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Rondinelli: Bethel Park grad hopes for return to competitive shooting | TribLIVE.com
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Rondinelli: Bethel Park grad hopes for return to competitive shooting

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Besides shooting skeet, Bethel Park graduate Danielle Shuster was a 16-yard trap champion in 2010 at a shoot in Winchester, Va.

One of the youngest women in Western Pennsylvania to make her mark in the shooting sports has been amassing experience on a number of levels for the last decade.

Danielle Shuster, who shot on the high school rifle team at Bethel Park and learned skeet from her father, has been working for a non-political arm of the National Rifle Association for about nine months. Since high school, she traveled as a representative of Beretta’s vast gun organization, graduated from gunsmith school, shot and worked at a couple of national shooting clubs and made a mark in skeet shooting.

In 2005, she “swept the board” at the state championship at Shenecoy Field, Huntingdon County, home to many national and state events. She won eight titles at one time, a rarity, any part of which would elate most shooters. Those titles were in 28 gauge junior, 12, 20, 28, .410 gauge lady, doubles lady, and high overall lady and high all-around lady, including doubles. In 2003, she won a 12-gauge title for juniors. In 2004, she won the ladies title in 12 gauge and the high all-around title for juniors.

How did a teenager with no formal training achieve so many titles?

She credits her instruction to dad, Dave, who started out needing a clay bird puller, but adds that more than a few shooters at Library Sportsmen’s Association were helpful.

“It’s different when you are young,” she said at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va. “You don’t have all the stresses and the reality you have when you are an adult. You’re just carefree, and I didn’t think about the crowd and everyone watching or what if I missed. … It would be a different story now, for sure.”

She said she never took shooting seriously and had no desire to become an Olympic shooter, always instead considering it a hobby. She said she just never felt pressure.

Shuster, 28, is merchandise and firearms coordinator for Friends of NRA. Her role involves planning and stocking various gun-related events. Handling 1,100 gatherings a year becomes quite a task. The organization was established in 1990 to provide funding for programs such as youth education, law enforcement training, hunter education, conservation, firearms and marksmanship training and safety. The NRA says it has raised more than $300 million through 38,000 grants.

Taking a desk job was difficult for Shuster, “a huge change. It took a lot of adjusting, probably six months. It is a whole different lifestyle.”

That’s because she had been on the road for Beretta, driving a 30-foot truck to shoots around the nation in her “dream job.” Although she didn’t get to shoot that much, she traveled from Maine to Virginia to the Dakotas, seeing dealers and attending shoots and gun shows. Sometimes she was on the road for three months at a time.

But Beretta decided to get rid of its mobile trucks, so Shuster hooked on with the NRA.

She had graduated from George Mason with a major in art history and a minor in classical studies. She lived and worked on the grounds of the Fairfax Rod and Gun Club in Manassas, Va., deciding that gunsmith school would be her goal.

Next was a two-year stint at Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colo., where she learned gunsmithing, engraving, scrimshawing and stock checkering. She preferred working on stocks because of the “gorgeous wood” and because engraving metal and scrimshawing — working on bone — were hard on her hands. On weekends, she often got experience at the expansive NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., only a half-hour away from school.

Shuster is elated that the number of women in shooting sports nationally is “immensely growing,” but she shudders upon hearing that skeet and trap numbers are down in the Pittsburgh region.

What does the future hold for the 5-foot-4 shooter now sitting behind a desk? “Hopefully, I’ll be back into competitive shooting some day,” she said. “It takes a whole lot of time to practice to be at the level I would want to be again and a lot of money. … I just don’t have that kind of money right now. But I hope to some day.”

Charles Rondinelli is a freelance writer. Reach him at straightshooter@tribweb.com.

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