PEQUOT LAKES - The walk was short, 50 yards maybe. Annie Gilotte, it seemed, was anxious to get to the next stop. And, at the same time, happy to savor each step of the short journey. To smell the roses. Or rather, the gunpowder.
It was a humid mid-afternoon at Wild Acres Hunting Club and Sporting Preserve, and Gilotte was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her first child. But there she was, bounding from station to station while keeping score for a pair of league sporting clay shooters last month. Like a kid skipping from carnival ride to carnival ride.
This has always been her amusement park.
Gilotte, 29, grew up at Wild Acres, run by her mother, Mary Ebnet. And after about five years away, she returned this year to help her mother run the place.
Back in mid-July, with a good-sized league sporting clays group on hand, she was thrower and scorer. But the impending birth of her child was, she admits, more evident this time around, and it was brutally hot. Phil, her husband, took over "throwing" duties this time, activating the remote-controlled targets on the shooters' command.
Annie Gilotte pointed out the path of targets while prepping shooters at a station as husband Phil looked on during a recent sporting clays shoot at Wild Acres.
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Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson
The clay pigeon soared across the sky in front of the station, where it was obliterated by a single shot. The shooters exchanged friendly banter. Gilotte smiled and marked the hit on the score sheet.
Even after the misses - there weren't many for Ray Montzka and Steve Allen - her smile was sure-fire. It's obvious she loves this place, and at the same time, it's difficult to believe she went without it for five years.
"I think I missed Minnesota a little bit," Gilotte said. "And I'm used to running sporting clays. I did it for eight years before I moved out (to Maryland) and during my years at South Dakota State.
"And we're starting a family, too. This is a good place to raise kids."
After graduating from SDSU, where she also played volleyball, the 1999 Pequot Lakes High School graduate went to nursing school at highly regarded Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She worked in nursing in Maryland until returning to Minnesota in April.
"This is nice," Gilotte said from the deck at Wild Acres after the shoot. "A little slower ...
"I love nursing and taking care of sick people. And this is the other side - taking care of people having fun. I kind of missed all the old customers. I wanted to experience the big city. But I was ready to come back."
She earned a degree in biology at SDSU and considered medical school before deciding on nursing and entering Johns Hopkins. Two sisters also reside in Maryland - she has six sisters and three brothers - and while there, she met her husband-to-be, a Maryland native. They celebrated their first anniversary in July.
"He came back with me to visit (while they were dating)," Gilotte said of her husband. "He enjoys it (in Minnesota). He's starting his own sports camp business. He's done junior all-sports camps for kids and will be doing baseball and soccer and lacrosse and softball. Some in this area and some in the Twin Cities. He was a teacher out East. Physical education. But he's sliding out of teaching."
Annie Gilotte recorded Steve Allen's score as Allen walked from a station during a recent sporting clays shoot at Wild Acres.
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Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
While Gilotte has returned to her "roots," she's in no way sliding out of nursing. This school year, she'll be the school nurse at Crosby-Ironton High School.
"Annie will be a part of this (Wild Acres), but she's got nursing," her mother said.
Gilotte helps her mother with just about every facet of the club, including setting up the sporting clays course at the beginning of each month. And, as you might expect, enjoying the occasional shoot.
"I shoot every once in a while. A little more this summer. I like to shoot. But after being around it all day ... Phil and I just shot the course (when they set it up at the beginning of August). I shot a 39 (out of 50). I always shoot when I set up the course.
"This summer I've shot better. Maybe it's because I'm pregnant," she added, smiling.
"It's different every day," Gilotte said of Wild Acres. "There are league shooters, people coming up to the cabins. A lot of repeat customers. They've found us. And we had a family reunion at the end of July. And we're doing bachelor parties, groups from conferences."
Still, Wild Acres hasn't been immune to the times.
"We're a little bit down. A lot of places are," Gilotte said. "The leisure business has felt it. But it will come back around. We enjoy what we do. And the customers - a lot of nice people."
Said Ebnet: "Absolutely it has - you can bet the economy has hurt. We're in the entertainment business. With the shooting preserve, we're not out selling, which is probably why we're down a little."
But it's tough to be down when family comes together. One of Ebnet's boys runs the gravel operation and another the poultry operation/game farm on the Wild Acres grounds. At least one of the daughters still in Maryland also is considering coming back.
But of the sisters, Gilotte was the most involved with Wild Acres through the years - both working and "playing."
"I probably shoot the most," she said. "It's natural growing up around it."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at 855-5864 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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