How Walker McDonald turned his passion for hunting into a world championship title.
Story by DAVID PENA for the Pooler Magazine.
Photos by TONYA CHESTER PERRY
Growing up as the younger brother of a highly successful student-athlete isn’t always easy. These younger siblings often find it hard to live up to the high expectations placed upon them because of their older counterparts, often lingering in the shadows of the latter’s accomplishments. For Walker and Barrett McDonald, however, this scenario couldn’t be further from the truth. Older brother Barrett, a junior at Savannah Christian and a standout football and lacrosse player, takes pride in his younger brother’s successes and marvels how Walker’s focus and determination ultimately lead to a junior world championship title in skeet shooting.
“I’ve always been around shotguns since about the age of four or five. My dad would come home from a hunt and tell us these interesting hunting stories and about what he experienced,” Walker recalls. “When we got a little older, he began to take us out once a month at first, sometimes taking us to the gun club with him.” Older brother Barrett remembers that his sibling’s fascination with hunting started even earlier in life. “Walker probably has put more time into hunting than anyone else I’ve ever known. He’s seriously been hunting the smallest things, from lizards to squirrels, since he was around three years old. He’d cut the branches off of our crepe myrtle trees (much to their mother’s chagrin) and tie some twine to it to make a bow in order to shoot squirrels out of trees. He was a hunting maniac back then,” he says with a laugh. Their mother Katie echoes the sentiment. “We refer to Walker as our own ‘MacGyver’. It’s been incredible to watch him do the things he does. He’s really an amazing tinkerer, always working on something. We joke that when he turns eighteen, we’re going to send him to be on Survivor.”
McDonald remembers going on his first actual hunt when he was in third grade, hunting pheasant with a shotgun, the gun he predominantly now shoots for both hunting and competitions. As an avid hunter, he honed his skills enough to actually join the Forest City Gun Club just two years ago, impressing the coaches almost immediately when they saw his technique. “That was the first time I ever shot a real round of sporting clays or skeet,” Walker recalls. Club manager Zac Guerrettaz, who coaches the junior shooting team, remembers his initial meeting with the young prodigy. “I first met Walker when he joined the team last year, and it was obvious from the very beginning that he had a lot of talent. I knew he was a special type of competitor since he had tremendous hand-to-eye coordination, which really sets him apart. Later that same year, Walker and his team competed in the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) in Sparta, Illinois and placed a respectable second. His passion for competitive shooting really took off from there.
While his shooting coaches acknowledge that McDonald definitely has a special talent, they also attribute his success in competitions to a great work ethic as well as an incredibly unflappable focus. “He’s probably one of the only kids out of the thirty or so that I coach that will take it upon himself to work on what needs improvement,” Guerrettaz says. “If he has a rough day of shooting where he feels he didn’t do the best he could have, he will spend the next two or three days working that problem out. He’s also very skilled at his pre-shot routine, blocking out the mental game of it all, which is not very easy to do. He knows when it’s time to get serious, and he’s always been totally committed during competition.”
Walker had to draw upon all of his shooting prowess when he took part in Junior World Championship tournament at Forest City Gun Club this past July. “The tournament involved all gauges, and with all my scores combined, I only missed fifteen out of four hundred targets,” he says. “This meant that I placed the highest overall in my division, which ultimately won me the Junior World Skeet Shooting Championship. It felt so amazing to win.” Coach Guerrettaz wasn’t too surprised at the win, however, saying, “He amazes me every time we shoot in a competition. It was just the culmination of all his hard work and talent.”
McDonald is no one-trick pony when it comes to athletics, though. As a talented offensive lineman for the football team, the freshman gives his older brother some credit for his success on the field. “Barrett helps me out almost every day with various drills and as far as what to do on the line. He’s been a great teacher to me.” Katie McDonald is quick to add, “Even though they’re only nineteen months apart, Walker really looks to his older brother for advice and guidance. They may butt heads occasionally, but it’s great to see them learn from each other.” Head football coach Donald Chumley sees the obvious similarity between the two brothers, but is quick to point out that the younger sibling is carving out his own niche at Savannah Christian. “Walker is like his brother when Barrett was a freshman in many ways. As coaches, we love to see kids like these with talent and heart as well as being coach-able,” says Chumley. “We’re extremely excited about what Walker is going to accomplish in his four years at Savannah Christian. He’s a pleasure to coach and the sky’s the limit as far as what he can do.” As far as his other endeavors taking time away from football, Chumley says that it actually is better for the student. “I think it’s great when kids play a lot of different types of sports and are involved in a number of other activities; it makes them well-rounded individuals. We really encourage that at Savannah Christian, and Walker’s a great example of that.”
In addition to football and competitive shooting, Walker also is a talented lacrosse player, taking a cue from his older brother, who started playing the sport to help with staying fit during the off season. Lacrosse coach Mike Vidan says, “I’ve known Walker since he was around four or five, and I would say that he is very dedicated to whatever sport he’s playing, whether it’s football, lacrosse or competitive shooting. He takes each very seriously and takes great pride in his performance. As a strong-willed and aggressive player, his competitive nature is a huge asset to the lacrosse team. He understands his position very well because he’s got a great defensive mind, which allows him to effectively shut down the offense.” As far as obtaining a national or world title in another sport, Vidan doesn’t view this as unattainable for McDonald. “His extreme dedication and commitment to shooting crosses over into other sports, and there’s no reason why Walker couldn’t be world champion in another sport. He’s definitely got the athletic ability and the drive to succeed in whatever he sets his mind to.”
Whether it’s competitive shooting, football or lacrosse, Walker says he takes something from each sport that helps him gradually build his character. Thus, through hunting McDonald says he’s gained a new-found respect for nature and claims that being “in the wild” helps to nurture his relationship with his Creator. “Hunting has showed me that I need to make sure to take care of my environment and respect it. I’ve also become closer to God through observing all that He’s created,” he explains. As for his other athletic endeavors, Walker claims that being part of a team is a special role, one that he relishes. “With shooting, it’s all on you and about the individual, but football and lacrosse have really helped me to work with other people as a team, and not to shut everyone out.” And as good as he is on the playing field, being a member of the Junior National Honor Society, McDonald realizes that grades and a great work ethic off of the field is paramount to any of the sports that he’s involved in. “Coach Chumley says that we can’t play football (or any sport) forever, so it’s a great idea to take a life skill or lesson from it to develop yourself.” If the past two years are any indication, accomplishing everything he plans to do in life will be as easy as hitting the bull’s eye for Walker McDonald. Right on target.