Michael O’Neill Inducted Into 2023 State 4-H Hall Of Fame For Years Of Coaching Youth Shotgun And Archery

Mike O’Neill, right, was inducted into the 2023 State 4-H Hall of Fame during the 100th 4-H State Conference in Las Cruces. Also pictured is his wife, Maire O’Neill of the Los Alamos Reporter. Photo by Jessica Booton

Mike O’Neill holds the plaque he received when he was inducted into the State 2023 4-H Hall of Fame. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com


Michael O’Neill of Los Alamos has been inducted into the New Mexico State 2023 4-H Hall of Fame. Inductees represent “numerous years of devotion and service to the youth of New Mexico through volunteer service, leadership and development of youth programs”.

O’Neill was nominated for his volunteerism as a coach for local youth shotgun and archery programs under the auspices of 4-H and the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club over the last 13 years.

“I was surprised when the announcement came from New Mexico State University and was honored to receive the award during the banquet for the 100th 4-H Conference in Las Cruces,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill never imagined himself coaching shotgun when he took up shotgun sports at the age of 47. When he moved from central Nevada to eastern Washington state he began shooting trap at the Connell Gun Club near Scooteney Reservoir close to the Tri-Cities. His mentor and friend Ken Burgard quickly roped him in to help with young people and the club – including Richland Rod & Gun Cub sponsored youth hunts.

When he relocated to Los Alamos in 2007, Mike quickly became a state hunter education instructor, helping James Jurney and Dennis Beir. In 2010, the Department of Fish & Game was seeking new shotgun coaches for around the state. O’Neill took shotgun coach training through the NRA and recruited his first team.

That same year, O’Neill took seven young athletes to the first youth state competition in Albuquerque.  Shelby Chavez, Mary Beth Farish and JoAnna O’Neill were the only girls competing in the event. For their second year, the Young Guns had a squad of five girls in the state competition. O’Neill began to host youth competitions for the Northern New Mexico Youth Clay Target Challenge in conjunction with NMDFG, the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, attracting young shooters from throughout Northern New Mexico.

With the release of the movie “The Hunger Games” a demand for archery training arose throughout the state and O’Neill decided to take 4-H archery training. He became a Level 1 instructor. The following year, he became a Level 1 4-H shotgun instructor and the year after that rose to Level 2 for archery. At Level 2, 4-H instructors begin to train new instructors.

O’Neill has been head coach of the Los Alamos Young Guns team for since 2010. As the program took off it drew youth from Escalante High School in Tierra Amarilla, Coronado High School in Gallina, Taos High School, Penasco High School, Pojoaque High School and Espanola High School in addition to Los Alamos High School and Middle School.

“The kids from outside Los Alamos County have been an amazing addition to the team. They travel distances of up to 80 miles to practices in all kinds of weather and have risen to the top of the team. Young Guns athletes have traveled to Hillsdale, Michigan to compete in the Junior Olympic qualifiers as well as the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and Scholastic Clay Target Program Nationals in Moreno, Ohio,” O’Neill said.

One of those athletes, Chantry Stermer of Cebolla at 18 years of age made the Junior National Team and traveled to the world championships in Croatia. She had been coached by O’Neill since she was 12. Young Guns athletes Hallie Vigil of Cundiyo and Sarah Randall of Taos went on to shoot for West Texas A&M University.

“They come back regularly to shoot with their coaches and former teammates. The shooters and their families have become very close and the bonds between the athletes are very strong,” O’Neill said.

Assistant shotgun coaches are Vernon Vigil, William Schmitz, Jeremy Nowell and Alan Bond.

“Vernon Vigil is staying on to coach even though his daughter has graduated and is headed to the University of New Mexico. Barbara Vigil takes care of PR and the mothers cooperate on meals and travel arrangements,” O’Neill said. “Chris Booton is my assistant archery coach.

He is currently recruiting new male and female Young Guns members ages 10-18 who will eventually compete in the Scholastic Clay Target Program, a nationwide “no-cut, no bench” sport where all members participate. Practices are on Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club in Rendija Canyon. Some club firearms are available for use.

O’Neill is also recruiting archers ages 9-18. Archery practice is on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

O’Neill is a Los Alamos National Laboratory retiree and continues to work part-time at LANL through COMPA Industries.

Call (505) 309-1762 or email shotgunoneill@gmail.com.

Mike O’Neill poses with Desaree Jimenez, Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Family & Consumer Sciences/4-H Agent, left, and Angela Prada, County Extension Agent/4-H Agent. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

From left, Mike O’Neill, Travis Brown of Dona Ana County, Lee Johnson of Sandoval County were inducted into the State 4-H Hall of Fame in July. Also pictured is Friend of 4-H Bruce Heinrich of Sandoval County (far right). Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com