Consider the bullseye hit.
Roughly 50 shooters took aim as the LA HotShots Club-hosted 2012 Alberta Air Gun Provincials — including air pistol and air rifles — took the line Jan. 21 at the Exhibition Park West Pavilion.
Now, after rejuvenating the LA HotShots Club, coach Susan Eymann is hopeful interest in the sport will be off like a shot.
“It (provincials) hasn’t been here for 16 years,” said Eyman as competitors — male and female aged 11 to 65 — took the line at the event which ran from Jan. 20-22. “We’ve rejuvenated the club and this is more than we could have imagined one year into it.”
While those marksmen on hand at the Exhibition Park West Pavilion for the three-day event were competing at the provincial level, the sport of air gun has moved to the international level with the air-pistol event being named as the first precision target medal sport at the 2012 Olympics in London.
But the Jan. 20-22 provincial event was all about rebuilding interest in the sport in southern Alberta.
Working with the Coaldale And District Fish And Game Club where the LA HotShots Club has a range, Eymann and her husband, Jeff MacDonald, looked to rebuild interest in the sport six years ago.
“It took us five phone calls, so we were persistent to finally get to someone who could help us,” said Eymann, adding the club also shoots at the German Canadian Club in Lethbridge as well. “We started training and we starting thinking that there were other people interested in this and to start promoting it more and getting more people involved so that it only takes one phone call to reach us. We just opened it up because it’s a fantastic sport.”
Athleticism isn’t a necessity for the beginner air gun participant, but it is if the shooter wants to move up in the sport.
“If you want to excel, you do need to be athletic and you can see the development in the juniors when they do that,” said Eymann.
But it’s what’s going on in the head of the shooter that’s equally as important as a steady hand and true aim.
“Patience, discipline,” said Eymann. “When you’re in position and aiming, it’s not saying ‘It’s good enough.’ When you can feel some tension somewhere you really have to be able to get to know your body and notice every little tension and recognize what it’s doing before you pull the trigger.”
Among the young guns competing Jan. 21 was 16-year-old Jonathan Reid.
“I’ve been doing this about two or three years,” said Reid. “My dad (David) was working for Jeff and he told me ‘You should come and shoot with us.’ I came and tried it out and really enjoyed it.”
The mental aspect of the sport appealed to Reid.
“Your mind can really get in there and mess you up whenever you don’t expect it. You have concentrate, but you can’t concentrate too much. It’s a hard sport.”
But like any sport, practice makes perfect.
“The more you shoot, the better you’ll be,” said Reid. “There’s nothing else you can really do, because if you don’t shoot you’ll never be good at it.”
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, 65-year-old Murray Grigg was among the other competitors at the provincial event.
A range director at the Coaldale Fish and Game Club, Grigg was also a key part of the resurgence of the LA HotShots Club.
“We found him and together we were able to set up this range. But without him, it would have never have happened,” said Eymann.
Competing in his first event, Grigg met his goal of breaking 400 points, shooting 422.
And Grigg met that goal with a new outlook. Literally.
“Up until June I was wearing glasses and wore them for 62 years,” said Grigg, who then had cataract surgery and put in toric lenses which fix astigmatism and near-sightedness.
He now has 20-20 vision in one eye and nearly 20-20 vision in his other eye.
“So I really started getting into it then. This is more or less a first go-around. I got my first rifle set up so Susan told me to come out and try it,” said Grigg. “My goal was to break 400 and I had 422. I had a personal best, so I’m happy about that. It’s quite a sport. It’s really about precision and how you hold the gun. You’re competing against yourself, which is really good for a lot of kids. It’s not a team sport. So maybe if you’re not a team sport (person), this is a good fit. We’ve got young guys in the LA HotShots that are competing at this level and the national level. Who knows? If we can put a kid in the NHL, we can put a kid on the Olympic line. This is a great winter sport and it’s great to come out and shoot and compete.”
While not competing at the 2012 provincials, provincial air pistol coach Arno Baron had eight athletes competing at the event.
Coaching mostly in Red Deer and Calgary as well as such other cities as far north as Grande Prairie and as far east as St. Paul, Baron said the goal now is to make southern Alberta an air pistol hotbed.
“Hopefully we can build up some interest here and expand the shooting fraternity. In Red Deer I draw people from Blackfalds and Lacombe and Innisfail. We are sort of the hub for the central part of the province.”
Electronic scoreboards offering a shot-by-shot analysis of each shooter’s performance made the 2012 provincial event a more spectator-friendly affair, said Baron.
“All the shots are recorded and it’s really beneficial for a coach because I can see if, after a few shots, the grouping of the shots is moving to one side higher or lower. I can then pull my shooter off the line and say ‘Make corrections on your sides.’ This is something we didn’t have in previous years because we shot on paper targets and I didn’t see the overall effect until the last shot came off the line. For monitoring my shooters, I love this. I had to correct a couple of my shooters. So for coaching purposes, I love it.”
As the LA HotShots continues to grow, getting more female athletes is key, said Eymann.
“Girls actually have so much patience and discipline. Girls make excellent precision target shooters. We want this sport to be back into the Alberta Winter Games. It hasn’t been there for the past couple of games and in order to do that we need girls.”
Those interested in the LA HotShots can phone 403-315-3185.
Anyone looking for more information can visit www.albertasmallborerifle.ca.