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Mounted shooting gains popularity, hones skills

Alisa Peters, 12, leans out from her horse, Gator, and fires at a balloon on a pole during mounted shooting practice April 23. (Jesse Tinsley)
Alisa Peters, 12, leans out from her horse, Gator, and fires at a balloon on a pole during mounted shooting practice April 23. (Jesse Tinsley)

Some folks hanker for simpler times. They long for the Old West era, when you could spot the bad guys by the color of their hats. Days when skills like good riding and fast shooting garnered praise.

One local group does more than pine for the good old days – they’ve recreated them. In 2000, Northwest Mounted Shooters introduced the fast-growing equestrian sport of cowboy mounted shooting to the Inland Northwest.

Club president Rachel Peters said, “It is a family oriented activity. It’s not uncommon for Mom, Dad and kids to all compete in the same event.”

The 25 members of Northwest Mounted Shooters hail from Eastern Washington and North Idaho and range in age from 12 to 80. They meet several times a month at area riding stables or arenas. Peters said the focus is on fun and togetherness as well as responsibility, safety and sportsmanship.

Just like the name implies, cowboy mounted shooting involves participants on horseback, using two .45-caliber single-action revolvers to shoot at balloon targets. Safety is paramount, so horses and riders all wear earplugs. In addition, the guns are loaded with black powder blanks. Founding member John Bunch grinned and said, “We started with live bullets, but the audience never came back.”

Riders weave around barrels in a series of patterns and try to hit as many balloons as possible in the fastest time. Single-action revolvers must be cocked before firing each time, which means it takes great skill to draw, shoot and holster the weighty gun while riding.

Competition is supervised by a range master, who ensures safety standards are met and rules are followed. A 5-second penalty is assessed for every missed balloon. In addition, participants can accrue penalties for knocking over a barrel or falling off their horse.

Rachel Peters’ daughter, Alisa Peters, 12, said, “Going fast is the best part. I really like the adrenaline of it!”

Club member Terry Irwin nodded and said, “The average speed is 25 to 29 miles per hour.”

He can also attest to the family aspect of the sport. His daughter Jami competes and he met his wife, Deanna, at a mounted shooting event. The couple married last year in an outdoor ceremony on horseback. “We wore period dress,” said Deanna.

Western dress is required at competitions. Participants may either dress in contemporary Western wear or in the style of the late 1800s. Contemporary style includes a long-sleeve Western shirt, five-pocket blue jeans covered by chaps, Western boots, and a cowboy hat.

Those who prefer old-school cowboy gear try to look as authentic as possible. They wear shirts without collars and high-waisted pants with buttons, not zippers, and of course a cowboy hat. “We’d like to see more people wear old-style cowboy costumes,” Terry Irwin said.

Competition categories are divided by age and gender and include divisions for men, women and seniors, with six classes in each division. There’s even a group for the younger set – the wrangler class is for those 11 and under. Kids in the wrangler class ride the same patterns that the grown-ups, but they shoot cap pistols instead of revolvers.

“It’s all about timing and accuracy,” said Peters. On the day of the competition riders draw the patterns they will run from a hat.

Her daughter said the sport has improved her equestrian skills. “The horse listens to everything your body does,” said Alisa. “I like riding and this makes you a really good rider.”

She also enjoys its uniqueness. “Not very many people do it.”

For Bunch, “It’s got everything – guns, cowboys, horses and pretty girls.”