Phantom (Charlie Harris of Colorado) times Whiskey the Kid (David Ruehlman of Spicewood) in a recent single-action shooting society competition. Whiskey’s Frontier Cartridge category requires black powder that smokes, adding a challenge to the match. Courtesy photo
Three weekends a month, Whiskey the Kid and Panhandle Cowgirl form a posse and go looking for bad guys. During the week, David and Stephanie Ruehlman go to work — he to his landscape and construction company, Austin Eagle Management, and she as a special education teacher at a south Austin middle school.
It’s all pretty normal most of the time, but once this Spicewood couple straps on their sidearms, tucks in their Western shirts, and pulls on their boots, they become part of a growing craze known as the Single Action Shooting Society, home of cowboy action shooting.
Members of three Central Texas shooting clubs, the Ruehlmans call the Green Mountain Regulators in Marble Falls home. The 80-member club meets the fourth Saturday of the month to shoot competitively from Old West stages following pre-scripted scenarios that involve multiple targets (the bad guys) and guns.
Both are champion shooters with Panhandle collecting the most national and world championship belt buckles so far. Whiskey’s best known for writing passionate scripts and directing engaging and entertaining matches.
“She’s a better shooter than I am,” he said. “I pride myself in writing a stage that people enjoy. You want to hear that positive feedback, to have someone come back to you and say, ‘This is the best match I’ve ever shot.’ That’s awesome.”
At the range, posses gather at their appointed stage and delegate tasks, which change as shooters rotate. The posse manager “reads the stage” and answers questions before the actual shooting begins.
At an October competition in Marble Falls, Phantom, who lives in Colorado (formerly Austin) as Charlie Harris, owner of Storied Firearms gun shop, rapidly read the following stage:
Stage 1, shotgun staged anywhere. Order: rifle, pistol, shotgun. Starting position: center shelf. Shooter’s line: ‘You’re next, Music Lover!’ At the beep, engage rifle in a two, three, five sweep, starting either end. Right shelf, with pistol, repeat rifle instructions. Left shelf, KD shotgun in any order. Any questions? No. Let’s rock and roll. Eyes and ears, everybody! Eyes and Ears!
From one side of the stage, the first shooter picked up her fully loaded guns (a mix of pistols, shotguns, and rifles) and set them in the desired pattern on tables or window ledges facing a hill decorated with red, blue, and black steel targets typically shaped as circles, diamonds, and squares. After the shoot, which took about 20 seconds, she exited to the other side of the stage and unloaded any leftover ammunition. Both the loading and unloading are supervised.
“People aren’t just walking around with loaded guns,” Stephanie said.
Shooters and observers are required to wear goggles to protect from splatter off of targets and rocks and ear plugs because of the noise.
A scorekeeper times the shoot, while spotters watch to see if any targets are missed. No one is allowed to practice the stages beforehand.
Stephanie picked up her first single-action firearm seven years ago at the urging of her then-11-year-old son, Tanner, who saw a show about it on the History Channel. They bought some guns, came up with costumes, and headed for a nearby competition.
“I was the worst shooter they’d ever seen,” she said. “They couldn’t count all of my misses on both hands.”
She decided that would never happened again and has been working hard at improving her speed and accuracy ever since. She now has four world championship buckles, among many others.
David researched his way into the sport. In testing competitive shooting options, he quickly discovered that cowboy single-action shooting meant hanging around with friendly people who didn’t let a little competition get in their way of having a good time.
Shooting brought the pair together, although they don’t agree on where they first met. What they do agree on is that it took three years of shooting on the same posses at world and national championships before they officially became a couple. At the time, they lived seven hours apart, although both in Texas.
For their engagement photos, they wore cowboy attire with holstered pistols, but no shotguns were present at the wedding at Star Hill Ranch off of Hamilton Pool Road. Star Hill is a Western town where the TV series “The Son” was filmed.
“It’s a lifestyle sport,” Stephanie explained. “It’s like rodeo or motorcycles. You go all weekend, just about every weekend, and sometimes longer trips to the bigger matches. You see your shooting friends more than you see your family.”
Both Ruehlmans competed at the World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, End of the Trail, in Phoenix, Arizona, in February.
What they wear and shoot depends on the competitive category. Whiskey the Kid shoots in Frontier Cartridge, which requires black powder that smokes. His attire is not as restrictive.
“My category presents a challenge because my ammo makes a lot of smoke, so it obscures the target,” he said. “The guns boom louder and make more flames. I have a lot more fun doing it.”
Stephanie, who can choose between black powders in the B Western costume category, prefers smokeless. The dress code is whatever you might see in a B Western movie. She usually wears a bejeweled or embroidered yoked shirt with jeans, rhinestone-and-turquoise-encrusted belt and holster, championship buckles, two-tone boots, and a felt hat.
Although both are champion shooters, David and Stephanie talk most about the people they meet and the lifestyle.
“We want to grow the sport,” David said. “We want to have everybody leave with a smile on their face, whether it’s an 8-year-old kid or an 80-year-old grandma. That’s our club’s personality.”
“You don’t necessarily need to be dressed to shoot,” Stephanie said “If someone’s interested, we can get them outfitted and shooting the first time — let them see if they like it.”
Anyone interested is welcome to visit the Green Mountain Regulators range at 14230 FM 1174 South from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of the month.