The week before the beginning of the 2015 3-gun season, I was at the FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, for Team Benelli’s first-ever Spring Training. At dinner in the lodge, I sat next to a couple who was taking advantage of the only reliable cell service in the rugged 12,000 acres of the Texas hill country ranch to check in with their kids.
“Did you cut firewood? Good. How about brass, did you tumble brass? Good. How many rounds did you make? That’s great, way to go. Did you all get your homework done? That’s great, great.”Team Yackley scored a rare double at the challenging and deviously fun Blue Ridge Mountain 3-Gun. Becky finished High Lady, and Tim won four stages on his way to the overall win.
Now, there’s something you don’t hear every day. In my experience, most such conversations consist of, “Your brother is not stupid! Tell him to stop yelling—you all have to share the Xbox!"
The couple was Mark and Becky Yackley, and they had left their three sons, Tim, 17; Sean, 15; and Andrew, 11; tending the family home in frozen Wisconsin. Together, they constitute the largest complete family unit competing in practical shooting today. All five are members of the Stoeger Pro Team, and all but young Andrew were part of Team Adams Arms for 2015 (but really, how many sixth-graders have a rifle sponsorship?).
At the range, they have become a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this month, Team Yackley scored a rare double at the challenging and deviously fun Blue Ridge Mountain 3-Gun. Becky finished High Lady, and Tim won four stages on his way to the overall win. But this is just the tip of an upward-sloping iceberg of Yack track success.
Father Mark earned air pistol All-American honors while shooting for the Marquette University Rifle Team, and often finishes High Military or High Law Enforcement at major 3-gun matches (Mark spent 17 years in the Marines, shooting a few USMC competitions before his deployments and eventually duty in Iraq).
Becky was High Lady at two 3-gun events in 2015; she was second at the Starlight 3-Gun night shoot and third at the 3-Gun Nation Nationals, Bianchi Cup and the inaugural Hiperfire Rifle match. She also shot for the World Championship U.S. team at the International Practical Shooting Confederation’s (IPSC) Shotgun World Shoot in Italy this summer.
Tim has been High Junior in 17 matches over the past two years and is the current Junior National Champion at the Bianchi Cup and third Junior in the world in IPSC shotgun. His lightning-fast trigger and fluid moves enabled him to win two 3-gun matches outright this summer, besting even Daniel Horner—the reigning champion.
Sean has Tim in his sights, finishing second to him at the Bianchi Cup. The two brothers got to face each other in the shoot-off, where Sean beat his older brother to earn bragging rights on the trip home.
Andrew is usually the youngest competitor in 3-gun matches. He is impressively accurate, having scored more A hits than his mom at the Area 5 USPSA match in both of the last two years. The van in which they crisscrossed the country from March through November logged 315,000 miles before being relegated to mere in-state use this summer.
In 2015, they combined for more than 80 match finishes in about 25 events nationwide. In the age of the “participation trophy,” these are impressive accomplishments for a family: When pointing your finger and saying, “Bang!” gets you suspended from school, most young people won’t get any closer to a shooting trophy than reaching the second level of Halo.
So, how does Pack Yack do it? What trust funds the traveling tutor? Does their tour bus have a bigger flat screen than Ashlee Simpson’s? Who is responsible for packing the family silver spoon?
The answer is as unglamorous as it is inspiring—sacrifice. Pack Yack is powered by the love of competition—a passion that drives them to sacrifice the modern consumer comforts most of us find essential.
There’s no cable TV, of course, but that’s not uncommon in the age of Netflix. But other common creature comforts are conspicuously absent.
The family shares an ancient flip phone that Mark and Tim swap out depending on who is traveling—and one luxury, Becky's actual smartphone purchased in March. They drive to all the events: Mark’s car has more than 250,000 miles on the odometer. That qualified it as the “new” family car—the van in which they crisscrossed the country from March through November logged 315,000 miles before being relegated to mere in-state use this summer, when they replaced it with a ’07 model with only 70,000 miles. Of course, they do all their own maintenance, with Tim in charge of oil changes.
Mark spent the last two years at the Pentagon in the service of the USMC. “Mark has been fortunate with his Marine Corps duties; he is usually able to work in billets that allow him to pick and choose when he works, so he will group reserve duty around a match,” Becky said.
From D.C., Mark plans the road trips—routes, reservations, round counts, etc. “Why make a long drive into two days if you can knock it out in one long day and end the pain sooner?” he explains. Becky is the “people person” who arranges a stay with friends whenever possible. When they don’t drive through the night (Tim can now share driving duties), they often sleep in the van. When a hotel is the only option, they pile into one room. Lunch comes from a cooler in the van, but for dinner they sometimes splurge at a drive-through or pizza joint.
Frugality is a science at home, too. Their rural Wisconsin two-bedroom home is heated by a wood-burning stove (ergo the question about chopping wood). The boys do most of the household chores, mow the lawn and take care of the animals. They are also responsible for all brass prep, and they can do it unsupervised. Ammo sponsorship from Winchester helps, but with five shooters, reloading is still a priority.
Every little bit helps. Becky, Tim and Sean are also certified ski instructors, which brings in some extra income during the winter, and Becky runs a photography business on the side. The family also offsets part of its expenses by selling surplus gear and prizes. Mark would often get off the Pentagon’s night shift at 6 a.m. and sleep in the parking garage (to avoid D.C.’s summertime heat) until 9 a.m., when he can drive to UPS to ship out an article that he sold. “The places we’ve seen due to the Marine Corps and shooting have allowed us to see the country as others don’t—the sunrise over the desert, stars over the badlands, snow in August on a volcano at Crater Lake,” Becky says. “These are lessons in life you can’t get from a classroom, or from Google.”
Additionally, Becky cuts everyone’s hair: “Andrew had an awesome mohawk for the Warsport match in June,” she boasts. Becky trims her own hair, too, relying on the others to even it out. She often shops at Goodwill and thrift stores. “Shooters are recyclers with regards to ammo, so why should clothes and household things be different?” she asks.
“As a motivational tool when we first started, I told the boys that I would pay for everything for matches and that they would get to keep everything that they won off the prize table,” Mark says. The strategy paid off: Not only do the boys need no urging to practice, Tim is now able to pay for his own match fees out of his winnings.
Oh, and the boys are all home-schooled—a highly successful and common practice among the shooting community. Traveling cross-country enables them to connect valuable lessons in history and geography to the real world.
In addition to sponsorships from Stoeger, Adams Arms and Winchester, OMP, American Trigger Corp, Gravitas Tactical, XRAIL, Leupold and the Black Palm Syndicate also help keep the Yackleys on the road. The Yackley Five are immensely grateful for their help, and that of the entire community, for the opportunities shooting provides their family.
“The places we’ve seen due to the Marine Corps and shooting have allowed us to see the country as others don’t—the sunrise over the desert, stars over the badlands, snow in August on a volcano at Crater Lake,” Becky says. “These are lessons in life you can’t get from a classroom, or from Google.”
Mark says traveling and shooting allow for a lot of “family togetherness.”
“I think that between the ride to and from a match, staying in the same hotel room, and shooting on the same squad for a three-day match, we probably spend more time with our kids in five days than most people spend in one or two months,” Mark says. “You take the good with the bad, look for the positives and enjoy your time together.”
Becky has a background in art, and equates picking up brass (to supply their reloader) to a famous painting by Jean-Francois Millet entitled, “The Gleaners,” which depicts farm laborers picking a wheat field clean. She has a copy of the painting hanging in the family home. And in a perfect allegory for their life together, it’s in the form of a puzzle she bought at a yard sale, glued together and framed.