Editor's Note: For this #ThrowbackThursday, we're going back to October 2006, when the then-14-year-old Kaitlyn Martin gave us the inside scoop on what it's like to compete in a national competition.
I just got back from Redmond, Oregon, where I competed in the National Rifle Association Junior Nationals.
In April I was contacted by the New Mexico shooting coach, asking if I would like to go as an alternate for his team. I was very excited and accepted. I went to La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, where I was fitted for my gear and picked out a gun. I spent the next two months practicing like crazy. I was very excited when it came time to pack and get ready to leave.
Before we left, I found out I had been moved from an alternate to a member of the team. We left at 7:00 a.m. on July 2 and drove all the way to Boise, Idaho. We arrived at the National Guard Base at midnight, rolled into the barracks and fell asleep almost immediately. The next morning we had a beautiful drive, although I slept most of the way.
We got lost in Bend, Oregon. Shockingly, one shooter’s dad got out and asked directions. All the girls gave him a hard time, because guys only ask directions about once every 10 years.
We finally arrived at Central Oregon Community College where we were staying. With some decorations, we had the dorm looking, and feeling, like home. We spent the rest of that day unpacking and relaxing.
The next day was July 4 and the girls went shopping for new outfits and to dinner. The next morning we double-checked our gear and went to practice at the range. We arrived and were more than a little shocked. The place was huge! There was a total of 75 firing points across the range, with about 10 extras set up.
The only drawback was the bright-colored banners behind the firing points. They were pretty, but made focusing on the bullseye hard. Officials put cardboard behind the firing point so you didn’t see much of the color, which helped a lot.
Before I tell you about practice and the actual matches, let me explain the firing points. They are called single-point traps, which is a roll of targets (that look like a roll of toilet paper) attached to a box. After shooting you advance your target with a remote control. Keep in mind you have to advance your target after EVERY shot. (That’s very important later.)
My practice targets were very good. I walked out very confident and relaxed. That night, we had steak and chicken for dinner. I was very nervous because it’s like a ritual of mine to have two slices of pizza the night before I shoot, some cold pizza in the morning and two slices at lunch.
I didn’t get to have any pizza before I shot the first day. Even though I’m not a breakfast person, I managed to eat a big breakfast that morning. I was fine until I walked into the building and then I started feeling ill. I had to sit down for about 30 minutes telling myself to breathe in and out.
Finally, the range officer told shooters to get ready for the prep-period. By this time I was so focused on getting my gun set up, my gear on and keeping my heart rate down, all at the same time, I didn’t even have time to be nervous.
I got into the prone position, with 30 minutes to shoot 20 bulls. I was taking my time, when I heard the range officer call out that I had five minutes left. I looked through my scope and saw I was on shot number 14. I started to freak out a little, thinking I might not finish. I started to rush a little bit, shooting two nines on the last shots. I was still very pleased with my score—197 out of a possible 200.
In standing, I rushed. Out of the 40 minutes I had to shoot 20 shots, and I finished with 21 minutes still on the clock. I chased my shots. I didn’t look at a three-shot group. I would have a shot to the right and move my sights left, then my shot would be off to the left and I’d have to move my sights right. My score still wasn’t bad. I shot a 185, which is pretty good for the standing position.
Moving into kneeling, I was freaking out because my standing wasn’t as secure as I would have liked. But when the range officer announced that our 30 minutes for kneeling had started, I began to relax. I threw a few nines, but still ended up shooting a 191.
All in all, it was an excellent day. I shot a 573 out of a possible 600. My personal best is a 580 in practice—which has a lot less pressure than an actual match—so seven points away from a personal best was pretty cool for me.
We had workshops all day the next day—on setting goals, cleaning your air rifle and stuff like that. I learned so much! When my hand started to cramp I settled down on the note taking because I didn’t want it to happen while shooting the next day. I went back to the dorm that night happy, and ready to face the next day with confidence.
My dad had a surprise waiting for me. PIZZA! I had four slices for dinner, two the next morning, one on the way to the range and one once we got there. Everyone on the team now knows me as “pizza girl.”
In prone I was a little shook up after my first set of 10 bulls. I had been doing great, 10 after 10, after 10, and then my last three shots were nines. I took a few deep breaths, and continued my second set of 10, this time, looking only every two shots so that I didn’t chase them. I am very proud to say I shot a 97 and 100—my very first 100 in a match.
I went into standing very confident—I had eaten my pizza and had shot an excellent prone. My sighters were great. I would look through my scope every three shots and move according to my group. When I was done, I was very proud of myself. I knew I had shot well. I told myself even if the score wasn’t as good as the first day, it felt so much better and that’s what counted. So when the range officer called a cease-fire, I walked up to pull my targets a very happy camper. But when I went to tear off the standing roll, I saw that I had forgotten to advance my target to the last shot.
I was devastated. I hadn’t shot my last target! So, it was obviously a zero. I walked back to my slot ready to cry. My dad came up to me smiling because he knew how well I thought I’d shot. He asked how I did and I showed him the missed bull. He gave me a big hug and said, “There’s nothing you can do about it now. Just go back and kick some butt with kneeling.”
Nevertheless, I was still crushed. But when I heard the range officer say to get ready for kneeling, I had to take a deep breath and get my standing score out of my head. I don’t know what happened, but during kneeling my standing score didn’t enter my thoughts once. I ended up shooting a personal best in kneeling—a 195.
I later found out my standing scores—94 and 84. Overall, I shot a 570. I got a lot of, “Think of what you could have shot!” But the way I look at it is that I stayed in the 570’s at NRA Nationals, which is great for me. I went in hoping to stay in the 550’s. Also, my team won the JROTC division. And you know what? That’s more than I could have ever hoped for going into it. The thing I’ve learned is that you have to go through some bad days to be able to enjoy the successful ones. Looking back, this event was a success even with my missed shot. I have no regrets at all, which is a good thing.