She's a teacher, an artist, and a ballet aficionado originally from Brooklyn, New York--and an avid clay shooter!
If this doesn't entirely add up, don't be surprised. Sometimes, even Bonnie Berniger herself wonders how she ended up becoming passionate about clays shooting.
"My friends can't understand how I can go from the arts to shooting," she says. "People from Brooklyn don't understand that shooting could be a sport. They associate a gun with crime. When I come into work happy after a weekend of shooting, they looked at me very strangely."
Like many women shot gunners, Bonnie was introduced to the sport by her husband Joe, a financial planner. At that time, in 1992, she was on a one-year sabbatical from the New York City school system. Joe had always been into handguns and rifles, but started shooting trap with a good friend, and an NRA instructor. He suggested to Joe that he take Bonnie out for a trap lesson.
Joe asked her, and why she accepted his invitation is still a mystery. She had always felt wary about the guns Joe owned.
"I guess I was curious. Joe introduced me to the NRA instructor. He worked with me one day and after a few hours of watching, learning, and then shooting, I was hooked. Since I had that year off from teaching school, I pursued learning and improving my technique on my own. I started to show some success, and then I really I got into it. I became a convert. Joe saw my devotion to the sport and bought me a Browning BT-00 trap gun."
How could that possibly happen to someone like Bonnie?
"It was the first time I ever felt successful in a sport," she says.
Not being a natural athlete, she easily mastered the hand-eye coordination that helped her become a successful trap shooter. Best of all, with trap "you don't have to run or hit a ball," she says, laughing.
Like many women shooters, Bonnie had to get a shotgun that fit her. To make it more interesting, she was a lefty. So she had to cut the stock for a shorter length-of-pull and then have the cast changed so that her eyes lined up with the beads.
With trap gun in hand, she became a regular at Joe's trap club. "I was the only woman in this club. Some of the members weren't happy about it, but I held my own and after a while I was accepted as ‘one of the boys.'"
Over time, Bonnie gained enough confidence in trap to try her hand at skeet. She subsequently signed on with the skeet league at Thunder Mountain, in Ringwood, New Jersey. That called for another shotgun and she purchased a used 12-gauge Beretta 686 White Onyx from a friend of Joe's.
Just about this time, Bonnie's sabbatical had come to an end and she returned to work teaching gifted third graders. Despite the demands of her job, Bonnie stuck with skeet.
Her colleagues at work also began to grasp that one of their own had turned into a dedicated clays shooter. "They could not understand how I could possibly get into a shotgun sport," she recalls.
Bonnie persevered. She decided to improve her skeet game mostly on her own. Although she attend a few shooting clinics, most of her success came from constant practice and the support from the guys she shot with. Then she took the leap...
When she started to shoot competitive skeet, "I met a wonderful group of men who groomed me to try to make me successful in skeet. One of my problems was that I was teaching full time. I couldn't devote that time to being the best I could. I was teaching in Brooklyn, and living in New Jersey. But I did my best."
That's when Joe struck again. He introduced Bonnie to sporting clays, and of course another shotgun was called for. She opted for 12-gauge Beretta Sporting Clays gun. She found sporting clays so much fun that she backed off on her skeet and trap shooting. As she tells it, "Sporting clays is now my primary clay sport," she says.
She also discovered that her skeet game suffered. "If you really want to be successful with one sport, and compete, you can't go back and forth. I had a different gun for each sport and each gun fit and felt different. It took a few rounds to adjust."
At that point, Bonnie had left her teaching job in Brooklyn. She landed a job closer to home at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, where she's an Educational Supervisor. In her current capacity, she is a liaison between the University and the placement site where she monitors and evaluates the progress of student teachers. She now has more time to shoot.
For Bonnie, the beauty of sporting clays is that it lets her and Joe spend more time together, traveling to different venues with their sporting guns.
"We travel to shoot and make a little vacation out of it. Wherever we go, we find places to shoot," she says. In fact, they recently returned from Maui, where they shot sporting clays on a course inside an extinct volcano. "Now I shoot for pleasure, not for competition."
What's her advice for other women who want to lead the Shotgun Life?
"Conquer your fear of the gun," she advises. "By taking lessons, I got to learn the correct way to hold a gun, how to ‘read' the flight of a bird and respect the handling and firing of a gun." She also notes that this is a sport both she and her husband enjoy together, which makes for an even happier marriage!
Deborah McKown is Editor of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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