Duncan Mackay

James_Huckle_shooting_from_2008OCTOBER 24 - JAMES HUCKLE (pictured) announced his potential as a contender for honours at London 2012 when he won three gold medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games having, as MIKE ROWBOTTOM discovered, only taken up the sport because his father's farm had a vermin problem

JAMES HUCKLE wasn't even born when the Star Wars films came out.

But the 18-year-old who returned home to Harlow, in Essex this week having won three shooting titles at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune, India, knows all about The Force.

Targets form the centre of the sporting world for Huckle, a veritable shooting star within the domestic sport, with the biggest one looming four years down the line - the London 2012 Olympics.

But those at which he shoots in the events where he struck gold in India - 50 metre rifle prone, 50m rifle three positions and 10m air rifle - are so small that he can't even see them.

For the 50m competitions, Huckle is firing at something six inches in diameter, with the bullseye no more than nine millimetres across. In the 10m event, the bullseye is half a millimetre across.

As Huckle happily clarifies - the size of a pinhead.

There's no point in his trying to pinpoint anything in a crosshair.

Instead he attempts to get the circular sight at the end of his gun to correspond as exactly as possible to the circle of the target before doing as Luke Skywalker did just before launching his missile into the evil Empire's mothership - letting himself be guided  by instinct.

"The Star Wars idea is exactly right," Huckle says.

"Hitting the bullseye is a matter of guesswork.

"You have to feel the middle of the target, you really do.

"It has to be an impulse that tells you when to pull the trigger."

Practice makes perfect

While Huckle is prepared to get a bit mystical about the process of shooting, he is swift to mention the other essential elements of his success.

Hard, physical work.

And lots and lots of practice.

The latter is something Huckle has engaged in constantly since first being allowed to fire his father Nigel's air rifle in the extensive grounds of their previous family home on a farm in Matching Tye.

"It's strange in a way that I've ended up in the sport because both my parents are pretty much what you could call anti-weapons.

"They hated the idea of one of their children ever playing around guns.

"But Dad bought this air rifle because we had two and a half acres of land and there was a rat problem.

"As it turned out, he never ended up using it, but he used to let me use it under very careful supervision to shoot at old tin cans which I used to set up on the farm.

"I was always fascinated by the idea that you could press a trigger at one end of the gun and direct such enormous power out of the other end.

"Practice was just fun to me.

"I'd come back home from school, do whatever homework I had, then go out and put the tins and targets up and shoot for about two or three hours a day."

At 14, Huckle joined the Army cadets, and soon became one of only two per cent of those within it to earn their Marksmanship Badge as he had his first experience of firing live ammunition.

Within a year he had joined the Lee Valley club, where he confirmed his precocious talent by winning the national under-18 Hunter Field Target title at his first attempt in a competition that took place over a number of months at venues across the country.

Lucky break at Bisley

His performance was so good that he would have won the senior title had he entered it, and he was halfway towards claiming that the next year when a chance encounter on his first visit to the fable Bisley range saw him poached for Olympic competition.

"Id been nagging my mum to take me to Bisley for ages," Huckle recalls.

"The duty manager there had to lend me a rifle because I only had my air rifle.

"But I was firing away at paper targets, and doing it from a standing position, which is the hardest position to fire accurately from.

"By chance the British junior development squad were training there on that day, and I got invited to a weekend practice.

"So it was quite a quick progression for me.

"Even though I was leading the senior Hunter Field title standings, the idea that I might be able to shoot in the Olympics one day was so exciting that I didn't really hesitate."

Having switched to his local club at United Glass in Harlow, Huckle began to make a serious mark in a very short time under the coaching of British Shooting's Ken Parr, winning the senior national title in the 50m rifle three positions in 2007 and 2008, and finishing runner-up and then winner at the 10m rifle event in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

His next competition targets are the Australian Olympic Youth Festival in Sydney in January, and then the European Championships, in which he finished 15th two years ago.

A year beyond that, he plans to return to India for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, his confidence boosted by the recollection of his three recent gold medal performances in India.

While shooting tends not to attract too much attention in Britain, the excitement it generated in India took Huckle by surprise as he was regularly watched by sell-out crowds inspired by Abhinav Bindra's achievement in Bejing, where he became India's first individual Olympic champion, taking gold in the 10m air rifle event.

"'There was huge media interest, and a lot of it was about how well India was doing in holding the Youth Games, and how they would deal with hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2020 Olympic bid," Huckle says.

Age no barrier to success

Given his age, it would not be unrealistic for him to expect to be competing in India 12 year hence if Delhi's bid should be successful.

After all his idol in the sport, Slovenia's former Olympic and world champion Rajmond Debevec, added another Olympic bronze to his medal collection in Beijing at the age of 46.

Increasingly, however, shooting is becoming a young person's sport - one which demands a huge level of physical stamina and durability.

"You have to be as physically fit as any other athlete in any other sport," Huckle insists.

"If you ask people to hold up a rifle weighing between 8-12kg (17.6lb – 26.4lb) for three-and-a-half hours, which is what shooters do in competition, they would almost certainly not be able to do it.

"In fact, if you simply asked someone to try and stand up for three and a half hours without moving, I guarantee they wouldn't be able to do it.

"They'd be begging to move within half an hour.

"When I started in the sport, I used to think to myself, 'How is this even possible?''

"I spend three hours a day, four days a week working at my local gym on improving my core stability - that's all the muscles around your stomach and lower back.

"They are the first places that most people feel the strain when they are shooting."

Although he acknowledges there are currently shooters in world competition who are "a class above" him, Huckle is determined to earn a place on the podium in London four years from now.

"'I know I have a chance to do it," he says.

"If you train hard, if you train one more day than the others, maybe on Christmas Day, you can make your own chances."

The 2012 Games are not just a dream any more.

Already, Huckle can feel them coming.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now freelancing and will be writing regularly for insidethegames