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Firewater Bandit
by on July 25, 2019

                First off, I would like to apologize for the latency of this blog. Hale and I have been on one wild ride of a vacation that is still happening that has not only taken us from Florida to Kentucky for Black Gold but then onward to Chicago for wedding plans. It has been a nonstop rollercoaster of fun, but I finally found a moment to sit down and share our exploits at the Ponderosa Pines' Black Gold Shootout.

                So, we shot Ft. White the Saturday before, and I did horribly. Due to others warnings of the heavy partying that would be done at Black Gold, I decided to save my liver and not have a single beer on Friday evening. This was not to my advantage, however, because I had a miss on almost every stage and a 'P'!.  I managed to get eighth overall, but it is hard to look at the scores when you know you could have gotten 5th without the 35 seconds of penalties. This would have put me just behind sixth in the world Suwanee Kid, which would have been nice bragging rights going into Black Gold, but, alas, it was not meant to be.

                On that note, it was very nice to see our very own Suwanee Kid and congratulate him on his stellar finish at EOT. I know I am not alone here in the fact that all of us here in Florida are very proud of him for bringing such a great honor back with him to Florida. I tell ya, I sure don't like the fact he will be shooting against me in my category at Florida State this year. I guess I will have to step up my game or face the wrath of his mighty shooter skills.

                After the match, we had a great time eating lunch with the crew at Bev's burgers, and then moseyed on down the road on Sunday morning, heading towards Blairsville, Georgia. Chicken Scratch and I have a work buddy that owns property near there, and we enjoyed gold panning and motorcycle riding for a couple of days before the match. This served as a great break in the trip up to Black Gold for us, as well as giving us the bragging rights to saying that Hale and I have officially survived riding motorcycles up and down Blood Mountain. There is a reason they call it Blood Mountain, but we were able to take those tight curves in stride and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

                We also stopped at a local moonshine distillery, Grand Daddy Mims, and picked up a mason jar full of peach moonshine for out buddy Jonny Peacemaker, who was not able to make the trip with us this time. I was able to talk shop with one of the guys there, and he even invited Hale and me back to see some of the stills and try some of the moonshine that was still fermenting. He called it steel beer, something I have never heard of before, but, I tell ya, it was some good stuff. I also got to try some stuff that he had in a little clear bottle that he estimated to be around 160 proof. Estimated because he taught me how to read the proof of a whiskey based on the number of bubbles that form after slapping the bottom of the bottle. Highly technical stuff out here in the Smokies, let me tell you what.

                On Wednesday morning, we woke up and got on the road, setting the GPS for Manchester, Kentucky. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains with little to no events of which to speak. We arrived around 5 PM and proceeded to find out where we would set up our campsite. We got a beautiful spot by the pond at the front of the property and thought we were in for a great time roughing it. As many that have come before us know, camping in a tent is not exactly the best way to go. We got rained out the very first night, and due to the heavy drinking that occurred Wednesday night, we forgot to close our window, so we got soaked.

                Before that, I made my rounds and met all kinds of new people, some shooters, some not. I had a great time learning to play "Left Right Center," a dice game that I had never seen before. Now, most of you might know that I am not much of a gambler, I just don't have the luck for such things, but Hale was having such a good time and signed us both up. I figured a three dollar buy-in wasn't that big of a deal, and hell, we are on vacation, right? I lost the first two rounds, and Hale moved on down the road to something she deemed more interesting. I, however, noticed that everyone was winning on the other side of the table, and when a seat opened up, I moved to the winners' side. I proceeded to win two hands in a row and came out sixty bucks richer. I tell ya, I have never won anything based on luck in my life, but since I have come to cowboy, I have won a gun cart and sixty bucks. Just more proof that this sport and I were meant to be together!

                Thursday morning came around, and, as previously mentioned, I woke up soaking wet and cold to the bone. Hale and I spent some time cleaning up the campsite, and then proceeded to get ready for the side matches. I was not prepared for the level of skill that was to be found at Black Gold. Feeling confident in my pistols, I stepped up to the loading line feeling like I was about to lay down some impressive times, and I did! My first run was shot in 3.85 seconds, a time that would have gotten me the speed pistols award at Florida State. Missouri Lefty, someone I had met the night before, stepped up and decimated that time, beating me by a whole second, and as a gunfighter. I knew he was second in the world, so I was not surprised, but then the rest of the line went and I realized I was not in the company of amateurs. I managed to get my pistols down to 3.52 seconds, but I couldn't shave any more than that off, so I moved on down the line. My rifle felt slow, I couldn't seem to get it done any faster than 3.56, which is crazy considering there isn't a transition, but my shotgun felt good, I was able to put 6 targets down in less than 6 seconds.

                Feeling confident that I could do a good run on the full practice stage, I went and loaded up and had a complete train wreck, not even finishing my run because I jacked a round out of the rifle. No big deal, it's just practice, right? So I loaded up again and tried again. The first run was left up to my own patterns, but I have learned that in Cowboy I tend to like being told what to do, so I asked for a pattern on my second go. I came out screaming - pistols went great, and my first shotgun was awesome! It was a split shotgun, and as I went to put my shotgun down to transition back to the rifle, I dropped the gun. I have never dropped a gun before, so this was quite disheartening the day before a match. No one told me to leave, but I went ahead and told myself that I was done for the day. I like to take safety seriously in this sport, and I didn't trust myself after that.

                So, I went down to the pavilion and hung my head in shame for a while before I could find Midwest Hale. After wiping and putting all of our guns away, we decided it was too hot to stay at the range anymore, so we hopped on the motorcycle and took a ride through the hills of Kentucky. I tell ya, this is some beautiful country, and we managed to get lost out in the sticks while sightseeing. After stopping at a gas station that didn't have the fuel I needed, we talked to a good ole boy who told us we were not far from London. I told him that Hale always wanted to go to London, to which she said, "I should have been more specific." We enjoyed a quick lunch, filled up the tank and headed back to the range for a night full of fun.

                The previous night I had the joy of meeting Missouri Lefty, Sidekick, Billy the Avenger, Taco Belle, and Nasty Nate, all of whom are great people and who we ended up spending most of our free time with at the range. This is a rowdy group, let me tell ya, but some of the most enjoyable cowboys and cowgirls with whom you could ever knock a pint. Thursday's celebration began by filling my 32oz tumbler with "beer from the wall" as it was known around the range. All the beer you could ever want on tap, which was excellent news for me. Hale and I took our crispy brews up the hill to where the previously mentioned crew was sitting in a circle chatting. We had a good time there and enjoyed watching Nate, Sidekick, and Lefty tumble down the hill in the inflatable balls all while wrestling. I soon realized I was way behind them and Taco was kind enough to put some Crown and Mountain Dew in my tumbler for me.

                The party proceeded to move to Billy and Taco's camper where we enjoyed some AC and good conversation, as well as a lot of laughs. During the course of the night, both Billy and Lefty gave me a gunfighter lesson and convinced me that I might have to try shooting gunfighter here in the near future. They tried to get me to change over for the match, but I just plain forgot the next day until after I had shot my first stage. After all the carousing in the camper, we joined up with the South Carolina crew and had a few more laughs while watching Lefty perform his new two-step. I tell ya, that dude can dance - it was pretty damn impressive. Billy was trying to get Hale to ride the bull in Copperhead Joe's pool, and there was plenty of wrestling and singing to go around.

                We woke up Friday morning in a daze, already feeling the effects of the notorious Black Gold and proceeded to pay our respects to Dixie, as well as sing the Star Spangled banner, which I enjoyed thoroughly. It brought me back to playing sports in high school where we would sing the national anthem before every game. I swear, this is what got me in the game. I came out blazing with an 18-second stage but had a miss on my rifle. I was seeing Ft. White all over again, but managed to get my act together the rest of the day.

                Our posse was an absolute pleasure to shoot with. We had some great characters on the list and a heck of a good posse marshal. Let's Go kept us regimented and working hard, which we needed considering that Sidekick, Billy, Taco, Nate, and Lefty (which I will now reference as the Crown Crew due to their beverage of choice) were on the posse behind us and were nipping at our heels all day - hell, the whole match. On our way back to the shoot, I witnessed Fire N Fallback and Let's Go shake hands. For those of us in the know, this was a pretty cool experience to be able to witness. I tell ya, they are some awesome dudes, and I always appreciate men like that.

                After the shoot, I was feeling particularly hot, but couldn't pass up on hotdogs and fried bologna, so Hale and I sat and had lunch with the Crown Crew and discussed the stages. We also talked with Lassiter and Lefty's dad, Missouri Traveler, who are some great guys to hang with. During the course of our lunch, Shelleen approached Hale and I and asked if we wanted to join him in representing Florida during the team shootout. To be honest, I was so damn hot I had very little interest, but it is hard to say no to that twinkle in Shelleen's eye. I sucked it up, and we set up, deciding that I would handle the pistols, Hale would shoot the rifle, and Shelleen would finish us up with the shotgun. Our first run went smoothly and we came out with a commanding lead on the other team. The second round went just as smoothly, and we found ourselves in the final round facing Cardboard Cowboy, Iron Maiden, and I can't seem to track down who the third shooter was, but he was really good. I came out screaming with my first pistol and watched as the five knockdowns fell in rapid succession. I unloaded my second pistol on the dump target and turned to run and tap Hale, initiating her to shoot her rifle. I knew we had a second lead because I noticed that as I was tapping Hale, the cowboy at the end was just finishing his pistols. Hale did really well, but Cardboard was able to catch his team up to where both Shelleen and Iron Maiden were engaging the shotgun knockdowns at the same time. This was a nail-biter, down to the last second, but Shelleen managed to bring that Florida '97 skill with him and lay the last target down before Maiden. And just like that, we won the team shoot-off.

                Later that evening, I enjoyed a fat cigar, courtesy of my pal, Chicken Scratch, and also held my head high as the Florida crew walked up and received our first place medals. Shelleen was decked out in total Florida gear, rocking the Panama fedora and Hawaiian shirt, and we enjoyed recounting our glory. We also mingled with Smart * and Sunshine Rose and shared our victory with Waimea. Hale told Smart how she was very happy to have him on our posse, how it brought a little bit of home to the shoot with us to have him running the timer on our posse, which is true. This being our first big match away from home, it was nice having some of our good pals with us. Heck of a group of shooters we got down here in Florida, we were glad to have some of home to keep us focused.

                Somewhere during the course of the night, karaoke started and we joined back up with the Crown Crew. As the mugs continued to get filled, the louder and more rambunctious we became, using the stage to entertain the masses. But the singing started with us all standing proudly on stage and singing "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood to honor the heroes we had with us at the shoot and those that died defending our right to have such a wonderful time. From then on out we hope we did them proud, being as American as possible, singing and dancing to every country song we could play until finally we looked out into the audience hours later and saw that we were the last ones standing. The party returned to Billy and Taco's camper and we enjoyed the AC while swapping stories and laughs.

                We woke up the next morning in a similar daze to the day before and moved on up the range to start shooting the second set of five stages. I must say, I thought I was going to have a rough day because I shot my first stage a little slow due to a shotgun makeup, but I had no misses. I proceeded to finish the day clean and realized that if I hadn't missed that first rifle shot on the first stage, I would have had my second clean match ever at Black Gold. Oh well, I guess I will have to take the Dang-It Award, or as we called it at Ides last year, the Sour-Note award. Hale did well on her second day, as well, coming out on her first stage with a 19-second burner, and finishing with a 20-second stage on which she had to go to her hammer on her rifle. Another worthy note of Hale's is that she had a hang-up with her shotgun, the first gun of the stage, sat there on the line and fixed it, then finished the stage without a hiccup, still doing it in 28 seconds. I was proud of how she kept her head and didn't let the shotgun ruin the rest of her stage. She's turning into a true champion, I tell you what.

                After the shoot, we again joined up with the Crown Crew for lunch and they told us they were not going to bother shooting the shootout in the sunshine. I didn't really blame them, for it was hotter than hell out there, but I knew I would never live it down with my Florida pals if I didn't at least sign up. So Hale went first against Renegade Roper, the only two ladies that signed up. Hale managed to beat Roper in her speed, knocking down the last shotgun before Roper did, but the spotter called a miss on Hale's pistol dump target, giving Roper the victory. After later finding out about the accolades that Roper has earned while shooting this sport, I couldn't be prouder of how Hale did even though she let that one miss get away from her. She certainly keeps me on my toes. My performance was less than amazing. In fact, my performance was downright dreadful. I ran the pistols and rifle great, and as I was running down to get my shotgun, I knew I had a commanding lead against my competitor. I engaged all of the shotgun targets and even hesitated on my final knockdown just to ensure I had good sight picture. I waited for my competitor to finish, and shook his hand proud of what I had just done, but as I turned back to the targets, I apparently had missed one of my shotgun targets and not even realized it. Needless to say, this cost me the round. Mistakes happen, I suppose, but that one felt pretty damn dumb. Oh, well. After the ladies went, their names got tossed in with the boys, and Hale had to face Cardboard Cowboy, to which she lost, but she held her own, only leaving two shotgun up as Cardboard finished. Not bad considering that he was the number four overall shooter for this match. Can you tell I am super proud of my lady?

                The awards came later that night, and I managed to get second in my category and 11th overall. Hale topped her category in first place and was the 6th lady overall. We spent the evening celebrating and having a great time with all of our new friends and old friends alike before heading out late in the evening that night on our journey up to Chicago, from where I am now writing this blog.

                I tell ya, there is a universal quality among our cowboy pals, and that is that friendship and family go hand in hand. Whether you have been shooting with a group for almost two years like our pals back home, or only a few days like with our new Crown Crew pals, we all come together in the name of gunpowder and lead. Competition keeps our spirits young, and that stands true among the cowboy community. Whether they are almost 90 years old or only 9 years old, we all are young and rowdy at heart. Coming into this sport two Novembers ago, I would have never imagined the wonderful group I was falling in with, and for that, I thank every single one of you that has helped us get this far. Also, if you have made it this far in this blog, I appreciate you reading all of these words, and hoped you have enjoyed the tale of how the two of us, Hale and I, stayed bold at Black Gold. I also want to Thank Copperhead Joe, Whiskey Creek, Ringer, and any others of the Kentucky crew for putting on one hell of a match! We will see you guys next year for another round of Copperhead Juice and burning steel!

Like (6)
Sounds like you had a great time. You brought back memories. My wife and I used to go to Blood Mountain quite often thirty years ago. We wouldd in a cabin right on one of the curves. The Appalachian trail crosses it.
July 25, 2019
We would stay in a cabin right on one of the curves. Damn Computer
July 25, 2019
The Outlaw Travis James
Great blog Firewater. Hope we can make it up there next year. My family is all from KY so it would be nice to go up and shoot.
July 25, 2019
Midwest Hale
Wild Ride to say the least! I need a vacation from my vacation! 😜
July 26, 2019