Mark Romano is not just your ordinary, everyday political science professor. The man is a hard-riding, straight-shooting cowboy who holds a world championship in cowboy action shooting.
He won the world championship in February 2003, after shooting down the best efforts of cowboys and marksmen from all over the world.
The two most authentic and old classes in cowboy action shooting are the dueling class, in which the shooter has one hand on the reins of his horse and the other hand on his pistol, and the gunfighter class, in which the shooter has a gun in each hand, Ö la some of the Old West sheriffs.
It is the duelist class over which Romano reigns. Ever modest, Romano said, “I had a good string of luck. I was the Southwest regional champion and then, in February, I became the national champion.” These two championships catapulted him to his world championship.
In the duelist class, the shooter blasts away at balloons while riding a horse at breakneck speed.
Only the big, powerful, hard-kicking .45 caliber can be used in this competition, and the targets have to be engaged in a particular order.
Making the event even trickier and tougher are the penalties. For each target missed, the shooter is assessed a five-second penalty, and his penalty time is added to his overall time.
Romano said, “The idea is to complete the fixed course as quickly as possible. The trick is to go fast but not miss.”
The competition takes place in a setting modeled after the 1880s, and competitors wear cowboy clothing styled in that period.
The guns that are used are also from the same period. “Only single-action pistols, lever-action rifles and double- barrel shotguns can be used,” said Romano.
Talking about the care of his equipment, “I have a terrible reputation for not cleaning it until the last possible moment,” said Romano. “I use them so very much that it’s not possible to clean them on a daily basis. I make sure they are well oiled and ready to go, and I make sure that they get a good rubdown at least once a week.”
Although his pistol is 1880s style, Romano’s holster is built to the specifications of his design by one of his sponsors and is marketed as the Jackson Turner model. All of the shooters compete under aliases. Romano’s alias is Jackson Turner.
Hard work and dedication are what propelled him to the top of one of the fastest- growing men’s sports in the United States. He said it was “lots and lots and lots of practice” that enabled him to capture his crown.
He practices four days a week and has participated in about a hundred competitions since his first, just three years ago.
“People look at my practice schedule and say, `Oh, I could never do that,’ said Romano. “The truth is I enjoy it so much it’s not like I’m working.”
Romano is a cowboy at heart. Born on a ranch in Central California, he could ride, rope and shoot by the time he was 8 years old.
“I had barrel raced and participated in rodeo events” before winning the world championship in cowboy action shooting, he said.
“I enjoy the visceral thrill of the competition,” said Romano. “Let there be no doubt about that.” While it is the competition that pumps him up the most, he also enjoys the preparation.
He said, “I’m off in the countryside, the grass is green, the water is flowing, the sun is shining, the horses are running free. It’s gorgeous! I enjoy the experience.”
Spectators by the thousands, some in period or designer cowboy and cowgirl outfits, some in expensive business suits and others in overalls, watch the competitions and root for their favorite performers.
Romano’s schedule this year will take him to Portland, Ore.; Phoenix; Atlanta; Seattle; Las Vegas and smaller venues that Romano, smiling, calls “podunk” towns.
This champion knows the competition is going to be stiffer the next time around.
“A lot of people would like to be sitting in my saddle,” said Romano.
“At this level of the competition, everyone is so good that, as time goes by, you become more and more aware that no matter how carefully prepared you are, no matter how skilled you are, there is an element of good fortune that goes into this thing, and all it takes is a failure of equipment, a momentary mental lapse or a glitz, and somebody else is the world champion.”
When the world championships are held in Norco, Calif. next year, Romano will be there defending his crown, shooting his best shot.