Josh Andresen cut away the green plastic wrap from the metal case on his dining room table.
He thumbed the locks until the combinations clicked and opened. He removed a long metal locking rod and unsnapped the latches. Inside was – home at last from Colorado – his Beretta 682 Gold E shotgun.
Josh has logged hundreds of hours making his mark as top-tier sport shooting athlete.
The Alvord teenager was one of only a dozen sport shooters nationwide chosen for training at the Junior Olympic Development Camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was instructed by world-class competitors and college athletes, and slept and ate in the same place as America’s Olympic contenders.
“It was awesome. It was huge and I only got to see part of it,” Josh said. “We got up at 6 a.m. and ate. As soon as we got done eating, we got on the bus. We started shooting around 9 and did that until 4.”
Every day the coaches had at least one big thing they wanted the shooters – all between the ages of 15 and 17 – to focus on.
They worked on marksmanship, strategy and the mental game behind shooting sports. Josh learned several new techniques he believes have already improved his game, adding to his already impressive talent.
It was no fluke that he got to Colorado. He’s been training since he was about 10 years old. He puts at least 1,000 12-gauge rounds a month into the air, blasting clay birds into shards and puffs of orange and black dust.
Josh’s dad, Troy Andresen, has been his coach ever since they started.
Troy works with Josh and other kids as a part of 4-H’s sport shooting program. Josh has gotten additional training from the likes of Olympic medalist Bret Erickson, who was the coach of the U.S. Olympic trap shooting team.
“We mainly concentrate on sporting clays right now, because that’s what all the colleges look at,” Troy said. “We want to be on the radar of colleges.”
Troy said colleges with shooting teams realize clay shooters can shoot anything.
Josh is still shy of one of his goals – becoming a master level competitor, which is another way to stay on the collegiate radar.
Right now he’s AA, or at least really close. AA is one step below the master class. A young shooter starts out at D and moves up in class by winning tournaments and earning punches based on how many shooters he competes against, and how many shots he beat them by.
Each class requires more punches to move up.
“He should be master class now, but he hasn’t shot enough registered competitions,” Troy said. “Instead, he’s shot more fundraiser shoots because he wins money there, and also 4-H events.”
Josh is aiming at a couple of colleges that offer scholarships for shooting sports.
Lindenwood University in Missouri is where he hopes to go. Troy said it is the No. 1 shooting college in the nation.
“They don’t call it a shooting scholarship, but if your grades are good enough they’ll give you an academic scholarship if you shoot for them,” Troy said. “They offer $10,000 a year. Most colleges don’t offer financial assistance for shooting sports.”
At the Junior Olympic camp, two Florida State students were training Josh and the other shooters.
“They told us all about collegiate shooting. They said the training is a lot more in-depth, more like what we had up there,” Josh said. “In three days we shot close to 1,000 rounds. I was pretty sore.”
Since he was shooting as much in a couple of days as he usually does in a month, he found out some interesting things about his gun and others’.
“I learned my gun shoots really flat. I have my gun set up for sporting clays. People who trap shoot will have their stock set where their cheek is higher so the gun shoots at a higher angle,” Josh said. “That’s because you’re always moving up to the bird. I had to adjust.”
He said several of the other kids had the same shotgun, which proved the most reliable with so much wear and tear.
The Andresens had a hard time just getting Josh’s shotgun to Colorado.
“American Airlines didn’t want to let me take it,” Josh said.
His mom, Rhonda, had to list on the flight like she was on board.
“We had to list it as my baggage,” Rhonda said. “I didn’t know if it would work. The flight was full and oversold. The gun went because the baggage always goes. He got on. I had to wait for the next flight because I didn’t know if he could pick it up or not. I gave him my luggage ticket and told him to try and pick it up.”
Fortunately, she didn’t have to fly to Colorado, because by the time she would have had to board, Josh had already landed and was able to pick up the gun.
“They didn’t even look at my card,” Josh said. “I just walked in and said, ‘That’s mine,’ and walked out.”
The JODC shipped it back to Texas, two weeks after the competition.
Once he had gotten to Colorado Springs, Josh started shooting nearly right away, but instead of skeet or sporting clays, he would be shooting trap.
Troy said trap shooting is the easiest to learn, but difficult to master.
“In skeet, targets are always in the same place,” Troy said. “People have literally shot a perfect round of skeet with a blindfold on because they say, ‘Pull!’ and hear the machine go off and it’s all repetition.”
In trap, a shooter has 25 shots total divided into five shots per station. The birds, or clays pigeons, are thrown in a random order.
“My scores are usually about 23 to 25 out of 25,” Josh said. “It’s international trap and it’s a lot faster game and one of the hardest games in the world.”
The camp dealt in large part with physical shooting techniques, shooting stances and getting a feel for the sheer speed of the game – but they also trained the participants’ minds.
Josh said there is a heavy mental component to sports shooting. Any loss of concentration can lose a shooter their competition.
“Don’t let one missed target turn into four,” Josh said. “We’ve had some people who are great shooters who shoot 25 of 25 again and again and then miss one target and miss the rest on that station, just because they let themselves fall apart.
“You have to make a conscious effort not to think about the last target. You can’t think about the past or the future. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing.”
Troy tries to hammer that lesson home and often tells Josh and others a tournament isn’t a single 100-round match – it’s 100 one-round matches.
“Don’t let the small stuff bother you. Whatever is going to happen happens,” Josh said.
He said the JODC coaches stressed a couple of techniques in particular, including “quiet eye” – a way to clear a shooter’s mind before calling for his birds.
“They said to wait three seconds before calling for the bird. Those three seconds help your brain concentrate on one thing,” Josh said. “They said just like in basketball, if you concentrate on the goal for three seconds, you’re 75 percent more likely to make it.
“It took me a while to continuously do that. I saw a big improvement.”
The other major technique tied in with one of Josh’s other passions – music.
At home, his guitars hang alongside his shooting trophies and ribbons. When he’s not blasting away at clays, he’s working his frets and picking the chords of a new song or two.
Josh started playing piano when he was 7 or 8 and picked up the guitar at 12. He thinks his playing has always benefited his shooting by teaching him to be precise.
While playing his music, he can also forget the troubles of the day and lose himself in song. Strangely enough, this love for music helped him see his target better.
“They told us to go a half hour before you shoot and just take time to listen to your music,” he said. “Be away from everyone else, clear your mind of everything and focus.
“Listen to some kind of calming music and not anything that would put you on edge. Just listen to something that lets you forget about everything.”
Josh said he listens to a lot of 3 Doors Down in this time
“You’re trying to get focused on the bird,” Josh said. “What I would do is watch other people shoot and watch each bird as they came out of the house. They are going fast and you’re trying to see it as quick as you can.”
Josh has played in his church’s band some and has even thought about getting some people together for his own band, but knows he would have to give something up.
“Everything I do, I love,” Josh said.