HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Houston Lifestyle & Features

July 5, 2002, 11:23AM

'Outlaws' gun for fun in fast-growing sport

Steve Campbell / Chronicle

Gordon Bryan, aka Greysmoke, aims for a target and fun at cowboy action shooting weekend in June with fellow Oakwood Outlaws.

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Gunslinger crouches low outside the blacksmith shop, hat atop the bandanna tied around his head, boot-shod feet ready to move.

If you're shooting for fun

The buzzer sounds and, within a second, he's inside, pistol cocked, bullets flying.

He seamlessly slips the pistol into a holster while reaching for his rifle, squeezing off five shots before grabbing a shotgun.

By the time he's finished punishing the targets, 30.6 seconds have passed.

Gunslinger, aka Bob Sanders, a 59-year-old retired Dallas cop, is today's king of the Oakwood Outlaws.

The Outlaws, a fun-loving, gun-toting bunch, meet monthly on a small farm just outside Oakwood, pop. 637. They're part of a larger phenomenon known as cowboy action shooting, billed as the world's fastest-growing shooting sport.

There are about 25 clubs throughout Texas affiliated with the Single Action Shooting Society, a national clearinghouse for information about the craze.

Steve Campbell / Chronicle
Before the day's shooting begins, Gunslinger, or Bob Sanders, a 59-year-old retired Dallas cop, reads the club rules to fellow Oakwood Outlaws at a farm outside Oakwood.
The idea is to dress like cowboys and cowgirls and blast away with single-action firearms, just like those used in the 1800s. People say they like it for the history and the competition, but mainly for the camaraderie.

It draws an eclectic crowd -- bank tellers and sales reps and schoolteachers -- and one not altogether politically correct. They like guns and shooting. They like history and theater. Most of all, they like joking and hanging out.

"I love every minute of it," says 67-year-old Ruby Henderson, whose grandmotherly looks belie her sharpshooting ability.

Henderson was approaching 60 when a friend suggested she might enjoy cowboy action shooting. She had never fired a gun.

"I picked up the gun and said, `What end does the bullet come out?' "

She soon caught on. Last year, Henderson, who goes by the alias TX Alline, finished second in the senior ladies division of the world single-action shooting competition.

This year, she dropped to fourth place, although the fact that she had just had a knee replacement might be a mitigating factor.

Henderson and Ray Shanks -- otherwise known as Justa Hand -- last year bought their spread east of Oakwood, which lies about midway between Houston and Dallas, and offered it for the club's monthly shoots. The next will be July 20-21. (People plan to wear red, white and blue for that one.)

About three dozen people showed up for the June shoot, including some who aren't club members.

That's fine. Everyone is welcome, provided they follow the club rules.

Rule No. 1 -- Obey the safety regulations. That means protective eyewear and earplugs. Never point a gun at anyone. No alcohol until the shooting is over.

Rule No. 2 -- Have fun.

Somewhat further down the list would be winning, determined by a combination of speed and accuracy at various shooting stations: the OK Corral, the general store, Shotgun Gully, the stockade, the blacksmith shop and the log cabin.

"I love to shoot, but it's the people more than anything else," Henderson says. "A club is almost like a family."

That's literally true in Henderson's case: Her daughter Tammy Stadelman, a Web designer from Houston, is the club's administrative overseer, tallying scores, keeping track of the money and putting out the monthly newsletter, as well as running their Web site, www.oakwoodoutlaws.org. Stadelman took BlueBonnet Belle as her alias, though she seldom picks up a gun. Her husband, Tony Stadelman, does join in the shoot-'em-ups.

Henderson's son Robert Henderson, or Sarg, occasionally shoots, too. A 37-year-old accountant from Houston, he took it in stride when his mother traded competitive dancing for gunplay.

"For someone in her mid-60s, she's doing pretty well," he says.

Mostly, she and other Oakwood Outlaws say, that means having fun.

"They're not as serious as some clubs," says Charles Simmons, 58, of Whitehall. (Call him the Whitehall Kid.) "They don't care if you hit every target or don't hit any."

Of course, those who miss have to be prepared for the resulting razzing.

Shanks is preparing to burst into the blacksmith shop when Henderson slips up behind him. Just as the buzzer sounds, she grabs his belt, delaying him by seconds.

Several shots miss their targets, and soon he's grumbling about the person who hands over his shotgun.

"Your reloading partner didn't have anything to do with those misses," Henderson hoots as Shanks is reminded that shoot rules include a 30-second penalty for "bitching."

"That wasn't bitching," Shanks good-naturedly retorts. "That was just a fact."

Shooters are required to use either original or reproduction firearms typical of those manufactured in the 1800s: single-action revolvers, pistol caliber lever-action rifles, old-time shotguns. These guns can cost $2,000 or more, although some are far less expensive. More information about cowboy action shooting is on the Single Action Shooting Society Web site, http://www.sassnet.com/

Ralph Miller, director of engineering for the department of cinematography and television at Southern Methodist University, discovered the sport by accident.

He'd had his eye on a certain rifle, an 1866 Yellow Boy, and noticed the price edging up. Finally, a dealer explained why demand was driving prices higher.

He checked cowboy action shooting on the Web, discovered a club in Glen Rose, and that was it.

"I immediately fell in love with it, and a couple of thousand dollars later, here we are."

At 57, Miller is old enough to realize he's living out his boyhood fantasies. "For those of us that grew up with Gene and Roy, it's a bunch of old men getting to play cowboy."

Women, too.

It is mostly a guy thing, but Blaze and B.J. Salty and Buckshot Angel help Henderson balance the gender scales. Rosie Rash and Damascus Darlin are there, too.

Damascus Darlin, better known as Brandi Little, a 28-year-old occupational therapist from Lindale, was at the Oakwood Outlaws for the first time in June, accompanied by her husband, Jeff, and her dad, Bill Pierce.

Pierce got the young couple involved in cowboy action shooting, and Little jumped into the game wearing boots, a long skirt and a sleeveless white blouse, with her long brown hair twisted into a braid cascading from her cowboy hat. Thoroughly modern sunglasses topped off the ensemble.

She's there for fun, comfortable with the ribbing and the gunfire.

"I've shot guns all my life," she says. "My dad brought us up shooting. Just targets. I don't shoot anything alive."

Club members know that some people are squeamish about guns, but they offer no apologies.

"So many people are against guns, but have you ever seen a gun hop off the table and shoot someone?" Henderson asks. "No. People shoot people."

HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Houston Lifestyle & Features
This article is: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/features/1483068