A marauding pack of gun-totin’ crazies gathered in Yuma, Arizona over the weekend for a three-day competition. It was run by the Yuma Matchmasters, a local club which scores the time for each competitor in each category according to SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) rules. The main match consists of 12 stages, each of which varies slightly around the commonality of having to show proficiency with three very different kind of firearms, one right after the other: dual six-shot single-action revolvers, a carbine rifle, and a shotgun. The arms used can be new, but must conform to being replicas of early designs. This annual match is sold out, with a waiting list.
The serious competitive nature of firearm timed target or combat competitions pretty much evaporates here because of two requirements. The first is that each entrant must have an official, approved nickname based upon either a real character of the Old West, or a new name deemed believably suitable. The second requirement is that dress must reflect that era, or in the case of real characters, be as near to authentically accurate as reasonably possible. The result is kind of like a daytime costume party that you have to shoot your way out of.
This meet is held at Adair Park, a very large community facility a few miles north of Yuma, which offers multiple firing ranges based upon firearm type. In the case of this event, a pistol range with at least half a dozen segregated areas, each separated by high walls of dirt, offered a flat wooden business facade in each. Each competitor laid his or her rifle and shotgun on a table located at each window of the facade, ready for pickup and use. The revolvers were worn in holsters.
You’ll notice several things as you watch the video below. The first is that each revolver is shot just five times instead of six. This is so that the hammer always rests on an empty chamber beforehand, for safety reasons. Lacking crossbars and newfangled safety details of modern pistols, these early revolvers can in theory go off should the gun be dropped and land on its hammer while it is in its rest position. As you can imagine, safe practice in handling is controlled by designated people during every aspect of the competition. You’ll notice that eyewear is universally worn, since there is some occasional spatter from the shot used. You’d think from this 7-minute video that only retirees participate here, which is not so. A few middle-aged “young guns” were there and did very well, obviously. Notice also that plenty of women take on this challenge as well – I’d guess that somewhere between a quarter and a third of these desperadoes were women. So much for the “boys with their toys” assumptions. I’m not sure of the ammo type requirements. Most competitors shot modern smokeless powders, while some appeared to shoot the original blends, which cascade smoke all over the place just as they did way back when.
You’d think that hey, this must be easy, since the steel targets are just a few feet in back of each window! Not so, actually. The multiple plates must be hit in a certain order, and although misses were rare, the speed at which they must be approached tends to foul up what amounts to be a huge motor skills test. Whether single hand or both guns a’blazin’, each shot requires variously that the gun be shifted in the hand in order to pull back the hammer far enough to lock, or that the thumb of the second hand pull it back to lock, both of which tend to pull the pistol off-aim. One pistol in each hand, firing alternately, looks like quite a challenge.
As can be seen in the video, carbine rifles will fail to feed if you’re in too much of a hurry to cycle the lever fully forward after each shot. Some of the stages use two shotgun shots, while others use four. Some competitors use single-shot shotguns, and some use two-barrel shotguns. In any case, you’ll notice a lot of hurried reloading going on. I think it’s one of those events that may look easy to the casual observer…until you actually try it for yourself. A few competitors flubbed up, either failing to fully cycle lever-action carbines, or failing to engage the hammers with their thumbs securely enough to pull them back. It pointed out that old adage that “slow is speed”. No matter. Each seemed far more concerned about reaching a personal best time than about winning the best time overall. Everyone there seemed to be enjoying this outing quite a bit, and it was interesting to watch. Competitors hail from as far away as New Jersey, so this is no three-state event attended just by locals.
The video below is a random mix of matches, so don’t wonder why each competitor isn’t doing the same things as a previous one. Hint: click on the four-diagonal arrows icon just to the left of the Vimeo logo to go full-screen. Selecting it again or pressing your keyboard’s Esc key will return it to normal-size. Can one have fun with a gun? Apparently so!