SIMMS (AP) — Visitors heard a series of single-action gun shots, followed by tinks of steel when entering Sheriff Dutch Kibby's Extended Stay Hotel (the jailhouse) Sunday morning outside Simms.
Kid Colt, the range officer's alias, killed the noise with his raised palm.
"Next shooter," he shouted, and Wrangler, aka Dwight Axelsen, 65, the Sun River Ranger's president, walked in the heavy noon sun.
"Goin' hot!" Colt yelled again, and Axelsen's rifle went live.
Sunday was the final day of the 2012 Shoot Out on the Sun River, the Montana state championship for cowboy action shooting. The Great Falls Tribune reports that 80 competitors from across the United States and Canada fired single-action pistols, rifles and shotguns as if it were 1865. Competitors' ages ranged from pre-teenagers to 80 years old.
Amid the summer heat, dust and ricocheting metal remnants were Old West dress that matched the firearms. One won't come across elastic shot gun shell bands, because they weren't around back then.
Costumes and a colorful alias are just two of the unique aspects of cowboy action shooting. Each shooter must adopt a name and a coinciding outfit.
"You may shoot with someone for years without knowing their real name," said Prairie Storm, aka Colleen Lundry, from Saskatchewan.
Eureka's Sweet Water Lily, or Kate Handy, was one of many decked out like a cowgirl from the late 19th century. It was her third state competition since she started shooting single action four years ago.
"The dress is from 1860 to 1900, and people try to keep it as close to realistic as possible," she said. "Basically we're trying to keep it the way it used to be."
The Sun River Rangers Shooters Society is one club in the popular international organization the Single Action Shooting Society. Its mission is to preserve the history of the Old West and competitive shooting.
The Sun River Rangers got their name from the original Rangers that protected Montana homesteaders after the fort was abandoned outside Simms, said Pati Shafer, the secretary and treasurer of the Rangers, who goes by Lil Skeeter.
Axlesen is the remaining original member of the Rangers and helped organize the club in 1996, and thanks to a bit of luck, the Rangers have hosted the state championship since 1997, because they're a club that owns their own land.
Scattered around the parched land stood a series of wood buildings — saloons, hotels and jailhouses — where a different shooting stage was held.
Shooter categories ranged from Buckaroos, 13-years-old and younger, to Elder Statesmen, 70 years and older, and every group had shooters who were just there for the fun of it or there to win it all — a buckle and bragging rights.
"The thing that's nice about this sport and why it grew so fast is that you can come out here and play around and enjoy shooting or you can come out and compete and be the best there is," Axlesen said.
Anyone is welcome to shoot with the Sun River Rangers, when they hold their monthly meetings. "People are more than welcome to come and learn," Shafer said. "A lot are now up in age and we don't want this fort to die with them.