Single-action shooters ‘cowboy up’ at Gun Club
With eyes closed and shooing away the slightest of distractions, Run Amok readies and aims.
He fires his gun, with his mind. Then the rifle, with his mind. Then another gun, also with his mind. Then he opens his eyes.
Now he’s ready.
“You go through every step, every hand movement, so when you get up there, hopefully it’s smooth,” Amok said.
Before him, a row of different tables, each with a different weapon. He stands before each, and this time using his muscles, fires away.
In total, four weapons, all single-action, none automatic. And Amok has fired 24 shots in 20 seconds.
Then, he walks away, in Old West garb, to a nearby table, and as he walks, he tugs at a rather unusual accessory for a cowboy. Two garter belts, one around each forearm, both pink.
“It’s for breast cancer (awareness,)” says Amok, whose real name is Gene Meyer. “I support it.”
And odd as the garters may seem, they fit the occasion.
At the third annual “Ambush at Beazley Gulch,” an Old-West-themed celebration of single-action shooting, awareness is the name of the game.
You load your weapons at a table, then you take your turn. Then you unload your weapons at a different table, a safety officer checking every step.
Then, you keep your distance, and your arms to yourself.
Distractions mean penalties. Too many penalties mean disqualifications. And this may be fun, but it’s a competition after all. Goggles stay on. Earplugs stay on. Nametags with Old-West-themed aliases stay on.
Amok, Sassy Parilla, Hellfire Hattie, Dirty Southpaw, Cam Colt, Lunger, Johnny Mooseskin, Darling Deadeye, they all take their turns, and they all follow and enforce the rules, to visitors and regulars alike.
“Everybody here, including yourself, can call a safety.” said Darrel Schmidt, from East Wenatchee, aka Crow Shadow. “Everyone here is a safety officer, everyone here is watching.”
Shoot out of order and you get penalized extra seconds. Same if you miss a target.
Moving away from the line of fire means disqualification. Standing behind the line with a loaded weapon means disqualification. Dropping an unloaded weapon means disqualification.
Two disqualifications and you have to leave the gun range. Same if you drop a loaded weapon.
The shoot is the equivalent of regionals for the members of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS.) Shooters compete according to age and skill, with most of the competition happening among the older folks.
“My stepson almost always gets first place,” says Ken More of Wenatchee, “Because he’s shooting without any competition, he’s the only one in his class.”
The bullets are non-jacketed, full-lead rounds, which means that there’s no metal other than lead when a round is fired. As a result, the bullet disintegrates once it hits the target.
“So no one gets hurt,” More said. “When that bullet hits that steel target, it splatters.”
The bullets for women are a bit smaller, so that the rifle doesn’t have as big a “kick” to it once it fires, More added.
Amok’s time puts him in second place, behind a bowler-hat wearing fella that goes by Lunger, and who elicits excited whispers among the crowd, when he takes his turn at the loading table.
“You’re gonna wanna watch this guy,” someone tells a visitor.
Sure enough, Lunger fires 24 times, in 17 seconds.
“He set the bar for everybody at 17,” More says, a chuckle of amazement escaping his lips.
“I rehearsed the stage before I shot it,” said Lunger, whose real name is Mark Walker. “I did it enough times so that I didn’t have to think when I shot.”
The rehearsal Lunger talks about is the same thing Amok does, shoot the course in his mind, before he picks up a weapon.
“I can’t shoot and think at the same time, I gotta do one or the other,” Walker, a resident of Colfax in southeastern Washington, said with a laugh.
Competitions at this level allow for a little bit of customization. The trigger’s pull can be lightened, and a rifle’s lever stroke can be shortened. All that adds up to seconds shaved off the shooter’s time.
Despite the competitive atmosphere and the ping-ping-ping of lead hitting steel, not everything is bullets and guns.
The event lasts almost an entire weekend, so the competitors and their families spend time visiting, walking or attending church, on site. On Saturday, big plates of tamales awaited the competitors who checked in. At a corner, a western-clad mom let a toddler take a nap away from the noise.
Other times, the entire group takes a moment of silence and reflection.
“One of the cowboys will stand up and begin reading from the Bible,” Schmidt said, adding that at some shoots, cowboys who are also ordained ministers will conduct a religious service.
Some regulars take the time to do a little shopping, on site as well.
Jack James is a cowboy and a leather artisan from Kennewick, and he says that most of the holsters being used at the competition were made by his hands.
Holsters are more than holsters for these cowboys.
“A lot of them want them engraved or carved,” James said. The decorations range from curly lines and circles to the Seattle Seahawks’ logo and the sheriff’s star.
“My motto is, ‘if it’s leather, I’ll make it,” James said, adding that he has to be careful when making the star.
It can say “Ranger” and have all the decorations of a real one, but it cannot say “Texas Ranger” nor carry the name of a county sheriff’s office.
He also has made shell-holders, boots, wallets and saddles during his 40 years of working with leather.
The biggest pieces are the saddles. James says the market for saddles is still good. For how long, that remains to be seen.
“The EPA has put all our tanneries out of business,” said James, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency. “We have one good tannery left and it’s in Wisconsin.”