Shooting back through time
Leroy Van Brunt owes his beard to what he calls the fastest growing shooting sport in the world.
Van Brunt started growing his beard about six years ago when he got involved in something called cowboy action shooting, a competition that's one part target shooting, one part reenactment and one part shootout at the OK Corral. Participants dress in Old West-style clothing and fire period-appropriate pistols, shotguns and rifles, either originals or replicas, at steel targets.
The rifle Van Brunt shoots is 138 years old. His shotgun is young by comparison at 119.
Van Brunt has come to love the sport. And he's enthusiastic about introducing it to newcomers. That's why he's planned an introduction to cowboy action shooting to take place May 14 at the Dakota County Gun Club in Rosemount. The two-hour class will include a classroom introduction to cowboy action shooting as well as time on the range. There will be firearms available to use. Cowboy outfits are not required.
Van Brunt learned about cowboy action shooting and its parent organization, the Single-Action Shooting Society, about seven years ago. When he learned the group was holding its first convention in Las Vegas, he figured he'd check it out.
"It sounded like something I'd like to do, so we went to the SASS convention and I've been doing it pretty much ever since," he said.
Now Van Brunt has a wardrobe of cowboy-appropriate clothing. And, of course, the beard.
A few years ago Van Brunt helped build a multi-purpose range at the gun club that doubles as a cowboy action shooting range.
Shooting competitions are made up of three rounds -- one each with pistol, rifle and shotgun. Competitors are judged on time and accuracy.
The Dakota County Gun Club is one of eight organizations in Minnesota that holds regular cowboy action shooting events. The group, which shoots on the second Saturday of the month from April to July, is small. That's due in part to the fact it's geared to newcomers who move on to other clubs as they improve, Van Brunt said.
Cowboy action shooting participants typically take on an alias for competitions. Van Brunt, who goes by Red Dutchman when he's in his cowboy gear, said there are other shooters whose real name remains a mystery.
Van Brunt's 16-year-old granddaughter competes with him in cowboy action shooting events. That family-friendly atmosphere is one of the things he likes about the event. Entire families often participate together, and some of the best shooters are women.
There's also something fun about being a cowboy for a day, he said.
"It's almost like bringing some of your childhood back, playing cowboys and Indians," VanBrunt said. "I'm always excited about it. I like doing it. I wish I could get my wife to do it."
The cost for the May 14 cowboy action shooting class is $10. Van Brunt said participants will shoot more than $10 worth of ammunition. Space is limited, so registration is required. For information, call Van Brunt at 651-402-0368.