STORY BY CRAIG HODGKINS ā¢ PHOTOS BY TAURUS
If you are of a certain age, youāll recall a time when Jessie Duļ¬ was not winning shooting championships. But to the generation of competitors coming of age today, her name is as familiar atop an event leader board as a sponsorās logo.
From her ļ¬rst championship in 2005 to her most recent, the captain of Team Taurus has toted home the victorās hardware nearly 150 times, often with wins in multiple divisions of the same competition.
What makes this gaudy total even more impressive is that in an age of overspecialization, sheās achieved her competitive milestones across ļ¬ve diļ¬erent shooting disciplines and multiple event types.
BORN INTO A SHOOTING FAMILYĀ in McDonough, Ga., a community in the Atlanta metropolitan area, Duļ¬ didnāt immediately follow in the footsteps of her father, a competitive shooter in his own right. āI didnāt take to it early on,ā she told me recently, āeven though I grew up on the range with my dad, my mom and my brother. Iād shoot on the range with them, but didnāt feel the need to compete until I was about 15.ā
Her dad was involved in cowboy action shooting at the time, so thatās where she began too. The urge to compete may have come a bit late for Duļ¬, whose only experience with organized sports was as a cheerleader, but the timing was clearly right.
āI just found my niche,ā she recalled. āTeam sports werenāt for me, but I found something that I was good at and could grow and get better at. I just needed to ļ¬nd it on my own instead of feeling forced to do it.ā
After her initial success, Duļ¬ began to contemplate a possible career as a shooter.
āFrom the moment I shot and competed, I knew that shooting was what I wanted to do, but I didnāt know how that could be possible. You werenāt allowed sponsors in cowboy action shooting. It wasnāt anything that you could make a living at; it was simply for fun.ā
Her potential for making a living at shooting took a positive turn about ļ¬ve years later when her local range held a Steel Challenge event. She decided to give the new competition format a try.
ā(At ļ¬rst), I would go and shoot it with my single-action revolvers, but thatās when I was exposed to 1911s and Glocks and all of these semiauto ļ¬rearms. It was a whole new world, and thatās where I saw that people hadĀ sponsors and could make something out of that.ā
Again, the timing was right for Duļ¬ to take another career step. Julie Golob had left Team Glock, and the company hired Duļ¬ and fellow CAS shooter Randi Rogers. But even before she went to work for Glock, the U.S. oļ¬ces of which are based near Atlanta, she had come to truly appreciate her local roots.
āI was very fortunate growing up in Georgia,ā Duļ¬ said. āWe had such an amazing group of world champion shooters, so I started with watching the best of the best. I would watch and emulate what they did, and that truly helped my foundation as a shooter and gave me a boost. Instead of having to learn that along the way, I learned it immediately.ā
But those talented homegrown shooters werenāt the only positive inļ¬uences on Duļ¬ās professional development, a point the current champion is quick to acknowledge.
āWhen I came into the modern shooting sports, the ladies who were killing it at the time were Kay Miculek and Lisa Munson and Julie Golob and Athena Lee, and thatās what I wanted to do. When I say I set my goal to beat them, I mean that with the utmost respect because they were the best. I wanted to be at their level or better. It took me a while, because theyāre so good, but eventually I made my way into the sport and found a place among the other top ladies.ā
Shooting multiple disciplines over the past decade has enabled Duļ¬ to identify how to train and what to work on. And for her, it is all about focusing on what she considers to be the basics, and then migrating those skills from event to event.
āThe common denominator across all of it is sight alignment and trigger control,ā she said. āIf you can manage that, then the rest is just going to come with repetition, muscle memory and physical ļ¬tness. Shooting is shooting, whether youāre going super fast at Steel Challenge, whether youāre going super slow but being extremely accurate at Bianchi, or USPSA whereĀ itās a mix of both, but you add in running, and a physical aspect. You still have to line your sights up and not jerk the trigger.ā
āWhen I started shooting Bianchi,ā she adds, āit was like nothing else I do on any other platform. I had to learn how to control my trigger control. I can get away with a lot more in Steel Challenge and USPSA, but in Bianchi, you canāt get away with anything. Youāve got a 4-inch circle, and if youāre not hitting it, itās very, very obvious.
āI also had to learn to slow down. Everything Iāve shot is based oļ¬ of speed, and in Bianchi, even though thereās a time limit, itās like a calendar year compared to what I do. I had to learn to use the time that is given so that I donāt get rushed or feel like I have to shoot six shots as fast as I can because thatās what I do in the other sports. It was a big learning process for me, but trigger control transfers over to everything else and just makes me a better shooter in all the other divisions.ā
DUFFāS WORK ETHICĀ has paid oļ¬ in many ways. As the ļ¬rst female athlete and professional shooter to earn USPSA Grand Master status, she ļ¬nds herself in a position that few people of either gender have attained, and this has enabled her to realize a personal goal that extends beyond the sport and into the fabric of our culture.
āI donāt want to be known as just a good female shooter,ā she said. āI want to be known as one of the best shooters in our sports. Gender shouldnāt matter. If Iām putting up scores that are right there with the top guys, then it shouldnāt matter if āladyā is checked next to my name or not. I hope that some of the things that Iāve accomplished or done throughout my career, and what Iāll continue to do, will help open the door for other ladies. This might be a manās sport, but weāre making our own place in it.ā
That door remains wide open, and this past decade has seen a large spike in participation by both women and youth in the shooting sports. As part of her role as the captain of Team Taurus, a position she has held for ļ¬ve years, Duļ¬ helped develop theĀ Taurus Young Guns shooting program. Participants in this program, referred to as āshooting ambassadorsā by the Florida-based ļ¬rearms manufacturer, must meet stringent requirements on and oļ¬ the range, and Duļ¬ knows more than a little about the navigating the exhausting cycle of working and waiting while incrementally inching to the top echelon of the sport she loves.
āThereās always a new generation coming up thatās going to take the place of who is there now,ā she said. āBut it takes time and hard work to get to that spot. Some new competitors who have talent beat themselves up so bad if they donāt go out and win every match right away. I tell them, āYouāve got to put your time in. You have talent, but so do your competitors. Youāre shooting against the best, and those of us who are on the top put our time in, and itās our time right now.āā
Because sheās already walked several miles in their moccasins, her heartfelt career advice to upcoming shooters rings true, and it always starts with an admonition she tells herself every day: love what you do.
āItās like in any other sport,ā she said, āIf you overload someone at that age, they just get burnt out. I tell them to set goals that are realistic in the sense that you will be able to accomplish (them). I see nothing wrong with setting a goal that is over the moon, because Iāve done that myself. But along with that big āshoot for the starsā goal, Iāve got other goals that are like a stairway, and that will show success and progress along the way so that you donāt get frustrated or lose interest.ā
āIāve seen so many talented kids start, and then within two years, theyāre gone, and you never see them again. Itās a hard thing to sustain for a long time if youāre not making a conscious eļ¬ort to take care of the reason you started this, and thatās because you love it.ā
As she moves into her second decade as a professional shooter, Duļ¬ acknowledges that sheās had to take her own advice about training and competitions, and has adopted a more targeted strategy.
āEarlier on in my shooting career,ā she said, āI felt I had to be at every match that was on the schedule, and that was also kind of how I trained. I had to be out on the range, and if I didnāt shoot a thousand rounds a day, I didnāt feel like Iād accomplished anything. Now Iāve learned to train smarter and not harder, and that also (applies) to the matches Iām going to attend. I have to make sure Iām not overloading my schedule to where Iām burned out by the time I get to the major championships, but yet that Iām still motivated and able to prepare.ā
Despite her many accolades, Duļ¬ keeps her sights set on the future, and she has some lofty goals to achieve before, as she puts it, āmy day in the sun is up.ā
āI want to win an IPSC World Shoot in Open Division,ā she shared. āThatās my main goal right now. Once Iāve done that, I want to look at spending more time in other disciplines. I made Grand Master in Open, and I want to make Grand Master in other divisions.ā
MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASUREĀ can be a combustible combination, but Duļ¬ has the mental discipline to have made it work for more than a decade.
āWhen I made the decision to make a career out of this, I realized that things would change taking something I love and turning it into work. Iāve always told myself, the day that I wake up and donāt want to go to the range, or I donāt have that drive to go out and be the best, then thatās when I need to ļ¬nd something else to do. But I havenāt had that yet.ā
Many people use the shootingĀ sports to relax and recalibrate, but professionals such as Duļ¬, whose lives revolve around their skill and dexterity with ļ¬rearms, must compartmentalize their range time on a daily basis depending on the situation at hand.
āWhen Iām in training mode and have matches Iām preparing for,ā she said, āitās a completely diļ¬erent mindset than going out to the range with my dad. When Iām training, itās all business. I have a goal, and my goal is to go and win and be the best. And I have certain things that I do at the range to prepare myself for that.ā
Long known for her drive to master new shooting disciplines, she is currently enjoying a self-imposed oļ¬-season, although for someone as competitive as Duļ¬, the term āoļ¬seasonā is relative.
āIām trying to learn skeet shooting,ā she shared with a laugh, āand Iām absolutely horrible at it. I realize we canāt all be good at everything we do, but when it comes to shooting, thatās a hard thing for me to grasp. Iāve shot so much, and Iāve succeeded at so much, that now when youāre telling me that Iām not supposed to aim at the target that Iām shooting at, I canāt comprehend that ā¦ It just drives me mad.ā
āI stood in one position on the skeet range with my dad the other day,ā she continued, āand I said āIām not leaving until I can master this spot.ā I shot two boxes of shells in that one spot. But itās a new challenge. I still love to go out and be on the range, and smell the gun smoke, and share and have those memories with my dad. He shot his ļ¬rst clean 25 round of skeet yesterday, and I was able to be there with him to do that.ā
Another thing that helps keep her life on an even keel is spending time with her husband Matt ā they met on the set of theĀ Friends of the NRAĀ show they cohosted ā and her friends. But when her internal stress dial threatens to hit 11, she has a sureļ¬re way to turn down the noise.
āI love horses,ā she said. āI have a couple of them, and thatās my getaway.Ā I go down to our farm and just hop on my horse and go. I just enjoy trail riding, ļ¬nding new places, being out in nature. Something about a horse is so calming. It just relaxes me.ā
Duļ¬ works as an ambassador for her many sponsors, including Taurus, Hornady, Leupold, Blackhawk and several others, giving her one more set of priorities to balance. She tries to do as much of the nonevent sponsorship work as she can in her oļ¬season, so it doesnāt conļ¬ict with her training, or, as she puts it, āthe actual reason theyāve hired me.ā Behind the scenes, she is active with personal eļ¬orts to support veterans and law enforcement oļ¬cers, and especially assisting and encouraging female shooters.
āI enjoy helping women get into the shooting sports,ā she said. āThereās something about taking a lady to the range who is just terriļ¬ed of ļ¬rearms, but who wants to take the plunge. Just experiencing her ļ¬rst time shooting with her, and then seeing the excitement, the release of fear, the self-empowerment. Itās incredible.ā
As you would imagine, Duļ¬ās annual SHOT Show appearance schedule is an extremely busy one, and she wants to make sure that everyone from her sponsors to her fans get the time they deserve.
āFrom day one to day four, starting when the doors open, every hour on the hour, Iām in a diļ¬erent booth. But I enjoy it. Iām a social person, so when I go to shows like this, Iām able to talk to people and visit, and hear their stories, or share some of mine. So even though it is exhausting for four days straight ā with that many people in one place, the energy just drains you ā itās part of the job, and I enjoy it for the most part.ā
THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRYĀ is relatively small on a national scale, and Duļ¬ often considers how she can help build bridges to the mainstream world.
āIām always thinking, āHow can we make our pond bigger?ā Iām trying to ļ¬nd opportunities, because if you look at the number of people who own ļ¬rearms or who hunt or who exercise their Second Amendment rights, thatās bigger than the number of people who play golf, or the number of people who do some of the other sports.ā
Still, not being readily recognized by those outside of the shooting world can be a source of amusement.
āI love it when people ask (what I do) where Iām not recognizedĀ as āJessie the shooter.ā If I could snap a picture of every person when I answer, Iād have quite the little photo book. Itās a great conversation starter, thatās for sure. Sometimes you get the occasional person who doesnāt have the same viewpoint as I do, but it either opens the door for a conversation ā you can learn something about somebody else ā or it makes for a nice quiet plane ride.ā
But whatever Duļ¬ chooses to do, with or without a gun in her hand, sheāll give it her all. Thatās the only way she knows how to live.
āIām extremely competitive. I canāt do anything mediocre. I have to give it everything I have. Otherwise, itās not worth doing, in my opinion. Thatās just what drives me. I still have things Iāve yet to accomplish, and I know that I will. Itās just a matter of time. And knowing that there are younger shooters out there ā and some of them have the drive that I did ā thatās what keeps pushing me to keep going.āĀ ĀASJ