Drive, Ride 'n' Shoot
The moment of impact. Those white blotches near the horse’s mane are the remnants of a target balloon Dennis Griffin has just hit with his Colt .45 as he piles up points in a cowboy action shooting contest.
When Dennis Griffin steps out of his Kenworth and heads off into the great outdoors, he also steps away from the 21st century and back to a time when America was a frontier society and the West was still wild.
Dressed in the authentic period clothes of a 19th-century cowboy, Griffin pursues a sport he is passionately hooked on, cowboy action shooting, blasting away at targets from the saddle of his horse with smoke and thunder pouring from the barrels of his old-time Colt .45s.
“We’re just a bunch of guys who go riding around playing cowboys and Indians,” says Griffin. “We get dressed up in old-time cowboy gear and go do some barrel racing, pole bending and shooting targets.”
Shooting matches score points at each stage, and each stage is different. In the end the fastest time for the stage wins – with time penalties kicking in for rule infringements like taking the wrong route, missing targets or knocking down poles or barrels.
“I shoot Army Colt .45s at the targets, which are balloons on the top of poles. My guns are third generation weapons, made in the 1970s and exact replicas of an 1873 single action Army colt, built to the same specifications by the same manufacturers, Colt,” Griffin says.
“We shoot blanks, and the balloons are broken by concussion from the explosion of the blank cartridge and also by flame, which you really can’t see in daylight because it’s mostly covered up in smoke, and by some unburnt particles of powder that come out of the barrel. We use black powder, and it’s relatively slow-burning compared to modern-day powders so there are particles left that can hit the balloon. Depending on your aim, lady luck and the wind, you can break a balloon from 10 to 15 feet away.”
Griffin, an owner-operator, drives for CFI, rolling the lower 48 and Canada in a 1997 Kenworth T600, hauling general freight in an air ride, 53-foot van. He was born in New Zealand to an American father and a New Zealand mother, came to America when he was 2 years old and settled in California. At 19 he joined the U.S. Navy, and in his four years in uniform, went through two tours of action in Vietnam.
“I used to shoot when I was a company driver and I could take a little more time off,” Griffin says. “But now I’m an owner-operator, and since I bought my truck I have too many additional bills to pay to take as much time for it as I’d like.”
Griffin first got involved in cowboy action shooting in California in 1985, and he joined the Single Action Shooting Society, the sanctioning body for the sport, in 1990.
“The first competitions I was in you had to shoot from your feet. It was a little like those police school shooting ranges where you walk through town and have to shoot the bad guys but don’t fire at the good guys. My wife also got involved. It was one of those things you could do as a family,” Griffin says.
Griffin shows off the most important aspects of his life – wife Diane, Ms. Poco Flit Bar (“Poco”), an 18-year-old registered quarter horse, and his CFI Kenworth T600.
“My son got into to it, too, and I think it might have helped him. It was something different; it had a whole different set of rules, and it required a whole different kind of self-discipline. Without it maybe he just hangs out at the malls and ice cream stores.”
When Griffin moved to live in Texas in 1990, he says, “someone suggested we start creating matches on horseback, and we worked it out.” He became one of the founders of the Lone Star Frontier Shooting Club, an affiliated club of SASS. “This club is still in existence here in north Texas, and it’s the home of the longest running annual match in the state,” Griffin says.
“I’d worked for the county when I lived in California, but I wanted to get out of the corporate world. I didn’t belong wearing a suit and tie. I really didn’t know what I’d do. Then someone told me, ‘You know, there’s always a need for truck drivers.’ So I tried it. It paid less than I had been making, but it wasn’t a real burden. Now I’m looking at buying more trucks, and I’m going to have someone else earn money for me, too.