Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Polson couple shares love of cowboy action shooting in Bigfork

Daily Inter Lake | August 31, 2021 10:45 AM

Standing outside their Polson home in elaborate vests and vintage-style hats, gun belts across their waists and long guns in hand, they look like characters out of the Old West. The couple enjoys spending their free time traveling the state and the country to shoot beside those whose speed and accuracy with period firearms is as impressive as their variety of colorful nicknames.

Bodie Camp and Prairie Daisy are cowboy action shooters, and proud of it.

Better known as Ken and Diane Ritz, the pair have been making the rounds in the world of cowboy action shooting and long-range black powder matches for some time, amassing an impressive collection of first-place plaques and other "wood" that adorns the wall of their gunsmithing and reloading room in their garage.

Originally from Westchester County in New York, Ken Ritz got his first taste of cowboy action shooting while working on solid-state lasers and silicon semiconductors in California in the late 1990s.

"I only owned a .22 revolver back then, and I would take it out on the range to shoot. On the way out one day I came across a bunch of people in cowboy hats and they explained to me that they were the Faultline Shootist Society, a group of cowboy action shooters," he said. "It wasn't long until I was shooting my first match."

Ken had to borrow firearms from the group's vice mayor, "Cheap Shot," for that first match, but quickly fell in love with the sport.

"I think my first stage I ever shot was well over 100 seconds. I was OK with the rifle and shotgun, but I didn't really know how the action worked on a single-action revolver," he recalled. "It didn't matter, though. It was so much fun."

California law restricted the purchase of firearms to only one per month, so it took Ken a little time to put together the collection he needed to compete on his own. He soon had what he needed and hasn't stopped competing since.

When he made the move to Montana in 2004, Ken found the Bigfork Buscaderos cowboy action shooting club in Bigfork, who he still shoots with today.

"We were, and still are, such a small club that all of the members are pretty much involved in running the club. We have no board of directors or club bank accounts. All of our fees go to insurance and replacing the targets. It's all about having fun," he said. "Our goal is to have fun while shooting Old West guns. It's not a cutthroat competition, like can be found with many other types of shooting clubs."

Originally from Pittsburgh, Diane Ritz had enjoyed a career in investment banking before she got into cowboy action shooting in Eureka, thanks to some friends who started a club there.

"At that time I had a hunting rifle and a little Rossi double-action revolver that I carried when I hiked. I had never shot a shotgun or a lever gun. I was totally intimidated," she said. "When I got on the line and started hitting targets I went, 'Holy crap, I like this! I can do this!' I got bit by the bug and fell in love with the sport and started accumulating cowboy guns."

Diane began making her rounds on the cowboy action shooting scene with "Kookanusa Kid" and "Sweetwater Lilly," her friends from the Eureka club. It was at those matches that she first met Ken.

When Diane decided to branch out and bought her own 14-foot trailer so she could travel to matches alone, Ken made his move by asking her to camp next to him at the state competition in Simms.

"Ken was a widower and a bit shy. We had shot a few of the same matches, so we knew each other," she said. "But, when he asked me to camp next to him, well that was a hell of a pickup line. Very smooth."

The couple met up at the "Bull Thing" in Eureka a few months later for their first official date and the rest is history.

After spending nearly two years taking turns traveling back and forth from Polson to Eureka, the couple decided to get married in 2015 with a unique ceremony at the Bigfork Gun Range.

It all began when they asked their friend and fellow cowboy action shooter Sage Creek Gus (Gary Riecke) to marry them, because he owned a proper top hat.

"I looked it up and Montana law says that as long as a person is of 'good reputation' then he can provide wedding services," Diane said. "Gary said he was of good reputation, depending on what day you ask him, and he owned a top hat and nice long coat. Well, that was good enough for us."

Unbeknownst to the couple, their friends had planned an elaborate ceremony based on the movie "Paint Your Wagon," complete with a shotgun archway and a wagon ride around the range, which took them straight to the first stage so they and their guests could shoot a match.

The Old West romance continues today as the pair can be found at the Bigfork Gun Range on the third Saturday of every month, dressed in their cowboy costumes and ready to welcome newcomers to the Buscaderos and the world of cowboy action shooting.

"For me, this sport just opened up a whole new world of shooting and responsible gun ownership. It was something that, in my mid 50s, I had never been exposed to. The empowerment that it gives you, especially for me going on to be a pistol and rifle instructor, is amazing," Diane said. "It's a great joy and Ken and I really enjoy sharing it with others."

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