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10/08/18 - Villages air gun champion deemed a ‘natural’ on the range

Bonnie Webb can shoot the eye out of a gnat at 30 meters. Well, that may be only a slight exaggeration.

She is a High Master – the highest of six levels – in the 225-member Villages Air Gun Club. She is a shooting champion, winning gold in The Villages Senior Games for her age division in both 2017 and 2018. And she’s the envy of her club colleagues – Webb took up shooting only three years ago.
Club members agree that she is a “natural.”

Air Gun High Master Bonnie Webb shows the size of the targets she shoots from 30 meters.

“I was visiting some friends in West Virginia,” Webb recalled. “And we all went target shooting one afternoon. I’d never shot before, so I asked if I could try.”

Her aim was so accurate that they encouraged her to take up competitive shooting. And once back in The Villages, Webb went to an open-range event.

“I hit the tin cans and balloons and then a member suggested I hit the string holding up a can,” she said.

Webb did it on the first shot and immediately joined the club. Eight months later, she competed in The Villages Senior Games and walked away with a gold medal.

The club uses air pistols and air rifles – highly engineered guns that shoot pellets (not bullets) and are powered by compressed air (not gunpowder). Competition involves shooting standardized paper targets at 30 meters – almost 33 yards away.

While that may sound simple, it gets more difficult. The targets Bonnie uses – NRA-approved AR-5/10 – are hung on a concrete backstop 10 meters down range. At that distance, the 10 black circles (each less than 1.25 inches wide) arranged around the outside of a piece of 10.5-by-12-inch paper look about the size of a dime. Inside the quarter-inch bullseye is a tiny white dot. The objective is to put the pellet, which is nearly a quarter inch in diameter, cleanly into the bullseye of each of circle – something Webb and the other High Masters in the club accomplish routinely.

In shooting position at the Rio Grande Air Gun Range, Bonnie Webb shows the form that won her two gold medals in The Villages Senior Games.

Webb started her shooting with a remanufactured pump-action Daisy air rifle supplied by The Villages Recreation Department at an Outdoor and Sports Expo.

“After the ROTC finishes with the rifle, Daisy refurbishes and sells them,” Webb said. “So, they’re really entry level.”

She soon moved up to a German-made single-shot Feinwerkbau, a precision rifle that is a favorite of competitive shooters, including Olympians. It is fully customizable with an adjustable stock, shoulder piece and grip.

“It also has a hair trigger,” Webb said. “If you breathe heavily on it, it fires.”
The propellant is a blast of high-pressure air from a rechargeable air tube on the rifle.

“We refill it from a charged scuba tank,” Webb said, adding that one tube is good for a couple hundred shots.

Part of any shooters’ technique is the positioning and breathing.

“I sit on a stool and use a bench rest,” Webb said. “The front part of the rifle is supported for stability. The idea is to always have the same body position, finger position and trigger pull.”

Villages Air Gun Club High Master shooter Bonnie Webb shows the gold medals she won in the 2017 and 2018 Villages Senior Games. She won her first gold medal just eight months after taking up the sport.

Webb focuses on breathing, since the slightest body movement can spoil her aim at the miniscule target.

“I inhale twice and hold my breath after the second exhale,” she said, adding that she then squeezes the trigger lightly to fire the rifle.

A spotting scope by her side is used to determine the accuracy of the shot, since the pellet hole, 30 meters away, can’t be seen with the naked eye. Air temperature, wind and humidity are among the other influences that must be factored into the shot.

A Loudon, N.H. native, Webb attended Northeastern University for diagnostic radiology and worked in a Boston hospital for 15 years before moving to San Francisco, where she became a CAT Scan technician, and then to Northern California. Twelve years ago, she married Warren Webb.

In 2008, Warren’s brother showed him The Villages.

“He came home and said that I should retire, and we should move east to The Villages,” Webb said.

A Lifestyle Preview trip convinced her. After a cruise around Hawaii – “My retirement gift from Warren” – they moved to their home in the Village of Rio Ponderosa.

“One of the advantages of living where we do is that I’m only two minutes from the Rio Grande Air Gun Range,” said Webb, who also took up one of Warren’s favorite activities, line dancing. “I took classes and we dance in the squares frequently.”

She was the Air Gun Club’s vice commissioner for two years at the Rio Grande Range and recently took on the post of council member of the One Buck Club, a group of about 35 shooters who compete after the regular club events.

“We each throw a buck into the pot and then shoot to see who can get the highest score and win it,” she said, adding that her other joy in life is her 11-year-old poodle, Bogart.

With the targets 30 meters away appearing to be about the size of a dime, Bonnie Webb can place 10 air gun pellets dead center in the one-quarter-inch bullseye.

Webb also enjoys cooking, making cookies for the Friday Club competitions – “I want them to all get a sugar high so their aim will be off,” she laughs – and for her church, The Chapel of Christian Faith. She is an active member in Bible study and helping the elderly.

“One of our activities is taking the Sunday church flowers, creating smaller bouquets and delivering them to homebound people,” Webb said, adding that they also help disabled people prepare for bad weather by moving furniture inside and getting their properties ready.

Not surprisingly, Webb remains quite passionate about promoting competitive air gun shooting.

“The Villages Air Gun Club cooperates with The Villages Recreation Department on open shoot days, at Camp Villages, The Villages Expo and an Easter Shoot,” she said. “We use two ranges, one at Rio Grande in the north, and one at Soaring Eagle in the south, so no one is too far away.

“Shooting is relaxation,” Webb added. “You have to be calm and clearheaded. Some people listen to music. I block out all of the sounds and everything so that it seems like I’m the only person on the range.”

For a list of events, dates, shooting days and other information, visit www.airgunclub.org.

John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.

By John Prince - Villages-News.com