Straight Shooter: Pueppke, 13, Gaining Recognition With Air Rifle

AMENIA, N.D. — Matthew Pueppke focuses his right eye through the scope of his air rifle and balances his body. His target, a circle less than one-eighth of an inch wide, is 33 feet away.

Concentration is the name of the game. If he hits the mark – known as the 10-hole – it’s merely a job well done.

He might as well be threading a needle with his eyes closed.

“It’s hard to get everything the exact same,” Pueppke said. “If your head is a centimeter off, it’ll affect your shot.”

Pueppke, a 13-year-old seventh-grader from Amenia, N.D., has been climbing the national air rifle ranks since he began organized shooting at age 8.

He gained added recognition after setting a national record for the 14-and-under age group at the 2005 United States Junior Olympic shooting championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., last month.

Pueppke scored a record 579 out of 600 possible points in the 10-meter air rifle competition.

During a match, each shot is worth 10 points.

Competitors must fire two rounds of 60 shots over separate 1 hour, 45 minute time periods.

“A lot of folks tell us he’s one of the top, if not the top 13-year-old shooter in the country,” said Eric Pueppke, Matthew’s father.

Eric, who has competed in pistol marksmanship competitions the past 25 years, realized his son’s potential after a paperwork error allowed an 8-year-old Matthew to compete and earn a bronze medal in the 18 to 20-year-old division.

“It’s high-level competition,” Eric said. “It’s good for kids, it teaches them concentration and focus.”

Although Matthew admits his sport of choice isn’t the most popular, he loves it. To his parents, that’s what really matters.

“Sport is sport,” Eric said. “Everybody thinks guns are violent, but when you look at it, this is probably one of the most non-violent sports.”

The single-shot rifles, which run as high as $2,000, are loaded with .177 caliber pellets. Even though the rifles are somewhat pricey, shooting practice isn’t. Matthew fires as many of 120 shots a day in his basement.

Eric created a simulated, regulation length range in the basement of the Pueppke house. The practice range starts in Matthew’s bedroom and ends exactly 33-feet away in a closet.

Each practice shot brings Matthew closer to his goal.

“Hopefully I can get to the Olympics,” he said.