OAKDALE -- Paulette Graham cradles her over-and-under shotgun in her left arm, the breech open. She puts in two shells, birdshot, closes the breech and raises the stock to her cheek. The gun is level, maybe angled a trifle down.
"Pull!" she commands.
Two orange clay targets erupt simultaneously, one going right and the other left, making about a 35-degree angle. The shotgun sounds like a cannon, even with earplugs. The target on the right explodes in a cloud of reddish dust. Graham aims the second shot before the recoil ends. The second shot is maybe a quarter of a second after the first. The second target is split into three pieces.
Graham, 42, is a good shot, good enough to be ranked No. 9 overall among American women. It's a ranking earned by taking scores from competitions. She won the national championship for women in the doubles category last year in Sparta, Ill.
She has reached the summit of her passion for trap shooting. At that last Grand National tournament, she also tied for first in two other categories before losing in shootoffs to two of America's top-rated women. The Sparta gathering is billed as the Super Bowl of shooting and usually draws more than 6,000 contestants.
As good as she has become, Graham is modest about her success.
"There are a lot of people a lot better than me," she says.
Graham regrets her father didn't live to see her hit 100 in a row. She started shooting as a child, going dove hunting with her father and brother.
"I was a terrible shot," she says. "But I loved pulling the trigger and smelling the gunpowder."
She still remembers the joys of family trips as a youth, "waiting in duck blinds with the smell of mildewy water."
Shooting gets into the blood. Her ability may be a matter of blood, too.
Her father, Don Graham, taught her one of shooting's most important lessons: "Keep your head on the gun."
"Dad taught us everything," Graham says. "I finessed what he taught by taking lessons from the best."
She gives lessons, too. Some are informal, and people sometimes seek her out. An all-day session could run $300 or more. She once coached the Oakdale High shooting team, the same team she was a part of in high school.
She says she has improved by learning to "visualize the goal."
At one of her most recent tournaments in California, Graham visualized her way to score 104 out of 105. She's part of an otherwise all-male team and holds her own with the best. There are no ladies tees in shooting. When Graham shoots with her valley team from Oakdale, the only thing that counts is her score.
As she looks downrange to where the targets will come, she offers another shooter a tip on leading targets. If the painted clay disk is traveling to the shooter's right, look at the disk like a clock and shoot at 2 o'clock. If it's going left, shoot at 10 o'clock.
One other thing, she stresses, hit the target on the way up. Going down is much tougher.
Teaching comes naturally to her. She's a history teacher at Waterford Middle School.
But shooting is her first love.
"I was born a century too late," she laments.
She wishes she could have met Annie Oakley, or better still, be the sharpshooter and travel with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
"She was the best," Graham proclaims. "She met her husband at a shooting match. She beat him, and then they started dating."
That reminds her of another of her father's teachings: "Always be a lady, but don't act like a girl."
Graham says that meant no squealing or whining.
Graham knows best. Who would argue with a sharpshooter who can knock down two pigeons at a time?
Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at email@example.com or at 578-2311.