HALLSVILLE, Mo. — As a girl growing up in Georgia, Jessie Duff used to tag along with her father to the shooting range. She just watched. Nothing against shooting or hunting, but that was boy stuff. She was into cheerleading.
At age 15, she changed her mind.
"Eventually, I just got tired of sitting on the sidelines and decided to shoot with him," she said.
That first pull of the trigger led to a career as a professional shooter, a gig on "Friends of NRA" on the Outdoor Channel and a marriage to her TV co-host.
Gunfire has been very, very good to her.
Her husband, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and avid bowhunter Matt Duff, was the one watching and taking photos from a safe distance while Jessie blasted away at targets with her 9 mm Taurus 1911 pistol during the first day of the Bianchi Cup World Action Pistol Championships in late May.
"I'm sure one of these days I'll enter a competition just to see how bad she beats me," he said with a laugh over the crackle of shots at the Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club.
Jessie Duff is the two-time defending female champion of the Bianchi Cup, which annually draws the best shooters in the world to Mid-Missouri. As shooters discussed their rounds under the hot sun, German mixed with Kiwi mixed with Southern drawl. Duff hopes to add to the melting pot by introducing more women to the sport through the "Friends of NRA" television show and her success in competitions.
"It is very, very intimidating for women or young girls to get into it unless they have an avenue like their dad taking them to the range, and even then, to come to big matches and compete is still very intimidating for the ladies," she said. "That's one thing that I hope is coming across in our show.
“Even if it's not competitive shooting — if it's hunting, outdoors, anything — they're seeing you can be a female and do it and be successful. It's not just a guy thing."
Duff got off to a good start, leading the women's field with a 478-34 out of a possible 480-48 (the first number is targets hit, the second is shots in the black and is used as a tiebreaker) in the Practical event, in which competitors have to unholster their guns and shoot targets in a matter of seconds from distances of 10, 15, 25 and 50 yards.
It is one of four components to the Bianchi Cup, along with Barricade, Moving Target and Falling Plate. Whoever has the best overall score is crowned the champion. Duff repeated her 2011 performance by winning the Colt Speed Event, and finishing second to Julie Golob in the Ladies Division. This was her fourth Cold Speed Event win.
Duff realized her hobby could become her career about seven years ago when Team Glock signed her. In March she signed a deal to be the captain of the Taurus team.
Duff shoots in 15 to 18 competitions per year, and her success put her on the radar of a production company looking for a woman to join Matt Duff for a new show called "Friends of NRA," which would highlight the organization's grass-roots programs. Matt Duff, who appeared in seven games for the Cardinals in 2002, was already hosting hunting shows "Major League Bowhunter" alongside Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves and "Buck Commander."
Jessie and Matt had never met until their screen test. Suffice to say, they had chemistry.
Asked how long it took for her to know that they would be more than co-hosts, Jessie replied, "Five minutes. Not even that."
The show, which airs at 9 p.m. Sunday nights, premiered in January 2011. Thirteen months later, they were married. She enjoys bowhunting with him, but she has yet to convince him to compete in an action pistol competition. He joked that he didn't want to disgrace the family.
"I'll keep wearing on him," she said. "He'll eventually give in."
Men’s Open winner
Defending champion Doug Koenig was the overall winner in the Open Division of the 33rd MidwayUSA and NRA Bianchi Cup National Championship. The competition drew 253 competitors from more than 10 countries around the world.
Koenig shot a score of 1920-182x, using Hornady® 110 grain XTP® bullets in his 38 Super pistol to win his 14th title.
"I shot under a one-inch group at 50 yards using Hornady bullets," Koenig said. "You can't ask for more than that when you're competing at the preeminent shooting event like the Bianchi Cup."