Arts and Entertainment

Kitsap gun club has sights set on safety

Aim. Breathe. Hold. Squeeze. The Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club holds weekly and annual shooting competitions in Seabeck. These shooters are taking part in a falling plates competition. - Photo courtesy Jake DeVries
Aim. Breathe. Hold. Squeeze. The Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club holds weekly and annual shooting competitions in Seabeck. These shooters are taking part in a falling plates competition.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Jake DeVries

Turns out Annie Oakley may have had the one-up on Frank Butler all along. The wild west shooter had a singular advantage: being a woman.

"Women make better shooters than men," said Mike Crouch, range officer at the 72-acre Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club property in Seabeck. "That's a man's biggest handicap, his machoism."

It's a sport of finesse, not brute strength.

"Shooting is not a man's game," echoed club Executive Officer Marcus Carter. At least, not exclusively. Last week's falling plate match was no petticoat junction either, with nearly three dozen men — and a handful of women — taking aim to win top shot.

Established in 1926, the rifle and revolver club boasts a varying number of members, often ranging in count from 500 to 1,200, with an always diverse core. Blue collar workers, surgeons and state representatives have taken to the club's various shooting bays, pistol lines and rifle lines over the years. Membership, walk-in traffic and safety class attendance have each seen a near 25 percent rise since the 2008 presidential election, Carter said.

In the range office, which overlooks a shallow, grassy canyon of shooting facilities, Crouch holds up a set of plastic ear muffs and a pair of safety glasses.

"Out here on the range we're not worried about looks, we're worried about safety, he said. "Nobody's going to get hurt on my watch."

Crouch, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, calls the place "the ultimate range," an operation carried on by an all-volunteer effort. He said the range has become his second home, the many members there his good friends.

"Matter of fact, they gave me the name Ricochet, because I'm all over this range," he added.

In that night's event, falling plates, a shooter takes aim at a series of six metal circles propped in a row. Each hit makes a loud clank, a sharp reply to the initial crack of the shot; each miss makes only a muted puff of dust and air from a rearward mound of dirt. The event tests both aim and speed.

The club hosts several competitions throughout the year, including its annual Courage Classic, a two-day all-Glock challenge, and this year's Northwest Challenge, a premier action shooting match. There are also events for the club's junior members.

While some members shoot to compete, hunt or study the science of ballistics, others hit the range with kids in tow — some of them even sporting little pink rifles, a my-first-firearm type of occasion. Parents pass skills on to their children, and practice their own technique, which could be to their benefit in the event of a break-in or similarly dangerous situation, Carter noted.

He was a grade-schooler when his father, a hunter, first introduced him to the sport. In the late 1980s, while working as a journeyman carpenter, Carter had his foot crushed in the hydraulics of a bulldozer. During his three years in a cast, he picked shooting up again, and by 1992 he took second place in his first bid at national championships. Carter, now 49, has since earned 400 shooting awards.

He and his wife Sharon, the club's treasurer, also opened a gun shop in Port Orchard in 1990. He got involved with the rifle and revolver club soon after.

"I just have found it to be one of the greatest groups of people I have had the honor of associating with," he said.

His youngest was just 4 years old when she first fired a .22.

Nearly half of all U.S. homes contain some type of firearm. While the number of unintentional deaths related to firearms declined 80 percent between the late 1990s and early 2000s, there are occasional tragedies. In 2005, 75 kids 14 and younger were killed from accidental firearm-related injuries, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. Though among the general population, an accidental firearm-related death is four times less likely than a burning or drowning, 17 times less likely than a terminal poisoning and 53 times less likely than being killed in a car accident, according to an analyzation of Center for Disease Control numbers in 2001.

Not so unlike the many peace-urging groups, those encouraging the absence of guns, the rifle and revolver club is a strong advocate for safety, as Crouch made so evident. Carter said the idea that guns — called firearms on the range, not weapons — lead to chalk outlines of bodies in the street is a Hollywood version of a sport that develops acute skills and can be enjoyed by all ages.

Learn more about the club, its programs and membership at www.GunSafety.org.

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