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On target: Tinker shooting club aims for firearm education

Katherine Nobile takes aim at a clay pigeon recently during a shoot day with the Tinker Shooting Club. Nobile, an England native, came to the sport of shooting after marrying her husband J.W., who works at Tinker. The two are members of the shooting club which is open to new members. (Air Force photos by John Stuart)

Katherine Nobile takes aim at a clay pigeon recently during a shoot day with the Tinker Shooting Club. Nobile, an England native, came to the sport of shooting after marrying her husband J.W., who works at Tinker. The two are members of the shooting club which is open to new members. (Air Force photos by John Stuart)

Former Marine Corps marksmanship trainer Ken Caudle, right, gives some .22 rifle instruction to James Gallaher, 14, during a recent Tinker Shooting Club gathering. Gallaher’s father, Willard, works at Tinker and said the club has given his family a great start into the sport of shooting. (Air Force photo by John Stuart)

Former Marine Corps marksmanship trainer Ken Caudle, right, gives some .22 rifle instruction to James Gallaher, 14, during a recent Tinker Shooting Club gathering. Gallaher’s father, Willard, works at Tinker and said the club has given his family a great start into the sport of shooting. (Air Force photo by John Stuart)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Katherine Nobile slides the action closed on her 12-gauge shotgun and looks out over the expanse in front of her, steadying her nerves. Everyone waits for her cue. She wipes sweat from her brow in the growing morning heat and then shoulders the firearm. A single word is all it takes.

"Pull," she yells.

An orange-clad clay pigeon takes to the sky and she tracks it, counts to two and then pulls the trigger, vaporizing it.

The motion was almost second nature. Surely she'd done this all her life.
But no, she really hasn't.

Nobile was in her teens the first time she fired a gun. A Manchester, England, native, she learned to shoot .22 rifles in a junior Royal Air Force program, similar to America's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

But now, since marrying an American Airman and moving to Tinker several years ago, firearms are almost second nature. Her husband, J.W. Nobile, a civilian with the 545th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron, is a Texas native. The ranch-life he grew up with varies significantly from his wife's urban English roots, but learning the ins and outs of firearms has been good for her, Katherine says.

"In England we hear about the gun violence in America and that's the biggest thing," Katherine says. "That's the perception and unfortunately it's a very sheltered view."
And breaking down stereotypes about firearms is what it's all about for some Tinker Airmen.

Katherine and J.W. are shooting clay pigeons with the Tinker Shooting Club on this recent June day. Founded in part by Master Sgt. Rob Vanliew, also with the 545th PMXS, education is at the heart of the organization.

"We want to show people that guns aren't just to hurt others," Vanliew says in front of about 15 people, gathered at a recent club shooting day. "We want to show people that you can come out and shoot guns just to have a good time."

And shoot guns they did.

Rifles, shotguns and handguns of numerous makes and models all received some trigger finger attention that Saturday morning at the range near Lake Thunderbird in Norman. At one end of the firing line stand Airmen Logan Strader and Taylor Crowe. Between them, the duo brought a stash of various guns to unload into unsuspecting targets. Strader fires a .45 black powder pistol before switching to a CZ-82 9mm handgun. Meanwhile Crowe shoulders a 7.62 x 54R PSL Romanian Sniper Rifle then swaps it out for his Mosin-Nagant Russian World War II-style make. There are few places the pair would've rather been.

Several feet away, Master Sgt. Willard Gallaher sits at a firing station with his 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer, as she looks down the barrel of a .22 rifle. She exhales slowly and squeezes the trigger. The quiet report is overshadowed by a ping in the distance. It's her first time handling a firearm but she's already hitting the bull's eye.

"I wanted to have my children exposed to guns," Gallaher says." I thought it would be a good time to get them out here and get it started."

Gallaher is also there with his wife and their 14-year-old son. To hear him say it, Gallaher basically grew up in the woods, traipsing around with a .22 slung on his shoulder. Firearms were a way of life for him, and something he wants to safely share with his family. The shooting club is a natural avenue for this, he says.

Ken Caudle agrees. There's nothing he likes more than to teach the basics. Caudle served in the Marine Corps before switching branches and retiring as an Army command sergeant major. He owns the Thunderbird Gun Range where the club meets and is a bevy of firearm know-how.

What started as his kids basketball court slab eventually turned into the well-designed shooting facility you can see today. The building rests just feet from Caudle's house and from talking to him just a little bit you get the feeling he's in his gun range building more than the house.

"My passion is teaching basic rifle marksmanship," Caudle says.
He sees a need for more rudimentary firearm skills among shooters and is always eager to further the sport. With the experience as a former Marine rifle instructor, several NRA teaching certifications and a formidable patience, Caudle is good at his passion.
His Thunderbird Gun Range rests on 80-acres of property and offerss a diverse lineup for patrons.

Being an American means you can drive a car and shoot a gun, Caudle says of the stereotype. But he sees a real need for rudimentary rifle handling skills among the gun-toting populace.

"I have people come out here and they've had guns all their lives but they don't know how to shoot," he says. "So my interest is to instill the basic concepts of marksmanship training."

Cost for the range is $10 per person per day, or $5 for military. To join the Tinker Shooting Club is $120 per year or $60 per year for military. Started in 2009, the club has about 15 people and is open to new members.

Essentially it's about camaraderie and education for the men and women of the Tinker Shooting Club. If you're looking for a safe, family-friendly environment to hone your skills in all things firearms, you won't have to look very far. What started as a few Airmen is now a growing organization and with the devotion of Caudle and Vanliew, it's likely they'll keep the club hitting center mass.