The Good, The Bad And The Costumed: Western Movie Buffs Find Fellowship At Shooting Competitions

Nov 17, 2017

Danette Ray is standing inside a re-created train depot, wearing cowboy boots, leather chaps and two six-shooters in holsters at her waist. Before she draws her pistols to fire at a row of targets, Ray calls out: “You get back inside, I’ll cover for ya!” — a line spoken by Jimmy Stewart in the 1957 western Night Passage.

Ray, who goes by the nickname Marie Laveau, competes in cowboy action shooting, a brand of target shooting with historically accurate guns and costumes. There’s yet another dose of theater: In each round, the shooters play out a movie scene.

She and her husband each competed this fall in the annual Iron Hero competition in Grand Island, Nebraska. It drew people from eight states this year, all of them part of the Single Action Shooting Society, or SASS.

It started in California in the 1980s and has spread throughout the U.S. and into Australia, Europe and South Africa. The national championships are held in Phoenix every February; last year’s drew nearly 800 competitors of all ages.

Each SASS member competes under an alias and in western wear. "When you strap on the holsters and you've got all the other getup to it, it's like you've forgotten about the outside world at that moment," says David Sayers of Palmer, Nebraska. He's the SASS state coordinator.
Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The shooting sets, including this rickety city jail, all look like they could have come from a Hollywood backlot. People who shoot cowboy-style have watched a lot of westerns. If you're looking for a movie recommendation, there does seem to be a crowd favorite: Winchester 73, a 1950 flick starring Jimmy Stewart. Cowboy matches don't settle grudges with guns as in the movie, though. They use a rulebook.
Credit David Koehn / NET Nebraska
The winner of the Iron Hero match gets a medal. At nationals, the winner gets a trophy and a belt buckle. But for a lot of shooters, it's really about dressing up and hanging out. Let Pit Mule, aka Tracy Thorpe of Des Moines, Iowa, explain: "Child of the '50s. It's what you did, you played cowboys and Indians. ... Still playing cowboy, you betcha."
Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

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