Each student takes a deep breath. The butt of the .22 caliber rifle rests on the shoulder of their padded protective jacket. Squinting through the tiny lens on top of the gun, they curl their fingers slightly over the cold metal trigger. A series of bangs rings out, and the target — a piece of paper with a series of concentric circles about 20 feet away — is riddled with bullet holes.
For many of these students, this is the first day in their life they are shooting a gun. But it likely won’t be their last. Every Monday, the SUNY Plattsburgh Marksmanship Club drives excited participants to the Plattsburgh Rod and Gun Club. The trainers there then help students learn the basics of aiming and firing rifles, guiding them from the moment they insert the bullet into the gun to the split second when the bullet rips through the paper target.
“It really is a thrilling experience,” Senior Beenish Shahzad said. “The trainers really make sure you understand what you’re doing, and the entire process is fascinating.”
The SUNY Plattsburgh Marksmanship Club is sponsored by the SUNY Plattsburgh Club Sports Department. They compete in the Mid-Atlantic Rifle Conference (MAC) against other universities such as SUNY Maritime, SUNY Stony Brook, Hofstra, Canisius, Yale, MIT, Wentworth, US Coast Guard and John Jay The club also competes in the National Rifle League and in rifle matches hosted by the Plattsburgh Rod and Gun Club.
According to the Plattsburgh Rod and Gun Club website: “The Cardinals have enjoyed some great success over the past four years, qualifying for the MAC Championships four years in a row, in both air rifle and smallbore, taking the championship in air rifle in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and in smallbore in 2019. During the 2018-19 school year the team ended the season with a 7-2 record in smallbore tied for second overall in the MAC. They have also finished 3rd in the National Rifle League, Eastern Division three years in a row, and 3rd overall in the Eastern Conference in 2019. Several of its students have been named to the All Academic Team for the MAC Conference.”
The club is coached by Peter C. Visconti, who was named head coach in 2017. Visconti was a member of four of St. John University’s NCAA championship invitations from 1984-87 and a member of four MAC championship teams. Visconti also earned individual all-conference honors and started his shooting career for NHP Memorial HS where he still holds the prone average record.
Jamal Dornellian, a member of the Marksmanship Club who helps drive participants to the shooting range for practice, emphasizes the lessons one can learn from being in the club.
“I like that the club makes a person feel like it’s their second home or family,” Dornellian said. “Also I like that being around guns teaches you safety protocols and makes you understand the little things in life like being on your guard.”
Members practice indoors with .22 caliber or air rifles. New students are invited to join anytime. All equipment is provided for and there is no cost or experience necessary.