When Jerry Swank married his wife, Carolyn, in 2003, he wore a rancher-style felt hat, boots with spurs, and three replicas of the legendary Colt .45 single-action Army revolver that helped tame the American West.
The newlyweds left the ceremony in a white, vis-à-vis carriage pulled by a Percheron mare, and their guests gave them quite a send-off. “We had 180 people at the wedding, and since about 60 of them carried guns loaded with blanks, we had quite the salute,” Swank says.
Of course Swank would have a Western-style wedding, given his favorite pastime: He’s been a decades-long devotee of cowboy action shooting, a timed, target-shooting sport that utilizes the guns of the Old West. “I compete with single-action revolvers, a lever-action pistol-caliber rifle, and a shotgun that was designed before 1899,” he says.
Swank and his wife are South Central Power Company members who reside on 81 acres of farmland in the Hocking Hills. His interest in guns began when he was growing up in the Middletown area. He was introduced to shooting sports as a member of the Boy Scouts and while hunting with his father, and learned Western riding because his parents and grandparents kept horses.
As an adult, he worked in sales, but he also parlayed his knack for riding and training horses into a carriage ride business in downtown Columbus.
Swank first heard about cowboy action shooting in the early 1990s. “I was reading a car magazine and saw an advertisement about a shooting club starting in central Ohio,” he recalls. Soon after, Swank became a founding member of the Scioto Territory Desperados — he served as its president for several years. “Now we have members from all around the state,” Swank says. The club holds matches at the Cardinal Center shooting range near Marengo.
The Scioto Territory Desperados is an affiliate of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), an Indiana-based organization that promotes cowboy action shooting and serves as the sport’s governing body. “A single-action gun can only be fired after it has been manually cocked,” explains Swank, who is a SASS life member. At shooting events, SASS requires contestants to convey the history and traditions of the post-Civil War and cattle-drive eras by donning period outfits and adopting Old West aliases.
Names of real people — such as Bat Masterson or Jesse James — were taken early on after the club started, so most Desperados these days simply invent their own aliases, such as “Bushwacker Al,” “Stagecoach Hannah,” and “I.B. Gunninferya.” Swank chose “Lucky Levi Loving” for his moniker. “Levi” is simply a Western-sounding version of his given middle name, Lee, but he borrowed “Loving” from a cattle driver who made history. “Oliver Loving helped develop the Goodnight-Loving Trail that went from Texas to Montana,” Swank says.
As for Western get-ups, Swank habitually looks like he just stepped out of the O.K. Corral. “I’ve been in boots and blue jeans my whole life,” he says, “so dressing cowboy is easy for me.” Besides cavalry-style bib shirts and his star-shaped SASS badge, Swank sports a handsome handlebar mustache that would have made Wyatt Earp proud. “My mustache used to be long enough to reach my ears, but now I just use a little wax to keep it neat and curled,” he says.
Swank chose “Lucky Levi Loving” for his Old West moniker. “Levi” is simply a Western-sounding version of Swank’s given middle name, Lee, but he borrowed “Loving” from a cattle driver who made history.
For many years, Swank had a home-based business — appropriately called Lucky Levi’s Leather — where he crafted shooting gear and accessories. “If it’s leather, I’ve made it,” he says. “I did gun belts, holsters, chaps, spur straps, scabbards, and even saddlebags.” Items Swank made for himself include concealed-carry suspenders for his Derringer as well as right-hand and left-hand holsters for the pair of Ruger Vaquero revolvers that he often takes to competitions. “They’re slightly larger versions of the historic Colt .45 and have scrimshaw on the handles,” he says. “One side shows a cowboy on a bucking horse, and the other has double L’s for Lucky Levi.”
Swank closed his leather shop earlier this year, however, and now has set his sights on a retirement career as a certified health coach. Of course, since old cowboys never die, he aims to keep reloading as a cowboy action shooter. “One reason I got rid of the shop is that it cut into my shooting time too much,” Swank says. “I even lost 165 pounds so I could get on a horse and continue to shoot.”