They are a throwback to the Wild West, when cowboys let their six-shooters do the talking.
Starting Thursday, 287 competitors at the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Canada National Championshipswill pull out their guns to show off their shooting skills at the The Thompson Mountain Shooting Association’s 60-acre shooting range in Pitt Meadows.
But they are not your average Dirty Harry wannabes, since none of the competitors will use a .44 Magnum because it’s too slow to reload and not the type of gun that will get you on the podium.
“We have a different skill set, we are speed and accuracy,” said match director Stephen Price of the difference between the types of shooting found at their competitions and the shooting skills shown by someone like a police officer.
During the competition, shooters are put in situations where they often have to move fast to get a shot off at a target that can also be moving.
By the end of the event, the shooters will fire off about 350 rounds each and Price estimates there will be about 90,000 bullets fired by the time the event winds up on Sunday, when they have a fun shoot-off to wrap up the competition.
The national event has four classes: Open guns, which could be a .38 calibre weapon; Standard guns like a .40 calibre pistol; Production guns which would be police-issue weapons like a Glock, Beretta or CZ pistol; and Classic single-stack gun like a Colt .45.
And while you would think a handgun competition would be full of cops wanting to show off their superior shooting skills, Price notes they only have two police officers registered in the upcoming competition.
“You get a police officer showing up and then a 45-year-old welder shows him how to really shoot,” said Price. “A lot don’t come back.”
Price said they get competitors from all walks of life, but there are a number of skills needed to be a star in their OK Corral.
“The individual needs good hand-eye coordination, and good mental focus and agility,” he said.
For those taking in the opening day of shooting on Tuesday, the sunny conditions were not ideal for some.
“I prefer overcast conditions,” said competitor Mark Pawley, who is from Calgary. “In the bright sun the red light washes out,” he said of the optical sight on his gun.
Mark LeClair, 25 is from Coquitlam and works for Custom Reloading Service, a company that reloads empty shell casings so they can be used again. Many of the competitors pack their own bullets to meet their own personal shooting needs.
LeClair said one of the key parts of the sport is trying to keep calm under pressure. “Being able to control your heart rate is important,” he said. ”You want to be fit. You have to control your breathing when you go to a target. If not, your shots will be erratic.”
Ed Pirogowicz, 60, was a fish and wildlife officer and firearms instructor in Alberta before retiring to Kamloops.
He has been to three world championships and points out the participants are superb shots. “It has a lot to do with mental focus,” he said. “That is the big thing, being able to stay calm and focus on your front sight.”