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Beacon Senior News

Thunder Mountain Shootists keep the Old West alive

Jun 02, 2020 09:38AM ● By Diana Barnett

Members of Thunder Mountain Shootists combine shooting sports with reenactments of the Old West, staying true to the time period by dressing in western garb.

More than 25 years ago, Pinto Being—also known as Pat Schutz—helped organize a shooting organization to accommodate local shooting enthusiasts and their families. Soon after, Thunder Mountain Shootists was born, a club that combines shooting sports with reenactments of the Old West.

Grab your cowboy boots

Thunder Mountain Shootists is affiliated with the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). SASS is a worldwide organization that holds the End of Trail match, the world championship of single-action shooting in Edgewood, New Mexico.

“The firearms we use in our matches are those used by the cowboys during the time of the great trail drives—when cattle were moved from Texas to Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming,” said Schutz. “Referred to as cowboy action shooting, weapons have to have been patented before 1899.”

Members stay true to the time period by dressing in western garb.

“Boots and hats are in order,” said Schutz. “Some get into it more than others.”

Each participant adopts a unique alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star, or an appropriate character from fiction. Match results on the group’s website show that Mesa Belle, Slo Smoke, Gateway Kid, Colorado Black Jack, Columbine and Pinto Being are regulars at the monthly shoots.

Ridgway Plinker and Columbine—otherwise known as Dick and Kim Caldwell—joined the Shootists four years ago. Both began shooting in the Phoenix area in the ’90s and picked it up again when they moved to the Western Slope.

“I grew up loving westerns and liked the old-style revolvers like John Wayne used,” said Kim. “I really enjoy the dress up part of the competition: the boots, the scarves, the hats.”

Kim was so serious about her shooting that she went and bought a real Colt pistol from the best Colt gunsmith in Phoenix.

Lady shooters

Shooting tends to be a sport where men participate more than women. However, Kim said that trend seems to be changing.

“You see about 40 percent women in some of the groups now,” she said. “They are making pistols tiny enough for smaller hands and easier to handle.”

In this group, women show they can handle the Old West.

“There are incredible women that can rival the best men. In fact, we have some excellent women shooters in our group,” Kim added. “Lefty Jo is a state and world champion and Mesa Belle is a state champion.”

Shootists are serious about their hobby. The group hosts a match each month on the third Sunday and preceding Saturday mornings, starting at 9:30 a.m. After a safety meeting, shooting commences at 10.

“A typical match involves timed shooting during which the marksman moves through a series of six stages shooting four guns,” explained Dick. “Four to six rounds with a shotgun, five rounds each with two revolvers and 10 rounds from a rifle. Times are taken and points are given at each of six stages.”

With practice, participants get better and better.

“It used to be that a really good shooter could move through the rotation in a minute,” said Kim. “Now, some can move through in only 16 seconds!”

Generally, most complete one stage in 18 to 35 seconds.

Additional shooting opportunities are held at other times during the month. The group holds a cowboy action long-range shoot. Another event is a Wild Bunch shoot, which features firearms used in the film “Wild Bunch, starring Ernest Borgnine. Multi-gun matches are also held where more modern guns can be used.

Fun for all ages

Thunder Mountain Shootists

The Shootists find ways to involve the community in their fun. Every other year, the group hosts the 4-H Western Heritage State Match, which involves club members and local 4-H kids who have chosen to select an area of early cowboy history to explore.

“One of the 4-H students who learned to shoot on our range won the Western Heritage National Championship, twice,” Schutz proudly shared.

The Shootists hold matches at William Jarvis Shooting Complex near Whitewater. The shooting range sits on 20 acres and has been well developed, with old town buildings serving as shooting props.

“Thanks to the hard work of lots of volunteers, Whitewater is an excellent facility,” said Dick.

As one of the larger groups around, the Shooters offer lots of competition, and plenty of talented shooters to learn from. At the end of the day, Shooters gain more than just bettering their shooting skills.

“It’s a great group. Some come for the shooting, but everybody comes for the camaraderie,” said Schutz.

For more information on the Thunder Mountain Shootists, visit www.tmscba.com or call Schutz at 270-4853.