Police must prove shooting accuracy

Nine Richmond County deputies step to the 25-yard line and aim their shotguns at a blue-and-white target downrange.

From her vantage point above them in the control room, Kathy Daniel issues orders from a loudspeaker, instructing them to fire when the target -- with its white, almost ghostly silhouette of a man -- spins to face them.

In seconds, the targets whirl and the sporadic sounds of gunfire echo across the range's high dirt walls as hundreds of tiny pellets rip through the targets.

Smoke still hangs in the air as an instructor walks down the line, examining each target to see whether the appropriate number of pellets found their mark.

Thursday marked the final day of the sheriff's department's firearm qualifications. About 500 deputies were tested on their ability to judge when to shoot and to hit their targets during the four-day test at the department's training center off Deans Bridge Road. All members of the department who carry a firearm are measured for their ability to shoot accurately in a test that usually lasts about four hours.

With shotguns, for example, each deputy must fire at a target from 25, 15 and 10 yards. A total of five rounds are fired and 36 pellets must hit the silhouette out of a possible 45.

After one group shot, Daniel received word via a walkie-talkie from an instructor on the range that several failed.

Those who miss the mark have two more chances to complete their qualification. If they still fail, they will have to come back and take a remedial firearms course, then qualify again.

"They kind of go back to the basics and get four hours of training on it," Daniel said.

Several deputies hung around a sitting area, waiting for their chance to shoot. Their mood was light, but each quickly turned serious when it was time to shoot.

Investigator Mark Dobbins said being a good shot appears to come naturally to some people. He compared it to high school, where some subjects are easy for some people, while others have to study and practice. Dobbins said he falls into the second group. "You can train all you want but then you got your individuals that it just comes natural to," he said.

This week's qualification is the second for the year. A nighttime qualification is typically held in the winter.

Top shots meet

The two deputies with the highest scores will compete in a shoot-off next week to determine the department's best shooter.

Investigator Alton Creech will look to retain his title for the third consecutive year, a feat that has never been done in the almost two decades of the contest.

Creech will compete against Deputy Anthony Gregory.