Published in the Hobbs News-Sun and by Associated Press in 2006.
The Old West cowboys didn't wear earplugs or protective eye wear like this cowboy did.
But everything else -- his boots, chaps, bandana, hat, vest where he sported his sides -- fit the image of an Old West cowboy.
His spurs jingled as his boots crunched over the dry, rocky range, carrying a rifle and a shotgun. Through squinted eyes, those watching might wonder if there's a new sheriff in town, but the larger guns were as big as this cowboy.
Twelve-year-old Spencer Eidson, known as Loco Kid, said he really wants to live the cowboy lifestyle. A family friend lets him brand and go on cattle drives, but he doesn't live like the legends of the past -- except when he shoots with the local cowboy action shooting group, the Monument Springs Bushwackers.
"I wish I were a cowboy or a rancher," he said. "I wish I could ride a horse ever day. This is the one time a month I feel like a cowboy."
Playing the game
Gun enthusiasts and history aficionados, young and old and people from all walks of life who participate in cowboy action shootingdescribe it as a role-playing game.
After a safety brief, the show starts.
Beyond the firing line, there's a saloon, spitoon, metal horse with a saddle and other Western props that give cowboy action shooters the feel they've stepped into Western TV shows such as "Big Valley," "Bonanza" or a John Wayne movie.
The scenarios, also known as stages of the game, are dreamed up by shooting group members. Sometimes the scenarios are based on Western movies, new articles or historical events. Each scenario lasts 30-45 minutes depending on the number of the shooters.
"One time we're rescuing Miss Dolly from the saloon," Carlsbad resident Jim Eastham said. "Another time you're shooting bad guys, protecting the jail or chasing cattle rustlers. Every time it's a different story."
Everyone who plays the game has an alias. Some examples are Caprock Leatherneck, Bo Random, Polish Desperado, Knucklehead Jones, Tumbleweed Dan, Slim Jim, Wild Shot, Doc Fog, Mesquite Bandit and Two Gun Lady.
Some participants pick their aliases and others earn them. For
example, Momument Springs Bushwacker president Ralph Tramell gave 17- year-old Levon Pharr his alias, Knucklehead Jones.
"I did something stupid," Pharr said, "but I don't even remember what I did."
The aliases and Western costumes make Hobbsan Dawn Sims, aka Two Gun Lady, feel like she's stepped back in time.
"If you look around at everyone with six-shooters on their hips you leave the modern world a while, she said. "I like it because you don't have to be yourself. You can be someone else for a while."
Shooters use rifles, shotguns and single-action pistols during the game. Scoring is based on misses and time. Five seconds is added to a shooter's time for every miss.
"Accuracy is more important than speed," 14-year-old Greg Sims said. "It doesn't matter if you shoot fast, you have to hit the target."
Good clean fun
Some participants have been shooting since childhood. Others haven't shot since they've served in the military, and a few, such as Sims, an English and communications teacher at the Hobbs Freshman School, never handled a weapon until they became involved in the shooting hobby.
Sims started playing the game a few months ago. Her son attended an open house at the Hobbs Gun Club, where the Monument Springs Bushwackers put on a show.
Sims said she was scared to death the first time she shot, but
veteran members took her through it step by step. Her gun
malfunctioned and she was swinging it in her hands trying to tell her coach, Tramell, that it wasn't firing. Tramell took the gun away from her.
"I still get some good ribbin' for that," she said with a
smile. "That's all we've ever hear out there."
Playing the game is a family affair for Simses and Gary Eidson and his son, Spencer. The camaraderie and how everyone is so willing to share equipment or weapons keeps them coming back.
"They're real welcoming," Hobbs engineer Gary said. "Someimes we get so busy in life, this is our time to relax. It also gives us quality time together."