Guns and Gear

Getting Western with Cowboy Action Shooting

By Dave Morelli, Gun Digest

Many years ago a few IPSC shooters came up with an idea to shoot a competition using only outdated Old West-type guns.

They thought it would be fun shooting stages with six guns instead of using the new fangled eight shooter. Then they thought, why not take it a step further and get dressed up into clothing of the period? From there, the idea of shooting stages built to resemble old saloons and jails and using additional guns from the period such as a lever rifle and old double-barreled shotguns came about.

In the end, they had developed one of the newest and fastest growing sports today. They had created Cowboy Action Shooting. I don’t know if it came together precisely in that order but, the end result has been an action-packed series of events that are all about having fun, and in that department, they certainly deliver.

What is Cowboy Action Shooting?

Cowboy Action Shooting is organized by SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) and offers many shooting categories that differ from the types of guns used to the styles of clothing worn. It even offers the opportunity for participants to have an Old West alias.

The first main rule is the only firearms permitted for use must be guns of 1898 vintage or earlier and includes two single-action revolvers, a lever-action pistol caliber rifle and either a side-by-side shotgun or a pump or lever shotgun.

The side-by-side can be hammer or hammerless with no ejectors, but the pump must have a hammer like the Winchester 1897. Pumps are only loaded with two rounds at a time to eliminate any advantage they might otherwise offer over those using double shooters.

The six guns are loaded with five rounds so that the hammer rests on an empty chamber. This is the way they were carried in the Old West because they didn’t have safety bars as we do today in the Ruger Vaquero and other reproductions.

Shooting styles range from Traditional, which is shooting each pistol one at a time with a two-handed hold to Duelist, holding one pistol at a time one handed, or even Gunfighter, which is a pistol in each hand being fired using alternating shots.

Getting Started

I started shooting in the Gunfighter Division many years ago thinking it would give me practice with my weak hand. As a result, I now shoot much better with it as far as lining up the sight and trigger control are concerned.

Again, beyond the practice it provides a person’s shooting skills, it is so much fun shooting guns like the cowboys of the old movies, a six gun in each hand, and actually hitting the targets.

There are two ways to shoot Gunfighter. One is cocking both pistols at the same time and shooting both rounds (one at a time) and cocking them again until the stage is shot, or the way I started out, cocking the pistols one at a time. In that fashion, a shooter ends up cocking one pistol as they fire the other.

Whichever style of shooting you choose, there is also the option to go over to the dark side: black powder. The Frontiersman category, for instance, requires the shooter to use black powder in all the guns shot.

These are fun matches that take the smokeless folks out of their comfort zone. There is a lot of smoke, and with any luck, a small breeze so you can see the targets. As a course of competing in the Frontiersmen category, competitors get pretty good at knowing where target are through the smoke.

Making a Name for Yourself

Costuming and an alias are mandatory to a cowboy action shoot. They go hand in hand as you might dress to fit your alias.

Thinking up an alias can be easy or hard. You might pick up an alias because of your conduct, like a lot of the cowboys of old did, or you can pick a name from one of the characters of the Old West and integrate it into your name. The name can also not have anything to do with the West but is an interesting play on words.

Some of the names people come up with are extremely witty and SASS keeps a record of the registered names so there are no duplicates. Your name is your name throughout the SASS world so pick a good one.

Minimum cowboy dress includes a hat, boots, western shirt, bandana and pants, but you could easily go overboard with the costume and are actually encouraged to do so.

Next, working a stage