Pitt Meadows is seeing more gunplay than a Quentin Tarantino movie this week, as host city to the national championships of the International Practical Shooting Confederation of Canada.
“Extreme pistol” is the nickname that is most often tagged on the sport, in which competitors shoot at targets through mockup windows, between obstacles and in various shooting positions. Compared with the staid and precise sport of traditional target shooting, it might look like a movie gunfight.
“We’re the drag racing funny cars of the pistol sports community,” agreed local club member Murray ‘Doc’ Gardner.
He explains that the national competition has 16 stages, each with unique challenges and demands, much like holes on a golf course. They are spread out across the hillside above Golden Eagle Golf Course, at the Thompson Mountain Outdoor Range, near the end of Ladner Road.
Gardner was among a group of locals who tried the sport for the first time in California in the late 1970s, and loved it immediately.
“It’s the dynamic,” he explained. “You never do the same thing twice.”
Again, he compares it to golf, in that there is always a different shot to challenge the sportsman.
Members shoot on the move and against the clock, into multiple paper and steel targets, moving targets, disappearing targets, and face other challenges. They shoot in prone, kneeling or standing positions. But there’s no rolling and shooting, which he terms “too Hollyweird.”
Those guys kept going back to California for more – often enough that the van they had been taking was soon in need of a shorter junket. They set up the Pitt Meadows course in 1977 and hosted their first event with 42 shooters.
At the nationals this weekend, there are 300 competitors.
They compete with real ammo, moving swiftly from station to station in the timed event. Critics will knock it for a lack of safety, but Murray notes that in 37 years there has never been an accident in a tournament.
“Safety is paramount” is a credo, and shooters are closely supervised.
“It’s an exciting sport,” said B.C. match director Stephen Price, a Langley lawyer and former RCMP member. “It’s highly entertaining for spectators and participants, and a great sport with great people.
“We have Canada’s best shooters coming, and we have big names in IPSC from Russia, Poland, Czech, Australia, Slovakia, the Philippines, Spain and the U.S.A.”
IPSC requires competitors to shoot fast and accurately. Scoring takes both into account, and also factors in the power of their ammunition. Shooters strive to shave fractions off their times in drawing their handgun from a holster, and between shots and during reloads.
“While you’re trying to win, you are really competing against yourself. You are graded against shooters of a similar level of skill and experience and using similar equipment, and you’re always trying to be better than you were last month.”
For his take on what makes a good extreme pistol shooter, look no further than Gardner’s personalized licence plate, which reads “DVC,” an acronym for Latin words meaning “accuracy, power and speed.”
Unlike other pistol sports, which use small calibre handguns, extreme pistol has metal targets that have to be knocked over by a flush hit from a powerful gun. Power, and the shooter’s ability to control a pistol with some recoil, counts in this game.
He knows what makes a good shooter, as a former champion who won a national title eight years in a row, from 1978 to 1985. Gardner competed at the world championships in 1986.
“We have had some very successful shooters in the past,” he said of the club.
What demographic enjoys the sport?
“Pick one,” answers Gardner, warning that many who try it are soon buying a $1,000 handgun to join the sport.