Cowboy Action Shooting: A Touch Of The Wild West In Florida

Most Americans and shooters worldwide are enthralled with tales of the American West. From books, to magazines, to movies, the fascination with cowboys continues unabated more than a century after the frontier was tamed.

So it was only natural that shooters around the world would eventually come up with a shooting game for would-be cowboys — hence the birth of the Single Action Shooting Society — Cowboy Action Shooting. There are SASS clubs all over Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Where I live in Florida, there are 25 active SASS clubs running shoots, with one here in Ruskin at the Gun Craft shooting range on the last Sunday of every month. They call themselves the Doodle Hill Regulators and they even have a website. They run a competition on the last Sunday of every month.

cart transporting guns and ammo
Most Cowboy Action shooters employ a cart to transport guns and ammo from stage-to-stage.

To compete in a Cowboy Action shoot, you must first dress the part. This means cowboy hats, shirts, boots, and all the other assorted stuff you might find on the set of a 1950s “B” western movie. If this sounds like fun, you are exactly right!

Shooters Use Four Guns

A competitor needs four guns to play the game; two single action revolvers, a lever or pump action rifle (period correct), and a shotgun (also period correct). Period correct means a weapon designed prior to 1899.

You also need a nom de guerre or alias — some examples are — “Deadlee Headlee,” “John E. Law,” “Mama Missalot,” etc. To transport all these firearms and ammunition around the range, most shooters have some sort of wheeled cart. A typical match consists of 120 rounds of rifle and pistol ammo, and 28 shotshells.

Shooters are grouped into three “posse’s,” one for each stage. The first stage was a series of metal targets. Each shooter fired 8 shotshells, 10 pistol bullets, and 10 rifle rounds. The event is timed with an electric timer, and three spotters watch for and count the misses. For each miss, a five second penalty is assessed. Cowboy action ammunition is typically low velocity, flat nosed lead bullets, and low brass shotgun shells. The targets are 10- to 15 yards off the firing line.

volunteers loading guns
Volunteers load the shooters’ guns at a loading table. Five rounds in each pistol, 10 in the rifle.

Shooters do not load their own guns. Instead they are placed on a loading table, with ammunition supplied by the shooter — except for the shotgun. The shooter loads this gun on the line, two shells at a time. Shooters go through each stage one at a time. The first stage might begin with four shotgun targets, and four rifle and pistol targets. Most of the shotguns are Winchester 97 pump guns — the familiar trench gun of World War I with the distinctive external hammer. There were also a few double-barreled shotguns, some hammerless, some with external hammers. Double guns may not have shell ejectors — again, we’re talking period correct.

How Competition Works

To begin a stage, a shooter is called to the line. A range officer with an electric timer begins the round when the timer sounds off. The shooter fires four shotshells at four hinged metal targets, which must be knocked over to score. Then he quickly moves to the next portion of the stage where he must draw and fire five shots with one pistol, then holster that one, draw the second pistol and fire five more shots. Then he picks up the rifle and fires 10 shots at the metal targets. All this is closely watched by three spotters who listen for the lead bullets pinging off the metal targets.

three men in shooting tournament
Two handguns are required to participate. The firing at metal targets about 15 yards away is timed.

Besides time, shooters must fire at the rows of targets in a prescribed order. A target shot out of order is considered a miss. After the shooter completes the round, the range officer calls out the time to a scorekeeper, and spotters call out the misses.

There are 24 different classes for shooters to enter, based on things such as age, gender, and ammunition. The fastest overall time for six stages determines where you place.

Dressing up like a cowboy and shooting cowboy guns sounds like fun, but start up costs are expensive. Each shooter needs two pistols, a rifle, a shotgun, and a cart to lug everything around the range. Finally you need a Western outfit and an alias, and you are good to go. Give it a try some time for a taste of the Old West!

For more information on Cowboy Action Shooting, visit SASS. Don’t forget to visit Sportsman’s Guide for a full selection of shooting supplies.

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One Response to “Cowboy Action Shooting: A Touch Of The Wild West In Florida”

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    Jeff Burris

    This isneat, SASS, but I find it curious that not only is there no single revolver division, but that you are expected to participate in each and require all guns. Does someone have to be wealthy to be serious about the use of a single action and even dress-up (homemade well)? Have they tried this and just got too many of the shoot-your-foot-off 1 revolver losers?

    Reply