COLUMN: Gunplay at the club

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    David Vale of the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    David Vale of the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Everybody loves a gunfight. Well, maybe not a real gunfight. But a western gunfight. And a western gunfighter.

We had a film festival here in Bigfork a while back where, for the better part of the week, we saw five stories a day about how the West was won. And guns and gunfights were a big part of it.

But in Bigfork, it’s not just the movies. It’s the Bigfork Buscaderos, a gang of what they call “cowboy action shooters.” A gang with real guns, real bullets and real skills. Spending much of the warmer months shooting self-styled targets and impressing each other with their fast draws and dead-eye marksmanship, during the winter they show up at local cafes a couple times a month for breakfast to show off their western wear and make it look like they’re about to reenact the shootout at the OK Corral.

I was pretty excited the first time I saw them. About a dozen of them came into the cafe unannounced, wearing their guns and garb, and sat down for breakfast. And then the fun started.

First the kids: “Is that a real gun, mister?”

Then the adults: “Would it be alright, Mr. Earp, if my husband took my picture with you? It’s for our grandson.”

It didn’t take me long, either, to get on the bandwagon. I’ve probably got more pictures of the Buscaderos than any other group at the cafe. I’ve used them in ads for my cafe and I used one of all of them standing on the curb with their guns for a postcard that the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce distributed. “Bigfork, Montana,” it read, “A friendly little town.”

So who are these men (and women)? A group of them gathered at my cafe a while back for their monthly “Cowboy Breakfast” and I took the opportunity to bring myself up to date on their activities. When I mentioned that they all looked remarkably similar to the group I’d photographed some six years ago, the one called Sage Creek Gus was quick to clarify. “We’re cowboys,” he said. “We only have one set of clothes.”

I was never sure what kind of organization they represented so I asked if they were part of the local Gun Club.

“Nope, we just get together to eat or shoot,” offered the one named Hardwood. “You don’t have to belong to the gun club or anything.”

It was Gus who, once again, put it into perspective.

“We’re not really organized,” he said. “We’re just a bunch of guys who get together for a purpose.”

Do you guys shoot all year, I questioned. Mad Dog Martin looked up from his breakfast.

“No,” he said. “We’re pretty much fair weather cowboys and we’ll start shooting again in April. This time of year, we mostly get together to eat breakfast.”

Well, April has come and the Buscaderos had their first match of the season the other day at the Bigfork Gun Club. Somewhat belying the fair weather comment, it was 39 degrees and there was snow in the air. The Buscaderos all wore earplugs. I had earmuffs, which I valued as much for their warmth as their noise reduction.

Cowboy action shooting is part skill, part story, and part ritual. The story that drove the five stages of shooting this day was a kind of Mad Max/Armageddon scenario where the bad guys from the city came to the country intent on nefarious deeds. The Buscaderos represented the last line of defense. The ritual was to load their guns at the loading table, move to the shooting table, and then at the sound of the beep, fill the steel targets (the bad guys) with lead as quickly as possible, hitting the targets with the right guns in the right order.

Lever-action rifles were the primary weapon, followed by shotguns of double-barrel or pump-action design, and finally a pair of classic six shooters. Scores were the time it took to shoot the stage (all the targets the right number of times in order). A miss added a five second penalty; shooting the targets out of order added ten seconds.

Ten rifle shots, four shotgun blasts and ten pistol shots. Billy Two Hares had the best score after the first stage with 24 seconds. Some shooters racked up over 100 seconds. But, in the end, the bad guys took a lot of lead.

Who can join this gang?

“Anybody who wants to,” was the general response.

And who leads this gang, should anyone want to find out more? All fingers pointed to Bodie Camp, who serves if not as the gang’s leader, at least the public relations contact. During the week, Bodie goes by the name Ken Ritz and can be reached by email at RitzInMontana@centurylink.net.

David Vale retired from the world of psychology and statistics and now owns the Pocketstone Cafe in Bigfork.

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