http://outdoorunderground.com/bones/44#more-44ITHACA, NEW YORK â€" At first, neighbors were simply annoyed by the delivery trucks that kept coming and going at all hours of the day and night. Loud noises, â€œlike firecrackers,â€ were often heard coming from inside the house. Then they noticed a strange, toxic smell. When Tompkinâ€™s County Sheriffâ€™s deputies raided the South Hills home last week, they expected to find meth amphetamines and paraphernalia for making the illicit drug. Instead, say court documents, police uncovered what appears to be a massive, test-target making operation that sources say involve Americaâ€™s top firearms manufacturers.
â€œIn every room, there were stacks and stacks of targets,â€ says Tompkins County Sheriff, Peter Meskill. â€œSome were brand new. Others were obviously shot at but we were unable to locate any firearms on the premises. At first we had no idea what we had stumbled into.â€
What officers had discovered is largest scam ever perpetrated on the American gun buying public, says Peter Starkle, the owner of the house arrested on Monday who claims to be a private test-target making contractor working for no less than three of the U.S.â€™s top gun makers.
â€œMaking sub-MOA [minute of angle] test targets is really a work of art,â€ he says. â€œBut it has nothing to do with real world hunting and shooting. It has to do with selling guns.â€
Currently being held on accessory to fraud charges at the Tompkins County jail, Starkle claims to be a member of the Test-Target Making Guild of America but says trade secrets prevent him from revealing just exactly how test targets are created.
â€œLetâ€™s just say firearm makers definitely arenâ€™t wasting real bullets anymore than theyâ€™re willing to trash a rifle that doesnâ€™t shoot up to some arbitrary standard.â€
Firearm makers contacted to refute Starkles claims said the charges where everything from â€œblatantly unfoundedâ€ to â€œpatently insane.â€ Spokesmen from Beretta/Tikka, Jarrett Rifles, and Remington hung up without offering comment at all.
But Starkle says heâ€™s been in the business of test-target making for years.
â€œThe idea that test-targets found in the box with rifles made by Weatherby, Kimber, Remington, Howaâ€"all the major playersâ€"were shot by the actual rifle purchased by the consumerâ€"Thatâ€™s a lie firearm manufacturers have been peddling for over a decade.â€
Next to gushing â€œadver-torialâ€ provided by gun writers who, Starkle insists, â€œwould gladly give a kidney for free product or the free, exotic hunting trips often provided by gun makersâ€ under the guise that they are stringently testing new products, the most important factor influencing the sale of a high-end production or semi-custom firearm is how the rifle or pistol can potentially perform on paper.
â€œLook at the sporting arms being produced nowadays,â€ says Starkle. â€œAmerican rifles are as beautiful to behold as a turd. They are cheap looking because they are. You could easily make an argument that out-of-the-box accuracy at the cheapest possible price matters more to hunters and shooters than anything else. So you just put a test-target in the box with a three-shot group measuring less than an inch and, with the Internet, word gets around fast. All of a sudden thereâ€™s a legion of camo-clad doofuses willing to pay an extra five-hundred dollars for the rifle whether it really shoots that well or not.â€
According to Starkle, with the increasing legal costs of defending themselves against liberal politicians and the anti-gun lobbyâ€"plus what Starkle calls the â€œWal-Mart-a-lizationâ€ of our economyâ€"gun makers are constantly thinking of new ways to shave production costs.
â€œThe big manufacturers would secretly prefer not to put test targets in with rifles at all,â€ he says. â€œBut itâ€™s become a valuable marketing tool in recent years.â€
Starkle asks hunters and shooters to consider how many rifles and pistols theyâ€™ve owned that shoot as well at their private gun club, let alone in real hunting situations, as the test-target in the boxes said they should.
â€œAll the gun buyer sees are three holes in the paper. And when that person fails to consistently achieve the same level of accuracy at home, what happens,â€ asks Starkle. â€œHere come a legion of magazine editors and gun writing shills to tell you to buy more stuff.â€
Starkle says heâ€™s heard gun writers blame inconsistent groups on everything from cleaning products and simple human error to his personal favorite:
â€œThey tell people to experiment with as many different kinds of ammo as they can afford, which in turn lines the pockets of the gun industry even further,â€ he says. â€œItâ€™s all a scam and Iâ€™m happy to be out of it.â€
When the leaders in the American gun industry are separated by a profit measured in pennies, Starkle says, test-target making will soon be going the way of hand-finished stocks, hand cut engraving and checkering.
â€œSome companies are already outsourcing the work to third world countries,â€ he says, â€œNow they have a bunch of underage Haitians burning clover-leafed holes in targets with a smoldering cigaette butt. Iâ€™m actually a little relieved the police caught me. It was time to get out.â€