Shootout survives close vote, will continue decades-old tradition

JACKSON, Wyo. – Elected officials were divided over the relaunch of a 63-year tradition in light of strict measures in place to slow the spread of COVID. In the end, the Jackson Hole Shootout will start up tonight for a significantly modified summer run.

The Shootout won’t look like it did back in the days of Clover “the Killer” Sturlin when the show was adlibbed and unrehearsed. These days, the nightly free show on the town square is a polished affair put on by the players of the Jackson Hole Playhouse and sponsored by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. The pandemic will also put a new twist on the animated gunfire on the square.

In limbo since the pandemic hit, event organizers have worked with town staff, the county and town attorney, and the county health department to find a way to safely bring the show back.

What was worked out to the satisfaction of all is a modified version of the shootout with two showings nightly (5:45 and 6:10 p.m.) instead of one. The shows will be shorter (8 minutes each) and once a show is at capacity (175), ropes, messaging, and onsite staff will announce such.

Despite approval from the health department, some electeds voted to deny the request to reinstate the shootout.

“The whole point of the shootout is drawing a crowd,” councilman Jim Stanford said. “I don’t see how, in this climate, that is conducive to all of our other efforts and in fact runs counter to a lot of our goals. I’d just as soon deny it for now given the circumstances.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon also voted to shoot down the shootout.

“I’m very concerned about the rising death rate,” Muldoon said. “I don’t feel there is a responsible way to gather nearly 200 people on the town square and have the majority—80 percent of them at least—wearing face coverings and practicing the kind of good health measures we need to keep the community safe. I just don’t think it’s possible.”

But other councilmembers said they were comfortable knowing the health department okayed the event and would be monitoring it.

“It’s been my practice to rely on the health department and trust their council. If they feel it is okay and they are supportive of the measures being taken, I can too,” said councilwoman Hailey Morton Levinson.

Councilman Arne Jorgensen agreed, “If the health department is comfortable with this, I want to take their lead. We’ve been doing this all along.”

Jorgensen added that no ill effects appear to have come from earlier protests in the town square. He also mentioned a Farmers Market that was approved by the council. Jorgensen took solace in that fact and that there would be six staff and a Sheriff’s Deputy at each event making sure all spectators wore a mask even though they are not required to do so by ordinance.

Councilman Jonathon Schechter agreed to support the reopening of the shootout but added, “I think we have to be quite vigilant that this does not become a hotspot of transmission.”

Still not swayed, Stanford and Muldoon voiced their dissenting vote.

“I think it sends the wrong message,” Stanford said. “This has been a challenging time for the community and we’ve had to make a lot of tough calls, and say no to a lot of things. And a lot of them are things we hold dear. I understand the tradition here very well. I’m sorry, but this is one tradition I can live without right now.”

“I can almost guarantee [the health department] will not be out there every night,” Muldoon said. “And if they are, I would have to question whether this is the best use of their staff given how busy they are with contact tracing. There are better things they could be doing.”

Muldoon added, “It is a difficult choice about whether we are going to have a shootout or have schools open in the fall.”

On a 3-2 vote (Stanford and Muldoon opposed) the Jackson Hole Shootout will begin tomorrow, July 8 and run through September 7 barring any unforeseen issues.

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