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Eagle River's Corey Cogdell gunning for trapshooting gold

Beth Bragg

You can get a measure of how an Olympic bronze medal changed Corey Cogdell's life by looking at her passport. Or by watching TV.

Since her trapshooting triumph at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Eagle River woman has become a hot commodity in the outdoors world.

Shortly after Beijing, she was introduced to people at Cabela's who wanted to shoot a commercial celebrating her bronze medal and wound up hiring her as a brand ambassador. The outdoors store features her in hunting shows, seeks her advice on women's apparel, puts her in catalogs and showcases her at store openings and other events.

"Things progressed as we learned more about her," said Chris Sprangers, Cabela's brand partnership manager. "She seemed like a natural fit."

She's young, she loves to hunt and fish, she's photogenic, she's from Alaska and, most important of all, she's an expert shot -- something Sprangers and others learned the first time Cabela's took Cogdell into the field.

"They invited me to go on a pheasant hunt in South Dakota, and I don't think I missed a bird," Cogdell said. "They were fairly impressed with that -- hmm, maybe we should talk to this girl."

Cogdell is one of two U.S. Olympic shooters who are sponsored by Safari Club International. She is heralded online, in print and on TV not only as an Olympic medalist but as an avid hunter. Twice since Beijing, Cogdell has gone to Africa for safaris featured on television.

MISUNDERSTOOD

This has put her squarely in the sights of animal-rights advocates, who have flooded Cogdell's Facebook fan page with scathing remarks and have created a Facebook page railing against her ("Corey Cogdell is not welcome in Africa," which in turn has been countered by another Facebook page, "Corey Cogdell is welcome in Africa.")

Cogdell, 25, doesn't dodge the criticism.

"Anyone who gets in my position has those encounters," she said before leaving for the London Olympics last month. "I tell people I grew up as a meat hunter and I try to utilize everything that I hunted when I was growing up and even now.

"So many people don't understand what conservation is. There are areas where if it is not hunted, animals would starve. I always try to explain to people that, even what is considered sport hunting, if those animals weren't hunted, a lot of them would die of overpopulation or disease.

"Even when I'm hunting in Africa, the meat I can't keep goes to a lot of villages and people who need the meat and count on that meat. So many villages are now dependent on sport hunters providing that meat for them."

In Alaska, Cogdell is pretty much preaching to the choir. She is very much a product of her home state -- a woman who learned to shoot as a toddler in Chickaloon by taking aim at tin cans and whose bucket list includes a Dall sheep hunt.

AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

Friday night in London, Cogdell will take aim at something far more precious than a tin can.

The first U.S. woman to claim an Olympic medal in trapshooting, Cogdell begins defense of her bronze medal at midnight at London's Royal Artillery Barracks.

If she is among the top shooters after qualifications, where shooters take aim at 75 clay targets, she will advance to the finals at 6 a.m. ADT Saturday.

These are the Olympics that Cogdell was targeting more than six years ago when she left Alaska for Colorado Springs, Colo., home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"Her goal was to be at the London Olympics. She didn't anticipate going to Beijing," Sprangers said. "And she still has that drive to say, 'I'm gonna do better.' "

Cogdell was still a teenager when she left for Colorado, and Beijing was coming too soon for it to be a legitimate goal. "2012" became part of her email address.

Then she won the only spot on the U.S. Olympics team for women's trapshooting, and then she won a shoot-off for the bronze medal.

And then her life changed. Cabela's came calling, and other sponsors too. They have not made her rich, but they have made her pursuit of an Olympic and international shooting career a little more comfortable and attainable.

"We do a lot of work over four years and get paid very little," Cogdell said. "Our big opportunity to capitalize on all the work we do is the Olympic games."

A MAGIC GUN

In 2010, Cogdell switched from her made-in-Italy Perazzi shotgun to a made-in-Germany Krieghoff.

She said both are quality guns -- the Perazzi carried her to Olympics bronze -- but she said the new gun fits her like none before.

"They fit the gun to me and went out of their way to make it custom for me," she said. "I was getting a lot of recoil before because the gun wasn't fitted well to me. That's one of the big reasons why I changed."

Cogdell said she spent two days at the Krieghoff factory getting the gun fitted.

"The next day, I shot 50 targets straight," she said. "That wasn't something I was doing with the other gun. I shot all my (personal bests) with this gun. I really had no idea a gun could fit me that well. It's kind of magic."

Cogdell said she has fired 50,000 to 60,000 rounds in the little more than two years she's had the Krieghoff and the shotgun could see far more action before it's replaced. Some competitive shooters use the same gun for 10 or 15 years.

"I know people who have put more than a million rounds through their guns," Cogdell said.

STAYING SHARP

Shooters do more than aim and shoot in preparation for competition.

Cogdell's routine includes time in the gym working on her arm strength, core strength and aerobic fitness. A spokeswoman for the Shaklee nutrition company -- another sponsor she picked up after winning bronze -- Cogdell said she pays more attention to diet now than she did before her first Olympics. Because a shooter's heart rate can contribute to success or failure, she's more aware of how food can impact her performance.

Six days a week, nine or 10 months a year, Cogdell's day begins at the range around 9 a.m. She shoots till 1 or 2 p.m., firing 200 to 300 rounds a day. On three to four afternoons a week, she goes to the gym till dinnertime.

"I don't have a personal ammo sponsor, but Winchester sponsors the whole team," she said. "I shoot easily a case of ammo a day, and at almost $80 a case, that adds up really quick."

Even though she finished behind two other women in Beijing, Cogdell was a hit at the news conference after the competition. Reporters were fascinated that she was from Alaska and that she was a real hunter. Bagging a moose by the time you're 18 might not make headlines here, but it can in other parts of the world.

"People are intrigued and have a lot of questions about how I grew up," Cogdell said.

Cabela's is intrigued by Cogdell's Alaska background too.

"She never hunted some of the things we take for granted in the Lower 48, whereas she's hunted for everything we aspire to," said Sprangers, who said Cabela's took Cogdell to Kansas for her first white-tail deer hunt.

Cogdell's expertise as a shooter is her biggest asset to the store, Sprangers said, but it isn't her only one.

"She's a female and she's a great role model for those who aspire to be proficient in fishing and shooting," he said. "These days the most growth in the hunting and fishing market is among women."

But what really sets Cogdell apart is her credentials as a competitive shooter. She is the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in trapshooting and she is among the favorites in London.

"There really is very few women who have gotten to my level," Cogdell said. "The fact that I am truly an outdoors girl kinda set me apart. Hunting is a huge part of who I am."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

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By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News