We had been shooting Winter Range for two days. Not that we had practiced that much, but the hopes that we would shoot fairly well vanished soon after the first day. Winter Range is the National Championship of Single Action Cowboy Shooting, in Phoenix, Arizona. It is held, annually, at Ben Avery Range and is one of the most highly anticipated matches of the year. Shooters of all levels are eligible to compete and some come from England, Australia, Norway, and Sweden. The grounds are beautifully decorated with detailed fronts that volunteers work on from October right up to a day or two before the opening. This year, the theme was Driving the Golden Spike so there were three faux trains, two which were accented in red, yellow and gold. The Saloon, a red building that permanently stands on the grounds, was lit up in red in the evening hours. Coosie’s, a little store, and the Fort are also permanent buildings that grace Ben Avery long after Winter Range is over. There are many other false fronts that add to the fantasy of the cowboy atmosphere, changing from year to year, as the Board of Directors keep outdoing themselves.
Anyway, back to MY shooting experience. Our posse consisted of a mix of champion and average shooters. I was nervous, but anxious to start. Stage 9 started with 5 rifle on a plate rack and five on a standing target. At the same window, we had two shotgun knockdowns, at the next window two more shotgun knockdowns, followed by five pistol knockdowns and ending with five pistol on a stationary target. I shot down all the rifle plates but missed one on the stationary target (bad start). Then, I had to be reminded to stage my rifle, vertically, (more time lost). I did well with the shotgun targets but then had a pistol miss. Maybe I was still rattled because I kept having pistol misses on stages two and three, including two pistol knockdowns (but was able to make those up). I was getting discouraged, but realized I had been shooting too fast, so I determined to slow down on the last stage of the day. I shot it smooth and clean. Encouraged, I decided to follow suit the following day.
I don’t remember how I shot the first two stages. What I DO remember is holstering my cocked pistol, after shooting all ten. I was just getting ready to pick up my shotgun when the RO (timing operator) told me not to bother and to look at my right holster. There my pistol sat with the hammer half cocked. I was pretty bummed but managed to shoot the last stage of the day with composure. I did NOT want to come back the following day. I even was quite vocal about it, which showed bad sportsmanship. I thought I had made much progress, in this area, and felt convicted by my petulant behavior. A couple of competitors urged me to come back, insisting that I must finish the match. I left, not sure what I was going to do.
The next day, I felt more positive and was determined to have a fun day. One of the cowgirls took pictures of all of us, together. It lifted my spirits and made me feel part of the game, again. The first stage, in the saloon, was not fast but clean. Good start. The second stage was the blue-green “end of the line” tunnel. I had a miss, but I was having fun. Then, on stage three, something horrible happened. At the loading table, I did not like the way my rifle was loading. The gate was slippery and a bullet popped out. I wiped the gate, then cleared the gun before reloading it. Thinking it was empty, I closed the lever and then I heard a soft POW. I stood in disbelief. A fired round at the loading table, even by accident, is a match disqualification or match DQ. I knew that all my scores would be deleted and that I would no longer be part of the match. I also knew I had to report it. When I told our posse marshal, he rolled his eyes and sent for one of the match directors. I felt humiliated. I put my guns away and quickly took the scoring cards for the rest of the match. I had to explain what happened to one of the RO’s (so it was understood what happened) and the other shooters offered their condolences, as they came up to sign the scoresheet. I knew they were only trying to be kind but I wished I could have hidden under a rock. Pleased with our posse (shooting group), our posse marshal offered ice cream for everyone, after the match, but I just needed to get away. I told my husband to meet me at the truck, in half an hour.
I sought solace in the main tent where there was a banjo and fiddle performance . As I sat on one of the folding chairs, I opened my phone to a few of my Christian emails. One led me to Psalms. I don’t remember which ones they were. The words washed over me as I sat feeling dejected and ashamed. God’s word helped, not immediately, but over the next two days, I gradually was able to release the shame and regret over my experience. I also learned a painful lesson. Don’t keep reloading my rifle, unless there is a jam!
Have any of you have made a foolish mistake that cost you? If you have, God is always there to listen, forgive, and restore you. Sometimes, when I feel sad or depressed, I cannot find the words to pray. That is when reading Psalms is a balm for my soul. Psalm 61 is perfect for such a time.
O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help, for my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!
God is always just a prayer away. Do you know Jesus? He knows you and everything about you. He died for your sins so that you can live a fulfilled life on earth and have eternal life with him in heaven. You can tell him anything. He knows how you are feeling, anyway, so why not spend time with him? You won’t regret it.
Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30