Cowboy action shooting is a popular game, Pilgrim.
The Oklahoma City Gun Club looked like the streets of Dodge City this weekend for the 20th annual Land Run, one of the largest cowboy action matches in the country held at the club's shooting range north of Arcadia.
Almost 400 shooters from 20 states came to Oklahoma City to play cowboy this weekend, including as far away as Oregon, Florida and New Hampshire.
They are all addicted to cowboy action shooting, where participants must dress the part of the Old West and shoot guns of the Old West in a contest based on speed and accuracy.
“The design of the gun has to have been available in 1899,” explains J.R. Hile of Piedmont, known only on the cowboy action range as Flat Top Okie.
That's another rule of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), the national governing body for this sport. Every shooter must have an alias, which is registered by the organization.
Many participants at cowboy action shoots only know each other by their aliases. No duplications of aliases are allowed.
“You know you have been doing it too long when you are married and just call each other by your aliases,” said Barbara Ormand of Albuquerque, N.M., aka Cat Ballou.
Cowboy action shooting has been around since 1982, when a group of competitive pistol shooters in California created the sport. As word spread across the West and more people started playing cowboy, SASS was formed in 1987.
“We had 4,000 people (members) very quickly,” said Ormand's husband, Don, aka Tex, who was the fourth person to be issued an SASS badge that members wear as if they were real tin stars.
SASS has now grown to more than 90,000 members and sanctions regional, national and world championships. Tex and Cat Ballou even have competed in cowboy action shoots in Australia and Europe.
“It's a worldwide game,” Tex said. “In Germany, you discover the Old West is magic.”
Cowboy action shoots feature props that look like they were taken off an Old West movie set.
From prop to prop, shooters move in groups with other shooters called posses where they must fire two pistols, a shotgun and a lever-action rifle of pistol caliber at a series of steel plates.
They must follow the instructions for each shooting scenario (order of the shoot, how many times, etc.) and complete each shoot as quickly as possible. A 5-second penalty is imposed for each miss or target shot out of order.
On the cowboy action range of the Oklahoma City Gun Club, the props include a jail, campfire, mercantile, saloon, train depot, adobe wall, a mine, a bank, a church and the OKC Corral.
The props are normally designed where shooters fire from doorways or windows at the targets. The steel targets outside the church look like tombstones. Only lead bullets are allowed.
“It's a really good shooting sport for women because everything that we shoot is low power and there is very little kick to anything,” said Hile's wife, Melody, aka Missouri Mae.
Dressing the part of the Old West also is a SASS requirement. The costume has to be authentic from classic cowboy to B western movies.
“I probably have 50 (cowboy) shirts and 20 pairs of boots,” Flat Top Okie said.
Participants in cowboy action shoots range from ages 10 to 90, but most people who play are from the generation that grew up watching John Wayne and Roy Rogers on the big screen and Rowdy Yates and Matt Dillon on the small one.
“I love the cowboy movies,” said Butch Everett of Newcastle, aka Stickbow. “I used to rodeo. That got too painful, so this is what I do now.”
SASS has kept cowboy action shooting from being a cutthroat competition. No cash prizes are awarded, and shooters are not allowed to have sponsors.
“The reason cowboy action shooting is so successful is they never made it a money game,” Cat Ballou said. “Anybody can compete. You are not going to drive off in a new Cadillac or win $10,000. We have fabulous shooters, but they win a buckle or a plaque or a trophy.”
And in the tradition of the cowboy way, everyone helps the gunslinger who is down on his luck.
“I have done a lot of shooting sports and they won't share secrets with you,” Stickbow said “They won't share (ammo) or any kind of information, but this group of people, they just give you their stuff.
“With the aliases you can be shooting with a multimillion dollar executive or you can be shooting with a guy that's digging ditches and never know. Everybody is the same.”
I guess Samuel Colt really did make all men equal.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Land Run concludes Sunday with team matches, but the Territorial Marshals, name of the cowboy action division of the Oklahoma City Gun Club, holds cowboy action shoots twice a month. For more information on cowboy action shooting, visit www.okcgunclub.org.