Maureen Renkes is our featured woman this month. She has a hobby few women are attracted to and even fewer excel at. Read her story on the journey to a goal very few women OR men ever reach.
I’m a firearms enthusiast and part of the huge wave of female shooters entering the sport in the last decade. I grew up racing my pony around the yard, shooting imaginary bad guys with my Daisy BB Gun. I’ve enjoyed target sports my whole life, attended a Division One college on a golf scholarship, and have always been naturally drawn to shooting. College, raising a family and frequent relocations required my hobby to take a bit of a back seat as an adult. As the kids got older, I spent more time at the range. For several years I focused on clays and upland bird hunting. Then I fell in love with pistols, inside shooting, and the practicality of marksmanship coupled with self-defense.
Our family eventually settled in Wyoming. The phrase ‘world class’ is frequently thrown around here in Jackson Hole, and with good reason; the Tetons, Yellowstone, Snake River and all the recreation, solitude and entertainment that come with them. Thanks to a healthy gun culture and a high-end shooting boutique, Jackson Hole Shooting Experience, I stumbled into another passion – long range rifle shooting.
I’m blessed with a beautiful family. I’ve been at the top of my profession in several disciplines. I’ve worked with world famous journalists, politicians and athletes. Many of my friends here in Jackson don’t understand my preference for a Tikka in 6.5 Creedmoor over Hermès, but every time I invite them to the range, they’re transfixed by the strange elegance, delicacy, precision and raw power of long-range rifle shooting.
As one of the few women typically at any range, it’s refreshing to be treated seriously, as an equal.
Last month, I received a surprise invitation via email. ‘You are cordially invited to the high desert to shoot one mile with JHSE and Nomad Rifles.’ I figured it had to be a mistake but responded immediately. To my shock and delight, I was indeed, included in small, elite group of shooters who would enjoy a complimentary day of long-range shooting with consummate professionals. JHSE was soliciting experiential feedback for its $7,400, one day, long range experience.
After receiving GPS coordinates, we all arrived early at the ‘secret’ meeting place. I began to recognize an eclectic group including a real estate tycoon, a NY lawyer who couldn’t be photographed, a guy I suspect had special forces experience, a Silicon Valley giant, a former SWAT trainer/homicide investigator and a cool young guy from Texas who I never really figured out, except that he was extremely polite, successful and a heck of a shooter. Baffled by my invitation to join this extraordinary group, I thrust my Jeep into 4WD and we drove several miles across the Wyoming high desert, cresting a hill to see the Norman Rifleman Camp banners welcoming us to this shooter’s paradise.
We parked our vehicles, the backdrop of the Wind River Mountains in the distance and were immediately offered fresh breakfast burritos. Despite my back-country tendencies, I’m a white linen table cloth kind of gal. What a thrill to relax in an elegant safari camp amidst the sagebrush, every detail anticipated by our hosts, readying my gear, and dreaming of my one mile shot. If it wasn’t going to happen here, it wasn’t going to happen anywhere.
We noticed the wind was picking up and realized we had to hit it. Sprinkled among the sagebrush in the distance were scarcely visible targets of various shapes and colors. Some were slightly askew due to the herd of cows who had passed thru just prior to our arrival. We had a thorough safety briefing. We chatted with our instructors and shared our goals for the day. The nearest target was 678 yards, then 700 and 823 yds. This was the warm up. A few targets were equipped with red strobe lights that flashed when struck.
We began with a .223 with 55 grain bullets at 823 yds. There were lots of numbers and calculations flying, which could be overwhelming. Some shooters wanted to achieve a milestone and didn’t care about the details. Others wanted advanced instruction including spin drift, temperature, Coriolis effect and more. I was somewhere in between.
When not shooting, we were invited to spot thru the high-quality optics. Viewing the vapor trail arc of a round speeding above the sagebrush made me feel like I was in an elaborate video game. As the hits advanced with greater distance, we began to really celebrate one another’s success. We were bonding over the idiosyncrasies of a certain rifle, scope, trigger. The wind continued to pick up. Lunch time.
We devoured hearty, homemade stew and shared stories of our experience so far. Most of us had surpassed our lifetime records by double. We lingered over the Dutch Oven peach cobbler till the wind kicked up again, reminding us a short window remained to accomplish our goals for the day.
Despite the wind, our distances increased. With the afternoon drawing to an end, several of the guys had accomplished the one mile shot. Being fairly competitive, I was anxious to take my place on the shooting platform. The 147 grain 6.5 Creedmoor bullet I fired had dropped 114 feet from where my barrel was aimed. The bullet traveled for about 3 seconds, hit the target and the red light flashed. ‘HIT’ yelled the instructor and about 4 seconds after the hit, the faint ‘ding’ sound reached our ears. In inexplicable contrast, the exhilaration of the moment still felt like it happened in slow motion. I’ll never forget it. JHSE owner Shepard Humphries aimed his cell phone camera at me and asked how I felt. I paused for a second, contemplating that I was married with 2 kids, so I blurted out that this was the 4th best day of my life.
There is a lot of talk of empowerment these days. Empowerment to me is the perfection of alignment, breathing, math, and physical control required to hit a 2 MOA (apx 36 in. x 36 in.) target a mile away. Just me and a tiny spec in the distance. Success or failure rests entirely with me. The farther a bullet travels, the greater any inaccuracies grow, leaving precious little room for error. The wrong breath, pressure, miscalculation of wind however slight, results in failure. In a split second of perfection, my mind, body and spirit are aligned. Gentle trigger press. The fact that I’m competing with the guys round for round doesn’t exactly hurt, but that’s beside the point. People shoot for all kinds of reasons. From my perspective, I wish I could share that feeling of accomplishment with every young lady struggling to find her place in the world.
Accomplishing the one mile shot has empowered me to reach a goal that probably doesn’t mean much to anyone outside my shooters circle. However, Humphries says there are likely fewer than 5000 people who’ve ever accomplished this feat. And shooters of my gender, probably less than a few hundred. My name is now proudly listed on the roster at onemile.club.
I’ll take that over a Kelly Bag any day.