Drawing a bead on the Old West

By Don Benjamin

Drawing a bead on the Old West | Hotchkiss, Colorado West Gun Club

Photo by Don Benjamin Dick Caldwell, aka Ridgway Plinker, lines up a doorway shot.

History comes to life in the hills near Hotchkiss. Step back fifty years and you come to the start of the Colorado West Gun Club. Step back another hundred and you're smack-dab in the middle of the Wild West.

In 1967, Gerhart L. Stengel retired after 20 years of military service and recruited other shooting enthusiasts to form the Colorado West Gun Club. Stengel (better known these days as Casey) provides land for shooting ranges and -- having recently reached the comfortable age of 92 -- he continues to be active in the gun club. And the club is going strong. This year the National Rifle Association affiliated Colorado West Gun Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a roster of 137 members and a line-up of 70 competitive events. Club events include a variety of shooting sports from pistol competitions to skeet and trap shooting to muzzle-loader contests to matches for high-power and long-range rifles plus 600-yard and 1,000-yard F-class rifles.

And then there's the Cowboy Action Shoot (CAS), a challenging event which requires entrants to fire not one, not two, but three weapons in progression -- pistol, shotgun and rifle. And to shoot them in a way that reflects the American West of 1860 to 1900.

The CAS is a role-playing event that features authentic firearms, period costumes and colorful characters like Paladin Pete, Ridgway Plinker, Columbine, J. Whittler, Ruby Doe and Babe Ruthless -- aliases of local and area residents who don hats and boots and holsters to re-enact scenarios based on classic Western movies. And they put on other gear too -- safety goggles and ear protection -- because, for all its drama and make-believe, a CAS event is conducted with strict adherence to gun safety. Each action shoot begins with two routines: the Pledge of Allegiance and a safety discussion. Two basic safety rules are: "Muzzles up when not on the firing line" and "Keep shots on the range property." There are also strict protocols requiring separate areas for loading and unloading weapons.

The Cowboy Action Shoot was developed in 1987 by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), an international organization with 700 clubs and 97,000 members world-wide. CAS competitors must use single-action firearms (as opposed to semi-automatic) and pistols, rifles and shotguns must be either period weapons or authentic replicas. The weapons used by Jack Cover, a Delta resident who hosted the CAS in August, are an example. They include a replica 1897 Winchester shotgun, a replica 1873 Winchester rifle and a pair of pistols which replicate 1873 Colts. And of course Jack has an alias. It's "Double Bit," which refers to a double-bladed frontier axe. In addition to Cover, who serves as the Gun Club's newsletter editor, other club officers are Dave Krill, president; Lee Garmin, first vice president; Scott Wilson, second vice president; and Jack Behrman, secretary/treasurer.

One scenario from last month's Cowboy Action Shoot required competitors to recreate action inspired by the movie, "The Train Robbers." Shooters moved through a series of stations along a firing line that simulated a frontier bar, wooden doors and windows. At each station, they had to fire the proper weapon and hit required targets in sequence. A timer and spotters judged whether the shooter completed the scenario correctly, how long it took, and whether targets were hit. Penalties were assessed for mistakes in the sequence and missed targets. Shooting sequences were complicated by such factors as using a "Nevada Sweep" -- hitting targets in an exact pattern -- and having to eject shotgun shells and reload on the clock. Competitors were aiming for a fun and safe day of shooting and they weren't disappointed.

Cowboy Action Shoots are held monthly at the Stengel State Habitat Area and Range west of Hotchkiss. Other competitions are scheduled throughout the season which runs year-round, weather permitting. The range has extensive facilities featuring archery, skeet, trap, pistol and long-range rifle ranges. Long-range rifle enthusiasts can shoot on one of Colorado's best 1,000 yard ranges.

New members are always welcome. The club's mission statement summarizes its philosophy: "The object of the organization shall be the encouragement of organized shooting of rifle, pistol, shotgun and other arms among citizen residents in our community, with a view toward a better knowledge on the part of such citizens of the safe handling and proper care of firearms, as well as improved marksmanship. It shall be our further object and purpose to forward the development of those characteristics of honesty, good fellowship, self discipline, team play and self-reliance which are the essentials of good sportsmanship and the foundation of true patriotism."

For more information on membership and shooting sports events, contact the club's newsletter editor, Jack Cover, 874-8745 or visit "Colorado West Gun Club" on Facebook.

In addition to shooting sports, classes in hunter safety, firearms safety and concealed carry (CCW) are regularly taught by qualified instructors at the Stengel Gun Range. For more information on classes, contact Casey Stengel at 872-3748.