COLUMBIA — Louie Conti's shotgun isn't the average piece of hunting equipment. The walnut stock is filled with engravings and contains silver inlays, all of which surround the gun's gold trigger. But for $3,600, the Browning over-and-under shotgun offers more than just some flash.
“I like the over-and-under because of the speed of it," Conti said. "You can pull the trigger as fast as you want without having to pump the action. Weight was also a big factor for me. I wanted it to be heavier in the barrel because that will allow me to have a steadier swing.”
Conti is a sophomore and president of the MU Shooting Club Team. He has been shooting competitively since he was 14. Experience that will help Conti lead the Missouri shooting team when they compete March 30 through April 5 at the Intercollegiate Clay Target Championships in San Antonio.
Once he starts talking about his team its difficult for Conti to hide the confidence he has in his shooters.
“We’ve had a lot of really good shooters step up this year, and we have the ability to win nationals this year,” Conti said. “It will be exciting to go to nationals.”
Sophomore Jordan Allen, who is new to the team this year, is one of those shooters. Before he joined, Allen hardly had any competitive shooting experience.
“Louie has helped in getting me prepared for the team,” Allen said. “I’ve gotten much more confident as a shooter.”
Conti pushes each member of his team to prepare to compete at the highest level.
“We require team members to shoot at least 100 targets a week before competition,” Conti said. “We want everyone to put forth the effort needed to compete. If you're not going to put in the time needed, why should you be on the team?”
Conti has made it a point to lead by example, shooting an average of 500 clay pigeons a week, which can add up.
“On average it seems to cost me about $10,000 a semester to compete,” Conti said. “But I’ve started reloading my shells and that has almost cut my costs in half.”
Reloading shotgun shells is a timely process. Conti is essentially recycling the shells by refilling and resealing them. Even after the reloading process Conti is spending more than $5,000 a semester.
"When my great-grandma died, she left the family some money for the kids to use during college," Conti said. "It's definitely been a big help with all the shooting I do."
Conti practices every week by shooting clay pigeons that are launched out of a machine in every direction at speeds varying anywhere between 20 and 60 mph.
“We never shoot at a still target. It’s always moving.” Conti said.
Shooting these targets helps improve Conti’s accuracy, which is hardly lacking. On average, Conti will hit 48 out of 50 clay pigeons.
All that shooting has helped Conti grow as team president.
“Louie is progressing with his leadership ability,” said Ralph Gates, who has been the team's volunteer coach since 1998. “It appears to me, he has the capability to lead the team to the national championship.”
Gates, 64, graduated from the University of Missouri in 1969 and was a member of MU's Rifle Team from 1965 until he graduated. Gates also owns the land and equipment where the MU Shooting Club Team practices.
Gates' experience working with the team's shooters has given him confidence about the team's future.
“They've got young shooters with good work ethic," Gates said. "I think there’s a lot of talent that we will see develop from these younger members.”