Among the gray, green, blue and tan shapes shuffling on the combat range at the Arnold Rifle and Pistol Club (ARPC) on a dreary Saturday morning is a shock of bright pink. At first I think it might be Emily, a young competitor I met at last month’s International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) match, but it’s not. I introduce myself as a writer, explain my interest in talking with a young woman I had never met. She introduces herself as Allison. Allison accepts my offer of a handshake and grips it ladylike, grasping my fingers and giving them a squeeze. “People call me Ali” she informed me . . .
Ali is in her early twenties and hails from Paducah, Kentucky, a fact made manifest by her lilting drawl. Long blonde hair and a pink hoodie are partially obscured by her overjacket. For the moment, it has stopped drizzling, and we are all hoping for a dry match.
“You drove all the way here to go shooting?”
Ali nodded, “My daddy and I drove up from Paducah, we are staying with Uncle Steve.” It turns out that Emily and Allison are cousins. Uncle Steve is, in fact, Emily’s dad.
“How long have you been shooting?”
Ali, who has a pleasant countenance, smiled just a little with the side of her mouth as she said, “I’ve been shooting with my dad since I was seven, I suppose.”
By now her dad has heard me talking with her. “Ali does it all – here, check out these photos.” Her dad, Dave, shows me his iPhone with Ali standing in the same pink hoodie next to a target that bears two .50 caliber holes within an inch of each other. She is pointing to it with the muzzle of a massive revolver. Dave quickly manipulates the smartphone and finds a video of her shooting the enormous firearm. She leans into the gun and pulls the trigger. Ali is not tiny, but she’s not what you’d call a strapping lass either. Her body absorbs the recoil. Without taking her eyes off the target, she leans further into it and fires again.
Ali seems used to her proud father sharing photos of her shooting. “Here she is with a Barrett .50 cal.” he says, flipping to the video.
“Don’t show that one!” she protests.
In her signature pink hoodie, Ali is on a bench with a Barrett. She sends a massive BMG bullet downrange, and steps away from the rifle, smiling, but seeming to be shocked as well.
“I’m in pre-vet school right now.” she says after I ask if she is in college.
“What do your schoolmates think about your hobby? The other ladies you know?”
Ali shrugged “They are scared of guns, they do not like them.”
“Does your hobby put you at odds with your girlfriends?”
Ali thought for a moment “No, not really – everyone in Paducah knows I shoot” she replied.
Ali works at a local sporting goods store. “They realized that I know a lot about guns, so they put me back selling them.”
“Do ladies find it easier to talk to you about firearms?”
Ali nodded, “I think they do. They are usually shopping for a long gun for their husband or boyfriend.”
“How about self defense questions, does that ever come up?”
“Yeah, it does. They ask about that, though we do not sell handguns where I work.” she responds.
As Ali prepares for the first stage of the match, she pulls out a bright pink pair of earmuffs. I notice some writing on it. “What’s this on your hearing protection, Ali?”
She smiles and rotates them so I can see. “My boyfriend wrote me a little good luck note. He told me not to look before I got here.” Part of the note has rubbed off, but it’s simply an encouragement for her to do well in the match. She smiled. It’s clear she finds the love note charming. Somewhere along the line I see a photo of her boyfriend, a sturdy young man. He is of course pictured shooting.
Her weapon of choice is a Glock 34, chambered for 9mm. Her piece is nestled in a molded polymer holster. Ali starts her first stage at the combat range, a wide zone where targets are spaced deep and far apart. Shooters must begin sitting on a park bench with their feet propped up on a 5 gallon bucket. Ali nods that she’s ready, and leaps up at the sound of the beep signalling the start of the stage. She hustles to the first position, draws and opens fire. She moves to the next position, and then finishes the stage at the final firing position. She changes magazines smoothly.
Later, when the scores come out, Ali shoots a little over 400 with a Glock, whereas cousin Emily shot a smidgen over 230 with a six-shot revolver. I ask if there is any rivalry between her and her younger cousin.
“No, not at all. I actually really respect Emily being so young and so good with a gun. I’m going to work to be at her skill level.” Inspiration, not jealousy.
As she reloads and tidies up for the next stage, I ask “Do you and your dad reload your ammo?”
“Daddy does, but I’m still learning how.”
Later, Ali reflects on shooting sports. She gave up time with her boyfriend and the weather was dreadful. “Passion is what you do when it’s convenient, commitment is what you do when it is inconvenient.” Ali smiles and heads off to the next stage, her dad close behind. A road trip, time with family, and a fun, if dreary day shooting. Not a bad way to spend the weekend.