Karleigh Gause wasn’t happy.
She hadn’t shot well with her air rifle during a January shooting match in Minot, and she’d missed qualifying for the Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she’d competed the previous year.
Or so she thought at the time.
The qualifying score was “super high,” Gause says, and she’d shot a 377 in her 40-shot match — well short of the 385 score needed to automatically qualify for the Junior Olympics women’s air rifle competition.
She knew what was at stake in Minot, and nerves had affected her shooting.
“I didn’t get as high of a score as I did in practice, so I was mad at myself and sad because I didn’t think I was going to qualify,” said Gause, 17, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School. “I didn’t really look at the scores too closely. I just left and tried to get it out of my head.
“I went away pretty dejected.”
Dejection turned to elation a few weeks later when Gause got a text message from a friend, Tyler Linneman, congratulating her on qualifying for the Junior Olympics again.
Linneman shoots with Gause in the Forks Rifle Club’s junior shooting program.
“I said, ‘there’s no way,’ ” Gause recalls. “I texted him and said I shot horrible.”
Not a joke
The text message wasn’t a joke. As it turns out, Gause says, the Junior Olympics qualifying score is lowered if not enough shooters make the cut.
Gause may not have shot as well as she’d wanted in the Minot competition, but she’d shot well enough.
USA Shooting had lowered the qualifying score to 375, but by the time she got the congratulatory text message, Gause had put the competition out of her mind and couldn’t remember her score.
“I was looking through all these websites trying to find my scores,” she said. “Usually, I take pictures of my scores, but I was so frustrated (after the match), we just left.
“I was pretty sure I shot a 377 but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to let myself get excited before I actually found out.”
Finally, she decided to check her dad’s email.
“Sure enough, there was an email from USA Shooting saying we’d like you to come shoot with us in Colorado Springs in the Junior Olympics,” she said. “That’s when I found out for sure, and I told my dad. I didn’t want to tell him to begin with because I totally wasn’t sure. I didn’t think it could be real so I didn’t really tell him right away, but when I did, he was pretty excited and so was I.
“I couldn’t believe it; I was flabbergasted.”
Following the rules
Gause’s road to the Junior Olympics started after her freshman year in high school. Her dad, Cully Gause, has a rule that she and her siblings have to participate in a sport every season. Gause plays volleyball in the fall and soccer in the spring. She played basketball the winter of her freshman year, but that wasn’t to her liking.
“We were kind of looking for something else I could do,” Gause said.
That “something else” came into focus during a local gun show. Steve Martin, Gause’s shooting coach, said the Forks Rifle Club had a booth at the show, and her dad stopped by for a visit.
“He said, ‘Oh, this is great; I’ll talk to her about it,’ ” Martin recalls. “She came out and talked about it and loved it right away.”
Gause says she’d shot BB guns but she didn’t know anything about the junior shooting program the Forks Rifle Club offers.
“My dad mentioned there was a program out at the range for juniors to shoot,” Gause said. “The first time I went, my coach, Steve, just kind of sat by me and coached me through the first couple of shots, and I got the hang of it right away.”
She was a good student, Martin recalls.
“She picked it up really fast,” he said. “And if I showed her something, she got it right away.”
Gause, who also shoots small-bore matches with a .22 rifle in the Forks Rifle Club’s junior program, is only the third shooter from the club to qualify for the Junior Olympics. Martin’s son, Joe, and daughter, Rebecca, also have competed in or qualified for Junior Olympics events.
Gause says she’s both excited and nervous about the April 18-19 competition.
Excited, because she’s competing again — when she thought she wouldn’t be. Nervous, because she wants to do better than last year, when she finished 146th out of 190 shooters in her division.
“Last year, I had no idea,” Gause said. “I didn’t know what anything looked like, I didn’t know what anything was going to be like, so I was a little nervous in that sense, just because it was something new I hadn’t done before.
“I didn’t do perfect, but I did kind of what my skill level was at that time.”
The air rifle Gause shoots in her competitions is a far cry from the Red Ryder BB gun made famous in “A Christmas Story,” the movie that airs nonstop for 24 hours every Christmas. Her Walther LG-300 shoots single pellets and retails for upwards of $1,600 new.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know too much about it,” she says of the gun. “I just show up and shoot is how I explain it to people.”
Gause practices three hours Wednesday and Thursday nights throughout the season and says she prefers the sport to basketball.
“There’s a lot less running involved, so that’s nice,” she said. “If we miss a shot, we don’t have to do a lap around the range, which is nice.”
Concentration, she says, is the key to shooting well.
“There’s not a lot of physical demand other than the fact the gun’s kind of heavy, but just concentrate to be sure of every shot,” she said. “Make sure you don’t just pull the trigger. You’ve got to make sure that every single shot matters.”
Gause says a lot of friends and classmates don’t actually know about her relatively recent passion for shooting. Going to the range, she says, isn’t a chore — even with a schedule that includes school until 3:30 p.m., working out or tutoring after that, eating and then being at the range — about 17 miles west of Grand Forks — from 6 until 9 p.m.
“It gets to be pretty busy, but I look forward to it,” she said.
Gause says her upcoming trip to the Junior Olympics likely will be the finale to competitive shooting at the scholastic level. She’s been accepted to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she plans to major in international affairs and focus on Russian.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to continue it,” she said. “This will probably be my last year.”
Considering she didn’t even know about the shooting program three years ago, Gause has made the most of her time at the range.
“It’s been a crazy couple of years that I’ve had,” she said.