Winter Range 2010 Feb 24-28
by Davvid Flax
Legendary Guns of the West
Keep scrolling down for more photos!
If you are reading this, there is a pretty good chance that you missed Winter Range 2010 in Phoenix this year. A picture is worth a 1000 words, and I am too tired from having more fun than a cowboy should be allowed to have at this world class shooting event to explain to you all the great times that we had. Here is a brief "diary" account of what it is like to get ready for, and then go both work and shoot Winter Range. If you are new to Cowboy Action Shooting, you can get more information at the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) website. There is an introductory video to SASS on GunsAmerica TV here.
Each year Legendary Guns of the West owners Dave LaRue and Joe Forbregd and staff, mark the beginning of the year furiously preparing for Winter Range in Phoenix, Arizona. As event sponsors and vendors, we know that when the cannon fires at the opening ceremony, we better be ready!
Winter Range plays host to Cowboy Action Shooting and Cowboy Mounted Shooting, which are two of the fastest-growing action shooting sports, with clubs in America and throughout the world. Participants will be here from Mexico, Canada, Sweden, and as far as Japan and New Zealand to drop the cares of today, assume the persona of a character of their choice from the late 1800’s, and determine who’s the fastest, most accurate, and best-dressed.
Competitors are shipping their single action revolvers to the store daily for Bob James of James & Guns to adjust the action and timing. Winchester 97’s and other long guns are showing up for customizing at Palo Verde Gun Works. The prize guns from the event sponsors arrive and are booked in and stored separately from regular stock. Emergency phone calls are made daily to dealers and wholesalers to determine which are the prize guns, which are the normal stock, and what are the serial numbers for the prize guns. More boxes to open. More calls. They go like this: “Who are you guys? What are you sending us? Why did you send it to us? Oh, it’s a prize gun! Why didn’t you say so?”
With one week to go, large boxes and displays are arriving daily from event sponsors -- two-hundred pound boxes from Cimarron, seven large boxes from Taylors, and one small box with a single derringer which keeps disappearing in the backroom chaos. Space is at a premium. We have to find extra space for boxes on the storeroom floor and still fit in a customer or two. Large packages from individuals are arriving. Phone calls pour in from Winter Range shooters to ask: “Have our guns arrived yet?” When we ask: “Who are you,” they respond with exotic names like “the Lemon Drop Kid,” “Long Shot,” and “Coyote Mike.” We reassure them that UPS and Fed Ex have delivered their packages. Sometimes it feels like a movie set and we expect a package for Mongo.
A few days before opening day, and we are examining the weather reports daily. What is the forecast? Will there be sunshine or rain? If rain, what kind of rain – drizzle, heavy downpour? What are our backups? Plans are made. Discussions are held. It looks like it’s going to be bright and sunny, at least for the first few days. We decide to bring extra towels and tarps just to be safe!
Finally, the big day is here. Overnight, a western town has been created at the Ben Avery Shooting Range in Phoenix, Arizona. The dusty streets are filled with vendors, sponsors and merchandise, and about 650 participants aka cowboys, cowgirls, desperadoes, buckaroos, miners, muleskinners, soldiers, soiled doves, and rapscallions of all sorts who are set to have a good time. After the opening ceremonies, the canon roars and the party begins.
For four days, the participants will do a lot of shooting, blasting, bragging, eating, schmoozing, dressing in period clothing, and competing. In the evenings, the competition will be just as fierce, but the weapons will be needles, thread, leather, lace and feathers. Contestants will vie for prizes and bragging rights for their authentic period clothing and western finery. There will be dinners, dancing in the big white tent aka “the Saloon,” and more schmoozing, tall tales, and outright lies. After the evening festivities, the participants camp out in their travel trailers or spend the night in Phoenix hotels.
Each contestant competes with firearms of the Old West. Some use only black powder percussion revolvers. Most are from the era of the Colt six-shooter. More and more people are showing up for a new group known as “the Wild Bunch” to use firearms from the early nineteenth century.
At the shooting range, contestants are grouped in squads of twenty or more shooters. Some of the shooters look like they stepped off a Hollywood set for a B-grade movie -- gaudy in their cowboy outfits, bright reds shirts, cowboy bandanas that could pass for a small tent, fringe jackets, wide Stetson hats, and colorful boots. Others are dressed as mule-skinners, dandies, frontiersmen, soiled doves, and respectable church ladies. Still others seem clueless about their western wear and sport everyday jeans and tennis shoes
Every shooter needs to have two single action revolvers, a lever action rifle and a shotgun which could be side-by-side or a pump. When a squad of shooters steps up to the range, the safety instructor walks the group through the shooting scenario to be sure that everyone knows what to shoot at and in what order. The instructions go like this: “You’re to walk into the saloon to retrieve the stolen money with handguns drawn. You take ten shots at the bad guys, represented by ten steel plates. While shooting at the bad guys, make sure to miss the (steel plate representing the) saloon girl. Then holster your guns, pick up the money, step into the street, and pick up your trusty lever action and engage ten more deadly shooters (more steel targets), but be sure to miss the (steel targeted) citizens. Finally, walk up to your horse, which is really a 50-gallon drum), pull your shotgun from the scabbard while the horse bucks, and engage six more bank robbers (more steel targets).
As the first shooter loads and prepares, he or she assumes the part of the hero or heroine in the story. The instructor calls: “Shooter ready!” And the fun begins. With the first shot, the timer begins. With the last shot, the timer ends. Then it’s time to retrieve all the firearms, safely unload, check missed and hits, time, and pick up the brass. The next shooter steps up into the saloon and the scene begins again. When the squad is finished, you and your band of trusty shooters will pick up and move to the next “town” with the next problem. Shooters may compete in eight or more scenarios each day.
There are also fun shoots where your entire squad shoots at the same time to knock down hundreds of steel pipes, bars and targets as quickly as possible. When the shooting stops, the squad is timed. For extra fun, you can be photographed shooting genuine Gatling guns and small canons or you can try your hand at side match competitions shooting long range Quigley rifles, Derringers, .22 lever actions at silhouettes, and cowboy skeet.
Now it’s time for lunch. Men and women are preparing food from the back of chuck wagons using cast iron pots and pans. Large grills of charcoal are glowing for the steaks. The beans are stirred. You place your order and you sit down to enjoy a hearty lunch with friends and new acquaintances. And who might they be: A Spanish vaquero dressed in California-style clothing of the 1850’s, a Texas ranger packing black powder second dragoons, or an adventurer just back from running dynamite to the mines in Mexico dressed out in his best campaign hat, goggles, canvas holder and trusty 1911. Who worries about trans-fats in his green chili burrito!
Families wearing period clothing come with their kids, and are part of the entertainment. Some of the kids ride stick horses and roll hoops. Some of the kids shoot with their parents. For the younger ones who want to participate but are a bit too young, a special stage is set up to teach them the basics using .22 single actions and single shot .410’s.
There is a mercantile street where period hats, custom boots, dresses, furs, watches, buttons, fabric, guns, and just about anything you’d need to find in a town is available from vendors who may also double as competitors. In the main saloon, entertainment abounds from riverboat gamblers doing card tricks, singing cowboys, knife throwers, rope twirlers, and trick shot artists.
After four days of intense competition, good food, and friendship, prizes are awarded for such things as: speed, accuracy, costumes, the best laugh, or the lowest score. Winter Range takes place in the warm Phoenix winter, but cowboy shoots will take place all spring, summer and fall, throughout the United States. If you get a chance, go to one as a spectator or better yet, strap on your six shooters and go to a match.