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Tracy Frank, Published June 06 2012

Blast from the past: Women unleash their inner cowgirl through cowboy action shooting

If you go

What: “Peace in the Valley” 2012 North Dakota and South Dakota state cowboy action shooting championships

By: Sheyenne Valley Peacekeepers Cowboy Action Shooting Club

Where: Southwest of Enderlin, N.D.

When: June 15, 16, 17

Contact: Diane Dockter at (701) 588-4331, (701) 793-4116, or wildriverrose5@aol.com

Online: For a schedule of monthly matches and directions to the range, go to: www.sheyennevalleypeacekeepers.com. Visit the Single Action Shooting Society at www.sassnet.com

ENDERLIN, N.D. - Once a month from April through September gunshots ring out over rural Enderlin.

Sometimes the gunslingers are battling train robbers. Other times they’re saving the bank from bandits. But they’re always having a blast.

The Sheyenne Valley Peacekeepers Cowboy Action Shooting Club is a group of men, women and children from age 8 to 78 who get together to dress up in 19th Century garb and hold target-shooting competitions.

“It’s a real wide variety of shooters,” said Diane Dockter of Horace, the club president who goes by the alias “Wild River Rose” for shooting events. “It’s a great, safe, family sport. We have lots of whole families that come out and shoot.”

Dockter, who is also on the Red River Regional Marksmanship Center board, said cowboy action shooting is the safest and fastest growing shooting sport in the country.

The competitions are held at the club’s specially-designed range that replicates a small western town southwest of Enderlin. They use period and replica guns with lead bullets on a course that includes a scenario and a specified order of metal targets in various shapes and sizes. Scores are based on elapsed shooting time plus penalty points for missed targets.

Dockter and her husband helped start the Peacekeepers in 2003 after participating in a similar club in East Grand Forks, Minn.

“When we came around the corner of the clubhouse, here all these people were dressed in costume. It was just the coolest thing,” she said.

At first Dockter just watched her husband shoot. Then she decided to give it a try and has since won a state championship twice and participated in several cowboy action shoots around the state. She’s also competed in a regional competition in Wyoming and a winter range event in Arizona.

When she started, there were only about five women who shot at the East Grand Forks club.

“More and more it grew,” she said. “When we have a state shoot about one-third of the participants are women.”

Part of the attraction is the camaraderie, both on the range and sitting around the campfire after the competition, Dockter said.

“We get to be a pretty close-knit family,” she said.

Kathy Thomas, who lives south of Fargo, said she was “hooked instantly” on cowboy action shooting after watching one match.

“I grew up a fan of many of the 1960s TV westerns and also have enjoyed target shooting for many years,” she said. “I also enjoy studying western history and like the western lifestyle. Cowboy Action Shooting looked like a lot of fun.”

Chris Iverson of Valley City, who goes by the alias “Trigger Tillie,” said the Peacekeepers are a very welcoming, fun, friendly group.

“They work hard to make our range a safe, beautiful, welcoming place and are always willing to lend a helping hand,” she said. “Cowboy action shooters are a generous bunch and share a love of family, friends and country. They not only love to shoot together but share good food and good times around the campfire.”

Iverson said some of her earliest memories are of watching cowboys at rodeos and her dad taught her to shoot at an early age.

“I’ve always loved cowboys,” she said.

After learning about the Peacekeepers, she signed up for their new shooters seminar and started collecting guns and gear. She participates in the club’s monthly matches and state shoot and attends several other area shoots each year.

“It is a great opportunity to transport yourself to a historic time in the development of the American West,” she said. It is as competitive as you want to make it, and it’s almost as fun to dress up as it is to shoot.”

Participants need two single-action revolvers, a lever-action rifle and either a double-barrel or pump shotgun like those used in the late 1800s, Dockter said. The guns can cost anywhere from $1,400 to $1,700 on the low end for all four guns or as much as $1,600 for single gun, she said.

“Costuming is a big part of our sport,” she said. “Everyone dresses in clothing that you would have seen worn in the late 1800s, like britches with suspenders, long-sleeved shirts with vests, long dresses or riding skirts, and of course cowboy hats.”

People shoot in different categories based on age or based on their equipment, costuming or shooting style. The time it takes a person to shoot 24 to 26 rounds from four different guns can vary from 15 seconds to 140 seconds or more depending on how quickly the individual can shoot their guns, how accurate they are at hitting the target, their physical ability to move from one gun to another on the shooting line and whether or not their guns are cooperating that day, Dockter said.

Shooters are assigned posses when they register at a match. Each posse is lead by a range officer who assigns duties, reads the scenarios, and helps each shooter through the stage.

Participants are penalized for doing something unsafe like forgetting to stage an empty rifle with its action open. They could also be disqualified for failing to control a muzzle or dropping a loaded or unloaded gun.

Junior shooters go through the line with their parents.

Load officers make sure participants have the right number of rounds in their guns and that they have loaded them properly. Unload officers make sure firearms are empty before participants leave the line.

Eye and ear protection is mandatory, even for spectators.

The Sheyenne Valley Peacekeepers club, which has about 40 members, is affiliated with the Single Action Shooting Society, an international organization that has more than 90,000 members.

The club charges a membership fee of $30 for a family or $20 for an individual for a year. Members then pay $10 for monthly matches instead of $15. Matches are held the last Saturday of the month from April through September.

The club also hosts a free seminar for new shooters each spring to teach people about the sport.

The Peacekeepers club will hold “Peace In The Valley,” the 2012 North Dakota and South Dakota state cowboy action shooting championships June 15 through 17 at its rural Enderlin range. More than 150 competitors from several states will participate.

The range includes areas for camping and spectators are welcome.