The world of competitive shooting can get pretty intense. But a Colorado business wants to lighten it up a bit. The American Zoot Shooters Association combines gangster costumes from the early 20th century with marksmanship.
At the Colorado Rifle Club east of Denver recently, AZSA co-founder and owner Jason "The Hustler" Huss was wearing a red pinstripe suit, a bright red tie and a black felt hat.
"[I] kind of look like a leftover reject from a '90s swing band," says Huss, pointing to a shiny silver wallet chain. "That's my hustler bling — probably not very period-correct. I just think it looks cool."
Huss says maintaining historical accuracy isn't all that important for the AZSA — it's more about dressing up in clothes you might see in a gangster movie and having fun.
The AZSA doesn't keep ongoing rankings for its members, like other shooting sports. The best you can do is win an individual match.
Huss says the collectible guns also are part of the fun. Most of the shooters have wooden carts to tote their weapons around.
"In my cart you'll see a semi-automatic version of a Thompson submachine gun," says Steve "G-Man" Fowler. "That's the Tommy gun."
Several zoot shooters own reproductions of the iconic gun with the round magazine drum. They're manufactured now by Kahr Arms in Worcester, Mass.
AZSA matches include "capers," which are like obstacle courses with targets to shoot. Each has a theme — a recent match included a shootout in an alley and a bank heist.
Fowler designed both capers, along with creative directions telling the "guys" and "molls" how to proceed through the capers and what weapons they can use.
"It's never called a shotgun in here," says Fowler, reading from his caper descriptions. "It could be called a 'street-sweeper' or a 'gauge.' "
The Tommy gun is often called a Chicago Typewriter — when shot at the paper human-form targets, it sounds just like an old manual typewriter. There are brown paper targets for the bad guys and white ones for the innocents or hostages — hit one of those, and it's a 5-second penalty.
"Our entire scoring system is based on time. Penalties are added time," says Huss. "Your goal is to shoot it as quickly and accurately as possible."
Compromising safety on the gun range can get you disqualified altogether.
Huss and his business partner, Henning "The Undertaker" Wallgren, started the American Zoot Shooters Association in 2008 in Colorado, and they've added chapters in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Italy.
Huss steers clear of gun politics and controversies. At matches, you'll see a few NRA stickers, but "The Hustler" says he hopes the sport continues to focus instead on having fun.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The world of competitive shooting can get pretty intense. But a Colorado business wants to lighten it up a bit. The American Zoot Shooters Association combines gangster costumes, you know, zoot suits, from the early 20th century with shooting competitions.
NPR's Jeff Brady learned more about the group at a gun range east of Denver.
JEFF BRADY: The roster of shooters gives you a feel for how participants are dressed.
Ms. DONNA HALL(ph): We've got Four Fingers starting, Al Capone is up second...
BRADY: Donna Hall is known as Ruby at Zoot Shooter events, wearing lace-hemmed dress and a straw hat, she can barely get through the list without giggling.
Ms. HALL: Is it The Swede or Swede?
THE SWEDE: The Swede.
Ms. HALL: The Swede. Pop...
(Soundbite of cackling laughter)
Ms. HALL: That's just ornery.
Machine Gun McGurn...
BRADY: The American Zoot Shooters Association is a business. Members pay dues, but there are no ongoing rankings like other shooting sports. The best you can do is win an individual match. This sport is about fun and the costumes, says cofounder Jason Huss AKA The Hustler.
Mr. JASON HUSS: 'kind of look like a leftover reject from a '90s swing band.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRADY: Nice red pinstriped suit there, bright red tie, you got the black hat on you're ready to go, it looks like.
Mr. HUSS: I think so.
BRADY: And what's this here?
Mr. HUSS: Uh, it's my hustler bling. Probably not very period-correct, I just think it looks cool.
BRADY: Shiny wallet chain aside, Huss says the collectable guns also are part of the fun. Most of the shooters, like Steve G Man Fowler, have wooden carts to tote their weapons around.
Mr. STEVE FOWLER: In my cart, you'll see a semiautomatic version of a Thompson submachine gun.
BRADY: That's a Tommy gun?
Mr. FOWLER: That's the Tommy gun.
BRADY: It's a reproduction of the iconic gun with the round magazine drum, just like you expect to see in a gangster movie. The G Man designed the club's most recent match. Individual events are called capers. There's an alley shootout, complete with fake brick walls; and there's a bank heist. The G Man wrote creative descriptions, telling the guys and molls what weapons are allowed for each caper.
Mr. FOWLER: And you need to understand, that it's never called a shotgun, here. Let's see, it could be called a street sweeper or a gauge, or...
BRADY: The Tommy gun is often called a Chicago typewriter. It's the first gun that Jason The Hustler Huss picks up when it's his turn.
Unidentified Man: Shooter, are you ready?
Mr. HUSS: Yep.
Unidentified Man: Stand by.
(Soundbite of buzzer)
(Soundbite of gunshots)
BRADY: The Hustler fires at steel targets first. Then, the real typewriter sound comes after he aims at the human form, paper targets.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
BRADY: There are brown paper targets for the bad guys, and white ones for the innocents, or hostages. Hit one of those and it's a five second penalty.
Mr. HUSS: Our entire scoring system is based on time. Penalties are added time. Your goal is to shoot it as quickly and as accurately as possible.
BRADY: Compromising safety on the gun range can get you disqualified all together. Huss and his business partners started the America Zoot Shooters Association in 2008, in Colorado, and they've added a few chapters since.
Mr. HUSS: We have one in Tennessee, we have one in Massachusetts, we have one in Texas, we have two in Colorado, and we have on in Italy.
BRADY: Huss steers clear of gun politics and controversies. At matches, you'll see a few NRA stickers, but The Hustler says hopes the sport continues to focus, instead, on having fun. Jeff Brady, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.