Western competition draws two former Olympians to Powell shooting contest

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It’s not every day two former U.S. Olympic Team members meet in Powell, but it does happen about once a month during the summer.

Lovell’s Mark Spencer and Powell’s Allan Knowles were both U.S. Olympic shooting sports team members in the ’80s. Spencer was on the 1980 rapid fire pistols team and Knowles was on the small bore rifle/prone position team. Now, once a month, they dress in 19th Century western clothing and compete in the sport of cowboy action shooting.

They, along with dozens of other area residents are members of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). More than 100,000 members nationwide have been assigned badge numbers in the organization. Competitions involve three weapons: revolvers, shotguns and rifles. Different scenarios are set for several stages of competition — all shooting targets as quickly and accurately as possible with replica single-action weapons. Western wear is encouraged and each contestant has a badge number and an alias. All love to shoot.

Spencer’s expertise in weapons made him a perfect soldier. He spent 37 years in the Army as a highly decorated noncommissioned officer, doing everything from being a paratrooper to leading special operations. He finished his most recent stint at the rank of Command Master Sergeant after the attacks on 9/11.

“I’ve been shot, stabbed and blown up,” Spencer said.

Also known as Huachuca Scout on the SASS circuit — a nod to Spencer’s Native American heritage — Spencer never had an opportunity to win an Olympic medal. After spending three years in his pursuit to make the U.S. team, politics kept Americans from participating in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, dashing his dreams. Now, he’s having fun on the cowboy circuit.

“I was a competitive bullseye shooter; as you get older, it’s an easy transition moving to cowboy action shooting,” Spencer said.

Knowles has won many medals in his sport, including national and international honors. He was on the U.S. team four years after Spencer. The 1984 Olympics were in Los Angeles and it wasn’t an adventurous trip for the then-California resident.

“I’d been shooting small bore for 20-something years and the Olympics were going to be in my backyard so I thought I should try out,” Knowles said.

He was an alternate in the ’84 games. He didn’t compete, but just making the team put him in the top echelon of competitive shooters. While the Olympics was a short trip, Knowles has been on many adventures chasing gold medals — including winning the gold in the World Championships in Brazil that same year.

Also known as Chama Bill, Knowles showed flashes of brilliance working through the stages in a June 2 competition at the Heart Mountain Rod & Gun Club east of town. He was able to shoot 24 rounds, without missing a target and while needing to reload during the stage, in less than 30 seconds. His time in the fifth stage was 24.87, helping him to win the Powell competition.

“I don’t practice like some folks, but every match for me is a step toward the next one,” Knowles said.

It doesn’t take Olympic aspirations to compete, just a love for shooting, said Paul Hoeft, president of Colter’s Hell Justice Committee — the local chapter of the SASS. There are different classes for men and women of all ages, he said.

“The overall picture is that it’s a family oriented sport,” Hoeft said. Young competitors need to be at least 8 years old and have a guardian.

Susan Watkins, one of a few women in the June competition, finished second place overall.

“I’m real competitive. I was never good at sports, but for some reason I’m good at shooting,” Watkins said.

When she’s the only woman in a contest, she’ll go up against the men just to have competition. Women’s categories are protected, but the men’s categories are open to anyone, said Watkins, also known as Buckskin Lily.

While the competitions are open to anyone with the desire to shoot, the investment in replica weapons can be high, Hoeft said. A pair of basic single-action revolvers can cost about $1,200 and a rifle can be another $1,000. The cheapest part of the kit is the shotgun, which can be purchased for as little as $250. Leather rigs can cost another $300.

“An authentic Colt can run thousands, so few use originals,” said Hoeft, service manager at Garvin Motors in Powell.

Sporting a handlebar moustache and a broad smile, Hoeft got his alias from a package of apples.

“I’ve shot all over the country and nobody knows my real name. My alias is Yakima Red but everyone just calls me Yak,” he said.

The group plans a shoot on July 7. For more information or to join in the fun, contact Hoeft at yakred@tritel.net or join the group on their Colter’s Hell Justice Committee Facebook page.

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