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Shot through the heart

John McCoy
She shot her first round of skeet in February, and already Amanda Litton has become a shotgun-sports enthusiast. The 27-year-old Dunbar resident now spends a couple of afternoons a week at the West Virginia Clays Inc. skeet and trap complex near Hernshaw.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Amanda Litton's concession to romance is now a growing passion.

The 27-year-old nurse ventured into the shooting sports to spend more time with her new boyfriend. What started as a quick outing to shoot pistols has transformed into trip after trip to the skeet club and days of tramping the woods in search of turkeys.

"If you had told me a year ago I'd be doing all this, I would have laughed at you," said the Dunbar resident.

It's not that Litton feared or distrusted firearms; she just didn't dream she'd ever shoot them recreationally.

"I grew up around guns," she said. "My dad was in the military, and we always had guns in the house. I shot BB guns with Dad and tried a few rifles and pistols, but I never got into it."

That changed last year, when, within the span of five months, Litton obtained a permit to carry a concealed handgun and she started dating a shooting-sports enthusiast.

"I work nights, and I got the concealed-carry permit in the interest of safety," she said. "Then in December I started dating Todd."

Litton's new boyfriend told her he'd like to share his hobbies with her. She asked him what they were.

"He told me he liked hunting, shooting, skeet shooting and fishing. I said, 'I'll try anything once as long as it doesn't hurt me or kill me,'" she recalled.

They had their first "shooting date" in January.

"We took our pistols to a little range near Marmet," Litton said. "It was cold, and we were really bundled up. We were the only two people out there. We started shooting, and Todd said, 'Wow, you're really a good shot!'"

Two or three weeks later they went skeet shooting.

"I was quite a sight," she said with a laugh. "I was wearing camouflage pants, a long-sleeved shirt I had worn under my scrubs, and an awesome pair of polka-dotted black rain boots. One of the skeet club members loaned me his son's 20-gauge pump gun, and I shot my first two rounds with that."

For someone accustomed to shooting at stationary targets, hitting airborne, fast-moving clay birds can be quite a challenge. It was for Litton, too.

"In that first round [of 25 birds], I might have hit three or four," she said. "The recoil from that 20-gauge was tearing me up. By the end of the second round, my shoulder was killing me. Another member offered to lend me his 28-gauge, and that was a lot easier on me."

The experience left Litton wanting more. She and her boyfriend became regulars at the club, shooting as often as two to three times a week.

"My scores have improved quite a bit," she said. "On a bad day I'll hit 15 or 16 in a round, and on a good day I'll hit 21 or 22."

Polka-dotted rain boots are no longer part of her skeet-club attire. A padded vest now protects her gun shoulder, and a shooting pouch hangs from her hip and holds her shells.

"I finally have a gun of my own, too," she added. "I just got it - a 28-gauge Browning Citori XS Sporting. I think having a gun that really fits me will help me to shoot better scores."

She's even giving thought to entering a competition or two.

"Todd and I have discussed going to some competition shoots later this year," she said. "We think it might be fun, and it might help us take our shooting to another level. Todd shot in a small competition recently, and he shot his first-ever 25-of-25 round. It was awesome."

Litton's experience with skeet shooting encouraged her to try some shotgun-oriented hunting.

"I took the online hunter safety education course, passed the test and got my hunter ed card," she said. "Todd and I went turkey hunting during the season. We went camping at Stonewall Jackson Lake. I didn't get a turkey, but he did. We also went fishing, which was great.

"I definitely want to try dove hunting this fall. Some of the guys at the skeet club have an annual dove outing, and I'm hoping to go along."

Becoming part of the so-called "gun culture" hasn't bothered Litton for even a minute.

"Guns - and the people who use them - get a lot of bad press," she said. "I've found shooters and hunters to be some of the kindest, most giving people I've ever met. Every time I'm around them, I'm impressed by how helpful they are, how willing to share their time and their things with someone they hardly know.

"I've never found another group of people quite like it. So far everything I've done with them, I've enjoyed."

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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