Target shooting loaded with camaraderie

Thursday, May 25, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:27 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Action pistol shooters are a unique group. National Rifle Association Press Chief Joe Roberts, 60, who has been involved in the sport since 1954 drew artistic parallels.

“To get (to the top level of the sport), the same way a concert pianist gets to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.”

Action Pistol shooting also tends to cultivate a close community of competitors. The annual tournaments and the small number of participants makes shooters close. The competitors at this year’s NRA Bianchi Cup National Action Pistol Championship, being held this week at Chapman Academy in Hallsville, are no different.

“It’s a family, mostly,” shooter Jeff Rowe, 50, of Amherst, Virginia said.

Rowe said he has competed in the event for 18 years, and has made friends from all over the world. But no family, or sport, would be complete without good natured ribbing from its members.

“We pick on each other horribly,” Rowe said.

Beyond guns, targets and ribbing, shooters said that another pillar of action pistol shooting is fair play under all circumstances.

“This carries across disciplinary lines,” Roberts said. “Shotgun shooters are that way, rifle shooters are that way, pistol shooters are that way, police shooters, action pistol (shooters) are.”

At last year’s championship, Rowe took that sporting attitude to the extreme. On the barricade event, he was credited for hitting the targets with all 48 of his bullets. Rowe realized soon after that he could not have hit the targets will all 48 bullets, because his gun did not fire one of his bullets. The referee had scored a hit he could not have made.

NRA Action Pistol rules require a shooter to pay to challenge a score, if the shooter wins the challenge, the money is refunded; if they lose, it is not. Knowing his score was too high, Rowe challenged it. He won the challenge, his score was lowered and his money was refunded. The act stood out to officials and participants.

Rowe said than the referee who scored him was surprised. So was Roberts, who said that the last time he heard of that happening in a championship was in the late 1930s. Rowe didn’t think what he did was heroic.

““I’m out to beat my score, my best ... Why cheat?” Rowe said. “We all have to answer for ourselves one day.”


Cardboard targets are used to record the competitive shooters’ results. Volunteer target handlers remove the targets and reveal the damage.

At the time, Rowe was a police officer, and likened his score challenge to that. He said he never would have lied in court, and lying about his score would have been no different. The reduction Rowe took in the standings was noticeable but didn’t eliminate him from competition.

“It knocked me down, but it didn’t kill me,” he said.

Australia, despite its restrictive gun ownership laws, is the foreign country with the most shooters competing at this year’s championship. Two corporate teams, the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia and Pistol Australia, the two main shooters’ associations in Australia, each sent a team, totaling 14 shooters.

Shooter Craig Ginger of the SSAA team said that shooting in the United States is different than in Australia where restrictions on firearms owners are numerous. First, they must join a shooting club and be part of a shooters association. Finally, they must compete several times a year in tournaments.

Ginger lives in Sydney, New South Wales, which has a law requiring firearm owners to compete at least six times each year. This, Ginger said, is to ensure that gun owners have a legitimate reason to own them. He said that the government audits shooters periodically to ensure they are competing.

Shooting has become a career for Ginger, who said he started when he was 20 as a hobby. After being asked by numerous companies to train security guards for firearm use, he opened his own business six years ago. He now teaches classes to security guards in gun operation, the legal use of guns and gun safety.

Ginger also has been president of the Blacktown Pistol Club for the last 5 years, in the Sydney suburb of Shalvey. The club will host the NRA World Action Pistol Championship in October. The club has been preparing for the championship by updating and modifying their range.

As diverse as the action pistol shooters are, their commitment to the sport is unifying. When Roberts’ eyesight starting fading, preventing him from participating in action pistols, he shifted to shotguns. Rowe joked that a shotgun shooter is nothing more than an old action pistol shooter.

“As long as I’m on this side of the grass,” he said. “I’m going to shoot.”

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