By Rosemary Horvath
Mitchell Fitzpatrick is 16 but already has an eye for designing long range style rifles not to mention an eye for the targets he shoots.
The Gladwin Community High School junior may be best known for his prowess on the basketball court but sports fans may be surprised to learn last August he finished second in the Junior National and World Champion competition in Raton, New Mexico.
He’s the youngest member of Michigan F-T/R Rifle Team coached by Bryan Litz of Cedar Springs, chief ballistician for Berger Bullets and Applied Ballistics, team sponsors. F signifies long range shooting. T/R is a subgroup limited to certain calibers of gun.
Mitchell competed in Raton against shooters in his age group to age 21. He would like to compete this February in Phoenix, but the week-long event means he’d miss school. Instead, he will resume competition at Michigan events starting in May.
Besides, even though the team has sponsors Mitchell hasn’t rounded up any local sponsors for himself as yet. He works summers to cover travel and other expenses connected with competitions around the state and beyond.
His interest in gunsmithing and shooting took hold a few years ago. Already experienced in rifle and bow hunting, he heard about competition at the maneuver training camp at Camp Grayling sponsored by the Michigan Rifle & Pistol Association and “checked it out,” he said.
“I liked the long range aspect of it and the challenge. The camp has three or more competitions every year.”
He started shooting 1,000 yard long range competition in 2012.
What he and his dad Mark find pleasing is their ability building rifles at their home shop.
“We can manufacture a rifle but we can’t sell it,” Mark explained. “What we do is for ourselves and our own use.”
Mitchell explained he and his dad put together a 6.5-284 F-Class rifle based on a savage action, Shilen barrel and Boyd’s stock. They did all the barrel work, chambering, machining and fitting.
Mark, a contractor by trade and the building official for Clare County, said he has “a reasonably equipped machine shop.” He and his brother are experienced machinists. Mitchell took to building watching his dad.
Marks says “there is a lot to be learned building something with your hands versus buying something. Mitchell is very sharp with math and has learned drafting using a CAD (computer aided design) program at school.
“We buy raw materials and we do all the finish work,” added the father. “Win or lose, I want him to be able to say I built this.”
Mitchell is the whole package, so to speak. He knows how to design, build and shoot a gun.
“One thing I hope especially with my engineering skills is to get a good job as an engineer,” the youth said, adding he wants to shoot competitively “for the rest of my life.”