Triple Trouble: Gun Problems and TWO Lucky Shots

Mounted shooting. Add guns to horses running at fast speeds. What could possibly go wrong?

There are so many variables that can go wrong in the sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting. Moving parts range from the rider to the horse to the gun to the ammo to the footing to the timer to the the balloons… the list is seemingly endless. Some of these variables can be controlled by the rider while others aren’t quite that easy.

Rider errors include mistakes made in the riding portion of the sport and in the shooting portion of the sport. A rider can shoot too early, shoot too late, be unable to pull the hammer back, slip the hammer, or index the gun wrong. She can also cue the horse incorrectly, not cue the horse when to turn at all, hold the horse on the breaks too much, or allow the horse to go so fast that she can’t keep up.

The horse can also create error in the pattern. He can surge around the barrel, bumping his rider off the shot, slow down just enough to mess up shooting timing, ignore his rider completely and not navigate the pattern correctly, get anxious and cross the timer line during the warm up circle, or spook, stop or run away from the gunfire… just to name a few.

Gun issues are probably the most disheartening because you can improve yourself, you can improve your horse, but your gun malfunctioning is most likely because you didn’t check it over or clean it properly. The black powder used for mounted shooting really dirties the gun. It can cause the cylinder not to spin or can stop the hammer from hitting the ammo primer. Another issues is losing your firing pin due to loose screws.

Actually, I take back my previous statement. Ammo issues are probably the most disheartening because they are completely out of your control. You can clean and maintain your guns. But with ammo, when you’re set up for success and a round just doesn’t fire, it sucks — for lack of better words. This could be due to a high primer, a primer being placed wrong, powder leaking out, or an array of other issues.

On Friday June 2, 2023, Buns and I made our way to the Mason Dixon Deputies CMSA Paul Henry Windows Maryland State Championship. I took Buns because I wanted to enjoy myself and ride my reliable, point and go, seasoned horse. My mind was clear, I had my finished horse and my guns were freshly clean right out of the ultrasonic cleaner.

Photo by Timeless Treasures Photography

Saturday morning Buns and I were ready to rock and roll. Our morning warm up was a solid one. Buns was a bit stiff, but quickly worked out of it. This isn’t out of the ordinary — he had a pretty catastrophic injury a few years back, so we make sure to have long warm up so he is feeling his best (you can read about that injury and rehab here). We were ready to take on the first three stages of the five-stage match. They were three patterns that I enjoyed running on Buns so I felt confident we’d do well.

On the first stage, everything was going smooth. We hit a nice line, but on shot four, my gun was cocked back but when I pulled the trigger, there was no bang that came afterwards. I managed to try again and shot five didn’t go off either. I slowed Buns down to what felt like a walk and was able to get one shot off to only miss one balloon. I was so upset that something was wrong with my guns and it caused a miss.


@mgruc01♬ Trouble

Directly after the run, I attempted to take my guns apart to clean them and make sure they were well oiled, but I could not get them apart. It took the help of three fellow shooters — thank you Chris Himes, Paul Treas, and Hal Welch — to pull the firing pin out from the cylinder.

Once apart, I cleaned those puppies up good and we didn’t have an issue, or another miss, for the remainder of the weekend. Something funny happened though. On stage five, I thought I had missed a balloon, however when I rounded the rundown barrel, all the balloons were popped. After watching the video, I had missed one of my balloons but luckily, there was a delayed pop while I was shooting the next balloon. It was my lucky weekend! It was like the big man in the sky saw my gun trouble on the first stage and gave me a freebie on the last stage.


@mgruc01♬ Get Lucky

That delayed pop was enough to earn Buns and me our class win and the Maryland State Championship Reserve Cowgirl title! All I could think of was how lucky it was for that delayed pop to have happened.

Fast forward to the following weekend, we competed at a Northern Ohio Outlaws competition. There were no gun malfunctions and no titles to be won, but on the second stage, again, I missed my balloon and one balloon later there was a delayed pop! I couldn’t believe it. This almost never happens and here it’s happened to me twice in two weekends. How, with everything that can go astray in a 10-20 second pattern, was I so lucky to have my balloons pop even when I missed them?


@mgruc01♬ Showin’ Off

It’s miraculous that a mounted shooter can have consistent exceptional runs after thinking about everything that can go wrong. It’s even more astonishing to think we can make double shots and get lucky with delayed balloon breaks. Seeing the issues and the luck behind the sport all in two weekends of shooting has reminded me why I appreciate and enjoy the sport so much.