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Faces of Friends: The Wild Bunch Shooters

Photographs for the Chisum Cowboys

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The Wild Bunch
Single Action Shooting Society

April 9, 2012

Last Saturday we were invited to watch a Wild Bunch Shoot-Out in a mock-up of an old west town. It was an all day affair with a chuck wagon meal served when it was over. Arizona Smiley cooked up a delicious Apple Cobbler in his Dutch Oven with hot coals for dessert. We had a bang-up time. (Har, har)

The Cowboy Action Shooting™ took place out in the desert about 15 miles from Roswell, New Mexico and, when we were enticed into joining the 15 or so shooters, it was with the clear understanding that live rounds were going to be used. Should be interesting, I thought... and I certainly liked Stage Stop Wrangler, the guy that invited us to watch.

And so it was early on Saturday morning that we found ourselves way, way far away in a very barren landscape watching members of the Chisum Cowboys Wild Bunch (members of The Single Action Shooting Society1) compete in a time and target competition: Cowboy Action Shooting™.

Upon our arrival, we were surrounded by friendly cowboys dressed in old west finery - fashions appropriate to the time when “the west was won.” (Such outfits are required) Arizona Smiley, Diego, Two-Bit Tammy, Charley Dead Horse, Whiz Bang, Old Cranky, Stage Coach Wrangler, Anvil Horn...THEY WERE ALL THERE! (Names appropriate to the time are also required.) These people’s other lives as insurance agents, building contractors, inn operators, artists, doctors, musicians and lawyers were left far behind. Here in this re-built old west setting, they become their aliases.

Faces of Friends: The Wild Bunch Shooters

If guns were not firing, it was eerily  silent around the "old town." Hushed voices checking jammed weapons and the rasping of the swinging metal targets... Mostly it was just the soft whispering of the wind... Occasionally it would kick up a small dust devil and you could hear the sand shifting; Every once in a while a vulture would come slowly soaring and dipping by - perhaps remembering things his granddaddy told him about food after the sound of bullets flying.

In this culture, along with the names and outfits, an impressive emphasis is placed on safety. There were six matches and before each one the group gathered around and listened to the “boss” explain the rules of that competition. Any member that did not follow every safety rule about handling loaded guns would have been kicked out of the match. It was very serious business, very competitive, and loaded with excitement. Each shooter used three different single shot weapons (a pistol caliber lever action rifle, a shotgun and a single action pistol) that would have been used in the old west. The scenarios were all different and involved shooting, reloading a single shot, switching to a pistol for another shot, then switching to a rifle for several shots. (Or variations on that theme) At the same time the competitors were running between buildings and windows to do the shooting. It is a timed event with emphasis on skilled shooting and no mistakes. Often the scenarios are based on famous gunfights or scenes from western movies. The action was fast, furious and deafening.

Everyone wore earplugs, including me. Of course, all sound I heard for days after had that far away echo-chamber quality to it.

This serious, fun game of skill is a far cry from the negative gun culture I was familiar with in Washington, DC and New York City. The NRA seems to be doing its best to alienate and divide people on the issue of guns and gun control, but that is a post for another day.

Cowboys like guns the way your grandmother may have liked Hummel figurines and a carpenter likes his tools. They are also objects that give great pleasure to their owner/collector just look at.

1 The Single Action Shooting Society is an international organization created to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting™

It does not sound like something I would care to see.  Especially when they said they were using real bullets.  The wild west shows when I was young was enough for me.


Not exactly my kind of sport, but interesting indeed... Keep on discovering!


We need these guys in Harlem & Rockaway.


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