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'It's kind of a rush'

About 20,000 machine-gun rounds popped off in a grand ol' shoot 'em up

It was a terrible day for worms.As dirt, weeds and occasional targets flew about amid streams of hot lead on Labor Day, the dead-eyes distinguished themselves from the trigger-happy weekenders.

Several clubs frequent the Josephine County Sportsman's Park firing range in Merlin. But none can match the sheer volume of ordinance sprayed by Southern Oregon Full Automatic Shooting Team, a.k.a. SOFAST, and its pals.

Team members weren't the only ones on the range Monday, when SOFAST sponsored a public machine-gun shooting event as a fund-raiser for the park. the time they were done, the shooters had fired off about 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

Generally, there are a lot of ex-military guys here, said SOFAST president Robert Dolson of Grants Pass. Basically, they're just a bunch of laid-back good ol' boys. They remind me of NASCAR guys.

— The only vehicle in sight on the terraced range, however, was an abused 1980s vintage Ford van laced with explosives and parked about 100 yards from the shooters. The van donated by Peach Street Salvage in Grants Pass is the third such offered up during the six meets the club has put on to raise money for the park.

We haven't discriminated, Dolson said. We've shot up a Dodge and a Chevy, too. It'll be pretty trashed by the end of the day, but hopefully we'll be able to move it out with a forklift.

Marksmen and gun shop owners were more than willing to share their zeal for their thunderous hobby with young and old. World War II weapons ranged from American M-1s and British 9 mm Stens to German Mausers. Shooters also used newer Israeli Uzis and Chinese-style AK-47s

The military (in World War II) put out a training film saying that the Mauser's bark was worse than its bite, Dolson said. That was a bunch of horse feathers.

The Military Armament Corporation .380 could spit out 2,000 rounds per minute, but the magazine holds only 30 rounds, compared to 70 or 100 held by other guns. That required a lot of work for just a few seconds of firing.

It takes 20 seconds to put the magazine in and two minutes to load it, Dolson said.

Ray Renteria, 44, of Ashland and his 14-year-old son, Ryan, paid their second visit to the range just off Interstate 5 between Merlin and Hugo.

It's pretty cool, but I don't like the noise, Ryan Renteria said. When you're using the Sten, you can't really tell what you're aiming at because there is no forward sight.

His dad thought it was a chance to mix history with a bit of adventure.

I enjoy coming out and firing off as many rounds as I can as fast as I can, Ray Renteria said. It's amazing how fast these weapons can fire a bullet on automatic ' it's kind of a rush.

The event attracted shooters from beyond Southern Oregon.

Gail Smith, 56, of Pinole, Calif., remembers how her grandfather used to take her to Lake Merced Gun Club for trap shoots as a teenager. So she wasn't bothered at all by explosive sounds.

I liked the (German-made) MP5 because it's lighter and fits me better, said Smith, who zipped off 40 rounds. I know I'm going to hit the target.

The power of a machine gun in your hands creates quite a sensation, said Troy Gordon of Grants Pass.

You don't know what to expect on that first burst, said Gordon, 39. If you've never fired more than one round at a time, it's hard to describe. What impresses me is the grin you see on faces. The grin won't come off for a few days.

He's interrupted by the pounding of a large millimeter gun spewing out a river of hot lead

He's spending a lot of money over there, Gordon said.

Cindy Dodson, 52, of Roseburg said she got hooked on the weapons at a previous public shooting event held on Memorial Day weekend.

It's just better, she said, than anything else.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail .

Bullet casings fly as Jerry Hesting of Springfield fires a machine gun Monday at Sportsman's Park in Merlin during a public machine-gun shoot. The event was a fund-raiser for the park. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli