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Relive Old West Gunplay and Period Dress, with Your Own Cowboy Alias

Cowboy Shooting Competition: What Happens in a Cowboy Action Shooting Match

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Tales of the American cowboys in films, books, and magazines have fascinated many shooters and cowboy shooting competition aficionados for years, long after the West was won. It was for this reason that cowboy action shooting (CAS) and the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) was born.


A few decades after its establishment as a family recreational sport, CAS has spread not only throughout the United States but also in many countries worldwide. On a regular basis, the various CAS clubs will hold competitions or matches. These can be small local events among members. Or they can be divisional, regionals, or national events like Winter Range or End of Trail. Many countries have their own National Championships as well.


How to enter a cowboy shooting competition


To begin with, join SASS, the official organizing group for Cowboy Action Shooting.


Dressing for the part


To qualify for a cowboy shooting competition, contestants should first comply with the rules of costume. They must dress up for the part, meaning to dress in 19th century Old West attire. This includes shirts, cowboy hat, western boots, and other suitable clothing.


You can get costume ideas from classic cowboy movies, such as those that feature Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne, or other B-western films of the 50’s. Or you can look to actual old west gunfighters for your inspiration, like Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday, or ordinary cowboys.


Dressing up in old west style costume is actually one of the main attractions of this sport. Contestants are also required to have an alias or character name such as Gentleman Bob, Jim Montana, Deadeye Dan, or Josephine Sweetwater. When you join SASS, you get to pick your alias.




Contestants will need four guns to compete in matches. They include two single action revolvers. Rifles from the period can be either lever-action or pump-action type (both should be in pistol calibers). Shotguns can be either double barreled or slide action, such as the 1897 Winchester. However, you can only single load the pump one at a time. The rule is that all firearms must be of the kind designed and manufactured during the 19th century. Several companies manufacture excellent reproductions for CAS.


A match usually consists of several “stages.” You might need about 120 rounds of pistol and rifle ammo, as well as 2-dozen or more light load shot shells.


Eye protection is mandatory, as are ear plugs to deaden the sound of the gunfire.




Ammo for cowboy shooting competition are smooth cases with light target loads, and flat nosed low velocity pistol caliber lead bullets. Steel targets are usually placed 10 to 15 yards from the shooter.


Gun cart


Moving these firearms and ammo all over the shooting range can be tiring. To make the transporting of the heavy stuff easier from one stage to the next, shooters use a wheeled “gun cart” that also functions as a carry-all utility cart.


Competition stages


In a cowboy shooting competition, the contestants are divided into 3 posse’s – groups of shooters that shoot a “stage” together. A stage may consist of shooting targets with both pistols (each with 5 rounds and an empty chamber for safety), a rifle that may hold around 10 pistol caliber cartridges, and a shotgun that may be often used to shoot from two to 8 shells.


In the first stage, shooters are required to fire 10 pistol bullets (5 rounds in each pistol),10 rifle rounds, and 8 shot shells at a series of metal targets.


Each shooter follows the instructions on how to shoot the stage. That is, the order of fire, the targets, and any other details. A digital time is used to time the shooter.


There are “spotters” around to take score and record the number of misses made. Every miss is equivalent to a five second penalty added to the shooter’s time.


Except for the shotgun, contestants do not load their own firearms. The pistols and rifle are instead placed and loaded on a loading table and then the spent shells unloaded at an unloading table. The shotgun is loaded during the stage. For safety, shooters rotate watching the loading and unloading at the respective tables. No gun is ever pointed towards a person and there are strict safety rules about the angle any gun can be pointed during a match.


Going through the match


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The shooters have to finish consecutive stages one by one. At the beginning of a stage, the contestant stands behind the firing line. The round starts when the range officer sounds an electric timer.


The order of shooting is determined in advance for each stage. For example, a shooter may fire 4 shotgun shells, one at a time at metal targets. They often are knock-over hinged targets that when they fall are scored as a hit. He or she then quickly transfers to another part of the stage and draws first one one pistol to fire 5 shots. After holstering the first pistol, the second is drawn and fires another five shots. The shooter will have carefully holstered the pistols and will take up the rifle to fire about 10 shots at steel targets.


All these are watched by of the spotters, who listen to the unmistakable clang of lead as they hit the metal targets.


While time and speed is important, the contestants must hit their targets in specified order. Hitting a target out of the prescribed order is scored as a miss. When the round is completed, time is called out to the scorekeeper, while spotters announce the misses, if any.


In CAS, shooters can enter around 24 classes, depending on their gender, age, and type of ammo. The shooter’s fastest overall time for the stages for that match is a basis for which they place in theier class they are placed.



Affordability of the sport


Cowboy Action Shooting competitions and dressing up as cowboys and cowgirls bring a lot of fun to the sport. As for costs, there are fees to enter the match. You’ll need two appropriate single action pistols, a rifle and a shotgun. You’ll also need period holsters for the pistols. A gun cart is almost a necessity.


You’ll need the correct ammo for each match, which can be about 60 pistol and 60 rifle cartridges (many use the same caliber ammo in their pistols and rifles), and around 30 shotgun shells. Many active shooters will reload ammunition or purchase reloaded cartridges to save money.


As for proper attire, it can be as simple as boots, genes, a cowboy-style shirt, a cowboy hat, and holsters. Or something much more elaborate, such as a complete Hopalong Cassidy outfit. But don’t show up wearing a baseball cap and sneakers and expect a welcoming reception!


Our suggestion is to attend a match – perhaps a few – and get advice from the shooters. They’ll help you select the right gear and might even let you use one of their guns if you start without everything you need.





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