Ira Jones served 22 years in the Unites States Marine Corps.
Jones spent his first eight years as an infantryman, and served as an electronics technician the reminder of his tenure.
And though Jones was an eagle-eye with a rifle, earning his expert badge 19 times, he was never able to shoot competitively for the Marines.
Which is a shame, because since retiring from the service, Jones has become one of the most highly decorated competitive shooters in the nation.
He recently showcased his skills at the National Rifle Association’s National Outdoor Rifle and Pistol Championships, staged over the summer at Fort Perry, Ohio.
The 64-year-old Hubert resident won a pair of bronze medals, shooting his M1 Ga-rand and 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle.
Jones, who fired at a 19-inch target at a distance of 200 yards, competed against hundreds of competitors, from all over the world.
One of the competitors Jones lined up against, and beat, was his friend and retired Marine, R. Lee Ermey, who starred in the movie, Full Metal Jacket. Ermey was also the one who presented Jones with his medals.
Jones only began shooting competitively five years ago and has already reached the rank of “Expert.” And he’s not far from qualifying for “Master,” the highest distinction a shooter can earn.
Shooting has always come easily to Jones, he explained, but he during his USMC career he wasn’t allowed to shoot competitively.
“I wanted to shoot but my military occupational specialty wouldn’t let me,” he said. “I earned 19 expert badges, but never got the chance to shoot on any teams. I’ll always wonder how I’d be doing now if I’d started shooting competitively at a younger age.”
Though shooting comes naturally to Jones, he said it still takes a lot of work to shoot at the national level.
“You have to be disciplined and be willing to spend the time training,” he explained. “And you have to be patient.”
Jones trains an average of two or three days a week at Flatwoods Outfitters in Hubert.
“My big training tool is a 1937 .22 bolt action rifle,” he said. “It has the same feel as the guns I use to compete.”
Jones fires about 150 rounds during his training sessions and shoots at a 50-meter target. And since he shoots at a smaller target than he uses for longer distances, the effect is the same.
“Regardless of how far you’re shooting, you always see the same size target,” he said.
Not only is shooting a physically grueling sport, but it’s also mentally taxing. Jones said staying mentally tough is a key to being successful.
“When a bullet leaves the barrel you can’t bring it back,” he said. “You can’t worry about the last shot, all you can do is focus on your next shot.
“When I compete I have a mental game I play with myself, I get totally zoned into what I’m doing and concentrate fully on it,” he added. “And I never keep the rifle on my shoulder for more than four seconds. The longer you leave it up there, the more chance it’s going to wobble. If I’m not sighted in after four seconds, I put the gun down and start again.”
Jones competes about once a month in a shooting contest, and he’s gearing up to defend his title in the N.C. Service Rifle Championship.
His ultimate goal is to qualify for “Master” status and once he turns 70, to win the NRA’s national championship.
And when he’s through competing, Jones wants to share his knowledge with youngsters interested in target shooting.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s better than sitting on the porch and watching the world go by,” he said. “And when I can’t shoot anymore I’m going to spend my time coaching kids who want to compete.”