Shooter 4

By Rhonda Mix


BELVIDERE – Resembling cowboys – and cowgirls – from the 1800s, 21 members of the Northern Illinois Outlaws, a Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association affiliated club, showcased their talents during their energetic performance at the Boone County Fair Aug.16.

In an interview before the show, NIO President Brian “Maverick” Retzke expressed his enthusiasm for the group’s return to the fair.

“Boone County Fair has great people and it is a great experience,” he said. “It always attracts big crowds. Even as a spectator, an NIO show is an adrenaline rush.”

So how exactly does a cowboy mounted shooting competition work?

In simple terms, “You have to go faster and shoot cleaner than the other guy, or he beats you,” shared Retzke.

Working together with their swift-footed steeds, the participants compete in four different rounds.

Each round consists of a select shooting pattern in which each rider is required to hit five white and five red balloons in a specified order, using .45 caliber single action revolvers loaded with specially prepared blank ammunition – black powder that breaks a balloon up to about 15 feet.

Two guns are used during the two-part process of a round. Wielding the first gun, the rider must maneuver around and shoot the five white balloons – which are placed at tricky angles – holster the second gun and then turn around and speed toward the remaining five red balloons in a heart-pounding run toward the finish line. This is dubbed, ‘the Rundown.’

An average course takes contestants between 15 and 25 seconds to complete.

Riders are scored on time and accuracy, with a variety of time penalties for missing each balloon, dropping a gun, not running the course correctly and falling off one’s horse.

Shooter 3

Mark Manning, a Durand resident and Illinois CMSA Championship winner, has been a member of the Northern Illinois Outlaws for four years and is a level 4 shooter. He was one of the top scorers at the Aug. 16 show.

“What I love about this sport is it’s just you and your horse,” he said. “I also enjoy the competition. It takes good horseback riding and athletic skills. When you enjoy it so much though, one of the challenges is being able to get out and do shows.”

The NIO club practices regularly in Sycamore and performs several times throughout the year. The holds practice shows and a large number of clinics before doing the real thing.

Depending on how well one does in competitions, club members also can move on to regional and, eventually, world championships.

The NIO club is open to anyone who is interested, as well as any horse, any breed.

“You can even do it with a mule,” said Retzke, with a laugh.

There is a men’s division, women’s division and senior’s division, with classes 1-6 in each. There also is a wrangler class for kids 12 and under.

Shooter 2

All riders begin at class 1. When a rider obtains a qualified win as a class 1 four times, he or she will advance to the next class and so on and so forth.

Safety in horse training and firearm handling is emphasized in the sport.

An important part of club membership is taking part in the shooter clinics, where Retzke said riders will learn vital aspects of mounted shooting such as how to desensitize one’s horse.

“You have to build up trust, sometimes you have to work up to it since some horses don’t like it,” he said.

He encouraged people who are interested in learning more to join up and see what it’s all about.

“There are enough clubs in Boone County to shoot every weekend,” he said. “It is a blast, seeing all kinds of horses and the 1800s gear. We also have some really fast guys.”

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