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Cowboy Action Shooting is a family affair: From left Adam, <a href=

Phil and Kandice “Itchy Finger” Peterson at home on the range.” width=”600″ height=”349″ />

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

As soon as he mutters the words, injection
“Why do these guys always show up at mealtime,” you can tell there’s gonna be a heap o’ trouble.

Real quick-like, the cowboy jumps up from his chair. Spurs a’jangling, he grabs for his shotgun and starts pumping—smoke rises as shells begin to fly. Those yellow-bellied, lily-livered, low-down skunks are surely on the run.

Next, he lunges for his rifle and lets ’er rip, hitting his targets at will. Grabbing for his revolvers, he struts along the tree-lined path and squeezes off a few rounds just to make sure he leaves no doubt as to who is the boss of this here town.

With the sound of gunshots still ringing in the air, a voice calls out, “51.5 seconds and no faults!”

I says, “Pardon, pardner?”

And then I remember that I still have my ear protection on.

No, it’s not a scene out of the television Western series Deadwood; it is actually a glimpse into the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting that takes place in a range set in the hills behind the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Club on Comox Lake.

Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) is a form of competitive shooting that has been around for about 25 years. Participants are armed with firearms typical of those used during the taming of the West. Part target shooting and part re-enactment, the competition is staged in a Western style with scenarios that are based on famous historical incidents or movie scenes. The shooters, dressed for the part, race against the clock as they fire single-action weapons at steel and cardboard targets.

Phil Peterson is president of Valley Regulators, the local CAS group at Courtenay and Fish and Game. He explains that the weapons and the costumes are what make this activity unique among the various forms of sports shooting.

“We shoot single-action firearms that were used in the 1890s—of course, they are not all old firearms, because the companies are making reproductions. Single-action means they only shoot one bullet at a time and then you have to re-cock it every time you fire. And the rifles we use are lever action not the hunting calibers like we have today. Also, the rifles back in the 1890s use the same cartridges that the pistols did,” explains Peterson.

For the unversed, lever-action rifles are the ones they used in the old John Wayne action movies. They have the loop underneath the trigger that gets pushed forward to eject the old cartridge and put a new one in, as opposed to most of the hunting rifles these days that have what is called a bolt action on the top of the weapon.

During a competition, the participants will use a rifle, which fires a single projectile, a shotgun, which fires a bunch of little pellets, as well as a couple of pistols (handguns), such as a Colt .45.

“There will be an assortment of targets to shoot at and you are told which targets to shoot in which order… some will be shot with the handguns, some with a rifle and some with the shotgun. So you compete with all those firearms, one right after the other, with a range officer timing you to see how long it takes you to complete the event,” says Peterson.

In terms of costuming, participants are encouraged to assume a look that is suitable for a character or profession from the late nineteenth century, a Hollywood western star or a character from fiction. According to Peterson, many of the people who join the sport get more of a kick out of dressing the part than the actual shooting, and it tends to add to the friendly mood surrounding the competition.

Along with dressing up, competitors are expected to choose an alias for themselves that is period-appropriate and representative of the character they have assumed. The name can be from an actual historical figure; however, when in competition there can’t be any duplication of names so as to avoid confusion with other participants. And after all, there was only one Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane.

Another important facet of CAS is safety. Cowboy Action Shooting matches incorporate rules and procedures that promote safety, and range officers keep a close eye on things.

“We have officers that oversee the loading of the participant’s weapons prior to the match, and then once the shooter has gone they go to another area to show that they have shot all their ammunition and the firearms are empty,” explains Peterson.

There are also marshals with flags who ensure that people are kept an appropriate distance from the shooter. Additionally, everyone is required to wear ear and eye protection while matches are underway.

“We all work really hard at keeping things as safe as possible, both for competitors and spectators. It really is a very safe sport.”

Interested local residents will have a great opportunity to be spectators this summer as the Valley Regulators will be hosting the Single Action Shooters Society (SASS) Canadian Regional Championships.

Called “Bust-up at Boomtown,” the four-day event will take place August 28 to 31. About 80 shooters, their families and friends as well as scores of spectators are expected during the course of the event.