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Gun enthusiasts from across the country take their best shot in Las Vegas

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Stephanie Payne, 24, competes in the 2013 United States Practical Shooting Association Multi-gun National Championship at Desert Sportsmen in Las Vegas, Sunday, April 28, 2013.

Updated Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | 5:31 p.m.

Shooting Competition

Sgt. Shane Coney, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, using his customized Russian-made 12-gauge shotgun competes in the 2013 United States Practical Shooting Association Multi-gun National Championship at Desert Sportsmen in Las Vegas, Sunday, April 28, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The 12-gauge shotgun is loaded, resting easily on her shoulder, trained on a target.

Lena Miculek is ready.

She’s just waiting for the word, the signal from the range officer. He’s the law in this sport, the man who can grant a second run on a course or disqualify a competitor from competition.

As Miculek waits those final few seconds, she remembers what she saw when she walked over the course more than an hour before. How one of the black targets is behind a white circle she’s not allowed to hit and how the ramps she has to duck behind while she shoots targets hundreds of yards away make it difficult to position herself.

It’s the temperament of an old pro, breaking down the course, the footwork and angles needed to get the job done. But despite sponsorships that include such hallmarks of the gun world like Smith & Wesson, the 18-year-old is new to the paid ranks.

And on the final day of competition, she’s ready for her last course of the three-day event. She waits for the word.

• • •

Gun enthusiasts have traveled to Las Vegas four years in a row to attend the Remington Defense Multi-Gun National Championship, a competition where entrants shoot handguns, rifles and shotguns on 12 courses. The event is a part of a new wave of shooting called practical shooting, where competitors walk — and sometimes run — through courses as they knock down targets with a variety of guns.

The organizer of the event, the United States Practical Shooting Association, boasts more than 25,000 members nationwide and is one of hundreds of groups that practice practical shooting.

Along with it comes strict rules, and even the smallest oversight, like keeping your finger too close to the trigger at the wrong time, can earn a disqualification.

“The rules are draconian for a reason. They have to be in order for us to maintain the safety we do,” said Carl Schmidt, one of the match directors charged with organizing the event.

Lena and her parents, Kay and Jerry Miculek, are three of more than 200 people who ventured from across the country to compete at the Desert Sportman Rifle and Pistol Club, 12201 W. Charleston Blvd. But this is nothing new for the Miculeks. Kay’s a world-class shooter whose father was a gunsmith, Jerry’s known as the fastest man in the world with a revolver, and Lena has competed since she was 8 years old and recently became a full-time professional shooter.

They’ll travel from their home and the shooting range they own in northwest Louisiana to more than 20 events a year, sometimes traveling abroad to Hungary, Norway, New Zealand and Greece to practice this game of skill.

It’s all about precision. The goal: hit each target with just one shot.

“These are not the movie guns where you’re seeing them spray a million rounds,” Schmidt said.

But sometimes that precision is hard to achieve because designers of the shooting ranges like to take the competitors out of their comfort zone with strange angles and awkward shooting platforms.

“You don’t go to a match and see the same thing every time. It’s always going to be different,” Kay Miculek said.

Most shooters try to get the match grounds early so they can walk the course and plan how to attack the targets.

“It’s as much a mental game as it is a physical game,” Lena Miculek said. “You have to prepare for each course.”

• • •

She gets the signal to go and fires the first shot. Excellent: first target down. The second shot: great, second target down with the shotgun. It’s the third that gives her trouble, the one at the awkward angle.

But Lena has prepared for this, and she takes her time as she fires three shots to knock down the target. It’s OK, though; she knows that the extra time with the shotgun is better than getting penalized for hitting one of the none-targets.

A few more targets with the shotgun and she’s done with the first leg. She runs with the weapon to a trash bin and dumps it inside before she pulls out an AR-15 nearby.

Bang! Bang! And more targets are down.

She runs up a ramp to a platform that roughly simulates a roof, and she blasts shots at targets hundreds of yards away through a scope with a red dot in the middle to help her aim. She hits them all.

Back down the ramp. More shots, up another ramp, more shots, and Lena finishes to applause.

She wasn’t as fast as she had hoped she’d be. Some of the targets took longer to hit than she would have liked. But the match isn’t a qualifier of any further competitions. It’s just a chance to relax, to have fun.

It’s a game, and when people leave happy, everyone wins.

CORRECTION: This version corrects the location of the shooting range. | (April 30, 2013)

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