Saddling Up with the Hobble Creek Wranglers: A Journey into Cowboy Action Shooting

On the outskirts of Springville, down Hobble Creek Canyon, just off Canyon Road, there’s the sound of gunfire and accompanying smell of gunpowder that fills the air on a crisp Saturday morning. These sounds and smells are also indicative of camaraderie, as they come from members of the Hobble Creek Wranglers who are all decked in authentic 19th-century attire. Once a month, the group prepares for a day of shooting, storytelling, and stepping back in time to enjoy their hobby.

The Hobble Creek Wranglers is a cowboy action shooting club that has become a haven for enthusiasts of the Wild West. One of 16 similar clubs in Utah, the Wranglers are among the most popular, meeting every month on the second Saturday, March through November.

“It’s a throwback to the old west. We dress in period-correct clothing and shoot period-correct guns,” said Mike Snelson, who currently serves as the secretary/treasurer for the club. 

Snelson, who owns Snelson Photocolor Lab in Springville, has been shooting with the club since 2012. 

“I’ve been somewhat interested in the old west for most of my life,” he said. “When I was a little kid, I thought I was a cowboy. My grandpa would take me out to see the cows every Sunday, and always had a couple of guns strapped at my hip.”

Snelson said that when he heard about the club, he was immediately interested. He was in contact with the president at the time and found out what he’d need to participate. Once he gathered everything he needed—including period-appropriate firearms and clothing—he joined up and has been with the club ever since.

Cowboy action shooting is a sport that has grown immensely in popularity since its inception in the early 1980s by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Participants, or “shootists,” compete using firearms typical of those used in the taming of the Old West: single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, and side-by-side double-barreled shotguns. The Hobble Creek Wranglers embody the spirit and enthusiasm of this unique sport, with a local flavor that makes each shoot an unforgettable event.

The Hobble Creek Wranglers is more than just a shooting club; it’s a vibrant community where history buffs, shooting enthusiasts, and fans of western folklore gather to relive the legendary days of frontier gunslingers and lawmen. The club prides itself on its inclusive atmosphere, welcoming members of all ages and backgrounds, from seasoned sharpshooters to curious newcomers eager to learn the ropes.

“We consider ourselves an entertainment organization,” said Snelson. “We don’t teach people how to shoot. We don’t get down on people who don’t shoot well, we don’t idolize people who do. We’re here to entertain, not to train.”

Every month, the Wranglers organize themed shooting matches at their dedicated range, nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. Each match is a meticulously crafted affair, with stages designed to challenge the skill and accuracy of participants while providing a hearty dose of fun and quasi-historical reenactment. Competitors might find themselves rescuing a kidnapped sheriff, thwarting a bank robbery, or facing off against outlaws in a dusty, mock-up frontier town.

One of the most captivating aspects of cowboy action shooting is the requirement for period-correct attire. Participants are encouraged to fully immerse themselves in their chosen persona, adopting the names and outfits of characters that could have walked out of a history book or a classic Western film. Snelson is known in the club as Stoneface Daguerrean, an homage to the stoic expressions seen in photographs of the time and daguerreotype photography, which was the first publicly available photographic process.

At the heart of each gathering is the competition itself, structured around a series of staged scenarios. In each scenario, or shooting sequence, participants use two pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun to hit a series of metal targets in a certain order as fast as possible. Rather than simply shooting at targets, the participants are given a scenario draped in Old West theming, given flavor to the steel slabs they’re firing at. Instead of a “ready, set, go,” times start when the shooter shouts a specific phrase, such as “Wag this tail, you dog!” or “The meek ain’t gonna inherit nuthin’ west o’ Chicago.” The lines and scenarios often take inspiration from well-worn slang or are lifted from films and TV shows. 

Accuracy and speed are key, but safety is paramount. The club enforces strict safety protocols to ensure that every event is not only enjoyable but also secure for participants and spectators alike. 

“The shooting is a lot of fun, but the camaraderie is a big part of it too,” said Snelson. “We have a good time, there’s a lot of kidding around and teasing. But we take the shooting seriously to make sure everyone is safe.” 

For those intrigued by the prospect of stepping into the boots of a Wild West adventurer, the Hobble Creek Wranglers offer a welcoming gateway. The club is always open to new members, participants simply need to arrive on the day of the shoot—preferably in period-appropriate attire. There’s a $10 range fee, but the crowd is welcoming to anyone who wants to join. The club’s May meet-up, known as the Bordertown at Hobble Creek, is one of its larger events.

In a world where the rush of modern life often seems overwhelming, the Hobble Creek Wranglers offer a unique escape and a chance to experience the thrill and romance of a bygone era. Whether you’re an avid sharp-shooter or a history enthusiast, a day with the Hobble Creek Wranglers promises not just a test of skill but a doorway to the past.

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