The first thing one notices watching young shooter Anjum Moudgil talking to her seniors Anjali Bhagwat, Suma Shirur and Deepali Deshpande at the Karnala Shooting Range in Panvel is the disarming smiles and the self-confidence the four ladies possess.

The experienced trio, who dominated Indian women’s shooting for years, have been talking about the 23-year-old from Chandigarh for quite some time now and the youngster recently showed her mettle by winning five gold medals at the just concluded Senior Nationals in Thiruvananthpuram.

Just like the three, Moudgil is adept at all the three rifle events – 10m Air Rifle, 50m Prone and 50m 3-position. She was initiated into shooting thanks to her interest in the National Cadet Corps and possesses the same single-minded dedication to her craft that has helped her overcome challenges and injuries and become one of the top-ranked shooters in the country.

And just like them, it seems the 23-year-old was destined to make a mark with a rifle in hand.

Switch from pistol to rifle

Not many know that Moudgil first tried her hand at pistol shooting and then shifted to rifle and she explains that none of it was by choice. “I did not pick pistol in the first place,” she said. “It was just that when I went to the shooting range for the first time, my mother requested the people who had rifles to let me shoot and they refused. There was a person at the 10m range who was shooting pistol. He was like you can shoot with this. And that is how I started. I did pistol shooting max for six months. But then I joined NCC and had to shift to rifle because they didn’t have pistol.”

Moudgil said that the whole exercise of trying her hand with shooting was aimed at getting into NCC as her mother, Shubh, felt that joining the Corps was important for the overall development of her daughter.

Moudgil learnt the basics from Colonel Chauhan, who was the commander at her NCC unit, and in her own words began enjoying the sport as “it was better than doing the parade.”

But within two years, Moudgil had found a place in the Indian junior team and the success only spurred her to work harder. With no coach to help her, the Chandigarh-born girl would turn to senior shooters to help with her problems and still managed to be maintain her spot in the Indian team.

During that period, Moudgil mostly concentrated on the 3-position as she did not have her own equipment and had to borrow rifle from NCC for her competitions.

However, the lack of proper guidance did affect her as she struggled with back injuries and inconsistent performances till she found a mentor in Deshpande, who became the junior national coach in 2014.

Influence of coach

“I used to enjoy shooting but I was still not very serious about shooting as a career,” Moudgil said. “Because I never had a coach, I never knew how it is to work with a coach. So asking seniors was okay with me. But when I saw others having personal coaches and shooting well, it was my luck that [Deshpande] got into the Indian team as a coach and everything changed. She knew how to build up our basics and our technique. So that’s when we started shooting seriously as coach and student.”

Deshpande insists it was easy to work with Moudgil as the girl was extremely focused and though an introvert she never lacked confidence.

“The first time she came to the camp she didn’t even approach me, but it was my job to break the ice with all the shooters. Once that happened things were pretty smooth,” said Deshpande, adding confident players easily show faith in the coaches and work accordingly.

But the process of getting the right results was far from smooth. Moudgil was struggling with injuries and it took her a while to adapt to the changes and start performing. “It was probably in her last match as a junior that she really made a mark. Since then she hasn’t looked back,” Deshpande adds.

She broke into the senior team soon after, winning two gold medals in the 2016 SAFF Games and recently won a 10m Air Rifle silver and 50m prone bronze in the Commonwealth Shooting Championship.

Transformation into all-rounder

Explaining the transformation from being a predominantly 3P shooter to an all-rounder, Moudgil said, “Recently, I have started loving Air Rifle. Earlier I used to literally hate prone. But Deepali ma’am worked a lot to change my mindset and now I love shooting prone. Now I love shooting well in all three events.”

While Moudgil trains for Air Rifle in Chandigarh, she has to travel to Delhi to practice for 3P and Prone since there is no 50-metre range in her home town. She even comes down to Pune to work with Deshpande when not in the camp.

The 23-year-old said the support from GoSports Foundation has been vital as she could buy her own equipment and just concentrate on her shooting career without bothering about the financial constraints.

Moudgil has now trained her guns on making a mark in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games later this year and a good showing at the Nationals has given her a head-start in the domestic qualification process for the Games.

However, trying to excel in three events would be more taxing this year as the new International Shooting Sports Federation rules specify that the women would have to take a similar number of shots as men. According to the new rules, women will have 60 shots in Air Rifle qualification instead of 40 and 120 in 3-position instead of 60.

But Moudgil doesn’t feel that she would make a choice between the events and said she would instead concentrate on improving her physical fitness to take the added strain. “Sixty shots in Air Rifle shouldn’t be a problem. But 120 shots in 3P will be interesting. Let’s see how it goes at trials.”

For that, she may have to once again rework her technique and strategy and that could affect her performance in the short run. But Moudgil is unperturbed. “Even today, I don’t need scores. I just need to better myself,” she said.