Melissa “Missy” Gilliland grew up around guns, with her father teaching her and her seven brothers and sisters how to shoot safely and have fun. What Missy didn’t realize at the time, however, was that she was setting a base for the years of competitive long range shooting to come. Missy, a professional Precision Rifle shooting competitor, now travels the country competing in tactical precision rifle competitions as one of the nation’s top female competitors.
One weekend Missy decided to accompany her husband, Retired Master Sergeant James Gilliland, a former Ranger Instructor and record holding Army Sniper, during a a shooting competition while he was still active duty in the army. She assumed the event was just for military or law enforcement personnel, but as she looked around she noticed there were a few women there. She asked her husband, “can anybody do this?” to which he replied “yeah, anybody can do this,” which got her highly intrigued.
“I sat and watched and I studied and it just looked like so much fun,” Missy told American Military News.
About two weeks later, her husband took her out and began teaching her long range. As a former sniper, James got out all of his books for Missy to study and took the advice geared towards the military and correlated it to the real world. From there, she was hooked.
Her first full year was in 2013. Though she didn’t know much about the Precision rifle series at the time, it didn’t stop her from going full speed ahead and just giving it a shot.
“We just jumped in feet first. and honestly,” she said. “I will never claim to be an expert at anything because you can always learn more. There is always information out there that you didn’t know about. I’m still learning things to this day.”
Missy’s advice to others looking to get involved in long range shooting is to do as she did and just jump right in. She says long range matches are popping up everywhere around the United States, but if you check out one-day matches instead of jumping right into the PRS, you’ll be able to get a better grasp on what works for you and see how much other shooters are willing to help you.
“What type of gear that works for me may not work for another person, so you really just gotta jump in feet first and just start playing,” Missy said.
One of the most rewarding parts of competing has been helping new shooters, Missy says. When speaking about a 9 year old girl she was at a competition with the week before, Missy said the new shooter was just phenomenal and soaked up everything.
“Just seeing her competing for the first time, in a big major match like that,” Missy said, “that’s rewarding.”
While being a long range instructor for a group called A Girl and A Gun during their national conference in Texas, Missy said she had the privilege of working with a group of women who were new to the sport. Missy kept telling one woman to “hold off the target,” meaning to aim her crosshairs to the right or the left of the target to compensate for the wind. Though she thought Missy was crazy to tell her to aim away from the target, finally the woman hit it, and jumped into the air with joy. Missy looked at the woman’s excitement and said “this is so worth it.”
Missy can identify with these beginners, as the most challenging part of it for her has been starting out so new and trying to get a handle on all of it.
“Everything is like muscle memory now,” she says after years of working on her skills. But she added, “you don’t start out an expert, and I’m still not an expert.” She also added that “it’s taken me about three years to gain momentum so to speak.”
In competitions, Missy shoots what she nicknamed “The BlackWidow”: a custom built G.A. Precision Templar V2 short action in 6mm Creedmoor with a Timney Trigger, 25″ Bartlein Barrel with APA Little Bastard G2 brake, all in a Manners Composite Stock (MCS-EHT Gap Elite). Her scope is a Bushnell Elite 4.5-30 with the G2 reticle and she shoots Berger Bullets 105gr Hybrids.
If she could shoot with one person, past or present, Missy says it’d be Annie Oakley.
“I think she paved the way for women back in the day,” she said. Annie Oakley was one of the first to show that “women can shoot like men” and that “sometimes some women are even better than men.”
“Women are more natural shooters too,” Missy added. “I’ve always heard that.
If you check out Missy on social media it won’t take long to see she loves her coffee, or “magic” as she calls it. On the day of of matches she says she wakes up early “just so I can drink my magic” but makes sure to keep it to only two cups because at three she starts getting jittery. She doesn’t have a favorite brand because as a true coffee lover she says “it’s all very good.”
When she’s not shooting, Missy works for Armageddon Gear, managing and helping build their social media presence to sell their manufactured goods such as tactical nylon products like slings, suppressor covers, rifle cases, and plenty more. She also runs Shadow 6 consulting with her husband Jim, a company where the pair teach marksmanship to those interested in learning the great skill. She is proud to be sponsored by GA Precision, Bushnell, Hoppe’s 9, Berger Bullets, XGO, and Armageddon Gear.