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Investigator aims to continue his winning streak

Gunning for the top

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Alton Creech stands and squints downrange. About 25 yards away is a green-and-white target with the silhouette of a person's head and torso. He stands erect and still -- his left hand holding a sheriff's office Glock model 22 handgun and his right supporting it.

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Investigator Alton Creech fires at a target at the Richmond County Sheriff's Training Center. Creech, who said he has been shooting since he was 7 years old, has placed first in the department's annual shooting competition two years in a row.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Investigator Alton Creech fires at a target at the Richmond County Sheriff's Training Center. Creech, who said he has been shooting since he was 7 years old, has placed first in the department's annual shooting competition two years in a row.

In a split second, a .40-caliber round rips through the paper in the center of the target -- a "kill zone." The one that follows will pass through almost the same hole -- just a few millimeters off. Then another and another, until Creech's magazine is empty.

It's that tight grouping that has earned Creech, a property crimes investigator for the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, the honor of being the office's top shot for two years running. Each year in the fall, the sheriff's office turns a normally humdrum affair -- its daytime firearm qualifications -- into a tournament for the best shooter around.

All deputies from the road patrol and criminal investigations division and some of the jailers take a trip out to the Sheriff's Training Center off Deans Bridge Road in Blythe and empty 30 rounds each into a similar target. Deputies earn points based on the proximity of shots to one another and the area of the target struck. Those with the highest number win the competition.

Creech won last year after a shoot-off with Lt. Frank Tiller. Creech's success isn't too surprising; he has been shooting since he was 7. His favorite targets were squirrels he would pick off with a single-shot .22-caliber rifle. As he grew older, he entered many shooting competitions and began hunting deer and dove, all of which honed his skills. Now, he often practices at the sheriff's office training range -- going through an estimated 5,000 rounds a year.

"I've probably put some owner of a firearm manufacturer's kids through college," Creech said. "It isn't really practice because I like to shoot. It's fun for me."

Tiller's approach couldn't be more different. He doesn't practice and didn't begin shooting regularly until he went to the police academy decades ago. A 34-year veteran of the department, Tiller -- once a SWAT team member -- said the years of practice have just stayed with him.

"All of these years of shooting, it's just automatic," he said.

Asked whether it's likely he and Creech could come to a shoot-off again this year, Tiller said it's tough because there is so little room for error. Just a few millimeters cost him the title last year.

"He can be beat, but day in and day out I don't know anybody who can shoot with him," Tiller said.

Local lawyer and former deputy Freddie Sanders started sponsoring the competition -- which is a law enforcement-only affair -- in 1993 to honor his father, Capt. E.E. Sanders. The elder Sanders retired from the sheriff's office, and his son said the tournament is something he would be honored to be involved in.

The top three shooters receive a trophy and a certificate to Sidney's Department Store on Broad Street to buy their own pistol.

Sanders said that since 1985, when he left the department, the deputies have switched from using revolvers to the Glocks, and they qualify at much closer to the target -- a reflection of the realities of police work.

"I think they finally realized most of the time if you use your weapon, it's not at 60 yards," he said. "Back then, you were just lobbing it at the target."

In Columbia County, deputies can earn a series of badges during qualification. At the top is the master shooter badge, one that Deputy Dave Wheeler, of the special ops division, has earned.

Wheeler said the deputies qualify with 50 shots at their training center on Range Road off Columbia Road. He is on the Special Response Team, their version of SWAT, so he must shoot 90 percent or better.

At home, Creech will pick a target and practice his stance, sight alignment and trigger control with an empty gun. It's the fundamentals, he said, that make the difference between an average and an above-average marksman.

Marksmen leave their mark

Richmond County top shots:

2009: Alton Creech

2008: Alton Creech

2007: Darren Beasley

2006: James Kitchens

2005: Robbie Silas

2004: Robert Partain

2003: Mark Lovering

2002: Raymond Jones

2001: Barry Davis

2000: Dale Pittard

1999: Fred Lowe

1998: Michael Cardenaz

1997: Unavailable

1996: Shea Davis

1995: Michael Cardenaz

1994: Andy Jordan

1993: Ken Glisson

Source: Richmond County Sheriff's Office

Comments (19) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/11/10 - 10:00 am
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Mr. Folk, is the 1997 winner

Mr. Folk, is the 1997 winner unavailable for a reason?

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 08/11/10 - 10:05 am
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Nice to know.

Nice to know.

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 08/11/10 - 10:07 am
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Especially since one of these

Especially since one of these guys is a neighbor of mine.

chipshirley
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chipshirley 08/11/10 - 10:24 am
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He better not shoot me!

He better not shoot me!

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 08/11/10 - 10:39 am
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Nice story but a good police

Nice story but a good police shooter doesn't shoot like a sniper. He spreads his shots out to cause the human body more trauma. The idea is to stop someone from shooting or attacking you. If you repeatedly hit the same spot on the body, the person attacking you can still function a tad bit longer. I guess this make a defense attorneys day, "Well Inv. Creech, if you are such a great shot why did you have to shoot my client in the head? Why didn't you shoot him in the arm or leg?"

Whim
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Whim 08/11/10 - 11:10 am
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AugustaVoter, good point, but

AugustaVoter, good point, but if he shot the person in the head, I doubt it would be his client, perhaps his family's though.

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 08/11/10 - 11:15 am
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Yeah, I meant from a family's

Yeah, I meant from a family's standpoint. Whoops.

flipa
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flipa 08/11/10 - 11:40 am
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Police need to be able to

Police need to be able to shoot a hostage taker in the head as the hostage is held in front of them. Or they can choose to shoot the gun out of someones hand like the old westerns. Being able to lay shot where you want it to go can save your neighbors lives and those who you work with. I practice with bb pistols because you can shoot them inside your own house without all the smoke. Right now the best sharpshooters we know of & i are having our CSRA River Rider shootout. In the lead is a guy from N. Augusta Richard Posey.

The winner must be able to open the top of a soda can laid on its side by nailing rounds around the outside of the top of the can until it is opened.

We finish up this weekend and if i beat Richard i will have beaten the best civilian sharpshooter that we know of in this area with a combination of the Daisy VS the Crossman Co2 pistols.
PS I never shoot at animals except Moccasins and wild Hogs both of which have killed and/or injured folks who where just walking through the woods.

ArmedandLegal
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ArmedandLegal 08/11/10 - 12:18 pm
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Good read. His grip method

Good read. His grip method (based on the photo) strikes me as a little strange, but hey - whatever works. :)

I guess I use the standard thumb over thumb technique.

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 08/11/10 - 12:23 pm
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flipa, that is what SWAT

flipa, that is what SWAT officers and snipers are for. Not Road deputies.

Sweet son
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Sweet son 08/11/10 - 01:04 pm
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AugustaVoter you are so full

AugustaVoter you are so full of it. Police officers don't have the luxury of a firing range when they are on the scene of "trouble" in progress. That is why you train to put all rounds in the same place. Distractors might make your firing expertise suffer under "real" circumstances.

ArmedandLegal
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ArmedandLegal 08/11/10 - 02:36 pm
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Ignore the armchair generals,

Ignore the armchair generals, they are plentiful on this website. Just like the nutjob who said anyone who carries a pistol with a round in the chamber is an "idiot". lol carrying a weapon you have to rack to fire...wooo!

Tinkerbell69
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Tinkerbell69 08/11/10 - 02:42 pm
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I'm just wondering why this

I'm just wondering why this man is not on the SWAT team instead of being a property crime investigator. Surely they could use someone of such skills or he could teach the SWAT team a thing or two. Just my two cents. Also, 5000 rounds a year equates to something like $3000 a year for ammunition.

Ldgat
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Ldgat 08/11/10 - 03:24 pm
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The majority of firearms

The majority of firearms training that most Deputies receive consist of standing still in front of a huge silhouette target and firing approximately thirty rounds. That's it. It in no way prepares them for actual street encounters. Studies show that a law enforcement officers hit percentage at distances from 3-7 yards is under 20%.
n 1992 the overall police hit potential was 17%. Where distances could be
determined, the hit percentages at distances under 15 yards were:

Less than 3 yards ..... 28%
3 yards to 7 yards .... 11%
7 yards to 15 yards . 4.2%
Even thought their lives depend on their weapon skills, most Deputies never train with them except at qualification time. A great way to increase their skill level would be to compete in some of the local shooting sports such as IDPA, USPSA and the three gun matches. One really has to learn to shoot on the move and at moving targets, keep up with round count and use cover. It could really help in the long run. Just saying!

ArmedandLegal
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ArmedandLegal 08/11/10 - 04:29 pm
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Can vouch for last poster.

Can vouch for last poster. Ive witnessed lots of police at Shooters and its not a pretty sight even at 10 feet.

dstewartsr
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dstewartsr 08/11/10 - 05:45 pm
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A & L, I agree. These are

A & L, I agree. These are really cool contests, but have almost zero to do with real life out in the two-way range. I spent several long years with the job description of pop-up target/recoil mechanism for a service rifle and have seen the results of stress on marksmanship. I witnessed one soldier empty a twenty round magazine at a running man not more than ten meters away- without a single hit! I watched a video from the convenience store where I was clerking where a robber and a clerk shot a half dozen times across the counter with Glock 9mm's- and neither was hit.

AugVoter, you also hit the nail: There will always be some low-life lawyer (yeah, redundant, I know, I know!) who will take the case of the bereaved to extort a settlement out of the police when their criminal spawn achieves room temperature by way of an armed act of terminal stupid.

Being able to shoot an aspirin with a BB gun, versus armed intruder in the dark with chrome steel auto? (Snicker) About equal to the utility of expertise in self abuse on a date with a grown woman.

Ldgat
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Ldgat 08/11/10 - 07:13 pm
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Shooters has a small informal

Shooters has a small informal match on the third Thursday of each month. I would be willing to bet that they would allow active duty deputies to shoot free for the first couple of matches. If not, its only $10 bucks. They can check the Pintucky website for their match schedule. Membership is not required and the mathes are around $12. Duty gear works great. The matches consist of a group of excellent men and women that are honored to help out fellow marksmen in instruction and needed equipment.
ps. Armedandlegal, his grip is perfect for a semi-auto. Using the thumb over thumb grip while shooting a semi-auto can result in a nasty cut to the thumb by the reciprocation of the slide.

augustacop30909
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augustacop30909 08/11/10 - 07:27 pm
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Ldqat, I am always interested

Ldqat, I am always interested in competitive shooting,,, and would love to get into a group that does this,, when is the next meet at shooters and do i need to sign up anywhere before hand or just show up? certain type of ammo required? etc...

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 08/11/10 - 10:41 pm
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For those that don't realize

For those that don't realize it's a typo, that's Pinetucky website, not Pintucky in Ldgat's 7:13pm comment.

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