Twin Butte Bunch recreates 1800s-era gunplay

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
Members of the Twin Butte Bunch gather around one of their Old West-style buildings at a match last month at the United Sportsman's Club west of Rexburg on Highway 33.

For a few hours each month, members of the Twin Butte Bunch take a big step back into the Old West.

Dressed in 19th century clothing, they answer to names like Sawtooth Sally, Silverado Sam, Rusty Bucket and Alibi Adeline. They shoot single-action revolvers, pump-action shotguns and lever-action rifles at their shooting range west of Rexburg, where sagebrush, lava rock and native grasses stretch as far as the eye can see.

They favor guns used during the settling of the West more than a century ago and re-creating a little bit of that long-gone era suits the group just fine.

Idaho Falls resident Scott Young enjoys the sport so much he encouraged friend Delena Ellison, also of Idaho Falls, to get involved.

“It’s fun dressing up like the cowboys did in B-Western movies,” Young said. “It keeps my shooting skills sharp and we have a lot of fun.”

Safety is emphasized, as are specific rules outlined by the Single-Action Shooting Society. Each match follows a Western theme with shooting not only from simple platforms, but also out of windows and the doors of reconstructed 19th century structures, built by the member themselves.

“Safety is the most important deal here,” Young said.

New friends and camaraderie can be found at the range, too.

Mary Jo Heckart met her future husband, Allen Heckart, at a shooting range in New Mexico. Today, they live in Lewisville.

“Some friends from work invited me to a match one day and that’s where I met Allen,” she said.

The group welcomes beginners and experts alike. Allen Heckart served with the Marine Corps for 22 years, including two tours of duty in Vietnam. Until his recent retirement, he trained security forces for the State Department overseas, as well as the Department of Energy. He also does tactical shooting.

“Cowboy Action Shooting is a new sport for me, using multiple guns and learning all the different game rules is challenging,” Heckart said.

For Kathy Robinson of Idaho Falls, also known as Tubbs, shooting is “a blast.”

One of her passions is collecting guns.

“Don’t give me flowers for Valentine’s Day or diamonds for birthdays and Christmas,” she said. “Give me guns. You can never have too many guns.”

Making the leap back to the Old West was made easier thanks to Deon Davenport, aka T.B. Curley of Rexburg.

Davenport started building Western-themed structures at the range about 15 years ago. His work, as well as the efforts of dozens of volunteers, naturally blends into the landscape. Today, there are about 12 buildings and 24 shooting locations — built with private donations, grants and a lot of sweat, Davenport said.

One of the first shooting locations Davenport designed was a mining car that travels along a rail line. The shooter, riding in the mining car, provides a test of shooting skills.

“There are minimal reminders of civilization here, making it easy to imagine you are in the middle of a Western movie set,” he said. “This has become one of the finest cowboy ranges in this part of the country.”

The cowboy brand of shooting quickly became popular after a humble start in 1992 in California.

Today, its membership is about 80,000 nationwide, member Lou Lang said. Lang is a Snake River firearms instructor, National Rifle Association training counselor, tactical defense instructor and a member of the Twin Butte Bunch.

“It really took off and became one of the most popular shooting sports around,” Lang said. “It’s a challenge to shoot single-action guns accurately and it’s a lot of fun.”