Reliving 'Gunsmoke' with Cowboy Action Shooting

Jesse Dukes meets up with some Maine enthusiasts of Cowboy Action Shooting, which involves running around a set shooting blanks out of vintage guns and generally behaving as though you're part of the television Western series Gunsmoke.

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A new craze is spreading like fire on the prairie. It's called Cowboy Action Shooting, where participants dress up like cowboys from the Old West. Independent producer Jesse Dukes caught up with some shooters in the decidedly non-Western state of Maine.

JESSE DUKES reporting:

At the Capital City Rifle & Pistol Club, the shooting hasn't started, yet. Folks are still arriving, and those that are here greet their buddies and double-check their guns. These are single-action rifles, pistols and shotguns, the kind of guns people used to carry in the Old West.

Unidentified Man #1: I brought a model 1897 Winchester shotgun.

Ms. CAROLYN MAILING: I have a Cimarron Winchester 73 and .38 Special.

DUKES: The lady goes by Purple Sage; Carolyn Mailing(ph) in the real world. Like everybody else, she dresses to match her image of the Old West. She chooses jeans, a wide-brimmed hat and two leather cartridge belts. Dean Stanton(ph), aka Dapper Dan, is a townie in a white colonial shirt and suspenders. He shoots the breeze with a buckskinned frontiersman.

Mr. DEAN STANTON: Oh, no. They're going...

Unidentified Man #2: They're...

Mr. STANTON: go bang.

Unidentified Man #2: ...go bang. Bang-o.

Mr. STANTON: They're going to go bang.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

Unidentified Man #3: Shooting order: Scrounger, Red Eye, Dapper Dan, Rascally Ryan...

DUKES: Everybody's in a group of about a dozen shooters called a posse. Like golfers moving from green to green, the posses walk around a big field with seven mini-movie sets called stages. Each stage has its own gimmick, like a plywood jail cell, a stagecoach or steel-plated bandito silhouettes that spin in place.

Unidentified Man #4: We're just little kids. We're just playing our childhood.

DUKES: The shooters have to hit a different series of targets on every stage. They're timed along the way, and the fastest and most accurate shooters win.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

Unidentified Man #5: Yeah!

DUKES: Most shooters are here for the good company and to show off their guns. Posse leader Mike Hewitt(ph) goes by Long-Haired Mike. He has the most dramatic guns in his group. Every time he fires, his barrels spit orange flame and the air around him is filled with heavy gray smoke.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

Unidentified Man #6: God, you got to love that 10-gauge!

DUKES: This is a pretty fun way to spend Sunday afternoon, but it's more than just that. This group shares a real love of the Old West. For Dave Fournier(ph), aka Davey Whales(ph), it's almost a spiritual yearning.

Mr. DAVE FOURNIER: You worked hard to survive and everybody kind of helped everybody else. They had to work hard to eat. People today don't even know where the food comes from.

DUKES: Walter Tillson(ph), alias Preacher Till(ph), agrees.

Mr. WALTER TILLSON: I like everything about the Old West. Ah, things just too technical today; too fast a pace. Everybody's into rush, rush, rush, rush. I really enjoy watching the Old Westerns and I wish I was there.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

DUKES: Across the nation, Cowboy Action Shooting has seen its membership double over the past five years. It continues to grow in popularity as more people look for a break from a world that to them seems more and more complex.

(Soundbite of gunshot)

DUKES: For NPR, this is Jesse Dukes.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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