A Visit with Kim Rhode, International Shotgunning Superstar

By Randy Wakeman

Kim Rhode

If �shooting superstar� fits an individual competitor in the world of international competition today, it would be Kimberly Susan Rhode from El Monte, California. It isn't the matter of just winning a medal for the United States in the Olympics, though she has done that four times. It wouldn't just be for being the youngest to accomplish that, though Kim was the youngest member of the U.S. Shooting Team in 1996. That same year, she became the youngest female gold medalist in the history of Olympic Shooting by taking the Gold in Atlanta in Double Trap.


Kim's first world title in American Skeet came about four years earlier, in 1992. Twelve years later it was another Gold at the Olympics in Athens. She's been a medalist in every Olympics she's ever competed in and that means every Olympics there has been from 1996 onward. Women's Olympic Double Trap was dropped from the Olympics in 2004, the year Kim won the Gold. It doesn't look like there will ever be another Olympic Women's Double Trap Gold medalist to follow Kim. Winning medals in three consecutive Olympics for your country is quite an accomplishment. When that specific event is dropped from the Olympics and the ISSF, it has to be a bummer. That didn't stop Kim. No trap, why not skeet?


In 2008 in Beijing, the only American to compete in Women's Skeet was Kim Rhode, it was nineteen competitors from nineteen nations. Kim tied three ways for third with Christine Brinker of Germany and Wei Ning of China in the qualifier. Here, it gets even more interesting. After the final round, it was a three way tie between Kim, Christine Brinker, and the leader after the qualifying round, Chiara Cainero of Italy who set a new Olympic qualifying round record of 72 in the process. All three just set new Olympic records of 93. So, everything was decided by shoot-off. It doesn't get more competitive than that. At the end it was Cainero-G, Rhode-S, Brinker-B. With that, it is time to welcome along Kim Rhode to the table.


Randy: Kim, thanks for taking time away from your marmalade-making and Samsung HD watching to visit. When exactly did you decide that shooting shotguns on a competitive level was what you wanted to do? When did you discover that you were good at it?

Kim: You don't really start out with the idea of going to the Olympics. I shot at my parents local gun club and everyone said "you're pretty good why don't you enter the club shoot?" Then everyone said you're pretty good why don't you enter the State shoot. Then everyone said you should go to the National Championships and before I knew it I was on the road to the Olympics.


Randy: For readers to get a good idea of how extensively and repetitively you train and practice, how many shooting days a year is it, how many shots per year, and how many clubs do you shoot at when you do practice?


Kim: I practice everyday that I'm home, 500-1000 rounds per day. I also have the opportunity to train at three different ranges. I see this as a great advantage because each range has it's unique environment; backgrounds, windage, targets, etc.


Randy: One of your sponsors is Randolph Engineering. When exactly, did you start using RE glasses and why? How important is lense color to you and what can you suggest as a couple of the best lense colors to try based on target color, background, and ambient lighting conditions?


Kim: I started using Randolph glasses when I was about 10 years old. At that time they were the only manufacturer of small frames specifically for smaller people, i.e. kids. They are a really quality product and since that time have made some really great improvements to their glasses. I personally use the light brown for day time and bright sun. I use a light yellow for overcast, cloudy and night shooting. I found that these colors with Randolph technology makes the targets really pop out and contract with the background. I also like Randolph glasses because they are very durable and easy to change the lens.


Randy: Why was Women's Double Trap discontinued as an Olympic event? How did that make you feel? How difficult was it making the transition from Double Trap to Skeet after competing at Double Trap for so long?


Kim: I can only speculate why Women's Double Trap was discontinued from the Olympics, there are a lot of stories but in the end I was really sad. I knew what it meant to change events and even though I had shot American skeet, International skeet (which is what is shot in the Olympics) is very different and more difficult. I really had to dedicate myself for the three years prior to 2008; it was like starting over.


Randy: Olympic Skeet Shooting has a bit of an odd history to the uninitiated and I consider myself properly uninitiated. My understanding is that from 1972-1992 it was a mixed event. The turmoil apparently erupted in 1992 when Shan Zhang from China won her Gold, spanking men and women alike. Seems to me that Shan Zhang was rewarded for her excellence by getting ripped off, as in 1996 the event was suddenly �Men Only� and she was unable to defend her title. Any comments on that? In any case, it seems that Shan Zhang is still active, with the current team world record for Women's Skeet being set in Cyprus by China, team of Wei, Yu, and Shan Zhang in 2007.


Kim: This happened before I started shooting international targets. I've heard those rumors also, but now women are back shooting international skeet and that's what counts.


Randy: You've been using the same MX-12 continuously for how many years? That would be except for brief period of drama when it was stolen (September, 2008, to January, 2009). How many rounds through that gun? How much repair?


Kim: I shot the Perazzi MX-12 through four Olympics until it was stolen. When it was stolen I set up two new guns, Perazzi MX2000's, for my future competitions. I actually flew into Lincoln, Missouri to Wenig Custom Gunstocks. They pride themselves on their ability to get the proper fit. When my gun was found four months later I had already received my new guns and had been shooting them so well that I have retired my MX-12 Perazzi's. In 15-16 years of daily shooting 500 to 1000 rounds, I have never had a malfunction in practice or competition. Every five or six years I've taken it in to Perazzi and had them go through it. They are definitely reliable. All my guns have coil springs that also adds to their reliability.


Randy: You mentioned that you've seen a lot of shooters that are �over-choked,� some really, really over-choked. What kind of constrictions are in your barrels right now, what ranges do you typically break your targets at, and what do you think the maximum effective spread of your patterns are at those ranges?


Kim: Right now I'm shooting fairly tight skeet chokes. It's hard for me to put a number on exactly the chokes that are in my top and bottom barrels because they have been modified. What I do is I mark exactly on the field where I'm breaking the target, then I go out and put a pattern board at that distance and shoot using the ammo that I'll be using in training and competition, and see what size my pattern actually is. I open up the chokes until the pattern is as big as it can be and still have an even pattern with no holes. In international skeet you'll find that some of your second targets on station 4 are quite long (it could be as long as 30 to 35 yards) and due to that factor, I'm shooting tighter chokes so no bird can fly through the pattern. I've done this for both trap and skeet and you'll find this works because you break the target almost in the same place every time. I also do this because I'm shooting an international load of 24 grams of shot which is a few pellets under 7/8 oz. This is less than a 20 gauge skeet load in a 12 gauge hull. It also moves at 1350 feet per second versus an American skeet 12 gauge load of 1-1/8 oz of shot moving at 1200 feet per second. Using this formula of choke patterning I've found it works well for me.


Randy: The forthcoming 2012 Olympics in London are a pretty big deal. Are you psyched up for that? If you medal in 2012, that would make you the very first American in history to earn a medal in five consecutive Olympic games, isn't that correct? I'd call that a big deal, anyway.


Kim: Yes, it will make the first Olympic athlete, in any individual sports, to attend five consecutive Olympics and medal all five times. I just returned from the World Cup in Australia and my gold medal win has taken me over the point threshold to receive an automatic nomination from USA Shooting to attend the 2012 games. That really has me excited.


Randy: What can you tell me about Robert Stack, who made some forty films and is known as Elliot Ness on TV's �Untouchables,� among several other things? My understanding is that he was quite a good shot and used to give skeet lessons to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard when he was a teenager. Quite a film career as well, all the way from �To Be Or Not To Be� with Carole Lombard and Jack Benny (1942) all the way to Airplane (1992) and many others. How well did you know him?


Kim: I knew Robert Stack quite well. He used to come to the range and shoot, and we became friends. He was undoubtedly an outstanding person, quite the gentleman and a good shooter. In 1996 just before I left to go to Atlantic, Robert Stack came up and gave me a big hug, a kiss on the cheek and said, "she is going to whap'em and I'm very proud of her."


Randy: There are a lot of things I don't understand, but most of those can wait for another day. It seems to me, though, that we have �American Skeet� and then �International Skeet� in most of the rest of the world. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Correct me where I'm wrong here, but an International Skeet field has the same dimensions as an American skeet field? The main differences are a 110mm versus 108mm target, launch speed (72yds@65mph vs. 61yds@~50mph), the 0 to 3 second delay after the call, shooting from low gun, and the loads are restricted to 24.5 grams or about 7/8oz. Aren't those the primary differences? It seems to me that we would have better shooters in the U.S. if we did it the international way, and there would be more interest and support for the sport that folks could directly relate to, rather than a watered down version of it. It was a low gun and delay game at one time in the U.S. Have you heard this one before?


Kim: Randy, I have a unique perspective because I came out of American skeet and I truly loved that game. It was extremely fun, the people were great, it was very social, very family oriented and I love to shoot the game. International skeet, even though it is shot from the same field is quite a different game. The differences you mentioned are all correct however, the order you shoot the targets is also quite different. For instance on stations 1, 2 and 3 you shoot a high house and a double, Station 4 you shoot a single high, a single low, a double (shooting high house target first), and a double (shooting low house target first, usually called a reverse double). Stations 5 and 6 you shoot a low house single and then a double. Station 7 only a double. Station 8 a single from each house. There is no option shot either. All these differences make international skeet quite challenging. But don't forget that in American skeet you shoot .410 gauge, 28 gauge, 20 gauge and 12 gauge and you shoot doubles all the way around in competition. That why I enjoy both American and international skeet. They both have different challenges.


Randy: What do you say to folks that are dismayed at the cost of trying to shoot in four events with four guns, or barrel sets, or pounding in sub-gauge tube sets rather than just using one gun?


Kim: Competitive shotgun shooting is an expensive sport no matter whether international or American skeet. On a typical weekend shooting American skeet, you would shoot two different gauges on Saturday and two different gauges on Sunday, and possibly doubles.  That's the fun of shooting American skeet, versus international skeet where you would shoot 75 targets and then the top six shooters would shoot off another round of 25 for a combined score of 100 targets. Men shoot 125 targets and the top six shooters have a media round of another 25 targets for a combined score of 150. Personally, I like to shoot and break as many targets as I can a day. Everybody wishes it wasn't so expensive but I love to shoot both skeet and trap. I've always shot a Perazzi over/under and I've always used Briley tube sets. The cost of a tube set is a lot less than four separate guns. Once you shoot quite a bit, it become quite routine to change gauges. I've actually shot some competitions where you actually change from .410, 28, 20 & 12 shooting 25 targets of each gauge and never leave the field for a total score of 100. I think this is really fun. 

Randy: There are a lot of folks, I believe, who would like to help U.S. Shooting Teams, but they can't necessarily afford a huge contribution, but they want to make sure it goes to the right place. Let's say someone wants to contribute fifty bucks to support Women's Skeet, but they don't want a penny of that money to be used for the great sport of curling. What's the best way to show support but have confidence that it goes the the right spot?


Kim: These contributions can be given directly to USA Shooting. Check their website www.usashooting.com


Randy: Kim, do you do much hunting these days? What is your favorite type of hunting?


Kim: Yes, I love to hunt. I've been concentrating on skeet to win the nomination for the 2012 Olympics. I hope to do more hunting this year.


Randy: What type of hunting, specifically, and what gun or guns do you enjoy using?


Kim: I use my competition Perazzi for dove in Yuma, Arizona and duck and geese in Texas. I shoot pre-1964 Winchester .30-06 for deer. In Africa I shot a pre-1964 .375 H&H and I shoot a .22-250 for small game. I also shoot a Searcy .375 double rifle.


Randy: There's also some of your other activities, like restoring old cars. Have you had much time for that lately? At one time, my understanding is that you had intended to become a veterinarian. Is that still in the cards?


Kim: I'm still interested in old cars and muscle cars. Currently I have 13 cars and trucks. I love restoring them. I'm still in the pre-veterinary program and am about ready to graduate.


Randy: What's the deal with training by video games, �Kim Rhode's Outdoor Shooting,� and so forth? Are you working on any more gaming projects along these lines? What other activities do you find helpful in training, for the sake of variety and keeping hand-eye-coordination at a high level?


Kim: There is no secret that I feel playing video games helps your eye-hand coordination, the quickness of making split second decisions and being able to see something unfolding in front of you and being able to react with your fingers quickly. "Kim Rhode's Outdoor Shooting" downloads easily to your iPod or iPad and definitely stimulates eye-hand coordination. It is available from www.Apple.com. I'm hoping to come out with some other games in the future.


Randy: There is a perception that shooting sports in general are just for wealthy, chubby, old gray-haired white men. It is my opinion that this perception mirror's reality. I don't see much effort from anyone in the industry to try to change that. I don't see it in marketing, I don't see it from the N.R.A, I guess you can say I just don't see much effort expended trying to make hunting and shooting activities more appealing to minorities or women. Do you have any thoughts on this?


Kim: To be honest when I started shooting American skeet there were very few young women competing. Now, because of programs like, 4H, the Scholastic Clay Target Program and the NRA's Becoming an Outdoor Woman, you're seeing many more women shooting and in the outdoors. You're seeing companies, like SHE Outdoor Apparel, that are just catering to the outdoor/shooting woman. Many other companies are carrying a women's line, in clothing, shoes, and guns. I've been shooting international competitions for the past 17 years and shooting is the 3rd biggest event in the Olympics. If I'm not mistaken there is over 125 countries participating. In my competitions you can't get much more diverse than 125 different nationalities.


Randy: How about diet? America is fascinated with diets, dieting, and food in general. The late Don Zutz wrote of amino acids as the potential cure for flinching. Is there anything in the way of a �competitive shooter's diet� that you've found to be helpful? I'm referring to helping concentration levels, energy levels, being able to generally perform at a high level.


Kim: I personally try to eat a fairly well balanced meal before I compete and try to keep well hydrated with liquids. I try to stay away from a lot of sugary or things with caffeine because I don't want to be jittery. I've heard all kinds of reasons for people flinching but I think the main reasons are they have poor gun fit so they are getting hit on the cheek, heavy recoil and the noise or mussle blast is part of it also. By eliminating or decreasing these factors you will reduce the likelihood of flinching. I would think that if you shoot long enough everyone will probably experience some degree of flinching.


I take my gun fit very seriously so that I don't get hit in the face. I bring my gun up from my hip as the bird is flying through the air; mount it and fire, hitting the target. Gun fit is soooooo important in my sport. I fly into Lincoln Missouri to Wenig Custom Gun Stocks and have very custom stocks made to eliminate any chance of bruising.


Randy: You do a lot of traveling, that seems to go with the territory. What have you discovered along the way that makes travel more fun, more efficient, less hassle?


Kim: I enjoy antiques and collect first edition children books. I have been able to incorporate this into my travels, looking through antique stores even in other countries. For example, on my trip to England last year, I looked for children's books written by Beatrix Potter. I also recommend traveling with a lap top. You can play movies and use Skype to call friends and family very inexpensively.


Randy: There are a couple of contentious issues out there that seem to be just an attack on hunting and shooting. I'm referring to the �lead ban,� or various �lead scare� initiatives, for one. Conover (2002) estimated that wildlife-related economic losses to agricultural producers (farmers and ranchers) in the United States exceed $4.5 billion annually. Results of nationwide surveys conducted in 1993 and 1994 indicated that 80 percent of farmers and ranchers suffered wildlife damage in the prior year, and 53 percent suffered damage exceeding their tolerance (Conover 1998). We have numbers like these and we also have a problem with deer-automobile collisions, including here in Illinois, that makes full-coverage automobile insurance unaffordable in some areas. Yet, we have less hunters year after year and the cost of family hunting adventures is getting more costly all the time. Despite the fact that no one cares more about healthy game populations more than hunters, only hunters tend to buy hunting licenses (even I'm clever enough to spot that one), and the Federal Excise tax on guns and ammunition directly supports the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service programs, hunting seems to be perpetually under attack. Do you have any opinions on this one?


Kim: Inflation is hitting everything. You only need to go to the supermarket to see that everything is costing more. I think you're right, the number of shooters and hunters are going down. I think that the anti-gun organizations are doing a good job trying to make shooting and hunting politically incorrect. We all need to do a better job educating our youth and inner city kids about hunters and outdoorsmen and what role they play in wildlife management. For instance, in the State of California last year hunting and fishing licenses alone generated about $81 million dollars for fish hatcheries, wildlife management, and other outdoor programs in the State. These kinds of facts need to be better publicized. I also feel that it is the responsibility of all sportsmen to mentor our youth and women to introduce them to the outdoors. If just everyone introduced two people to the outdoors, we would triple our numbers and over the years it would exponentially increase. Not everyone of these kids or women may continue to shoot or hunt, but they will remember the good times around the camp fires when it comes time to vote in the ballot box for outdoor legislation.


Randy: Of all the different countries you've been able to visit and all the different venues you've been able to compete at, what are your favorites and why?


Kim: My favorites are Italy, Australia, and China (for the shopping!).


Randy: Who do you personally admire among your competitors and why?


Kim: It's not so much that I admire any one person, what I admire is what it took for each and every one of these competitors who are representing their country and the sacrifices it took to get there. In international shooting every country puts their 1st and 2nd best shooters in the competition, so all the shooters competing in the match are very competitive. Some of the big countries are Italy, China, Russia, and the U.S. These countries always seem to be in the shoot-offs for the medals.


Randy: If you could see only three movies ever again for the rest of your life, what three movies would they be?


Kim: A League of Their Own, Bourne Identity, and The Sixth Sense.


Randy: Last year you earned the points needed to make the 2012 Olympic Team. Since this interview began there have been three ISSF World Cup events and it is now impossible for anyone to surpass you in points. You placed fifth in Chile, took a gold in Sydney, Australia, and a Silver at the ISSF World Cup in Beijing so far this year. The World Cup Finals, as I understand it, was originally scheduled to be in Cairo, Egypt but has been relocated to Al Ain in Abu Dhabi. What is your competition schedule between now and the Olympics? This has really got to be an exciting time for you, your friends, family, and supporters. To be at the threshold of becoming the first American athlete in history to medal in five consecutive Olympics in an individual event has to be an amazing feeling! There are things that don't happen every day, but things that have just never been accomplished before is another level.


Kim: It is a very exciting time. I have many family and friends who are planning to go to London and I'm really looking forward to it. My next competition will be the Nationals in Colorado Springs which will select the Pan American Team, followed by the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Then the Fall Selection Match, the World Cup Finals and the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. This is all 2011. I'm not sure of next year's schedule except for the Olympics with the Opening Ceremony on July 27th and my event is July 29th.


Randy: Thank you, Kim!


Kim Rhode is a tremendous talent, a great ambassador for shooting sports in general and a terrific representative for the United States wherever she goes. I really like Kim; it is hard not to. She always brightens things up with her sunny presence and is quick to crack a smile or a laugh. Kim's always fun to be around and, as you can tell, although she is a world champion many times over, she has diverse interests. That makes her interesting. It is one thing to be good, talented and accomplished, but quite another to be good for years and years.


I know Kim has been working hard and is excited about being able to compete at the next Olympics and everyone that knows her is excited about it as well. I'm excited about it. Four medals in four Olympics and now a great chance to make it five in five. This easily qualifies as rare and historic. So rare, it has never been done before by any American man or woman. If you can help American Olympic shooting sports, please do. If you get the chance to say hello to Kim when she is in your area, please do that as well. I've long ago given up Wheaties in favor of Cheerios. Put Kim Rhode on the Wheaties Box, where she belongs, and I'll happily switch back.

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