How does a writer become more adept at storytelling in his primary genre? As you might suppose, there are lots of ways. But when it comes to writing fiction rooted and grounded in history (even if the stories regularly wander into fanciful territory), it may help an author to experience what his characters are supposed to have dealt with. With that end in mind, I've recently delved into the fun and exciting realm of Cowboy Action Shooting.
Visiting surviving or restored Old West towns is certainly beneficial to Western authors. It really gives a person the flavor of the times and the conditions folks encountered during the settling of the West. Periodically saddling up and going about on horseback will also teach a person a thing or two about the lives of folks out West in the nineteenth century.
But if an author is going to describe gunfights or other use of firearms, either between
"good guys" and outlaws or settlers and varmints, then Cowboy Action Shooting can certainly put the writer in his characters' boots, heart-pounding adrenaline rush and all.
In Cowboy Action Shooting, each participant must typically hit an array of steel targets using replicas of guns common in the latter half of the nineteenth century--a pair of single-action revolvers, a repeating rifle (lever guns, usually), and a shotgun (double barrel or pump action). Each stage of a match is timed, and participants must shoot the targets in the order specified ahead of time. An ordinary match generally consists of six stages, each with its own scenario (such as an approximation of a classic scene from a Western movie).
Cowboy action shooters also dress the part, donning period-accurate apparel...or outfits typical of B-Western TV shows and movies, or Spaghetti Westerns. And most take on an alias from Old West history or fiction or simply a clever moniker with a cowboy or cowgirl ring to it.
I'm pleased to say I've been warmly welcomed into the Single Action Shooting Society (the official governing and sanctioning body of the international sport of Cowboy Action Shooting™) and two of its locally affiliated clubs--the Belton Bushwhackers and the Greenville Gunfighters. "Slippery Stew" and "Abe E.S. Corpus," the point riders of the two respective clubs, have gone out of their way to provide pertinent information, guidance, and encouragement to help me get started. And they've gone way beyond that. Stew loaned me one of his lever-action rifles and some ammo when my own long gun failed me in my first match, and Corpus gave me a box of shotgun shells, just in case I came up short in the course of the same match. All the participants at my first outing were as friendly and supportive as could be.
So, how did the match go for me? Well, like I said, my own replica 1873 Winchester didn't function properly (cartridges kept jamming), and that put me off my game in the early going. My subconscious betrayed me a couple of times, resulting in a minor infraction here or there. For example, my category for the day (Duelist) requires the shooter to cock and fire his or her revolvers with one hand only. When shifting my weak-hand revolver to my strong hand (I shot everything right-handed), I inadvertently cocked with my left hand and fired with my right. No troubles, though. Nobody screamed at me. An experienced shooter met me off to the side and quietly advised me regarding what I needed to adjust.
If my nerves were jacked up, it had more to do with the novelty of the situation, shooting under timed conditions, and knowing that lots of experienced shooters were watching. I imagine, in the Old West, somebody who had to use his gun in a situation he'd never before experienced probably felt some of the same sensations--hurriedness (although none of the other shooters ever hurried me), concern for who or what else was around him, uncertainty, etc., etc.
Heaven forbid that Cowboy Action Shooting should ever be a matter of life and death, as gun play might have been in the Wild West. But the sport does give one a small taste of how things might have felt. Maybe it's more akin to a couple of young ranahans having a contest, shooting at tin cans on fence posts, than a lawman facing off against an unprincipled desperado in the dusty streets of some town west of the Pecos.
At any rate, I'm looking forward to going back, gaining experience, and growing in my abilities, both as a competitor on the shooting line and as a writer of fictional Old West action scenes. Let's see if my readers begin to notice a difference.
Until next time, then, why not take a look at the Westerns page here on my website to find out whether you've missed any of my books or series? Or visit my Amazon author page by clicking HERE. Enjoy the stories!.