by B.B. Pelletier

I witnessed something last week that I have to share with all of you. I saw a new shooter who is a “natural.” What I mean is that I saw a shooter who did everything she was asked to do, with the result that she hit most of her targets. What made it noteworthy was that her targets were ones I would have struggled with.

In what must be a classic twist of irony, the new shooter is Crystal Ackley, a new host on American Airgunner. She’s supposed to be learning to shoot! And we’re supposed to be teaching her. But who knew she would be a natural?

I’m sure many people might think that we turned Crystal into another Annie Oakley through the magic of editing. But we’re not doing that! We don’t have to, because miss Oakley, er Ackley, is a dead-accurate shot right out of the box! In all my shooting experience, which includes running hundreds of ranges and teaching thousands of new shooters over the span of 40 years, she’s only the second natural shooter I’ve ever encountered.

Those of you who have seen the show will have seen me teaching her to shoot the Makarov BB pistol in episode six. We started at five feet from the target and gradually backed up to 20 feet. I wrote about this teaching technique in a blog in 2008. But when I watched Crystal shoot on camera, I was amazed. She was able to hold her groups as tight as any that I can shoot with the same pistol, even though this was practically the first time she’d shot a gun! I’m a 10-meter pistol competitor, for those who don’t know.

For a moment, I thought What a wonderful teacher I must be! Then it dawned on me. I’m not a great teacher; she’s a great student–a natural shooter, if ever I saw one!

This past week, she was back on the show, learning to shoot other airguns. In one scene, she was instructed how to shoot air rifle silhouette by silhouette shooter Mike Sporer. Mike is one of those great shots who seldom misses anything; but when I saw Crystal hit the first 20-yard chicken target she ever shot at, I felt like a proud parent of an honor roll student. Suddenly, those sappy bumper stickers made sense!

Then, she hit the second chicken she ever shot at, and the rest of the crew began to take notice. We all shoot a lot during the filming of the show, so everybody knows which shots are easy and which aren’t. The 20-yard chicken is not an easy offhand shot.

But it didn’t stop there. She proceeded to hit the 30-yard pig and the 36-yard turkey, as well. Oh, she did miss a couple of times, but the hits kept coming at a rate I don’t think I could have equalled.

Then, we got to the 45-yard ram. Mike, who had been cleaning the targets up to this point, missed his first shot. Then Crystal fired her .22-caliber Benjamin Discovery and launched the ram into orbit. The camera was rolling, so I had to scream silently, but scream I did!

Mike shot a second time and missed again. Then Crystal hit the second ram she ever shot at. Paul Capello, who was running the camera at the time, looked away from the eyepiece, turned to me and gave me a “What the hell did we just see?” look. Mike connected on his third shot and the scene finally ended. Then I screamed for real! I was reminded of the real contest between Annie Oakley and exhibition shooter Frank Butler, in which Annie beat her husband-to-be.

The funny part about this whole thing is that Crystal doesn’t seem to know that she is doing anything special. I get the impression she thinks we are trying to build her confidence by heaping praise on her, when in fact we are all saying that we wish we could shoot as good as she. Paul is a better offhand rifle shot than I am and even he is astounded by her natural talent.

I knew one other natural shooter. Back in the 1950s, my maternal grandmother shot archery with me one day. We were shooting at a cardboard box filled with crushed newspapers, placed about 20 yards away. I had just received a lemonwood bow for my birthday. It had a draw weight of about 25 pounds, so it was just for target shooting. I shot first and hit the box a couple of times, then I asked my grandmother to try. She said, “Where do you want me to hit?”

I answered, “On the box, grandma!”

To which she replied, “I know on the box, but where on the box?”

So, I asked her to hit the red circle of box specs that was showing on one bottom flap. She quickly drew back and put her arrow through the center of the three-inch circle.

“That must have been luck.” I said. “I bet you can’t hit the spot where all four flaps overlap,” which was the center of the box. She put the next arrow through the overlap hole without touching any one of the four flaps.

After that demonstration, I decided that shooting was over for the day. Later that evening, my mother told me that grandma had been a champion archer in the early part of the century, when archery was a popular social sport.

So, there are such people in the world. People like little Phoebe Ann Mosey of Darke County, Ohio, who scarcely ever missed what she shot at. Then there are the rest of us who labor a lifetime trying to approach the standard these gifted persons must take for granted–these “natural” shooters.