Ropin’ in the crowdsThere’s a shootout planned at the Head of the Lakes Fairground next week. Gun-toting varmints from more than five states compete – guns blazing – for the title of Wisconsin Cowboy Fast Draw Champion.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
There’s a shootout planned at the Head of the Lakes Fairground next week. Gun-toting varmints from more than five states compete – guns blazing – for the title of Wisconsin Cowboy Fast Draw Champion.
Hometown gunslinger Cathy Mattson, aka Connecticut Cat, was the fastest shot in the state last year at the women’s competition in Stevens Point.
“She’ll try to defend her title,” said fellow shooter Lori Adrihan, aka Dusty Bottoms, who is the current Minnesota state women’s champion.
The three-day event includes a charity shoot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday to raise money for the Challenge Center as well as the championship match beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. A meet and greet with the shooters begins at 5 p.m. Friday at Aces on 29th – root beer’s on tap. There will be more shooting at 9 a.m. Sunday.
The competition is expected to draw more than 64 fast draw enthusiasts from near and far. It also gives the Black River Bandits, a Cowboy Fast Draw group based in South Range, a chance to share its sport with the public.
“We wanted to bring the state shoot into town,” said Adrihan’s husband, John, known as Black River Johnny. “We wanted to get the city involved, to showcase Superior and Duluth.”
The posse was able to hijack the state shoot with the help of a Wisconsin Tourism Fund grant and the support of local businesses, including Benna Ford, Superior Shooters, Aces on 29th, Raven and Associates, Jeff’s Quality Auto Glass and La Pienado.
If this event is a success, John Adrihan said, it could pull bigger territorial matches to Superior.
The bandits are a colorful presence. The group wrangled the first place trophy for performing groups during Superior’s 4th of July Parade with a comic skit that included plenty of gunfire. They almost rode off with more.
“We gotta hold up that stage,” joked Mattson’s husband Pete, aka Deerslayer, as another entry trotted by prior to the parade.
Now, gunslingers hope to rope in spectators at the fair. The shootout will be set up to the north of the main fair entrance, with a line of trees serving as backdrop.
In Cowboy Fast Draw, contestants square off against each other to shoot at 24-inch round targets 21 feet away. A sensor on the target captures the speed and lithium grease on the target shows where the shot hits. Participants shoot nonlethal wax bullets. They also dress up in 1800s period costumes to relive a little of the old West.
“Even if you don’t shoot, it can be fun,” said Von Wittkopf, known by her bandits as Vicious Von. “I make a good saloon girl.”
That sense of fun and a focus on family has grown the Black River Bandits from four members to 45 in less than five years.
“It’s a lot of fun being with everybody,” said Paige Ford, 15, aka Sage Brush, who has been shooting with the group since she was 11. “I fit in.
And, Wittkopf said, “she’s a great shot.”
Often, couples enter together. Children under the age of 18 are welcome with a parent. It’s a sport that appeals to all ages. And the local women are, to date, dominating the sport. Dusty has nabbed two state titles – Minnesota and South Dakota – and was the women’s world champion shooter in 2006. Cat earned the Wisconsin title after only five months in the sport. Lori Adrihan jokingly referred to the two couples as “the women champions and the men who someday may be.”
She noted that both her husband, John and Mattson’s husband, Pete, are some of the fastest draws in the country. While the average draw time in .5 seconds, John Adrihan’s draw time is .351. Pete Mattson’s time is even less, .347. In this sport, however, accuracy counts more.
“A fast miss is bad,” said Don Dudsic of Superior, who shoots under the persona of brothel inspector Thumbzee McMuffin.
The bandits issued a standing welcome to anyone interested in Cowboy Fast Draw.
“We invite anyone to come and try,” Lori Adrihan said. “It’s positive, family-oriented fun.”
And the first shoot is free. The group meets for weekly practices at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Aurora Ouisconsin Outdoor Club, 5691 E. Tri Lakes Road. For information and directions, visit www.aooclub.com.