By CHRIS COLLINS
It's not just the shooting that will draw competitors to the Powder River Practical Shooters (PRPS) Match on Sunday, according to organizers.
The contest requires shooters to develop a strategy that capitalizes on safety, speed and accuracy as they move through five different courses.
"As soon as that bell goes off, you forget everything else," says Ray Merritt, match director and the club's vice president, who says he's found the competition highly addicting.
The event combines the elements of movement, a race against the clock and the goal of accuracy on the target, he said.
"And plus it's a good group of folks," adds Ray Berryman, who joined the group when it organized a year ago and serves as the club's president.
Both Merritt and Berryman bring a lifetime of shooting to the sport and say the competition is a good way to keep their skills sharp.
Merritt retired from his job with the Baker School District in 2006 and Berryman retired from the Oregon State Police in 1999 after a 25-year career.
The two served together in the Oregon National Guard before they both retired from military service as well - Berryman in 2007 after 38 years and Merritt in 2000 after 25 years.
"I've always been interested in firearms - as a hunter and sportsman, military and police," Berryman said.
"It all brought me to the sport," Berryman said.
The event is regulated by trained range officers who monitor all shooters as they travel through the course with a handgun aimed at a combination of metal knock-down targets and paper targets.
Merritt and his wife, Eris, were the only trained range officers when the Baker City club organized last year. But five others, including Berryman, were trained and will be ready for this year's contests.
Last season, five bays were carved out of the grounds of the Powder River Sportsmen's Club's Virtue Flat Shooting Range, six miles east of Baker City. Steve Ritch, who operates Steve Ritch Environmental and Construction, donated his time, a crew and equipment to develop the course.
"If it wasn't for him we wouldn't be having this match," Berryman said, who also credits the Merritts with getting the club organized.
In his role as match director, Ray Merritt says he works to provide a course that is exciting and challenging.
"We shoot five events, each giving the shooter different opportunities to compete for time against themselves and for points," Berryman, said.
The club meets the fourth Sunday of each month March through October. And newcomers are always welcome. There are no annual dues, just a $15 per event shooting fee. First-timers shoot for free.
Those competing are not required to join the Powder River Sportsmen's Club, "but we encourage that," Berryman said. Shooters also might want to consider joining the U.S. Practical Shooters Association, which carries a $40-a-year fee. And there's an International Practical Shooters Association.
The only equipment needs are a pistol and holster, ammunition and ear and eye protection. The club discourages participants from wearing camouflage clothing to avoid any misconceptions of the group's goal, which is to provide a family-oriented contest for those who enjoy shooting sports, Berryman said.
The oldest member of the Powder River Practical Shooters Club is 85 and the youngest is 12 or 13.
"Come out and shoot for fun and see what it is," Berryman urges.
It all started for Merritt when he was looking for an activity that would help him exercise his injured back about five years ago.
He'd heard about the Practical Shooters program and called his friend, Greg Roe of Union, and asked him to join him.
"He said, 'What is it?' and I said, 'I don't know, but it sounds like fun,' " Merritt recalls. "My first match we had no clue."
Roe has continued to compete and serves on the PRPS Board. Other board members are Steve Furtney, and Tim Carrol of La Grande. Dave McCoy serves as treasurer.
Over the years, Merritt, 54, who also serves as vice president of the Powder River Sportsmen's Club, has honed his skills. Last fall he was invited to participate in the national event in Las Vegas, N.M., based on the high scores accumulated during the season.
"I like to shoot," he said. "It started out just for fun, to get better. I improved and wanted to compete in bigger matches. I'm competitive by nature."
Eris Merritt, 50, is the Practical Shooter's secretary. And the couple's two sons, Justin, who's 28, and Bobby, 22, join them in the competition.
The 63-year-old Berryman, and his youngest son, Michael, 23, also enjoy the sport together. Ray Berryman said he competed in similar shooting events in the 1970s and has enjoyed getting into it again in his retirement.
Each match is divided into categories for all ages and abilities ranging from those who are just starting to the top level of grand master. And then there are separate divisions depending on the type of gun used in the competition.
"The first time you're encouraged to walk," Berryman said. "You get your accuracy down, get your skill down and then work on your speed."
It's all combined to calibrate the shooter's final score. For example, a person with a perfect score as far as accuracy, might end with a lower final score because he or she took longer to complete the course than other shooters who were not as accurate.
Participants who commit safety violations, such as pointing a firearm up range of the firing line, are immediately disqualified.
Merritt and Berryman are looking forward to Sunday's event, which will not be canceled unless the course is too muddy. Registration is from 8:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., and a course walk-through starts at 9 a.m.
Berryman is optimistic that the weather will cooperate.
For more information about PRPS events, call Berryman at 541-403-1607 or visit www.prpshooters.com. More details about other programs sponsored by the Powder River Sportsmen's Club can be found at www.prsportsmen.org.