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FAIRBANKS - When you find yourself between a crazy-eyed, wild-handed Winchester man, his whole unruly outfit and the last bottle of that water-weak whiskey, you know what you have to do to survive.
So went the instructions of "Whiskey With a Winchester Chaser," an event at the Alaska State Single Action Shootists Society Championships at the Old F.E. Co. Gold Mine in Chatanika.
The event, hosted by the Golden Heart Shootists Society, tests modern-day marksmen with Wild West scenarios and steel targets.
The competitions took place on outdoor stages designed like 19th century saloons. One setup had a "Beer 50 Bath 5" sign overhead.
The shooters dress to match, wearing at least five articles of cowboy clothing. Most competitors had spurs on old boots, cowboy hats and handkerchiefs around their necks.
Most events are inspired by historic gun battles or movies. Many require the shooters to recite a line of dialogue before taking aim.
"They're attacking in waves!" the judge shouts.
"Then we'll shoot in waves," the contestants responded, some more emphatically than others.
The dress requirements weren't hard for Richard Miller to accommodate. He grew up ranching cattle in California and regularly wears a cowboy hat, boots and pocket watch.
His daily attire earned him the nickname "cowboy professor" at his job in University of Alaska Fairbanks' Rasmuson Library. Around here, he's known as Judge Yukon Hatch.
Like most shooters at the event, Miller's pseudonym has a special meaning. His great-grandfather, Col. Edward Hatch, was the first white commander of an all-black regiment, the 9th Cavalry. Miller served in that same unit in Vietnam.
Some cowboy names required a little less research. Luis Uzueta goes by Poco Loco Louie because, as his name suggests in Spanish, he's a little crazy.
But he's also quite knowledgeable about this fringe sport, which utilizes single-action pistols, rifles and shotguns.
"We're not re-enactors," he said. "We're shooters."
The challenge of cowboy shooting is 90 percent mental, Uzueta said.
The test is speed. A hit is a hit no matter where it hits the target, but competitors have to shoot targets in a specific order with a specific weapon.
Missing a target adds 5 seconds, and shooting the wrong target or using the wrong gun adds 10 seconds. Those errors are critical, Uzueta said, because the difference between first place and second place can be a fraction of a second.
Even for the serious shooters, it's lighthearted. If someone begins to aim at the wrong target, competitors will yell from behind to let them know.