Professional shooter Kirsten Joy Weiss may be a relative newcomer to world of performance shooting, but she isn’t scared to use put her competitive skills to good use. There are few things that Kirsten enjoys more than being on the range, a sentiment that comes through in both her writing and popular YouTube videos. With a long list competitive accomplishments ranging from the ISSF World Championships to the Olympic short list, Kirsten has a passion for precision. And although the path is not always easy, Kirsten always tries to find the best in things.
“Guns have always been a part of my family,” Kirsten told OutdoorHub in a recent interview. “Both my parents enjoy shooting and hunting. Neither are competitive shooters or anything like that, but they would often bring me to the range to shoot some targets or clays. How my professional career started was when my mother and another lady from the school I was attending at the time brought me to a gun club. It was very different than just going to a range.”
The shooters there were instantly wowed by young markswoman’s aim, and it was not long before words like “college scholarship” got mentioned.
“That’s when my parents got interested,” Kirsten said with a laugh.
At 16, she would be breaking into the sport much later than most other competitive shooters. Kirsten explained that shooters usually start at the age of nine with BB guns and then graduate to smallbore .22 and air rifles around 12. Despite her late start, Kirsten hardly noticed a disadvantage, which she attributes to her long experience with firearms and her parents’ eagerness to nurture her talent.
Smallbore .22 competitions may not get the attention or glamour of other sports, but all the challenges remain. Precise shooting with a .22 is a very exacting sport, and the slightest error may mean the difference between a world championship title or going home empty handed.
“It’s not just ‘Hey I got a bull’s-eye, and that’s a 10,'” Kirsten shared. “No, it’s how perfect your bull’s-eye is. Is it a 10.1 or a 10.2? And these are only measured by the barest of millimeters.”
The pressure can be immense, but in a sport where aim and focus are vital, participants cannot afford to let nerves get the better of them.
“Our heartbeats actually affect the shot,” Kirsten said.
That’s the reason why shooters often hone their mental game just as much as their aim.
You can see Kirsten do trick shots from a motorcycle in the video below:
“The closest thing to a smallbore rifle in other sports is probably golf,” Kirsten said. “You have to train so much that eventually shooting becomes natural. After thousands and thousands of hours, you will enter a flow state just like other sports. In peak season I will probably train six days a week, about 200 rounds a day. The .22 is great in that it prepares you for every other gun, and by extension a lot of the skills you need in life.”
One of those skills is keeping a clear head and a positive attitude in even the worst of situations. Kirsten found herself competing at the ISSF World Championships in 2006 when she faced a competitor’s worst fear. After her first shot into the match, she discovered that her trigger was malfunctioning. With the rest of the match and 19 shots still waiting, Kirsten refused to panic. Instead, she made the best of a bad a scenario and finished the match.
“It was bittersweet experience because while it was great that I overcame it, I still would have scored a lot higher otherwise,” Kirsten said.
It won’t be the last challenge in her competitive career. While preparing for the Olympics in 2008, Kirsten found that her firearms had been deliberately sabotaged.
Kirsten took a few years off to finish school and to travel abroad. When she came back, she was determined to not let the experience leave a bitter mark.
“I wanted to come back with a clean heart and no negativity,” Kirsten recalled.
She wasn’t sure that she wanted to take up shooting again so soon, but it didn’t take long for her to rediscover her passion.
“When I came back from traveling abroad, I found that my mom had my guns completely rebuilt,” Kirsten said. “I remember we opened the case and I turned to my mom and asked her ‘Do you want to go to the range?’ She looked at me because I hadn’t talked about shooting in a while and she was like ‘Uh, okay!’ When we arrived at the range, it was like I never left. It was like jumping [back] on a bicycle.”
Taking time off to travel gave Kirsten time to think, and when she came to back to the United States, she became more aware of the different views that people had of guns.
“When I left competition shooting and started looking around, I saw there was a lot of fear of guns,” Kirsten said. “That was not what I grew up with and not my experience with guns. When most Americans go to the range, they go to have fun and spend time with their family or friends. There is no fear there. So I want to spread my story and experience with performance shooting.”
Since then her YouTube channel has been widely popular with both those that own guns and those that don’t.
Kirsten demonstrates “gun Pilates:”
“I think people are really responding because of the politics-free environment.” Kirsten said. “I don’t think a lot of people know what it’s like to shoot a gun and enjoy it. People say guns are scary but firearms can actually be very therapeutic. My mind can be swirling and filled with concerns, but when I’m at a range and I get on that line, my mind is focused on the target. As long as you’re responsible, shooting is one of the safest sports available.”
There’s also another motive for Kirsten to delve into the world of performance shooting: she likes it.
“Honestly I’ve been shooting paper for so much of my career, but I always had the most fun when my dad would just place whatever downrange and tell me ‘Okay, shoot it!’”
And she hasn’t forgotten her roots, either. While her parents may not be able to keep up with Kirsten at the range any longer, they can still teach her a thing or two about hunting. Kirsten has hunted around the world, from Wyoming to the plains of Africa. Although she can’t decide on what her favorite game is, Kirsten says turkey is definitely a front-runner. But her first experience with the bird was not so successful. Long before she started competing, Kirsten accompanied her dad on a turkey hunt when she was 12.
“I did not have much success,” she said simply. “I snuck up on a turkey but I was so used to shooting with rifles that I didn’t have much experience with shotguns. I didn’t know that my 20 gauge would behave differently shooting to 60 yards.”
Not only did the shot go wide, but the recoil knocked her over backwards.
“And the turkeys turned around to look at me and didn’t even run. They just slowly mosied off, to add insult to injury.”
These days Kirsten seems to have gotten the hang of it, and she looks forward to deer and turkey season every year.
“I love meat hunting, just the fact that you can put it on your table and say ‘Hey, I got this. This is awesome.’”
It’s just a shame that Kirsten rarely has the chance to take her favorite Anschütz .22 rifle out to hunt.
“If you ever want to hone not only your marksmanship but your mental game, consider taking up the .22,” Kirsten said as parting piece of advice.
We’d like to thank Kirsten for giving us the time to interview her and you can find more of her videos on her YouTube channel.
Editor’s note: This interview is part of a series with OutdoorHub’s featured video partners. Click here to read our interview with hard-core hunter and athlete Cameron Hanes, and click here to read our interview with firearm guru Eric Blandford of Iraqveteran8888.
Image courtesy Kirsten Joy Weiss