Prone to Success

Luckily the Men’s Prone Rifle competition at World Cup USA was April 2.

A day earlier on April Fool’s Day and Nick Mowrer may have never lived down the jokes. The lanky, mild-mannered guy from a small town in Montana usually doesn’t draw too much attention to himself – he hopes his shooting does the talking. A 2012 Olympian in 50m Men’s Free Pistol, Mowrer represented the United States on the largest stage possible, but now he’s garnering more attention for something none of his U.S. teammates have ever done before.

Mowrer, 25, qualified for the U.S. Prone Rifle Team to compete at the ISSF World Cup in Fort Benning, Ga., making him the first athlete to compete in two entirely different disciplines on an international level. To top it off, he won a bronze medal doing so.

“I think a lot of the community – not to be hasty or anything – but a lot of them thought it was a joke,” Mowrer said, matter-of-factly. “Straight up thought - it couldn’t be serious that a pistol shooter made the rifle team. And I’m sure it would be the other way too – I know it would be the other way if a rifle shooter made the pistol team or the shotgun team or any combination thereof. It seems very…odd. People were confronting me to confirm the story. I think they thought it might have almost been an April Fool’s thing; like it was just a news release to see how everyone would react.”

But it was no joke - his results prove it wasn’t even pure luck. There was no Olympic qualification on the line – Mowrer, an Olympic Training Center Resident Athlete for pistol just entered the U.S. Rifle Selection Match for the reason he and most shooters get into this sport – Fun.

“I’ve been shooting Prone for quite a while now and learned (Resident Athletes) couldn’t train on the range the week of the rifle match so I asked if I could shoot rifle and they said I could if I paid my entry, so I did. Paid my entry fee, shot the match and made the team. And to be perfectly honest, making the team in the first place was kind of an accident. There’s a large amount of testing and work that goes into it. In Prone, the easiest part of it is your position. The hardest part is getting your ammo to work with the gun, finding a barrel that shoots consistently all the time, and everything that goes into that. To throw some stuff together randomly and lay down on the firing line and make the team is honestly, pretty much an accident…but it worked out. So after I made the team, it was like ‘Okay, I can’t really rely on luck anymore. I need to actually lie down and figure some stuff out so I don’t embarrass myself going to the next match.’”

Mowrer finished in third place behind Olympians Michael McPhail and Eric Uptagrafft to secure the final spot on the U.S. Prone team. Just a week later, Mowrer left to compete in Air Pistol at the Bavarian Airgun Championships and found he had to confirm his Prone Rifle Team status to curious international competitors. Even when he returned home to the U.S., the questions continued.

“At that point people were like ‘Oh, he got lucky’ and that’s a natural reaction for people in general to justify it. When I actually accepted the spot on the team, people were kind of up in arms – ‘Are you going to actually accept the spot? You just shot the match for fun, but now you actually made the team. Are you going to pursue that or you just messing with us and sticking with pistol?’ My thought process for accepting the spot on the team was that it was experience. The World Cup is just another opportunity to compete against the best shooters in the world – why does it matter if it’s rifle, pistol, shotgun, underwater basket weaving – it doesn’t matter. You’re still competing with the best in that field and I wanted the experience no matter what.”

Prior to being named to the Prone Rifle Team, Mowrer would pick up his rifle perhaps once a week; using it for a mental and physical break – or even when he was just bored during his pistol training.

“My primary focus is pistol. That’s why I’m here. I was shooting as much pistol as I normally would. The only thing was that I was staying extra – like putting in extra hours after work. Instead of a 9-5, I was staying until 9:30 or 10 at night to square away my rifle,” he said. Once he decided to accept the team appointment, Mowrer “stepped up training, just a little bit,” as he called it.

 “After I made the team, I actually got pretty stupid with it and was training WAY too much (for rifle). I would lie down and would literally shoot 300 rounds a session, which is dumb. There were even days I was probably getting closer to 400. I was shooting a lot. I guess there are lots of reasons for that. I spent a considerable amount of time getting my ammo squared away, getting my rifle squared away and refining my position to the point I felt really comfortable and confident with it. I shot a lot of rifle in order to do that.”

Heading into the World Cup, Mowrer would once again wear the shooting jacket he got from former Resident Athlete Matt Wallace, a hand-me-down that no longer fit him.  “I didn’t pay a dime for it,” Mowrer said. “The rifle is kind of a conglomerate – quite a few people’s hands are part of the rifle. (U.S. teammate Matt) Emmons is one of the biggest ones who helped me put the rifle together and set me up with the equipment. I really used his expertise to make a rifle that shot well.”

Practiced and prepared, Mowrer was still nervous entering Qualification. Once he realized he had finished in seventh place and secured a spot in the Finals, the emotions began to set in.

“I was quivering. I was really excited. The only thing I can compare it to is like when I made the Olympic Team – nervous, but kind of really happy; a run of weird emotions and there’s just the turmoil of not knowing. Once I knew, once everything was said and done [in Qualification], it was like ‘Okay, calm down’ and it was almost instantly – phew, now let’s go shoot a Final. I got a shot at medals now so let’s go get some freakin’ medals.”

Watch the ISSF TV highlights from the match – Mowrer went toe-to-toe with the best competitors in the world. As each competitor was introduced, a box with a list of his international accomplishments and medals in Prone were shown below each competitor’s name. The box below Mowrer’s name was blank.

Normally reserved on the line, Mowrer excitedly pumped his fist in the air following his third-place finish.

“I went in with the utmost confidence but in the back of your mind you’re like ‘I’m not prepared to do this, I don’t have everything these shooters have.’ To go in there and win bronze – yeah, I wanted gold, I wanted gold bad – but to come out with a medal, a bronze, I was super happy, I was excited because for crying out loud, I just beat Warren Potent (AUS) – phenomenal Prone shooter who has umpteen thousand accomplishments in Prone and I just beat him in a Final. Heck yeah I’m going to celebrate that.”

Bombarded by well-wishers following the match, Mowrer said he couldn’t even make it to all the competitors to shake their hands and congratulate them.

“Henri [Junghaenel – Prone gold medalist and ISSF Shooter of the Year] told me – because I actually made it to him to shake his hand – he’s like ‘Congratulations. Man, that was great shooting. The whole time you were giving me motivation. I was just lying there, executing the hardest shots I could possibly execute because there’s no way I’m letting a pistol shooter beat me!’”

Mowrer’s bronze-medal win also gives him the additional points to receive his U.S. Distinguished International Shooter Badge through the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Mowrer also won the Distinguished Rifleman Badge from the Civilian Marksmanship Program before he was 16 years old and received his Distinguished Pistol Badge this past year. At age 26, CMP officials believe he is the youngest shooter to become Triple Distinguished.

Mowrer hopes to once again represent the U.S. internationally in pistol AND rifle  and will have to qualify for the chance to do so at the U.S. World Championship Selection Match back in Fort Benning in May.

“I don’t plan on letting either one go at this point; that’s just not me. I can’t focus on just one, I’m too ADD for that,” Mowrer said. “My focus is still going to be pistol; I still want a medal at the Olympics in 50m Free Pistol, that’s what I actually love to do. Going to keep fighting for that, but now that I have a little more support from USA Shooting and, well, everyone, and it makes it a little easier to also shoot rifle and be a little more diverse working with both of the disciplines.”

Watch the highlights of the Men's Prone Rifle competition below.