‘The girl who shoots guns’ headed to national competition


Some of you know her as “the girl who shoots guns.” 

Most of you probably don’t know her.

But you will.

This year marks Park High Class of 2013 graduate Kayla Polillo’s second year participating in the 4-H National Shooting Sports Invitational in Grand Island, Neb. And this time around, she’s determined to trump her performance from last year.

That’s not an easy task — Kayla placed 13th in the nation in air pistol last year. But according to Kayla, she’s ready for the challenge.


About the shooting

Kayla has been competing in 4-H shooting sports for five years, participating in air pistol, air rifle and small-bore .22 shooting events. In competition, shooters compete in rapid, timed and slow-fire events, as well as shooting at silhouettes. 

In rapid fire, shooters have 10 seconds to shoot five rounds at a target. In timed fire, shooters have 20 seconds to shoot five rounds. In slow fire, shooters have 10 minutes to fire five rounds. In silhouette competition, shooters have 20 minutes to shoot 10 rounds each at targets from varying distances — including chicken, turkey, pig and ram silhouettes — the farthest being 100 yards away.

“Silhouettes are my favorite,” Kayla said, adding that at last year’s competition, she hit the most chicken targets in the nation — a whopping nine out of 10.

In order to qualify for the national competition set for June 22-28, shooters must first place top four in the state competition, which took place in Bozeman during the first week of March.

“Last year, I qualified dead last,” Kayla smiled, “but I ended up beating everyone (from Montana) at nationals.”

Unfortunately, 4-H shooting sports rules state that shooters may compete at nationals in a certain event only once, so Kayla won’t be shooting air pistol this year, but that didn’t stop her from qualifying for nationals in a different event.

“I picked up small-bore three or four weeks before the state competition – I probably only shot it 10 to 12 times before state,” she laughed.

Even at that, Kayla placed a qualifying third in small-bore .22 competition at state in March.


Much to be done

According to Kayla, much needs to be done before she heads off to Grand Island next Friday.

Most importantly: practice.

During the winter, Kayla and her father, Roger Polillo, who is also the Park County 4-H air rifle coach, drove to Bozeman three to four times a week to practice at an indoor shooting range.

“That got tiring,” Kayla commented.

“I also had to lift weights,” she explained, adding she would hold up a milk jug full of water for extended periods of time to improve her arm steadiness.

When the weather is nicer, Kayla and Roger head to the Park County Rod & Gun Club.

“My dad makes me get up there to shoot as soon as it’s light out, before anyone else is there,” Kayla said.

What’s it like having her father as a coach?

“I love that my dad’s my coach,” she said. “He knows exactly what to say and when to tell me to suck it up.”

“I just coach her like she’s one of the other students, and it works a lot better — she responds better to that,” Roger said.

At competitions, Roger admitted he gets nervous.

“There’s only so much I can do,” he said. “She’ll be out there and I can see what she’s doing wrong, but I can’t tell her. I just provide moral support during competitions. I’m not going to be like, ‘You’re doing this and this and this wrong.’ I’m there to just say, ‘You’re good, you can do this.’”



Besides practicing, Kayla also has another detail to wrap up before she heads to nationals.

“I need about $1,000 in order to go,” Kayla said.

While the state of Montana pays for each of the four qualifiers’ registration, there are still incidental costs to take care of, such as transportation, hotels, food – and yes, ammunition.

“The bullets – those things are expensive!” Kayla laughed.

On Wednesday, Kayla will be at the Livingston Farmers Market selling her original photography — she is a Park County Fair grand champion — in handcrafted frames as well as baked goods to help pay for her trip.

In the future, Kayla plans to continue being involved with shooting sports.

“I want to get qualified to be a secondary coach,” Kayla said, adding she plans on helping her father coach while attending Montana State University-Bozeman for pre-veterinary studies next year.

“Everyone knows me as the girl who shoots guns, but nobody actually knows what I do,” she said. “I wish more kids would get into it – it’s a great way to prepare for hunting season. (Shooting) has been a big part of my life.”


For more information on 4-H shooting sports, visit www.4-hshootingsports. org. To donate to Kayla Polillo's trip to national competition, call her at (406) 224-2242.