Wild West at the Olympics

February 07, 2002 11:00 pm
Tim Delsman, aboard Dan, prepares to take aim on a balloon target during a mounted shooting competition. (Submitted photograph).
Tim Delsman, aboard Dan, prepares to take aim on a balloon target during a mounted shooting competition. (Submitted photograph).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

When Baker Citys Tim Delsman gallops into the Olympics this weekend, all the balloons in the Salt Lake City metro area had better hold their breath.

Delsman will toe the starting line with his feet anchored not in ski bindings or ice skates, but in stirrups.

And his fingers will be wrapped not around a ski pole or hockey stick, but the smooth wooden grips of a .45 caliber single-action revolver.

For all these allusions to guns and galloping steeds, though, Delsman is in Utah for fun.

The bullets are blanks.

And the targets are more midway than OK Corral.

Those aforementioned balloons, to be specific.

(Delsmans revolvers, when loaded with blanks, propel particles of unburned black powder large enough to pop a balloon out to 10 feet or so.)

Delsman is one of Oregons most skilled practitioners of a new sport mounted shooting.

Also known as cowboy shooting, the sport seemed as well-suited for Delsman as his handlebar moustache because it combines two of his favorite pastimes: riding a horse and firing a revolver.

Competitors settle in the saddle wearing a pair of single-action .45s, each six-shooter loaded with five black powder blanks.

They race through a course as fast as possible while trying to burst each of 10 balloons five with one pistol, five with the other.

Fastest rider wins, but only after time penalties are deducted: five seconds for every missed balloon, five seconds for knocking over the barrel that marks the midpoint of the course, a victory-killing 10 seconds for dropping a pistol.

You dont, Delsman says with a rueful grin, drop the gun.

Delsman, 54, is one of eight Oregonians and the only one from east of the Cascades who qualified to compete in an Olympic exhibition of mounted shooting Saturday and Sunday at Tooele, Utah, southwest of Salt Lake City.

He earned the trip to Utah by finishing in the top 30 in a November competition, in the same arena at Tooele.

But its not cutthroat competition or the chance to fill his home with trophies that attracted Delsman to mounted shooting, nor is it the thrill of matching other riders shot for shot that entices him to continue competing.

Its friendly, and its fun, said Delsman, a retired 25-year Portland firefighter who moved to Baker City a couple years ago.

Youre there for fun fun is the important thing.

Delsman said competitors arent obsessed with winning as much as theyre committed to what they call the spirit of the game.

Thats just the type of people who are involved in this, he said. Youll see the fastest person out there rooting like crazy for the slowest person.

Delsman has been faster than the slowest rider ever since his first competition back in August 2000.

His first foray into cowboy shooting was through SASS the Single Action Shooting Society.

SASS events are similar to mounted shooting, only without the mount.

Delsman belongs both to SASS and to its offshoot, formed by equine enthusiasts, the CMSA Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.

If someone hadnt already thought of the CMSA, Delsman himself might have come up with the idea eventually.

Hes been riding horses almost since birth, and training the animals nearly as long.

Delsman also learned long ago to relish the feel of a revolvers heft in his hand.

His wife, Carol, also has contributed to his interest in firearms.

Many years ago she bought him a cap-and-ball pistol, the first of several gift guns.

He doesnt wear ties, so I had to buy him a gun, Carol said, smiling. And then another and another. . .

No surprise, then, that Delsman discovered mounted shooting and that he loved it immediately.

I really like to ride horses, I really like to shoot guns, Delsman said. And I really, really like to do both at the same time.

It took a dare, though, to put Delsman in the saddle with his twin .45s.

A friend, Dave Klugh, a former Durkee resident, challenged Delsman to enter a mounted shooting competition.

He did.

And he won his division.

I was kind of hooked I guess, Delsman said.

Hombre, a registered Kiger mustang, was Delsmans teammate for that first event.

But this weekend hell be riding Dan, a 12-year Kiger mustang that Delsmans daughter, Erica, originally trained for dressage.

Carol Delsman said Erica, a 2000 Baker High School graduate, was excited when she heard about the Olympics.

But she wasnt so much excited that her dad was going to the Olympics as she was excited because her horse was going, Carol said.

In mounted shooting, Tim said, the horse is a vastly more important weapon than the revolvers.

I would say horsemanship is 90 percent of it, he said. The people who know how to ride can learn to shoot. But it can take years to learn how to ride.

Youve got to get your horse to where it needs to be so you can shoot.

Sometimes, though, you cant shoot.

Delsman said he once passed up a shot because the angle to the balloon required him to hold his revolver too close to Dans head.

He waited for the angle to change, and missed the shot.

Delsman is proud to represent his country this weekend.

Hes already served it he was in the U.S. Armys 101st Airborne Division (the ones who jump out of airplanes a lot) from 1968-70, including a tour in Vietnam in 1969.

No matter that the only gold up for grabs this weekend at Tooele is in the fancy belt buckles some competitors will win.

Its the Olympics.

And maybe someday this sport that has so entranced Delsman will bring in audiences as large as the downhill finals, and riders will strive to become the Michelle Kwan of mounted shooting.

Or maybe the sport will remain popular only among people like Delsman, the ones who, as his wife puts it, grew up watching Roy Rogers and riding broomstick horses, and just grew up and went on to bigger toys.

Either way, Delsman will always be able to say he was part of the first group ever to saddle up at the Olympics.

Ill probably never have another opportunity in my life to do something like this, he said.

Its a chance to show people from other countries some of our heritage.