OGDEN — For JD Casperson, a true 21st century cowboy, there aren’t many things better than shooting a gun while riding a horse.
And thankfully, Casperson says, there’s a flourishing organization in Utah that allows him to get his fix.
Casperson is a member of Utah’s Mounted Thunder, one of many outfits across the nation associated with the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.
The sport, which Casperson says is quickly gaining in popularity, harkens back to the Old West. According to UMT’s website, contestants compete in the timed event on horseback, using two .45 caliber single-action revolvers. Rifles and shotguns are also used, though those variations are typically more difficult and not as common.
Firearms are loaded with five rounds of specially prepared ammunition. For the pistols, cartridges fired are called .45 caliber Long Colts. The brass cartridge is loaded with black powder, just like what was used by Western cowboys from the 1800s. According to UMT, the load will break a balloon from about 15 feet and in. For obvious safety reasons, live rounds are strictly prohibited at competitions and most of the horses involved wear ear plugs.
Once the clock starts, cowboys and cowgirls maneuver their horses around a course of 10 balloons, trying to hit each target and pop the balloons. Time is added for missed targets and the contestant that completes the course the fastest is crowned the winner.
“It’s a good time,” said Casperson, who competes in the sport all over the West. “I get to shoot stuff and go fast on my horse. There’s usually not a lot of opportunity for that.”
As for competitors, there’s no age limit, although contestants aren’t allowed to shoot until they’re 12. The CMSA has a variety of levels of competition for everyone, from beginner to advanced.
“There’s skill levels one through six,” Casperson said. “So if you’re just starting out, you don’t get thrown to the wolves right away.”
Casperson figures “80% to 90%” of achieving success in the sport comes by way of horsemanship, not marksmanship.
“You’ve gotta be locked in with your horse,” he said.
Adding to the sport’s Old West mystique is the dress code. Participants are required to wear Western attire. According to UMT, traditional style includes a Western shirt, blue jeans covered by chinks, Western boots and a cowboy hat. Women are encouraged to wear dresses in 1800s style.
“You kind of have to look the part,” Casperson says.
Casperson said he also enjoys the friendly, family-oriented atmosphere of the sport. Last year, while driving to a competition in Duchesne, Casperson’s vehicle broke down on the side of the road. Others traveling to the event noticed and drove Casperson’s two oldest boys, who were both competing, to the event. When Casperson got his truck troubles figured out and arrived at the arena, he found his sons had been fully outfitted and prepared for their rides.
“It’s a competition,” he said. “But I would dare say it’s the friendliest competition I’ve been a part of.”