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Run and Gun

Group gives folks a chance to reveal their ‘inner cowboy’

“Run and gun.” Fans of the National Basketball Association tend to hear this phrase on a regular basis. Around here this statement calls attention to the evolving sport of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA). An affiliated cowboy mounted shooting club, founded in 2007, goes by the name of Wild Rice Peacemakers and consists of members from Northern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. This CMSA club derived its name from the Wild Rice River, which runs through the Twin Valley, Minn., Riders Club Arena property.  It is on that site they hold many of the events, along with shoots in other locations, as well as hosting clinics and demonstrations at area equine events. Now that we have your attention, you are no doubt wondering what is involved. CMSA was started in Arizona and is considered to be the fastest growing equestrian sport in the nation. How does it work? Mounted contestants compete in this fast-action timed event using two .45 caliber single-action revolvers that are each loaded with five rounds of specially prepared black powder ammunition. A neat aspect of this sport is the fact a variety of levels of competition provides an opportunity for everyone, ranging from the novice to a highly seasoned professional. Vanessa Pikop, a younger member of the Wild Rice Peacemakers, drives from her home in Dalton (near Fergus Falls) to compete. Vanessa went through the paces as the new riders at every shoot have to do. That includes a qualifying round, proving the contestant can ride a horse while shooting a gun and handling their horse at the same time. The whole idea involves being able to be accurate, while riding at a pretty good speed. A total of 10 balloons, attached by string to a cone in the arena, provides the challenge for each contestant. This puts the rider in position, sometimes up to 15 feet away, to complete the two sets of colored balloons in the fastest time over a set course. Vanessa notes once beginning a pattern the rider must engage one color set of balloons first, and then the other five in what is known as a rundown. Riders all shoot on the exact course, but part of the challenge is to figure out what is the best course of action for them and their mount. Prior to a shoot, contestants get to look at the pattern and study best they can. Those patterns are established by the range master, who is on hand to oversee the competition. The range master works with match directors to see everything is in place. Competitors must be at least 12 years of to begin competing at Level 1, and move up as they win and rack up points at events. For skill levels there’s a men division Levels 1-6; women’s division Levels 1-6; the senior division, for both men and women Levels 1-6 (who have obtained the age of 50); and wrangler from the ages 11 and under. Riders start at Level 1 and move up levels as they acquire the required amount of wins. Wranglers use cap guns engaging each target (balloon) as if it were a real gun, getting even the young in on the fun. There is also a cavalry-class rifle (pump action, lever action or revolving rifle) and shotgun (any legal double-barrel shotgun with adapter or .410 gauge). They engage the first five white balloons with a pistol and come down the rundown in rifle stage (five balloons) or shotgun stage (two balloons). Vanessa, who now competes at the Level 2 range, began competing at Level 1 last July She has now worked her way up with four wins to achieve her advancement. The idea is to pile up points, but it can be all about penalties if you miss your targets. Five seconds are assessed for each missed balloon, with the final tally based on your speed and accuracy. Fast isn’t always good if you are off the mark. A 20-second run can mount up quickly if your aim is off. Vanessa also pointed out other penalties come into play with five seconds being deducted if you drop a gun, while 10 seconds are added if the course is run incorrectly or if you miss a gate or barrel that is part of the pattern. Generally a run averages from 14 to 40 seconds, but can’t be over 60 seconds to get credit for a good run. One way to be out of contention is to fall off your horse, which calls for a 60-second penalty, which is the maximum time allowed for any run. Competition generally runs over two days and involves four stages for the riders each day. Recently at an event in Stanchfield, Minn.,located near Cambridge, a field of 60 competitors saddled up on Saturday, with 71 taking part on Sunday. It was the first outdoor event of the summer season. Vanessa tells us competitors come from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, with word getting out after each event. Winning points is good, along with money and prizes like Montana Silversmith jewelry being up for grabs. Points are based on number of entries, with the Sunday winners in Stanchfield being awarded 71 points. Funds are generated from the entry fees, which in turn buys the ammunition. Vanessa pointed out “nobody can bring their own ammunition, as you basically buy that with your entry fee.” While competitors pay to compete, the admission fee for spectators is free. Considered to be a “spectator friendly sport,” Vanessa says the sport is not dangerous. She backs that up by saying, “no loaded live ammunition can be carried on site and that is an automatic disqualification.” Competitors must have agility and a sharp eye to enjoy this sport. One individual who has worked her way to the top is Laura Pikop, giving the Wild Rice Peacemakers a 2011 CMSA National and capturing the World Ladies Level 4 championship in Texas. Vanessa is proud of her sister-in-law, and credits her with being a perfect example of what the sport is about. Laura has now worked her way to Level 5, with Level 6 being considered the highest level. All competitors begin with trotting or even walking, with many clinics provided along the way. While Vanessa works to reach the level Laura now finds herself at, the door is open for others to enter. The first requirement is being able to ride a horse through a designed course. Add to that strapping on two single-shot revolvers, and you are on your way. With only five rounds in each pistol, riders take care of half of their round before making a “quick” gun change. The more accurate competitors can be means more points and the opportunity to reach the world level. Those presently involved in the sport are more than willing to lend a helping hand, while being very supportive. “Everyone is more then willing to help newcomers,” said Vanessa. Vanessa went on to say, she wanted to thank Laura for getting her started in this sport. “I always had the mind set that I’d never be as fast as they are, everyone is a good shooter and smoking fast on their time. Laura continues to remind me that she started the exact same way, learned through it all as I am now, and continues to learn, even at a Level 5,” said Vanessa. “I’m so thankful for the people in this sport as they’ve helped me grow in my comfort zone, allowing me to learn on a seasoned horse who will go at a slow pace if I ask them to. I truly enjoy going to the shoots as everyone is cheering for each other and so supportive, I’ve never once felt embarrassed for my learning curves as I known they’ve all been there.” Vanessa and others simply want more people to be aware of this sport and how to get involved. While this is not considered to be a rodeo sport, there is a cowboy look involved with the chaps and hat topping off the contestant. The next shoot is the Border Wars, taking on entries from the southern Iowa border. For more information about the Wild Rice Peacemakers club or for membership information you are asked to contact one of the officers or directors. You can also click on to learn more about the sport. By clicking on the following site you can learn the upcoming dates for Minnesota over the summer where you can compete or enjoy as a spectator. This also allows you an opportunity to check out other states and get information on larger shoots hosted in other areas of the country.

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