Bright future for frontier shootists cowboy action

Cowboy-action opens an old sport to a new audience. Originally published: Camrose Canadian newspaper, June 11, 2009.

Role-playing and costuming big attraction of gun club

Story and photos by Faye Bayko

The bright Saturday sunshine mixed with a whole lot of creative fun to make a perfect start of the season for the Alberta Frontier Shootists Society (AFSS).

Seventy-two competitors took their turn at the five stages set up for the weekend competition with Wobbly Threebeer, from Calgary, winning the overall title and first in the traditional class. Misty Sky of Castor took first place in the lady’s class.

The world being what it is today, members of AFSS and guest competitors identify themselves only by character names.

“The reason for that is just because we do have guns, so, obviously they are in our homes,” said Mustang Heart, media contact for the organization. The use of aliases acts as a form of protection against robbery as well as misguided perceptions.

“What we do is a discipline, a sport, and guns are the tools we use for our sport,” said Heart.

Changing attitudes can take time but as the popularity of shooting sports such as cowboy action grow, members of the AFSS hope that public perception of what they do will change.

The AFSS is a non-profit organization with the goal of fostering an interest in Canada’s frontier heritage and the sport of cowboy action shooting. The organization got its start at the Sherwood Park Fish and Game range prior to moving to the Camrose site over 12 years ago.

Competitions at the Rocky Mountain House site are divided into classes: traditional, classic cowboy, modern, black powder and duelist. There are also three additional classes which speak to the growing diversity of the club: junior (14 to 16 yrs), ladies and seniors. Costuming and gun requirements vary, depending on the class. For example, the gun requirement for the current weekend event had to be patented prior to 1897.

Different guns

Cowboy action shooting involves the use of three different types of guns: single-action handguns, lever-action rifles and shotguns. All three must be used at each stage, or target system, during a competition.

These stages are set up to give the feel of an old Western town, and reenactment scenes are usually drawn from movies or pieces of history. The goal is to knock down, or hit, various steel targets. The events are timed and scored. The AFSS site at Rocky Mountain House has two sets of five stages. All 10 stages are used during big shoots, like the Canadian National Championships.

“My goal is always to make it fun,” said shoot director Santa Maria. “I want to make it easy for everybody because we’ve got, I believe, half-a-dozen new shooters today and we don’t want to make it too difficult because we want them back.”

Creating scenes

The shoot director is responsible for creating the scenarios that will be acted out at each stage. Maria said she gets her inspiration from old western movies and sometimes present-day news stories. For example, she said, the requirement of having to get the silver dollar out of the spittoon at Stage 4 was taken from the 1959 movie Rio Bravo, while the forced bank withdrawal scene at Stage 3 was taken from recent economic news.

Creative fun aside, safety is taken seriously at the club with new members monitored and supported while keeping the fun aspect.

“Everyone watches out for everybody else. We’re not here to make it difficult for anybody. We want to see the membership grow. We want them to see the positive side of gun ownership,” said Maria, who has been with the club for eight years.

“We’re very safety conscious,” stressed Laurie Jennings, AFSS member and vice-president of the Rocky Rod and Gun Club. “That’s uppermost in our minds. And what should be expressed to the general public is that it’s not just a damn free for all. It’s very well organized.”

There are no loaded guns on site except at the target area and loading and unloading during participation in each stage reenactment is supervised.

“Everyone is supervised so there’s never a possibility of a live round happening behind the line,” stressed Jennings.

While the events are called competitions the attitude and atmosphere is non-competitive.

“It’s a different shooting experience. It’s all steel targets and there’re a lot of reactions. It’s not like shooting paper. When you’re hitting steel you’re ringing it, or knocking it over. There’re things happening,” said Jennings. The objective, he said, is to improve your skill and to have fun.


The strong attraction of the sport has meant members followed the club when it moved from Camrose to Rocky Mountain House in 2007. The club had to shut down the Camrose site when the private land it was situated on was sold. The official home range for AFSS is now at the Rocky Rod and Gun Club.

“We developed the cowboy action part of the (Rocky) range,” said Heart. “They had some props. What we did was incorporate what we brought, and we built as well.”

The site now consists of an expanded campsite with improved washroom and shower facilities, a cookhouse, a saloon-style clubhouse, and 10 shooting stages.

The site at Camrose had to be disassembled and transported to the Rocky Rod and Gun Club site where it was reassembled. Support for the project came from both the Camrose and Rocky Mountain House communities in the form of donated time, equipment and material.

“Our commercial support from the local businesses was absolutely phenomenal. We probably had close to $60,000 worth of material and equipment donated. Just tremendous support,” said Jennings.

The club was unable to bring a series of cabins members had built to create the look of an old-style Western town on the previous site because the Rocky Rod and Gun Club is situated on government-leased land, with no private cabins allowed. Members had to move those cabins onto their own land or make other arrangements.


While the club accepts non-members at their monthly competitions the opening weekend at the Rocky Rod and Gun Club site prompted several to join and membership rose to 130. The club will be hosting the Canadian National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, Shootout at the No-Way Corral on July 30 to August 2 (2009) at the range located 15 minutes west of Rocky Mountain House.

Two Bits takes aim at the steel targets at the Rocky Rod & Gun Club during a spring shooting completion held on the site west of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.

About Author

Faye Bayko
I am a writer and photographer currently working out of Port Alberni, BC.