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New shooting star at local skeet range

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The usual mental picture that accompanies sport shooting is a bunch of men with guns, but at the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club skeet range, that mental picture has been shot full of holes.

Over the last three years, 14-year-old Jillian Gustafson has become a regular shooter alongside her dad, Dave.

Last week, during the regular Tuesday evening shoot, she shot a personal best round of 17 out of 25 targets.

“A lot of guys, young fellers that’ve been shooting there for years and should be real good, they don’t shoot that [17] a lot of times,” said Len Noonan, who himself is a bit of a local legend on the skeet range.

“She done real good. I was just impressed myself,” he noted.

“’Course, I say that’s just good coaching,” Noonan laughed.

But good coaching does seem to have something to do with it. Ever since Gustafson ventured onto the skeet range at the age of 11, wanting to see what her beloved great-uncle, the late R.J. Kennedy, had so enjoyed out there, club members have taken her under their collective wing.

“They’re fantastic,” said Dave Gustafson. “Right from the very first time I brought her there, there were 14 men, counting myself, and her, and she plugs off nine first time out.”

Needless to say, an 11-year-old girl hitting nine small targets moving at 55-60 m.p.h.—on the first try—impressed the local shooting crowd.

“She is a natural,” her dad said. “Right from the very beginning, she just seemed to take off very well and she handled it very well.

“I went a couple times before I took her and then I got a couple friends to introduce the guns to her, just for the fact that she would hear it from someone else, not just from me,” he remarked.

“We encouraged her to try a couple different guns,” he added. “Started her off with a .28 gauge and then she went to a .20 gauge.

“And once she got over the fear of, you know, it’s not that bad, just a loud bang, she was very comfortable with it.”

Watching his daughter enjoy one of his own favourite activities is a thrill for him, too.

“I love that, I love it,” he enthused the day after her round of 17. “I had goose bumps last night, it was so good.

“I just like to brag about her, I guess.”

The teen also gets a thrill from being on the range. Although she had just gotten her tonsils out and so wasn’t up to speaking much, her eyes lit up when she mentioned her high score from last Tuesday.

She said skeet shooting is something she’s going to keep on doing, adding she really enjoys the helpful, protective attitudes of the other club members, especially Noonan.

“I think Jill’s a great kid,” Noonan said. “She’s into everything, she’s into swimming, she’s always busy, a real good kid, a bright kid, and everybody just likes her. She’s just a dandy.

“Everybody feels the same way about her. All the guys just love her,” he added.

“If you notice, any of them will talk to her, give her pointers, stuff like that, but it’s the same with anybody new, they’ll all give pointers and so on. . . .

“I’ll usually go around with them a few times and if they’re getting it good, then I’ll leave them on their own, but she likes to just be reminded, you know,” he noted.

“But the last round I never went with her at all, when she shot that 17, so maybe that says something about my coaching, too,” Noonan chuckled.

“No, I just said to her, ‘Just remember what I told you and keep ahead of them [the targets],’ is all I said, and she did and she just shot amazing.”

The veteran skeet shooter said he sees great potential in his young protégé.

“She could be good, she could be real good, if she just keeps trying and keeps at it,” he stressed. “That game, a lot of it’s between your ears. You’ve always gotta be thinking.

“I know lots of times I’ll get up there and I’ll be thinking or talking to guys or thinking about something else or thinking about what somebody said, and you shoot and bang, you miss.

“Well, you’re just not thinking,” he remarked.

Dave Gustafson also mentioned his daughter’s talent on the range.

“She was born with it . . . I’m just happy that I can be part of it, I’m just glad that she really enjoys something that I enjoy.

“She’s got a good eye and it’s just nice to see her use it,” he enthused.

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