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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2001

Taking their best shot

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Guns were a-blazin' inside Koko Head Crater last Saturday.

Mike Fujioka takes aim during the Aloha State Games in the Action Pistol Stage 4 at the Koko Head range.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

The shooters — about 50 of them — were policemen, businessmen, three women, a doctor, even a 12-year-old boy. But they came not for a war or to shoot at each other; they were not angry.

They came as athletes, competing in the Aloha State Games in the sport of action pistol shooting. And yes, it is considered a sport by those who participate.

"You need speed, power and accuracy," said Cem Esteban, the only shooter on O'ahu who holds a national Master rating. "It'll probably be an Olympic sport someday. Out of all of the sports out there, to me this is the most fun."

The shooting is similar to that seen in video games, except the players are using real pistols with real bullets and are aiming at cardboard cutouts and steel targets instead of at enemies. The object is to hit the targets accurately in succession in the shortest time possible.

Points are awarded based on how close to the center of a target a shooter can get, and the total points are divided into the time elapsed. At last Saturday's event, shooters had to do this in six "stages," which were different target layouts set up by "course designers."

Some courses were simple: hit six targets (each about the size of this page) in succession from about 20-25 feet away. The most complex course, however, required running into a makeshift hallway and shooting at targets through a window.

Sometimes, the targets are swinging or "disappearing," meaning they are upright only for a couple of seconds before falling to the ground.

"I had seen it on TV and always wanted to try it," said Brett Buchanan, a native of Colorado. "After one match, I was hooked. I've been coming out here almost every weekend for the past 2ý years."

Before the fun starts, however, any potential pistol shooter must first go through what insiders call "Safety 101." The Mid-Pacific Pistol League, the island's largest club, requires members to first spend an afternoon learning safety and etiquette before going out to the range.

All Aloha State Games participants likewise were required to complete a safety course before Saturday's competition.

"The people out here are very responsible, they take it very seriously," said Honolulu Police Sgt. Rick Wheeler, who works with recruits at the range. "They're probably the safest, most law-abiding people around. We don't have problems with trouble-makers. If you make a mistake, you are asked to leave.

"But that doesn't mean you can't have fun here, because we do."

Esteban, 32, agrees.

"The first thing about this sport is safety," he said. "The second thing is to have fun."

That fun is shared by people of all ages and walks of life. Dr. Chet Nierenberg, a prominent sports medicine specialist, is a former national champion and one of the island's top competitors. About 10 police officers, including one SWAT team member, participated in the Aloha State Games event.

And Travis Takeuchi, 12, showed great promise in his Aloha State Games debut. Takeuchi learned to hunt boar with archery and a .22 caliber rifle, but he only started pistol shooting a few months ago.

"I would be up there (at the rifle range), and I'd look over here and see the police officers (shooting pistols)," said Takeuchi, who began hunting with his father at age 6. "I thought it'd be fun, I thought it would be cool."

Most of the pistols used in competition are modeled after the 1911 Colt .45, and the .40 Smith and Wesson is a popular choice.

Some women handle the guns as well as the men.

"There's no real advantage to being male," said Angie Buchanan, Brett's wife. "You don't need any extra body strength or size."

As far as personalities, the participants appear to be nowhere near as dangerous as the weapons they use.

"I think a non-shooter would be surprised at how friendly they are," said Pat Takeuchi, Travis' father. "Out here, you can easily turn to the person next to you and start a conversation. If you were to try that at the (golf) driving range, you'd probably get strange looks."

Esteban, who "retired" from national competition five years ago, now shoots in matches only during the Aloha State Games. And although he has won a gold medal almost every year, Esteban said the other rewards he's gained are just as valuable.

"It's not only about the shooting," he said. "It's about the friendships that we've made."

For more information about pistol shooting at Koko Head, log on to home.hawaii.rr.com/khsc.