By: Bill O’Connell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Many years ago movie and television westerns were commonly referred to as “shoot ‘em ups” because you could always expect a lot of gun play as the good guys shot it out with the bad guys while trying to maintain peace and order in a mostly lawless western frontier. This past weekend, at the WB Ranch just outside of Swanton, hundreds of spectators witnessed a return to the thrilling days of yesteryear as the Black Swamp Bandits, a mounted shooting club, teamed with the Cowboy Up for Vets to put on a shooting exhibition to raise money for two veteran-related charities, Heroes in Action and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.
And to help make this worthwhile event, now in its seventh year, even more attractive, top organizer Judy Shafer of Whitehouse was able to mix Hollywood with history by bringing in cast members of the long running TV western The Virginian, including James Drury who played the title role during all of its nine years on NBC. Mr. Drury, along with his fellow actors and their entourage known as the “Posse”, signed autographs and posed for pictures on Friday and Saturday of the three-day affair. “This is his fifth year here,” said Ms. Shafer. “He calls it his baby.”
On Saturday and Sunday, the shooting exhibitions and competitions took place in the WB Ranch’s 50,000 square foot “barn” as the Bandits and other mounted shooting clubs from around Ohio put on an impressive display of horseback riding with simultaneous dead-eye marksmanship.
All the rider/shooters had to navigate an obstacle course around barrels and shoot at strategically placed desperados, balloons, actually, as quickly as possible. Time penalties were assessed for missed balloons and knocked over barrels and cowboys or cowgirls with the fastest times were declared the winners.
It sounds dangerous with bullets flying everywhere as hundreds closely watched from the stands but there was never any chance of someone getting hit with a ricochet or a misfire because the guns only shoot blanks. “They’re loaded with special .45 caliber long Colt blanks. It’s a special synthetic powder designed specifically for this sport,” explained Black Swamp member Steve Swander of Tiffin. “It’s the burning embers coming out that actually pop the balloon.”
To make things even more challenging, the riders had to use a single-action Colt .45 Revolver. As Bandit shooter Charlie Taft of Swanton described, “Single-action means you can only do one thing at a time. You have to pull back the hammer then pull the trigger for every shot.”
This event has been able to raise approximately $10,000 in each of the past few years to help military veterans and their families and anticipate a similar number this year. It is also not the only charity fund raiser that will be held at the WB Ranch this year. According to owner Lisa Wylie, one is held every September with a different cause selected each time. Like the Cowboy Up for Veterans, however, any money raised for a worthy cause is a can’t miss proposition.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at