STRAIGHT SHOOTERS: Cowboy Mounted Shooting Clubs Go Gunning For Fun
By Darryal Ray
Some are Outlaws, Bandits, Renegades or Desperadoes.
Others are Peacemakers, Rangers or Regulators.
It may sound as if they are on opposite sides of the
fence, but the truth is that truth, justice and the cowboy
way rule in the world of cowboy mounted shooting
|'Pulling the hammer back every time before pulling the trigger takes a lot of getting used to -- your hand gets tired and you can get behind real quick,' says Bandit member Michelle Cummings.|
"It's not so much about who wins as it is a lot of
fun," Eddie Vanderslice, president of the Bama Bandits,
is saying. "It's very Christian-oriented, it's for the family.
We don't tolerate any drinking, no ugly language. It's
not for everybody, but that's just the way it's going to be
The Bandits, based out of Bruce Faust's Iron Horse
Ranch in Wetumpka, is one of three clubs in Alabama
that are part of what has been called the fastest-growing
equine sport in America. The national organization, the
Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, counts a membership
of about 10,000.
Although only established in 2009 by Vanderslice and
a handful of others, the Bandits club numbers about 60
members -- easily the most in the state -- and is still
"It's growing about as fast as we can control it now,"
said Vanderslice, who owns a fabrication and machine
shop in Bessemer. "Every time we put on a shoot in
Wetumpka, we'll get three to five new members."
It's easy to see why -- mounted shooting is a sport
steeped in the romance of the Old West. Although the
contestants shoot only black powder blanks, mounted
shooting still offers a hefty dose of firepower and horsepower.
Often described as "barrel racing with guns," it's
an event that -- except for the balloon targets and orange
cones that mark the course -- looks like a scene out of
Lonesome Dove or True Grit.
Competitors dressed in mid-1800s Old West outfits
dash through a randomly selected course that consists of
two sets of five balloons. A double, custom-made holster
sits angled high above their waist, making it easier to
draw the two .45 caliber pistols they carry. Riders charge
across the starting line with one gun in hand, firing at
the first set of five balloons. After the fifth shot, the rider
holsters his first gun and draws the second as he begins
a dash to the finish line, shooting the last five balloons
along the way. The fastest -- and most accurate -- wins.
The crack of the gun, the smell of the black powder
and the clouds of smoke that hang in the air above the
arena are all part of the attraction for Shannon Andress,
a regional 4-H Extension agent for Montgomery, Macon
and Elmore counties.
"I'd been interested in mounted shooting for many
years, but I didn't really have the courage to try it until
about two years ago when I went to a shoot," says
Andress. "I was just going as a spectator because cowboy
mounted shooting events don't charge an admission fee -
they're just happy to have anybody observe the sport. So the guy in charge saw
me looking very longingly,
leaning over the
wall, and he said, 'Do
you want to try this?' He
was taking a chance, not
knowing that I was a
fairly experienced horse
person. So, I did and
fell in love with it."
Even so, it took
her two years of
she sunk the $1,300
into her set of
Montado, her weapon of choice,
and another $250 into her custom
holsters. "It takes awhile to know
what equipment works best for you,"
she explained. "And in the cowboy
mounted shooting world, people
know this and they don't want you
to go out and buy the wrong kind of
gun that doesn't fit your hand or is
the wrong length. They don't want
you to get the wrong set of holsters
that won't work for you. People here
will beg you, 'Here, try my holsters!'
or 'Try my gun!' or even 'Try my
horse! That's how we hook people in
cowboy mounted shooting."
Now a member of the Bandits'
board of directors, Andress competes
almost monthly with her husband,
Allan and 11-year-old son, Sam, who
competes in the under-12 Wrangler
division where only cap guns are
"It's a sport for everybody," she
said. "We have shooters of all ages.
There's a lady in Florida in her mid-
80s, and she out-shoots everybody. Of
course, she takes it at a slow lope but
if you shoot clean -- shoot all 10 targets
-- you're going to beat somebody
who ran three times faster than you
but missed one or two. So, it's not
just about speed."
Andress became such a fan that
she began recruiting new members
like Michelle Cummings, a 20-yearold
police dispatcher whom she met
while posting flyers about the club at
a local Western wear and tack store.
"I first saw mounted shooting
at the Alabama Horse Fair in 2009
before the Bama Bandits club was
ever started," says Cummings, who
is attending Troy State University-
Montgomery with hopes of becoming
a state conservation officer. "I wasn't
really sure how I was going to try it
until I met Shannon. She told me all
about the new club that was forming
so as you can imagine I was very
excited. When I tried it the first time
that was it, I was addicted."
Cummings' first attempt at
mounted shooting came in November
2009, and she began attending
as many practices with the Bama
Bandits as possible. "My first competition
was March 2010," she recalled.
"I was new at the sport and my horse
was young and new to being ridden.
So, needless to say, our first shoot
didn't go very well."
"The hardest part about riding
and shooting is the control of your
horse," added Cummings, who was
already familiar with handguns. "If
you don't have good control, your
focus is on the horse and not on
shooting and learning how to shoot
faster. Pulling the hammer back
every time before pulling the trigger
takes a lot of getting used to --
your hand gets tired and you can get
behind real quick."
emphasizes the value of
a good horse. "My horse,
Lakota, is still young
and doesn't have a good
handle on him yet," she
said. "He doesn't mind
the gunfire but he turns
like a freight train. My
other horse, Caricia, has
a good handle on her,
but the gunfire makes
The gunfire doesn't
bother Bandit member
Ted Matyjasik, a helicopter instructor
at Fort Rucker. "Probably the most difficult part
of this is the horse," said Matyjasik.
"Well, if you're not used to shooting
guns, that can be difficult, too.
But trying to get the horse settled in
can be tough. Some horses can do it,
some can't. Then it's a matter of you
and the horse. You've got to figure
out what his job is and what you're
job is. Then, between the two, you
try to coordinate the effort."
Vanderslice has coordinated the
effort better than most. He's a "Level
4" competitor, the highest in Alabama
and just two steps below the
top echelon of shooters.
"I have to have five wins to move
up to a Level 5 shooter and I lack
one more," Vanderslice said. "You
can only accomplish that by going to
Tennessee and places like that where
they've been shooting a lot longer
because you have to have a minimum
of five participants that are also in
Level 4 in order to move up. So, I
have to travel out of state to get my
move up. But in time, all those Level
1's we have are going to move up, and
we're going to develop a really good
shooting club. Still, it's not so much
about who wins as it is just a lot of
For more information about the Bama
Bandits and upcoming shooting events,
visit BamaBandits.com and www.CowboyMountedShooting.com.