PENDLETON -- Within the blink of an eye, the six-shooters come out blazing. In less than a second it's all over.
Welcome to the U.S. National Cowboy Fast Draw Championship, where the gunslinging gets serious but nobody gets hurt.
An estimated 90 shooters will be slapping leather through Sunday to see who is the fastest gun in the nation. This is the first time the championship has come to Pendleton, according to organizers.
Competitors use real single-action revolvers (.45 caliber only), dress in 19th-century western clothing and adopt noms de guerre such as "Gray Fox," "Texan," "Catfish Slim" or "Miss B Haven." As the latter name indicates, in this sport both men and women are welcome to strap on a shooting iron, step up to the line and show what they've got.
The aim, no pun intended, is to see who can draw the fastest and hit a 24-inch diameter metal target set 21 feet away. For safety, competitors use wax bullets driven by a small charge of powder. The "go" signal is when a light in the center of the target flashes on. Shooters are paired against each other and the first to hit the target wins. If both miss, they shoot again.
The trick is to balance speed against accuracy, said George Narasaki, aka "Sundowner." "A fast miss is not as good as a slow hit," he noted.
So how fast is fast? During Thursday's practice match one shooter drew, fired and hit the target in just under four-tenths of a second (.386 seconds, to be exact.)
Contestants will shoot their way through elimination matches today, Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, the finalists will face off in the "Magnificent 7 Championship Shoot-Offs" to decide who takes home the top prize.
Although it can be highly competitive, participants said friction is virtually nonexistent. In fact, the atmosphere in the Pendleton Convention Center Thursday was more like an Old West gathering of friends who just like to shoot.
"I always describe it as a family reunion with guns," said Jon Long, aka "Blackjack." "It's safety first, fun second and competition third."
Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318.
If you go
The U.S. National Cowboy Fast Draw Championship is in the Pendleton Convention Center, 1601 Westgate. Admission is free. Matches on Saturday and Sunday will begin with a shooter's meeting at 9 a.m. and competition will commence at 9:30 a.m. Finalists will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday for the "Magnificent 7 Championship Shoot-Offs" followed by presentation of awards.