EMERADO, N.D. — Robert and Sherry Thompson were looking for Friday night date options when they stumbled on a winner.
First they shoot in a winter indoor pistol league, which takes about an hour or so, and then they go out to dinner. It’s the best of both worlds for the Grand Forks shooting sports enthusiasts.
“I like dinner,” Sherry Thompson said with a laugh.
Talking his wife into joining him on the pistol range wasn’t a tough sell, Robert Thompson says.
“Not really,” he said. “I said, ‘We’ll come out here and do this, and we’ll do dinner every Friday night.’ I went and bought her a gun, and away we went.”
This is Sherry’s fourth year in the smallbore pistol league, and her husband’s sixth.
“He’s several points ahead of me,” Sherry said of her husband’s pistol prowess.
“Ha, several?” Robert chimed in. We’ll leave it at that.
“I’ve gotten a plaque almost every season, though,” Sherry says. Plaques are awarded at the end of the season to shooters who finish first overall or at the top of one of three divisions — A, B or C — based on their league scores.
A popular Friday offering at the Forks Rifle Club’s indoor shooting range, the Winter Indoor Pistol League begins in January and continues through March. According to Tom Reiten of Grand Forks, the club’s secretary-treasurer, the league season consists of 10 matches, and shooters take their high five scores for the season to determine the standings.
“That’s recognizing not everybody is going to be able to make every week, and some nights the wheels just fall off,” he said.
A couple of rough outings, in other words, won’t have a big impact on the final scores.
This year’s league features 34 participants who can shoot in one of two Friday afternoon relays or three Friday evening relays.
More couples are following the Thompsons’ lead and heading to the range Friday nights for the indoor pistol league. The couples typically shoot the evening relays, while the afternoon sessions generally consist of — as Reiten describes it — “geezers with UND hockey tickets.”
This year’s count of six women is a league high, Reiten says. He said it’s encouraging to see more couples participating in the league and enjoying a Friday night at the range.
“We are seeing more women involved in shooting,” he said.
Brenda Westacott of Grand Forks is among the women participating in the league along with her husband, Mark.
On this particular night, her husband was at a birthday party, Westacott said, so she headed to the range with another couple — sister-in-law Bev Collings and her husband, Mike, of Grand Forks.
“Us old farts have to have something to do on Friday nights,” Westacott joked.
This is the first year for both women shooting in the pistol league, which Westacott says she joined at her husband’s suggestion.
“He just started talking about, ‘Why don’t you try this?’ and so I have, and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s my first year, so I’m not very good.”
That can be intimidating, at times, Westacott says, but she’s more concerned about safety and learning to handle her gun than she is about the score.
“The score, if it comes next year, fine,” Westacott said. “If it gets a little better this year, great. I am getting better with the score, and I’m feeling comfortable handling a gun.”
Bev Collings says she’s shot sporting clays, but this is her first winter in the pistol league. A broken ankle sidelined her from competing last winter, she says.
The league, she said, is both competitive and fun.
“The scores are not there — at all,” she said.
As he does every week, Reiten serves as range officer on this Friday night, instructing the shooters and walking them through the relays, which take less than an hour to complete.
All targets are fired at 50 feet with conventional .22 caliber smallbore pistols following National Rifle Association regulations.
First up is slow fire, in which shooters fire 10 shots in 10 minutes, Reiten says. That’s followed by time fire — two, five-shot strings, in which shooters get 20 seconds per string. Finally there’s rapid fire, which consists of two, five-shot strings that each must be fired within 10 seconds.
“Is the line ready?” Reiten asks as the shooters nod. “The line is ready. Ready on the right. Ready on the left. Ready on the firing line.”
He then hits a switch to light up the range, and the shooters fire their pistols.
“Lights come up, you shoot. Lights go off, you stop,” Reiten said.
Shooters can compete in two categories: Conventional one-handed pistol fired at bullseye targets and Defensive Handgun, in which shooters use both hands to shoot at silhouette targets.
“In the winter, the majority shoot both,” Reiten said. “There are a few of the ladies when they’re starting out who have decided to just shoot defensive, which is two-handed.”
Perhaps the most competitive among the women shooting with their husbands in the league is Ranae Sotvik of Northwood. It’s not uncommon for her to shoot better scores than her husband, Steve.
“She’s a tough competitor,” Reiten said. “She often outshoots everybody else and ends up the defensive champion.”
And yes, she admits, there is a little bit of friendly husband-wife competition.
“He gets a little cranky now and then. I just humor him,” Ranae Sotvik joked. “He gets over it, though.”
Added Steve: “Normally, I beat her one-handed, and she beats me two-handed.”
But he taught her everything she knows, right?
“Yeah, I taught her too good,” he quipped.
Added Ranae: “He’s got to get some credit.”
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