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Sierra Vista’s Adam Saathoff is ranked among the 10 best running target shooters of air rifles in the world.

A Sierra Vista teen-ager is well on his way to becoming the world’s best air rifle shooter.

We’re not talking BB guns here.

Adam Saathoff, 19, competes with costly, Austrian-made CO2-powered rifles capable of putting every shot into the same hole.

What’s more, the targets in the Olympic-style events he enters – and usually wins – are not stationary. They move, and before they roll out of sight, he must try to put 60 .177-caliber pellets into X-rings that are not much bigger than the projectiles he is shooting. For 30 of those shots, the targets are moving slowly. They are speeded up for next 30.

But that’s not all. Olympic air rifle shooting also requires that the shooter mount the rifle in a precise manner, which takes skill in itself.

Saathoff is ranked among the 10 best running target shooters in the world after finishing No. 1 in this summer’s five-country World Cup circuit. He also holds three U.S. records for air rifle competition.

Shooting is something he has been doing nearly all his life, and doing it well.

His father, Cochise College instructor, taxidermist and big game hunting guide Bill Saathoff, had him shooting rifles as early as age 5.

“I gave up trying to outshoot him when he was about 9 years old,’ the father said.

At age 10, Adam Saathoff was hunting javelinas and deer. At 14, he had won his first Arizona State Championship smallbore silhouette match, a difficult event that is fired offhand at small, far-off targets.

By 16, he had set the smallbore silhouette course records at every shooting range in Arizona except the two – Globe and Yuma – where he has not competed.

In 1992, his success in silhouette shooting brought him an invitation to attend a shooters’ clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was introduced to shooting Olympic-style running targets with an air rifle.

“I loved it,’ Saathoff said.

After returning home, he and his father wrote to Olympics officials for specifications on international running target ranges, and then they built one at their home near Hereford. They also ordered his first international air rifle and scope. The scope’s reticle has a horizontal wire, and two vertical ones that allow shooters to judge how much to lead running targets. Total cost for rifle, scope and shooting range: $3,500.

“It was a lot of money, but we didn’t want to hold Adam back,’ Bill Saathoff said.

With just two weeks of practice on his at-home range, young Saathoff posted the best qualifying scores at the U.S. Nationals, and then went on to place third overall. Soon after that, he was second junior shooter at the U.S. Team trials.

That same month, he also won the Junior National 50-meter Smallbore Championships in California and the National Smallbore Silhouette Championships in Omaha, Neb.

He gained his World Cup title this summer through his aggregate score of shooting in:

* The U.S. World Cup at Fort Benning, Ga.

* The Championship of the Americas in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where he was on the three-man U.S. team that brought home the gold medal. He also won a silver medal in one individual event and eighth place in another.

* Two major matches in Barcelona, Spain. He placed ninth on the first trip, but when he returned for the World Championships, he placed fourth individually, and his team won the silver medal.

* Milan, Italy, where his team won the silver medal.

* Beijing.

Saathoff didn’t rest after his world tour.

Last month, he was the top medal winner at the U.S. Championships in Chino, Calif., winning 10 golds, two silvers, a bronze and the national title in 50-meter running target.

Saathoff is a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he is provided $100 a month, room and board. He shares a dorm room with the only other shooter in training.

On a typical day, he says, he spends four hours shooting and one hour practicing the mounting of his rifle. Working around that schedule, he attends classes at Pike’s Peak College under an Olympic Training Center grant.

On his winter vacations from college and Olympic training, he assists his father in guiding out-of-state hunters to white-tailed deer in the Huachuca and Chiricahua mountains.

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