By Shelley Grieshop
Bob Vogel grew up watching Clint Eastwood and John Wayne slinging pistols from their holsters, taking out bad guys without breaking a sweat.
The 24-year-old St. Marys native was fascinated with the quick and accurate way the cowboys handled their smoking guns.
"I always thought it would be great to be 'that' good with a gun," he said.
Last month he proved he was that good when he became the top law enforcement shooter in the nation in competition in Arkansas. Vogel, a member of the Kenton Police Department, beat out hundreds in his division including world champions like the head trainer for the elite FBI SWAT Team.
The competition, held in late September, is sponsored annually by the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) of which Vogel is a member. The battle to victory divides shooters into several categories from novice to master (Vogel is a master), and in groupings according to firearms used. Vogel mainly uses a 1911-style pistol that qualifies him for the enhanced service pistol division. He also is a member of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC).
Vogel is the son of Mike and Eloise Vogel of St. Marys and grandson of Gordon and Connie Geeslin, Celina.
The IPSC and IDPA both offer members competition unlike typical target shooting. IDPA describes its unique sport as a simulation of self-defense scenarios and real-life encounters.
"You're moving behind walls and other objects and there are a lot of different scenarios," Vogel says, explaining the competition. "Sometimes you start in a vehicle, you run a little and reload. You have to be quick."
At the championship competition, IDPA members are judged on both time and accuracy, he says. The electronically-timed course consists of 18 stages and each stage takes a shooter from about three to 18 seconds to complete, he says.
At the recent competition he also took third place for Most Accurate Shooter and second place overall in the Masters division.
Vogel, who was married just six months ago, has been competing for four years but his love of guns goes back to age 9, he says.
"I first shot rifles and shotguns. Then I began shooting handguns at about 15," he says. "When I was about 16 I realized I wanted to be a cop."
He graduated from St. Marys Memorial High School in 2000 and the police academy two years later. He currently is a member of Kenton Police Department's Special Response Team. Being a good marksman is a plus for a police officer, he says, but not typical.
"The average cop is not such a great shot," he says. "It's just another tool on their belt."
He has reached the highest classification a marksman can receive in both pistol associations, he says. As a Grand Master in the IPSC, he's currently only one of three in the state of Ohio.
Like any sport, interest can become an obsession and Vogel admits he's crossed that line.
"I shoot 300 to 500 rounds each week and practice every day," he says, adding sometimes he practices with "dry fire," doing maneuvers without ammunition.
He stands 6 foot, 2 inches tall and weighs 170 pounds. Frequent hand and arm strengthening techniques help him manipulate the gun quickly, he says.
During the past few years he's won eight state championships within his division; competitors for the national contest are required to first participate in at least two state competitions.
"We're not militia wannabies," he says, worried some people may get the wrong idea. "We come from all walks of life like doctors and lawyers. Some of us are in it just for the sport. I look at the practical side, too, as an officer."
Competition lets him show off his ability and allows him to see how he measures up to others who also enjoy the sport.
"A lot of people like shooting but I think you have to love it and be dedicated to it to take it this far," he says.