By Robyn St. James

Bay Area Bandits Mounted Shooting Club LogoGunsmoke and dust hung over the arena, dimming the brilliance of the lights. A new rider was being shown how to handle his pistol, firing blank rounds toward a bank of sand. Ten rifle shots shattered all hopes at retaining a semblance of quiet. Riders shouted for guns, holsters and horses. The Bay Area Bandits were ready to ride.

The Bay Area Bandits is a mounted shooting club affiliated and operating under the guidelines of the Cowboy Sports Association. Formed in March 2010, it currently meets at the Double T Ranch, located at 5206 Turkey Creek Rd. in Plant City, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.

New shooters are welcome to all practices, even those without weapons, horses or experience with guns. On the first Saturday of every month, it holds a match of at least three stages at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds. The only requirement for shooting in a competition is a membership with the Cowboy Sports Association for insurance and safety purposes.

Mounted shooting is “navigating a ten target course of balloons on a horse and shooting the targets with blanks from a pair of 45 single action revolvers.” The course is timed, and riders are penalized for missed targets or for riding the course incorrectly. Five-second penalties are given for such things as missing targets, knocking over barrels, not following the course correctly or dropping a gun. Ten-second penalties are given for things like not shooting targets in the right order or not following the course instructions. There are six levels riders can compete in, making the sport fun for the entire family.

Courses are designed to test not only the shooting ability of the competitors, but their horsemanship as well. After shooting the first five targets, riders holster their first gun, draw their second gun, shoot the next five targets, then holster the second gun. The course is ridden at any speed between a walk and a canter, and advanced riders gallop the rundown that is the ‘grand finale’ of the course.

Dianna Martines was a barrel racer when her boyfriend wanted to look into the sport.

Martines said, “After a few shots at a balloon while being on horseback, I was hooked. I loved horses and guns, but never thought of putting the two together. The Bandits are unlike any other equine club. Very down to earth and love to help. Always wanting to improve and lift up one another.”

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