He’s your Huckleberry

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rodney Friedrich is photographed in his basement where he repacks rounds and practices his draw. Friedrich has been taking part in cowboy action shooting for 10 years. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

People would be well advised not to tangle with one Austin man — if it were 150 years ago, that is.

That’s because in roughly two seconds, Rodney Friedrich can draw his revolver, fire all six shots and hit his targets. Then he reaches for his second gun.

Obviously Friedrich, soon to be 73, isn’t roaming the streets with a bandolier and two 1873 Colt .45 revolvers. Yet there is a place for people like Friedrich.

Repacked rounds are stacked in Rodney Friedrich's basement where he prepares and practices for the cowboy action shooting events he takes part in. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

The Old West

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For the last 10 years, Friedrich has been participating in cowboy action shooting events, which feature men and women dressed in 19th century western gear, showcasing their skills with either original or replica guns from that era.

“It’s just like you’re walking down streets out of the old West,” Friedrich said.

On many weekends from spring through fall, Friedrich — better known by his alias, Sam Pickett — shoots with others at a full-scale replica western town near Morristown, Minn. There is a saloon, bank, church, jail, storefronts, train and plenty of guns and ammo. Like many, Friedrich has a passion about the old West. He just experiences it a little more closely than others.

He’s a member of the Cedar Valley Vigilantes, which is just one group within the national Single Action Shooting Society. Each member has his or her own alias, often claimed from famous gunfighters but sometimes from clever puns like Anita Newgun or Isabelle Ringing. Though Friedrich may be the only cowboy action shooter from Austin, he has many partners in arms from nearby towns, such as Tequila Mockingbird from Brownsdale.

The setting, guns, cowboy hats and non-stop action was a good change of pace for Friedrich, who has always been a gun enthusiast but was previously a hunter.

“I grew up with guns and shooting squirrels and hunting rabbits like that when I was younger,” he said.

But Friedrich’s trigger finger is too itchy for hunting these days. While he could go pheasant hunting and not fire a round all day, he can go to a cowboy action shoot and squeeze off nearly 150 rounds. Shooters don’t just draw and fire. They shoot targets in specific sequences, drop their weapons and run through multiple stations, fire at enemy targets through windows or at trains and compete for the best times.

Rodney Friedrich demonstrates his drawn in the basement of his home. Friedrich has been taking part in cowboy action shooting for about 10 years. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“I like it when they have the guns laid out, like put two revolvers on a table in a saloon and the rifle is outside, and the shotgun is down on a different table.”

But that type of shooting requires repetition, and Friedrich gets a lot of that.

 Shooter’s eye

Though Friedrich had been shooting guns since he was a youngster, cowboy action shooting didn’t just come naturally.

“The first time I went up there, I pretty much had last place locked in,” he said.

Repetition changed that. Friedrich blasted his way through the 2010 Minnesota Sate Cowboy Action Shooting Championship and took home first place in his class. While other winners have traveled to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to hone their skills in the winter, Friedrich stayed in Minnesota. Call it crazy at first, but Friedrich hones his skills right in his basement.

“They’ve got motor homes and go down to Arizona and New Mexico and Texas and then come back,” Friedrich said. “Where for me, I’ve got to go down into the basement and do dry fires if I want to keep up.”

By dry fires, Friedrich means he shoots blank rounds. The shells have simple springs in them, so his guns receive no damage to their firing pins. He has no way of knowing if and where he hits his targets, but he is repeating a key process he learned from other cowboy action shooters: watching his front sight and waiting for it to pass his target.

“I’ve learned a lot of it from the guys who have been shooting up there awhile,” Friedrich said. “It’s not so much how fast you draw your gun as it is how fast you can aim and shoot the target.”

Friedrich practices that important move for a few minutes a day, even if he can’t fire live rounds. And it is working. Friedrich recalls times where he has mowed through more than 300 targets while only missing four of them. Even that is still disgruntling to him.

Friedrich recently requested an application to compete on the History Channel’s show “Top Shot.”

Modesty, however, got the best of him.

“But I’m 72 years old, and I don’t think they are going to take me because of my age,” he joked. “I just did it for the heck of it.”

Friedrich may not have the time and resources like others to travel the world and compete. He has other passions, as well, as he is a longtime motorcycle safety instructor. That passion also requires much of his time and even conflicts with some of his competitions. Someday, however, motorcycle training will come to an end for Friedrich. The other thing won’t.

“If I’m not doing a motorcycle class in Albert Lea or Rochester, I’m probably shooting someplace,” Friedrich said. “Thank God my wife puts up with it.”