CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. - Brad Trelstad is one bad dude.He is a former police chief, a counterterrorism expert who trains SWAT teams, and a Bible-thumping preacher.And he carries a big, big gun - and knows how to use it.The 50-year-old Cripple Creek resident won fifth place at this year's Fifty Caliber World Championships, a long-range shooting competition that uses bullets with cartridges the size of Magic Markers. He is now sponsored as a professional shooter by Barnes Bullets - the latest twist in an intriguing life.He grew up in California and became a police officer in 1978. He climbed the ranks, moving around the country, until he became the chief of police in Cuba City, Wis., a town of 2,000 in the southwest corner of the state.While he was a cop, Trelstad studied tactical operations, including SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) operations and hostage situations, and he taught what he learned to police departments around the world."I was always into it, and I saw so many departments struggling with it," Trelstad said. "Columbine was a big eye-opener for Colorado. Everybody learned a lot from that."After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was plucked from his police-chief post by a government agency he won't name and began teaching counterterrorism tactics to police departments and military units.His expertise also drew the attention of MSNBC and CNN, which recruited him as a SWAT adviser. They call Trelstad during SWAT team or hostage situations to speak on the air as their tactical expert. When so inclined, he rushes to a studio as they shoot live footage, explaining the intricacies of what's happening.He's been on national television a handful of times, and each time his pals tease ol' "Hollywood Brad."Trelstad, who semiretired from teaching counterterrorism a year ago, and his wife, Angie, retreated to their mountain home, nestled outside Cripple Creek."I'm slowing down now. I can be selective," he said.So he took up his new hobbies - studying the Bible and shooting big guns.He said it's not unusual for cops and soldiers to be interested in religion: "They're only one trigger pull away from eternity anyway."For his Bible training, Trelstad studied under the Rev. John Merwyn of Rocky Mountain Chapel in Cripple Creek, a longtime seminary instructor who was nearing retirement, forcing him to hurry through the courses. Trelstad was ordained in October and plans to mix biblical teaching with weapons teaching."First you teach people how to protect themselves physically, and then you teach people how to protect themselves spiritually," he said. "I imagine I'll be the only preacher that is shooting a .50-caliber rifle."Make that the only preacher who is among the champions of this relatively new long-range shooting sport.The Fifty Caliber Shooters Association was founded in 1985 with 60 members.Today it has 4,000 members, and about 50,000 people own the weapons, said John Burtt, chairman of the Fifty Caliber Institute.Because of its weight, the big caliber is accurate at distances of more than a mile.Of course, the bullet might drop 25 feet over that distance and be pushed sideways several feet by crosswinds, so the shooter must constantly adjust."It's a thinking man's game," said Trelstad, adding that it comes down to good equipment, shooting skill and the wind."I guess the main thing is being able to read the wind," he said. "It's just something you have to have a feel for. It's hard to explain. There's a lot of intuition to getting this right."In competition, Trelstad aims his 32-pound rifle at a target 1,000 yards away - the equivalent of the distance across 10 football fields - and getting your bullets within one foot of the bull's-eye.He has to travel to Raton, N.M., to find a range where he can shoot 1,000 yards, so he's often forced to get in his practice at competitions.Trelstad was a seasoned sharpshooter who had won state titles in Police Pistol Combat shooting.He happened to train a military team that used the .50 caliber. When they let him fire it, he was hooked.But he had only four months of .50 caliber competitions under his belt when he finished fifth at the world championships in July, beating shooters with 20 years of experience - a feat that impressed Burtt."This is an incredibly technical sport, and in addition you need some expertise, and to be shooting the way Brad is shooting in such a short time is pretty amazing," Burtt said. "I look for Brad to, at some point in time, take first place in the world championships. He's a very dedicated type of guy. Once he sets his mind to do something, he goes 110 percent."In fact, Trelstad plans to go from wide-eyed rookie to champion in the next year."At the awards, I was shocked when they called my name," he said. "But next year I'm going to win it."
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