Dacula native aims for Paris Olympics

Staff sergeant shoots for the USA and the Army
William "Will" Hinton is headed for the Olympic Games in Paris. He will be representing the United States and Army in trap, a shooting sport. Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Army

William "Will" Hinton is headed for the Olympic Games in Paris. He will be representing the United States and Army in trap, a shooting sport. Courtesy of the U.S. Army

From the dusty backroads of his childhood in Gwinnett County to the world stage in Paris, one man’s lifelong passion for shooting has grown into a shot at glory for the U.S. Army.

William “Will” Hinton, a U.S. Army staff sergeant and fourth-generation Dacula native, is poised to make his mark at the Summer Olympics in France.

“I’ve made the Olympic team – that’s a feat on its own,” Hinton, a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, said. “Now, I get to compete for the country and the Army, and that’s a great opportunity.”

Hinton, 28, secured his place on the Olympic Team in March. He’ll be in Paris representing the Army and the United States in trap, an Olympic shooting sport since 1900.

He will be one of about 30 elite shotgun shooters competing, starting July 28. The three highest scorers will receive Olympic medals.

Since 1949, the Army has sent more than 600 soldier-athletes to the Olympic and Paralympic games and brought home 120 medals.

Road from Dacula to Paris

Hinton first learned to shoot clay targets at a family friend’s home in Athens when he was about 11.

William "Will" Hinton, a fourth-generation Dacula native, has been passionate about shooting and marksmanship since he was a kid. Now, he's preparing to show off those skills at the Summer Olympics in Paris. Courtesy of William HInton

Credit: Photo courtesy of Army Staff Sgt. Willia "Will" Hinton

icon to expand image

Credit: Photo courtesy of Army Staff Sgt. Willia "Will" Hinton

“By that time, I was able to handle a gun and shoot with supervision,” he said.

Hinton’s dad – who loves bird dogs, hunting, riding and breaking horses – inspired his passion for marksmanship.

“I’ve always gone hunting with my dad, going back to even kindergarten,” Hinton said. “My whole family hunted, and I have a lot of memories of going hunting with my dad and family.”

The Hinton family has has lived in Dacula since the 1840s. As of today, all of the close-knit family lives on the same road in the Harbins Community. Hinton’s parents, Doug and Sharon Hinton, have 100 acres, including a 40-acre garden with corn, watermelon and other produce that the family sells to neighbors each year. Sales are good – so good that the sergeant purchased his first car, a used 1995 Honda Accord, with money he made selling produce at the bottom of the family’s driveway.

Hinton was in sixth grade when he became a fixture at state and national shooting championships.

“Every weekend, every chance I got, I definitely wanted to be shooting and training to get better,” he said.

While framing houses for a living and attending Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Hinton seized an opportunity to let his passion become his life’s work as a soldier-athlete.

He didn’t come from a military family and knew little about the Army. But he ultimately decided in 2016 to sign up for 16 weeks of basic training and three years of military service. He also faced the challenge of losing 100 pounds to meet the Army’s enlistment requirements, which he accomplished in about 10 months.

Hinton has reenlisted two more times (at three years each) and expresses no regrets.

“Joining the Army is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

Winning a chance to compete

Hinton wears several hats, including that of an instructor-shooter at Ft. Moore, formerly Ft. Benning, in Columbus.

He travels the country, demonstrating his skills and sharing how the Army has enabled him to live his passion. At marketing events, Hinton wows with trick shots, hitting targets while shooting between his legs, on his back, or upside down over his head.

“I don’t recommend people try this at home,” he said, adding that, with these demonstrations, “you’ve now brought America’s Army to America’s people.”

He regularly trains for and competes in major national and international trap shooting competitions, including the 2022 World Championship for the Americas in Lima, Peru, where he won gold and a chance to be in this year’s Olympics.

Along with competing and shooting demonstrations, Hinton is an instructor in the U.S Army Marksmanship Unit and teaches soldiers to enhance their small arms marksmanship

He officially joined Team USA this year by outperforming about 140 sharpshooters in Tucson, Arizona, during Part 2 of the Olympic trials.

Hinton has been training five days a week, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., over the past two years to prepare for this year’s Olympic Games, said Sgt. First Class Seth Inman, Hinton’s coach and sometime competitor.

Staff Sgt. William "Will" Hinton is going to represent America and the Army at the Olympics in Paris in July. He's a marksman and has been for most of his 28 years. Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Army

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Army

“Will is a fierce competitor,” Inman said. “He’s very talented. He’s very driven, and he’s very self-motivated.”

Inman also praised Hinton as a “very, very good soldier. He’s one of the best of the 14 that I oversee.”

Excitement is building on his base. The last time the Army claimed gold in Olympic trap was in 1976 in Montreal. However, its marksmanship team won gold in other Olympic shooting events in 2008 and 2020, Inman said.

Hinton’s parents, two siblings, a cousin, and his girlfriend will be in Paris, cheering for him.

Hinton said he had always dreamed of being in the Olympics and actually thought he’d get there sooner.

“But it’s not easy. It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without the Army and all its support. It is just great.”

He said he always hoped “I could look back on my life and career and say, ‘I gave it everything I had.’ I wanted to invest 100% of myself in something. It just happened to be shooting because I love it.”