Few things are more closely identified with the 101 years of Arizona statehood than the cowboys of the Old West. That proud and colorful portion of our state’s history will come alive again at this year’s Winter Range, the Single Action Shooting Society’s (SASS) National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, set for Feb. 18-24 at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility in Phoenix.

Over the past 20 years, Winter Range has grown to be the world’s largest “Western Encampment,” drawing thousands of spectators and Old West enthusiasts. More than 1,100 competitors representing 44 different states and six foreign countries will compete in nearly two dozen categories dictated by age and competitive style. The competitors, male and female, range in age from 12 to more than 80 years old.

In addition to the traditional events, this year the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association and the SASS Mounted Shooters have combined to create an incredibly exciting three-day mounted shooting event with more than 100 mounted shooters participating in their own arena. Another event will be the SASS National Championship of Wild Bunch Action Shooting, a multi-faceted amateur shooting sport that is becoming a popular portion of Cowboy Action Shooting and will take place on Feb. 18 and 19.

Cowboy Action Shooting, the fastest-growing shooting sport in America, requires that contestants compete with firearms typical of those used in the days of the Old West: single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, and period shotguns. Participants must also adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star, or an appropriate character from fiction, and then costume themselves accordingly.

The competition itself is staged in a unique “Old West” style. During timed events, shooters test their skills against steel targets set up within a course of 12 different stages, each featuring different scenarios and scenic elements which, this year, will be based on events from Western movie musicals.

“This is a shooting sport that is exciting, safe and family friendly,” said Dan Wohleen (aka “Parson Swede”), volunteer publicity coordinator for Winter Range. “Come on out to watch – it’s a lot of fun.”

In addition to the competitive events, Winter Range 2013 will feature displays of period militaria, exhibitions of western skills and crafts, a fast draw competition, and nearly 100 vendors offering everything from period clothing to antiques and reproductions. Entertainment will be readily available in the form of a number of singers, cowboy bands, trick roping, trick horses, and various other forms of cowboy entertainment. Also this year, Wyatt Earp, the great grand-nephew of his namesake, will be giving a special state presentation as Doc Holiday, sharing reflections on his amazing life and times at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23.

A variety of food services will also be available, from authentic chuck wagon cooking to hot dogs.

The Winter Range Championship and Exhibition is produced by the Arizona Territorial Company of Rough Riders, a not-for-profit group representing various Cowboy Action Shooting clubs in the Phoenix area and throughout Arizona. Every year the profits from Winter Range are donated to charitable organizations throughout Arizona, including youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts, the Ronald McDonald House, the Youth Assistance Foundation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Legion for their work with the Veterans Hospital. Last year more than $35,000 was donated to various charities.

Daily event times for this year’s Winter Range are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (Feb. 18 and 19) and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday (Feb. 20-24), with the final awards ceremony taking place on Sunday, Feb. 24. Admission is free, but there is a $5 per vehicle parking fee which is used to support the Youth Assistance Foundation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse and the youth-directed activities of the Rotary Club.

While in the shooting areas, spectators will be required to wear eye protection; sunglasses and corrective glasses are acceptable. Ear protection is suggested, especially for children.

Winter Range is held at the world-renowned Ben Avery Shooting Facility, a five-star range operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department that is a Phoenix Point of Pride. It is located just west of the junction of I-17 and Carefree Highway (exit 223). Winter Range will occupy the western portion of the shooting facility grounds and can be easily located by the huge white tent that serves as the hub of this event.

Image courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department

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