I started shooting with the Arlington Optimist-Acorns Junior Rifle Club when I was 8 years old, and I loved every minute of it. After the initial season, I learned the ropes and shot my first-ever bullseye. Three years later, however, the excitement of shooting had faded away. Shooting had become difficult and I could never reach the level of perfection I desired. I didn’t shoot in any big matches, and I didn’t talk to any other young people who enjoyed shooting.
Then, everything started to change. In July 1999, my father took me to the National Matches at Camp Perry, OH. While I was there, I met several competitive shooters who loved the sport. Up to that point, I assumed shooting was boring and repetitive and I had planned to give it up the next season.
As an 11-year-old shooting with a cut-down Anschütz 64 that was more than twice my age, Camp Perry opened my eyes to the world of shooting sports—a world where people (myself included for the first time) truly enjoyed shooting. The way those competitors treated the sport and loved just being able to shoot was contagious. In the process of finishing fifth from last—the only people I beat were those who hadn’t even showed up—I shot all the clips off the target frame. The owner of the clips just happened to be a gentleman from Ohio who shared my point on the first relay. Despite my poor performance, I left that match with a newfound excitement about shooting. I was proud of what I had done, and ready to come back the next year and do better.
At Camp Perry, I found people who could shoot scores that were far from perfect, in less-than-desirable conditions, and still have a great time. It occurred to me that shooting isn’t a monotonous, mechanical process. Shooting is a sport—a fun, exciting and gratifying experience people of all ages can participate in.
If you have felt, or are currently feeling, like I did before my Camp Perry revelation, then prepare to get pumped for shooting! No matter the type of gun, shooting should always be fun, even if it is not always perfect. Stop right now, collect any thoughts about the shooting sports that are not positive and throw them away.
When you feel like you’re getting tired of shooting, or negative thoughts creep into your mind, remind yourself of the reasons you got started in the first place. For me, it is the fact that success can be gained with just one shot, and once that shot has been fired success is permanent. No multitude of bad shots can take away what was accomplished in that first, perfect shot. This type of success is unique to shooting. If you have one good, well-executed shot, then you’ve reached the pinnacle of success in the shooting sports. And, if you can shoot one good shot, then you can certainly do it again!
Shooting doesn’t play favorites: anyone of any shape, size, gender, age or ability can participate. Athletic or not, any person can be a successful shooter in just one shot. Lanny Bassham, Olympic gold and silver medalist and several-time world and national champion, wrote in his book With Winning in Mind, that as a child he tried all the typical sports. He found he could not catch or hit a baseball very well, he was too small to do anything but ride the bench in football, and he was no better at playing basketball. After exhausting most of the sport opportunities, a friend took him to the rifle range. Learning that you didn’t have to be tall or fast or strong to shoot, he dedicated himself to the sport. Look at the success he has had through shooting. A kid who couldn’t even catch a baseball became an Olympic champion!
One other unlikely athlete who did great things in the field was the late Herb Hollister. He didn’t start shooting until he was 55 years old! He won his first national championship—the senior prone title—at the age of 83, proving that it’s never too late to get into shooting.
Another thought that gets me pumped is the fact that shooting has been an American pastime since before this great nation was founded. The right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution, right after the Amendment about free speech. This is historical evidence of the value of shooting; in the minds of the creators of the Constitution it was second only to the right to speak without fear of punishment. You, as a shooter, are upholding the Founding Fathers’ beliefs and maintaining a tradition that is older than this great nation.
Shooting is a lifetime sport, and if you keep in the fight, you might be shooting well into your old age. Never give up.
After that first Camp Perry trip, shooting has become a big part of my life. I love going to the range and shooting my rifle, and although I have experienced my fair share of ups and downs in 20 years of shooting, every X-ring I hit brings a new victory. I have gone from finishing fifth from last in 1999 to helping my team win the National Championship in 2003. I still remember the times when shooting wasn’t much fun, but only because those memories remind me how far I’ve come in the shooting sports.
This year at Camp Perry, I ran into the same gentleman from Ohio who shared a point with me that first year. He asked how I had been doing, and then jokingly remarked, “I guess you’re not shooting clips anymore.” Nope!