For the love of the draw: Holyoke couple fall in love with quick draw shooting
It's Oct. 23 and the deer are out. The roads to Debbie and Marvin Stadin's place are lit by sundown and concealing nothing.
It's a pleasant drive and not long before the welcoming party is at the door.
Quick as ever.
"My alias is 'Lightning,'" Debbie said early in the conversation. "I bet [there are] dozens of people, from all around the country, who don't even know my real name."
Quick off the draw, as usual, Marvin revealed his alias, "Fossil Man," and explained how it was assigned him by snowmobiling buddies for the way he carries himself with a stately head of white hair and whiskers. He's a classic Santa Claus in the flesh.
Debbie and her husband are part of a burgeoning niche in the gun owning community that calls itself the Cowboy Fast Draw Association. It's exactly what it sounds like, only instead of drawing on another man, the shooter draws on a 2-foot diameter circular target.
For the Stadins [Sta-deens], it's a 4-year-old hobby that's become a full tilt obsession. Debbie punctuated their arrival onto the scene in early October, when they flew into Reno, Nev., and she finished fifth in the world championships in Fallon. Several thousand people in North America participate in the sport, and men outnumber the women 3:1. But in the women's game, "Lightning" is a known contender.
"I've been blessed," said
Debbie. "I'm not the fastest and I'm not the most accurate, but when it comes time to draw I'm a competitor."
Debbie works for St. Louis County as a legal clerk, processing cases. While it's not the sort of occupation that would have been pegged worthy of a gunfighter in the Old West, Debbie metes out her own brand of justice in fast draw ... one split second at a time.
Their home is a step back in time, simple and rustic. It's single-floor living in the house Marvin grew up in. There are trophies and displays, a fireplace mantel's worth of belt buckles earned from shooting. The pelts and rifle arms hanging on the walls are testament to things hard-won and handmade.
"I deer hunt," Marvin said. "I started hunting before I was legal. My oldest sister got mono. They told me, 'If anybody asks your name is Sandie.' I was 11."
Now, Marvin is a quick draw artist himself as well as a 33-year excavator operator for Ulland Brothers. He's well versed in the legend of the art: how Andrew Jackson (in 1806) became the only president to gun down a man; not long after, it was Vice President Aaron Burr taking arms to gun down Alexander Hamilton of the Treasury in 1804. Wild Bill Hickock is on the roster of duelers, and future President Lincoln accepted one only to have it resolved by aides on both sides. Of course, many of the famous killings in the Old West never resulted from fast draw duels. "There were lots of shots in the back," said Marvin.
He shoots a Colt .45, himself. He can't yet convince Debbie to change over from her Ruger revolver. It's got a longer, seemingly more cumbersome hammer, but it works for her when she dispatches women like her Superior, Wis., teammate Vicious Von, or a murderer's row of quick draw dandelions on her way to fifth place at the world championships.
Debbie started her road to quick draw competitions across several states by way of tagging along with Marvin. He looked after his guns and everybody else's - "I cut barrels. I tune the actions. I gun smith," he said - and she looked after him. It wasn't long before Debbie got started, too, switching from setting out the potluck dishes to firing wax
bullets from 15 or 21 feet at that target.
"He said I ought to try it," she said. Of course, the passion lit instantly, like a firing pin striking the primer.
The allure of the game is simple. Success is intoxicating. Like shooting baskets in the yard. One after the other. Only, the Stadins shoot in a hollowed out construction trailer. There are fans to exhaust the primer powder (they only add gunpowder at the competitions for smoke and good effect). A light in the center of the target goes off at a random interval after an official timer's instruction. Once the light blinks on, it's "Go!" time. The revolver has to be holstered, hammer un-cocked and the finger off the trigger. The contestant draws the weapon, cocks the hammer and fires. A good score for Debbie is about a half second. A good score for Marvin, a shade under that.
In competition, the best three of five wins the side-by-side duel. The bullet has to strike the target to register a time. In their private practice facility, the Stadins are competitive, but good-naturedly so in a way that sharpens both their sharp wit and striking accuracy.
She's the picture of focus. Hand poised over the gun like it's the last cookie. Body leaning back to clear the path for a gun that winds up being a blur to the naked eye.
They re-load their own shell casings, saving some money, and they make money selling a slick little reloading tool Marvin fashioned and produces himself. When they load their guns there is one empty chamber at the top. The first action locks that first bullet into place, then "Blam!" the good times roll.
"If you can't tell, we're hooked," she said.
Debbie won state championships in South Dakota and Minnesota this summer and when it was time for Worlds in Nevada, friends chipped in. Retired police officer George Bendt put a can at the Nickerson Bar. "Send Debbie to Vegas," it read (harmlessly identifying the wrong Nevada city).
"I've known Debbie and her husband a long time," said Bendt. "I went to their wedding. Somebody explained to me she was Minnesota and South Dakota champion and I wanted to help her out. I used to know her from playing ball."
Debbie's competitive fire was once fueled by softball.
"Fast draw was different for me because I was always on sports teams," she said. "Now I've only got myself and that was an adjustment for me."
Mr. Lightning, as Marvin is sometimes affectionately called, can attest that she's adjusted well.
One thing she never had trouble with was the cowboy fast draw wardrobe.
"It's like the old days," Debbie said. "We wear cowboy clothes."
"Sometimes I think everything we have is cowboy clothes," Marvin said. "I even wear these no collar shirts to work."
It's time to leave and on the way back from the shooting trailer, Debbie waved goodbye. The sun is down and she's caught in the gloaming. She's glowing in a Western skirt and apron. She looks like she's from a time when fast drawing was a matter of life and death. For now, it's simply a pleasurable endeavor. One the Stadins seem happy to share.