Suburban Cowboys

It's a typical day in the American West of the 1880s, and you're strolling into Burritoville, minding your own business, when suddenly the peace and quiet is shattered by gunfire. As you take cover and load your pistols, you realize the Hatfields are looking for revenge. You're in for a gunfight.

Pistols at the ready, you remember your last shootout with those wily Hatfields and load up your rifle and shotgun, too, stashing the rifle behind a casket in front of the undertaker's shop, the shotgun against a signpost. If last time was any indication, you'll need the strategically placed firepower.

Your big guns hidden, you draw your pistols and take aim at a Hatfield about 12 yards away and another a little closer. Alternating from left to right, you plug holes into one of the yellow-bellied varmints, then into the other, squeezing off a total of ten shots. Heck, those Hatfields don't go down easy; five more of your rivals are standing 15 to 20 yards away from the casket. So you grab your rifle and blast away with abandon.

If you're worrying about the long arm of the law, don't: The Hatfields are really metal targets at the Markham Park Range in Sunrise, where the Gold Coast Gunslingers Club hosts matches the first Saturday of every month. Formed last October, the Gunslingers Club is a member of the national Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), and cowboy-action shooting, a spectator sport designed specifically for gun owners, is very popular.

It's also safe, according to the SASS, which claims that no one has been injured since the sport was created 17 years ago. As music from movies like High Noon and TV shows like Bonanza blasts from loudspeakers, cowboys and cowgirls dressed in period costumes follow safety procedures to the letter while shooting guns from the era -- some real, some replicas. At the last competition, Burritoville was one of six settings for scripted gunfight scenarios. Anyone participating in a scenario tries to hit targets as quickly as possible. The faster your times, the better your chances of winning. Other scenarios are played out in a saloon and a jail, and participants are expected to shoot targets in the order dictated by the script -- either that, or get 10 seconds added to your overall time score. Miss a target, you get five extra seconds. Fail to keep your gun pointed downrange, you're disqualified.

At the very least, participants have to be armed with two six-shooters, a lever-action rifle, and a shotgun. But the myth of the Wild West, not the heavy artillery, is what draws most pseudogunslingers. Pembroke Pines resident Harry Rourke, whose alias is Whynot, dresses the part to the hilt. His square-toed boots are true 1880s style (pointed boots came later, he notes), his shirt has a tab collar, his canvas pants have buttons, and he wears button-on suspenders.

Club match director Zoran Tomasevic, a.k.a. the Mad Serbian, dresses in outlaw black. And Karen Dempsey, the Velvet Sheath, wears a long red skirt and a black suede blouse with fringe along the arms.

"I've always been interested in Westerns, and we've done a lot of acting, so this is right up our alley," says Dempsey, whose significant other, Gerry Auclair, goes by the alias Long Knife.

"I'm into the preservation of history, the costuming, and the camaraderie of the people in the group," he says. "And the shooting is nice, too."

-- John Ferri

The Gold Coast Gunslingers Club's next shoot takes place Saturday, March 6, at Markham Park and Range, 16001 W. State Rd. 84, Sunrise. Shooting starts at 9 a.m. Park admission is $1 per person; watching the match is free. For information about the club, call 954-568-1692.