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Uprising at Swearing Creek: Shooters from 16 states converge on Rowan County

Beth Stebe of Salisbury is the mother of “Dog” and a big fan of shooting competitions. Stebe also heads the Rowan County 4H Shooting Sports Club, which has 15 members ages 9-18.

And another thing: She was just about the only person on the Rowan County Wildlife Association grounds Friday without an alias.

At least 160 cowboys and cowgirls from 16 states gathered for the 23rd annual North Carolina Single Action Shooting Society State Championship over the weekend.

The Wildlife Association has plenty of shooting venues and room for camping and RV parking, just what a competition of this size needs, according to Tracker Mike of the Old North State Posse. Tracker Mike Linville is an officer of the host club that organized the first championship in 1997. Since 2007, the North Carolina Cowboys Inc. has organized the competition.

“Dog” is short for Hot Diggity Dog, the alias for Christian Stebe, a 14-year-old student at West Rowan High School and the youngest male competitor. Dog has been involved in shooting competitions for at least seven years. On Friday morning, he traveled with his posse of competitors from match to match.

They wore old-west clothing from the late 1800s. Dog had a cart to haul all his guns and ammunition and waited patiently to prepare for his next stage. Each stage at Swearing Creek was based on a western movie theme. Stage 4 was centered on “Hang ‘Em High,” a Clint Eastwood western. Beth Stebe said Dog was dressed as Eastwood from “A Fist Full of Dollars.”

Each stage goes something like this: Dog took his guns to the loading table and prepared them under a watchful eye, then walked to the ready table. When it was his turn to shoot, Dog had to say a movie line, “When you hang a man, you better look at him.” A beeper went off, and the shooting began — approximately 10 pistol shots, 10 rifle shots and six shotgun blasts.

Another beeper completed the round. Scoring was tabulated for targets hit and shots taken. Dog then collected his guns, emptied them and moved to the scoring table to assess his results.

There are two stages per shooting berm, and completion of each berm for all posse members takes about an hour. A posse, usually a group of more than 15 shooters, completes 10 stages during a half day and has the rest of the day off.

“This is certainly a sport, and it’s called a competition, but it is all for fun,” said Dog. “This is my sport.”

According to Tracker Mike, about 70 percent of the competitors have some military or law enforcement experience. All guns are empty except when in the shooting area.

Match director R.J. Gatling said the competition is fun.

“The shooters hit the targets, hear the ping and have fun,” Gatling said. “Anybody of any age is welcome to join us. We have a 13-year-old girl and three over 80 years of age here. It is a family event, all done in the cowboy spirit.”

The top female and only one wearing a black badge was Island Girl, sometimes known as Chanie Ciric. The black badge signifies that Island Girl was the top female shooter. Island Girl, who is from Mooresville but was born in the Philippines, said she participated in the competition for 27 years, but retired for six years. “But now, I am back,” she said.

Tracker Mike said the state meet has always been near Salisbury.

“The wildlife location is as good as any I have ever seen,” he said. “We are in a quiet and secluded spot but motels, restaurants and anything else you need are just minutes away, and we are also near the center of the state.”

“We have regular monthly Saturday meets and encourage spectators,” he said. “They watch a little, and we offer them a chance to try it, shooting a stage or two. Some get hooked on the costuming as much or more than the shooting.

“The younger generation can be really good at this sport. Many of them play video games, have quick reflexes and can take in a lot of info quickly,” he said.

Vendors were also on hand this weekend. One of them is known as Dutch Henry Brown, one of the worst thieves of the old west. Brown also goes by Rick Palmer in Hudson, where he sells his wares at Gunpowder Creek Trading Post.

“I have traveled this circuit for 17 years, once for as many as 40 shows a year and about 10 now,” Brown said. “I meet the most wonderful people, try to put on a good show for them and feel blessed to be here. Occasionally, I compete too, but I am a miserable shot.”

Other colorful characters included Hoss Blocker and Kill-em All Kate. Kate (Tracie Preslar) is an exterminator who enjoys killing bugs but shooting guns on the weekends even more. Kate is the southeast regional champion.

Island Girl seemed to say it best.

“I get to play with my guns again,” she said. “Some might say it’s crazy, but we have lots of friends here who do the same thing.”

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