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Top shot: World champion skeet shooter conquers competition, helps grow sport

SALISBURY — When Victoria Stellato won a ladies world championship in skeet shooting at just 13 years old, her mother was proud but not surprised.

“Victoria is a competitor,” said Kelly Stellato, Victoria’s mom. “She doesn’t want to go out there and not do well. She has that drive. If she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it well.” 

Never mind the fact that most of Victoria’s competitors were far older than her or that she’d only learned how to shoot two years earlier. She went to San Antonio in 2012 looking to win at the world level and had done it.

She hasn’t stopped winning since.

The now 22-year-old Mocksville resident won the world doubles championship at the World Skeet Shooting Championships in October — beating both men and women to claim a victory that she said is the highlight of her career so far.

Victoria has taken down targets across the country while competing for state, national and world titles, but she got her start in skeet shooting at the Rowan County Wildlife Association. The private membership club, located at 650 Majolica Road, has an archery field, pistol range and extensive shotgun facilities for shooting traps or skeet.

In skeet shooting, a competitor uses a shotgun to hit clay targets that are mechanically launched into the air in an intersecting pattern from two separate “houses,” or “sheds.” The activity is meant to simulate live hunting, but it occurs with breakable targets instead of ducks or pigeons. It’s fast paced, requires concentration and tests a person’s reaction time, which is why Victoria fell in love with it after she tried it as a sixth-grader at the Rowan County Wildlife Association.

For years, the Rowan County Wildlife Association was run by the late Joe Early, who helped Victoria when she was just getting her feet wet in the sport. She also received guidance from other seasoned members of the club, before eventually learning from her own private coach.

The first tournament Victoria entered was held at the club, but she was soon competing on a much larger stage. After conquering the competition at the ladies .410 world championships in 2012, Victoria repeated her title in 2013 and 2014 — becoming the youngest lady to win a concurrent world title.

In the years since, she’s claimed numerous other championships and has garnered sponsorships from some of the top gun brands in the country, including Kolar competition shotguns. 

Victoria has been supported in her skeet shooting endeavors by her mother, who has shuttled her daughter to and from countless practices and competitions. Kelly was so willing to support her daughter’s sudden interest in skeet shooting because of a life-altering medical diagnosis she received about two decades ago.

“When Victoria was very little, about three years old, they told me I had another year to live,” Kelly said.

Kelly was suffering from a brain defect she’d had since birth. While doctors initially expected the defect to be life-ending, Kelly underwent a surgery that has kept her alive. She still manages concussion-like symptoms to this day.

“It gives you a different perspective,” Kelly said. “If (Victoria) wants to pursue something and it’s her thing, I’m willing to say, ‘OK. Let’s do it.’”

Victoria has a similar, albeit less severe, version of the same medical issue, which can cause her to black out if her head faces downward for any substantial amount of time. Victoria manages the condition, and doesn’t expect to have to get surgery herself.

While Kelly was at almost all of Victoria’s tournaments, she rarely had time to watch Victoria do what she does best. Kelly was often busy refereeing other competitors, earning money to offset the expensive travel and tournament costs.

The sacrifices made by her mother are not lost on Victoria, who moved to North Carolina from New York with her mother when she was a child

“Until I turned 16, she drove me to all my practices two days a week,” Victoria said. “She drove me to all my tournaments and she always paid. She did a lot, actually. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.”

Kelly has put her daughter in the position to succeed in skeet shooting, but Victoria’s achievements on the range can be attributed to several factors, most importantly her mental fortitude.

“It’s being able to not buckle under the pressure, to not make any mistakes,” Victoria said. “If you haven’t made any mistakes yet, you have to keep going to make sure you don’t miss.”

The top skeet shooters typically only miss one or two targets per round, meaning you need an almost perfect score to win.

Victoria also credits her success to her spry eyes.

“On the physical side, I would say the young eyes because it’s all about the eyes,” Victoria said. As long as you can see the target, you can hit them. That definitely helps.”

Whether it’s her eyes or what’s behind them, Victoria has already cobbled together an impressive resumé in her tournament career. Now, she’s helping others do the same through coaching. Victoria provides guidance to several students who mainly live in Pennsylvania and Maryland, but drive down for a few days at a time to practice under her tutelage.

By coaching both beginners and more experienced skeet shooters, Victoria is working to spread the sport she loves.

“I wanted to get a few more people involved, especially younger people because we have such an older population shooting,” Victoria said.

Although she’s proud of her own trophies and medals, Victoria said her proudest moments are when her students text her about their conquests on the range.

“I want them to beat everyone, even me,” Victoria said.

In addition to coaching and competing, Victoria is vice president of the North Carolina Skeet Shooting Association. She’s held a leadership position in the organization since high school and is now second in command, responsible for planning tournaments and serving as an ambassador for the sport. 

Victoria was at the Rowan County Wildlife Association on Saturday to hand out medals to the winners of the junior state competition. It was the first tournament she ever entered and the only time she competed at the junior level.

The COVID-19 pandemic derailed Victoria’s tournament schedule, but the reigning world champion is planning to defend her doubles title at the World Skeet Shooting Competition in San Antonio this October.

More information about the Rowan County Wildlife Association can be found online at www.rcwa.club. More information about Victoria Stellato can be found on her website at www.victoriastellatoskeet.com.

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