It was a scorching hot Saturday on the West Side. Driving into the Ukumehame Firing Range, I noticed a group of four men and one woman sitting and talking beneath the only shade around. Over on the left side of the range I saw three other gentlemen walking around what looked a stagecoach and prairie wagon as well as a series of low walls topped with sandbags. Everyone was dressed like a Wild West cowboy. I have to admit, they looked dapper.
These are the Maui Marshals, the island’s only “Cowboy Action Shooting Group.” This may sound like some hokey gathering for people with too much time on their hands, but there’s actually much more to it.
Cowboy Action Shooting is a timed, competitive sport in which participants shoot a variety of targets. It requires a great deal of preparation and imagination, as participants must also choose an alias—an alter ego, really—that’s suitable for a character or profession in the late 19th century.
This character can come from anywhere, including well-known Hollywood Western stars or entirely fictional characters. The only rule is that each participant has to have a different alias. From the characters I met that Saturday, that wasn’t going to be a problem.
Some, like Darning Daisy and her husband Doctor Who, decided to do it as an activity they enjoyed together. Others like Lobo Negro, Bad Burt, Buckshot Slaughter, Longhair and Rolling Bird do it for the camaraderie and the chance to fire off single-action guns. And characters like Cyclone Drifter do it simply because it gives him a chance to dress like an old-time cowboy.
After a participant has chosen a persona, he or she then has to find the proper clothing. This sounds staggeringly difficult for someone on Maui, but you’d be surprised at the number of commerical traditional western clothing suppliers on the web. Thrift stores are also an option when looking for ideas.
It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Levis, Wranglers and Lee denim or cotton work shirts with button fronts are simple styles of shirts worn in the late 1800’s. Outlawed are short sleeve shirts, modern feathered cowboy hats like a “Shady Brady” used in the 1970’s, contemporary shooting gloves, ball caps, tennis shoes and any designer jeans or clothes displaying logos. And come hell or high water, you better believe no varmint is going to wear any Velcro.
When I saw Cyclone Drifter (obviously not his real name) on that Saturday, he was dressed mostly in black and wore a trimmed mustache. He had a pleasant disposition and spoke with ease. He spoke of his appreciation for western apparel and how much he enjoyed the sound of the bullets hitting the steel targets. In the beginning, he said, “I might not have shot too good but I looked good shooting.”
The Maui Marshals are very welcoming to newcomers. Members are more than willing to support anyone who shows up on a Saturday, even if she shows up in a ball cap and tennis shoes. In fact, anyone who does show up is pretty much obligated to join in. And yes, even I had to when I showed up on that Saturday.
Now—and here I have to make a small disclosure—most people might think that I would be pretty handy with a pistol since my father is the Maui Marshals’ Territorial Governo. But when I dropped by I was something awful.
If I had to choose a period character to portray, I would prefer someone like Ethel Waxham, the teacher and poet of the Wild West who did very little shooting. But as A Cowboy’s Guide to Life says, “There’s no place ‘round the campfire for a quitter’s blanket.”
The sport’s focus, the Marshals told me, is safety and fun. A lot of it is on safety, really. In fact, they said there’s never been a serious accident in the history of Cowboy Action Shooting. For instance, the ammunition they use is “downloaded,” meaning it’s a lighter weight and uses less powder than more traditional ammunition. That helps ensure safety when shooting at steel targets.
The Marshals use firearms distinctive to the period of roughly 1850 through 1890. Most are replica firearm. In all, they use single-action revolvers, pistol caliber lever action rifles and pump or double barrel shotguns.
The stages are set in well-known Old West styles like the saloon or outhouse. Participants will use all four of the above-mentioned firearms during the action. The steel targets are called “reactive” because they allow everyone to hear hits and misses.
Basically, participants go through a course of fire using two pistols, one after the other, then they shoot the rifle and finally they take out the shotgun. The whole sequence is timed and precise scores are kept. The object is to go through the course and fire as rapidly and as accurately as possible.
At one point on that Saturday I asked Lobo Negro to explain the whole action scenerio. His spurs jingled as he got comfortable and told me about the last State Annual Shoot, The Great Pineapple Roundup.
“Well see, you’re sittin’ on the john and you look out the half moon in the door and you see some guys pulling into camp and they start messing with the cook,” he said. “And you don’t want anyone fooling with the coosie. So you holler through the half moon, ‘Stop messin’ with the cook.’ You then pick up your rifle, which happens to be next to you, and you blast 10 bad guys through the half moon.
“You then see that there’s more trouble out there and so you run out of the outhouse and notice that there is a chicken on the ground that just hasn’t been cooked enough,” he continued. “So you grab the rubber chicken, put it in the pot and say, ‘This chicken needs cookin.’ Then you set your rifle down, pull out your pistols and shoot 10 more bad guys. You put those back in your holsters and when you notice there’s still more trouble a brewing, you pull out your shotgun and dust 10 more. And now the coosie’s safe, the chicken’s cooked and you can go about your business.”
The sport of Cowboy Action Shooting began in 1981, formed by a man named Harper Criegh—aka Judge Roy Bean—in the equestrian-loving gated community known as Coto de Caza, located in Orange County, California. After being inspired by a few TV Westerns he rustled up some shooting buddies and suggested the idea of doing their next match using Western-type guns. Slowly the outfits followed and then the rules began to form. Before they knew it, 65 registered shooters were competing.
All shared a love of Old West history and a desire to carry on its traditions. By 1987 the worldwide membership organization known as Single Action Shooting Society (SASS)—based in Yorba Linda, California—emerged to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting.
SASS claims more than 60,000 members in all 50 states as well as in 18 countries. It has a monthly journal, The Cowboy Chronicle, and supports regional matches. Its board of directors, known as “The Wild Bunch,” enforces rules and procedures that ensure consistency and safety in all Cowboy Action Matches.
On Dec. 29, 2005, the Marshals held their second annual Hawaiian Territorial Cowboy Action Shooting Championship at Ukumehame. It was a four-day shootout with the Side Matches on Thursday, the Main Matches on Friday and Saturday and the Fun Shoots on Sunday.
As it turned out, the Maui Marshals’ own Darnin’ Daisy and her husband Doctor Who ended up as State of Hawai’i CAS Champions. It wasn’t easy, especially when an endangered Nene slowly flapped its way across the shooting range.
“Cease Fire!” someone yelled over the gunfire. “Nene!” All shooting stopped while our Hawaiian State Bird slowly made its way across the course, stopping only for a moment on one of the berms to honk. Everyone silently watched the goose for a moment, and then one of the Cowboys smiled and tipped his hat. “Well, I guess we all know who’s runnin’ this show, don’t we?” he said. MTW
If you’d like to jump on the wagon with the Maui Marshals and become a SASS member, call Lobo Negro at 242-6024. Though every good cowboy knows that “When you’re tryin’ something new, the fewer people who know about it, the better.”