The acrid smell of gun smoke seasoned the cool air as rounds popped from .22 caliber rifles, Glock pistols and AR15s. Groups of about ten shooters took turns. They sat on wooden boxes, arms steadied on tabletops, eyes trained on black paper bulls-eyes twenty-five yards downrange. At the nearby trap field, orange, saucer-sized clay discs exploded against a backdrop of fir trees, shot down by state legislators, aides and lobbyists with 12 gauge shotguns. One aide wearing four-inch patent leather high heels nailed at least three. So it went, from high noon until sundown at the 2014 Legislative Shootout.
“After working on the budget this is really nice,” says Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, after firing-off an eight shot clip of .30 caliber bullets from his World War II era, semi-automatic, M1 Garand. Hargrove says he bought the vintage rifle because his father was a decorated veteran of the war. The sound of the weapon is thunderous compared to the smaller .22 rifles. “It’s amazingly loud,” he concedes. At one point, Hargrove fires and a nearby reporter lurches.
A tradition of sorts, the shootout has happened on and off since 1987. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, had a hand in organizing the event in those early years when she was a legislative aide for former state Sen. Kent Pullen. These days her office takes the lead orchestrating the friendly shooting competition between Democrat and Republican teams. According to her staff, 135 lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists RSVP’d this year. Participants come and go throughout the day, testing their skills at target and clay pigeon shooting.
“Everyone’s taking it pretty doggone serious,” says Roach during her opening remarks. The walls around her are lined with mounted animals heads from water buffalo, bison and goats.
The shootout is designed to bring lawmakers from across the political spectrum together to promote firearms safety and education and to highlight the contributions that sport shooting, hunting and fishing make to the state economy. Representatives from the National Rifle Association, Duck’s Unlimited, Coastal Conservation Association and several Washington-based knife, holster and fishing rod makers attended this years shootout on Tuesday at the Evergreen Sportsman’s Club. The venue is about 20 miles from the Capitol, on the outskirts of Littlerock, Washington.
Roach grew up trap and skeet shooting with her father. Trap shooting is a form of clay pigeon shooting where discs are launched from a single location. In skeet shooting, the clays can come from multiple directions. At a recent family reunion, Roach was joined by some of her 16 grandkids for some target shooting. “It’s a family thing,” she says. Asked about her prospects in Tuesday’s showdown? “I’ll certainly be in the top,” says Roach, adding “I got a pretty steady hand,” as she extends an arm, fingers stretched and unshaking.
At the rifle range, Roach uses her personal semi-automatic Colt AR15, which she described as “tricked out.” The rifle is complete with a bi-pod support in the front, a 20-inch stainless steel barrel and telescopic site. She carries her 5.56mm ammunition in a lunchbox-sized digital camouflage pouch. After she fires a few rounds, a reporter and a range safety officer tinker with Roach’s rifle site.