Listen: TR4662_Cowboy Shooter (Gunderson)

MPR’s Dan Gunderson reports on cowboy mounted shooting, an event that attracts competitors with a hankering for the Wild West. A growing number of Minnesotans are competing in the little-known sport that combines horses, guns and split-second timing.


2012 NBNA Eric Sevareid Award, award of merit in Audio - Large Market Radio category


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SPEAKER 1: Let's tell you about a new sport that's not in the Olympics, at least not yet. It's a growing number of Minnesotans competing in something that combines horses, guns, and split second timing. It's called cowboy mounted shooting. And as Dan Gunderson reports, the competition attracts people with a hankering for the Wild West.

DAN GUNDERSON: On a hot summer Saturday, more than 40 riders dressed in western garb, each sporting a pair of holstered six shooters, wait their turn outside a dusty open air arena. Cowboy mounted shooters from across the region gather for this competition in the Northwestern Minnesota town of Warren. Here's how it works.

10 orange traffic cones mark a course in the arena. Atop each cone is a balloon. The rider must race through the course while shooting all 10 balloons. The best can run a course in about ten seconds.

Don't worry. There are no bullets flying. The riders use special shells loaded with black powder.

SPEAKER 2: Bring her home, Laura. Let's hear it for Laura.

DAN GUNDERSON: Laura Pikop is a farmer in Northwest Minnesota. She's also a world champion cowboy mounted shooter. Pikop says the competition gets intense for horse and rider.

LAURA PIKOP: It's funny because a lot of times, you realize you didn't breathe the entire time. You're holding your breath. Your horse is an athlete. And really, you are too. It's a lot of work to go through all the motions, and just even keeping them in shape and yourself in shape to be at the top of your game.

DAN GUNDERSON: Pikop grew up riding horses competitively. She says cowboy mounted shooting might be the most challenging equestrian sport. The horse must be guided smoothly through the course. The rider must shoot five balloons with one gun, then draw a second revolver and shoot five more. Pikop says a lot can go wrong in 10 to 15 seconds of frenzied activity.

LAURA PIKOP: I've gone down a couple of times with my horse. And that's unexpected, when you're in the middle of a great run. And some days, you just can't hit the broad side of a barn. It's extremely competitive. You can lose or win in a thousandth of a second.

DAN GUNDERSON: And at some competitions, riders earn thousands of dollars in prizes. But for most of these riders, it's about having a good time with friends. Retired school principal Greg Lund says the sport grew out of a desire for a safe way to have some Wild West fun.

GREG LUND: It came from two guys out in Arizona that were having fun when they were in their younger years riding down the old dirt roads shooting bottles and cans off fence posts. And they decided that it's a little dangerous shooting bullets. How can we make this more of a sport and safer? And that's how it started.

DAN GUNDERSON: Like many riders, Lund sports traditional Western clothing. Cowboy mounted shooting clubs have a dress code. In fact, it's part of the competition. For example, Lund says riders are penalized if they lose their hat before they cross the finish line.

The sport is gaining popularity nationwide and in Minnesota. Steve Moe is President of the Minnesota Mounted Shooters, the largest mounted shooting club in the state. He says five years ago, the club had about 50 members. Now membership is around 175.

STEVE MOE: In our state, we have phenomenal shooters. We have at least five world champions. In order to get to that level man, you've got to have your horse and you and your guns clicking really well.

DAN GUNDERSON: There are a wide range of skill levels and ages represented in the sport. Dale Ehrhardt is reloading his six shooters after his first run of the day. Ehrhardt is from Western North Dakota, and he's one of 23 beginners at this competition. He's an experienced rodeo competitor. But he says cowboy mounted shooting is a whole new experience.

DALE ERHARDT: First run was a blast. I don't know how to explain it. It's a rush.

Maybe it's the old west theme. Cowboys and guns. This is a blast. I really enjoy this.

DAN GUNDERSON: Like a growing number of horse enthusiasts, Ehrhardt is hooked by the thrill of riding hell bent for leather with guns blazing Dan Gunderson. Minnesota Public Radio News, Warren.

SPEAKER 2: Bring it home. Let's hear it for him. Very good.

SPEAKER 1: Riders from several states, by the way, will be gathering later this month near Maple Plain for the regional competition. There's some excellent photos of the cowboy mounted shooters in action at


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