Shoot first, brag later

Nunavut cadets take aim at national competition in Iqaluit



About 125 cadets from across Canada took over all four hangars at the forward operating location (FOL) site near the Iqaluit airport this week as they competed in the National Cadet Marksmanship Championship. It’s the first time such a championship has been held in the North.

The marksmanship program, part of Canada’s Cadet program open to youths between the ages of 12 and 18, trains cadets to use Daisy 853 C air rifles that fire a .177 calibre pellet. Because of the gun’s low muzzle velocity, it’s not classified as a firearm under federal gun legislation.

Inside, the first hangar looks like a high school cafeteria at lunch hour. Teens sit around tables, some with headphones on listening to music, others playing cards. One table is engrossed in a game of poker.

Two hangars over, the mood is more sombre and decidedly quieter. A line of cadets lie on mats on the floor, rifles in hand. Ten metres away hang two pages of 10 targets.

Andrew Pokiok, 16, one of Cambridge Bay’s team of five (Iqaluit has two cadets competing) shoots in the farthest alley. He wears a baseball cap, safety glasses and earplugs. He pumps his rifle and sets up for another shot at the target. Behind him, his coach Nicolas Larabie, also a cadet, looks through a scope positioned on a folding chair. Coaches are only allowed to communicate with cadets non-verbally.

Larabie taps Pokiok on the heel with a long wire and gestures to him with his hands. Pokiok nods and repositions himself. He has half an hour to shoot his required number of targets.

In the alley next to him a girl wears a hooded sweatshirt with “Shoot First … Brag Later” written on the back. This is a gender-neutral sport, where men and women compete on a level playing field. This year there are 45 girls and 80 boys.

Each contestant has a chance to shoot at eight sheets of paper, with 10 targets on each, over the two days of competition. The very centre of each target is the size of a pinhead and earns the shooter 10 points. At this level of competition (the cadets have gone from local, to zone, to national) most of the cadets shoot eights to 10s.

Back in the canteen area, 12-year-old Priscilla Evatalegak wanders by in an army green jacket and baseball cap. This is the Cambridge Bay youth’s first time at the annual competition and her first time in Nunavut’s capital city.

“It’s cool,” she says. “You get to shoot and meet new friends.” All the cadets are staying at the Nunatta Residence on Federal Road and Evatalegak has made friends with people from Iqaluit, Hay River and Whitehorse.

“Priscilla, you’re up,” says Chris Gillis. At 19, Gillis finished his cadet training last year, but has continued coaching in Cambridge Bay. He joined cadets at age 12 and has nothing but positive things to say about the program.

“Everything, it teaches you everything,” he says. “It gives youth experience, helps them learn to manage their lives.” In the North the marksmanship program also helps youth with their hunting skills and teaches them how to control their emotions. Being able to calm themselves enough to hit a target is a useful skill for cadets in everyday life.

While many provinces have a large pool of cadets to choose from to send to a national competition, Gillis says Cambridge Bay’s population of 1,500 has produced a good team.

“They beat all the major cities in the North — Hay River, Yellowknife, Iqaluit, Whitehorse, Cambridge Bay — beat them all,” he says.

Gillis excuses himself to look at the results from the latest relay as Pokiok returns to the cafeteria. He admits he’s not doing too badly in the competition, but says it’s his first time so he’s using it as a good practice opportunity for next year.

The rifle competition wound up on Tuesday night, with cultural activities continuing the rest of the week.

Jennifer Churchill of Nova Scotia was the top shooter and Cambridge Bay’s Nicolas Larabie placed 15th out of 125 in the overall standings.

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