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CHEYENNE — No sooner had the final pellet left her air rifle and hit the target than a look of disgust noticeably consumed Kinsey Freeman's face.

As soon as the targets were brought to the table in Tom and Mickie Meares' garage, Freeman looked over her mother Pam's right shoulder, hands on the waist of her special canvas shooting pants and declared, "I really messed up on that last shot."

Her pair of 10-target sheets was filled with 10-point shots, but there was a stray nine on one sheet and an eight on the other. The eight was the source of the dissatisfaction.

"What you're forgetting is the nine 10s you had," coach Dick Smith said.

The eight-point came on the final shot of the second target, capping 12 minutes of shooting from the prone position. The prone position was the first of three positions Freeman, her sister Lindsey and Apryl Meares shot from Wednesday as they prepared for the National Three-Position Junior Air Rifle Championships in June 27-29 in Bowling Green, Ky.

Cody Meares, along with Spencer and Tyler Northrup, also are on the team that beat Lander to win the state title for the second year in a row. They patiently waited for the women to finish before they shot their practice rounds.

Kinsey Freeman had 40 more shots left to take over the next 70 minutes and two positions, but the misplaced shot stuck with her.

"It really threw her off, and now she can't shake it, and it's still affecting her performance," Smith said as Freeman held her rifle waist-high, head facing the floor. "I tried to keep her positive by reminding her she had nine good shots on the other target. I try to keep the negative thoughts out."

After the women turned in their set of targets, they shot from the standing position. With targets filled with shots totaling 99 and 98 points out of a possible 100, it became apparent there is a small margin of error that separates a winning shooter from a runner-up.

"It's all in your head," Tyler Northrup, 18, said. "A lot of it depends on if (a shooter's) mind is mentally right and they're where they need to be. You have to have the patience, and you have to want to shoot well."

Shooters are allotted 30 minutes to get off 20 shots in the prone and kneeling positions. Sandwiched between those rounds is a 40-minute standing round. Some shooters use every second; others go slightly faster.

"Using the time all depends on your last shot," Lindsey Freeman, 18, said. "If it was a good shot, you're going to spend some time thinking about what you did on the last one that made it such a good shot. If it was a bad shot, you're trying to figure out anything you can to do differently to make it the next one a better shot, and that takes a little more time.

"In the last round, I had to keep adjusting myself because I wasn't shooting as well as I could have. Finally, I found something that worked the last few shots. If I didn't do anything to change, I'm going to keep shooting bad."

Because his team is so advanced, Smith doesn't do a lot of coaching. Almost all of them started young and got that start in the 4-H shooting sports program.

"At this level, I'm more of a sounding board," Smith said. "At the younger levels, I have to do a lot more coaching. At this level, I just let them shoot and keep my eye out for minor things that may be keeping them from shooting as well as they could be."

The six still shoot at 4-H shoots, but they also compete in precision competitions outside of 4-H, such as the Lander and Bowling Green shoots. Because those shoots are not sanctioned by 4-H, the group has to privately raise funds for those trips.

They've also increased the practice rounds, going from one time per week to two. They'll likely increase to four times per week as the national competition draws near. But all of the efforts are worth it, Apryl Meares said.

"Last year was my first time shooting on the same line as guys, and it was a lot of fun," the 16-year-old said. "It was crowded. There weren't a lot of places to put my scope stand and my other stuff, but I really enjoyed it.

"My scores improved quite a bit because I had a lot of adrenaline going, and I was really pumped to shoot well."

Meares qualified for the Junior Olympics by finishing 44th out of 96 shooters at a Colorado Springs, Colo., shoot in March. She's eyeing a spot on the U.S. Olympic Development Team and a college scholarship.

In the meantime, she's going to have to deal with shooting in a warehouse setting that lines up 120 to 150 shooters, as opposed to eight in Lander. The increased number of shooters increases the difficulty, Tyler Northrup said.

"It's a little intimidating knowing that you're competing with that many people," he said. "Sometimes you set up your scope and it's not even on your target. So you have to shoot a couple of shots into the sighters (two targets in the center of the sheet designated for practice shooting) and make sure you're on your own target.

"You can't miss a shot or forget to shoot one. You can't afford it."

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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