[su_dropcap style=”flat”]W[/su_dropcap]hen Andy and Sheila Larrson married about three years ago, Andy was the proud owner of Skinner Sights, a small gun-sight-crafting business in rural St. Ignatius, Mont.
Sheila was not even a shooter. The manager of a jewelry store 40 miles away in the bustling city of Missoula, she was a self-professed “indoor girl.”
“I wear dresses and high heels and get my nails done,” she said. “I’m one of those kinds of girls, so it just wasn’t my personality.”
But Cupid must have had a Skinner Sight mounted to his bow. The two met, fell in love, and determined to forge a life together. Sheila chose Andy and St. Ignatius over jewelry and Missoula, and right after the wedding, the two ﬂew to Las Vegas.
But unlike most couples headed to the popular honeymoon destination, they were there for the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade, or SHOT, Show.
“We ﬂew to Vegas and walked into the show, and for her it was a little bit overwhelming,” Andy said. “We spent three days wandering the ﬂoor, meeting with my contacts. She was trying to decide whether she was onboard or not. She wanted to be, but this was all so foreign to her.”
But Andy had an ace up his sleeve in the form of someone he’d served beside on a shooter’s advisory board a decade before.
“I took her to the Barnes Bullet booth and introduced her to Coni Brooks,” he said. “And the two of them had a 30-minute conversation where they really connected. And when we walked away from there, Sheila said, ‘If Coni can do it, I can do it.’ She was very impressed with this little lady that was all ‘blinged’ up and had just been to Mozambique and shot a leopard. That was Sheila’s real inspiration moment.”
FOLLOWING THAT FIRST S.H.O.T. SHOW, the two ﬂew to Maui for an actual honeymoon, but once again, Andy found a way to incorporate the outdoor life into the proceedings.
“I set up a feral goat hunt with Maui Hunting Safaris. If you are going to take a girl from the jewelry store and get her into hunting (for the ﬁrst time), I ﬁgured Maui was the best place to do that.”
[Editor’s note: Well played, sir.]
And although Sheila was all for it, it wasn’t without some trepidation.
“I told the guide, ‘I have no idea how this is going to go,’” she recalled. “I could just end up in a puddle. But when you get out there with a guide whispering in your ear, you get in the zone. You’re focused, and everything else just kind of goes away.”
Sheila got her goat. The two hunted closer to home for the remainder of the year, and Sheila soon bagged a mule deer. They attended the 2015 SHOT Show the following January, and then the annual NRA meetings, which led to Sheila’s next step in her development, one that took the Larrsons to the Texas hill country.
“Remington had asked Coni to head up some women’s shooting initiatives,” said Andy, “and wanted to make a video down at the FTW Ranch. So Coni contacted Sheila.”
The Larrsons had met ranch owner Tim Fallon at the NRA show, and were impressed by what they’d heard. The course was FTW’s popular but intense SAAM (Sportsman’s AllTerrain, All-Weather Marksmanship) training for precision shooting and safari scenarios.
“It was a lot in just a short amount of time,” said Sheila, “but it gave me a ton of conﬁdence.”
During evenings and meals at the ranch, conversations naturally turned to hunting.
“The lodge is full of trophies,” said Andy, “and everybody is talking about the last time they were in Africa. There were all these stories being told, and Sheila was really inspired.
THE THREE DAYS IN SOUTH TEXAS also cemented the kinship between Sheila and Coni, and Sheila had truly caught hunting fever, a fact that manifested itself in a humorous way when the couple returned to Montana.
“By this time,” said Sheila, “I’m fully on board. He came home from work one day and found me binge-watching Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures.”
Soon, Sheila was putting everything she learned into practice. With Andy’s son Danny as a frequent and deft guide, Sheila quickly developed a broader set of hunting skills, such as adjusting for windage.
“I shot a deer at 330 yards in 30 mile-an-hour winds,” she said. “We’d been practicing the day before, and I was hitting steel at 700 yards in high winds aiming way oﬀ target, so I was feeing pretty conﬁdent. It’s always diﬀerent when you’re on an animal and not steel, but I got the deer.”
“One shot,” added Andy proudly. “Double-lunged it. A beautiful buck.”
One picture from that day was used in the 2016 Meopta scope catalog.
“We sent them to [PR consultant] Shannon Jackson,” said Andy, “She asked for permission and we said ‘Oh, sure,’ but didn’t know they were in there. We walked by the Meopta booth at SHOT in 2016, and this girl says, ‘Hey, you’re the lady in our catalog.’ And that was kinda fun.”
While at the FTW Ranch, everyone told Sheila that she needed to attend the Safari Club International (SCI) Show, which is held annually not long after SHOT. Again, fate intervened.
“When we got to the SCI Show,” said Andy, “I was thinking, ‘Let’s ﬁnd a good plains game hunt where Sheila can go and really get her feet wet in a concentrated environment.’”
Fallon, who was also at the SCI Show, advised the couple that Namibia would be a great choice.
“At that point,” Sheila said, “I didn’t know Namibia from the Congo, except for what Tim had told me.”
“I was looking for something that was low fence,” Andy added, “not a canned hunt, with free-range animals so you didn’t feel like you’d gone out into somebody’s pasture and shot a cow. We found Jaco van der Merwe and Namibia Safari Corporation to be really personable.”
That evening, Fallon got a group of friends together for dinner. Coni Brooks and the Larrsons joined in.
“We had booked our Africa hunt that day,” said Sheila, “and at dinner that night, I was excited to tell people about it. I didn’t even know who I was sitting beside, but the woman said ‘You’ve got to take a Blue Bag. Do you know about this?’ And I said ‘Not really.’”
The woman was Ellen Bell, and she began to tell her about the “Pay It Forward” program that she and her husband, Larry, sponsor for SCI in their daughter Amy’s name.
Amy Bell was a gifted horsewoman and hunter with a passion to serve disadvantaged people of all nations. When she passed away suddenly in May 2014, her parents decided SCI’s existing “Blue Bag” program would be a perfect way to perpetuate Amy’s philanthropic spirit.
“I felt immediately connected to Amy the minute I heard about it,” said Sheila. “I came back to the room and I looked it up online and read everything I could about it. Amy had been to Africa many times. She was a young, beautiful soul and they lost her too soon, so they sponsored the Blue Bag [program] in her name.”
“You ﬁll them full of whatever you want and give them to the kids,” explained Sheila. “Toys, candy, medical supplies, comfort items, pillows, blankets, soccer balls – anything that will help make their life better.”
“If you (ﬁll them) in-country,” adds Andy, “you’re also putting money into their economy. The idea is to help people, to show people that hunters care. If hunters are helping (them) be sustainable, it reduces poaching because hunters become more valuable than poachers. It’s better for the wildlife and the villages as well. If you leave a good taste, those kids will remember forever.”
THE NAMIBIAN HUNTS WERE A SUCCESS by any measure. The couple took a variety of African game, including gemsbok, zebra, kudu and wildebeest. But despite their shared accomplishment, it paled in comparison to distributing the contents of the SCI Amy Bell Blue Bags to the village children.
“It was a huge game-changer for me,” said Sheila. “It was the best part of Africa. Hunting was awesome, but the Blue Bags were better. I dragged those things through airports. They were 50 pounds each, and I was hauling them all over with the biggest smile on my face. I loved it.”
That’s not to say that Sheila has lost her passion for hunting. She and Andy have already booked a coastal black bear hunt for 2019 in Alaska, south of Juneau along the Inland Passage. The two will hunt out of skiﬀs along the edges of the coast during low tide. Wildlife conservation has also become a cause for Sheila, whose unique life perspective helps her understand both sides of the conversation.
“You listen to people talk about conservation,” she said, “and it doesn’t make much sense when you’re a nonhunter, because how is killing an animal helping to save animals? That used to be my mindset, so I really worked on educating myself on how that all works, and it’s pretty simple. It’s all part of the learning curve when you haven’t lived that way for years.”
“Part of it was wanting to be where my husband was, and wanting to be involved, and Coni sure helped. She was a huge catalyst. (When) I met Coni, we related on all kinds of levels, not just hunting. When you ﬁnd somebody that inspires you and can teach you – and has been through all those diﬀerent things – that really helps.
These days, Sheila is focused on her own version of paying it forward.
“I just started this three years ago. And what Coni did for me, I hope that I can inspire somebody else to realize that they can do it too. That’s what it’s all about – helping people ﬁnd their strength and give somebody else a little bit of inspiration.”
In three years, Sheila has gone from being a nonshooter to someone who plans international hunts. Sometimes she reﬂects on the days before her transition from “indoor girl” to African huntress.
“Back then, I would have thought ‘never in a million years,’” she said, “but now I never let the word ‘never’ come out of my mouth, because the next thing you know I’ll be doing it.”
“You are your own worst enemy if you put yourself in a box and decide ‘this is who I am,’ because you can be anybody. I can still be a ‘girly’ girl, I can still get my nails done, and I can still shoot a .300 Win. Mag. like a boss.” ASJ
STORY BY CRAIG HODGKINS PHOTOS BY THE RHODE FAMILY
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]f there is such a thing as “like at ﬁrst sight,” then Kim Rhode had me at “Hi.”
From the ﬁrst moments of our wide-ranging conversation (I can’t in good conscience call it an interview) at the Redlands Shooting Park, one of three Southern California ranges she uses for her daily training sessions, I felt like a member of the family.
Perhaps that feeling was enhanced because her mom, Sharon, had set up the meeting, and her dad, Richard, made our group a threesome, but the primary reason was her friendly demeanor and disarming personality.
Early on, we discovered that we were born in the same Southern California hospital, and that we both collect rare ﬁrst-edition children’s books. But just when I was starting to think we had a whole lot in common, I remembered that she is the one with six Olympic shooting medals.
RHODE WON HER FIRST WORLD skeet championship when she was 13, but her shooting passion – and skill – manifested itself long before that. Like many people, she got into shooting and hunting because of her family’s involvement. One year, the Rhode clan traveled to Yuma, Ariz., in early September to bag some birds.
“I was seven or eight years old,” Kim said, “and the gun was taller than me. I was standing oﬀ from my parents, but not too far … they still had control. A game warden came up, and he asked, ‘Who shot your birds for you?’ And I was like ‘I did.’ But he insisted, ‘No, no, honey. No one’s going to get in trouble. You can tell me. Who shot your birds for you?’ “No, really,’ I insisted. ‘I really shot these birds.’ And while I was in the midst of arguing with this Game and Fish guy, my dad yells ‘Over you!’ I turned around, took two shots and dropped two birds. The game warden said, ‘Have a nice day,’ and walked oﬀ.”
Competitions were the next logical step for the precocious pre-teen. When Rhode was 13, she entered a match where the winner would earn the opportunity to visit the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I competed in trap,” she said, “which was something I’d never done before, and I won. I was ecstatic, but after I got home I got a phone call that I wouldn’t be going because I was too young. They sent the runner-up instead.”
Later, the same venue held the world shoot in skeet. “I went and won the Open Women’s in skeet. The Olympic coach happened to be there, and he said ‘We’ll make an exception for you, if your mother will come with you and stay in the dorms.’”
It was her ﬁrst visit to an Olympic facility, but not her last. Three years later, she joined the Olympic team.
“I was 16 when I ﬁrst went to the Olympics, and I was really nervous. You go through a physical, and one of the big things they do is a gender test. The guys on my team were razzing me like crazy, and I was just terriﬁed (beforehand). I’m thinking the worst things possible, like, ‘What is a gender test?’ And I get in there, and the doctor says, ‘Open your mouth and let me scrape the inside of your cheek.’ All they did was take my DNA to check it. But I didn’t know that.”
With her gender oﬃcially conﬁrmed, Rhode went on to win the ﬁrst of her six Olympic medals, a gold in double trap.
“I remember after I won, I didn’t know what to do with the medal. And I don’t think I realized what it was I had done until I got home. When I started giving speeches and people were crying, I saw what an impact (the win) had been to other people and other families. It’s part of the reason why I always take the time to talk to people and to sign
every autograph. I realize what a diﬀerence it can make for a child or for a family.”
HER OWN FAMILY TREE BOASTS of two U.S. Presidents (John and John Quincy Adams), Morse code inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, and the lesser-known but fascinating George Ludwig Rhode, her great-great-grandfather on her father’s side, who served under General H.H. Sibley as one of 25 handpicked men chosen to attempt to rescue General George Armstrong Custer prior to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Although his troops were unsuccessful, Rhode fought his way through skirmish after skirmish following the main battle, and survived to keep his branch of the family tree intact.
Her grandfather and other relatives were born in Montana. A few years before the Great Depression, one member of the family developed rheumatoid arthritis, so the family sold their cattle ranch, bought new cars, loaded them up “like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies” and headed oﬀ south.
On their way through Wyoming, as the story goes, they got stopped at Yellowstone, where rangers at the main gate refused to let them pass if they didn’t plug their guns. These men from Montana were all working cowboys, and no one was going to take their guns, so instead of consenting to the rangers’ demands, they pitched their tents, camped out near the park gates and began to live oﬀ of the land.
About six months later, they had shot so many elk, deer and buﬀalo that the game wardens ﬁnally oﬀered to escort them through the park with all their guns fully loaded. When they reached the other side, they kept going until they got to California.
The Rhode clan’s determined self-reliance and the refusal to give up their guns is something that Kim remains passionate about even today.
“When you go back in history and look at where we came from,” she said, “kids were raised with respect and responsibility and discipline and focus, and shooting has taught me a lot about that. In today’s society, everybody is so reliant on other things or other people. Kids are losing the old-time values of pride in your work and your work ethic. When I talk to kids, I talk about never giving up. A sport isn’t always about winning. It’s what you do when you don’t win, how you pick yourself up and keep going.”
“I’ve been a member of (Safari Club International) since I was 10 years old, the year I went on my ﬁrst safari. SCI does a lot for animal conservation as well as hunting, but it’s really about the heritage and being able to pass it on to our kids. It’s the same thing with the (National Riﬂe Association). It’s a
great organization, ﬁghting for the Second Amendment and ensuring that those rights and that heritage will be there for our kids and our kid’s kids.”
Despite some obvious cultural shifts, Rhode remains upbeat about the future, one that she hopes will include her participation in additional Olympic games.
“I’m deﬁnitely going to go for the next couple Olympics, especially 2020. And if Los Angeles gets the bid in 2024, it would be amazing to have my family and friends there cheering me on, being able to see that you can achieve great things no matter where you come from.”
But even if she never participates in another Olympics, Rhode’s place in the record books is secure. As the only summer participant to ever medal in six diﬀerent games, she stands alone on that podium, a fact she acknowledges with a shrug.
“I never really thought of it as me being the best, and I never really grasped the fact that I was ‘number one in the world’ or anything like that. For me, it was just a competition; it was just for fun. I did the best I could, and it was going to be what it was going to be.”
And although her Olympic memories often blend together, that doesn’t lessen her joy.
“I’ve loved it,” she said. “I love competing head to head, I love being in that moment, I love the travel, the places, the people. (Between events) we’d go see the Coliseum or historical places in the world like the pyramids. We had camel races across the dessert.”
“I always say, ‘Nobody remembers what your score was.’ For me it was the camel races and the relationships and the fun times that made it what it is.”
BUT IN ORDER TO KEEP THE FUN times coming, an Olympic athlete needs to become self-sustaining, something that Rhode learned early on.
“When I was young and wasn’t allowed to visit the Olympic Training Center, I had to ﬁnd those resources locally, and that’s when it started with the sponsorships.”
Today, she enjoys sponsorships from Winchester ammunition Beretta, SCI and others. Another sponsor has joined Team Rhode more recently, and it was due to a well-publicized theft. In September of 2008, Rhode’s long-time competition shotgun was stolen from her truck.
“I was returning from doing a public service announcement,” she recalled, “and I decided to stop and get something to eat with my mom and do some shopping. I was in a store, and my mom came running back, ‘It’s gone, it’s gone!’ I remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach, and when the security people came out, to them it was no big deal. They were saying ‘Let’s sweep up the glass.’ And I said, ‘What are you doing? That’s evidence!’”
“It was from that situation that I sought out Truck Vault, because it was exactly what I needed. I always say it’s the trunk that I don’t have in my truck. But more important is the peace of mind it brings, and what Truck Vault meant to me at that point was just immense. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.”
When she’s not breaking targets, Rhode works hard at giving back to the sport she loves. That takes several forms, including speaking to a wide variety of groups and venues, from the Republican National Convention to the local Rotary Club. It is something she feels called to do, and for a very speciﬁc reason.
“After I’d won a medal at the 2008 Olympics, I ﬁgured the questions were going to be, ‘What is it like standing on the podium representing your country?’ But instead it was, ‘Can you comment on these tragedies that have occurred?’ It was then that I realized I need to do more, to voice more of the positives of shooting, because all you really hear are the negatives. You don’t hear about the high schools that have shooting teams, or the programs like Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) that have kids working as a team to earn bonds for their education and their future. There are so many wonderful things about the shooting and outdoor sports that you just don’t hear on a day-to-day basis. The reality is we try to reach out to everybody. Our sport is truly just a sport, no diﬀerent than any of the others. It just so happens that we shoot clay targets with a shotgun.”
If anybody can help keep the conversation currently swirling around Second Amendment rights moving forward in a civil tone, it’s Rhode. After all, this is a woman who built a 1965 AC Shelby Cobra, by hand, turning every bolt one by one … when she was in high school. She’s both patient and persistent, and everything she does communicates a charmingly tenacious philosophy of “Go big or go home.” It’s a trait she inherited from her father.
“My dad never did anything small,” she said. “When he got into something, he really got into
something. And I got that from him.”
And when the two get together on a project, things tend to take on a life of their own. One recent endeavor may serve as the best example of the Rhode raison d’etre.
“In my city,” she said, “they have a competition for the best decorated house for Christmas or Halloween. I thought, I’ve got all the lights, but it would be amazing if we could make the ghosts or Santa Claus ﬂy around our yard. So I took sewing machine motors and ﬁshing line and made things ﬂy around. I showed my dad and he said, ‘That’s too small.’ So the next thing I know, we’ve got 5- or 6-inch pipes that go up 15 feet that have a motorcycle wheel attached and engineered with motion sensors with a pulley system. We had to level the yard and pour concrete and set these suckers. I could probably ﬂy on it myself and scare little kids that come up to the door. And I had to get the ‘light-o-rama’ to top it oﬀ so the lights would (blink) to the music. When we went into the junkyard to ask them for the motorcycle wheels they asked, ‘What are you going to do with these again?’”
Her wide circle of friends and family has grown to include her husband Mike Harryman and their son Carter, whom she was pregnant with during the 2012 London games. And while her life may be complex, her approach is simple.
“I like to have fun,” she said, “and shooting is still fun for me. You have to keep it that way. But training is not fun. The fun part is the travel, the places, the people, the competition… those are the fun things. But it all comes down to what you want to do in life, and for me, I wanted to see the world, and be able to enjoy the outdoors. I love hiking. I like camping. I love hunting. I love ﬁshing. I love spending the time with my parents and my family. Those were things that were important to me, and shooting allowed me to do all those.” ASJ
Welcome to our expanded April issue, chock-full of insightful and engaging articles and a passel of products, many of which will be featured at the National Rifle Association’s 2017 Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Atlanta from April 27-30 at the Georgia World Congress Center. If you are a member of the NRA (and we suspect many of you are) and plan to be in A-Town for the firearms-focused festivities, please stop by the American Shooting Journal booth (#402) for a visit. We’d love to meet you, but if that is not motivation enough, here’s an additional inducement. Every new or renewing subscriber who visits the booth will receive a free gift and will automatically be entered in our daily raffle featuring great prizes donated by many of our top advertisers. See page 23 of this issue for more information. This year’s annual meetings ﬁgure to be a most interesting get-together. Last year’s edition attracted crowds of more than 80,000 enthusiastic firearms owners, and this year promises to be no different, with the World Congress Center’s 450,000 square feet filled to the doorways with your favorite outdoor industry manufacturers and service providers. Special events include the annual National NRA Foundation banquet, a Women’s Leadership Forum luncheon, the NRA/ILA (Institute for Legislative Action) dinner and auction, and a Saturday night concert headlined by Hank Williams, Jr. We hope to see you there! -Craig Hodgkins
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]S[/su_dropcap]avage Arms’ new line of next-generation semiautos comes to the marketplace with an attitude – the company has cleverly co-opted the MSR acronym for branding the guns, using the tagline “MSR now stands for Modern Savage Riﬂe” – but the guns are poised to deliver in the ﬁeld and on the range as well, with everything from expanded caliber choices and badass designs to a full suite of custom upgrades packaged as standard features.
Although the four-gun family includes two MSR-15 models in 5.56mm (the Recon and Blackhawk), our focus here will be on a dynamic duo of aptly named, hard-hitting MSR-10s, the Hunter and the Long Range. And while the company’s slick new AR-15 riﬂes are already gaining a reputation as straight shooters, the chance to zero in on building a better AR-10 was a perfect ﬁt for Savage – oﬀering opportunities to play to the brand’s strengths, including longrange accuracy and innovation.
SAVAGE MAY BE BEST KNOWN for its extensive collection of bolt-actions for hunting, competitive shooting and plain old plinking, but the company has also been in the AR business, oﬀ and on, for years, quietly creating custom barrels for other manufacturers.
Simply put, the AR-10 platform oﬀered Savage engineers a chance to innovate. According to Al Caspar, president of Savage Arms, “One of the stumbling blocks to unbridled creativity with the AR15 platform is the nagging need for conformity – in other words, keeping the riﬂe compatible with a variety of accessories. With AR-10s, there are far fewer such constraints. Savage engineers were able to think outside the box to bring gamechanging features to both the MSR Hunter and MSR Long Range.”
While developing its modern, precision AR-10s, Savage also addressed other longstanding shortcomings of MSRs designed for larger cartridges.
“For example,” Caspar added, “AR10s have traditionally been heavy, bulky and unwieldy. We tackled these issues head-on, shaving oﬀ unnecessary weight and trimming size with a smaller, lighter chassis that strikes a perfect balance between performance, ﬁt and function. As a result, both the MSR-10 Hunter and MSR-10 Long Range feature a compact AR-10 design that feels and handles more like an AR-15.”
“Savage’s new AR-10s also feature custom-forged uppers and lowers for a look unlike anything aﬁeld or on the range, plus a free-ﬂoating forend that locks down so tight you can bridge a scope mount from forend to receiver with no loss of accuracy. Tactical Blackhawk! grips, buttstock and ﬂip up sights are also standard.”
Professional 3-gun competitor Patrick Kelley knows a thing or ﬁve about the needs of long-range shooters, and he knows the Long Range model well, having been involved in early testing of the gun.
“It’s got all the cool features that a free gunner would want in one package,” said Kelley at the recent SHOT Show in Las Vegas. “A longer gas system, 5R-riﬂed barrel, Melonite coating, 22-inch barrel length for 6.5 Creedmoor, 20-inch in .308 Win. An M-Lok hand guard.”
“The upper and lower are both proprietary,” Kelley added, “and shorter in length, which allows us to make the gun more compact, bring the center of balance back closer to the center line of the shooter, which makes for better handling. The bolt carrier group is also lighter than a standard bolt carrier group. Again, less reciprocating mass means a lower recall impulse.”
“It’s got every feature in it it should have,” Kelley concluded, “at a price point that will make you smile and make you want it all the more. (This) riﬂe has all the cool features that little boutique gun makers can do, but in one riﬂe from a large manufacturer: Savage Arms.”
BOTH MSR-10S ARE AVAILABLE in .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor chamberings, each of which oﬀers applications in hunting and long-range shooting. The .308 Win. is a ﬁne all-around choice for big game, not to mention a top traditional pick of snipers and other long-range shooters. A relative newcomer, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a long-range performer developed for target shooting but perfectly capable in hunting applications as well.
Savage tailored barrel length to caliber and purpose. The .308 Win. version of the MSR-10 Hunter sports a 16-inch barrel (and weighs just 7.5 pounds), while the 6.5 Creedmoor Hunter carries an 18-inch barrel. MSR10 Long Range barrel lengths are 20 inches for the .308 Win. and 22 inches with 6.5 Creedmoor.
Regardless of length, all barrels are button-riﬂed and paired to their particular action with Savage’s obsessive attention to precise headspace control. To further enhance accuracy while reducing fouling, the bore features innovative 5R riﬂing. And to extend barrel life, Savage applies an ultradurable, Melonite QPQ surface hardening treatment inside and out.
With roughly 10 million modern sporting riﬂes already in the hands of American gun owners, there’s no denying the platform’s appeal for a variety of uses. And, after talking to thousands of shooters online and in person at ranges across the continent, Savage knew exactly where to aim with their new line. The company is convinced that both new MSR-10s will quickly ﬁnd a place in the hands and hearts of discerning shooters, and with early results trending so favorably, it would be hard to argue otherwise. ASJ
Day one of the 2017 SHOT Show was heralded with a flurry of emailed press releases and event announcements that hit my inbox with a vengeance in the wee hours that morning last month. Meanwhile, in the crowded hallways of the Sands Convention Center, the clock finally struck 8:30, and the impatient pitterpatter of more than 100,000 feet became a thundering roar as dozens of double doors flew wide to admit more than 60,000 of my closest Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade industry friends to the showroom floor.
Yes, the American Shooting Journal was there at the down beat, holding the fort in booth 408, spinning our oversized wheel on the hour, handing out prizes and distributing copies of our expanded January issue to what we hope will become regular readers.
Each year, SHOT Show fills the Las Vegas venue with a vast array of the latest guns, gear and swag, as well as services ranging from helicopter hunting adventures to the latest handgun training techniques. It really is a can’t-miss event for those of us in the industry, and even though it can be a madhouse, it’s our madhouse, and it’s also the best place to connect with company representatives and other members of the industry media. What we see and learn here will help fill our print and virtual pages for the next six to nine months and beyond. It is perhaps the one time a year where what happens in Vegas is broadcast loud and clear to everyone interested in the outdoor industry.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank Team Taurus captain Jessie Duff, the subject of our January cover story, for taking time out of her busy, heavily sponsored show schedule to visit our booth on the outskirts of the show to meet, greet and sign copies of our magazine for all of the guests who stopped by to say hello. –Craig Hodgkins
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]f you are of a certain age, you’ll recall a time when Jessie Duﬀ was not winning shooting championships. But to the generation of competitors coming of age today, her name is as familiar atop an event leader board as a sponsor’s logo.
What makes this gaudy total even more impressive is that in an age of overspecialization, she’s achieved her competitive milestones across ﬁve diﬀerent shooting disciplines and multiple event types.
BORN INTO A SHOOTING FAMILY in McDonough, Ga., a community in the Atlanta metropolitan area, Duﬀ didn’t immediately follow in the footsteps of her father, a competitive shooter in his own right. “I didn’t take to it early on,” she told me recently, “even though I grew up on the range with my dad, my mom and my brother. I’d shoot on the range with them, but didn’t feel the need to compete until I was about 15.”
Her dad was involved in cowboy action shooting at the time, so that’s where she began too. The urge to compete may have come a bit late for Duﬀ, whose only experience with organized sports was as a cheerleader, but the timing was clearly right.
“I just found my niche,” she recalled. “Team sports weren’t for me, but I found something that I was good at and could grow and get better at. I just needed to ﬁnd it on my own instead of feeling forced to do it.”
After her initial success, Duﬀ began to contemplate a possible career as a shooter.
“From the moment I shot and competed, I knew that shooting was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how that could be possible. You weren’t allowed sponsors in cowboy action shooting. It wasn’t anything that you could make a living at; it was simply for fun.”
Her potential for making a living at shooting took a positive turn about ﬁve years later when her local range held a Steel Challenge event. She decided to give the new competition format a try.
“(At ﬁrst), I would go and shoot it with my single-action revolvers, but that’s when I was exposed to 1911s and Glocks and all of these semiauto ﬁrearms. It was a whole new world, and that’s where I saw that people had sponsors and could make something out of that.”
Again, the timing was right for Duﬀ to take another career step. Julie Golob had left Team Glock, and the company hired Duﬀ and fellow CAS shooter Randi Rogers. But even before she went to work for Glock, the U.S. oﬃces of which are based near Atlanta, she had come to truly appreciate her local roots.
“I was very fortunate growing up in Georgia,” Duﬀ said. “We had such an amazing group of world champion shooters, so I started with watching the best of the best. I would watch and emulate what they did, and that truly helped my foundation as a shooter and gave me a boost. Instead of having to learn that along the way, I learned it immediately.”
But those talented homegrown shooters weren’t the only positive inﬂuences on Duﬀ’s professional development, a point the current champion is quick to acknowledge.
“When I came into the modern shooting sports, the ladies who were killing it at the time were Kay Miculek and Lisa Munson and Julie Golob and Athena Lee, and that’s what I wanted to do. When I say I set my goal to beat them, I mean that with the utmost respect because they were the best. I wanted to be at their level or better. It took me a while, because they’re so good, but eventually I made my way into the sport and found a place among the other top ladies.”
Shooting multiple disciplines over the past decade has enabled Duﬀ to identify how to train and what to work on. And for her, it is all about focusing on what she considers to be the basics, and then migrating those skills from event to event.
“The common denominator across all of it is sight alignment and trigger control,” she said. “If you can manage that, then the rest is just going to come with repetition, muscle memory and physical ﬁtness. Shooting is shooting, whether you’re going super fast at Steel Challenge, whether you’re going super slow but being extremely accurate at Bianchi, or USPSA where it’s a mix of both, but you add in running, and a physical aspect. You still have to line your sights up and not jerk the trigger.”
“When I started shooting Bianchi,” she adds, “it was like nothing else I do on any other platform. I had to learn how to control my trigger control. I can get away with a lot more in Steel Challenge and USPSA, but in Bianchi, you can’t get away with anything. You’ve got a 4-inch circle, and if you’re not hitting it, it’s very, very obvious.
“I also had to learn to slow down. Everything I’ve shot is based oﬀ of speed, and in Bianchi, even though there’s a time limit, it’s like a calendar year compared to what I do. I had to learn to use the time that is given so that I don’t get rushed or feel like I have to shoot six shots as fast as I can because that’s what I do in the other sports. It was a big learning process for me, but trigger control transfers over to everything else and just makes me a better shooter in all the other divisions.”
DUFF’S WORK ETHIC has paid oﬀ in many ways. As the ﬁrst female athlete and professional shooter to earn USPSA Grand Master status, she ﬁnds herself in a position that few people of either gender have attained, and this has enabled her to realize a personal goal that extends beyond the sport and into the fabric of our culture.
“I don’t want to be known as just a good female shooter,” she said. “I want to be known as one of the best shooters in our sports. Gender shouldn’t matter. If I’m putting up scores that are right there with the top guys, then it shouldn’t matter if ‘lady’ is checked next to my name or not. I hope that some of the things that I’ve accomplished or done throughout my career, and what I’ll continue to do, will help open the door for other ladies. This might be a man’s sport, but we’re making our own place in it.”
That door remains wide open, and this past decade has seen a large spike in participation by both women and youth in the shooting sports. As part of her role as the captain of Team Taurus, a position she has held for ﬁve years, Duﬀ helped develop the Taurus Young Guns shooting program. Participants in this program, referred to as “shooting ambassadors” by the Florida-based ﬁrearms manufacturer, must meet stringent requirements on and oﬀ the range, and Duﬀ knows more than a little about the navigating the exhausting cycle of working and waiting while incrementally inching to the top echelon of the sport she loves.
“There’s always a new generation coming up that’s going to take the place of who is there now,” she said. “But it takes time and hard work to get to that spot. Some new competitors who have talent beat themselves up so bad if they don’t go out and win every match right away. I tell them, ‘You’ve got to put your time in. You have talent, but so do your competitors. You’re shooting against the best, and those of us who are on the top put our time in, and it’s our time right now.’”
Because she’s already walked several miles in their moccasins, her heartfelt career advice to upcoming shooters rings true, and it always starts with an admonition she tells herself every day: love what you do.
“It’s like in any other sport,” she said, “If you overload someone at that age, they just get burnt out. I tell them to set goals that are realistic in the sense that you will be able to accomplish (them). I see nothing wrong with setting a goal that is over the moon, because I’ve done that myself. But along with that big ‘shoot for the stars’ goal, I’ve got other goals that are like a stairway, and that will show success and progress along the way so that you don’t get frustrated or lose interest.”
“I’ve seen so many talented kids start, and then within two years, they’re gone, and you never see them again. It’s a hard thing to sustain for a long time if you’re not making a conscious eﬀort to take care of the reason you started this, and that’s because you love it.”
As she moves into her second decade as a professional shooter, Duﬀ acknowledges that she’s had to take her own advice about training and competitions, and has adopted a more targeted strategy.
“Earlier on in my shooting career,” she said, “I felt I had to be at every match that was on the schedule, and that was also kind of how I trained. I had to be out on the range, and if I didn’t shoot a thousand rounds a day, I didn’t feel like I’d accomplished anything. Now I’ve learned to train smarter and not harder, and that also (applies) to the matches I’m going to attend. I have to make sure I’m not overloading my schedule to where I’m burned out by the time I get to the major championships, but yet that I’m still motivated and able to prepare.”
Despite her many accolades, Duﬀ keeps her sights set on the future, and she has some lofty goals to achieve before, as she puts it, “my day in the sun is up.”
“I want to win an IPSC World Shoot in Open Division,” she shared. “That’s my main goal right now. Once I’ve done that, I want to look at spending more time in other disciplines. I made Grand Master in Open, and I want to make Grand Master in other divisions.”
MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE can be a combustible combination, but Duﬀ has the mental discipline to have made it work for more than a decade.
“When I made the decision to make a career out of this, I realized that things would change taking something I love and turning it into work. I’ve always told myself, the day that I wake up and don’t want to go to the range, or I don’t have that drive to go out and be the best, then that’s when I need to ﬁnd something else to do. But I haven’t had that yet.”
Many people use the shooting sports to relax and recalibrate, but professionals such as Duﬀ, whose lives revolve around their skill and dexterity with ﬁrearms, must compartmentalize their range time on a daily basis depending on the situation at hand.
“When I’m in training mode and have matches I’m preparing for,” she said, “it’s a completely diﬀerent mindset than going out to the range with my dad. When I’m training, it’s all business. I have a goal, and my goal is to go and win and be the best. And I have certain things that I do at the range to prepare myself for that.”
Long known for her drive to master new shooting disciplines, she is currently enjoying a self-imposed oﬀ-season, although for someone as competitive as Duﬀ, the term “oﬀseason” is relative.
“I’m trying to learn skeet shooting,” she shared with a laugh, “and I’m absolutely horrible at it. I realize we can’t all be good at everything we do, but when it comes to shooting, that’s a hard thing for me to grasp. I’ve shot so much, and I’ve succeeded at so much, that now when you’re telling me that I’m not supposed to aim at the target that I’m shooting at, I can’t comprehend that … It just drives me mad.”
“I stood in one position on the skeet range with my dad the other day,” she continued, “and I said ‘I’m not leaving until I can master this spot.’ I shot two boxes of shells in that one spot. But it’s a new challenge. I still love to go out and be on the range, and smell the gun smoke, and share and have those memories with my dad. He shot his ﬁrst clean 25 round of skeet yesterday, and I was able to be there with him to do that.”
Another thing that helps keep her life on an even keel is spending time with her husband Matt – they met on the set of the Friends of the NRA show they cohosted – and her friends. But when her internal stress dial threatens to hit 11, she has a sureﬁre way to turn down the noise.
“I love horses,” she said. “I have a couple of them, and that’s my getaway. I go down to our farm and just hop on my horse and go. I just enjoy trail riding, ﬁnding new places, being out in nature. Something about a horse is so calming. It just relaxes me.”
Duﬀ works as an ambassador for her many sponsors, including Taurus, Hornady, Leupold, Blackhawk and several others, giving her one more set of priorities to balance. She tries to do as much of the nonevent sponsorship work as she can in her oﬀseason, so it doesn’t conﬂict with her training, or, as she puts it, “the actual reason they’ve hired me.” Behind the scenes, she is active with personal eﬀorts to support veterans and law enforcement oﬃcers, and especially assisting and encouraging female shooters.
“I enjoy helping women get into the shooting sports,” she said. “There’s something about taking a lady to the range who is just terriﬁed of ﬁrearms, but who wants to take the plunge. Just experiencing her ﬁrst time shooting with her, and then seeing the excitement, the release of fear, the self-empowerment. It’s incredible.”
As you would imagine, Duﬀ’s annual SHOT Show appearance schedule is an extremely busy one, and she wants to make sure that everyone from her sponsors to her fans get the time they deserve.
“From day one to day four, starting when the doors open, every hour on the hour, I’m in a diﬀerent booth. But I enjoy it. I’m a social person, so when I go to shows like this, I’m able to talk to people and visit, and hear their stories, or share some of mine. So even though it is exhausting for four days straight – with that many people in one place, the energy just drains you – it’s part of the job, and I enjoy it for the most part.”
THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY is relatively small on a national scale, and Duﬀ often considers how she can help build bridges to the mainstream world.
“I’m always thinking, ‘How can we make our pond bigger?’ I’m trying to ﬁnd opportunities, because if you look at the number of people who own ﬁrearms or who hunt or who exercise their Second Amendment rights, that’s bigger than the number of people who play golf, or the number of people who do some of the other sports.”
Still, not being readily recognized by those outside of the shooting world can be a source of amusement.
“I love it when people ask (what I do) where I’m not recognized as ‘Jessie the shooter.’ If I could snap a picture of every person when I answer, I’d have quite the little photo book. It’s a great conversation starter, that’s for sure. Sometimes you get the occasional person who doesn’t have the same viewpoint as I do, but it either opens the door for a conversation – you can learn something about somebody else – or it makes for a nice quiet plane ride.”
But whatever Duﬀ chooses to do, with or without a gun in her hand, she’ll give it her all. That’s the only way she knows how to live.
“I’m extremely competitive. I can’t do anything mediocre. I have to give it everything I have. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing, in my opinion. That’s just what drives me. I still have things I’ve yet to accomplish, and I know that I will. It’s just a matter of time. And knowing that there are younger shooters out there – and some of them have the drive that I did – that’s what keeps pushing me to keep going.” ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]f you look up “cobalt” on the periodic chart of the elements, you’ll ﬁnd it listed at number 27, right between iron and nickel.
But if you did a word search for “cobalt” shortly after the 3GN Nationals concluded earlier this year, your results ﬁeld would have been full of number ones.
When the dust at the nationals had settled – or more accurately, after Hurricane Matthew’s torrential rains had ﬁnally subsided – Team Cobalt members wore national championship crowns in three diﬀerent divisions; unlimited, practical and factory.
Those results are a challenge for anyone, but they are highly unusual for a competitive team running a gun made by a company that didn’t even manufacture them a couple of years ago.
But at Cobalt Kinetics, being unusual has been a badge of honor from the very beginning.
“We went to SHOT Show before we started the company,” said Skylar Stewart, vice president of the St. George, Utah-based business (cobaltkinetics.com), “and we got so sick of seeing black riﬂes. There were lots of exciting things in bolt guns and shotguns and pistols, but the AR15 got stuck in this pseudo-military styling, and no one was really pushing it. I personally have plenty of black guns, and it would take something exciting for me to buy another AR-15. At that point, we decided to be that new, exciting AR-15.”
The ﬁrst step was to assemble a team to design that exciting new gun. Again, Cobalt took a diﬀerent path.
“We brought in people from a lot of diﬀerent disciplines,” said Stewart. “We’ve got ﬂuid dynamic engineers and engineers from diﬀerent areas, guys from the racing industry, your classic gunsmith guys, we’ve got police, military – people from a lot of walks of life. We wanted to start fresh. It helped us to not be stuck in the ‘black gun rut.’”
It’s not that there haven’t been improvements made for the modular AR-15 platform. There is a big aftermarket where you can ﬁnd multiple replacements for every part of a standard gun. But Cobalt Kinetics had something else in mind.
“We set out to make a riﬂe,” Stewart continued, “but we didn’t just want to make it look cool and function exactly like all of the other ones did. We wanted to really have something worth creating a whole brand of riﬂes for. Not just a diﬀerent look, with diﬀerent colors. We wanted it to function better.”
And do it they did. At their ﬁrst SHOT Show as a manufacturer in 2015, the company debuted their B.A.M.F. (Billet Aluminum Modern Firearm) riﬂe, and it created quite a buzz.
“We got in trouble at the SHOT Show and range day for having too big a crowd in the aisle,” said Stewart, “but that’s a good problem to have.”
Within a few months, Cobalt debuted a second ﬁrearm, the Edge model. Both featured the innovative Dual Drop system, which turned the lowly forward assist into an ambidextrous bolt release.
“The Dual Drop on our riﬂes has sped up the reload times by a half a second,” said Stewart. “Both sides of the forward assist will drop the bolt, so no matter if you’re left-handed or right-handed, you can just reach your thumb up to drop the bolt. That was one of the ﬁrst things we designed.”
SHOOTING COMPETITIONS WERE EXPANDING rapidly across the country, and none were growing faster than 3-gun events featuring pistol, shotgun and riﬂe. The reload time savings created by the Dual Drop system got the Cobalt brain trust pondering what it would take to create a gun designed speciﬁcally for the riﬂe portion of those competitions.
To help them achieve that goal, they called on a man whose name was already quite familiar to fans of multigun events, Keith Garcia.
Garcia is a career law enforcement oﬃcer who initially sought out shooting competitions to enhance his personal SWAT team training, where oﬃcers need to shoot quickly and accurately on the move and under stress. His ﬁrst 3-gun match came in 2004, and although he admits that he was terrible, he was hooked. By 2008, he ﬁnished second in the nationals, and solidiﬁed his reputation as a knowledgeable competitor.
In the summer of 2015, Cobalt brought in Dave Lake, an experienced gunsmith with a lot of good ideas. One of Lake’s best musings was to have the young company bring Garcia in as a design consultant.
“We reached a level where we knew we needed some input from people who competed professionally,” said Stewart.
“We met, and they told me what their vision was,” Garcia said. “They wanted to do new and innovative stuﬀ, and that got me excited. They said, ‘You design a gun that will be the best thing for riﬂe, 2-gun or 3-gun competition, cost is no object, and it’s a blank sheet of paper.’”
“That’s a big thing with our team, adds Stewart. “We try not to focus on why we couldn’t do something. Instead, we want to focus on ‘How could we?’ We try to ask ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘Why can’t it be done?’ Our (only) challenge has been manufacturing the stuﬀ that we come up with.”
“We started down this path,” explained Garcia, “and they surprised me with how much stuﬀ they wanted to make in-house. We would go to the range, and I’d take their gun apart and put in other parts. I’d show them the diﬀerence between how it felt and how it shot, and what made something a Ferrari as opposed to a Toyota … Both can look good, but one’s going to outperform the other one.”
Garcia would invite engineers out to the range to either shoot the gun or watch him shoot it so he could tell them what the gun was doing in real time, and show them the results on the target. It made it easier to see what he was talking about, and they would ask questions – lots of questions.
“That’s where we really got the ball rolling,” said Garcia. “They would ask good questions about stuﬀ I’d assumed they’d already know or that was industry standard. But because they weren’t industry guys, they wouldn’t know, and they would look at it from a diﬀerent vantage point.”
ANOTHER RECENT INNOVATION, C.A.R.S., for Cobalt Advantage Reloading System, came about through a series of these conversations.
“They came to me and said ‘Hey, we’ve got this idea for a system that will drop the magazine and drop the bolt,’ and I was like, ‘That’s bullsh*t. It hasn’t been done in 50 years, it can’t be done.’ And then they made it work.”
CARS (the folks at Cobalt really love acronyms) is set to debut this coming summer on Cobalt’s new Evolve gun, and you’ll be hearing much more about it very soon.
But for Garcia, the development and testing of a top-of-the-line competition gun was always the priority. To help further that end, he suggested to Cobalt’s management that instead of just having one sponsored shooter – namely Keith Garcia – they should sponsor a whole team of competitors.
Again, Cobalt signed oﬀ on the deal, and Garcia quickly recruited three of the other top multigunners in the business: Kalani Laker, Nick Atkinson and Rick Birdsall. Each man already amassed plenty of individual wins, but this past season as Team Cobalt they dominated the competition. To broaden their opportunities and Cobalt Kinetic’s exposure, they adopted a “divide and conquer” strategy, with each team member focusing on a speciﬁc division while using their sponsor’s new Team Gun in the riﬂe stages.
At the recent nationals, the concept worked like a charm, producing a trifecta of epic proportions. Laker won the Unlimited division, Birdsall took the Factory division title, and Garcia was crowned as national champion in the Practical division.
It was a huge exclamation point to an amazing season, and Garcia is quick to credit the riﬂe for playing a big role in the team’s success. “It’s a high-end gun,” said Garcia, “and we really showed it this year, because between the four guys we had 19 wins and three national championships.”
Cobalt may currently have the most decorated R&D team in existence. And when the four aren’t shooting in a competition, odds are they are back on the range testing new products.
“As soon as we develop a product,” said Stewart, “we ship it to them, and they tell us how to tweak it to make it work better for them. And since we have four diﬀerent shooters, and each one of them has a little bit diﬀerent style, we can pull from each of them and come up with something that works well for everybody.”
“They can really put things through its paces fast,” he adds, “It really speeds up our development, and we don’t have to make any assumptions. We just put it in their hands; they run it and we see how it goes.”
That’s especially true with a project as important as the Team Replica riﬂe.
“We see ourselves as the pit crew on that gun,” Stewart said, “and they’re the driver.”
THE TEAM REPLICA RIFLE currently available from Cobalt Kinetics is nearly identical to the ones used by Team Cobalt in competition, with one exception. Cobalt has switched out the PROOF Research barrel for a very high-quality match-grade barrel to help keep the cost of the riﬂe under $4,000 (MSRP is $3,800). And, for current and future multigun competitors who want to gain an edge by shooting the exact same riﬂe used by Team Cobalt, a version with the PROOF Research barrel and an adjustable stock – known simply as the Team Gun – will also be on the market soon, but at a cost commensurate with those two additions.
“When you see a riﬂe that’s pushing $4,000,” said Stewart, “people say ‘Wow, how can it possibly be that much money?’ but once you shoot it, you know right away.”
“The gun is pricy,” agreed Garcia, “but it’s because they put all the best products in it, and they designed a bunch of stuﬀ in-house. I don’t believe you’re going to ﬁnd anybody who makes that many of the components inhouse out of aircraft-grade aluminum.”
“It’s a great shooting gun. It shoots extremely ﬂat. It’s extremely accurate. The lock-up we have between the barrel nut, the upper receiver and the forend is just rock solid. It hasn’t shifted at all. The groups I was shooting when I got the gun in January were the same groups I shot last week” he said in early November.
For competitors of all levels looking to improve their best scores, both versions of the Team Riﬂe warrant a serious look.
“At the USPSA Nationals last April,” said Garcia, “I won the long-range stage with only two makeup shots, and I’ve never won the long-range stage at the nationals ever. When that happened, it made me realize that we’ve got a really accurate gun. That’s something that can make or break a match.”
“Winning matches is not easy in this sport,” he added. “There’s a lot of competition, a lot of new people coming on board that are doing really well. But if I put the dot where it’s supposed to be and pull the trigger straight to the rear, it’s going to hit, because there’s going to be nothing mechanical that messes with it. When I miss, I know I’ve done something.”
“Back when I ﬁrst started with this stuﬀ,” Garcia said, “I got associated with Ron Avery, who’s an instructor with the Practical Shooting Academy, and he gave me some advice when I started getting better and people were approaching me. He said, ‘Never take a product or a sponsorship that isn’t going to help you win.’ And that’s the great thing about this situation. (Cobalt) came to me and said, ‘Let’s make something that will help you win.’”
IN PHYSICS AND ENGINEERING, the science of kinetics represents the study of motion and its causes. In two short years, the team at Cobalt Kinetics has proven to be dynamically proactive in both design and execution, and there are no plans to slow things down. The company currently has 40 employees, but that number will soon rise.
“We’re growing quickly,” said Stewart. “We’re running 24 hours a day, and can’t keep up. Now that this election’s over, we’ll probably expand more.”
“We want to be pushing things forward,” he adds, “have things moving, to not be stagnant. We know that we can push the envelope, and the market’s responded so far, so we’re just going to keep pushing.”
For Garcia, it all goes back to the riﬂe.
“If you want to win,” he said, “and you don’t want to have excuses for losing because your gear was bad, invest in a Cobalt riﬂe, and all the excuses will go out the window.”
“We really want to see ﬁrearms evolve,” Stewart concludes. “The AR-15 is still pretty much how it was in the ’60s. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and we’re going to push for that every year. So we’ve got some stuﬀ that’s been out there, but no one’s really pulled it oﬀ, and I think we can.” ASJ