THE COWBOY WAY
Three miles west of Magdalena the old west comes alive for two Saturdays every month when members of the Trail Drivers Cowboy Action Shooting Club get together to practice their skills at a mock-up of a typical western town of the late 1800s.
The club, formed in 2003, boasts approximately 55 to 60 members who enjoy target shooting in period dress with period firearms and gather at the Old Magdalena shooting range.
All members also adopt aliases, such as “Tall Ted.”
“Tall Ted” Bending said the club is dedicated to having fun and preserving the cowboy way of life.
“Rock Stacker” Dave Robinson, of Hop Canyon, joined the club in 2006, but doesn’t profess to being a competitor
“There are a lot of us that are terrible shooters, but that’s secondary,” Robinson said. “The reason I joined is because it’s just a lot of fun.”
In 2006, the club joined the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), an international organization created to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting.
“One of the requirements has to do with costuming,” Bending said. “Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star or an appropriate character from fiction.”
Their costume is then developed accordingly. Many event participants gain more enjoyment from the costuming aspect of the sport than from the shooting competition itself.
The pride of the Magdalena club is “Half-A-Hand Henri” Heather Kresser. A winner of 12 world championships over the years, Kresser has been shooting most all her life but only competitively since 1995, when she and her husband “Dirty Dan” discovered the fun of cowboy action shooting.
Kresser will be inducted into the SASS Hall of Fame in San Antonio, Texas, in January 2015.
“I grew up with a rifle in my hands. My brothers and father were deer hunters back in Vermont,” Kresser said. “I went through a police academy learned to shoot a pistol, and did a little rifle competing over the years.
“We happened to have seen a 15-minute video and said we have to do that,” she said. “Since then, we’ve had a grin on our faces you can’t wipe off. That’s common with cowboy action shooters.”
That was part of the reason she and her husband chose to move to Magdalena.
“It was the New Mexico history of bad guys and gunfighters and the corruption and all that stuff that you heard about way up in New England, so it’s the real deal,” she said.
Kresser shoots wearing cuffs, sleeve garters, scarf, a knife on her belt, period-correct jewelry and felt hat.
“I generally shoot barefoot, but in one event I have to wear boots,” she said.
Kresser stresses the fun she and Dan have is getting together with other shooters in events around the country.
“It doesn’t matter where in the country you are, you know what to expect. People are going to be friendly and you are welcomed with open arms. There’s always a lot of laughter and a lot of fun,” she said.
Because there’s no money in the game, there’s lots of camaraderie, she said.
“Tall Ted” Bending agrees, and stressed that following strict procedures allows shooters to have fun.
Most shooters use replicas of period firearms, but some are 130 years old.
“We have hard and fast rules on loading and unloading procedures, and members will double check others’ guns,” Bending said. “If you have a misfire, that gun is taken out of play. If you drop a loaded weapon, you’re done for the rest of the day.
“Everybody cares about everybody else and we actually have fun following the rules,” he said.
“Where else can you go out and shoot the crap out of something and laugh about it and everybody laughs with you?”
In recent years the club has hosted SASS sanctioned shoots at Old Magdalena.
“We have them from all over the state and Arizona,” Bending said. “We get people to come down to shoot from Wyoming, Iowa, Texas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.”
He said some come to shoot against World Champion Kresser.
“She has lots of friends and associates, and many to see her shoot and shoot against her,” he said. “She travels to shoots across the country and that’s how they find out about Old Magdalena.
Last month Kresser participated in the statewide competition in Edgewood and in one event ended up competing against men.
“I came in fourth in the men’s division of Frontier Cartridge Gunfighter event, because no other woman were competing in that category,” she said. “Frontier Cartridge Gunfighter means a gun in each hand, and black powder.”
She said about 75 percent of the shooters in SASS are men. “There’s some pretty good talent there,” Kresser said. “Shooting against the men was fun.”
When compared to the reality of the days of Old West gunfighters, she says many of the current shooters are much better.
“It takes good hand-eye coordination, and the younger shooters have that advantage,” she said. “When you’re talking 10 shots out of their rifle in 1.6 seconds and hit the targets, and from two holsters pull two pistols and hit 10 targets in two and a half seconds, well, that takes hours and hours of practicing everyday.”
She said the gunfighters of the old west probably didn’t perform that well.
“You see Marshal Dillon draw that pistol. Well, you know what when there was a life or death situation, he needed to make sure that bullet was going to hit his target,” Kresser said. “He probably didn’t just slap it up quick draw and shoot it because that would mean he was dead, because all the other guy would have to do is take aim and shoot him.”
She said they were good for the times, but that today’s shooters are so much better simply because they had the ammunition to practice.
“They practiced, but you know most had to mold their own bullets,” Kresser said. “They may have had 13, 15, 20 pieces of brass total so they couldn’t practice the way we do. I’m sure a box of ammunition was prohibitive for many back then.”
She said she suspected that many would improve their aim by “dry firing.”
“When they got done punchin’ cows during the day and they had a little bit of time, they’d probably dry fire over the campfire,” Kresser said. “That’s where you don’t put ammunition in your gun but you practice in the sight picture, and you practice the trigger squeeze.”
For people who are interested in joining in on the activities, “the easiest way is to come out to the range and see how it’s done,” she said. “If you want to join us you must have purchased a couple of .22 rifles and shotgun, and you must wear authentic old west attire – jeans, buttoned shirt, boots and cowboy hat.”