Riding a horse at full gallop might not be too difficult for an experienced equestrian.
And shooting at balloons while on horseback could be fairly easy for someone practiced in triggering a six gun.
But how about doing both simultaneously while trying to beat the clock: riding at full gallop in competition through a circular course of 10 balloons and aiming to pop each one with your black powder .45? OK, not so easy. And don’t lose your hat during a match or there could be a “fun fine.”
Still, members of the Wyoming Desperados Mounted Shooters in the Big Horn Basin are thrilled with their club and all the skills involved. In fact, the group’s president, Albert Kukuchka, who lives in Deaver, and the vice president, Nicole “Scooter” Singbeil, of Powell, point out that mounted shooting not only is often a family affair, but is “one of the fastest growing equestrian sports today.” Also that, “It was started in Arizona in the late 1990s and combines elements of the old-time Buffalo Bill-style Wild West show with elements of barrel racing and gun handling. Think of it as barrel racing with a pair of .45-caliber single-action revolvers.”
However, the Desperados and the Outlaws (members younger than 13) are not a bunch of crazed gun slingers who just like to fire their weapons while riding rapidly. Not in the least. Horsemanship and gun safety, as well as helping one another to improve such skills, are hallmarks of the organization. Singbeil and Kukuchka note that adults, youth and grandparents, often entire families, are involved.
Said Singbeil, “The Wyoming Desperados is a club dedicated to the sport of cowboy mounted shooting. We are in our third season with approximately 35 members throughout the Big Horn Basin and beyond. We encourage Old West values and patriotism. We strive to teach safe handling of firearms and help educate individuals in all aspects of the sport including responsibility, sportsmanship, horsemanship and what it means to be part of a team.
“The benefits earned by the club go back to the shooters/contestants in the form of paybacks, prizes and lower entry fees. We also give back to the community as well through stages for charity and hiring local groups of kids (4-H, church youth groups and others) to help run our events.”
Among major events the club hosted this season was the 2014 Mounted Shooters of America State Championships at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell Aug. 8-10.
“MSA members from neighboring states attend, as well,” said Singbeil earlier this summer, “considering that it will be a triple points contest, helping them earn points needed to qualify for the MSA World Championships in September.”
She and Kukuchka added that the club has hosted several well-attended events including the 2012 and 2013 Wyoming State MSA Championships.
“Participants from four states traveled to our area for these fun-filled weekends,” noted Singbeil. “After their competition day is concluded many head to area towns looking for entertainment, dining, shopping and to take in the sights.”
Besides mounted shooting, the Desperados have participated in many parades in the area, winning first place in the Cody Lighted Christmas Parade and second place in the Park County Fair parade. As well, explained the leaders, “We have performed demos at local rodeos, are volunteering to help run the 2014 Park County 4-H Horseshow and we have done a little work for charity and are excited to do more.”
What’s it like to compete? Explained Singbeil:
“Contestants cross the timing line at full gallop and shoot the first five balloons, set typically in a random pattern. He or she then must reholster the first pistol and draw the second, proceeding to shoot the ‘rundown’ or five balloons in a row, as fast as they can. It is scored on elapsed time plus a five-second penalty for missing a balloon, knocking over a barrel, etc. The contestant with the fastest accumulated time wins.
“A course of fire can take 10 to 30 seconds. We use .45 long Colt pistols, specially designed holsters, and the ammunition used is specially prepared black powder. The distance it is allowed to travel is 20 feet – making it safe for spectators outside the arena. There are divisions for all levels of competitor from Novice and Children to seasoned professionals and it is open to all breed of horses and mules.”
Kukucha observed that not all members compete. Some just like to ride through the target course.
“It’s what anyone wants to do,” he said. “That’s what helps make it a family oriented sport. And we’re always willing to lend a hand, sometimes to loan some equipment, although it’s best if people have their own horse.
“We’re the Desperados, but we’re nice folks,” he concluded.
BY BOB RODRIGUEZ