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MISSOULA — The United States Practical Shooting Association is hosting a firearms national tournament-qualifying event in Missoula for the first time since 2005.

Over 400 competitors are competing in the USPSA Area 1 Championship, which started Wednesday and runs through Sunday at the Deer Creek Shooting Center in East Missoula. There are only eight area championships across the United States.

“Hosting this is big,” Bruno Friia, a range officer at the competition, said. “This is like our Super Bowl.”

Area champions and others who have totaled enough points throughout the year will qualify for the national tournament. This year’s will be October 20-28 in Frostproof, Florida.

“Missoula had the Area 1 in 2005, and two years later they hosted the national competition,” Match Director Scott Bair said. “We’re hoping to repeat that and get the nationals here in 2020.”

The competition is a Level III USPSA match, meaning it draws from multiple states, is more structured and requires at least one ranger master certified by the USPSA.

The 425 competitors are primarily coming from Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada. Others are traveling from across the United States and Canada.

“A match this big, it usually takes a week and a half or two weeks to fill up,” Bair said. “This match, we opened it 8 a.m., Dec. 1. At 12:25 p.m., it was full. By 2:30 p.m., I had 185 people on the wait list.

“That’s a good indicator of how popular and desirous this location is. The credit goes to the Western Montana Fish & Game Association for the up-keep of the range.”

Competitors will go through a 12-stage course over two days. Each course will have a variety of targets, including steel and paper targets, moving targets, props and more, sometimes partially obstructed by barriers.

The participants will primarily use hand guns, while some will use pistol-caliber carbines. Deer Creek Shooting Center is a cold range, meaning firearms are unloaded at all times when the shooters aren’t on the firing line.

Scoring is based on three factors: speed, accuracy and power. The faster a shooter completes the stage, the higher the score they can obtain. They’re also scored on their accuracy by hitting a target as close to the middle as possible. Lastly, they’ve scored on whether they use a major- or minor-caliber gun; a major-caliber gun is more difficult to be accurate with and has a bigger recoil, and that increased difficulty rewards shooters with more possible points.

Competitors are divided up into three sections based on the type of handgun they use — single stack, production division or open division — a classification for skill level and a category.

The categories are by age group, a ladies category and a category for military and law enforcement. The age groups are junior (16 years old and under), senior (55 and older) and super senior (65 and older). Those between 17 and 54 years old aren’t given any special recognition in awards categories.

Staff members competed on Wednesday and will finish on Thursday since they’re working the rest of the tournament. The competition period for the non-staff members begins 7:30 a.m. Friday, with the awards ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

Frank Gogola covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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