by Larry Austin
Just three years after picking up a gun, Grand Island's Taylor Kaufman is a trapshooting world champion.
The 21-year-old Buffalo State College student won the Lady 1 championship, against women from all over the world, at the 113th Grand American World Trapshooting Championship in Sparta, Ill., in August.
Kaufman hit 98 out of 100 clay birds to win and bring home another trophy for the display case at the Sheridan Transit Rod and Gun Club on Ransom Road, where she is a member.
"It's not easy winning a trophy at the Grand, so it's pretty cool," Kaufman said of her championship. "You're shooting against the best. There's a crazy number of really good shooters out there."
That Kaufman shot well at the Grand American was expected by the other members of the Sheridan Transit. It was the way she won that had other shooters impressed.
"We knew she'd be doing good," said Brian Euscher. "The 98 was completely unexpected. That was phenomenal. That's just a matter of dedication and focus."
In winning, Kaufman had to overcome a yardage handicap, which prevents competitors from sandbagging their experience and maintains a level competition. The event was conducted by the Amateur Trapshooting Association.
Marty Remmes, president of Sheridan Transit, said Kaufman's normal handicap yardage is 19 yards, but she didn't have the minimum 1,000 registered targets over the past year, so she was bumped out to the 25-yard penalty handicap.
She shot so well that she was moved back to 26.5 yards, which is almost unprecedented, members of the club said. In trapshooting, moving back to the 27-yard level is a major achievement, Euscher said.
"What she did is truly amazing," added Gary Knoer, who tutored her at the club. "All those guys said the same thing. They've never seen it before."
Knowing that she was handicapped six yards back from her normal yardage actually eased her nerves before competing.
"I get really anxious," Kaufman said. "That's why I was surprised that I was able to shoot as good as I did down there."
"I went in going, 'Okay, I'm going to make a fool of myself, but it will be fun,'" Kaufman said. She missed two of her first 25 birds, which fly out of the trap at about 42 mph, but she then ran the next 75. The last five shots were especially nerve-wracking.
"The minute you start thinking you might win it is most likely the time you're going to drop the next bird," Kaufman said. "It's really hard to get those thoughts out of your head once they come in."
Kaufman used a 12-gauge Browning BT 99 at the competition. Her score of 98 was two better than her next competitor.
"98 is a good score. Very good, especially doing it the way she did it at the Grand from that yardage. There's a lot of people that'll never do that in their lifetime," said Knoer.
Not bad for someone who didn't grow up in the sport.
"Actually, it's really funny, because I used to be anti-gun," Kaufman said. "And then one year I was doing an art concentration in AP art for a senior project, that I was concentrating on 'fear.' "
She decided to focus on guns, but asked herself how she could know and express the fear associated with guns without having ever actually shot one. After her first visit to Sheridan Transit, fear quickly gave way to ardor.
"So I came here - one of my friends used to work here - and I shot a gun and I fell in love with it," Kaufman said. "It's what I tell my friends. If you don't like guns, have you tried it?"
"It's for sport, it's for hobby," said Remmes of trapshooting, the single activity of the club. "I'm a target shooter. I've been in shooting 30 years and I don't hunt. I shot a pheasant once, but I felt so bad before it ever hit the ground I knew that was the last animal I'd ever kill."
Kaufman used to play tennis and snowboard, but trapshooting is a sport for a lifetime.
"You can shoot up until you can't lift a gun anymore, and it's a skill that anybody can pick up with some practice," Kaufman said. "I think anybody can do it."
To reach Kaufman's level, however, requires an enormous amount of dedication, Remmes said. Kaufman regularly works on her skills at the club, which has a dry-fire system with a practice sheet in the clubhouse basement.
"She probably comes in three nights a week and goes down in the basement and practices her gun hold and her mount. She's very dedicated," Remmes said.
Kaufman's performance is in keeping with a traditional of excellence built over time at the club, which took home 32 trophies from the 2011 New York State Shoot, Remmes said. Last year, the club won the five-man state team championship at the 150th anniversary of the New York state ATA in Cicero. Remmes called Kaufman's success "especially gratifying" for members.
The club has 165 members, approximately half of them Island residents, and about a dozen junior members. The club runs an Academics Integrity and Marksmanship program for youth, and a team called the Java Clay Crushers.