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The History of Cowboy Mounted Shooting - by: Jim Rodgers - CMSA #1

I'm often asked how I originated the idea of Cowboy mounted shooting as a competitive sport. Without sounding like an autobiography I want to give a concise and accurate synopsis of the origins of cowboy mounted shooting and the founding of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association. I want to give credit to all of the hard working individuals who have helped to grow this great sport. You will recognize the names of many individuals in the text of this article. I also want to thank many other dedicated individuals who have made substantial contributions to the evolvement of Cowboy Mounted Shooting that are not mentioned in this article.

Mounted shooting has been with us since the invention of firearms. We know that mounted shooting drills were used to hone the skills of Cavalrymen. I have read accounts of cowboys practicing shooting from horse back in at least two books and practically everyone is aware of the mounted shooting exhibitions in the Wild West Shows of yesteryear. These are all interesting aspects of mounted shooting and lend historical significance to the sport. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus only on the facts that pertain to Cowboy Mounted Shooting as a competitive timed event, as we know it today.

I have had a lifetime infatuation with the Colt Single Action Army Revolver. As a kid my dad gave me an old inoperative Colt SA with the firing pin filed off so it wouldn't fire. I spent many happy hours riding my horse "John' and the fantasizing that I was an old time cowboy packing my trusty Colt. In 1958 Lonnie Brown and myself, along with some of our high school buddies, began making western home movies with my parent's 8mm-movie camera. We had a great time with these productions, complete with smoking six shooters and galloping horses. Falls and stunts from running were filmed from the bed of my dad's '58 Chevy pick up as it raced across the Arizona ranchland. After filming we had mounted shooting contests to see who could hit to most glass bottles that we had tied between the posts on barbed wire fences.

As an adult I collected, bought, sold and traded Colt Single Actions as a serious hobby. At a gun show in January 1987 I first heard about Cowboy Action Shooting. It sounded great, so I entered the First Annual Arizona State Championships. From that time on I was totally hooked on the sport and I attended my first End of Trail that April. There I made the acquaintance of Boyd Davis, and later that summer I was invited to become a member of the Wild Bunch to help in the forming of the Single Action Shooting Society. While at the 1988 End of Trail, I was privileged to watch Phil Spangenberger's aerial mounted shooting exhibition, which left an indelible impression upon me. I mentioned developing a mounted shooting competition of some type to a couple of my fellow Wild Bunch members. They all felt it was too dangerous.

During the summer of 1990, at a couple of local Arizona shoots, I shot several Cowboy Action courses of fire from horse back using live ammo. The biggest problem there was getting Chopo (my horse) to stand still while I drew a steady bead on the steel targets. I finally decided it was too dangerous to use live ammo so I gave up the idea for the time being.

In 1991, 1 left the Wild Bunch with the idea of forming a board of directors to produce a National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting. This gave birth to 'Winter Range", which is now the largest Cowboy Action shooting event in the world. Somehow I was going to incorporate mounted shooting into the Winter Range format, but how? Galloping horses live ammunition and broken glass bottles didn't gel as a safe shooting sport. I was stumped, and then a couple of months later, while lying awake in bed, I remembered Phil Spangenberger's aerial mounted shooting exhibition using blank ammo and balloons, I had it, balloons and blanks!


The next morning I called Mike Vogt and purchased some competition fast draw blanks, picked up some balloons, thump tacks and a bundle of wooden engineer laths (stakes). I asked noted western entertainer and historian Jim Dunham and my Dad, Tim Rodgers, to accompany me while I shot a couple have mounted shooting courses of fire. I wanted their help for set up, but most of all I wanted their opinion on my new mounted shooting idea as an event. We loaded Chopo in the trailer and went out to the desert just west of the intersection of Cave Creek and Dynamite Roads north of Phoenix. We set up two courses of fire. Chopo handled the shooting flawlessly. I asked Jim Dunham and my Dad for their honest evaluation of mounted shooting as a sport. They were both so excited about it that I thought they were going "to poop their pants." Thus Cowboy Mounted shooting as a competitive sport was born.

The first organized Cowboy Mounted Shooting Competition was held at Winter Range the second week of February 1992, at Ben Avery Shooting Range north of Phoenix. We had a total entry of three contestants Jake Johnson, Todd Madsen and myself. We put up a great show and the crowd loved it. The second mounted shooting contest was held that summer at the Railhead Cowboy Action Shoot in Williams, Arizona. We had two contestants Jake Johnson and myself. The lack of participation at Railhead was disappointing, however, JJ Peel saw Cowboy Mounted shooting for the first time, he was destined to become a major mover in the sport and would become a co-founder of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.

JJ immediately bought a horse and started working with him. Shortly thereafter he gave me a call and wanted to get involved. JJ and I worked and promoted diligently throughout the fall and winter and it paid off. We had thirteen contestants at the 1993 Mounted Shooting Nationals at Winter Range, including Denise Darr, the first cowgirl contestant. Denise high lighted the event when she came off her horse and was knocked unconscious. She received a $3,500.00 emergency helicopter ride to the hospital where she spent the duration of Winter Range. This accident almost ended mounted shooting as a sport, but we survived.

In April of 1993 we finally got the consent of the Wild Bunch to let us have and exhibition at End of Trail. We combined Cowboy Mounted Shooting event with Phil Spangenberger's aerial shooting show. Phil did the announcing, and it turned out to be a great success. We also held a competition that year at the Congress of Cowboys and Indians and had our first shoot at the Festival of the West.

In 1994 things began to come together for Cowboy Mounted Shooting. We had 26 riders at Winter Range and held several matches at various rodeos around Arizona. Festival of the West was now an annual event. JJ and I began talking about forming a mounted shooting organization along the guidelines of SASS and Winter Range. We formed the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association shortly before End of Trail, where we held the First Annual CMSA World Championships, hosting 29 riders.

The first board of directors of CMSA included JJ Peel, Beth Shotwell, Mel Astrahan, Don Womack, Charles Wirken and myself. Under the stewardship of the CMSA Board of Directors, mounted shooting began to grow. There were many rough spots, most of which were caused by lack of organization. We were an infant organization and we were experiencing growing pains. We had a lot to learn. 1995 opened with a boom, we had 36 riders at the Nationals and 41 at the World Championship. Joe Whitely began organizing mounted shoots in Southern California. Meanwhile, the Arizona shooters were holding matches on a semi regular basis. The California shooters would eventually form the California Desperados and the Arizona group would become the Arizona Cowboy Mounted Shooters Association. These were the first CMSA affiliated Cowboy Mounted Shooting clubs.

Another great boost came to Cowboy Mounted Shooting when Phil Spangenberger joined the competition at the 1995 Winter Range. Later that year, he joined the CMSA Board of Directors. Phil as a board member gave the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association the much-deserved national prestige it needed within the shooting sports fraternity.

Hard work along with new programs paid off for Cowboy Mounted Shooting in the years of 1996 and 1997. CMSA affiliated clubs were beginning to spring up across the United States. Frank Turben also joined the CMSA Board in 1997. His attention to detail and his excellent computer skills provided a foundation for the organizational advancements that have accomplished by CMSA in the past 18 months.

The 1998 CMSA World Championship had 91 competitors, the 1999 CMSA Nationals had 71 competitors, and the 1999 CMSA World Championship had 125 competitors. The 2000 World Championship will have close to 200 competitors. This fabulous growth is a result of the hard work of over 50 CMSA affiliated clubs across the country and the dedication of the CMSA Board of Directors.

Past Directors have included Mike Minarsich, Bobbie Deschenes, Dee Ladd, Lee Glover, Charles Wirken, J.J. Peel, Don Womack, Sam Madden, and Madison Walker. We appreciate all of their hard work in growing this sport to what it is today.

Since the beginning of the year the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association has had over 260 requests for CMSA Affiliated Club Start up kits. The sport has great potential and will continue to grow. In a time when private firearms ownership is under attack, Cowboy Mounted Shooting is providing a window to the general public that is "humanizing" the sale use of handguns in a family oriented sport.