More than two miles down a dirt road in southern Crawford County, men and women could be found Thursday morning from around the world with gun in holsters strapped to their belts, preparing to show off their shooting skills in a competition that has brought competitors from as far away as Europe and Taiwan.
The competition, hosted by the Old Fort Gun Club at its Crawford County site, was being carried out by the U.S. Practical Shooters Association, according to Bruce Bethell, director of practical pistol at the gun club.
"It's an organization of competition shooters, part of a worldwide umbrella organization. In the United States, there are about 20,000 members," he said. "This match we are having is called the Area Four Championship Match. Area Four consists of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas."
Even though the competition is designed for the four state area, Bethell said any and all shooters were welcome to attend, which is why shooters have come from across the world have made the journey to Crawford County.
"We expect between 250 and 275 shooters from around the country and the world to be here to compete this weekend."
Shooters will be able to compete in the sport of practical shooting, which Bethell describes as a combination of power, accuracy and speed.
"There is a tremendous amount of movement during the course of fire," he said. "It consists of anywhere between 16 rounds to 30 rounds. Very often, we'll require the competitor to reload the handgun. And the competitor shoots at targets. These are not bullseye targets, but more along the lines of silhouette targets."
Scoring in the competition includes a combination of accuracy and speed, Bethell said, meaning that total accuracy is not always going to rank a shooter higher than someone who can be fairly accurate but also fast.
Accuracy is determined based on where a bullet meets a target, in one of four different zones.
"I was taught if you were hitting more than 80 percent of the rounds in the A zone, you are shooting too slow, that you should pick up your speed and accept lower scores in the B, C, and D zones," Bethell said.
Of the many courses shooters may encounter, one that is unique has both targets and "hostages," putting more pressure than ever one contestants to be accurate even though speed is important, as well, he said.
"We will have targets visible and not visible from a given location. We will have targets that simulate a hostage situation - it partially covers the shooting area of the threat. It is all under a timer and obviously the faster you shoot (during a particular) stage, that cracks you into a better score balanced with your accuracy."
At the start of the competition on Thursday morning (Sept. 5), between 35 and 40 shooters were on hand, including staff. As the competition continues, the numbers will swell into the hundreds on Saturday and into Sunday as the competition enters its final two days.
All competitors paid a $150 entry fee to be a part of the competition with each of the shooters receiving a prize for their participation. The most accurate shooter gets the first crack at the prize table, with others also selecting prizes based on their scores.
Shooter Jerry Miculek, a professional shooter from Louisiana with sponsorships from companies such as Smith & Wesson and the host of Hot Shots on NBC Sports Outdoors, said he came to the competition because it was designed to show off a competitor's skills.
"This area match, this club, is a really spectacular club. You got a lot of local help, a lot of local enthusiasm. So the stages are really fast paced, straight up a lot of places here for a shooter to do good. So it's actually designed to highlight a shooter's ability. It's just a good place to be. It's a good atmosphere here."
The competition will wrap up on Sunday around noon, with scores being tallied and announced early Sunday afternoon, Bethell said.