Shooters set sights on GOWD competition

Saturday's events draw a crowd

Tom Gray drives slowly these days.

Loaded down Saturday with 12 firearms in his truck and enough ammunition to "start a small revolution in South America," the 63-year-old Durango man wants no trouble with the law.

"I typically take about 5,000 rounds of ammunition with me ... it would be kind of hard to explain that to a highway patrolman," said Gray, who was sorting weapons prior to the first day of the "Where The Old West Stayed Young" shooting competition at Bears Ears Sportsman Club on Cedar Mountain.

Gray -- dressed along with the other 50 participants in traditional cowboy garb and armed with replica Western pistols, rifles and shotguns -- had made his ninth trip this year for a shooting event and the second trip to Craig for Grand Olde West Days.

Gray is a divorced former stockbroker from Chicago who retired last year after a brief stint selling vacuum cleaners in Durango. Done with the working world, Gray said he was looking for a passion.

"It's fun to dress up like a 10-year-old and play with guns," he said.

"But some of these people are pretty serious."

Saturday's shooting event gathered a tight-knit group of "Western action shooters" -- many who track scheduled shooting events through various print and online publications.

"There will probably be around 90 people here this weekend, and I'll know at least half of them," Gray said.

The recreational shooting life-style comes at high price tag, he said.

"I've probably got $10,000 in the stuff," he said. "You'll need about $3,000 just to get started."

The two-day shooting competition began in 1985, according to Andy Bullen, an organizer with the event. Bullen said it initially drew about 10 to 15 shooters.

"It has grown steadily," he said.

Rachel Hassler -- dressed in a bonnet and a homemade 1880s school teacher's dress -- said the Memorial Day weekend shooting event is a family tradition.

"I've missed two years," said Hassler, a Westminster resident. "Where a lot of families scatter in 14 different directions, we'll be together."

The Bears Ears club and the Northwest Colorado Rangers -- a shooting club -- sponsored the competition as Grand Olde West Days kicked into gear with downtown festivities, carnival fun and a 100-plus car parade snaking through downtown Craig.

Several Yampa Avenue businesses rolled out sales Saturday. Display tables dotted sidewalks on both sides of the street.

A pre-lunch hour flurry of foot traffic surprised some storeowners.

"It was pretty steady," said Sheli Steele, owner of Sea Shells children's clothing store. " I thought everybody would be at graduation."

Crowds downtown did thin out early to mid-afternoon as patrons trickled into a Western artists' reception held at Skull Creek Trading.

"It has been really light," said Alvin Evans, who displayed a variety of homemade jewelry

"I think everybody's waiting for Monday."

The holiday also was on Joe Davis' mind as the Broomfield vendor set up for business near the carnival at the Moffat County Fairgrounds.

Grand Olde West Days organizers this year have directed vendors to move downtown for Memorial Day's Yampa Avenue street festival.

Vendors in years past stayed at the fairgrounds throughout the weekend, which is Davis' fourth spent in Craig selling nostalgic items and sports memorabilia.

"If we don't do that extra business, the hassle of packing up and moving won't be worth it," he said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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