Student Profile - Michelle Chestnut

Chemical Engineering or Pre-Med, Michelle Chestnut is on target

Michelle Chesnut in biology labSteady. Thoughtful. Analytical. Consistent. Attributes desired in a physician … or an engineer. Attributes readily seen in Lamar sophomore Michelle Chestnut.

Add to the list: sharpshooter.

A 2012 graduate of Goose Creek Memorial High School in Baytown, Michelle is two-time junior world champion and three-time female four gun world champion.

What makes that all the more unique is that she is not only winning at the international level, but is doing so in the largest caliber available in sporting arms – the .50 BMG – at 1,000 yards. So distant, in fact, that 6-foot square targets with 10-inch bulls eyes tantalizingly dance in 14-power scopes as shimmering heat creates mirages over the New Mexico desert where the nationals are held each year.

Attracted to Lamar because of the reputation of its engineering programs, she is now a rising junior majoring in chemical engineering and pre-medicine.

During her senior year in high school, she took an introductory course that got her started thinking about a career in engineering but she is also interested in a career in medicine. “When we came to Lamar I learned that Lamar had such a great program,” she said. “Right now, I am really more focused on pre-med than engineering.  I am just now starting to get into my engineering classes.”

Helping her get a strong start in those courses is the scholarship support she’s receiving including Garrett Scholars, Charles and Susan Gordon and Julia Gordon Gray Memorial, Clara Elizabeth Beard Walker Memorial, and the Judy Fleming Partin Memorial Scholarship in Engineering, as well as the Houston Automobile Dealers Association and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. Dependents’ Scholarship.

“Scholarships are really important, especially as a double major,” she said. “They make it possible to focus 100 percent on my classes to get everything I can out of each class and lab rather than having to balance course work with an outside job.”

Focusing with intent came early to Chestnut.  “When I was eleven, I went with my dad to the FCSA — the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association — world championships, in Raton, New Mexico,” she said.

Chestnut with .50 BMGAn avid shooter, “he had bought the gun for himself for Father’s Day because he had always wanted one,” Chestnut said. He decided to head to the competition to break in the new rifle and he asked Michelle to come along. Despite having only Hilary Duff CD’s to listen to (he had forgotten to bring other music) “it turned into this awesome father-daughter road trip,” she said.

While there, a friend saw that she wasn’t having much fun “just sitting there the whole time” and suggested she try shooting his rifle because it was one she could manage, although just barely.  “I actually had to stand on ammo cans to shoulder the rifle,” she said. “I have a really funny picture of that. But they let me shoot and after that I was pretty much hooked. I asked Santa for one.” The man in red delivered a E.D.M. WindRunner like her father’s that Christmas, only hers in a “beautiful olive green.”

While the .50 BMG rounds are huge, a good muzzle brake takes up much of the recoil energy, making the massive forces generated manageable, even for her smaller frame.

Her natural skills, success and, yes, personality, have made her a sought after shooter. First sponsored by Schryver Gun Sales, a chance meeting with Ronnie Barrett and his son and daughter led to her competition being sponsored by Barrett Arms.  At around $4 a round (or twice that for custom loads), it's a big help to have some backing. Add to that the fact that she’s privileged to shoot some of Barrett’s latest .50 caliber arms, specifically the M107A1.

If zeroed at 100 yards, the bullet will have dropped 302 inches by the time it reaches 1,000 yards (10 football fields away), but it will still be traveling 1,483 feet per second (well over Mach 1).

At these extreme ranges, environmental factors become serious considerations – temperature, humidity, elevation, Coriolis effect, and, of course, the wind – but the biggest factor is always the shooter’s performance. “If I’m not doing what I am supposed to be doing in keeping it consistent then it doesn't really matter what the wind is doing,” Chestnut said. “If you bump the gun during recoil it could change the point of impact and I can pretty much guarantee it will be feet not inches.”

 Chestnut firing .50 BMG“I have shot one of Barrett’s M107’s since it was a prototype every year at the world championships. It actually has less kick than my other rifles,” she said.

In 2009, Chestnut took the “Iron Maiden” award as the top female four gun shooter and the top junior shooter. That year, she shot scores and groups that bettered those of the adult shooters of both genders in three categories.  In 2011, her score was the highest at the World Championship that year.

However, being a full time student means she only has time to compete in three matches a year – two regional matches in Shreveport, La., and the nationals in Raton, New Mexico. She also attends Shot Show, to represent the FCSA at the largest trade show for shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement in the world, held annually in Las Vegas.

When she’s not punching paper representing one of the premier firearms manufactures in America, she’s writing papers and enjoying courses, like genetics with biology professor Michael Haiduk. She also enjoys collecting custom knives, which took her to the annual Blade Show, where she enjoyed meeting celebrity R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey.

Whatever she may be doing, you can bet she’s pursuing it with a passion for precision and a (bull’s) eye toward winning.