LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The next time Lacklander Brian Maher readies his custom-built Perazzi shotgun in competition, he'll be roughly 11,000 miles around the world.
Entering the World Cup in Beijing, China, Saturday, will be the double-trap competitor's first time shooting for the U.S. in a sanctioned international event.
Maher, 21, won silver at the U.S. World Cup team's Spring Selection Shoot at Fort Benning, Ga., placing second behind Army marksman and 2008 Olympic gold medal winner Glenn Eller in double-trap competition.
"The cool thing about the shoot I just had at Fort Benning is, if I go to a national shoot I'm representing the Air Force," the Airman 1st Class said. "Now, going over to China, I'm representing the United States."
However, long before joining the Air Force shotgun team in 2008 and representing the U.S. abroad, Maher first discovered the sport at the age of eight.
Before his Perazzi, he learned to shoot during a father-son gun safety lesson at a local outdoor club in his hometown of Goshen, Conn., spurring his interest in trap shooting.
"I shot at my first target and I actually hit it," he said. "I was hooked."
He soon began winning American Trap Association competitions, and by age 11, he had surpassed his father in ability, an occasion highlighted by a perfect 100-straight hit performance in American trap format.
"I remember thinking when I started, about 25 straight was about all I was good for," Maher said.
After winning the ATA national championship in 2005, his mother suggested he elevate to international competition, leading to a career in the Air Force and the switch to double-trap format.
Double-trap includes a sequence of two targets on each pull, with three series of a pair of 25 targets completing a match. Each shooter gets one shot per target. The top six shooters then compete in a final round of 50 more targets, with the top three hit totals awarded medals.
After a weekend training in the new format, Maher said he was hooked again.
"It's like trap on steroids," he said about the increased difficulty. "If I went back to American I'd probably win everything."
Maher said he enjoys the speed of the competition, where reaction is everything in the dual target event.
"As soon as I see it I pull the trigger," he said. "Ever since I was a kid, I've always performed well under pressure. I was always nervous. But when the pressure came I was always ready to perform."
International also uses one ounce less of lead shot while the clay pigeons are more compact to cope with the 55-60 miles per hour flight path.
Maher said this often leads to targets with holes through them and some disheartened shooters.
Without much opportunity to pursue international competition professionally, and the Army Marksmanship Unit's squad full, Maher found the Air Force.
"The Air Force seemed to offer a better program in my opinion," the 802nd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator said. "In the Air Force, I actually have a job, and if I was ever medically discharged, I'd have experience."
The Air Force also picks up the cost of competing, including the $1,600 plane ticket to Beijing.
The double-trap shooter said he also has his sights set on the Olympics.
"I think I have a pretty good chance," Maher said. "If not 2012, then the one after."
But first he'll want to start the event taking place at the site of the 2008 Olympics.
"I don't really know what to expect; I'm just going to take it one target at a time," he said.