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'Cowboy Action' the latest shooting trend

Wearing a cowboy hat, boots and a shotgun belt, Laura Clemmons yells, "You Shot Ed," and draws a revolver at the sound of a beep, firing at steel targets.

Clemmons, 38, a computer network technician from Savannah, transforms into a cowgirl on many Saturdays, answering to "La Gata Loca," Spanish for The Crazy Cat.

She's what's known as "A Cowboy Action Shooter" - one of 35 competing in a match at Mid-Carolina Rifle Club in Gaston held by The Palmetto Posse, a local cowboy action shooting club.

Competitors in the fast-growing outdoor shooting sport dress in costumes and use firearms typical of the Old West. When the buzzer for their individual round goes off, they race against the clock, shooting a variety of guns at targets during staged scenarios - often historical moments or scenes from movies.

Today, Clemmons acts as Bat Masterson, a figure from the Old West, avenging the death of his brother Ed, a marshal in Dodge City, Kan., who was killed in the line of duty April 9, 1878.

Clemmons fires two revolvers, a rifle and shotgun at 13 targets in about 36 seconds in a round or "stage" of shooting.

"The adrenaline is definitely a plus," she says. "You get ready to shoot a stage, and the buzzer goes off and you just start shaking."

The Palmetto Posse is one of six clubs in the state recognized by the Single Action Shooting Society, the sport's governing organization.

There are 762 South Carolinians registered with the SASS, officials say.

The sport requires they select aliases, wear period clothing and take part in the spirit of the Old West, according to the SASS. With some clubs, participants fire from horses.

Cowboy Action Shooting is social, participants say. And it's active. People can gather outdoors for gun sports and camaraderie - without having to wake up at 4 in the morning and wait in a tree stand for a deer to come by.

Tom Nichols, 53, of South Congaree, a.k.a. "Commanche Moon Morgan," enjoys the challenge of firing one gun, then hustling to pick up the next gun.

"Dad and I used to go to just about every Western in the movie theater and when I grew up I wanted to be a cowboy," he says.

The day in Gaston opens with prayer and the national anthem.

Participants are told to "posse it up" and split into two groups.

There are three bays set up with two stages at each bay.

Some of the targets are in the shape of Indian heads and miniature cowboys.

"I love it," says Abe Fasch of Batesburg-Leesville.

Fasch, a retired retail salesman, says he lost a portion of one of his legs to infection. Hence his nickname: "The Peg Leg Preacher."

"Where else can a grown man dress up like a cowboy and play cowboys and Indians with real guns?"

Bruce Thomas, 54, of St. George is "Mount Zion Yellow Boy." He enjoys injecting lines from Westerns during competition.

As Thomas waits for his buzzer, he looks toward the targets and taunts, "You want that gun? Pull it, I wish you would."

It was almost a word-for-word line from John Wayne in "Rio Bravo."

Larry Davis, 68, of Lexington, or "Lorenzo Kid," grew up shooting cap guns. He has participated in cowboy action shooting matches in several states.

"When you get up to the firing line, you're really shooting from your subconscious," Davis says. "You really don't have to think about what you do. It's almost a reflex."

While everyone who is shooting is an adult, children have participated in the past, says Robert Purcell Sr., the club's former match director.

It's a great way to introduce children to shooting, he says.

"'Cowboy' is ideal for a young kid. They can hear the clang when the targets fall down. They love that."

For adults, "Cowboy' also has a sense of play.

"There are people I've known for nine years and I don't know their real names," Purcell said.

The club meets on the first Saturday of each month. It costs $10 per match to shoot.

When the competition is over, participants socialize at Murray's, a restaurant in Cayce.

Brett Dunn, 37, of Simpsonville - "Wheel Gun Dunn" - enjoys the camaraderie.

"When you start Cowboy Action Shooting, you come to shoot, but you stay for the people," he says.

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