Black powder caps popping, smoke rising, horses running and balloons popping - cowboy mounted shooting is a fast-growing sport.
Jefferson City High School graduate Taylor Brundage has been riding his quarter horse Gus and shooting with the Show-Me Mounted Shooters Club since 2009.
On Wednesday night, he was among dozens of riders from the local club as well as clubs across Missouri and surrounding states who competed at the first-time event at the Jefferson City Jaycees Cole County Fair.
"People have been wanting horses at the fairgrounds," said Jaycee Jeffrey Suess.
After seeing the Show-Me Mounted Shooters at the state fair, Suess realized their family entertainment would fit well with the Jaycees' attempts to return the Cole County fair to a more traditional setting.
"A lot of people have never seen nor heard of this; it's different for this area," Suess said.
Mounted shooting is a rare opportunity for adult couples, or parents and children to compete together.
But shooters are sorted by their skill level for a broader competition. As shooters' speed and accuracy increase, they move up.
The riders fire at 10 balloons, set up in one of 62 possible patterns, with black powder blanks.
"The excitement is in watching the running horses maneuver a course of fire while the rider engages the balloons, then switches guns while taking the horse to his maximum speed while engaging the last half of the targets," said club organizer George Hartman.
In addition to the straight competition, drag races between pairs of horses and a quick-draw competition between shooters conclude the evening.
"This is absolutely a team sport - the rider and the mount," Hartman said. "Any one miscommunication or lapse in the effort by either team member and the evening's competition becomes just a practice session."
The horse has to run fast, not fear the gunshots, turn barrels and negotiate obstacles, while at the same time cooperating with the rider. The rider has to make timely choices and hit the 10 balloon targets with his two single-action pistols with five shells each.
Just as Gus learned to turn barrels, Brundage said he has learned some time-saving techniques like holstering the first weapon after making the turn for the straightaway.
"You've got a lot of adrenaline going, and you're having a great time," Brundage said. "It's exciting to do something right and super fast."
To be the best in this sport, like any other, requires a lot of practice. For Brundage, a sophomore at the University of Missouri, that can be a challenge.
Brundage is one of the younger participants. But the sport hopes to grow in younger participants, who begin with pointing and running at the age of 8.
Competitors carry black powder blanks for .45-caliber Colt single-action revolvers, as well as for the rifle and shotgun divisions.
Having hunted for years with true black powder firearms, Brundage said the competition weapons are much easier to load.
"It's based on weapons used in the cowboy era," Brundage said.
Competition dress may either be modern-day cowboy, which is what Brundage wears, or historic period costumes.
"We get to dress up like cowboys, ride our horses and shoot, all at the same time," Hartman said.
The Show-Me Mounted Shooters will be at the Missouri State Fair at the Matheson Arena in Sedalia Aug. 7-8. They also have a shoot Sept. 27-28 at the Ashland Rodeo Arena.
For more information about the club or sport, call 660-841-5351.