You may have heard names like Grace O’Malley, Scáthach of Skye, and Tomoe Gozen — but are you familiar with Heather Miller? If not, bring it in and take a knee. We’re gonna learn you up. It’ll be worth your time, promise. See, in an arena where terms like “female competition shooters”, “female 3 gun shooters”, and “professional female shooters” are most commonly used, we prefer to use champion shooters. Because, male, female, or helisexual, a badass shooter is a badass shooter regardless of the plumbing on board. Read on and we’ll introduce you to one.
*This article originally ran Friday, March 8, 2019. However, Miller and her compatriots (champion shooters all!) recently crushed it at the 2019 IPSC Rifle World Shoot in Sweden so it seemed apropos to bring it back. We’re going to need to do a follow-up after Team USA visited Scandinavia, after all!
3 Gun Heather: Burning it down since she was a kid
An interview with champion competition shooter, adventuress, and outdoorswoman Heather Miller
Several months ago Heather Miller and her team of champion shooters brought home the silver in the 2018 IPSC World Shotgun Championship (Châteauroux, France June 3-10). Not only was this the first time a women’s open team has represented the United States at the championship, but it was also Miller’s first International Shoot. To commemorate such an accomplishment, and just ‘cuz we think she’s awesome, we scored an interview with Miller. Here’s our all-inclusive (or mostly inclusive anyway) interview with Miller. Read it. See where it all began: the inspiration, the passion, and of course, what it was like shooting at the international level while representing the USA!
Ashley: Where did you get your passion for shooting?
Miller: My love of firearms comes straight from my family. I’d always liked shotguns for hunting, but it wasn’t my go-to for fun in the beginning. Little did I know it would become one of my favorite firearms. The first time I shot a gun, I was four years old. Well, I say I shot a gun, but it was more like my dad wrapped me around it and held onto it.
My dad gave me a very positive experience with firearms, and it started out with daddy-daughter days. Later, I got to go with the boys (and I always wanted to hang out with the boys and not the girls). So, if I could get away with my dad and my brother, and go to the range, that was a well-spent day as a kid.
There’s a notorious picture of me at eight years old with my Red Ryder BB gun and my buck-skinning knife (because that’s what I wanted for Christmas), along with my Barbies and my ponies. I was always torn between being “girly” and being a tomboy, so I decided to be both. I wanted a Red Ryder BB gun and a buck skinning knife because at eight years old, I was finally old enough to go hunting with my dad.
My dad was great, he was really good about letting me go and passing down the family traditions that he was raised with. He also gave me the opportunity to participate as much as I could.
Let’s be honest, women haven’t much been seen as the type of people who typically shoot guns, much less compete with them effectively. Few people know as many names of women champion shooters as they do men (though that awareness is steadily improving!). As a female interviewer who loves guns just as much as her subject — I can’t shoot as well as her, but I’d sure like to get there. I can tell you it’s quite inspiring to find a woman with the passion and skills to show the world that women can shoot too. Knowing that women have rarely been taken as seriously as men in the shooting world, I — we — had to ask where she drew her motivation, and what the catalyst was that started it.
Ashley: Where did you get your inspiration for competitive shooting?
Miller: Getting into shooting was definitely by my family, but getting into competitive shooting was absolutely 100% women. It was actually a USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) magazine. I saw this cover girl, and the biggest thing for me— it wasn’t a ‘hot babe.’ I mean she was a beautiful woman, but it wasn’t just a bikini babe. It wasn’t a gun bunny posing sexy with a gun. It was an awesome action shot of this girl, dominating shooting and −looks amazing! I knew then that’s what I wanted to be. I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I want to do that!
My generation, I remember Tomb Raider. I was obsessed with Tomb Raider. I wanted to be Tomb Raider; I wanted to go into archeology. I wanted to have two guns on my hips and also find great archeological discoveries and save the world. Seeing that pro shooter on the cover of that magazine was the first time I’d seen it in real life.
That was the trigger. After that, it was just finding the opportunity to do it.
Not only did Heather’s inspiration strike her passion, but it landed her in a pretty sweet spot, that anyone (men and women alike) should be proud to find themselves in. With that being said, we wanted to know how exactly Heather found herself on the USA Women’s open team.
Ashley: How did you make it to the USA Women’s open team?
Miller: How I got picked for the lady’s open team? It’s kind of funny. When it comes to the world Shotgun shoot, it’s basically the top female competitors in the US. Each one of us submits the division of our choosing. It was funny, because I actually wanted to be on the Lady’s Standard team because I shoot for Benelli USA and I love my Benelli M2. I have a terrible obsession about my Benelli shotgun. I wanted to be on the Lady’s Standard team, but our lady’s standard team from two years previously, [had] seniority as far as the top pick, and all the women wanted to shoot it again this year, so the same team went.
I could have submitted and shot Standard Division, but I wouldn’t have been on team USA, I could have been picked as an alternative, but not the team. So I submitted for that, and I submitted for a couple of different divisions. Well actually I will say I submitted every division but Open because shooting Open Division compared to what I normally shoot was a completely different platform (like learning how to play a new instrument almost).
So, they reached out and said, “The US is only going to get Open and Standard Divisions, and we really want you to compete on the Women’s Open team. We think you are capable, but we understand you don’t necessarily want to shoot Open.”
Well, if me competing in Open division means the US will do well, then yes I’ll do it. Within a matter of minutes, I reached out Dissident Arms to start building an Open shotgun for me.
It’s one thing to shoot as a hobby. It’s another to compete internationally — even for seasoned champion shooters who are comfortable competing “at home”. There’s a lot to be said for it though, especially if you can get someone to sponsor your shooting vacation—now that’s a dream come true! Since Heather is someone who got the chance to do just that, we asked her what it was like.
Ashley: What was it like shooting at an international competition?
Miller: It’s EPIC! The opportunity to represent your country and shoot with the world’s finest competitors is the most incredible experience. I had so much fun listening to all the different languages, learning about different customs, and learning about their awful gun laws.
I was die-hard set on going this year because I skipped the opportunity to go a few years back. I had just been picked up with Team Benelli, and they had asked if I wanted to go and if I wanted to be on the lady’s’ standard team, or compete.
I was a little bit younger, and I looked at it as—going to Italy! It was in Italy that year—and It was so expensive and I was the “new guy” with team Benelli. At that point, I was now officially pro. And at that point, I was like, ‘oh boy.’ I wasn’t quite sure how to ask for sponsorship or support. Living on a poor single girl budget, I decided not to go, and I regretted it. That was in 2015. I regretted it terribly for years, and so many great competitors went but me—as far as the top ladies—and everyone was like, “Why didn’t you go to the world shoot?”
Never again—the next time I’m going! And I went all in this year. I went out there by myself and met up with the rest of the Team in Châteauroux. Tried to turn it into as much of a shooting trip and mini-vacation as I could. It was extraordinary.
Ashley: Did you ever imagine you’d be shooting competitively, not just in the US, but also internationally?
Miller: No! No! It was completely surreal.
I had the pleasure, when we got to the competition—they have different mixed squads—my squad was the ladies open Russian team and the French team.
The Russians always win open division. That’s who we were planning on beating, and that’s definitely the competition to beat. And our Russian competitors, that’s all they do. They train day in, and day out, they have a coach that comes with them, watching like a gymnastics squad, and he helps them throughout the competition. I would say, outside of the US, these other teams from a lot of the other countries, they have their own coach there, and it was so funny because, from the US, we’re like, “what, a coach?”
No matter what you shoot, the biggest question most shooters ask themselves is, “how can I do better?” We wanted to know if something similar ran through Heather’s mind when she’s competing. She’s already pretty awesome in our book.
Ashley: What was going through your mind while you were competing at the Shotgun Championship?
Miller: Whether or not I’m competing [well].
When I’m on my A-game, I shut my mind up. That, to me, is my biggest battle, is getting my brain to stop thinking, stop talking, to shut up. For me, when I get up to the line, I start clearing my head, I look at the stage, and I’m going over what I’m going to do next, and I’m blocking out every other thought and trying to stay as focused as possible. And it really does get to the point where I hear almost nothing until something goes wrong. Then it’s, ‘fix this, do that, go there, okay recover here, ah you shouldn’t have done that, okay go back,’ which is all the wrong stuff to think. Most times I pull it together.
My thing is just follow-through, be deliberate. A problem I had, and anyone who has ever shot any level of competition has done this—it’s when the wheels fall off the bus kind of thing. You screw up one thing, and you kind of start to panic and your mind wants to wander on that thing that you just did a half-second ago, and it literally does you no good. It works great for life, you know when bad s*** happens. It does no good to reflect on it in life, you can learn from it, but you have to learn from it later. When it’s in the heat of the moment, you just have to drive forward, be deliberate, and execute. And in my mind, it’s ‘keep running.’
Ashley: Was there anything you wished you’d known before you went to the World Shoot?
Miller: The biggest thing was not to believe everything I’d heard. So before I went to the World Shoot, and due to past World shoots—it really depends on what country you compete in—some of the rules can be slightly different. So, with this range, and there in France—the facilities. There were certain rules I thought I had to worry about, certain very strict rules about the muzzle, and….to put this short; I wouldn’t have believed all the shooting myths I heard. And the shooting myths were just things that had happened to other people at other competitions, and I took it as the gospel. Fortunately, when I showed up, I started asking questions, and was told, “Ohhh no, no, no, that only applies in Italy,” “Don’t do this,” “That’s not right,” “You’ll be fine.” It was just, ask more questions and don’t believe the myths you’re told.
If you’ve never been a part of competitive shooting, you might be interested to know it’s not just the competition that makes it fun. Yes, we all love the smell of gunpowder in the morning, but there are many other aspects that attract, retain, even compel some shooters. You know we had to ask Heather for her opinion.
Ashley: What do you love most about competing?
Miller: What I think, with the shooting sports, and what’s unique about it, like some other sports is: nobody does it for you. It’s not a team sport, but we’re very much a family. We go to extraordinary lengths to help our direct competition perform better. But when the timer goes off, nobody else is going to go out there and pull the trigger for you. No one is going to fix your malfunctions. It’s up to you to complete that, whether it’s a 30-second course or a 4-minute course of fire. It’s you, It’s your decision making. And it’s all in your head.
Shooting is a very mental sport. Everybody says different things go through their head. Some people say it’s a solid [beep], a high pitch ring or some people have a flood of thoughts.
For me, it helped me overcome a lot of the insecurities that I had. It improved my ability to problem-solve and make important decisions in quick time. This eventually helped me to move into the career path I wanted instead to drive forward into the type of life I wanted to live. It helped me become the woman I am today.
I’d love to eventually get back into teaching more. I’d love to teach full time, sharing that with more women, because I feel there are still so many women out there that were just like me, that haven’t quite tapped into themselves fully. They don’t know how strong or confident they could be. And for me, the shooting sport was that trigger.
I was hooked the first competition I went to.
I love the people, I really do. It’s a lot more social than the outside public thinks. What I love is it takes so many different people from different walks of life and backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures, and it brings them all together with one combined shared passion.
I’ve been on squads before where you’ve got a 70-year-old guy who is, I don’t know a retired accountant, a couple of Green Berets, a police officer and then a bookkeeper, a secretary, and a piano teacher. And surprisingly, you would think just because everybody shoots, you would naturally assume that they all have the same political views, which is not generally true. I mean there’s a lot of things we have in common, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we are voting for the same people. And so it takes this mix of people.
You only spend so much time actually shooting and the rest of the time is resetting the stage for the next shooter. So, you get a lot of downtimes to talk with your fellow competitors, and that’s one of the things I loved about it. For me, it was very social, and I had never found a group of people I wanted to be around more. I was like, ‘I found my people’. I love the people. To me there’s a weekend no better spent when you’re outside all day with pretty awesome people, doing something that you all enjoy and love.
One of the coolest things about the shooting sport compared to other sports is, if you’re a basketball player, you don’t just go out there and play against Michael Jordan. In the shooting sport, you as a complete amateur that is not on the pro level, you can go and sign up to compete at a major competition. You might be squadded with the greatest male and female competitors in the world. You actually get to talk to them and actually gain skills from them, and get to watch the best perform, and then annoy them by asking them too many questions later.
If you love shooting, as a woman, you might find it a bit intimidating to get into the competitive side of things. So, as someone who can speak from experience, we wanted to know Heather’s take on women who want to compete.
Ashley: Any advice you’d give to the young girls or women who might be interested in starting to compete?
Miller: Reach out! People are really afraid to reach out and ask questions, but trust me, we were all happy to share advice. Use social media and reach out to your fellow competitors. Use the network. Because we are still a pretty small group if there’s a woman that shoots consistently, or at least shows up to matches a few times a year, chances are, we probably run into each other. We all know each other, and we love to help, so I would definitely reach out to that.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking your guy friends (which you shouldn’t, guys are just as happy to see you there as the gals), just reach out to your ladies’ network. They’ve gone through what any new shooter would go through. They have answers to the questions that you’re looking for, and we’re all excited to share it because we were all in the same shoes at one point.
Ashley: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Miller: Words don’t fully captivate that emotion and that feeling of standing there, representing your country and especially being on team USA. I felt proud and angry at the same time, standing on the slightly lower podium than first place. Hearing them play the Russian national anthem instead of our National anthem, it hit me in a level that nothing has ever hit me before. That was a feeling I had not ever experienced: immense pride and also a level of disappointment. But of all the things, I was happy, we were stoked. We were stoked that we got second, but man I really wanted to get first. All I can think was, next time we’ve got you guys. We’re going to take the big trophy, and everyone is going to get sick of hearing the US National Anthem.
The Ladies Open Team: international champion shooters.
I have to say, it was a great experience catching up with Miller. She’s someone we look up to, on a personal level and as a ferocious but extraordinarily friendly shooter.
We think you’re awesome Heather and know you’ll continue to kill it out there! You really are an inspiration to other women and the young girls who want to shoot like you one day. We couldn’t be more proud to know ya!
Find all of Heather’s various endeavors here: http://bit.ly/3GunHeatherM
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