Down a muddy, winding road, you stumble upon a group of fashionably dressed cowboys. Ten-gallon hats fill your field of vision, rifles are cocked and plumes of black powder fill the air. You may wonder what the ruckus is about, or you may just hightail it out of there.
’Taint no gunfight from the OK Corral you just stumbled upon, it’s a group of Single Action Shooting Society members having a good ol’ time at the Jim Jones Shooting Range.
The group meets once a month to practice the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting, which according to members, is the fastest growing shooting sport in America.
Members dress in clothing from the late 19th century, go by aliases such as I B Tryin’, Silverado Sid and Silver Heart and carry firearms typical of those used in the Old West, including single action revolvers, lever action rifles and shotguns.
Organizer Rye Creek Roberts, decked out in 1870s clothing, on Sunday said cowboy action shooting was started in the early 1980s by a group of friends in Southern California.
“It was just people wanting to shoot,” he said, “They wanted to play cowboy and dress up.”
From there, the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) has evolved into an international organization with more than 90,000 members.
The Tonto Rim Marauders was established in the mid 1990s, which Rye Creek joined in 1998.
Vern Leis, better known as Saddleback Kid, and the chairperson of the Star Valley Water and Sewer Commission, said he got involved in the group almost two years ago.
“I became interested because it requires the use of four different guns,” he said. “And the scenarios are always different.”
On the third Sunday of every month, the group descends upon the Jim Jones Shooting Range south of town and sets up mock scenes, including a wooden stagecoach, cactus, horses and other Western themes.
After setting up, member Sid Dando creates a shooting scenario based upon a famous film scene or gunfight. For example, on Sunday each member would shoot 10 rounds from their rifles, 10 from their pistols and six from their shotguns at various targets set up in the range. Sid Dando based the setup on a scene from the film, “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Once the shooter is in place, a scorekeeper starts a timer and the shooter can take as long as he wants to fire off his rounds.
“Some people we time with a calendar and not a watch,” Rye Creek joked.
On this day, members also had the option to say a line from the movie that preceded the fight. “You gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?” Wales says.
While the shooter is up, several other scorekeepers keep track of the shooter’s accuracy. After shooting, the member’s score is recorded and he moves onto the next scenario.
The most important thing at any event is safety, Rye Creek said. Specific rules are in place on where members can store their guns, when they can load and the shooting order. While one member is shooting, another member can load their guns at a prep table, but they must leave them uncocked.
At the end of the day, winners from each category are awarded primers, used to ignite the propellant in ammunition.
Rye Creek and Saddleback Kid said you don’t have to be a good shooter to compete.
“We don’t have to shoot well because we look good,” Saddleback Kid joked.
Rye Creek said he enjoys dressing up as much as he likes shooting.
“I like to buy more guns and I like to buy clothes so we look good,” he said.
Starting from the ground up, Rye Creek described his outfit for the day, although he has multiple looks, including ones as a Missouri bushwhacker, gunfighter and Calvary member.
His striped trousers have a saddle seat, which gives a rider extra comfort on a horse. Rye Creek said the style became popular after the military adopted it during the Civil War. His beige shirt is topped with a vest or waistcoat because it was considered lewd for men to wear a shirt without a covering and his sleeves have two sets of cuffs to keep them from falling.
“Back then, shirts came in big and extra big,” Rye Creek said. A leather cuff on each wrist kept the sleeves from falling and protected the shirt fabric. Arm garters worn around the biceps also kept the sleeves up.
Rye Creek tops his look off with a hat and a silk wild rag around his neck. Silk was the preferred fabric for riders because it kept them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, Rye Creek said.
“I dress like this all the time, even when I go to the grocery store,” he said.
For member and state champion Silver Heart, wearing pink is a way of life. Silver Heart is one of only a handful of women who competes locally, but when she does, she always wears pink.
“You got to pink or rhinestone it up,” she said.
Her chaps are pink and even parts of her rifles are jazzed up with pink accents.
Other members from across the state descend upon the range dressed in various period clothing.
On Sunday, Rod Anderson, better known as I B Tryin’, and his son Mark, or Ruford Twonickeles, drove up from the Valley for the day’s festivities.
“We have been coming up here for a couple years,” I B Tryin’ said.
“We love the people, they really are a great group of people and afterwards we get a big table up at El Rancho for lunch.”
Another couple of gunslingers drove all the way from Wyoming to get in on the action with the Marauders.
Max and Loretta McCoy left their home in Wyoming Feb. 16 with their two mules and two horses for a two-month expedition across the South.
Loretta said Max used to shoot regularly, but had not picked up a gun competitively in eight years. When they heard there was a local group just up the road from where they had their trailer parked in Rye, they rode on over.
Max managed to keep pace with the rest of the cowboys and Loretta fired off a few shots, with her camera that is.
“Everyplace in Arizona has something like this going on,” Rye Creek said.
Several members recently competed at the 18th annual Winter Range, hosted at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Ben Avery Shooting Facility in late February.
Winter Range is an Old West-style, five-day event that provides the backdrop for the Single Action Shooting Society’s National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting. More than 600 members compete for the coveted belt buckles and trophies.
Rye Creek said he placed a disappointing eighth in his division, but at least he looked good while doing it.
That sentiment seems to be the norm among the more fashionable members.
To learn more about SASS, visit www.sassnet.com or Tonto Rim Marauders at www.trmarauders.com.