He works deftly, loading five bullets into a magazine. He steadies the .308-calibre rifle on a pair of sand bags and peers delicately through the scope.
He fires, pulls back the bolt to reload, fires again. Three more times. His movements have a practised fluidity. It would be easy to fail to notice that the shooter is missing most of one hand.
Graeme Foote, who was born without most of his right hand, is a rising talent in precision-rifle shooting. The Surrey, British Columbia native took up the sport competitively only three years ago and other shooters say he has already overtaken many marksmen with far longer track records and double the digits.
“I don’t really think of things as a challenge,” said Foote, 39, who works as a systems engineer. “I keep going at it and going at it until I find a solution that works for me.”
While Foote is right-hand dominant, he shoots his gun using his left hand.
Foote said he remembers the moment he decided to dedicate himself to shooting. He and a friend were near Hedley in southern B.C. in 2011, shooting at a small, round steel plate they had set up.
“The first time I actually hit the target – which was about six inches at 600 metres –was exhilarating,” Foote recalled, smiling through his rust-coloured beard.
“I jumped up and down. I yelled up at the mountains. It was really good.”
His decision eventually brought him under the wing of decorated marksman Ryan Steacy, who has since become Foote’s regular shooting partner.
Steacy has shot competitively for about 20 years, both in the military and as a civilian. He’s won B.C.’s provincial service rifle championship 17 times and the Canadian championship three times. In 2014, he was inducted into the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association hall of fame, one of only six shooters.
Steacy called Foote’s dedication to shooting a rarity.
“You don’t find people who are truly passionate about it very often,” said Steacy, who was a longtime firearms instructor for the military.
“He’s only got one hand and he’s outshooting people who have two hands and guys who have much more experience than he does.”
Foote has competed in three provincial and two national shooting championships, and he plans to return to Ottawa this summer for the nationals.
CJ Summers, a friend and fellow shooter, called Foote a role model and an inspiration.
“Just being around him, around that aura of positivity and that aura of literally shooting down obstacles in front of you, it’s something that I subconsciously – sometimes consciously – take through my day,” Summers said.
“If something comes up that I’m worried or bothered or frustrated by, it’s literally, ‘What would Graeme do?’ It sounds cheesy but it’s actually true,” he added, laughing.
As for Foote’s shooting prowess, Summers marvels at his friend’s ability to hit a target at 1,100 metres.
“It’s something that I can’t wrap my head around as just a regular person, not to mention someone in the firearms community.”
As Foote puts it, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of hearing the faint sound of metal on metal resonate from a steel target more than a kilometre away, the noise registering a full three seconds after squeezing the trigger.
“I don’t let my physical disabilities stop me and I don’t think anyone else should,” he said.
“The worst you do is you fail, and if you fail in a way that is successful at any point then there’s plenty of room for learning.”
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press