The drive from Colorado Springs to the Mill Creek Shooting Resort in Saguache, Colo., offered up beautiful scenery and allowed my mind some time to wander. I was going to meet a 10-year-old girl that I’ve admired since first learning about her. In my mind, she is a giant among giants. What would I say? What questions would I ask her? Would she like me? While this sounds like a joke, I assure you it’s not.
Needless to say, my worries were all for naught. MaryBeth Olson, a very young but fierce competitor in the PRS Bolt Gun Series Open Division, is pretty darn cool. And if you don’t know who she is, just hang on because you’re about to. MaryBeth is a shooting prodigy.
One Tiny Giant
Standing at a towering 4-foot-5 and weighing in at just over 57 pounds, MaryBeth is as unassuming as a kid can be. Looking at her, you’d never guess that she is 100-percent bad-to-the-bone when she gets a rifle in her hands. She knows more about long-range shooting than a majority of so-called shooters, regardless of experience level.
MaryBeth got into shooting when she was just four years old.
“I shot a BB gun and didn’t like it, but I shot a .22 the same day and really liked it,” she explained to me over dinner at Mill Creek. When asked why, she said, “I didn’t like the way the way BB gun kicked or the way it loaded.”
Upon hearing this, I immediately made a mental note to compare the two when I got back home. Meanwhile, her father chimed in, “Yeah, I had to basically pry her off the gun.”
MaryBeth discovered that she enjoyed shooting rifles, and three years later, at the tender age of 7, she would win her first of three Rocky Mountain State Games championships in iron-sighted .22 silhouette competition. MaryBeth scored higher than anyone in any class—adults included. Let that sink in. In 2017, at the age of 10, she would again win the state championship, but this time with a perfect score, even with the pressure of a tie-breaking shoot-off against another youth competitor.
You might wonder how MaryBeth learned about PRS competition in the first place. Well, during ballet class, of course. A friend’s father invited MaryBeth’s father, Zach, out for some long-range shooting. Naturally, MaryBeth wanted to come along. Baptism by fire on a 6.5-284 Norma with targets at 250, 500 and 1,000 yards solidified her passion for centerfire precision shooting.
As you can probably tell, MaryBeth has a potentially long and successful future ahead of her if she continues to pursue it.
“I don’t force her to shoot in any matches,” MaryBeth’s father said. “She competes every weekend from March to September, so sleeping patterns are the hardest thing for her now, and the heat is tough on her, too.”
As you might expect from a caring parent, Zach Olson worries about her burning out. This is a legitimate concern, but MaryBeth has a strong support system in her friends, family and even teachers at school. They know she’ll sometimes have to miss class to attend competitions.
Jim O’Shaughnessy, the CEO of Prime Ammunition, is one of MaryBeth’s sponsors and is very instrumental in her shooting development. As a sponsor, he insists that MaryBeth put all kid things first, like birthday parties and play dates. This can be difficult because MaryBeth truly loves to compete.
“She’ll have her girlfriends over and she’ll draw a picture of a reticle and explain to them how to use it,” Zach said.
As MaryBeth’s mother spoke, I shook my head in amazement, trying to figure out how MaryBeth does what she does. Her mother gave me more insight on the young gunner.
“MaryBeth is very patient … she’s never in a hurry and takes her time and makes good decisions. When she’s shooting, that is everything in the world that is going on.” This is an admirable trait for a shooter, no matter the age, but she admits this can work against her daughter during competition.
I also asked her what it’s like to be a mother of a young girl competing in an activity comprised almost entirely of grown men.
“I was a bit reserved at first because I didn’t know how competition worked … it can be challenging being a parent of a child, doing something that is not meant for children.”
She commented briefly on the GAP Grind, which is a big competition especially for little MaryBeth: “I wanted her to be safe and comfortable … that’s your child and you’ve got to keep them safe. She has the ability to handle this environment even if I or her dad isn’t there.” MaryBeth is very shy, but her father admits that she is confident and can give the inevitable ribbing back just like the guys.
MaryBeth spends much of her time imbedded in a male-dominated, adult-driven, competitive world, but don’t be misled by these influential factors—she is still all girl on the inside. Teal and hot pink are her favorite colors, and teal adorns her rifle as an accent color in all the right places, her shooting bags and even her watch. According to MaryBeth, her next gun, an AR, will be finished in those colors. Her favorite Disney character is Elsa from Frozen, and MaryBeth isn’t afraid to dress up like Elsa while sporting a rifle.
When she’s not shooting, MaryBeth Beth loves spending time with her friends and family. She and her family like to camp, hike, play in the river and simply be outdoors. MaryBeth likes to ride her bike and is looking forward to becoming a cheerleader and learning acrobatic dancing. The Olsons don’t have a television, opting instead to have music playing throughout the house, so MaryBeth loves to sing as well.
MaryBeth doesn’t have a set practice schedule, but she and her parents admit to daily dry-fire sessions in the house. Stairs, chairs and other furniture become obstacles as she perfects her craft. She and her father have full access to a friend’s property near their home that allows live-fire practice sessions out to 1,300 yards.
She is sometimes torn between her favorite places to shoot. As much as she likes PRS and competitions like the GAP Grind, she loves .22 competition, and her favorite place to do that is in Pueblo, Colorado. There they shoot .22s from 50 to 200 yards, and MaryBeth mops up the competition with regularity. She finds particular interest in the “know your limits” (KYL) rack. This target system sports steel plates that hang down and graduate from 2 inches in diameter all the way down to a quarter-inch. Guess which size MaryBeth Beth likes the most? Apparently, she can hit the quarter-inch version from 50 yards while shooting from her support side. Go figure.
I asked MaryBeth about the challenges she has faced in all of this. Pertaining to PRS competition, MaryBeth reminded me that girls are short, and many times it’s hard to reach things at the stages where positional shooting is required.
MaryBeth points out that there is some difficulty in being around so many men because “They don’t know what it’s like being a girl sometimes … It’s hard because of emotions, and sometimes the guys forget you’re a girl and treat you like a boy.” Because of this she likes shooting with other girls and spoke highly of Melissa Gilliland, who helps MaryBeth out during competition.
I asked Mr. and Mrs. Olson what their advice would be to parents who have children interested in shooting sports, and they replied, “Take them. Be patient. Patience is big. Safety is obviously number one, so teach that first. Take them out and make it fun, and as a parent you’ll be able to judge if they are ready or not.”
As my time with MaryBeth wound down, I found excitement in the realization that kids like her are the future of the shooting sports. On the flip side, I found no solace in the fact that she would more than likely kick my butt. Imagine what her skills will be like when her body catches up? I asked MaryBeth if she thought she’d keep shooting or stop at some point. She said, “I feel like if I stop, I’m losing everything I’ve worked for, and I want to keep going to see what comes further in my life.”
Profound words from the princess of PRS.
- Nickname: “Mare-Mare”
- Age: 10
- Years Shooting: 6
- Weight: 57 pounds
- Gear Weight: 25 pounds (rifle, bags, tripod, accessories)
- Favorite Colors: Teal and hot pink
- Sponsors: GAP, Prime Ammunition, Vortex Optics, Really Right Stuff, TRAUST, Patriot Valley Arms, Manners Stocks, AA Targets
- Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
- Favorite PRS Competition: GAP Grind
- Favorite Shooter: Melissa Gilliland
- Strengths: Tripod use, iron sights
- Longest Shot: 1,185 yards
- Accomplishments: 3 state .22 silhouette championships
- Best PRS Finish: 5th (club match)
- Future Goals: Compete in semi-auto tactical matches and ISPSC
This article is from the 2018 issue of Ballistic Precision. To subscribe or purchase individual copies, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.