Thirteen-year-young Bhavanika is standing at the end of a row of 15 girls, the butt of the air gun resting against her shoulder as she takes aim at her target. Her body is arched sideways and she holds still in this posture for five minutes. She’s part of the group of 32 young children being coached at ‘Summer Samurai’ — a shooting range summer camp being conducted by Sports Authority of Telangana State (SATS) from various government-run tribal welfare residential schools in 15 districts across Telangana. Each school has nominated two students to be part of the camp.
None of the young girls in the row actually fire. Instead, they put their air guns — each weighing 3.2 kilograms — down, take a break and briefly look away from the target.
Young achievers Eyes on the prize
- At the shooting range, one gets to meet a few National school level and Commonwealth medal winners who are regular members — K Aditya, US Junior Olympic championship J3 category; Santhoshi Abhigna, R Mahidhar, national qualified state medal winners. Also regular at the range are Schindler and Surendra.
- During target practice, coach Sandeep Varanasi himself is a seven-time national qualified player and an India big bore medal winner.
- To learn shooting, one has to first practice balancing and understanding body balance. This is followed by learning to bear the weight of the rifle and adjusting one’s vision to the target and light. The coach says, “They don’t look at the target straight away. In technical terms, we call it concentrating in ‘sight picture.” To be able to use the SATS shooting range one has to pay an admission fee of ₹1000 followed by ₹1000 as monthly fees. Avid shooters who take the sport seriously have to invest in the gear too. The shooting gear comprises a thick stiff suit, weighing around 7 kilograms. Then comes a pair of heavy shoes that weigh around 3 to 4 kilograms. “The suit is heavy and stiff so as to restrict the slightest movement of the body. Needless to say, it is hot and makes one sweat profusely,” says Sandeep.
- Built on 24 acres of land, this shooting range is one of the biggest in the country; the other two are in Delhi and Mumbai.) The SATS shooting range has 25 and 50-meter ranges, skeet and trap, and double trap apart from the 10-meter range with 50 lanes for beginners. (Skeet shooters use shotguns to break clay targets flung into the air at high speed, from various angles. In trap shooting, the targets are launched from a single ‘house’ or machine. In double trap, two targets are thrown simultaneously, at slightly different angles).
- What made Bhavanika choose this sport over kabaddi, kho kho or handball? “I want to become an IAS officer. Apart from studying well and having good knowledge of everything, shooting is a pre-requisite. So when our teacher gave us a choice, I was quick to pick this one. We are all very excited to be here and see a big city,” she says.
- Having spent a month at the shooting range getting target practice and learning about different ranges and firearms, shooting is the favorite summer activity, says another young student Manisha. Her aim is to join the Indian Army and protect the country, she says.
- The young students at the camp hail from far-flung villages in Khammam, Karimnagar, Rangareddy, Adilabad districts and are currently staying at a government residential college hostel which is 30 kilometers away from the range where they spend seven hours a day.
- Apart from the training, the group members are making new friends and exploring Hyderabad. “We went to Golconda, Charminar, Tank Bund and the airport. We saw airplanes on the ground and those taking off. At night when we go back to the hostel in Hyderabad, we play some games with each other,” says Shravani.
- Sandeep Varanasi, the 27-year-old coach at the shooting range says, “There is never a dull moment with these children. They are obedient, attentive, eager to learn and full of questions. This makes them good learners.” Surprisingly, unlike most regular students at the shooting range, these children are equally excited about theory classes. “Their devotion is promising,” adds Sandeep.
- Shooting range in-charge Alexander Francis is touched by the motivation of the young girls and boys. “Their stamina and patience are unmatched. Their humble background and tough upbringing make them strong and resilient. They appreciate the facilities, do not complain and are making an honest effort to learn whatever they can.
- However, Alexander rues that the children don’t get to continue their practice. “Once the camp is over, they have to forget about this sport. With their grit and determination, I can assure school national awards if we are allowed to train them on a regular basis,” he states. As the team at SATS will hold a competition to pick the ten best shooters, “I wish we get to groom the ten best shooters. It will be unfortunate to lose such talented children,” he adds.
- Would the children want to continue? “I am loving this opportunity. I would want to take up this sport as my career if I can,” says Pavan shyly, as he loads pellets into his air gun after reviewing his target sheet. He adds, “This sport isn’t only about learning to aim and shoot. It teaches body control. It teaches you to be calm. And it teaches mind and body balance.”
- “Given a chance, we would love to earn medals for our state,” smiles Manisha. While the shooting comes to a close, what the students take with them — ambition and goal setting — will surely last a lifetime