Big Piney Sportsman's Club board member Bryan Tinney stands next to immense target boards on the club's long range shooting range. From the club's recently completed covered, 600-yard bench rest shooting facility, the boards appear to be the size of postage stamps.

There are countless styles of firearms owned by an equally wide range of people in the United States.

Whether it’s a middle-aged man shooting a lever-action .22 magnum rifle, a woman in her low 20s practicing with a 9-millimeter pistol, or a teenage boy learning to fire a 30-06 with help from his dad, there’s a place in Texas County where on a given day every imaginable combination of gun and shooter can be found in action: the Big Piney Sportsman’s Club.

“It’s a rare day that there isn’t someone launching lead out here,” club vice president Charles Dyer said.

Founded in 1960, the BPSC sits on a 156-acre parcel of land a few miles east of Houston on Highway B. Affiliated with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the facility has venues for many kinds of shooting disciplines, including a short and long-range rifle, trap and skeet, multi-gun course, and even a tactical shoot house used to emulate clearing and securing the interior of a building. On multiple days during almost every week, events or instruction take place featuring everything from 4-H youth to world-class marksmen.

The BPSC’s roots can be traced to when a group of five avid shotgun shooters gathered each week. Now the membership roster boasts some 220 names, including many people from several surrounding states.

Membership is split into two levels, with voting members being those living in Texas County or adjoining counties and associate members living anywhere else. BPSC president Bob Roach said the club is in good shape financially.

“We’re debt free,” Roach said, “and based on current overhead expenses, we maintain an emergency fund to cover one year’s operating cost separate from the checking account. All improvements are accomplished through management of cash flow, and no loans have been taken to make improvements.”

“This is one of the best run organizations I’ve ever seen as far as managing money and getting it to go far as you can possibly get it to go,” Dyer said.

One of the most prominent and noticeable aspects of the BPSC’s grounds is its 600-yard high-power bench rest rifle range. The range has recently been upgraded to include 18 covered stations, and will soon have 20 with lighting and a public address system.

Thanks to efficient volunteer work done by numerous club members and other shooting fans, the covering took only a week to go up from start to finish.

“We started by drilling the post holes on Monday and had it completed Saturday,” Roach said. “And it was all done by volunteer labor, except for boring the holes in the ground.”

As recently as two years ago, there was only a single bench rest station on he range. Then in July of last year, the number was increased to nine.

A storm about three months ago destroyed the line of huge target stands on the range, but only a couple of weeks later they were replaced by units better than the pre-storm versions.

When upgrades to the range are done, it will be among the best in the country, and hopes are high for hosting the national 600-yard bench rest event in the near future. Such an event would likely draw as many as 140 big-time shooters representing about 25 states.

But even the current list of competitions regularly brings hundreds of people at a time to the Houston area, which has a significant effect on the local economy.

“I don’t think people have a clue how much money gets spent in the area by people who come out here,” Roach said. “Lots of ammunition gets bought at many local stores, as well as other shooting supplies and things people need.”

“And that’s not to mention motels, restaurants and gas stations,” BPSC board member Bryan Tinney said. “They see a lot of that revenue, too.”

The club’s membership already includes many seasoned veterans of national shooting competition, some of whom are among the elite in their class. Two of those are Summersville residents Don and Sheron Rabun, who both turned in stellar performances at the 2011 International Benchrest Shooters (IBS) 1000-yard national championship match last September at the White Horse Shooting Center in Peeltree, W.V.

In the event’s field of 91 world-class shooters, Don placed 28th overall and his wife Sheron finished 39th. Sheron’s performance included the best five-shot grouping of the tournament, at only 2.6 inches.

She went on to be named IBS 600-yard female shooter of the year.

Now in only her third year in competitive long range shooting, Sheron uses a custom-made gun (a 16.8-pound, Kelby’s Panda 6MM Dasher with Brux barrel, Nightforce scope and Precision Rifle and Tool stock) constructed at a shop in Summersville run by her husband Don and a young friend. She said competing on the national stage is an eye-opening experience.

“It’s a little scary,” she said. “But there’s a lot of practice that goes into it, and when it starts, you just focus on what you’re supposed to do.”

Don is also an accomplished benchrest shooter. He was named IBS 1000-yard rookie of the year in 2011 and shot the smallest group at 600-yards in a national competition at Texas County’s other long-range facility in Yukon. Not to be outdone, his business partner earned IBS 600-yard rookie of the year honors.

“We were ecstatic about how well we did in only our second year of shooting,” Sheron said.

“Benchrest and F class from 600 yards out to 1000 are the fastest growing shooting sports in the country right now,” Don said, “so we’re very glad to have the kind of facility that Bob and the club are putting together here.”

The Rabuns are by no means the first BPSC members to shoot well at the national level. Only a couple of short years ago, Willow Springs resident and expert small bore rifle marksman Zach Collins shocked the 4-H shooting world by placing second in a national match, posting an aggregate score that would have won a year earlier.

Don Rabun said the BPSC member roster has the potential to produce more.

“If you get a day when it’s dead calm, there’s no mirage, and the temperature’s right, there are shooters here who could shoot a world record,” he said. “We travel all over the country for shooting, and the competition here is as tough as it is anywhere. You can get beat here as easily as you can in Memphis or anywhere else they have great shooters.”

Dyer agreed.

“I knocked around the army for about 28 years and had a lot of time in marksmanship units,” he said, “and you cannot believe the quality of the shooters in this club.”

Dyer oversees the club’s 4-H program and orchestrates youth competitions, and the club provides firearms for use by participants who don’t have their own. Despite sometimes going up against competition with far great available resources, BPSC youth typically do more than just hold their own; they’ve won team events on several occasions and have never placed lower than third.

“We’ll go to a match with field grade Remingtons and shoot against daddy’s Perazzi out of St. Louis or Kansas City,” Dyer said. “And it’s not just the gun difference; if they can afford a Perazzi, they can afford unlimited practice. Our kids get by on two boxes of the Walmart special a week.”

“And they still come in no less than third,” Roach said.

The BPSC facility is available for fundraising events, and families or organizations can reserve it on request. All active members of military service and law enforcement are granted free use and associate membership, and the club’s charter includes support of all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, the National Guard, and reserve forces.

Since the BPSC sports one of the better long-range rifle facilities in Missouri, it’s used for training by many state agencies, including the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Department of Conservation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Houston Police Department, among others. Last week, the club hosted a long-range tactical shooting class for law enforcement officers, which will be featured in an article in the Herald’s May 31 issue.

Instruction available at the club includes conceal-carry, handgun, and carbine classes, and more. Groups that take advantage of the facility include the National Turkey Federation, Quail Forever and various churches.

“We’ll support any organization that’s interested in using our unique possibilities,” Dyer said.

Competitions and matches held at the BPSC are open to the general public – participants or spectators need not be members.

“There are a lot of people who have lived here a long time and still have no idea this place is here – and it’s been here since 1960,” Roach said. “

“We’re the best kept secret in Texas County,” Tinney said.

For more information about the BPSC, including fees and a schedule of events, log onto www.bigpineysportsmansclub.com.

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