JUNEAU It's cold, and a metal rifle is colder. The air is crisp, Mount McGinnis looms in the distance. A row of men and women lie prone on a cement slab, cushioned by inch-thick mats, one knee cocked to the side.
''Is the line ready?'' Mal Menzies shouts to the shooters. No one responds.
''The line is ready,'' Menzies concludes. ''Ready right. Ready left. All ready on the firing line. You may commence firing.''
The four participants in the high-power sporting rifle shooting competition quickly shot eight rounds at bull's-eye targets sitting 200 yards away on a recent Sunday. The smell of gun smoke drifted from underneath the shelter at the Hank Harmon Rifle Range in the Mendenhall Valley.
''I think I cleaned that one,'' said Linda Flynn, one of the competitors, after she had finished her rounds. ''Cleaning'' hitting each of the eight shots in the 10-point range of the target - is not easy, competitors said.
The Juneau Rifle and Pistol Club sponsored the National Rifle Association-approved sporting and high-power service rifle competition. Three people competed in the high-power service category and four in the sporting rifle category.
The club holds 13 competitions a year: one a month and an extra one on the Fourth of July, said Menzies, president of the Juneau Rifle and Pistol Club. When he first began shooting 10 years ago, the competitions could draw up to 40 participants. Now, anywhere from four to 14 shooters compete.
''The different types of shooting take on different meanings and different popularity at different times,'' he said.
The Juneau Gun Club also hosts shooting competitions, some of which attract 100 participants, Menzies said.
The service rifle competitors were allowed to use shooting jackets and pants made of thick material designed to stabilize the shooter. They shot from the standing, sitting and prone positions, 10 rounds in each. For each portion of the competition, the targets grew progressively smaller.
The sport rifle competitors had larger targets, but they weren't allowed to wear stabilizing clothing, and they weren't allowed ''alibis'' the chance to redo a round in case of mechanical difficulties with the rifle.
''This is supposed to represent hunting,'' explained Brad Flynn, who competed in the sport rifle event. ''And you don't get a second chance in hunting.''
The high-powered service rifle competition is considered the more difficult of the two events, and the NRA awards a ''high master'' classification to the very best competitors. Only three Alaskans have the title.
This Sunday's match lasted about three hours and consisted of 50 shots in the service rifle category and 35 shots in the sport rifle category.
Lynn Bennett, who said he has been involved in competitive shooting for about a year, took first place in the service rifle category. Brad Flynn scored highest in the sport rifle category.
Competition is an important part of the sport. Menzies has traveled to at least four tournaments so far this year. Bennett and Ray Coxe joined him for several of those. But shooting does not have to be about the competition only, participants said.
''The high-power sporting rifle is about the best practice you can get for hunting,'' said Brad Flynn, Linda Flynn's husband.
Dale Sams, who participated in the sport rifle event with his wife, Maureen, was practicing for a hunt he planned to attend this weekend. Neither of the two women who participated last Sunday hunt, they said. Maureen Sams started shooting two years ago. The sport was frustrating at first, she said.
''You do better and you go, 'Hey, that's neat,' '' she said.
Women tend to learn more quickly to shoot than men because they ''don't have to unlearn bad habits,'' Brad Flynn said.
Coxe, who also participated in the event, has been shooting since 1954, on teams in the Army and National Guard. Even after nearly 50 years of shooting, the sport doesn't get old, he said.
''Every shot is a one-round match,'' he said.
Christine Schmid is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.
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