Story By Kyle Liebetrau I arrived at the range at Camp Perry for the first time as a competitor at the age of 17. I had no idea what was going to happen or how things were going to be run. I was a little bit nervous—to say the least—but that nervousness grew worse the closer I got to taking my first shot. About five minutes before I was to take my first shot for the Long Range National Championships, my grandfather walked up to me and told me that I should go up to the line with 16 minutes of left wind on my sights. I just looked back with a dumbfounded look. The most wind I had ever put on my sights before that was no more than 7 minutes. From that point to the moment I got down into position, my heart was pounding through my chest, but once I looked down the sights I did what I always do: Shrug it off, do what I came to do, and get down to busi-ness. That year at Camp Perry I won the Junior National Long Range Championships and was 33rd overall in the entire nation.
Every shooter has to deal with the same things day in and day out when it comes to our sport. Generally the hardest thing to do when shooting is to just concentrate on breaking good shots, every shot, shot after shot. This is hard because maybe you feel nervous because you want to win, or you shot one bad shot and can't let it go, or you might just feel "off." There are multiple ways to solve these issues and everyone has his or her own way that works best. When I first started shooting, I had to try multiple ways until I found out what worked best for me; for some it comes easily, while others have to work at it.
I have shot a lot of bad shots over my 11 years of com-petitive rifle shooting, but the best thing is to accept that it happened, take notice of it, then move on. There is nothing you can do if you shoot an 8. You can't take it back; you can't have a mulligan and get to take the shot over. The only thing you can really do is use it as motivation. You need to tell yourself, "O.K., I shot an 8; my next five shots need to be at least in the 10 ring." Every bad shot that you have, you need to focus that much harder on your next one. Now, don't try so hard that it screws you up, but make sure you are paying closer attention to the conditions, or watch your position, whatever caused you to have that bad shot. As long as you don't let the bad shot eat at you and take your mind off the more important things, you will do better. You can't change the past.
Now, being nervous is a whole other ball game! Most of the time you get nervous because you feel the pressure from wanting to win or feeling as if you need to prove yourself. For me, I have always thrived on pressure and have always been extremely competitive. I always want to prove that I am better than the next person, and generally don't take lightly to losing. Some people are like that, some aren't. Everyone needs to find his or her own way of taking advantage of the pressure, whether it is using it to push yourself harder, or just shrugging it off and not letting it affect you once you get to the firing line. Then there are those days when you just feel "off" and feel like you can't do anything the way you want to. You can't break a good shot and you can't catch a single break on the wind or mirage conditions. Those are by far the hardest days to overcome. In my experience the best thing to do is just push through it, do your best, and don't let it get to your head. Chances are you are not the only person on the line that is having an "off" day. If you let it get to you, just like every other sport, it's only going to hurt you.
To my mind, the best way to combat all of these issues it to make sure that you are being serious about what you are doing, and taking it to heart, while still managing to have fun doing what you love because you may not always have the opportunity to do it.