By Dan Bates Herald Writer
Shortly after a mandatory safety meeting and the pledge of allegiance, shots ring out in heart-quickening succession. Not just a few. For nearly half a minute, a shooter armed with a rifle, shotgun and two pistols, fires at every target in a “stage.”
He is being timed and observed for misses and miscues of procedure, all affecting his score.
Gun smoke blends with a few curls of cigar smoke where a dozen cowboys and cowgirls watch and wait for a turn to find out how they stack up against the fastest shooters in the West — at least in west Marysville on this particular Sunday at the Marysville Rifle Range. The range is home to the Smokey Point Desperados, an affiliate of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS).
The sport is called Cowboy Action Shooting, and even cowgirl action shooters, for the most part, are happy with the cowboy name. As implied, it involves a lot of shooting, but it is also an Old West social gathering. Every member of SASS has a unique registered alias of his or her own creation, and they wear authentic-as-possible western attire, right down to the fibers used to make them.
Forty-four shooters have been divided into several posses and assigned a rotation through the five different stages, each containing steely bad guys and other assorted targets arranged to simulate a variety of shootout scenarios.
Through the smoke, the old cowboy Mike Perin, aka Mudflat Mike, takes his rifle in one hand, shotgun in the other and walks back to the loading table after a disappointing first stage.
Some of the other cowboys try to poke a little fun at Mudflat Mike for his unusually poor start to the competition, but he doesn’t bite. He is a good shooter, but he isn’t happy about that opening round. He grumbles something about bad powder.
It is plausible. Some of his shots sounded anemic. And one of the cowboys said it took Mudflat Mike’s slugs a long time to reach the targets.
Regardless, Mudflat Mike is a force to be reckoned with. When the smoke clears at the end of the day, he’ll finish first in his category and sixth overall, despite the rough start.
May B. Shecann steps up next. She is fast, and real accurate, no maybe about it. Shecann is a championship shooter and you know it seconds after she begins, even if you’ve never watched a cowgirl movie.
Cowboy Action Shooting is not just an established sport in every U.S. state; it has gone international. According to the SASS, it is in 18 countries.
Mudflat Mike and his six-gun toting wife and shooting partner, Terri (aka Nellie Belle), have taken their cowboy attire and competed in Norway, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand.
“The people in those countries are so good to us, I really can’t describe it,” Mike says. “They put us up in their homes, share their food with us and loan us their equipment. We do the same for them, when they come here.”
Last month at the Winter Range Nationals, the couple not only competed but also got to visit with about 20 friends from around the world.
“You know, this sport is based on fantasy,” Perin says. “The Old West was never like this. What we do is based on the silver screen, not reality. People in other countries watched those westerns, too. So, they grew up with the same fantasies of the Old West that we did.”
Nearly everyone involved in Cowboy Action Shooting agrees the gunplay might not be the coolest thing about the sport.
“It’s the camaraderie,” Jay Jung, aka Abacus, says. “When we’re out here shooting, we are competing, but really we’re like a group of golfers having a good time together. And we all help each other improve.”
At 63, Jung, who is the current volunteer chairperson of the Desperados, and his wife, Evelyn, aka Goldie Jade, pretty much run the organization. They both shoot as well.
“This is a sport anyone can do well into their old age,” Jung says. “I know I’m too old to go back and be a marathon runner. I wish I could, but it doesn’t happen. And we’re having fun — especially people who grew up in our generation. My wife is a prime example of that. How many people do you see laughing at the same time they are shooting?”
Love them duds
Some of the fun at the competitions, at least for the women anyway, is listening to the men talk about their cowboy fashions, Terri Perin says:
“A guy will come up to another guy and say, ‘Wow, that’s a nice pair of chaps!’ Or, ‘I really like that shirt. Where did you get it?’”
“Where else can you be around men and they’re complimenting each other on their clothes?”
Karin Vincent, aka Aggie Goodrich, a name she took from her grandmother who immigrated to Mount Vernon from Sweden, says putting on the costumes helps create a new mindset, and that affects everything in a positive way.
“When you are shooting,” she says, “it takes your entire mind and body to do it. You have to be there 100 percent, so you relax and forget about everything else.”
Abacus points out yet another anomaly among the shooters.
“While the men are looking at each other’s cowboy fashions, the women are looking at each other’s guns,” he says. “A lot of the women got started shooting with guns that were given to them by their husbands, then later, noticed guns they liked better being used by other women.”
Mudflat Mike says the two most important rules are to be safe and have fun. At the end of this day, the shooters were successful on both counts.
It was a day of shooting more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition from rifles, shotguns and six-shooters with no accidents. Zero. May B. Shecann, who puts away her guns and morphs into a college communications teacher named Kathleen Loucks each Monday, put it this way: “Being here is a lot safer than the drive to get here.”
As for rule No. 2: Well, no blues were detected, even among cowgirls.
Want to go?
Anybody is welcome to come watch the Cowboy Action Shooters, but you will need eye and ear protection. Matches are held every second Sunday of the month at the Marysville Rifle Club, 1601 Lakewood Drive, Arlington. Competitions begin at 10 a.m. and usually finish around 3 p.m.
Want to try your aim in the competitions? Non-members are welcome with a fee of $10 per person to compete. You will need at least 120 rounds for your pistols and rifle, and 25 shotgun shells. First-timers can contact the Smokey Point Desperados for more information and instructions. You can reach Mudflat Mike (Mike Perin) by phone at 425-870-0193 or email, email@example.com.