Amazing alum

Learning the ways of the West

Oceanside High alum Giovanni DeMarzo has found a place in U. of Wyoming shotgun club


“Pull!” rings out down the line as clay pigeons fly into the sky out of the trap house. Competitors with shotguns in hand breathe in and lead the bird, never shooting with full lungs.

“Remember the fundamentals,” thinks Giovanni DeMarzo, 22, drawing his gun above his signature peace sign belt buckle. He hits the bright orange pigeon, shattering it. He doesn’t completely register it, though, lost in the music playing in his head, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “’Cause I’m wild about my lovin’ and I like to have my fun.”

DeMarzo, a 2019 graduate of Oceanside High School, shoots trap and skeet, a club sport at the University of Wyoming. While finishing up at OHS, he looked at a few colleges in the area, but New York didn’t agree with him, and he decided to move out of the state. Way out of the state.

Initially, he didn’t know that UW, in Laramie, had a shotgun club, so his freshman year passed uneventfully, and then Covid-19 shut down the campus. He returned to his home in Rockville Centre and started working at Long Island Outdoorsman.

“The first day I started working there was when all the riots and all that stuff was happening in New York City, and everyone was trying to buy a gun,” DeMarzo recalled. “So my first day working there was pretty much when Pandora’s box opened up, and then the next day, ex-Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo shut down all nonessential businesses. So my first day was my last day for, like, seven weeks.”

When he returned to work, in 2020, a coworker at the store told him about a charity benefit shooting event the Boy Scouts were hosting at the Peconic River Sportsman’s Club in Suffolk County. “Sure, why not?” he said, thinking back to his scouting days. But he needed to buy a gun. His first.

He went to a pawn shop “and bought the cheapest used piece of garbage I could find to shoot with,” he recounted. “It’s a … shotgun made in, like, 1962, and it’s a European gun with a washing machine screw holding the stock on.” It was a $200 Baikal. DeMarzo said his only regret was that he didn’t buy an American gun.

Nonetheless, he said, “I fell in love with it. It’s a lot of fun, I’ll tell you,” he added of the first few shots he fired at the fundraiser.

When students were allowed back at Wyoming, in September 2021, he went, with new knowledge of the shotgun club. A friend who also moved out to Wyoming for school told him about it.

At first, DeMarzo, who is double majoring in outdoor recreation and tourism management along with environmental sustainability, didn’t believe that such a club existed, but after attending the first meeting, he was hooked. “I took that same pawnshop shotgun that I bought … and we went on the first shoot, and it was just a blast,” he said. “Honest to God, it’s a lot of fun.”

When he started, he was hitting the targets only 40 percent of the time, but he has since improved to 55 percent, and most recently to 74 percent. “I’m no shootist,” DeMarzo said, “but that’s a pretty big step up.” He has taken part in over a dozen competitions with other colleges, mostly in Nebraska and Colorado, on what’s called the Prairie Circuit.

He has also worked as a firearms instructor at the Philmont Scout Range in New Mexico, teaching kids to shoot rifles, pistols and shotguns, which has helped him improve his own skills. “It really made me focus on the fundamentals and the basics of shotgun shooting,” DeMarzo said, “because I was teaching these kids how to shoot, and you have to start at the fundamentals of the very basics. And I got really good at that, and then focusing on that is what really made me improve my scores this year.”

“I was going strictly for fun,” he added, “You know, it was something to do on the weekends. And that got me out of Laramie, Wyoming. As much as I love this town and love the school … somebody can only bear the 20 degrees below zero so often.” Life at the school, DeMarzo said, “gets isolating. It’s lonely, seeing that I don’t really have that aspect of the camaraderie” that other college students have. And “I’ve had to explain to people what Long Island is too many times.”

When he graduates, DeMarzo is planning to spend some time in nature, camping and backpacking. “But I do plan on working for an environmentalist group or firm,” he said. “The dream would be to work for the United Nations or a major law firm as an environmental consultant.”

In Wyoming, many students start practicing their shooting in middle school. “It’s a bit of a culture shock,” DeMarzo said. “You know, we have such heavy gun control in New York that that’s unheard of. The last time there was a rifle or a shotgun team in Ocean-side was when my mom went there in the ’70s.”

It would benefit teenagers, he said, to offer a similar safe program outside school. “I think that that opportunity would be fantastic for a lot of kids (and) for a lot of people,” he said. “Duck hunting is huge on Long Island — huge. I think having a shotgun team … would give a lot of opportunity to kids that don’t feel like they really fit in with the cookie cutter.” Like DeMarzo.

He emphasized the need for the safe handling of guns — even getting National Rifle Association safety-certified. “I’m a big believer in pacifism and everything,” he said. “I wear a big peace sign on my belt buckle; I have for years. I think that any death is needless … but there’s a quote from a John Wayne movie where (he says) firearms are just tools, like a hammer or shovel. … I think that firearms are to be respected, just like any other tool you could find in your garage or in your shop or wherever. But the mass fear of guns, I don’t think that’s very good. I think that’s causing a pretty big rift in society.”