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Zeroed In: Kim Rhode

Olympic Shooting Legend Kim Rhode Talks Shooting, Training, and Bringing Another Medal Home for the U.S.

Photos by Joey Skibel

We consider Kim Rhode a living national treasure. A competitive shooter from the age of 10, she’s set numerous records as a double trap and skeet shooter in the Olympics. She was the youngest female gold medalist in the history of Olympic shooting when she medaled at 17. Not one to rest on her laurels, she went on to medal in six consecutive summer Olympics, becoming the first woman to do so, as well as the first Olympian to medal on five different continents with three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals.

Rhode also has an amazing 20 World Cup gold medals and has won countless other honors over the years at state, national, and international levels.

Her family has a long history of hunting and shooting in the American West, and Rhode’s future still has unlimited potential, especially when one considers that the oldest person ever to compete in the Olympics was Oscar Swahn from Sweden, at age 72 back in 1920. Swahn held six medals, himself, including three gold.

RECOIL: How old were you when you first started shooting?
Kim Rhode: Truthfully, I don’t really remember how old I was the first time. I was very young and on a camping trip with my family, and they had me shooting cans and paper plates. I don’t even remember what type of gun it was. The first time I did it on my own, I was 7 and in Yuma, Arizona, hunting doves with my parents, and the reason I remember it is because the game warden didn’t believe that I shot my own birds.

I was two birds shy of the limit, and the game warden kept saying, ‘Come on honey, you can tell me who shot those birds for you. Nobody is going to get in trouble.’ And I kept saying, ‘I did! I did!’ but he wouldn’t believe me. About that time, my dad yelled over at me and pointed out two more doves, and I shot them in front of the warden. He looked at me and said, ‘Have a nice day.’

You gotta love the squirrel cops!
KR: He was just doing his job, but at the end of the day, that’s what I remember, and it always stands out.

So, you were an accomplished shooter and hunter by age 6 or 7. Did that spur you on to get into competitive shooting?
KR: Essentially, yes. It wasn’t long after when I was at a local gun club getting ready for September 1, which is when dove hunting starts. There was the trip to Sprigg’s Sporting Goods in Yuma, Arizona, and then we would hunt in the morning and afternoon and fish in between for catfish. Somebody said to me that I was pretty good and should try a club shoot. After that it was a state shoot and it grew from there, but it really was dove hunting with my family that got me into the competitive side of shotgun shooting.

The young prodigy with her Zone 7 skeet awards.

What kind of shooting were you doing in the beginning? Trap? Skeet? Five-Stand? Sporting Clays?
KR: It was actually small-bore rifle through the NRA youth shooting program.

KR: Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that, but I started as a rifle shooter — .22 standing, kneeling, and prone. I earned all my merit badges and marksmanship badges, and to keep my interest they moved me on to moving targets, because they knew I was a dove hunter. With all that excitement, I was hooked and I just kept going. Thankfully, I had the support of my family, and they helped greatly because as we all know, targets and ammunition can get expensive. They took me to the range whenever I wanted, and I flourished as a shooter. The rest is history.

The Italy World Cup.

What was your first shotgun?
KR: My first shotgun was my mom’s old Beretta AL1 or AL2. It’s been so long I don’t remember exactly which one. But like most people I went on to other semiautomatics that had the stocks cut down to fit me and then to an over and under. I went through the whole array like anyone else starting out. Now I compete with a Beretta DT11.

Tell us a little about your first Olympic Games.
KR: I went to my first Olympics in Atlanta at 16, and I turned 17 five days before my first event. At this point, I had been competing since I was 10. I won the Gold Medal that year.

The medal stand at Kim's first Olympic appearance in 1996.

That was the first of how many?
KR: I have six consecutive medals, and I’m getting ready for Tokyo in 2020 and after that, Los Angeles in 2028. I have a few more in me for sure.

You have a lot more in you.
KR: Well, the oldest medalist is a shooter.

That’s right. Oscar Swahn from Sweden, at age 72 from the 1920 games.
KR: I’m going to turn 40 this year, so I have a few more in me, definitely.

Do you find time to shoot anything besides shotguns these days?
KR: I shoot it all; I shoot everything. Not as much as I would like, of course, because I’m always traveling and competing. I do a lot of hunting and have tried some three-gun and other shooting sports, but at the end of the day I must remain focused on my goal of winning another medal for our country. Everything in shotgun shooting is 180 degrees opposite of regular shooting, so a year prior to an Olympic event where my goal is to bring home another medal to the United States, I stick to the shotgun to remain focused. It’s all about remaining focused on the task at hand. After the Olympics, I’ll go on more hunts and other shooting events because I have more time and it’s not as critical.

Kim in 2014.

Do you ever get into the tactical side or any three-gun type events?
KR: I have in the past and I love it, but I haven’t done anything serious with it. Mostly just playing around at the range to see what I can do.

Is it difficult to own a decent black rifle these days in California?
KR: California has its own set of challenges for shooters, and that’s why I am so against the “Gunmaggedon Laws” they are proposing.

We remember after you medaled the first time and thought how difficult it must be to remain competitive as a shooter in California — that was over 20 years ago. Has it gotten better or worse?
KR: I’m leading the fight on Prop 63. That’s the ammunition ban we are all fighting, and it’s encouraging to see the Supreme Court hear more firearm cases in recent years. I hope we see a lot of positive things come out of it.

We hope so, too, and know handgun shooters and collectors, as well as those just interested in self-defense, who’ve been stung by the Handgun Safety Roster and its “de-facto ban” on handguns.
KR: It’s just terrible.

Kim and her dad, Richard.

Do you have a favorite handgun?
KR: I know this is going to sound funny, but it’s a 22 Colt Woodsman that belonged to my grandfather.

The Woodsman can be a very accurate pistol.
KR: Sure, but to me it’s just fun to shoot. We have so many other guns, but that one brings back memories and nostalgia of shooting with my grandfather. Those memories mean a lot to me.

What’s a typical practice session for you like?
KR: In training for the Olympics, it’s between 500 and 1,000 rounds a day, and I’m now upping that for endurance training. That’s what I was doing two years ago.

Do you have any advice for new shooters who want to start down the road to competition?
KR: Stick with it and don’t get frustrated. We all have similar stories of obstacles we have to overcome in order to become successful. It may sound corny, but it’s true no matter if it’s shooting, swimming, or whatever your dream is. You must learn to face your fears. Look inside and eliminate them before the moment of truth.

Training at Oak Tree Gun Club.

What was the hardest part of becoming a world champion shooter?
KR: The hardest part is the day-in-day-out routine of showing up to practice, finding ways to liven it up, and keep it challenging. My father is great at doing that for me. Most importantly, it’s not something you do on your own. It takes a lot of help from a lot of different people. If I didn’t have my parents and my husband giving me support, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today. It’s because of them that I’m where I’m at.

That was always my problem as a shooter. I used to say, “I’m just going to shoot for an hour. After that I’m just making noise.” I started doing different drills every time I went out to make it productive. I’d shoot left-handed, one-handed, on my back, etc.
KR: We do the same kind of stuff. I’ll shoot against a different shooter. Or see how many I can do in a row and if I miss, I have to start over.

The problem with that is that you never miss!
KR: At our level we all have misses. Anyone who says they don’t miss, lies. The bottom line is: We all miss sometimes, but don’t miss when it counts. You need to constantly push yourself to perform better.

Kim Rhode

Age: 39
Family: Married with one son
Hometown: California
Favorite firearm: Colt Woodsman that belonged to my grandfather. It’s fun and nostalgic, and I have great memories of shooting it with my grandfather.
Favorite shotgun round: 28-gauge — it has the best pattern, best ballistics, and it’s the most expensive!
AR or AK: AK-47
1911 or Glock: I’m going to plead the Fifth on this one!
Star Trek or Star Wars: Star Wars
Sponsors: Winchester, Beretta, Truck Vault, and RE Ranger glasses

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