At one point in her shooting career, Lisa Munson was a small woman with a large handgun.
A certain percentage of her male peers would smile at her with that, "Hey, little lady — sure you can handle that big ol’ pistol?" look in their eyes.
But that was a long time before Munson and her big ol’ $2,000, semi-automatic, .40-caliber, 20-round, Strayer-Voight won a trophy nearly as tall as she is, for firing her way to the U.S. Practical Shooting Association’s Limited National Ladies’ Championship last summer in Pennsylvania.
At 5 feet, 3 inches, and about 125 pounds, the Marysville-area mother of two is still small, and she still shoots a large handgun, but as she says, "I’ve at last become genderless, and that’s a very satisfying thing — to be able to compete on reasonably equal footing with the men.
"I’ve seen their attitudes change over the years, and actually, it’s a hoot."
The 39-year-old member of the Marysville Rifle Club has been competing for 13 years, and her specialty is "Action Pistol," an event which combines speed — both in shooting and in physically moving through a course — with accuracy.
Munson calls the timed event "an obstacle course for pistol shooters," or the "NASCAR of the shooting sports." It can involve four or five different shooting positions and from three to four shots or up to 20 or 30 shots at each position, during a "course of fire."
A set formula decides the winner, based on elapsed time and a hits/misses point system. Shooting positions can involve different scenarios, with walls, barricades, and so forth, and no two courses are the same. If a shooting position is going to involve more than her pistol’s 20-round capacity, Munson says she must reload on the run.
If the course is never the same, the targets are standardized 8-inch circles and 6-inch squares, plus a few falling metal targets thrown in. Shooting distances can be from arm’s length to 50 yards.
It’s something like cowboy shooting with racier equipment, Munson says, and it sounds a little like the old combat shooting courses shown in so many movies over the last 10 years.
"That’s where the roots are, but we’re trying to get away from the combat image," Munson says. "These days, it’s more rooted in learning to use a firearm and use it safely, efficiently, under a wide range of conditions."
Women can be — and are — very competitive in this sport, Munson says. Some 500 women competed at the nationals this year, most from their mid-30s to mid-50s.
"We give up a little to the men in upper body strength," she says, "but that’s a relatively minor factor. While some women in the sport are intensely competitive, a lot more say, ‘I have firearms at home and I want to be comfortable with them, not necessarily a national champion or anything.’ "
The shooting sports in general appeal to a lot of women, Munson says, noting that in military competition last year at Camp Perry, the best high-power rifle shooter was a woman.
Always an aggressive, competitive, tomboy type, Munson says she met her future husband, Eric (now a computer hardware engineer at Hewlett-Packard), while she was in junior high school in West Seattle, and they were both members of a community shooting club there.
"We were both shooting smallbore rifle, we dated, and eventually married and moved onward and upward, shootingwise," she says. "We both shot action pistol for a while. I stayed with it, but Eric went back to his first love, shotgun, and he’s active in that."
Munson says there are over 15,000 organized participants, men and women, in the sport around the world, in over 60 countries, and a world championship is held every three years. Last year it was in the Philippines, where Munson placed 11th. There are a half-dozen clubs around Puget Sound for shooting action pistol, but California and Arizona are the West coast hot spots. Illinois has hosted several U.S. championships, and the sport is also popular in Texas, Florida, and in the Las Vegas area.
"It’s a very diverse group," Munson says. "Around here we have the obvious interest — military and law enforcement people — but also housewives, doctors, Microsoft millionaires, blue-collar laborers, the whole range. I shot once in Canada with a woman in her 70s."
Munson says she was lucky enough to be able to shoot year-around for about eight years, popping probably 15,000 to 20,000 rounds a year, but now takes a couple of months off during the winter. "It’s nice to be with the family during the holidays, and it helps hold down the burn-out factor," she says.
Being handy with a semi-automatic has provided many benefits for her over the years, she says, but two primary ones come to mind.
"I did the stay-at-home mom thing," she says, "and while I would do it again in a minute, I think shooting saved my sanity. It gave me a break from the routine, one I thoroughly enjoyed, and let me be me. Besides that, we took the kids (a boy, now 15, and a girl, now 18) with us and made it an educational experience for them. We traveled as a family all over the country and took them to the Smithsonian, for instance, when there was an event in the D.C. area."
The other major benefit, she says, involves her status as a sort of semi-professional athlete.
"I have been successful enough to have sponsors," she says. "That pays for my equipment and competition costs, giving us, in effect, six weeks a year of relatively free travel."
Marysville Rifle Club spokesman Dan Lester says the club shoots action pistol every third Sunday of the month, from about 10 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. Visitors are welcome, he says, but should bring eye and hearing protection with them. The club contact for action pistol is Erick Wilson, at 360-691-1866. To reach the club range, take the Smokey Point exit (No. 206) off the freeway, drive west through Lakewood to the first stop sign, turn right and go another mile or so, watching for the range sign on the right before reaching Lake Ki.
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