Right on target
It all happens in an instant, the blink of an eye, a heartbeat — well under a second, including the smile.
This is fast draw, a sport that’s “a combination of reaction time plus physical motion plus accuracy,” said Scott Bateman, Juliana’s proud father and fellow competitor.
He took his daughter, then 14, to her first competition in Los Banos, California, a year ago. She won, with the fastest time in the women’s thumbing division - one of two types of fast-draw shooting.
This weekend, both Julianna and her dad will be demonstrating their speed and accuracy in their hometown as Dayton hosts one of only two World Fast-Draw Competitions this year.
The event will draw members of the World Fast Draw Association from all over North America and Europe, as well.
The competition is open to spectators from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday in Dayton’s Blockhouse Park. In addition, a non-competitive demonstration and warm-up shoot will be held Friday evening, with competitors from several countries trying their hand at the sport.
At 3 p.m. Friday, a special celebrity shoot will take place, featuring city council members and other well-known people.
Admission is free. Dayton also will offer numerous other activities, including its usual Friday night street sales and cruise-in and Wild West-themed events throughout the weekend. There will even be a mechanical bull ride set up in the park.
The Batemans, who’ve lived in Dayton since Juliana was 7, are two of about 20 people who belong to the Oregon Fast Draw Club. Based in St. Helens, the group meets monthly for practice shoots.
Scott Bateman and the club’s founder, Greg Townsley, want to build interest in the sport and start more clubs in Oregon. That’s why they decided to put on the fast-draw championship in Dayton.
Bateman said he hopes it will become a recurring event, with more Wild West activities added each year.
Fast draw grew out of shooting demonstrations at Knott’s Berry Farm in the 1950s, Bateman said. The demonstration shooters started holding competitions between themselves and inviting their friends; fast draw quickly caught on and spread.
It was quite popular for several decades, but nearly died out in the 1980s. In recent years, though, there’s been a resurgence of interest.
Bateman, a low-voltage electrical contractor, became interested in fast-draw shooting in 2008 when Greg Townsley invited him to try it.
“I liked firearms and I had some, but I had no point,” Bateman recalled. “This is an outlet for that interest, and it’s fun.”
His son, Sebastian, now 19, also joined the club. But he lacked his dad’s inherent interest and went on to pursue other pastimes.
Daughter Juliana, on the other hand, was very interested, so she asked if she could tag along.
Her dad teases that the clothing — fancy shirts, jeans, boots and cowboy hats are common, although not required — was one of the ways he tempted her into joining him in the sport.
But she countered that it wasn’t the shopping that drew her; it was the opportunity to spend time with her father. How many 15-year-old girls get to travel all over and enter competitions alongside their dads? she asked.
“It’s a great chance for us to have fun together,” she said.
Mom Patricia is very supportive, she and her father said. “She lets us do our thing,” Bateman said. “And nobody’s better at taking the black powder stains out of clothes.”
Dad is thrilled to have his daughter with him and to watch her shoot.
“She’s a fierce competitor,” he said, noting that’s true whether she’s playing soccer, running track, participating on national qualifying FFA teams, running for student body office or shooting her handgun.
Juliana said she tries to get better at the sport all he time. “A successful shoot is if I’ve improved something, had fun and had a chance to socialize with the other people,” she said.
Recently, she placed fifth in the women’s overall division at a tournament in Aldergrove, B.C.
Getting to the Canadian competition was an adventure in itself, the Batemans said.
“Traveling into Canada with guns? It’s not easy,” he said. They had to carry extensive paperwork, including an invitation to enter the country and a license to perform with a gun.
It’s even more complicated for Canadian members of the World Fast Draw Association, he said. They have to obtain special permits just to travel to local practice sessions, and their shooting time is strictly regulated.
In every country, fast-draw participants use firearms such as a single-action Colt .45 or a Ruger pistol. They may be standard guns that can fire regular ammo, or firearms modified specifically for fast-draw competition.
Some of the Batemans’ guns are outfitted with aluminum barrels for wax bullets, for instance; regular bullets would cause them to explode. Other guns have steel barrels.
The Batemans and other competitors shoot using two different techniques.
The techniques are thumbing, in which the shooter pulls the hammer back with his thumb as he lifts the firearm from the holster; and fanning, in which the shooter reaches across with his opposite hand to push the hammer back as his gun hand lifts the firearm and pulls the trigger.
Most people start with thumbing, then advance to fanning. The latter is faster — shooters who claim world records used the fanning technique with modified guns.
But both techniques take longer to describe than to do.
“You’d definitely notice the difference between a quarter second shot and one that takes a half second,” Juliana said. “You’d hear it.”
Her father taught her how to shoot with the thumbing technique first. She subsequently learned fanning, which she prefers. “It’s easier to gain speed with fanning,” she said, “but really, I can be more accurate with thumbing.”
For thumbing or for fanning, fast-draw shooters also use two kinds of ammunition and targets.
The first combination is the wax projectile aimed at the steel target. To Julianna, it sounds like a nail gun firing a three-penny nail at the side of a metal building.
Second is the black powder blank aimed at a balloon. “That’s exciting,” Scott Batemen said, describing how a puff of smoke and fire shoots out of the barrel along with the projectile.
The sound is much louder than that of a wax bullet; “more like a shotgun blast,” he said.
And the process is more complex, with each competitor developing his or her own special recipe for loading. “Experimenting with the loading is half the fun,” Bateman said.
“This sport really attracts tinkerers,” he said. “People who like to fiddle with their firearms, use their mechanical skills; others who work on the black powder recipe or try to improve their reaction time.”
The fastest fast draw competitors can fire in less than a quarter of a second after the light flashes. Three or four tenths of a second is considered moderately fast. Newer shooters strive to break the half-second barrier.
Practice helps reduce reaction time, Bateman said. “A lot of practice,” he said.
Beginners often reach the half-second firing level quickly, he said. But moving from .5 seconds to .4 seconds takes a lot of practice; moving from .4 to .3 takes much more. It’s frustrating and fun, he said.
“I’m the best in the world — when no one is looking,” he joked.
Some competitors wear specially tinted glasses on the theory they will see the light blink on more quickly. Others eat salt in hopes it will cause their pupils to open wider.
While both speed and accuracy are important, Juliana said accuracy is her No. 1 priority. Her dad acknowledged, “The one who wins is usually the most accurate.”
To achieve the perfect combination of accuracy and speed, the Batemans said they try to clear their heads of unnecessary thoughts. “If I ever figure out how to do that, I’ll let you know,” he joked.
Juliana said she tries to “go to my happy place” in her mind. Or she purposely ignores extraneous noises, smells and sights while she focuses on the light.
“I’ve never shot here in Dayton,” she said, “but I don’t think the spectators will make a difference.”
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.