South Australia’s first foray into hosting the SSAA National Single Action Championships went off with real aplomb at the Frontier Shooting Club at Virginia over the last weekend of August. The State Shooting Park on Carmelo Road provided a spectacular backdrop to the action as it had been transformed by an army of volunteers into a town plucked straight from the era of the old American Wild West.
The SSAA had adopted this American sport of Western Action shooting from the United States in 1992. The Frontier Shooting Club of South Australia (FSCSA) was founded early in 1995 but other clubs in South Australia had taken up the sport prior to that. Western Action is now universally called Single Action shooting and is a well-established discipline of the SSAA, affiliated with the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) of America.
Competitors relish the chance to dress up in cowboy gear and assume aliases to suit their alter-ego identities. At the end of a weekend of hectic action, almost 120 entrants from across Australia competed in colorful categories that included Cattle Baron and Baroness, Senior Gunfighter, Elder Statesman, Senior Dualist as well as Classic Cowgirl and Cowboy. But it was Henry Sharps who came out on top of the overall standings in the Main Match. In second spot was The Trapper, while third place was claimed by RC Shot.
The FSCSA constructed facades for a Wild West town on its range with the help of generous donations from Winchester Australia, Adelaide Gun Shop, Westcastings Projectiles and the then importer of Ruger firearms, Acacia Imports. However, the town only took shape in the wake of a tragedy. Water on the range had not previously been a serious problem for a few years, but in 2004 the drains at the park backed up over winter and the western town area was flooded to a depth of about a metre. It was untenable.
Fortunately, part of the club’s lease comprised a larger dry area adjacent to the old town range. Some facades, boardwalks and other materials were salvaged and building began all over again on the ‘new range’. When removing posts from the old range, the postholes filled up with water in about an hour - in summer! Some suggested that the use of recycled water on the range had also had the effect of raising the watertable.
Development progressed steadily over the years when club funds permitted and priority was given to creating a comfortable all-weather clubhouse. Slowly, a Town Hall also emerged plus a blacksmith shop, barbershop, railroad station, telegraph office and a mine. The buildings lacked the finish of the original town but it was home to the FSCSA of the Wild West. At the end of town, a cantina struggled into being.
The SSAA National Single Action Championships is rotated between states rather than conducted at a permanent location. When SSAA SA was successful in its application to hold the National Championships for 2016, it was all systems go to have the range ready for the dates of August 25 to 28.
The FSCSA committee felt the range needed additional and better facades for this event and applied to SSAA SA for a grant. A similar request was made to the SA Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI). To great delight, the SSAA made a generous grant and DPTI provided funds to buy steel for some 55 new targets with stands and two sets of shotgun knockdown targets.
The club had already outlaid from its own funds to buy a 6.5Kw generator, container storage, toilets and furniture for functions in the clubhouse. It was estimated that it would take more than 1000 man-hours of work to complete the upgrade.
Old safety walls were dismantled and the sites cleared. Postholes were dug and materials positioned for the new buildings to be constructed. Working bees were planned on non-shooting days but many of the volunteers worked over holidays and their weekends to see that the program was kept on schedule. The ever-present club captain, Bear Paw, arranged the working bees, coordinated the construction activities to ensure a superb job was completed on time and devised the 12 courses of fire for the competition.
New constructions were not just facades but complete, three-dimensional structures for shooters to fire through and/or enter to engage targets. New safety walls completed the concept, whereby shooters could progress in complete safety downrange or through buildings to engage targets or reset targets without calling a halt to adjacent posse activities. These walls were the major expense of the project.
Jesse James, a member of the Frontier set-up, explained how the club had spent “months and months” preparing the facilities and painting the facades once it had been granted the hosting rights. Another hometown cowboy, Ebenezer, backed up that statement as the competition was officially opened on the Friday afternoon. “It is the first national shoot to be held in South Australia,” he said. “It was a big ask but we did it.”
Ebenezer reiterated how much hard work had gone into the preparations. “It all began last December and virtually has taken eight months out of our lives,” he said. “But here we are today with visiting shooters from Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. There are families here with their children and grandchildren.”
So where does the Frontier Shooting Club go from here? Well, Ebenezer is forecasting a bright future. “We have shoots on the first and third Saturdays of each month.” he said. “We are up to about 40 members and have a lot of younger people coming along. It’s all about getting dressed up and having fun with your friends.” With the National Single Action Championships having gone so well, there should be no looking back...