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Hometown U.S.A.: Orefield, Pa.

A gathering of guns and gab

At a dusty shooting range an hour north of Philadelphia, vintage firearm enthusiasts get together to shoot pistols, play cowboy, and enjoy the company of people who understand.

April 14, 2012|By Andrew McGill, Morning Call
  • Dale Green, aka "Barley Pop Bill," takes part in a cowboy-themed shooting competition in Pennsylvania.
Dale Green, aka "Barley Pop Bill," takes part in a cowboy-themed… (Monica Cabrera, Morning…)

Barley Pop Bill showed no mercy. Those outlaws were fixing to steal his beer, and he went vigilante, blasting away with his double-barreled shotgun.

Not satisfied, he drew his twin Ruger Old Army revolvers and riddled the outlaws with lead. As the smoke cleared, he smiled.

Weren't nobody in Orefield, Pa., who'd be taking that brew bucket.

Most friends call him Dale Green. Most people also pass their weekends in more sedate pursuits. But Green was spending his Sunday here at Guthsville Rod & Gun Club in eastern Pennsylvania, dressed from head to toe as a gunslinger of the Old West, sharing pistol smoke with 50 others doing exactly the same thing.

There was enough leather, cowboy boots and six-shooters to fill out a posse. A daughter outshot her father. A rapid-fire barrage of shotgun blasts sent targets — like those of Green's "outlaws" — spinning. And everywhere was that romanticized air of bawdiness, the best of what we imagine about the Old West.

"It's more a social club that shoots than a shooting club that socializes," said Green, who's been pulling on his cowboy hat for 10 years.

They're members of the Single Action Shooting Society, an international organization that hosts competitions in the style of the Old West. Every second Sunday, a crowd meets in Orefield to show their skills in shooting time trials.

With more than 90,000 members worldwide, the society abides by persnickety rules: No weapons designed after 1900, though replicas are OK. Bring pistols, a rifle and a shotgun to the shooting stand. And no sneakers, no T-shirts. You have to look the part.

That means anything from a pair of jeans and a cowboy hat to a full Lone Ranger get-up, complete with chaps and a poncho. As the society's website says, it's "as close as you can get to the Old West short of a time machine."

Each firing station comes with a story. At the first one Green tried, he did some gender bending to play the part of two sisters protecting their beer cask from roving outlaws. Like other shooters, he stood behind the cutout of a cowgirl and fired off at a trio of tins — the outlaws.

Each competitor had a cowboy name — Dancin' Angel, Mustang Megs, the Change brothers. Many skew to silly: There's a "Nota John," whose real name is, unsurprisingly, John. Some have heard rumors of a "Wyatt Hurts" out there somewhere in the desert.

"I've been shooting with some of these guys for eight years, and I still I don't know their names," one cowboy said.

The Change brothers, Loose and No — actually Bob and Tom Ricca — gave Green a run for his money. They've both been shooting at these competitions for nearly a decade, going to as many as 45 a year.

On an Easter meeting, Bob Ricca didn't miss a single target at the bunny station, where the targets were shaped like rabbits. He fired off rounds with a plush rabbit stuffed in his shirt, then, laughing uproariously, he led the crew to the next station, his leather boots with their embroidered "LC" thudding in the dust.

Historical accuracy is everything. While many of the weapons are new, they're carefully designed to emulate the 19th century originals. It makes for some interesting juxtapositions: "Mustang Megs" had horse images laser-etched into the grip of her vintage shotgun.

Green shoots with black powder, unusual in a competition that usually sees smokeless bullets. His rifle makes a big bang and fills the field with smoke, just like its ancestors in the Civil War.

"If you had to go to a gunfight in the Old West, wouldn't you want the biggest bullet around?" he said.

It's that kind of shop talk that brings these masqueraders to this dusty shooting range an hour north of Philadelphia. Most agree that they come more for the company than for the competition. The ribbing and ribaldry are more than enough, Green said.

"It's just fun. You can come out and pretend to be a cowboy," he said. "That's all it is."

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