A taste of the Old West in Pelham at The Great Nor'easter
PELHAM — Modern-day cowboys and vigilantes from around the nation blazed into Pelham over the weekend for a competition that was right on the mark.
Known as The Great Nor’easter, the ninth annual New England Regional Cowboy Action Shooting Championships drew more than 140 contestants to the Pelham Fish and Game Club.
With some participants riding into town from as far away as California and Alaska, most were clad in their finest cowpoke attire by high noon for Wednesday’s practice rounds and mini matches.
Multiple matches gave the opportunity for multiple shooting styles, using both pistols and shotguns to hit a variety of steel targets, while props evoked various Western scenes like the “Daring Daylights Bank Robbery” and the “Prairie Immigrant Train.”
By Sunday morning, only the fastest and surest guns in the nation remained in the shoot-out, with 16 men and 16 women vying for the respective titles of Top Wild West Sweetheart and Top Gun.
Fremont resident Dan George, who most folks on the championship circuit know as none other than “Wild Bill Blackerby,” said he’s been a cowboy action shooter for well over a decade.
Growing up, he’d always enjoyed reading stories of the Wild West, but it wasn’t until he moved to New Hampshire that he realized he could experience some of those stories firsthand.
One day when stopping by a local cigar shop, George came across a Wild West gun magazine. “I didn’t realize then that this was going on in New England,” he said. “I wasn’t a shooter then, I was more of a historian and it definitely piqued my interest.”
Shooters compete in various categories, including “Classic Cowboy,” where participants’ costumes and firearms are modeled after those used in the Old West prior to 1887, and “B Western,” modeled after the Old West depicted in television and film.
This year’s Nor’easter theme was “Wild West Show,” based on the famous shows of the past such as “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” and “Congress of Rough Riders of the World.”
George said his personal preference is making his own ammunition using black gunpowder, as was done in the 1870s.
All the competitive shooters at the Nor’easter make their own ammo. “At a match like this, we can go through 260 rounds in a match,” George said on Sunday.
Those with a passion for the pastime come from all walks of life.
“It’s fast-paced and there’s instant gratification,” George said.
Exeter resident and event organizer Steve Seguin, known in the cowboy shooting circuit as “Captain Morgan Rum,” said competitive shooters range in age from early teens through their 80s.
Fourteen-year-old Chelsea Shriver, who most folks in the circuit refer to as “B.B. Richards,” hails from West Virginia. Shriver, who wore a vintage cranberry-colored cowgirl dress and a holster, said she was beyond thrilled to have made it into the final round, competing against women four times her age. “I’ve been around this since I was five,” she shrugged. “But I just started competing a couple years ago.”
Arizona resident Shirley Kile is also relatively new to the competitive circuit.
An avid golfer who is in her late 60s, she learned about cowboy shooting through one of her friends on the golf course.
“It was definitely my lucky day,” Kile said.