Faster than the blink of an eye, a gunfighter drew his pistol, thumbed-cocked the hammer and fired. For his opponent, it was “lights-out,” while the victor moved on to face another cowboy. Both walked away smiling and unscathed.
It was Saturday, Aug. 30, and the last Saturday of the month is the monthly gathering of like-minded cowpokes at Buccaneer Gun Club’s OK Corral. This OK Corral looks nothing like the one of Western lore, but is a high, roofed shelter large enough to hold dozens of cowboys and protect them from hot sun and wet rain. The host team was the Buccaneer Spurs and they were highly represented among the 11 shooters. The Ramrod of the outfit was “Uncle Jefro,” aka Jeff Holland.
“To win at Cowboy Fast Draw, you have to be accurate and fast,” said Holland, 61, a semi-retired home builder from Sneads Ferry. “The first shooter to win three matches is the winner.”
In fast-draw competition, which is sanctioned by SASS (Single Action Shooters Society), shooters fire a wax bullet at a 20-inch metal target from a range of 7 yards. Holland said the exception was for title matches, when the competitors use ammunition with light charges of black powder to add some smoke to create an air of authenticity.
All shooters use model 1873 Colt or Ruger Vaquero single-action revolvers chambered for the .45 Long Colt cartridge. The wax bullets are fired from special cases that use a 209-size shotgun primer to propel them at a velocity of about 700 feet per second, or about the same velocity as the 250-grain lead bullets cowboys once used.
As back in days of yesteryear, the shooters are pitted one against the other. However, rather than facing each other, they face corresponding targets downrange. As soon as the shooters signal that they are ready, hands near their holsters, the range-master switches on a timer with a random mechanism. Within five seconds, the lights on both targets switch on simultaneously. The cowboys draw and fire. A computer senses and records the time between the lights switching on and the bullets striking the targets. The winner’s light stays on, while the loser’s blinks, sort of like a heart ebbing out its final beats, unless someone’s bullet misses the target completely, in which case his light goes instantly dark.
The match began at 9:10 and was scheduled to end at “High Noon.” The shooters were eliminated, one by one, until the shooter who had won the most matches stood alone. After that stage of the competition, which determined the match champion, a shoot-off series began among the seven next-best shooters. Called the Magnificent Seven, they would compete to see who would try to knock off the top gunslinger. A simple way to think of the competition is as version of Last Man Standing followed by a Sudden Death playoff.
One of the Magnificent Seven was “Bronco,” aka Andrew Mendolia, a 12-year-old student at Broad Creek Middle School. He was shooting against “Eagle” aka Paul Lawless, a 75-year-old retired attorney from Leland.
“My grandfather in Florida took me to a fast-draw match when I was there on vacation a couple of months ago,” Medolia said. “I liked it, so I came out to shoot in this match. My other grandfather, who lives nearby, brought me to the match today.”
“I have been shooting cowboy fast-draw for about three months,” Lawless said. “A friend told me about it, so I came with him and shot. I really liked doing it. I am not one of the fastest shots, but I am one of the best shots because I hardly ever miss the target.”
In this case, though, the agility of youth overcame the confidence of age, when Medolia was first to win three times. His fastest times were in the low 6s (0.6 second) and his slowest time was more than 2 seconds. Most of Lawless’ scores were in the 7s, which were not quite fast enough to win against Mendolia and neither gunslinger was good enough to best the rest of the Magnificent Seven for the final shoot-off against the champion.
Lawless said one of the things that attracted him to fast-draw shooting is his enjoyment of old Westerns. He has always been a fan of cowboy trivia.
“I will ask you an easy one,” he said. “What was the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse’s name?”
After a pause with no one firing off the answer, Lawless said it was “Victor.”