ELEY Spotlight - USA shooter Michael McPhail

With a Good Dog & Rifle, McPhail Cannot Lose.

As a shooter, Michael McPhail has all the qualities of a good bird dog: instinct, aggression, confidence, intelligence, trainability and good lineage.

It’s an easy comparison to make given McPhail’s love of training quality bird dogs born from a hunting pedigree dating back to the start of his teenage years. It is then that Ed Wiegel would introduce McPhail, born and raised in Darlington, Wisconsin, to both rifle and hunting, starting a love affair with both that hasn’t been tempered since.

Today, McPhail the rifleman is much different than McPhail the hunter.  Rifle is his job; one he’s particularly good at having earned eight medals in international competition including bronze in September in 300m Prone Rifle. Hunting is his passion. For now, both take on equal levels of obsession.


The 2012 Olympian recognizes he’s at the prime of his career as a rifleman, with the window short to retrieve the medals he so desires. As he primes himself for another Olympic opportunity in 2016, there’s an edge to him born out of one thing—winning.

“Winning is very fun,” McPhail states when asked about what fun he derives from his shooting career. “The process and training and all of that, I wouldn’t say it is fun.  It is long days and they are hard.  You’re leaving a part of yourself out there. The fun part for me is winning and I’ll tell you one thing – I’ve never had any pain, any doubt when I was standing on the podium. You feel none of that pain on the podium.”

Flushing opportunity, that’s been the easy part.  Seizing it, is another thing altogether.  As a competitive shooter, you prepare yourself for days like August 3, 2012, when a millimeter was all that stood between him and an Olympic final.  Shooting 39 inner-tens over the course of 60 shots still left him tied with nine other competitors for five spots in the Finals.  With a five-shot shootoff , McPhail thought he was in great shape; averaging a 10.26 throughout and never straying outside the 10-ring on any of the five shots. But his Finals dream would be undone that day by three-tenths of a point.

Three-tenths short haunted him again in September at the World Championship, falling that much short of the desired goal of shooting in the 50m Prone Finals and more importantly, earning the top-five ranking it would take to earn an Olympic quota.

Aside from a good upbringing and a strong will to win, Sergeant First Class McPhail credits the Army Marksmanship Unit for bringing out the best in him.

“The Army has calmed me down a little bit and let me look at things a different way,” McPhail admits. “I have a tendency to let my emotions take over at times, so being with the Army puts me around people who are winners and I don’t think that can be taken too lightly. The first two years I got here, I shot between [Tom] Tamas,  [Mike] Anti, [Jason] Parker and [Eric] Uptagrafft… You’re around people that know how to win, know how to train and if you don’t you can at least emulate that.”

When asked to describe McPhail, his former teammate and now coach SFC Parker, says it simply. “He’s a lead by example type of guy.  He is an extremely intense competitor in everything he does. Whether it is match day or practice, he shows up with a very intense focus and carries it through to the end. He’s the first person to show up to the range for training, and you can count on it to be highly organized, efficient and focused on a specific aspect of his performance.”

Intense, efficient, focused and ready to grab the prize when opportunity strikes.  Yes, all the qualities of a good bird dog.


Many thanks to Kevin Neuendorf from USA Shooting for writing this post.


Read our previous post on Amy Sowash here.

Read our previous post on Michael Tagliapietra here.