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Cowboy Action Shooting Pistols, Rifles and Shotguns

How to Choose Your First Cowboy Action Shooting Pistols, Rifles and Shotguns



The Require­ments of Cow­boy Action Shooting



Cowboy Action Shooting pistols 2

Cowboy Action Shooting rifles and shotguns are an integral part of this phe­nom­e­nal fast-growing shoot­ing sport that has gained a lot of mem­ber­ships in the US and other coun­tries. CAS is family-friendly and cen­tered on sports­man­ship and firearm safety. It is sanc­tioned by sev­eral orga­ni­za­tions, each hav­ing their own rules regard­ing the types of guns allowed. The rec­om­men­da­tions on this web­site specif­i­cally relate to the firearm rules adopted by the Sin­gle Action Shoot­ing Soci­ety (SASS), the first and largest of the sanc­tion­ing organizations.

The SASS allows both mounted-shooting com­pe­ti­tions and unmounted-shooting com­pe­ti­tions, which have sep­a­rate rules and require­ments on firearms. Only unmounted-shooting require­ments will be dis­cussed in this article.

Choos­ing your first CAS firearms may look intim­i­dat­ing once you’ve learn all the options open to you. This arti­cle will offer some rec­om­men­da­tions on choos­ing your first Cowboy Action Shooting rifles and shotguns. With expe­ri­ence, your taste in guns will evolve and change, and you may go through sev­eral sets of guns. Or, like many CAS mem­bers, you may start col­lect­ing them.

All SASS-sanctioned firearms must be of the 1800’s design, and revolvers should be the single-action types. A single-action revolver needs to be cocked each time before fir­ing. Both orig­i­nal firearms and repli­cas are accepted. Vin­tage period firearms can be quite expen­sive, and their safety may not be assured. Var­i­ous repli­cas are avail­able as well. Though not exactly repli­cas in the true sense, the Vaquero and Ruger Black­hawk are much sought after for their supe­rior con­struc­tion and afford­able price.


Select­ing Cow­boy Action Shoot­ing Revolvers


gunsandholsterYou need to have two revolvers, and most com­peti­tors pre­fer matched pairs. While the most pop­u­lar cal­ibers are the .45 Colt and .38 Spe­cial, most 1800’s-type cal­ibers are allow­able. Revolvers with 7½” bar­rels are eye-catching and easy to sight, but they can be weari­some to use in long com­pe­ti­tions. 5½” and 4¾” bar­rels require less effort to han­dle through extended matches.

Cow­boy Action Shoot­ing revolvers are deter­mined by their sights and the type of pro­pel­lant involved. In the Mod­ern cat­e­gory, shoot­ers can use Ruger Black­hawks or other single-action revolvers of the period that have adjustable sights. Firearms in the Tra­di­tional cat­e­gories, which includes Tra­di­tional, Gun­fighter, Duelist, and Black Pow­der, should have tra­di­tional non-adjustable sights.

Black Pow­der revolvers may either be the muzzle-loading type like the Colt 1851 Navy, or cartridge-type revolvers that use black pow­der rounds. When choos­ing revolvers, visit a gun store and test their firearms. Rugers are ter­rific guns but they can be rather heavy for some people.

Ladies and some men with smaller hands pre­fer to use Bis­ley grips or birds-head grips. Men with very large hands may choose older Rugers which are slightly big­ger than the con­ven­tional Colts. The Colt Dra­goon replica is an extremely large revolver that can also be used by peo­ple with larger hand.


Select­ing a CAS Main Match Rifle


cowboy action shooting rifles and shotguns

The main match rifles in CAS are lever-action, and repli­cas in the same cal­ibers as main-match revolvers are avail­able. Your main match rifle should be of pre-20th cen­tury design and hold 10 rounds in the magazine.

The pop­u­lar selec­tions for CAS are the Win­ches­ter 1866 and 1873, while the Win­ches­ter 1892 and 1894 are the less pop­u­lar choices due to their extra weight and longer lever throw. Shoot­ers also pre­fer the replica pump-action Colt Light­ning rifle. These mod­els are prone to mechan­i­cal issues and may need some expert work by a gunsmith.


Select­ing a Cow­boy Action Shoot­ing Shotgun


CAS shot­guns can be double-barreled mod­els with exter­nal and con­cealed ham­mers. Win­ches­ter 1887 and 1900 lever-action shot­guns, as well as Win­ches­ter 1895 pump-action shot­guns are also accept­able. Double-barreled mod­els are, with expe­ri­ence, fairly quick and eas­ier to use. Most sea­soned Cow­boy Action Shoot­ing com­peti­tors, how­ever, use the Win­ches­ter 1895 pump-action mod­els which require a lot of prac­tice to han­dle skillfully.


  1. You sure it’s the 1895 shotgun and not the 1897? Also, it is a 1901, not a 1900.

    The 1873 weighs more than a 92 or 94, even with a shorter barrel. I know, I’ve got both. The swap from 92’s and 94’s being popular to 1873’s and 1866’s was purely from them allowing short stroke kits.

    I’m not even going to go into your pistol section. But a single action pistol being “too sophisticated” is kinda ridiculous.

    • Thank you for the correct info. Came from the source documents.

  2. Can you recommend a book or books for selecting a caliber and the models for revolvers, lever action rifles and shotguns for the Cowboy Action Shooting sport.

    • Here’s the two I used. They’re old but great info.

      The Gun Digest Book of Cowboy Action Shooting: Guns + Gear + Tactics Paperback – April 24, 2005
      by John Taffin (Author)

      The Top Shooter’s Guide to Cowboy Action Shooting Paperback – January 1, 2001
      by Hunter Scott Anderson (Author)

  3. Why do you need 2 pistols? I have a model 94 in preparation 64 30-30 would it work for the rifle?

    • CAS shooters use two single action pistols (with lead bullets) typically a matched pair. Each stage usually requires two pistols (safely loaded at the loading table with no more than 5 shots each). The model 94 with rifle caliber cartridges, such as the 30-30 is not allowed in the main match. That’s because the appropriate rifle must shoot pistol caliber lead bullets, such as a .38, .357, .44, .45. Many use the same caliber in their two pistols as in their rifle.

  4. I’m
    Looking at getting started with this hobby. I want to start with a .38 single action revolver. Does anyone make ithe ammo I need? The blank rounds like the .45 balloon popping rounds?

  5. I’m interested in getting started. I would like to use what firearms I have with stick with the same caliber. I thinking of using my two Evil Roys in 45 Colt and my Henry in 45 colt.I have a double barrel stagecoach in 12 gauge. Will this get in started?

    • Yes, that should do it. Make sure you only use cowboy action lightly loaded rounds in all your guns.

  6. I want make sure I have the right guns. At this time I have a matched pair of
    rugar new vecero in 38/357, a rossi big loop in 38/357, a Henry big boy in 38/357 and a stoeger coach gun in 12 gauge

  7. I am new to CAS, have difficulties finding a Shotgun, any information where can I get SASS complying side by side?

  8. from reading the qualifications would the S&W 686 meet the requirements

    • The Smith & Wesson Model 686 is a six- or seven-shot double-action revolver manufactured by Smith & Wesson and chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge; it will also chamber and fire .38 Special cartridges. Since it is not a single action revolver, it does not qualify.

  9. I am thinking of getting a replica Spencer Rifle in 45 caliber. However, I see it only holds 7 rounds in the butt stock. Can it be used in CASS?

    • Yes, a Spencer Rifle in .45 can be used, but they are slow compared to Winchester style lever actions like the 73. When you need to shoot more than the 7 rounds it holds, you can single feed it once the magazine runs out.

  10. Hi – I would like ot know if a Henry 357/38 Color Case would be an acceptable rifle for Cowboy Action?

  11. Hey Ned. I have two Henrys. I have a 38/357 octagonal barrel which holds 10 rounds and also a 45 colt which is a carbine model with 7 rounds. Above you state that 10 rounds is what ‘should’ be used. Also that if your rifle has less than 10 capacity, that you can single load the remaining rounds. Just looking for clarification here. I want to use the carbine as it is 45 colt to match my revolvers but if you can’t or shouldn’t use a carbine then I’d need to choose different pistols to match the 357. Thanks!

    • Comment *I’ve used rifles that hold 10 rounds. You can start out with your 38/357 rifle and your 45 pistols. see which caliber works best for you. Go to a match and talk with the other shooters. Ten make a decision.

  12. Comment *I’ve used rifles that hold 10 rounds. You can start out with your 38/357 rifle and your 45 pistols. See which caliber works best for you. Most important, go to a match and talk with the other shooters. Then make a decision.

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