Two gunslingers toe the line. A big iron on their hips. The light winks red, and in the blink of an eye a wax bullet hurls through the chamber at 600 feet per second.
The Golden State Gunslingers, a local fast-draw club, competed last week in the Cowboy Fast Draw World Championships in Nevada to varying results.
"It's timed to the thousandths of a second, and it's an elimination," said Geneva "C21 Peacemaker" Brett, who finished 33rd in the women's bracket. Each participant goes by an alias one might have heard in a Spaghetti Western.
The competitors go head to head, while wearing a 10-gallon hat, as they draw and shoot for the best out of three; four losses result in elimination from the tournament. The signal light flashes at a random time between two and five seconds from the start of the match.
The tournament drew 128 men and 41 women, with competitors from Ireland, Lebanon, Australia and Japan. The organization crowns overall winners, as well as winners from categories separated by age and sex.
"It's so fun, and the people are just amazing," Brett said.
Brett, 57, said the Cowboy Fast Draw uses traditional weapons that could fire real bullets, as opposed to weapons modified for speed. The single-action, traditional weapons weigh roughly twice what the modified "race guns" weigh.
"Cowboy Fast Draw revolves around the period of the Colt Peacemaker," Brett said. "There is a saying that 'God made man, and Samuel Colt made them even.' "
Brett said that saying, in a way, sums up the competition. People of any size and age can compete.
Will "Tawodi" York -- his cowboy name is "Hawk" in Cherokee -- spends 20 minutes a day practicing fast draw in his garage. He uses a gun with a laser and a computer program to do it.
The key to fast draw is all in the hips. York, 71, demonstrated the stance: With a slight hunch in his back, a quick throw of the hips draws the gun with minimal arm movement. York took second in the Men's Old Timer division.
"It's all timing," York said. "After you shoot this a while, your subconscious figures out the timing of it."
None of the Los Banos participants finished higher than 15th overall, but some placed better in other categories. Tammie "Lefty Lipscomb" Lipscomb won the Ladies Traditional division; Arlene "Cardoza Kid" Cardoza took second in the Ladies Senior division; Kent "Undertaker" Sandhagen had the fastest time in a single match; Gary "Omaha Outlaw" Wagner finished 39th overall; John "Big John Skinner" Whala took 62nd overall; Randy "Wild Shot" Lipscomb finished 67th overall; and Ron "Legend Hunter" Aunchman got 73rd overall.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos