I started shooting Cowboy Action entirely by accident. While shooting at my local range one day, I saw the competition bays full of people wearing in Old West clothing. I wandered over to spectate and ended up not just being invited but being encouraged to shoot a Cowboy Action stage. While I was familiar with competition shooting, I was not familiar with single-action shooting or shooting a stage with a required sequence of target engagement. I shot the stage and was instantly hooked.
The governing body for Cowboy Action Shooting (and Wild Bunch Action Shooting) is the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). SASS was founded in 1987 and exists to preserve the history of the Old West. It creates a safe, fun, and family-friendly competitive shooting environment. SASS-affiliated clubs across the country hold monthly matches and some host large annual matches. The two most significant events for Cowboy Action are “Land Run” and “End of Trail,” which are the National Championship and World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, respectively. There are also annual matches hosted internationally in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Austria, and more.
Getting into Cowboy Action Shooting didn’t take long because the local community of shooters lent me gear and guns until I acquired everything of my own. All I had to do was supply the ammunition. In all competitive shooting sports, almost everyone you meet is willing to lend you guns and gear because they want the sport to grow. Every competitive shooter you see started somewhere, and I’m sure almost all of them have borrowed a gun or gear at some point to shoot a match.
Choosing an Alias
You rarely know anyone’s real name in Cowboy Action Shooting. When you become a SASS member, you must choose an alias representing a character or profession from the Old West or Western film genre. In the SASS world, you’re only known by your alias wherever you go.
There are more categories in Cowboy Action than in any other competitive shooting sport that I know. Age, shooting style, costumes and propellant categories make the category combinations endless. Here are a few examples of categories:
Competitors 13 and under. .22 LR for revolvers and rifles and .410 bore, 28- or 32-gauge shotguns.
Age 36 and up.
Elder Statesman/Grand Dame
Age 70 and up.
Open age categories. May use any main match revolver but can’t shoot Gunfighter style along with any SASS legal main match shotgun main match rifle.
Duelist style is shooting a revolver cocked and fired one-handed and unsupported. Duelists use any main match, fixed-sight model revolver, any SASS legal main match shotgun and main match rifle. The competitor shall not have two loaded revolvers in hand at once.
Gunfighter style is shooting with a revolver in each hand. Revolvers must be cocked and fired one-handed and unsupported with a revolver in each hand. Shooters are to use any main match revolver, any SASS legal main match shotgun and any main match rifle. Two holsters are required, one on each side. Gunfighter-style competitors must shoot five rounds with each hand—regardless of how they are drawn from leather. Both revolvers may be cocked at the same time but must be fired one at a time to facilitate scoring.
Firearms: Any main match revolver can be used, and any SASS legal shotgun may be used. Any SASS legal rifle of 1880 or later design or a replica thereof (e.g., Burgess, Lightning Rifle, 1892, 1894 Winchester or Marlin).
Leather: Buscadero holster rigs or drop holster rigs are required with all revolvers carried below the top of the gun belt. All belt and holster rigs must be embellished.
-Shirts must be of the “B-Western” style with snap buttons or any of the following:
- “Smiley Pockets”
- Colored yokes
-Pants must be jeans, ranch pants or pants with flaps over the rear pocket with any of the below features:
- Keystone belt loops
- Fringe worn with a belt
-Ladies are allowed to wear dresses, skirts or split riding skirts.
-Boots are required, must be of traditional design and embellished. Western spurs with rowels and spur straps are required for men.
Any main match fixed sight model revolver and any SASS legal pistol caliber rifle are allowed. Must use black powder in all loads (rifle, revolver and shotgun) and use a side-by-side, single-shot or lever-action shotgun in the main match stages.
Cowboy Action Guns
The guns are the best part of Cowboy Action because of the wide variety used. There are requirements of what firearms are legal by SASS standards. The categories determine what guns are used. There are different types of shooters in SASS. Some highly competitive people run the fastest racing guns and modify them for performance. Some firearms collectors enjoy shooting rare Old West guns. You’ll find gun enthusiasts who love shooting black powder.
Cowboy Action Shooting legal revolvers include original single-action revolvers manufactured prior to 1899, approved replicas and SASS-approved single-action adjustable sight revolvers. The revolvers of SASS must be centerfire calibers of at least .32 caliber (or percussion calibers of at least .36 caliber) and no larger than .45 caliber. The Buckaroo Category allows for .22 caliber.
Any side-by-side or single-shot shotgun typical of the period from approximately 1860 until 1899 with or without external hammers and having single or double triggers is allowed. Lever-action, tubular feed and exposed hammer shotguns of the period are allowed, whether original or replicas. The only slide action shotgun allowed is the Model 1897 Winchester shotgun, original or replica. Side-by-side, single-shot and lever-action shotguns must be centerfire of at least 20 gauge and no larger the 10 gauge, while slide-action shotguns must be of at least 16 gauge and no larger than 12 gauge. The exception is the Buckaroo Category, which allows .410 bore, 28 or 32 gauge.
Rifles or carbines used in the main and team matches must be original or replicas of lever- or slide-action rifles manufactured from approximately 1860 until 1899, incorporating a tubular magazine and exposed hammer. The rifles of SASS must be centerfire calibers of at least .32 caliber and no larger than .45 caliber. Buckaroo Category only allows .22-caliber firearms.
Cowboy Action Shooting Gear
The essential gear is a belt, holsters, a cartridge belt or pouches for both rifle and shotgun. Depending on what category you choose to compete in, you’ll need the proper attire. Transporting your firearms from one stage to the next does require some sort of gun cart, and while not required, most SASS competitors make their own gun carts that look like something you’d see from the late 19th century.
All holsters used in Cowboy Action need to be safe with proper retention on the revolvers. The main match holsters are required to be located one on each side of the belly button and separated by at least the width of two fists at the belt. Crossdraw and shoulder holsters are also legal in some categories but need to be used safely when drawing or returning a firearm to the holster. Holsters are not to depart from the vertical by more than 30 degrees when worn.
Stages in Cowboy Action vary on the number of shotgun targets you must shoot. Some stages require a mandatory rifle reload. You may have to reload on the clock if you accidentally or purposefully racked a live round out of your gun. Bandoleers, cartridge belts and pouches are used to store ammunition on your person. All of them must be of traditional design. Pouches must have a flap with the contents loose. And cartridge loops can’t have a metal or plastic liner, but the entire loop can be made with metal.
Ammunition belts must be worn to position all ammo at or below the belly button. Leather belt slide ammo loops are acceptable. Shotgun shell slides are not be worn over shotgun loops on an ammo belt. Shotgun ammo loops are not allowed to accommodate more than two rounds per loop and must be in a single row. Rifle/revolver ammo loops shall accommodate only one round per loop and cannot be affixed to shotgun loops.
How CAS Works
Cowboy Action stages require shooting your revolvers and rifle in a specific numbered sequence. Shotgun knockdown targets must fall to score (exception: Buckaroo Category).
Each stage has:
- A round count
- What guns are required to shoot the stage
- A start position (if no start position is given, the shooter shall stand upright with revolvers holstered, hands at the sides and not touching any firearm)
- A line for the shooter to say to signal that they’re ready
The RO gives the shooter a few seconds and beep the timer that starts the time. Here is an example of a target sequence: With the rifle, engage outside targets with four shots each and the middle target with two shots in any order. Make the rifle safe in the gun box. From behind the haybale with pistol(s), engage pistol targets in the same order that rifle targets were engaged.
SASS matches are total time scoring, plus any penalty points for missed targets, procedural errors and other infractions based on safety rules. Each stage is scored individually. The total combined raw time score plus any penalties incurred for all stages determines the place of finish, either by category, overall or both.
All in all, Cowboy Action Shooting is friendly for people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience. I’ve met some lifelong friends, some of whom I still struggle to remember their real names. Their aliases are how I know them. For more information and to become a member, visit sassnet.com.