Have air gun, will travel

Just over a year ago, Danielle Marcotte failed to make the cut to represent Yukon on the Canada Games rifle shooting team.

Just over a year ago, Danielle Marcotte failed to make the cut to represent Yukon on the Canada Games rifle shooting team.

Her story could have ended there — but Team Yukon coach Ken Speiss had spaces to fill on the pistol team.

“I was always a rifle shooter until I tried out for the games,” said Marcotte during a practice at the Whitehorse Rifle and Pistol Club on Monday.

The Pelly Crossing teen has been shooting rifles with her family and the Junior Canadian Rangers since the age of 10.

“I didn’t even know there was a pistol event. They just kind of put a pistol in my hand, and it went from there.”

Her debut competition came at the Canada Games in Whitehorse, and her nerves got the better of her.

“I did really well on my first day, then I saw my results and everything and I psyched myself out on the second day,” she said.

She finished ninth.

Since then, Marcotte seems to have found some kind of magical connection to the bull’s-eye.

In August, she captured the national junior title in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, shooting 97.1 per cent in the final, the highest score of the event, better even than the senior shooters.

“I felt more familiar with competitions,” she said of her performance at the nationals. “But I still get nervous.”

To say Marcotte is a natural is almost an understatement.

“We’ve never produced a shooter at this level,” said Speiss, who’s been coaching with the Yukon Shooting Federation since the ‘70’s.

“I’d like to say it’s all in the coaching, but it’s not — she has natural talent.”

“Shooting is 90-something per cent mental, some people struggle with that, it seems to come naturally to Danielle,” he added. “She definitely sees herself on the Olympic team someday, she’s a very determined person.”

With just over a year of shooting experience, Marcotte is already earning the opportunity to compete internationally.

As Canadian junior champion, Marcotte has been chosen to compete for Canada at four World Cup events this spring. First up, Rio de Janeiro in March.

“I’m so pumped — I can’t wait for Brazil … travelling, meeting new people, trying to set new goals — it’s exiting,” said Marcotte.

It’s no free ride, though.

National junior shooters don’t get any financial support.

Shooting just doesn’t have a high-enough profile.

“Canada’s success in shooting sports is underreported,” said Speiss, adding that the political correctness angle of the firearms issue keeps the event off mainstream media.

“People don’t see it on TV.”

After Brazil, Marcotte is bound for Beijing in April.

Events in Germany and Italy also possible, based on her results.

Danielle has come a long way from the curling rink in Pelly Crossing, where she trained three nights a week with her dad, Darcy, in preparation for the Canada Games, and then all summer before the nationals.

“We don’t have a gun range in Pelly — I needed a place at least 10-metres long, where there aren’t a lot of people coming in and out,” she said.

All that time in the dimly lit rink was well spent, but since she moved to Whitehorse for high school in September, Marcotte has been able to train with Speiss and her teammates three nights a week at the range on Grey Mountain Road.

“It’s always a surprise, and I like coming to the range and shooting; it’s fun for me,” she said.

Marcotte is quiet, calm and self-possessed during Monday’s practice.

Shooting from a distance of 10 metres, almost every pellet from her compressed air-pistol lands within three centimeters of the bull’s-eye. At minimum, that’s seven points of a possible 10.

Apparently, that’s not great.

The best shooters consistently score 95 per cent.

In competition, shooters get 40 pellets — 400 is a perfect score. (Marcotte’s best score is 367, Olympic shooters need to be in the low 380s.)

Speiss and Marcotte agree that it wasn’t a great night of shooting, and the Grade 9 Porter Creek Secondary student had a lot of homework ahead of her.

Marcotte dreams of being a pediatrician, and says she’s doing really well in school;  she’s not worried about missing a lot of school to compete all over the world.

When asked how far she wants to go, she replied; “As far as it will take me … I’m just rolling with it right now.”