A photo of Aimee Williams in action could be used as a textbook illustration for focused energy and concentration. She personifies effort, spirit and achievement, all wrapped up in a high-energy, 5-foot 1-inch pixie frame. From a humble start – plinking with her twin sons on Mother’s Day in 2012 – she shot her first Steel Challenge match in the spring of 2013 at the Nampa Rod and Gun Club in Nampa, Idaho. By 2015, she’d placed first in the Ladies Division in rifle, pistol or overall at nearly 20 local competitions.
Humble but personable, she has quickly become one of the favorites of other shooters on the competition circuit, and has proven to be popular with sponsors as well. Her swift success story is also a notable opposite of the stereotypes often trotted out by the anti-gun crowd. Although not unfamiliar with guns, Aimee had only shot them a few times while in her twenties.
The impetus to do so grew out of a desire to start a hobby of her own, since her sons would soon be leaving the nest. At first, her children were incredulous about the sports shooting focus, but soon progressed to bragging about their mother, re-posting her photos on social media and generally playing up her maternal awesomeness.
MUCH OF AIMEE’S FORMAL TRAINING came from Ron Stricklin, with whom she began working in 2015. As she continued competing, she discovered that most of her fellow shooters were quite willing to help her improve by sharing what they knew, even though she would be competing directly against them later.
The industry supporting the shooting sports proved very generous with equipment as well. After borrowing guns for her first few competitive efforts, Aimee finally got some of her own. Her first major event was the 2013 Ruger Rimfire Challenge held in Parma, Idaho, and one of the local gun stores built a 10/22 rifle for her to compete in that match. After shooting the discipline, Aimee was hooked and wanted to really learn how to shoot a rifle.
Then somebody spoke to Vortex Optics, and they sent her a red dot sight. Soon after, Tactical Solutions’ Mike Wirth found her and introduced her to Chet Alvord, one of the principals of that company. Later, she met the Tandemkross team at SHOT Show, and her guns got upgraded.
With Tactical Solutions and, later, Volquartsen Firearms providing rimfire guns, Aimee was set for both Steel Challenge and Rimfire Challenge, two disciplines that differ primarily in the target configuration and number of shots permitted.
With the help of Adaptive Graphx, a Cerakote specialist, she transformed her guns into functioning purplehued works of art to match her unique purple jersey. Even when she is part of a team with a standard visual scheme, Aimee has always worked in her own distinctive colors as a visual reminder of her easily identifiable “call sign,” PurpleVortexGirl, in honor of her first sponsor.
Aimee’s current sponsors also include Steel Target Paint, Tandemkross, Larry’s Sporting Goods and Nanuk gun cases. Gemtech supplies her high-grade rimfire ammunition. In 2016, Focus Vision Therapy helped her transition from shooting with one eye open to two eyes open.
Most recently, she started shooting a .45 ACP gas-operated carbine made by Flint River Armory in Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC) for Steel Challenge and USPSA. The .45 is a stand-in for the eventual 9mm model, which isn’t yet produced. She chose the CSA45 in large part due to the extra-mild recoil, but Aimee has fired more powerful guns, including a 50 MBG rifle.
A RIMFIRE CHALLENGE MATCH is shot with both a .22 rifle and a .22 pistol. Each competitor is allowed eleven rounds and shoots five to seven static plates, hoping to attain the fastest time. In Steel Challenge, eight standard stages with five steel plates each require mostly dexterity and practice. Rimfire Challenge stages vary in arrangement, with the plates in unpredictable configurations, so quick thinking is also required.
Aimee shoots both types of competition, and plans to shoot PCC matches and Steel Challenge/USPSA in the near future. From January through mid-March, Aimee practices weekly at a local indoor range. Then her outdoor practice season begins.
Outdoor practice usually consists of 500 rounds of pre-planned and dedicated practice. In August of 2015, she purchased her own set of steel targets, using them to set up any one of the eight stages for Steel Challenge, as well as configurations mimicking NSSF Rimfire Challenge layouts.
That method of “reconnaissance by fire” gives her a leg up on the less dedicated opponents. Although I already knew her to be an excellent shot, she has surprised even me. When I was testing a CAA Roni 9mm Glock conversion to a carbine at the range, I let her try it. She was able to hit steel consistently all the way out to 175 yards from a standing position, while my best efforts topped out at 150 yards from the bench.
Her rapid ascent through the competition ranks is due to not only a large measure of natural talent, but also to the more than 30,000 rounds she fires annually in practice. She may be small, but she’s wiry and seemingly indefatigable in practice and competition. Her ability to attract a variety of sponsors comes from her treating the shooting circuit seriously and doing a yeoman’s job of promoting her growing list of supporters. To that end, Aimee’s social media channels are updated nearly weekly with images, video, commentaries and testimonials.
HER ATTRACTION TO THE SHOOTING sports is simple. “I want to get better,” Aimee told me. “I have fun. I like meeting new people. I like learning and improving myself. I like to be challenged.” And challenged she has been, with occasional equipment malfunctions, inclement and scorching weather in turns, long solo drives through both isolated landscapes and traffic-filled urban jungles. In other words, the usual daily issues faced by all competition shooters.
To offset those potential annoyances, she’s developed a strong camaraderie among her fellow shooters with no geographic or age divisions, and has found willing assistance in gun smithing, learning and logistics. These positives far outweigh the negatives, and make the shooting sports a welcoming domain for Aimee and many others.
In my work with Aimee, I found her to be remarkably patient and even-tempered. Those qualities have obviously served her well in both learning and the training, enabling steady incremental improvements from the almost-zero baseline of 2012. She’s unassuming, and acts perpetually surprised that people want to watch her shoot, to support her with products and materials, and to have pictures taken with her as if she’s a celebrity. The fact that she actually is a celebrity to fans of the shooting sports never enters her mind.
In the near future, I expect Aimee to rise through the ranks of the top national shooters. She has the technical ability, the drive and the dedication to self-improvement that make merely good shooters into competition winners.
Story and Photos by Oleg Volk