By AARON CARTER
MIDDLE RIVER, Md. (February 9, 2012)—Guns and poker. For some, the two may conjure images of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday peering from under long brimmed hats, brows furrowed and sweating, eyes perusing their cards and the fidgety faces of their opponents.
But at Wednesday night's poker shootout at the FreeState Gun Range in Middle River, some actually came hoping to free their faces from everyday tensions.
"It's just a very good stress reliever," said Leslie Pryor, 28, from Bel Air. Four months ago she started shooting after hearing her Verizon Wireless coworkers rave about how fun it was.
Pryor's weapon of choice: a hot pink Sig Sauer .22-caliber handgun. Despite being dressed in a pink sweater, she insisted the color was not her favorite.
When she let slip "Barbie" is her nickname at work, her continued insistence drew laughter from friends.
In the poker shootout each player gets seven shots from seven yards away. The paper target contains a full deck of cards.
The five best cards pierced by bullets make up a five-card poker hand - best hand wins the small pot.
FreeState's co-owner, Randy Farmer, said Marylanders from various socioeconomic backgrounds come for fun and recreational shooting. Competitions are held every Wednesday night.
Bowling shootouts where contestants shoot down synthetic pins and timed, team log splitting shootouts where teammates alternate shots until a log is split, are just some of the creative competitions held at FreeState.
Farmer said they came up with competitive ideas to give people a more exhilarating experience than just, "putting holes in paper."
For 30-year-old Sharif Kellogg of Catonsville, exhilaration is not what brought him to the shootout. He said a few years ago his neighbors were tied up and taken hostage by three intruders.
"I guess this neighborhood isn't as safe as we thought," he remembered thinking.
He started going to gun ranges shortly after. His .22-caliber handgun didn't yield a winning poker hand, but since it was his first time competing, he says he was just looking to have fun.
Thomas Gallier, 30, from Parkville, finished his round with a pair of aces. Unfortunately for Gallier, the winning hand contained four aces, an exceptional feat considering the cards were shot at face down.
The quiet author of the four aces declined comment, and his aim suggested the matter not be pressed.
Marksmanship is always appreciated at a gun range but, Farmer said, "safety is job one."
"Owning a gun doesn't make you armed like owning a piano doesn't make you a piano player," Farmer said in a recent interview.
FreeState opened in April after Farmer and co-owner Mark Burger decided to go into business based on their mutual affinity for firearms.
The two met when Farmer's motorcycle was stolen. Burger, a Baltimore County police officer for 27 years, was assigned to the case.
Farmer said they are sometimes used as a training site for local police officers. But mostly they get people who are curious about guns or just like to shoot.
"Some people just want to get it off their bucket lists," Farmer said.