Lighting up the desert

Video: Nighttime three-gun event brings top shooters to Central Oregon

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical


Published Aug 16, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Aug 20, 2014 at 10:29AM

MILLICAN —

Everywhere, green and red lights lit up the deep darkness of the desert night.

The shooter jumped out of the SUV, grabbed a pistol, and shot several targets at close range. He then ran to the back of the vehicle, grabbed a shotgun, and blasted a few clay targets. Returning to the SUV, he secured a rifle, aimed well out into the darkness and fired repeatedly, striking a few small, metal targets.

The desert was quiet for a moment after that, until more shots could be heard in the distance.

The Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitational (M3GI) is a shooting competition unlike almost any other. The nighttime event, which started Wednesday and concludes in the pre-dawn hours Sunday, takes place in complete darkness east of Bend at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association range.

The M3GI, in its third year, offers 10 unique stages allowing competitors to use laser sights and weapon-mounted lights while they attempt to strike illuminated targets as quickly as possible with a rifle, a shotgun and a pistol.

More than 200 shooters from across the country are vying for the grand prize of $10,000.

“The best of the best three-gun shooters in the world are in Bend,” said Todd Fletcher, a sergeant with the Bend Police Department who is competing in the event. “You’ve got shooters here from all over the United States. If you’re a three-gun shooter, this is THE place to be this week.”

The competition starts at dusk each night and continues until nearly 3 a.m.

Late Wednesday night, Cody Leeper, of Emmett, Idaho, was shooting at Stage 3, called “Flirting with Disaster.” He struck three distant targets with his rifle, each lighting up in green after being hit. Leeper then blasted a few clay targets with a shotgun before knocking over several metal targets with his pistol. He did it all with the speed and precision of a veteran three-gun shooter.

“It’s always a challenge,” Leeper, 19, said of three-gun competitions. “There’s never an easy thing about it. It’s always challenging, it’s always different. You have to break it down into certain spots, know exactly where you’re going to step, where you’re going to make your shots, and where you’re going to plan your reloads.”

Add total darkness, and it becomes even more challenging. Leeper competes in a number of three-gun events throughout the year, but he called the M3GI “one of the hardest ones of the year because it’s different.”

“Nobody else does a big match like this, and none of us are used to it,” Leeper said. “None of us go out and shoot at night on a daily basis. It’s a big learning curve.”

Throughout the event, range safety officers ensure that participants follow the numerous rules and keep the activity safe. Everybody at the range is required to wear lights on their front and back, typically green glow sticks. Shooters use laser sights and lights provide by Crimson Trace, a Wilsonville-based company that bills itself as the industry leader for laser-sighting systems.

Leeper said three-gun events test a shooter’s all-around capabilities.

“It’s all about speed,” he said. “If you don’t hit a target, you’re going to get penalized by having time added on. It’s all about who can run this whole match the fastest — the fastest guy who hits them all.”

Or girl. Chrystal Fletcher, Todd Fletcher’s wife, is one of several women competing at the M3GI. She watched her husband shoot at the event last year and secured an invitation to take part this week. The Fletchers, who live in Sunriver, own a combative firearms training company.

“Shooting is kind of what we do,” Chrystal said.

But shooting in the dark is fairly new even to them.

“It’s a whole different ball of wax,” Chrystal said. “It changes everything. Your visibility is so limited and so focused on where your light beam can go. You don’t have your peripheral vision to rely on.”

She called the M3GI “one of a kind.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Chrystal said, “and we’re fortunate to have it in Central Oregon.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com