Saltwater Portrait

Bullseye: Rehoboth’s Al Dorman keeps shooting

Al Dorman, owner of New Kitchens Inc. in Rehoboth Beach, won the Delaware state championship in indoor bullseye pistol shooting last month. BY RYAN MAVITY
February 12, 2012

At first glace, Al Dorman appears as your everyday small business owner, running his New Kitchens Inc. in Rehoboth Beach out of a modest shop off Route 24.

But within that small office is perhaps the most decorated civilian bullseye pistol shooter ever to come from Delaware.

A dead ringer for filmmaker George Lucas, Dorman said he was introduced to bullseye shooting in the military, back in the late 1960s.

In a match, shooters use two guns. The first 900 bullets are shot from a .22-caliber pistol, and the remaining 180 bullets are shot with a .45-automatic, Dorman's favorite. Shooters must shoot one-handed with their body sideways to the target. A second hand cannot touch the gun.

What is bullseye shooting?
Bullseye shooting is a highly disciplined skill that requires intense focus. Matches can be held indoors or, more often, outdoors; the competition tests who can get closest to 2,700 points. Competitors can get up to 10 points per shot; one-third of the game is shot at 50 yards; the rest is shot at 25 yards. Dorman said at 25 yards, shooters move faster, shooting five shots in 10 seconds, scoring after 10 rounds; then five shots in 20 seconds for 10 more rounds.

Outdoor matches can last up to six hours and are held in all weather conditions short of lightning.

“If it’s raining, still shoot. Cold and miserable, still shoot. If it’s hot as Hades, you still shoot. It is endurance too,” he said.

Serving in the U.S. Air Force, Dorman was stationed in Dover, where his shooting prowess was noticed by his superiors. He was invited to join a pistol-shooting team at the base.

“I joined the Air Force to see some place other than Delaware, and they sent me to Dover,” he joked.

When he was transferred to Okinawa, Dorman was transferred into the Army – and invited to join their pistol-shooting team.

In the military, precision shooters start at marksman, then advance to sharpshooter, expert, master and high master. Dorman is qualified as a high master, having scored more than 2,670 on five occasions.

“You try to be as stationary as you can. You raise your gun up; you have a natural movement because of your heartbeat. If you train well, you can cause the bullet to go down range in between your heartbeat, and your heartbeat slows down for just a little bit. That’s the most opportune time. But you can’t think it through; you have to do it,” Dorman said.

Another key to being a successful precision shooter, he said, is that you can’t set your sights on the bullseye.

“In theory, your focus point is on the front sight of the pistol and it has to be crystal clear. The back sight of the pistol – you align the front sight with the back sight – is a little fuzzy. You got to focus on one or the other. So you focus on the front sight, secondarily on the back sight, and actually, you don’t really look at the target. You let your inner self line it up,” Dorman said.

Last month, Dorman won the state title in indoor bullseye pistol shooting at the Delaware State Pistol Club’s annual championships. He figures he's won the outdoor championship seven or eight times to his recollection. He said he has won indoors also, but he can't remember how many times.

As for how he got so good, Dorman said, “I’m a natural. I was a farm boy shooting .22 rifles and shotguns hunting. Never owned a pistol. Then I went into the military, and they decided I was going to be a policeman. I went to tech school and had pistol training, so I shot a .38 revolver there.”

Sussex County born and bred, Dorman grew up on a farm near Red Mill Pond where he hunted squirrels and rabbits as a kid. After being discharged from the military, Dorman did not compete for 24 years. He was living in Harrisonburg, Va., where he met up with a friend who was also a shooter.

Little by little, Dorman started to get back to the accuracy he had in his military days. He shot his first match in Charlotte and quickly stood out, finishing third.

“Turns out that everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows where everyone is as far as capabilities go. And when a new shooter starts out, and it’s a new face, they expect him to be a marksman or a sharpshooter. So this new guy was on the scene, myself, and I shot expert scores. They’re thinking, ‘Where did he come from?’ The guys that were my mentors at the time said, ‘Oh, he just started shooting four months ago!’” Dorman said.

As the years went along, Dorman collected titles at the National Rifle Association's National Championships, his best year being 1994 when he shot 2,632 out of 2,700.

Dorman is credited with creating the loading formula that was later popularized by the U.S. Marine Corps Shooting Team. When shooting factory-made and hand-loaded Colt .45 caliber automatic bullets, Dorman noticed they weren't as accurate as he wanted. He wanted a combination that left very few “flyers,” bullets that fly way off the target because of the looseness inside the gun. Dorman began experimenting and researching bullets, and hit on a combination of bullet, primer, powder and case that led to more accurate shots.

In 1994, Dorman was shooting a match in Summersville, Va. where members of the Marine Corps team noticed the accuracy of his bullets. When the marines later won their match, they credited Dorman with showing them his formula in an NRA article.

Dorman is now trying to pass on his knowledge to other shooters. He’s mentoring Gary Nennstiehl of Bridgeville who won top of his class at the state championships. Dorman has been working with Nennstiehl for a year, and he has seen his protégé go from marksman to sharpshooter.

While Dorman is modest about his past accomplishments, considering his level of skill, his 2,598 score to win the Delaware state championship in December is almost a bad day.

“Ah, that was a terrible day,” he joked.

Dorman has long list of honors

Besides his titles here in his home state, Dorman has also collected numerous national titles at the National Rifle Association’s National Championships.

In 1994, Dorman won the Manchester Trophy as the highest scoring civilian and the Frank Wyman Trophy as the highest scoring individual member of the NRA’s National Civilian Pistol Team, which is selected during the championships. His high score was 2,632 out of 2,700.

That same year, he won the first of two Orton trophies, an award given to the winner of the bullseye shooting equivalent of the decathalon.

To win the trophy, contestants must fire a .45-caliber pistol in three events: 20 slow-fire shots from 50 yards, 20 timed shots and 20 rapid-fire shots from 25 yards and, the finale, the 50-shot National Match Course. Highest score out of 900 wins.

Military personnel or police officers often win the event, but Dorman is one of only two civilians to win the trophy twice, his second win coming in 1998. His highest score in the event was an 884 out of 900 in 1994.

Dorman’s last NRA national trophy was in the 1999 Preliminary Pistol Championship, a multiple target, outdoor shooting relay.