Bill Ledoux got excited when he flipped through a cowboy magazine and found an article about mounted shooting competitions.

He was hooked as soon as he donned his old Western-style clothes, mounted his horse and entered his first competition.

Ledoux, president of the Maine Cowboy Mounted Shooters, said the little-known sport – in which pistol-wielding competitors fire blanks at target balloons while riding horses through a short course – is growing in popularity across the country and attracting interest in expanded competitions in southern Maine. However, the local club ran into a little trouble with the law when it wanted to take its Wild West-style event to Saco.

The coastal city has a community of horse farms that could be ideal places for the club to host events. But Saco restricts what types of guns can be fired in different areas of the city. In the most rural corner, where the horse farms are located, only shotguns can be discharged. That would rule out shooting by mounted cowboys using pistols with black-powder blanks.

Bill Ledoux, president of the Maine Mounted Cowboy Shooters, poses at his Biddeford home Wednesday with his registered quarter horse Teddy. The Saco City Council is considering amending the city's firearms ordinance to allow Western-style shooting, like what Ledoux performs with Teddy.

Bill Ledoux, president of the Maine Mounted Cowboy Shooters, poses at his Biddeford home Wednesday with his registered quarter horse Teddy. The Saco City Council is considering amending the city’s firearms ordinance to allow Western-style shooting, like what Ledoux performs with Teddy. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

“Even if you’re shooting blank loads, they can’t legally conduct their practice and competitions,” said Police Chief Brad Paul, who was approached by members of the Maine Cowboy Mounted Shooters about changing local restrictions. “This is an attempt to permit them to safely pursue a sport they’ve come to like.”

The Saco City Council is considering an amendment to the city’s firearms ordinance that would allow the mounted shooting competitions to operate legally. And, while they’re at it, councilors also may allow blank cartridges to be discharged in the city for military ceremonies and theatrical performances.

Paul said he suggested the change to allow blank cartridges for military funerals because the shooting of firearms is prohibited in the part of the city where its largest cemetery, Laurel Hill, is located.

“It’s very difficult to tell a family of a lost loved one who earned the right to an interment with military honors that they can’t do that,” he said.

Ledoux and his wife, Patty, who live in Biddeford and own a horse, started the Maine Cowboy Mounted Shooters eight years ago after first being involved with the sport in New Hampshire. The club now has a dozen members of all ages – including children who learn to ride and shoot – and would like to grow its membership by hosting clinics and competitions at River Winds Farm in Saco. The club currently holds competitions at the Hollis Equestrian Center.

Bill Ledoux says the sport of mounted shooting is drawing interest in Maine, and the club he runs wants to hold competitions in more places. But Saco's police chief says that, under the current city ordinance, "Even if you’re shooting blank loads, they can’t legally conduct their practice and competitions."

Bill Ledoux says the sport of mounted shooting is drawing interest in Maine, and the club he runs wants to hold competitions in more places. But Saco’s police chief says that, under the current city ordinance, “Even if you’re shooting blank loads, they can’t legally conduct their practice and competitions.”

During the competitions, each rider uses a .45-caliber pistol to shoot at 10 target balloons during a 60-second run through the course. Although the cartridges don’t fire bullets, Ledoux said the black powder coming out of the gun barrel is hot enough to pop the balloons if the shooter is close enough to the target. Riders are divided into separate divisions based on their shooting ability.

Most horses ridden during the competitions are accustomed to the sound of guns firing, but each horse wears earplugs to protect their hearing, Ledoux said.

He encourages riders to dress in traditional Western-style outfits during competitions, but that isn’t required. He competes on his horse, Teddy, while wearing a pre-1900s outfit that includes suspenders, bandanna and a cowboy hat.

The local club’s website invites fans of the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to consider joining the “cowboy way.”

“Does your heart pound, your fingers twitch, do you feel your ‘seat’ in the saddle when you watch the movies of the Old West?” the website says. “Are some of your favorite smells horses, leather and gunpowder? Do you ever say you were born 100 years too late?”

“We’re out there having fun. I’m 72 years old and still playing,” Ledoux said. “It’s a growing sport here in the area. We’d like to keep it going.”

Ledoux said the sport was created about 25 years ago in Arizona. There are now local clubs hosting competitions in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania, according to United Mounted Shooters, a national group created to promote the sport.

Paul, the police chief, said he doesn’t see any safety issues with allowing blanks to be fired during the competitions, funerals or theater performances.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes next Tuesday and is expected to vote on the issue May 2.

 


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