Before senior Ian Dupre takes a shot, he touches the barrel of his Perazzi shotgun to a pad and wiggles his feet. When he’s ready, he puts the gun to his shoulder and leans in.
“Pull.” Within a seventh of a second, he aims and shoots at a target hurdling at 70 miles an hour. The clay target shatters, and the shot echoes over the dead trees lining the open field.
Four more shots, and then he walks to the next station, wiggling his feet, settling into his groove — one he said took three years of competitive shooting to find.
“I have a very consistent and set routine, physically, and that helps me keep my mental game consistent through the entire round,” Dupre said. “This game is all about focus. You want to do it the same way every time.” In a competition, he’ll repeat the same routine 124 more times.
“It helps to be mellow,” he said. For a game that plays intense mind games, Dupre lets off a laid-back vibe. While other shooters try too hard, his coach Allen Chubb said Dupre doesn’t put himself into any kind of contortions.
“When you’re with Ian, you could set a grenade off next to him and he’d go ‘Oh, how ’bout that,’ which is a good thing — it works to his advantage,” Chubb said. “He’s not very emotional, but he’s pretty determined.”
It shows: Dupre doesn’t flaunt it, but he’s ranked first of 311 athletes by USA Shooting, the national governing body for Olympic trap shooting. He’s also competed in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and France because Chubb — a former world-class athlete himself — said he firmly believes Dupre needs international experience to prepare him for the competitions that lead to the 2020 Olympic-qualifying World Championships in South Korea.
“The only way you can learn how to win is to be in competition,” Chubb said. “Training is one thing, but when the pressure is on, learning how to win is something you can only win in a Grand Prix or World Cup atmosphere.”
In Italy, Dupre has had the chance to meet and train with Giovanni Pellielo, who is “arguably the best shooter in the world,” Dupre said. Pellielo is a premier Olympic trap shooter who has competed in seven Olympic games and ranked second and third in four of those seven.
By shooting and competing abroad, Dupre benefits from what Chubb calls “reverse training”: a way of lessening the initial intimidation shooters representing the U.S. face. He hopes that each trip will facilitate quick adaptation to a myriad of conditions — weather, lighting, time change, different ammunition, culture, language, and food — for Dupre and his teammates.
But Dupre admitted he didn’t need to travel to train in adapting to fickle weather conditions: “Luckily, I’m on a team in Hillsdale, Michigan, so I get lots of practice in bad weather conditions. I do pretty well compared to everyone else on bad weather days,” he said.
According to Dupre’s coach, developing an Olympic athlete takes between six and eight years. He said these athletes go through all of this with the understanding that even winning an Olympic gold medal won’t translate to a financial boon because they play a less-popular sport.
“You want to do it because you want to be the best in the world,” Chubb said. And in Chubb’s eyes, Dupre has the drive to overcome mental, physical, spiritual, and financial exhaustion to accomplish that.
Another challenge is overcoming the shock and awe of being abroad. Even though Dupre was surrounded by Italian culture and food (“You can’t get a bad meal in Italy, which is pretty great”) and Swiss staggering prices and natural beauty (“It’s crazy expensive, but it’s definitely the most beautiful”) he has to focus completely on the target because there is work to be done.
According to Hillsdale College shooting teammate senior Kie Kababik, Dupre has the drive toward international competition necessary to travel and remain focused on success.
“Whenever I shoot with Ian, it really brings out a competitiveness because he’s just so into it,” Kababik said. “He’s going to do the best he can every time, and it just makes you want to do the same thing. He really brings out the same intensity in everybody.”
Dupre began shooting shotgun competitively as a sophomore in high school, competing through the summer with a high-school team. His senior year, he chose to specialize in international trap, a game outside of collegiate sports.
“The attraction was pretty much because it was an Olympic sport,” Dupre said. “I also like the fact that it’s really challenging.”
The challenge in international trap differs from the challenge of American trap.
In the U.S., competitors go for perfection, he said. In American skeet and trap, competitors — like his teammate Kababik — have to vie for perfect scores to win or make it to a shoot-off. In international trap, however, targets move faster and at harder angles, so hitting every target is tougher.
“Shooting a 95/100 is an amazing score that would win you a medal at an international competition, whereas a 95/100 in the states is, ‘Thanks for showing up, have a nice drive home,’” Dupre said.
In addition, international trap, especially in Italy, has a much larger following, more ranges, and larger competitions than in the U.S. The sport’s heightened popularity ups the competition, but Kababik said this doesn’t daunt Dupre.
“He’s very intense, but very calm,” Kababik said. “Going into the last event, he knew he had to shoot a certain score to be eligible for an All-American position, and when I asked him about it, he said ‘Well, it’s just going to happen.’”