Archive for Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Tonganoxie officer named top shot

September 22, 2004

A Tonganoxie police officer last week was named top shooter at a state sniper meet.

The officer, who for security reasons is not named in this story, attended a weeklong class sponsored by the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

This was the officer's second year to attend -- and to make his mark.

"I went last year and got second place," he said. "An officer with the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Department beat me by 0.23 of an inch."

But this year, out of 20 law enforcement officers from across the state, the Tonganoxie officer shot the best overall score. And he shot his personal best score, faring slightly better than a year ago.

The week was rigorous, he said, with daily written exams and daily qualification rounds with the rifles.

"Every day you have to qualify and if you don't qualify that day, you get sent home," he said.

Marksmen may make the work look easy.

But think about hitting a target the size of a silver dollar from 100 yards away, and the scores become even more impressive.

"At the end of the week, we had to shoot from 200 and 300 yards," he said.

And they practiced night shooting, taking aim at a target as a headlight or flashlight briefly illuminated it, then holding the aim until the light hit the target again.

Think of the difficulty of keeping a 19-pound Remington 700 police sniper rifle steadied on a target in pitch-black darkness.

Moreover, marksmen must be trained for all types of weather.

Last Wednesday's showers didn't put the shooters out of business, he said.

"When it was raining Wednesday all day long we were out there getting wet," he said. "We were soaked."

And then consider this: How do you hold, and aim, a rifle when you're dressed in a 20-pound ghile suit.

The camouflage ghile suit, in which the officer is pictured, blends into most surroundings and, depending on the light and terrain, allows the officer to be in the open, yet concealed.

As a trained sniper, or marksman, the officer said his role is to cover an entry team when police are preparing to enter a home.

To hone his skills, the officer practices as often as he can at the police department's shooting range. Each shot is logged as to the wind speed and direction, the air temperature, whether there's a mirage and the amount and direction of light.

He practices in all kinds of weather, but admits his favorite season to shoot is winter -- especially when there's snow on the ground.

"I like to listen to it in the snow," he said. "Usually there's no one around, everybody's gone, everybody's in their houses, it's just quiet time almost for me. You wouldn't think of rifles as quiet time, but that's the way I like it."

And he's appreciated the fact that as a law enforcement officer, his only targets have been made of paper.

"All I've ever had to do is shoot paper, and hopefully that's all I'll ever have to do," he said.

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