Aussie shooter and Olympic gold medal favourite James Willett has $80,000 gun range in his backyard

James Willett never met a target he couldn’t drop, from the foxes that endangered his Mulwala farm’s sheep to the clay targets in his prolific under-age career.

But talent only gets you so far in professional shotgun shooting, where rich Sheikhs and Italian superstars boast their own personal gun ranges.

Country boy Willett is a shy 20-year-old who lives on his parents’ farm on the Victoria-NSW border and works at his local gun shop to make ends meet.

Next week the double-trap shooter, described as one of the sport’s most natural shooters, will arrive in Rio as the world No.1.

And Willett believes he has his backyard to thank — or more specifically an $80,000 gun range he and his father built with the help of the local community.

The gold medal favourite can now walk 100 steps outside his back door and train all day rather than drive three and a half hours to the Werribee gun club.

If he can bring back gold — Australia’s first shooting medal since the Beijing Olympics — he will credit the only private gun club in NSW.

Willett only switched to the double trap discipline at the end of 2014 after the retirement of Russell Mark, with his meteoric rise stunning world shooting.

“At the end of 2014 I decided to shoot double trap and that was when we built the range on our farm,’’ he said.

“We built the range at home and then I started shooting national championships and world cups and then this year I managed to win the world cup in Rio in April and was third at the other one in Cyprus.

“That pushed my ranking to No.1 in the world. I have been shooting since I was 12. We did it for Wednesday school sport at Corowa High School.

“The Olympics has always been a goal and I was always trying for Tokyo and the double trap was a bit of a long shot when I first started but then I just started shooting decent scores and I knew I could make the Rio team if I kept shooting well enough.”

Willett didn’t have the money to have his range installed, so he did what Australian farmers do — he and his father just got to work.

“We have done it all ourselves. If we had to pay for everything we have done it would have cost $80,000,’’ he said.

The target-firing machines alone cost $25,000, designed to throw out clay targets in pairs at any angle for the waiting shooter.

“In a big week of practice leading into big events I might shoot anywhere from 1000 to 2000 targets a week,’’ he said.

“The targets cost 12 cents and the ammo costs 25 cents a shot, so you are looking at 75 cents a pair.

“I don’t want to know what it has cost. I could have bought a house with all of the money I have spent.”

Olympic gold medallist Mark has become a mentor to Willett after recommending he move to the double trap.

He has taught him the nuances of the discipline and hooked him up with the elite US Olympic team in Arizona, allowing him to train with the best of the best leading into Rio.

“He is just a natural. He is the youngest ever to reach world No.1 in that event,’’ says Mark.

“He is a real country kid, to meet him you wouldn’t pick him as the world’s No.1 marksman.

“He has had Graeme Boyd from Albury coach him and I just show him the finer points of double trap.

“To be doing what he is doing at 20, I only got to the Olympics at 24 and never won until I was 32.

“I don’t want to say I am jealous of him but you have to be envious. I look at how good he is at 20 and you say where did this guy come from?”

“I don’t want to say I am jealous of him but you have to be envious. I look at how good he is at 20 and you say where did this guy come from?”

– Russell Mark

Rob Leeson James Willett

Image: Olympic shooter James Willett, who has his own $80,000 range built on his family farm near Mulwala, is the gold medal favourite.

Herald Sun

Source: Herald Sun
By: Jon Ralph
Picture: Rob Leeson
Date: 28 July 2016