Off and Gunnin'

Action shooting clubs are a blast all over the Midwest. Lock and load, baby!

The practical-shooting sea change led disgruntled IPSC members to form the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), the organizing body of cowboy shooting, which would return the sport to its cowboy-shooting roots. The International Defensive Pistol Association (IPSC) would create defensive, "real-life" scenarios.

Today Mosher and others compare practical shooting to NASCAR. Where stock-car racing originally began as a competition among automobiles purchased directly off the showroom floor, today's NASCAR is a beefed-up, bastardized version of its former self.

Practical shooting still has classes for owners of stock-production guns purchased "as is" from manufacturers, but the more fevered competition takes place in the "open" division. It's to this class that Jeff Matsche belongs, taking a pistol based on a government-issue 1911 semi-automatic and adding hundreds, even thousands, of dollars' worth of bells and whistles.

On any given Sunday, Jeff Matsche is the fastest 
action shooter around.
Jennifer Silverberg
On any given Sunday, Jeff Matsche is the fastest action shooter around.
Like a top-fuel dragster, nothing is quicker than a 
"race gun."
Jennifer Silverberg
Like a top-fuel dragster, nothing is quicker than a "race gun."

On the barrel of the gun, he's placed a compensator, a ported cylinder that drastically reduces the gun's recoil, or kick. He installed a $300 optical sight that projects a red dot over his intended target. He's lightened the slide so the gun cycles its rounds faster; he's adjusted the trigger, making it easier to pull. And he's installed extended-round magazines that double the number of bullets the firearm can hold.

At the end of the day, a pistol like Matsche's can easily cost a couple thousand dollars. In the parlance of action shooting, the firearm is known as a "race gun" -- a weapon that holds fast and true to the IPSC creed of Diligentia-Vis-Celeritas (accuracy, power, speed).

Matsche says that if his gun were an automobile, it would be a top-fuel dragster, an Indy car, a Ferrari or a Porsche.

For this group, owning a firearm has as much to do with the Second Amendment as it does an even more deep-seated American tenet: the right to own really cool toys. There's just something devilishly fun, action-shooting proponents insist, about punching holes through paper at 335 meters per second.

And so it is that even though the sport is "tragically devoid of females" (as one participant privately lamented), the players can surround themselves with beautiful ladies in pantyhose and tight orange shorts and not make one comment about the scenery.

The only sense of arousal comes well after the Hooters waitress delivers the second order of Buffalo wings, when the conversation turns briefly to Rob Leatham, the fifteen-time United States IPSC champion and four-time world champion.

"He's the best," confirms Hebert, swallowing his Miller Lite with a pang of jealousy. "He's the Tiger Woods of the sport."

The defensive shooting drill "Really Mad Dogs" plays on a common fear of the suburban homeowner. You're barbecuing in the backyard when six wild dogs hop the fence and make a beeline for your toddling son. You drop your meat tongs and lay waste to the beasts, firing two shots into each rabid mutt.

Brad Weston, a handsome, silver-haired general contractor from St. Charles, acknowledges to the range officer that he understands the course of fire and draws his pistol on the cardboard dogs. In less than fifteen seconds, the forty-eight-year-old empties two magazines and fires off twelve shots.

Eleven of the bullets tear through the dogs, the twelfth kicking up earth just shy of the belly of a beast. His pistol safely tucked away, Weston checks his scores and grimaces at his performance. The majority of his shots failed to land in the "A" section of the targets. He finds little consolation in the knowledge that in real life he would have undoubtedly killed the dogs.

"Yeah, they'd probably all be dead," he concedes. "But this is a game of precision, and I should have shot better."

Next up is a contestant whose pistol is all but invisible under many layers of clothing. When the range officer asks if the man has his gun on him, he haughtily fires back: "Have I got my gun on me?! I've always got my gun on me, except at work. They won't let me carry it -- the pricks."

The man's response draws laughter from everyone but Weston. He doesn't want the group to come off as a bunch of "gun nuts."

"We joke around out here on the range," he says. "But we're all very serious when it comes to wearing our firearms. We're all about safety."

Whether a competitive player or a weekend gunslinger, all action shooters toe a similar line. But when asked why they compete in the sport, rarely -- if ever -- does anyone reply: "Because it's safe."

The sport is a helluva good time, they say. Then, in the same breath, they utter a defense perfected by golfers the world over: What's wrong with spending a few hours a week competing with some buddies? The rifle range may not be as serene as a golf course, but here in the muddy backwoods, they've stumbled across camaraderie.

Such is the case with Jerry Mosher, who teams with his ex-father-in-law to design many of the defensive shooting courses at the Caseyville range.

"When my wife was leaving me, I told him I didn't want it to affect our relationship," Mosher admits sheepishly.

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