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02/16/2022 11:00 PM

Counter Takes Her Best Shot in Air Rifle

Valley Regional Claire Counter is making a name for herself by competing in the sport of air rifle. Photo courtesy of Claire Counter

Claire Counter is a senior at Valley Regional High School, and she’s found her niche competing in a sport that most people don’t know about. About five years ago, Claire got her start in the sport of air rifle, and she’s had a rifle in her hands ever since.

“I have been shooting for a little over five years,” says Claire. “I was really interested in how much focus the sport required. You have 60 shots within an hour and 15 minutes to complete your cycle. Standing still for that long can be very tiring.”

The basic concept behind the sport of air rifle is as follows. The shooter stands 10 meters or approximately 33 feet from the target. Hitting the target center ring, which is the size of the tip of a pencil, is scored as a 10. The total score is made of decimal points with the maximum score per shot being 10.9 points due to an additional set of 10 rings within the 10th circle that increase the score by 0.1 points as it approaches the center of the target. The maximum score for a qualification round is 654 points.

During her five years of participating in air rifle, Claire has had an opportunity to test her skills by going up against some of the country’s top shooters in her age class.

“I have been lucky enough to compete against athletes at the collegiate level that are nationally ranked. The last event I attended in Ohio, I was lined up next to a student from the Naval Academy,” Claire says. “I also compete regularly in a league at West Point, which is always very cool.”

Claire is coached by Lisette Grunwell, who has a wealth of experience in the sport. Grunwell has won more than 50 state and regional championships between three-position, prone, and air rifle.

Claire says that Grunwell’s tutelage has played a huge part in her success.

“My coach Lisette is very dedicated and takes the time to teach me the finer details. Teaching me how to adjust the rifle is very important and making sure that I stay hydrated during competition is also important, because you don’t want your eye to dry out while focusing on the target,” says Claire. “I have weekly practice at the Niantic Sportsman Club, and I’m lucky enough to practice at home in the basement, where we have enough room to actually shoot.”

Grunwell describes Claire as a joy to coach. Grunwell says that Claire is one of the most-focused students she’s ever worked with during her 20 years on the job.

“Claire is always studying her inner position, approaching her craft methodically, and waiting for just the right time to deliver a perfect 10. The sport of target shooting attracts many who are drawn to activities that require attention to detail and levels of extreme focus. Claire has this covered and in droves,” Grunwell says. “There is no question that Claire will continue to succeed in this great sport, studies, life, and whatever else she puts her mind to. I’m proud and honored to be able to coach Claire.”

Aside from air rifle, Claire is interested in becoming a pilot, drawing inspiration from her family. Claire is currently taking flying lessons.

“I want to follow in my grandfather’s and godfather’s footsteps in becoming an airline pilot. I’m working on getting my private pilot license right now at Groton” Airport, says Claire. “I have little fear in actually flying the plane, but talking to the tower on the radio has been the hardest part.”

Claire has a few competitions on her upcoming air rifle schedule. Claire is slated to travel to Canada and Fort Benning in Georgia during the coming months, and she’s eager to participate in these meets.

“I compete because I love it,” Claire says. “With COVID starting to slow down, I’m looking forward to competing in Canada and Fort Benning this spring. It’s been great just getting back to competing after all the shutdowns.”