Jessie Duff is one of the world’s best competitive shooters in the action sports arena. She is also the first woman to hold the title of United States Practical Shooting Association
(USPSA) grand master. So far this year, she has won at the NRA Bianchi Cup, Steel Challenge World Championships, NRA World Action Pistol Championship, USPSA Area 6 Championships, Steel Challenge National Championships and the STI Double Tap Championship. To get a better picture of the intensity of her focus on being the best, consider that she won her first World
Championship title in 2005 when she was 20 years old. It was the Cowboy Action Shooting Western 3-Gun World Championships. Since then, she’s won at another 73 major competitions, making her one of the most recognizable faces of the shooting sports world. We were fortunate to be able to talk with her on the business of professional shooting, her contributions to breaking ground for women in what was once almost exclusively a man’s sport, her television work and what preparations she has made for a zombie apocalypse.
FRANK JARDIM You are recognized as being one of the top action shooting competitors in the world, and since you became the captain of the Taurus Shooting Team in 2012 most people
have thought of you as the face of Taurus. However, I’ve noticed when you win, which is a lot, there are five other companies (Leopold, Hornady, Weatherby, Uncle Mike’s, Hoppe’s)
that also make a point to announce that you are on their team too! In Kentucky, where we only understand college basketball, you can only be on one team at a time. Would it be more
accurate to say that you are sponsored or endorsed by these companies rather than on a traditional sports team? JESSIE DUFF I have been very fortunate in my career to be able to partner with the best companies in our industry. And yes, these partnerships are considered “sponsorships” or “endorsement deals.” In the shooting industry, a shooter may acquire multiple sponsorships for the different types of equipment used, ie, firearms, ammunition, holsters, gun cleaning products, targets, eyewear, etc., as long as the companies don’t conflict with one another. These companies may also contract multiple shooters, and have their own company team.
FJ How do you know who you win for? Does Taurus say, “OK, Jessie, go win the Bianchi Cup for us and we’ll keep you in guns,” and Hornady say, “Win the Steel Challenge for us and we’ll keep you knee deep in ammo until the zombie apocalypse,” and so on? JD My championship wins are celebrated by all the companies that I’m partnered with. I choose my match schedule based on the disciplines that I compete in, and the matches that I think would best promote and highlight my sponsors. Then, if I am fortunate enough to win, all of the companies will promote the title based off of the products I use for them. For example,
when I won the NRA Bianchi Cup this year, Hornady promoted their bullets that I used, Leupold’s scope that I chose for the match, and Taurus for the firearms I had made for that competition.
FJ Unlike a basketball team, the nature of the shooting sports requires members of a shooting team to compete as individuals. As captain of the Taurus team, what exactly does
that entail? JD As captain of Team Taurus, it’s my responsibility to represent Taurus in
the shooting sports and the industry. This includes competing with their firearms, attending trade shows, appearances, etc., and promoting the brand off of the range as well.
While I’ve been at Taurus, we have started a junior shooting program, Taurus Young Guns. This program was designed to give young up-and-coming shooters an opportunity in the industry, and help them along in the shooting sports. Growing the sport and passing on the tradition is important to me and Taurus, and, through this program, we are able to do both.
FJ Taurus Young Guns involves scouting and recruiting young raw talent like Alex Larche to develop into the next generation of superstars shooters. Have you found any more promising prospects?
JD Alex is our first addition to the team, and he has done extremely well with it, proving that the program is successful. We haven’t added any new shooters yet, but I am always keeping my eyes open at every match I go to. There are so many talented junior shooters coming into the sport, but we aren’t just looking for someone who can shoot well. We are looking for someone who can be a good ambassador of the sport, represent Taurus in the best way possible, and be a good role model for other junior shooters. Even though we haven’t
added anyone new since Alex, that doesn’t mean we won’t be scouting and adding in the future!
FJ One of the reasons the shooting sports are great is because you don’t have to have great size or brute physical strength to participate. Men and women can compete together equally. In fact, you are a grand master, which puts you among the top competitive shooters in the world. Why do we even have separate ladies’ catagories? Danica Patrick doesn’t compete in a ladies racing division.
JD In the shooting sports, there are divisions based on the type of equipment you use. Within those divisions are categories, for ladies, juniors, seniors, military/law
enforcement, etc. A shooter is capable of winning their category along with their division. So at a match, I compete in the ladies category and in the open division (open is when an optical sight is used on the firearm). My scores are tallied against all other competitors
for an overall standing, but also in my category against the ladies. Should a lady beat all the other competitors, including the men, she would be awarded the overall title, just as Danica Patrick would be if she won a race.
FJ Do your foresee a time when ladies’ classifications will disappear?
JD No, I don’t think that would happen, nor should it. I think having a category/division specifically for the ladies recognizes what we do in the sport. I think if the number of women in the shooting sports continues to grow, then it would be great to see the ladies have their own championships, like in tennis or golf. But until then, I don’t mind
competing alongside the men!
FJ I’m curious if in a male-dominated sport, at least for now, do your fellow professional male competitors consider women shooters as their peers? Since you aren’t in the same
catagories, it would be easy for chauvinistic types to say, “Well, she’s good for a girl,” when in reality, if you competed directly against them you would beat them.
JD I believe in any sport where both men and women are competing, you will always have some opinions that women can’t compete at the same level. Thankfully in my career, all the men I have competed against have been very respectful of what I’ve done, and encouraging to other women competing as well.
FJ In the past few years, women have been participating in shooting activities in record numbers for sporting and self-defense reasons. Part of the reason Taurus brought you on
board was to cultivate women. What are your thoughts on the trend and the role you have played in it?
JD I’m so glad to see more and more women getting involved in with firearms and the shooting sports. I think they are realizing that firearms are not just for men, and that they can have a place in that world as well. With all of the talented women in the shooting industry, we have shown that women too can come and compete, and enjoy it! With Taurus taking such a stance in promoting women, it’s such an honor for me to have the opportunity they have given me. When I retire from shooting, my hope is that I was able to encourage as many ladies as possible to participate and enjoy firearms, whether for recreation or self defense!
FJ To the average shooter, a lot of the guns the pros like yourself use in matches look like something you would see in a science fiction movie. I know that in most cases those pro guns, like race cars, are highly tuned and customized, not just for the specific shooter, but also the specific competition. How critical are those custom guns to your success as a competitor? Could you still win with an out-of-the-box Taurus?
JD The majority of my guns are, as you mentioned, custom built to me and the events I compete in. While I prefer to compete with a firearm that is fine tuned to my specifications, I can and have competed with out-of-the-box firearms. I spent the early years of my career shooting stock guns, and did well with them. As I progressed into the sport, I wanted to expand the divisions I competed in, which led to custom guns. I still shoot in divisions where the modifications are minimal, like Single Stack and Production.
These divisions showcase the Taurus products, and show consumers that they are top-shelf firearms even without all the bells and whistles.
FJ I know you have some experience with vintage firearms. For fun, have you ever tried those courses of fire you do for the Bianchi Cup or Steel Challenge with something completely old school, like a fixed sight S&W M1917 revolver, an original Colt 1911 or a C-96 “broomhandle” Mauser? That would be pretty awesome.
JD My shooting career started in cowboy action shooting, so I got plenty of time behind a Ruger Vaquero! Before I started shooting modern firearms, I shot Steel Challenge with
my single-action revolvers. That was a challenge within itself!
FJ You won quite a few Single Action Shooting Society competitions early in your career. What attracted you to that unique type costumed genre shooting competition? Did your Dad
make you watch Gunsmoke reruns when you were a kid?
JD I grew up watching Westerns; my dad is a cowboy at heart, which is why he loves SASS. My dad was competing in SASS when I made my way into competition, so naturally that’s what
I shot as well. I love the cowboy era, and the costumes you would see at the matches, and shooting firearms that were built hundreds of years ago, that are still functional today. So, it was a great place for me to start my shooting career.
FJ What’s in your sights for next year?
Any plans to expand your Outdoor Channel NRA All Access show?
JD NRA All Access is continuing on, with season two currently airing, and we are wrapping up season three. It’s been a wonderful journey through the years with Friends of NRA, and transitioning into NRA All Access! Through the show, my husband and I are able to travel the country and meet the people of the NRA. We get to hear their stories of what the Second Amendment means to them, the traditions that they are passing on, and their passions about the outdoors. I’m excited to see the future the show will have, and to continue to be a part of it! WSJ