Two shooters stood at the ready, hands on the .45s pistols holstered at their hips. Both men drew their guns faster than a desert dust devil. Both bullets struck with a thump, yet neither gunfighter bit the dust. Nevertheless, the winner was determined as instantaneously as he would have been in an old western movie based on the same scenario of a duel in the street at high noon.
The loser was Steve Gregory, whose SASS (Single Action Shooting Society - www.sassnet.com) handle is "Bull." He was shooting it out with the best shooter from the first stage of the competition, Charlie White, alias "Bell Swamp Charlie."
To compete in an event sanctioned by SASS, shooters must wear period garb from the cowboy days of the 1870s, have a Western alias and use only western-style firearms. The only firearms approved for SASS Cowboy Fast Draw shooting events are single action, .45 Long Colt-caliber pistols, either a Colt Model 1873 or a Ruger Vaquero. The holsters have metal deflectors but are otherwise period pieces as well. The deflectors save the gunfighters' lower extremities in the event of an early discharge as they draw their guns and thumb cock the hammer. To further attenuate the risk, rather than shoot a 250-grain lead bullet, their pistols are loaded only with wax bullets and their propellant is a shotgun primer fitted into a specially designed case.
Instead of facing one another down in the street, the gunfighters face a 20-inch diameter round steel target rigged with computer sensors. A randomly timed light switches on, indicating to the competitors that it is time to draw. The fastest bullet reaching the target and keeps the light on. The slower bullet reaching the target a fraction of a second later causes the light to blink. If a bullet misses the target completely, the light goes out.
The shooting event took place at Buccaneer Gun Club, home of the Buccaneer Spurs at their facility in Winnabow called the O.K. Corral. To win a match, each cowboy had to win three head-to-head duels. The match stages were fired from 15 feet, 18 feet and 21 feet. The gunslinger who won the most duels of the combined states would then compete against the best of the next seven top shooters, called the "Magnificent Seven." Depending upon how many matches the winner of the first stages and the winner of the Magnificent Seven shootout had won, he would have to win either one or two matches of another head-to-head duel to be declared the day's champion, in essence the last man standing.
Bell Swamp Charlie shot it out with Bull. All eyes were riveted on the deadly duo as they drew and fired, drew and fired. Bull was easy to identify by the colorful bull on the back of his black, western trimmed shirt. Bell Swamp Charlie took, wearing a white cowboy hat, took his handle from some hunting land his family owns nearby in Brunswick County that borders Bell Swamp.
They drew and fired several times, until Bell Swamp Charlie was the winner. As the match ended, both pistoleros were smiling and joking, along with all of the other competitors who busied themselves with putting their guns back in their cases or taking up positions for a practice session that followed.
"It's all about the fun," Bull said. "We just do it to come out and relax and don't take any of it too seriously."
"I won the first Cowboy Fast Draw match I ever competed in two or three years ago," Bell Swamp Charlie said. "This is only the second match I have won. I don't do any practicing and today I shot 7s and 8s. But, I beat a lot of guys who shot 5s and 6s because I did not miss as much as they did. I hit most of the targets today. I got started when I was shooting a SASS Cowboy Action match, which requires two pistols, a lever action rifle and a pump or double barrel shotgun. I figured I already had the pistol, so why not give it a try?"
The sensors calculate the time between the signal to draw and the bullet strike, which are measured in hundredths of a second. A "7" means it took 0.70 second. While ties are rare, two ties occurred during this event. Tiebreakers were simply re-shot because the only way to win is to hit your target before the other shooter hits his target. The best way to think about the scoring is by comparing it to match play in golf, where you either win the hole or lose the hole no matter how well you scored. You either win the draw or lose the draw by hitting the target first, no matter the amount of time it takes.