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Published June 16, 2009, 08:26 PM

Fast shootin’

A local gunslinger made a name for herself June 7 in Stevens Point. Cathy Mattson, a.k.a. Connecticut Cat, proved she was the fastest draw in the state.

By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram

A local gunslinger made a name for herself June 7 in Stevens Point. Cathy Mattson, a.k.a. Connecticut Cat, proved she was the fastest draw in the state.

“It was exciting, despite the frigid weather,” said Mattson, a member of the Black River Bandits, a group of local Cowboy Fast Draw enthusiasts. Being quick on the trigger netted her a trophy, a belt buckle and a stainless steel long-barrel .45.

“It’s a pretty one,” she said.

The state competition was Mattson’s first fast draw tournament. And she’s only been shooting regularly since February. She wasn’t even planning to compete until a twist of fate put her in the tournament lineup.

“I think the fact that I won the state championship is just sinking in,” Mattson said. But she and her husband, Pete, will trek to Deadwood, South Dakota this weekend for the Great Plains Territorial Shoot.

The bandits, based at the Aurora Ouisconsin Outdoor Club in Oakland, have been growing almost as fast as their reputation. In the past three years, the group membership has jumped from four to 40. And they’ve seen the rise of not one but two champs.

“There must be something in the water,” joked Mattson’s sister-in-law, Lori Adrihan of Foxboro. Adrihan blazed onto the Cowboy Fast Draw scene in 2006, shooting her way to the top in two competitions, including the world championship.

Indirectly, her win led to Mattson’s. Adrihan encouraged her brother Pete to try fast draw with one of her prize guns and he was hooked. Known as Deerslayer, a name that came from a James Fennimore Cooper novel, he entered his first tournament last summer. Then he persuaded to get his wife to give it a shot.

“At first I was hesitant about trying it,” Mattson said. “I didn’t think it would be something I’d be good at.”

But the fun factor nabbed her, just as it did the other bandits.

“It’s addicting,” said Chris Bay, known as C.B. Slinger. “How many people have dreamed or played cowboys and Indians with their kids?”

“It’s a blast,” Adrihan said.

Cowboy Fast Draw Association began in 2002. Today it boasts more than 900 members based on the aliases listed on the association website. The firearm of choice is a single-action .45 western-style six-shooter pistol. Contestants square off against each other to shoot at 24-inch round targets 21 feet away.

A sensor on the target captures the speed and lithium grease on the target shows where the shot hits. Participants shoot non-lethal wax bullets. They also dress up in 1800s period costumes to relive a little of the old West.

“We’ve owned cowboy hats forever, a lot of us have, and now we have someplace to wear them,” Bay said.

A month ago, when she changed her holster angle, Mattson’s made marked improvements in her shooting. She was doing so well that when Vonn Wittkopf needed to drop out of the state tournament to have knee surgery, she offered her spot to Mattson.

“She made me so proud,” Wittkopf said.

With bandits there to cheer her on and a few kisses on the cheek from her husband, Connecticut Cat won the title.

“She was shooting so well that day,” said her husband, Pete, who placed second in the men’s competition. “I think it was her coaching.”

Dale Paulzine of Amery, who shoots with the Yellow River Bandits in Siren, said Mattson’s enthusiasm was a joy to see.

“It was a good feeling for everybody when she won it,” said Paulzine, who goes by the name Sod Buster.

Competition isn’t the sport’s only draw. There were plenty of smiles and stories to swap Monday during the bandits’ weekly practice session.

“I’d rather just get together doing this,” said Don Warren of Superior, who goes by the name of Diablo, after winning a shoot against Mattson and Adrihan.

“You have bad days and good days,” Mattson said as she accepted the loss. “You have a lot of fun. You meet great people.”

Often, couples join the sport together. Even youngsters are welcome.

“It’s not just about shooting,” said Colleen Anderson, who goes by the name of Wildfire. “It’s about family.” Her 14-year-old daughter, Coral, shoots with the group, as do 12-year-old Tom Blatt and Paige Fort, 14.

The Black River Bandits placed first with their Fourth of July float last year. They aim to do the same with this year’s float. Adrihan promised noise, smoke and a dash of humor in their entry.

Anyone interested in seeing fast draw competition first hand can attend the bandits’ Smokin’ Gun Shoot at the AOOC on July 25-26. Shooting should start at 9 a.m. both days.

And everyone is invited to give fast draw a shot. Practices are held at 6 p.m. every Monday through October. In the winter, practices are offered in Superior. The Black River Bandits have extra guns and holsters and they welcome new faces.

“You can walk into this group and be accepted no matter who you are,” said Tony Orman of Duluth, a.k.a. Anton LeBear.

The first shoot is free, Adrihan said, and yearly dues are only $25. Equipment costs range from about $450 and up for gun and holster. The wax bullets can be refilled, which keeps ammo costs down.

For more information about Cowboy Fast Draw, look it up online at www.cowboyfastdraw.com or look up the AOOC at http://aooclub.com/, which provides a map to the site.

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