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In the spirit of the Old West: Medora to host Guns a Blazin' in the Badlands

Wanda Erhardt, a senior ladies Level 1 shooter from Coleharbor, completes in the Battle on Betty’s Butte last year in Bismarck.

Images of the Old West come to mind when the North Dakota Mounted Shooters Association stages a competition.

Galloping their horses through a prescribed pattern, riders fire their .45-caliber single-action revolvers at 10 balloons with the intent of breaking them in the shortest time possible.

Never mind the riders are firing blanks, the gun power blasts have enough forward motion to reach the balloons.

“You’re riding your horse and shooting a gun — what more fun can you have,” member Brent Woroniecki of Hebron said. “It’s a family activity and you can include your kids. We promote gun safety, proper handling and the cowboy lifestyle, values and ethics.”

Guns a Blazin in the Badlands

The NDMSA is sponsoring  Guns a Blazin’ in the Badlands I & II mounted shooting event starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 21 and 22, at the Ranch-o-Rama arena in Medora.

While the riders are competing against one another, the public is invited to watch for free.

An affiliate of the Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association, the NDMSA started in 2012 at Bismarck.

Woroniecki is helping promote the sport in western North Dakota through competitions, demonstrations and clinics.

He relies on a favorite ranch horse for the competitions because she doesn’t mind the noise of gunfire.

“We can use ear plugs on the horses, but it depends — some horses hate the ear plugs and they can cause more issues,” he said.

Riders compete in four rounds throughout the day, but they never know which of 62 possible patterns are chosen until the day of the competition.

Hooked on the sport

Sara Schank, who ranches south of Richardton with her husband, Jesse, was an avid rider but had never handled a weapon.

She credits her dad for encouraging her try the sport some three years ago.

“My first thought was this could be fun, but I had no clue how to handle the gun,” she said.

It didn’t take her long to get hooked on the sport. She joined the Wild Rice Peace Makers out of Minnesota. When the North Dakota Mounted Shooters Association organized, she transferred to the club.

“It’s a rush — I come out of the arena shaking almost every run,” she said. “When you get the adrenaline rush, you stay hooked.”

The shooters start at Level 1 and move to higher levels as they score points. Sarah is one win away from Level 4.

“The best part is the people,” she said. “I’ve competed in other horse events, but we’re like a giant family. We’re competitive in the arena, but when it’s over, everybody is friends.”

Schank rides in her everyday clothing, but others like to dress in the garb of the Old West.

“There’s a lot of Minnesota women who wear dresses and some of the men wear the old pants — the really high ones.”

Vickay Gross of Bismarck works in an office during the week, but makes her way to the riding arena evenings and weekends.

“We’re trying to introduce the sport to the western part of the state, and slowly some people are getting involved,” she said.

She explained that each rider carries two 45-caliber revolvers. After the first five rounds are fired, the revolver is holstered and the second revolver is used. There also are shotgun and rifle competitions.

While the competitions are two full days, Gross invites spectators to attend at least a couple of  hours to get a taste of the sport.

“I could sit all day and watch — it’s so much fun,” she said. “One couple said that it’s more fun than watching rodeo because it’s really fast.”

Gross likes the sport because of the friends she has made.

“It’s competitive fun, but we are cheering each other on,” she said.

Gross also likes the sport because it reflects the western way of life.

“Some people take it to the full extent and actually wear period clothing. One gal is coming to Medora with her saloon dress,” Gross said.

NDMSA President Ivan Gandrud of Bismarck said it’s the fastest growing sport in the nation.

“I believe we have more than 13,000 members of the Cowboy Mounted Shooters, nationwide,” he said.

“What’s exciting about the sport?” he asked. “Well, people like to do different things with their horses and this is another avenue. Instead of showing horses, roping or team penning, anybody can do this who likes riding horses. We have people who never shot a gun, and now they are shooting off their horses while galloping through maneuvers.”

He said youngsters are entered in a wrangler’s class. They ride through the maneuvers with toy guns.

 “We’re always looking for more members,” he said. “New people are coming all the time who want to learn.”

In addition to the competition in Medora, the NDMSA is sponsoring a clinic on Thursday in Medora. The instructor will be 2011 Level 4 world champion Laura Pickop of Stephen, Minn.

“I believe the clinic is full, but you can come to observe,” Gandrud said. “If there’s enough interest, we’ll sponsor another clinic.”

He is looking forward to the Medora competition because of the setting.

“It’s kind of fitting to the theme of Cowboy Mounted Shooters — you’re in western North Dakota in a western town and that’s where the Cowboy Hall of Fame is.”

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