Back to the days of yesteryear

Thursday, June 1, 2006
Cowboy action shooters prepare for competition The Single Action Shooting Society requires affiliated clubs to hold safety meetings at the beginning of each cowboy action shooting event. Cowboy action shooters utilize loading and unloading tables to ensure weapons are properly loaded and unloaded throughout the shooting event. Bystanders present during competitions must also wear ear and eye protection during shooting stages. In the photo at left, the Cassville-based Ozark Posse receives safety instructions before a competition on May 13. Democrat Photo (b)

The newly formed Ozark Posse cowboy action shooting club will give Barry County residents an opportunity to relive their childhood fantasies through family-oriented, gunslinging competitions.

"People come to the cowboy shoot to forget about health problems, financial problems, any problems," said Lee "Tightwade Swede" Beck. "It's an opportunity to just enjoy an afternoon getaway."

Beck became involved in the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) several years ago when he joined the SASS club in Willard.

"I saw an ad for SASS in a catalog," said Beck. "I've always been interested in western history and that is what the single action club is all about."

Last year, Beck and a few other SASS members realized the need for a local SASS club and formed the Cassville-based Ozark Posse, which meets on Beck's property outside Cassville.

"Some people enjoy very competitive gun sports," said Beck. "SASS events are more friendly competition. We have overall winners, but you don't have to be physically fit to participate in the sport."

Beck believes SASS shooting events are appealing because of the family-oriented atmosphere surrounding competitive events.

"We always go eat together after competitions," said Beck. "SASS events are like dropping into see friends once in a while."

Many couples compete in the events side-by-side, and some children also participate in shooting competitions.

"Every match where we have kids, they are the most well behaved, self-disciplined kids that you will run into," said Beck. "Their parents and grandparents raised them to know responsibility and to be accountable for their actions."

Although competitions are more fun-based than award-based, shooters enjoy the opportunity to compete against themselves and constantly improve their shooting skills, said Beck.

"We have shooters who are building back from chemo," said Beck. "This is a sport where even if you aren't up to par you can compete against yourself instead of worrying about competing against each other."

Ozark Posse-sponsored events are open to anyone in the community, but potential shooters must be aware of club and society regulations and requirements before stepping up to the shooting range.

All cowboy action shooting events are modeled after historical information from the American West prior to 1900.

Participants are required to: use weapons made, or replicates of those weapons made, prior to 1900; dress according to cowboy folklore or cowboy cinematic-style; practice a strict set of safety rules designed by the SASS organization; and use cowboy-inspired aliases during competitions.

Ozark Posse members who join the national SASS organization are required to register their alias in the national society database, but Ozark Posse members are not required to join the national organization.

"Some aliases are historical and some are just for fun," said Beck. "My wife called me a tightwade and my grandmother is a full blooded Swede, that's how I came up with my alias."

Shooters use two pistols, a rifle and a shotgun to shoot lead ammunition at homemade steel targets, which are set up in a number of sequences to provide participants with a variety of shooting opportunities.

Although all Ozark Posse members contribute to the design and construction of shooting targets by donating materials and ideas, Beck volunteers his personal time to weld, shape, paint and maintain most of the competition targets.

Targets are mixed and matched to develop different shooting "stages" used in cowboy action shooting events. Stages and storylines, or event themes, are usually written by one member who serves as the event's posse marshal, or cowboy host.

"The story lines get you in the mood," said Beck. "I like to use history when developing and writing the story lines and stages. You never know what evil will come to mind when you're writing the stages for the event."

Although Beck designs the majority of the storylines and stages for the Ozark Posse, any member is allowed to create scenarios for competitions.

"During every event we stress safety," said Paul "Preacher" Fiscus, who helped Beck form the Ozark Posse club. "We have a safety meeting before each shoot, and we follow strict guidelines when shooting."

SASS requires each affiliated club to hold safety meetings at the beginning of each cowboy action shooting event. The national organization also requires shooting spotters, who watch the shooter and the targets. Spotters are in charge of counting target hits and shooter mistakes during the competition.

"If the shooter makes a mistake, it is caught right away," said Fiscus.

Participants must keep their gun muzzles downrange at all times and shotguns are carried with the muzzle up and the action broken open, said Beck. Cowboy shooters also utilize loading and unloading tables during the event.

Anyone present during competitions must also wear ear and eye protection during shooting stages.

"The loading table is in place to give the shooter a last opportunity to ask questions," said Fiscus. "Loading table spotters are present to make sure the shooter has the right number of rounds loaded before stepping away from the table to begin shooting."

The unloading table is used to check guns after shooting to ensure weapons are fully unloaded, said Fiscus.

Although cowboy shooting matches are based on family-oriented fun, each shooter is scored according to their performance during the competition.

The object of the competition is to complete the stage with the lowest time possible. Each miss adds five seconds to the shooter's time. Shooters are also penalized for other mistakes made during the stages.

Stages are timed by electronic timers, which ensure accuracy. Some stages are written with bonus shots, which deduct seconds from the shooters' time.

Shooters compete against members using similar weapons. Qualified weapons groups include: traditional weapons with 19th Century modeled sights; modern weapons with modern sights; frontier cartridge black powder weapons; frontiersman cap and ball and black powder weapons; and classic cowboy weapons from the 1875 period. Classic cowboy competitors have stricter dress code guidelines.

Other competition categories are based on age groups. Forty-niners are cowboys age 49 to 60, buckaroos are cowboys between the age of 12 and 17 and statesmen are cowboys who are over the age of 60.

With a smaller membership, the Ozark Posse does not currently take advantage of all of the qualified competition groups.

"We're a smaller group at the moment and many people feel more comfortable learning around a small group," said Beck.

Interested individuals can join the Ozark Posse by paying a membership fee of $25 per year. The club also charges a $5 participation fee per household for each event.

"The fees pay the insurance and basics to hold the competitions," said Beck. "We keep the cost low to make sure the club stays family oriented. For $5, a husband, wife and children can all shoot."

Ozark Posse members do not need to attend every shooting event to keep their membership current.

"We have several members that don't participate every month," said Beck. "It all depends on their schedule."

Qualifying weapons can be purchased at A & J Sporting Goods in Cassville, which is a large supporter of the Ozark Posse, but Beck recommends interested individuals borrow a current member's weapons prior to purchasing qualifying guns.

"You can borrow a gun and try it out," said Beck. "Most members take an extra gun and an extra box of shells to each competition to help out other participants. I had one or two guns to start with and someone loaned me enough to get through the matches.

"I recommend everyone shoot someone else's and see what they like before taking on the expense of buying anything," said Beck.

Although members are not required to attend Ozark Posse shooting events on the first Saturday of every month, participants have the opportunity to attend an event somewhere in the state nearly every weekend each month.

Missouri has five other SASS-affiliated organizations located in Higginsville, St. Louis, Fayette, St. Robert and Willard. Some events are held over a two-day weekend. There is also a state SASS match, which will be held in October this year.

"During the state match, when you go eat lunch, you can leave your weapons on the field and no one will rip them off," said Beck. "This is the most honest group of individuals around. There are very few sports where if you have problems with your equipment someone will loan you a gun or give you ammunition."

The Ozark Posse shooting event is held on the first Saturday of each month. For more information, call Beck at 847-0018.

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