Remembering Ronnie Jones (1955-2021)

Austin-area competition shooter and gunsmith Ronnie Jones passed away June 27, 2021, from fast-growing cancer. In the early to mid 1990’s, Ronnie and I shot matches every weekend, trained together multiple days a week, and traveled all over the US shooting major matches.

The picture above was taken by Rob Leatham’s dad Nyle Leatham, with a remote camera at one of the Ernie Hill sponsored major matches in Phoenix in the mid 1990’s. Nyle had a set up with the Ernie Hill banner at a spot that every shooter in the match had to fire from, and he sold prints of the pics at the match.

Ronnie loved machines and going fast, and came to pistol and 3-gun competition from the world of stock car racing. He lived near the Hill Country Rifle Range where (at that time) all the USPSA, Steel Challenge and 3 gun matches were held, and dived into the sport quickly after discovering the matches. A highly motivated, competitive person, Ronnie sought out the best instruction, got pro-grade gear and began working hard to win local events, which he was doing within a year of entering the sport.

In 1993-1994 we shot over 50,000 rounds apiece, putting in long practice sessions, setting up stages and racing to see who could get to USPSA “Master” class first (Ronnie did, I got there about 6 months later). He sought out sponsorships and was picked up by the Nowlin barrel company, representing them at major events for several years. His aptitude for mechanical things led him to working on his own guns, then working on my guns, then to jobs with Nowlin, STI, and SVI at various times in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Ronnie loved Open division and going as fast as he could go, once saying (after USPSA introduced the Limited division for iron-sighted guns) “I’ve never thought of myself as ‘limited'”. As the 90’s progressed he got into 3-gun matches. As cross training for 3 gun we shot skeet every week for about 4 months, using our 3-gun shotguns instead of traditional skeet guns (to the concern of some of the old time skeet shooters at the range in Marble Falls where we trained.)

I ended up buying Ronnie’s USPSA racegun to have as a backup gun for major matches. The gun had a custom serial number of “Franker 1” (in tribute to Frank Zappa & Ronnie’s habit of asking people to “let me be Frank”). He put at least 100K rounds through it and built himself a pair of new guns after retiring this one.

We had many adventures on the road, including a famous incident in Midland, Texas, where Ronnie (a connoisseur of fine cocktails) ordered a margarita on the rocks with specific ingredients, made a certain way, and sent it back (twice) when it wasn’t made correctly. He gave up and ordered the individual ingredients and mixed his own drink at the table. The manager came over to see what the problem was. Ronnie adjusted the manager’s tie, and then handed the manager the drink his bar had made, and said “taste that”, then gave the manager the one he made, had him taste it and asked the manager which one was better. The manager liked Ronnie’s more. In Ronnie’s own words:

If you are talking margarita, it would contain Herradura Anejo and Grand Marnier.
Currently that has been updated to Gran Gala instead of Grand Marnier but either will work.

About two shots of each and then fresh squeezed limes to taste. Mixes are sort of hard to judge and I really don’t have one that I like. I would suggest that you stay away from anything but fresh limes. When you squeeze them some of the oil from the skin gets mixed in and it makes a difference. If you don’t want to do that, then you could try something like Minute Maid concentrate but I don’t think you would like it as much.

Some people add a splash of orange juice and that’s ok if you like that. If you think it’s too tart you could add a little sugar. That is going to depend on how tart the limes are. When the oils are really high they will make you pucker, well unless you just add more alcohol. 🙂 Or water 🙁

Starting with a pint glass full of ice, pour it in, shake it, pour it into your glass with the salted rim and add ice to fill if necessary. Don’t chill the liquor. It melts the ice and soothes it out.

On another trip, Ronnie decided to teach/demonstrate “Rockford Files J turns” for me using our rental car in a mostly-empty shopping mall parking lot one night. The next morning we had to go back to the lot to find one of the rental car hubcaps, which had flown off at some point.

Ronnie’s drive to be a national level competition shooter pushed me to a level of skill I would not have achieved on my own, and those experiences beyond the club match level gave me confidence (and credentials) to do more with KR Training. He was absolutely an important part of the early days.

When Penny and I started dating, we spent many weekends on the road as I introduced her to matches around the state and country, much as Ronnie and I had done.  She thought it was a little strange, at first, that I had an interesting “Ronnie story” every place we went, until she met Ronnie for the first time at Hill Country Rifle Range.  He greeted her with his characteristic bear hug, and they soon became fast friends.  He helped diagnose a intermittent problem that turned out to be an issue with Winchester powder, and soon discovered that they shared an interest in the meticulous detail necessary for making a race gun run flawlessly, and made a pact to never let me near any of their firearms with a file.  He also gave me a really hard time for letting her start out competing in limited class with a well worn 2011 chambered in .45ACP, but was always available to help fix all the broken parts. Eventually by the end of the 1990’s, demand for classes overtook shooting local matches and training for major matches, and Ronnie’s work in the gun industry took away from his time to train and compete as well.

Between the growth of KR Training, the development of the A-Zone and later, a move to Bryan away from Austin, we didn’t get to see each other as often, but we stayed in contact online, and at concerts. Ronnie and his wife Karin loved to go to concerts, and we would come to Austin for special events.

Ronnie loved animals more than people, and their house was always home to multiple dogs and cats. Their cat “Tubby” was a long haired fuzzball that I was terribly allergic to, but when Ronnie asked me to play Pink Floyd songs on their piano, Tubby would always jump into my lap and purr. (Tubby had good taste in music.)

Ronnie was a huge Frank Zappa fan, and on our many road trips to matches, we listened to a lot of Zappa songs. When Dweezil Zappa formed the “Zappa Plays Zappa” band after Frank’s death, Ronnie didn’t miss a single Texas show, traveling to Houston and Dallas and Austin. The last time I saw him (outside of a hospital) was the “Hot Rats live” show Dweezil did at the Paramount Theater in Austin in 2019.

Ronnie and his wife Karin at the show that night.

“Watermelon in Easter Hay” was Ronnie’s favorite Frank Zappa song.

After Ronnie passed, John Daub and I made a special range trip to shoot some guns in honor of Ronnie. A few years prior to his death, Ronnie had sold off a lot of his guns, including his suppressed Mac-10 and the STI “Legend” .40 that he built to use in Limited division but never ended up competing with. I actually used the Legend to earn my Grand Master ratings in USPSA Limited and Limited 10 divisions back before USPSA raised the GM standards.

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