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Guns a blazin' at Medora; Cowboy mounted shooters to compete in Medora

A mounted cowboy shooter takes aim at a target during a competition held during the Taylor Horsefest. (Grady McGregor/The Dickinson Press)

Guns will be a blazin’ in the Badlands when the North Dakota Mounted Shooters Association pulls into Medora  on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 12-13.

The association is sponsoring a  competition at the Ranchorama. Saturday’s main match starts at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday’s main match starts at 9:30 a.m.

“Lots of times when Medora visitors hear the shooting, all of a sudden 50 will show up -- it’s pretty cool. Absolutely, spectators are welcome,” said third-year member Keith Benz of Bismarck.

The sport started in 1992, and has evolved around the world. The North Dakota Association has more than 40 members, but the competitions are open to other clubs in nearby states.

The concept sounds simple enough, but it's not easy.

“I’ve team roped for 15 years, and this is way more  challenging,” Benz said. “I’ve never won a team roping buckle, but I’ve proudly worn my shooting buckle.”

A rider takes his/her horse through an obstacle course, while shooting a .45 single-action revolver  to knock out balloons. The revolvers emit  black powder embers.

“The sport originally started with live rounds but they figured out that probably wasn’t going to work,” Benz said. “So we shoot  black powder blank ammunition and it’s the hot embers that break the balloons.”

“Any arena will work and sometimes we shoot indoors, but the targets have to be 30 feet away from any railing so that nobody gets hurt,” he added.

The horses can be of any breed, but they require training to adjust to the noise of the revolvers.

“I’ve seen many horses struggle in the beginning, but with time, they come around. I’ve even seen a wild mustang pulled from the Badlands who competes in shoots now,” Benz said.

Growing up by the Rainy Butte at New England, Benz said he was hooked on the sport from the first open house he attended.

“All it takes is one person in the family, the other family members start watching all the fun, and pretty soon they join in,” he said.

Since joining, he has gotten his granddaughters hooked on the sport. Youth can ride the obstacle course at age 11 and younger, but must wait until they reach age 12 in order to shoot a firearm.

“Some families homeschool so they can travel -- they can’t get enough of it,” he said.

The obstacle courses  vary  with each competition, but each will have 10 targets -- five shot with one pistol, and the last five with the second pistol.

“Each course is different -- down at Spearfish, I’ve seen seven-second rides,” he said.

During the Medora event, spectators  will see a variety of firearms. Along with the revolvers, a shotgun is used one day and a rifle the other.

Benz has seen riders anywhere from 3 years old to 93 years old.

“When I go to the national  level, I can barely keep up with the 85-year-old men  -- they are amazing,” he said.

He’s competed in Texas and Arizona, and travels with his wife, Bonnie, in a Living Quarter trailer for his family and the horses.

“At night when everybody’s done, the fun begins -- it’s a great group,” he said.

Referencing his job as a heating and air conditioning contractor, Benz added,“This is the best thing that has happened to me. Before I started mounted shooting, I worked day and night --  shooting has filled that gap. I work with the grandkids and it's a lot of fun seeing them progress.”

The association members practice Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings at the Flying D Arena at Bismarck. The association offers beginner and advanced shooter clinic dates that are announced on their website, The season’s final events include the state shoot Sept. 2-3 at Bismarck, a Capital Battle Sept. 4 at Bismarck and a “Feud at the Flying D” Sept. 23-24 at Bismarck.