SHOULD'VE BEEN A COWBOY: Land Run competitors shoot guns of the Old West
Of all the shooting sports, cowboy action shooting is the most unique.
And, if you ask the 105,000 plus people who are members of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), they will tell you it's also the most fun.
“We smile a lot more in cowboy action shooting than the other shooting disciplines,” said Marshal Halaway of Pittsburg, Kansas.
Halaway and his wife, Marshal-ette, were shooting at the Oklahoma City Gun Club Thursday through Saturday in the club's 25th annual Land Run, the southwest regional championship of SASS.
Marshal Halaway and Marshal-ette are the cowboy and cowgirl aliases for Kjell and Teresa Heilevang. Aliases are required in cowboy action shooting, a sport where the competitors shoot the guns of the Old West in a timed event contest.
The guns allowed are single action revolvers (calibers .32 to .45), lever-action rifles (calibers .25 to .45 long colt) and side-by-side double barrel or pre-1899 pump or lever action shotguns (12, 16 or 20 gauge).
Kjell Heilevang is a native of Norway who introduced cowboy action shooting in Scandinavia. Heilevang read about the sport, traveled to the United States to learn more about it, then returned home to Norway and eventually helped organize cowboy action shooting clubs.
Because of the stricter gun laws in Norway, he first had to get governmental approval for the sport, he said.
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“To get cowboy action shooting started in Scandinavia, in my case Norway, I had to have the sport approved by the Justice Department,” he said. “That took about three years going back and forth with them.
“We got the sport approved in 1997, and then we had a national organization up and running and establishing clubs over the next couple of years. It was a lot of work.”
Now, there are cowboy action shooting clubs in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
Heilevang said he was drawn to cowboy action shooting because he is a history buff and has been a competitive shooter since he was a teen. In addition, he felt the other shooting sports were becoming a little too serious.
“Cowboy action shooting is a family sport,” said Heilevang, who is a digital editor for The Outdoor Channel. “The main thing is to have fun.”
Heilevang moved to the United States in 2004, met his wife in 2009, and hooked her on the cowboy game as well.
“It's actually the biggest shooting sport for husbands and wives there is,” Teresa Heilevang said. “For the most part, it's couples.”
Cowboy action shooting is the one sport where the husbands enjoy shopping for clothes as much as the women, Teresa Heilevang said. Dressing the part of the Old West is another requirement of cowboy action shooting.
“The costumes are a big deal,” she said. “It kind of lets you step back in time.”
The Oklahoma City Gun Club has a cowboy action division with monthly matches at its cowboy action range, which resembles an Old West movie set. Contestants shoot at steel targets from such venues as a mine, saloon, train depot, adobe wall, mercantile store, jail, church and corral.
Cowboy action contests are timed events where shooters must complete a stage as quickly as they can. They also must shoot the targets in a certain order. Misses and shooting targets out of sequence result in five- and 10-second penalties. Only lead bullets are allowed, and everything is low-powered.
“You don't win money,” said Joann Bruner of Yukon, alias Pinky Jo. “You don't win anything but bragging rights.”
Pinky Jo is aptly named because she dresses in pink from her cowboy hat to her gun belt. She once had pink pistol grips until her pistols broke and she had to replace them. The pink grips didn't fit her new pistols.
She shoots .45 caliber single action revolvers and a .45 caliber lever-action rifle. But her favorite gun is her 1887 lever action shotgun that she thinks is the "coolest thing in the world.”
“Mine is an original,” she said. “It's been doctored up. The barrel has been switched out, but the whole workings of it is an original '87.”
Pinky Jo and Marshal-ette have become lifelong friends through cowboy action shooting. In fact, several couples from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas always shoot in the same “posse” together at Land Run.
“It's more like a family reunion,” said Kjell Heilevang, aka Marshal Halaway.
The 25th Land Run attracted 415 shooters from 22 states.