Winter Range 2000.
Ruger's Winter Range 2000, cosponsored by Wah Maker Clothes and VihtaVouri, drew 501 main match contestants including a dozen from foreign countries. Held at Ben Avery Shooting Range near Phoenix from February 11 to 14, the cowboys and cowgirls observed the Valentine's Day weekend in true Southwestern style with four days of shooting, eating, buying, selling, singing and dancing. Such is the attraction of the Single Action Shooting Society's national championship that entrants were drawn from Canada, Britain, Germany and Sweden.
Held simultaneously was the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association event, which attracted 46 riders in a sure-fire crowd pleasing spectacle of blazing horses and galloping sixguns. Or did we get that backwards? (It was a long four days.)
New this year to Winter Range was the "conventioneer" category open to those unable to enter the popular match which typically sells out six months early. Eighty conventioners obtained credentials enabling them to enter Thursday's events and to wear frearms on the grounds. The latter point may require amendment, however, as Arizona law permits open carry throughout the state, including on shooting ranges.
Following the long-range events and pot shoots on Thursday, SASS conducted its second range officers' certification class. Some 60 posse marshals, deputies and interested shooters attended to learn the procedures for conducting cowboy action shooting matches at the state level and above.
With increasing regional events, the SASS board of governors determined that the most significant matches should have mote uniform administration and scoring -- a point that few would debate. Unfortunately, the class ran well beyond the scheduled 90 minutes, and some prospective ROs had to leave prematurely.
Match director Gary Bartholomew (aka Sassquatch) was new to the position for WR2K bot there was substantial corporate experience on the board of directors, with some dating from the origin in 1992. Bartholomew noted that after Winter Range '99 some competitors wanted more shooting and more movement in place of the previous years' "stand and deliver" format. However, the Winter Range '99 courses involved only one stationary stage (same as this year) with three that might he described as "cowboy assault courses" requiring substantial movement.
Whatever the reason, more running was added as well as a 32 percent increase in total round count (from 182 to 240) and a 120 percent increase in shotgun use (20 rounds to 44). Furthermore, some shooters criticized what was seen as a lack of imagination in near-identical round counts on all 10 stages: 10 pistol. nine or 10 rifle, and four to six shotgun. The increased round count was evident in only four clean scores compared to 20 or more in recent years.
Afterwards one WR director said. "We probably went overboard this year, and we'll look more carefully at course design from now on."
Among the 493 shooters who completed the match, well over half shot "traditional" guns, either original single-action revolvers or clones. Men's and Ladies' Modern categories amounted to 65 pistols with high-visibility sights, while both Traditional and Modern guns were used in other categories such as the 80 Seniors (over 60) and 14 Juniors.
Scoring problems arose with some shotgun targets: spring-mounted impact plates that are scored as hits when they recoil enough to show the orange baseplate. These targets malfunctioned on at least two stages, especially with 20 gauge ammo, leading to concern about equitable scoring. Those particular targets had seen steady use for several years and required replacement or repair.
While every previous Winter Range used Western-oriented targets, this year some shooters missed the ambience of steel animals, hats, boots and card suites. For obscure reasons, only geometric targets were used at WR2K: circles and squares. "It's no big deal," said one shooter, "but the Old West targets made us different from USPSA."
Home On The Range
Meanwhile, SASS rules had recently been promulgated that ROs were to concentrate on keeping things moving rather than being involved in timing and scoring. However, as many stages fell farther and farther behind, the match director decided -- correctly -- that he needed his most experienced people on the clock and scoresheet. While the second day ran more smoothly than the first, it took a physical toll on marshals and deputies, who worked extremely hard without compensation.
One range officer said, "Our posse had three major crash-and-burns, and two minor ones. That's a direct result of the course design in my opinion, as they all happened Saturday when folks were way too tired and sore. In my other four years, I only remember one stumble."
A previous top 10 finisher and regular posse marshal is policeman Rob Ashcroft (aka Arizona Lawdog), who won last year's Phoenix Combat Classic and placed fifth among 67 Duelists (one-handed pistoleros) at WR2K. "Some people enjoyed the courses this year and some didn't," he said afterward. "But based on how well I know we're capable of running this match, I think the stages need to be shorter."
IPSC With Spurs?
Those sentiments were shared by three-time IPSC world champion Rob Leatham, who admits that he owns cowboy guns and has even picked an alias: "Dusty Bottoms." Passing through Winter Range, he said, "I think maybe SASS is making the same mistake that IPSC did. Matches and rules get influenced by the most active shooters or those who were there the longest, and the top performers set the pace. But they shouldn't forget the 75 or 80 percent of average shooters who pay the bills."
Asked how he would characterize the 2000 match, Leatham smiled and said, "Looks like IPSC with spurs." Further evidence was noted among a few serious competitors with running soles on their cowboy boots.
Leatham's opinion was not warmly received by some match officials, who didn't even want him mentioned in the SASS newspaper, The Cowboy Chronicle. Apparently there's concern that Leatham's potential interest in cowboy shooting will turn it into, well, IPSC with spurs. Such worry is wholly misplaced: USPSA aces such as John Shaw, Don Golembieski and Jim Scordato already are involved, and "Idaho John" won WR99. The problem, therefore, is not shooters -- the problem is course design.
A previous Winter Range champ agrees: Greg Nevitt of Illinois (aka Black Jack McGinnis), who shoots cap-n-ball, again won the Frontiersman category. "There was too much movement this year," he said, adding, "I think last year's course was just about right."
Nevitt also shared the opinion of many competitors that the stages were too far back in the shooting bays. Consequently, unnecessary crowding was forced upon entrants and observers, as substantial space remained unused downrange. Inquiries revealed that Ben Avery administrators imposed the requirement on WR for the benefit of spectators.
Other entrants liked the stages at WR2K, including Don Golembieski (aka Kodiak) who spoke for many top shooters when he said, "The national championship should be a demanding course." Few dispute that attitude, especially if the Winter Range title is to remain meaningful.
Reportedly SASS and Winter Range officials re-examined the RO philosophy in light of the WR2K experience, but it keeps coming back to course design. Winter Range has been an exceptionally well-run event over the years, which is why it fills up long beforehand. A return to pre-2000 stage design and round count, with sufficient oversight, would help restore the balance.
Sunday's events went smoothly with the posse shoot, team shoot and Top Gun shootoff. The posse event matched all 20 squads against one another with a maximum of 25 revolvers (125 rounds) to topple 20 steel targets 25 yards downrange. Phoenix gunsmith Bob James (aka Arizona Thumber) led his crew to victory as the only posse to clean the course.
In keeping with Winter Range tradition, the four-man team event was built around a film scenario, in this case the cable movie Purgatory, "where you'll be shootin' fer yer eternal soul." Those who made it to the Promised Land included Evil Roy, Bounty Hunter, San Juan and T.L.
Top Gun of the man-against-man event was restaurateur Jim Scordato (aka The Butcher) of Chino Valley, Ariz.
Match winner was the man in black: Gene Pearcey of Durango, Colorado. As popular as he is talented, "Evil Roy" has been a longtime Winter Range entrant; always a contender for the overall title. With his wife "Wicked Felina," they're raising a powerhouse in their granddaughter, "Holy Terror," who placed fourth among all juniors.
Finishing fifth overall was Californian Dennis Ming (aka China Camp) who has long dominated SASS competition. Unknown to most entrants, he bounced back from a severe arm and shoulder injury that threatened to end his shooting career. He said that he will probably not regain full use of his arm, but the sport just wouldn't be the same without him.
Winner of the mounted shooting event was T.C. Thornstensen of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Winter Range long has been known for the fastest computer in the west, and this year Dave Roberts (aka Gila Slim) outdid himself. Full match results were posted on the Internet barely 24 hours after the awards ceremony. It's a record that can only be reckoned at Winter Range '01.