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What started out as a casual hobby for Bryan Ray has evolved to a source of camaraderie, personal challenge and national recognition. The 34-year-old marksman recently was ranked No. 30 in the country for three-gun shooting and is aiming for a national title.
Ray, a master electrician working for his family’s business, Gene Ray Electric, became interested in the sport when he and his wife, Alaina, were dating. Her family is active in hunting and shooting. Ray and his brother-in-law, Brian Vaught, were invited to a pistol competition and Ray was hooked on the sport.
He found match fees were not expensive on the local level, he could hang out with others excited about the sport and he received points for skills to give him an idea of where he stood as a competitor.
Four years ago, he entered a local three-gun — rifle, pistol and shotgun — match for the first time. Competitors use the different types of guns like golfers use different clubs on the course, he said. There are certain targets placed at a variety of distances throughout the course the shooter uses different guns for.
Previously, there wasn’t an overseeing organization to regulate the sport but recently the National 3-Gun Association has put together a series of matches using a consistent points system to rate performance, Ray said.
After a recent match in West Virginia last month Ray was ranked 30th in the nation.
His goal this season has been to make it into the top 30 because all those ranked in the top 30 are invited to SHOT Show in Las Vegas. It is the biggest event in the industry and the winner gets $50,000.
Ray enjoys shooting for a variety of reasons.
He gets to test himself as a shooter by seeing what he’s capable of in relation to other shooters, he said. Ray can evaluate his personal achievement and see where he needs to improve.
“Another big draw for the sport is the people who participate in it,” Ray said.
He’s traveled around the country in competitions and everywhere he goes the shooters are friendly and fun to be around, he said. He sees some of the guys so often they’ve become extended family.
In this sport Ray also gets the opportunity to help new and inexperienced shooters develop their skills to safely compete in matches.
“It’s one of the more rewarding aspects of the sport,” Ray said.
At matches he also gets to see factory representatives from manufactures and suppliers face to face instead of communicating through a generic email.
In competitive shooting, the mental game is as important as the physical, Ray said.
Along with marksmanship, a shooter has to mentally prepare themselves to make shots from different positions and figure out how to best complete a stage.
The biggest test for marksmanship is the ability to shoot a target, he said. Handguns shoot up to 40 yards, shotguns 100 yards and rifles sometimes more than 400 yards. On top of that, the results are time-based.
The targets by themselves might not be difficult to hit but when you are on the clock, a little out of breath and tired from running up a hill for 40 yards, some of the targets become a challenge to hit, he said.
“The mental aspect is being able to properly plan a stage and the physical is being able to accomplish your plan,” Ray said.
While competing at the local level is a relatively cheep hobby, competing in the majors can be expensive with higher match fees and travel expenses.
With the help of a few cooperate sponsors, Samson Manufacturing and Grace Ammo, Ray has been able to compete in many national matches.
“They’ve been very generous this year in letting us go out and play,” he said.
His family and workplace also have been very supportive.
“All of this has helped me become No. 30 in the nation and I hope to bring that check back from Vegas to prove it’s all been worth it,” Ray said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or email@example.com.
Getting to know Bryan Ray
If you are interested in three-gun shooting