to hold a gun for long periods of time outside.”

Despite an Arctic blast that saw temperatures in the teens from almost Christmas to President’s Day, the team only lost one practice to weather.

“We’ve been able to use ice fishing tents to warm up, and once you feel your fingers then it’s time to get back out there,” said Clement, who added that this is shaping up to be a promising season. “We’ve picked up some really good new shooters and the skill gap is closing fast.”

For those athletes, they’re likely to be hard Chargers come springtime.

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Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based freelance writer who regularly covers military history and hardware for The National Interest and FoxNews. He has collected military small arms and headgear since he was 12 years old. His most recent book A Gallery of Military Headdress was released last year and is available from Amazon.com here.

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