Samantha Peterson

Samantha Peterson raises her rifle to focus during the first home match of the season against West Virginia at the Nebraska Rifle Range on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Samantha Peterson has always enjoyed being outdoors. She doesn’t like sitting around, and the outdoors provide freedom for her to pursue hobbies like riding horses, hiking and skiing. She’s also got an itch for photography.

“I have a pretty cool camera setup that I like to get out and use occasionally,” Peterson said. “Honestly, I just like being outdoors a lot.”

Another outdoor activity Peterson enjoys is rifle. The senior from Minnesota earned first-team all-conference and second-team all-American honors in smallbore last season. She also competed at the USA Shooting National Championships in June and finished ninth in smallbore. 

Smallbore is one of two different categories in collegiate rifle. It uses a .22-caliber rifle and is the first part of the competition in collegiate matches. 

Smallbore features shooting from three positions 50 feet away from the target. The three positions are prone, kneeling and standing. In smallbore, athletes take 20 shots from each position. 

Air rifle, the other category, is standing only and consists of 60 shots from 10 meters away.

Peterson said that because of the differences between smallbore and air rifle — such as facing more recoil in smallbore or staying in one position for air rifle — the two categories require different mental approaches.   

“As soon as I am done with my smallbore match, during that break I need to set up for air rifle, but I also need to take a good 5-10 minutes to listen to music and convert my mindset over to air rifle,” she said. “I do find a big mindset change because air rifle is standing only, so it’s a longer period of time in standing.”

Peterson has been involved in rifle for around a decade, having got her start during middle school. 

“I honestly can’t really remember the first time that I shot a gun because my family has exposed me to them for so long,” she said, “and we have always been involved in the outdoors and hunting and fishing.”

Peterson started in rifle through an American Legion club in Minnesota, and she traveled around with her dad, competing in national matches. Peterson said that her participation in these matches is how she ended up being recruited. 

Before taking up rifle, Peterson played softball and soccer when she was younger. She also participated in competitive dance for five years. 

“My mom kind of took care of the competitive dance thing,” she said, “and then I switched over to rifle, and it was my dad’s turn to help out with sports there.”

Pete Durben, one of Peterson’s coaches at the American Legion club, used to compete internationally in rifle, spending several years on the national team and qualifying for one Olympic team. After leaving the rifle scene for several years, he took up coaching around eight years ago when someone he knew from his competition days asked him to help with the club. 

Durben credits Peterson as a big reason why he decided to continue coaching. 

“Initially it was ‘I’m just going to help a little bit,’” he said. “But seeing her dedication inspired me to continue on and to show her and some other ones on the team what they could get out of this sport. She had the drive to put in the extra effort, and she’s very dedicated. At that early age, I could see she had that potential to take this very far, and she did.” 

Despite rifle being a team sport, Peterson enjoys that there is still an individual aspect to the game. She said she likes that there are always chances to improve. 

Peterson said her pre-match routine really begins once the team walks into the airport to head to a match. That’s when she focuses on preparing herself mentally so she’s ready to go by the time the match starts. However, she begins to prepare for the upcoming match days in advance, keeping track of what she eats and getting ahead on schoolwork so she doesn’t have to worry about it during the competition.

Instead of monitoring what kinds of foods and drinks she’s consuming during the season, Peterson said it’s more important to stick to patterns and not make any drastic changes to her eating habits. 

“If you drink coffee, you don’t have to stop drinking coffee just because there’s a match coming up,” she said.  “It would actually probably harm you if you stopped it because your body is used to it already.”

For her senior season, Peterson said she’s focusing on continuing to improve in air rifle because she’s stronger at smallbore and enjoys that category more than air rifle. 

Durben said one of Peterson’s biggest strengths is a strong emotional maturity and that she doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her or get worked up over anything. She’s also willing to help her teammates improve, rather than just focusing on herself. 

He said one of his biggest focuses as a coach is to show people like Peterson what kind of opportunities rifle can provide if they put in the work and the effort. This could include competing in college, nationally and internationally. 

“That’s what Samantha did,” Durben said. “She went to college and has done very well there, and she’s done international competitions. It’s really nice to see, and it basically inspires me to continue with coaching, working with people like her.”

Peterson’s biggest goal for her final collegiate season is just letting herself perform. 

“I have spent the past three years gaining experience and training and figuring things out, so I like where I’m at in my senior season because I truly want to have fun with it,” she said. “I won’t settle in rifle, but I am happy with the things I have achieved, and I want to achieve a few more before I’m done.”