After I turned 70 and later retired from competitive shooting, I knew I needed to find ways to keep my body in shape and my mind sharp.
I cannot ignore the facts. I am getting old. I will turn 73 later this year. However, we all can take steps to try to stave off physical and mental deterioration. Learning something new is a great way to do this. It stimulates your brain, and, if the activity is physical, encourages you to stay in shape.
With that in mind, I decided to transition from pistols to shotguns. I started taking shotgun classes earlier this year .
I signed up for a shotgun class at the Women’s Leadership Forum Summit in September in San Antonio, Texas, and I wanted to gain practice ahead of time. Knowing the summit class was coming up motivated me to begin building my skills.
Now, you might think that because I was an 8-time Bianchi Cup women’s division champion, I would be a natural at shotgun shooting. That is not the case. Pistol shooting and shotgun shooting are apples to oranges.
I went from being an expert in one discipline to starting over as a novice in the other.
This did not bother me. After all, my goal for shooting shotguns is not to be a world-class shooter. I left my competition days behind when I retired after the 2018 Bianchi Cup. Rather, my aim is to challenge myself, and what better way to do that than starting an activity that I was not already good at?
I am not afraid to pursue an activity that is outside of my comfort zone. Not every skill you learn is something that would be on your preference list. For example, I don’t even like being in water, but I nonetheless learned to windsurf and waterski because I received the chance to learn those sports. I value opportunities and am loath to let one pass by. I believe every skill I learned throughout life helped me become a championship pistol shooter later on.
When I arrived at my first shotgun lesson at the Coyote Valley Sporting Clay gun range in Morgan Hill, California, I did not even know how to hold the shotgun. My instructor had me use a Browning 20-gauge over/under. It is a lighter shotgun that is good for my petite frame.
She showed me how to mount the gun, but I had trouble finding the pocket on my shoulder. It was an altogether different process from pistol shooting. Rather than holding the gun away from my body, I had to adjust to mounting it against me. I also had to adjust to having a hand on the underside of the barrel after decades of only shooting pistols and becoming comfortable having 2 hands on the grip. I have found difficulty on keeping my cheek on the handle of the shotgun. In short, my shotgun instructor told me to throw out everything I have learned from pistol shooting from the last 20-some years. I knew at that moment that this is going to be a challenging new sport for me to learn. but I was still interested in pursuing it for the time being, since I wanted to learn trap shoot since I was in my late 20s.
For the pistol competitions, I used optical sights. I focused on my sight and put it on the target. For shotgun shooting, you look beyond the barrel at the object — the clay pigeon. The trigger pull for the shotgun is also operated differently from pistol shooting as in Bianchi-Cup-type of shooting.
So shooting the shotgun in that first class, I felt like a toddler must feel when trying to take her first step.
Anyone who sees me when I am not on a gun range would never imagine I would be a shooter. However, I am comfortable on the range. I like practicing by myself. I did that for more than 20 years while competing at the Bianchi Cup. I gravitate toward individual sports. I am comfortable wearing jeans, a microfiber shirt and hiking boots and getting sweaty and grimy on the range.
So, although transitioning to shotgun shooting felt foreign to me, the shooting environment is a place I thrive. It was like being greeted by an old friend.
I have learned several sports in my life — horseback riding, windsurfing, waterskiing and snow skiing — not because I am particularly athletic, but because I have a knack for persistence. I am a committed learner, and I am very goal-oriented.
After my first shotgun shooting class, I kept my son-in-law’s shotgun under my bed. I would pull it out during the day and practice my mounting technique and practice sighting on my target by looking at an object beyond the barrel.
I have not given up pistol shooting, either, even though I am retired from competitions. Sometimes I will do an interview where the reporter wants to see me shoot. I know skills are perishable, so I try to stay sharp by going to the gun range to shoot at Coke cans from 40 yards.
I fill the cans with water, and when I hit my target, the can jumps and explodes. This creates a great visual effect that is useful if a reporter is there to watch me shoot my pistol.
So, what is my goal for shotgun shooting? I know if I keep at it, in a few years, I might be proficient enough to hit targets with some regularity.
One day when I was out on the shotgun range, I saw an 86-year-old man shooting with his son. This inspired me. It told me that shotgun shooting is something I can enjoy for many, many years. I do not have to become a championship competitor, like I was in pistol shooting. I have no intention of that.
It simply is nice to feel the satisfaction of seeing a clay pigeon explode when you hit your mark. By the time I am 80, I might be a pretty good shot with the shotgun.
Mostly, though, my goal is to keep learning and to keep challenging myself. When left unchallenged, untested and with no task at hand, I am not the top version of myself. Pushing the envelope and welcoming new challenges brings out the best in me, and it keeps my mind and body sharp at a time when I must focus on that.