Returning to the Wild WestTucked away down a private driveway off a gravel road outside of Alexandria every Tuesday night is a group of shooters unlike any other in the area. Cowboy boots, spurs, hats and holsters set the stage. Vintage-style guns are at the ready as they reenact scenes from classic Western movies or actual historic events.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Tucked away down a private driveway off a gravel road outside of Alexandria every Tuesday night is a group of shooters unlike any other in the area.
Cowboy boots, spurs, hats and holsters set the stage. Vintage-style guns are at the ready as they reenact scenes from classic Western movies or actual historic events.
The costumes, the history, the camaraderie – it’s all part of the intrigue that has drawn this group together at the Alexandria Gun Club’s outdoor shooting range for the past 16 years to compete in the sport of cowboy action shooting.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” one of the original members of the club, Kathi Haug, said. “When that timer goes off, you can feel it. You’re being timed and you’re trying to go as fast as you can and as accurate as you can without missing. Sometimes that timer goes off and you just go, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ”
Kathi and her husband Dale formed the club in 1997. This year, their son Andrew was part of a group that included Charlotte and Maynard Gulbranson, Jim King, Darrell Staley and Steve Nelson that reenacted a scene from the Western movie Destry Rides Again on July 10.
The scene was set with cardboard cutouts of whiskey jugs on one target and playing cards mounted all the way around a western wagon wheel on another. Each shooter takes their turn stepping up to the line with someone timing directly behind them.
Their objective is to get through each stage with a revolver, rifle and shotgun as quickly and as accurately as possible. Every miss is five seconds taken off the shooter’s overall time.
The weapons that they shoot all match the costumes that help them look the part. The single action revolvers and rifles are all makes that were patented before 1894. The shotguns are models from 1897 and earlier.
“That’s part of the fun of it,” Maynard said. “It seems like most everybody will start with what they think is the best and once they get into it for a year or two they think, well maybe I should get something different.”
The local shooters take part in competitions hosted by clubs around Minnesota and surrounding states that are affiliated with an international organization called the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Each competition is normally set with six stages as shooters are divided up into groups, called a posse, of 11-20 shooters. The general rule of each cowboy action shoot is fairly simple.
“It’s safety first,” Maynard said. “Have fun second.”
Safety is enforced to an extreme degree at every competition. It has to be in a shooting sport where the goal is to fire off rounds in the fastest time possible.
It takes a handful of people for every shooter to complete a scene. Three serve as spotters, one looks over the loading table and another watches the unloading table to make sure the guns are empty and handled responsibly. Another person is responsible for picking up brass and resetting the scene. Safety violations cost a shooter 10 seconds off their overall time.
“If you drop an empty gun, you are disqualified from the stage,” Kathi said. “If you drop a loaded gun, you’re disqualified from the match. Cowboy action shooting is the safest shooting sport in the world today because of the rules that SASS has for safety.”
Each competition brings together a close-knit group of people who are happy to trade in their real names for stage names like Curly LaGrande and Cherry Lake Kate. Instead of iPads and smart phones, it’s revolvers and rifles that lead to a camaraderie among shooters of all ages and ability levels.
“It’s fun to watch the people, especially the kids,” Kathi said. “There’s one who was about 4 years old when I first met him. Now he’s probably one of the fastest guns in the state. It’s just so much fun to watch the kids and getting to meet people.”
Capturing the attention of that younger generation will be important going forward. Haug said the number of members in SASS is up to more than 90,000 people worldwide. The key will be growing that number among a group of youths who have a lot of other options for entertainment.
“It’s the younger people who have to get involved,” Kathi said. “Otherwise it’s going to die out.”
That is exactly what this group doesn’t want to see happen. Not while there’s still plenty of bad guys to bust.
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