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By Thundervoice

Well, the youngins moved on so I had to find something to do with that extra time. For me, it was time to quit dabbling and get serious about shooting. At first, I was just punching holes in paper, but that got boring in a hurry. I tried some USPSA matches but the schedule didn’t work for me. So I started doing .22 steel competitions until some of them started telling me about their cowboy shooting exploits. Intrigued, I went to watch a local match and realized I had found what I was looking for.

For the uninitiated, the basic premise of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) is to shoot Old West-style guns at steel targets on the clock. You have two single-action pistols, a lever-action rifle in a pistol caliber, and a shotgun. Each gun has to meet certain requirements so that they are consistent with firearms used before 1900.

Pistols are mostly Single Action Army clones, many rifles are Model 1873 Winchesters, and shotguns are typically coach guns or Model 1897 Winchesters. Fortunately, I already had one pistol and the shotgun. A local club member loaned me a pistol so I was ready once I bought my own 1873 Winchester rifle replica.

TTAG Content Contest Remington R1 ZORE X Core

I started competing last June, which put off dealing with another aspect of CAS. You see, competitors in CAS also dress the part, wearing duds that are representative of the Old West…or the Hollywood version of the Old West. But during the summer months at my local club, Old West clothes are optional due to the Texas heat.

By the end of my first match, I was hooked. I went ahead a bought another SAA plus a backup. I also bought a Stoeger Coach Supreme Shotgun to replace my grandfather’s Model 1897.

Cowboy action lever guns

During the year, I’ve found the people to be friendly beyond measure, courteous to the nth degree, extremely safety conscious, and helpful in spades to this greenhorn. A local match typically consists of five or six stages that take about four hours to complete depending upon the number of shooters. A single stage typically involves 10 pistol shots at steel targets shooting in a specified order, 10 rifle shots at steel targets further away, and four or more shotgun blasts at knockdown steel targets.

Each range has different sizes and placements for the steel targets. The sequence of guns may be different in each stage. You might start a stage with pistol, rifle, or shotgun. Pistol targets are usually 3-10 yards away, rifle targets may be 10-30 yards away, and shotgun knockdowns are usually about 10 yards away.

At some clubs, the targets are big and close and at others, they are small and distant. Pistols and rifles are loaded at a loading table next to the firing line just before you shoot your stage. Shotguns are loaded on the clock. The Range Officer runs the clock, three of the shooters serve as counters to tally misses, and another shooter fulfills the role of picker, picking up the empty brass and shotgun hulls.

The picker role is important because almost all CAS shooters reload for reasons other than to save money. Bullets in CAS have to be lead, no jacketed bullets. Most cowboy shooters use minimum powder loads to keep recoil down and also use lighter bullets than in factory loads.

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different bullet weights to find the optimal combination of bullet weight and powder load that results is accuracy with minimum recoil (haven’t quite found it yet). For most of the year, I used a 105 gr bullet but am experimenting with a 130 gr bullet for the pistols because they always shot low with the 105 gr bullet.

There is a fair amount of variation in the guns, calibers, shooting styles, and dress of CAS participants. Many of the CAS shooters participate for the fun of it, not in a quest to be the “fastest gun in the West.” To them, an external hammer coach shotgun is an authentic feature, not a bug.

The .38 Spl is the most common caliber used in CAS, but you will also see many that shoot the .45 Colt and other calibers. Some shoot gunfighter style, which is a pistol in each hand alternating shots. A few shooters use black powder, which makes for a lot of flash and smoke on the firing line.

There are also special categories like the Wild Bunch and Cody Dixon. Wild Bunch shooters replace the SAA pistols with a Model 1911, the rifle must be .40 caliber or larger, and the shotgun is a Model 1897. Cody Dixon is a category found in Texas where the rifle targets are 50-150 yards away, necessitating a rifle that uses rifle cartridges.

The governing body for CAS is the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). This is where you can find the rules for guns, shooting categories, and costumes, along with links to local clubs. I’ve found that I can shoot CAS up to three Saturdays a month at clubs that are 45 minutes or less from my home.

After a year in this CAS-thing, I’m a better shooter than I was. I’m at the point now where I am starting to realize that the guns may be one of the many things that are keeping me from shooting faster. So it’s time to start looking into “slicking up” the pistols and rifle. Plus finding a good holster rig and spending more time dry firing.

I’ve really enjoyed this undertaking and look forward to doing it for years to come. If you looking for a shooting challenge and good people, find a nearby club and try it out.


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  1. I got into the Old West (the real Old West, not Hollywood) when I was going to a military school at Ft. Huachuca AZ and found out that Tombstone was only 25 miles away. They had a group there called “the Wild Bunch” who dressed in 1880’s clothes and reenacted the O.K. Corral gunfight on weekends. And then headed to the saloons (most of which dated to the early 1880’s). So I got a SAA clone and reloaded my .45 Colt ammo with a Lee Loader that I got for about $20. And started reading. It awoke in me a great interest in the real Old West and the characters and armory that inhabited it, and the gun came in handy because nobody ever went into the desert without a gun. But when I got back East, I also got into 18th c. reenacting (which I still do) and decided that I didn’t need another expensive hobby to do, so CAS was out. But I did collect some repro Old West guns (which were re-introduced thanks to CAS). There used to be a CAS gun shop up near Gettysburg PA that I’d stop at to buy books and other stuff. Taylors & Co., up in Winchester, VA, and I have become pretty friendly. Now, if somebody would make a decent Merwin & Hulbert revolver replica, I’d be all set. Oh, and a Colt Lightning large-frame rifle – that too.

    • Tombstone is a fantastic place to visit, that many people don’t know about. The show they put on is amazing. And on the right days, after hours, you can find some of the re-enactors drinking in the saloons, and have a drink, or several with them. Years ago, I personally got a little loaded with one and he took me around the town showing me all kinds of cool stuff the tours don’t get to.

  2. Thundervoice

    It’s addictive as I’ve been playing the game since the late 1980’s,however the game hasn’t gotten any cheaper to get into.
    The minimum of four guns to play,two pistols,rifle and shotgun,back when I started it was one pistol,rifle and shotgun,old side by sides were everywhere and for the most part unwanted,aka cheap,not so today.
    In the late 80’s the most common caliber was 45 colt not todays 38 spl. however for the game it makes sense,especially if one is completive minded.
    It’s a great ride and some of the best family fun to be had. Sgt. Jake SASS 3368

  3. Sounds so fun. Glad you are enjoying it. Maybe I should look up CAS nearby and take the kids to watch. They’d get a kick out of it for sure.

    Also, great pics! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Its also probably worth mentioning that the most common age range of competitors is around 50-70. I still have fun as a 26 year old but its definitely an older crowd. The courses also tend to have very little movement or odd positions to accommodate this. I have literally seen more than one competitor rolling an oxygen tank during the competition.

    • Looking for a holster and belt for my single action, any suggestions in the Raleigh NC area?
      One commentator mentioned the guy with oxygen tank, that made me smile, was it authentic 1800 or reproduction?


        He’s not in NC, but you won’t be able to blame the rig for being slow.
        I tried to speak to him at a gun show in Reno 6 years ago, but he was taking the time to walk a new ccw holder through the exact hosted she wanted. I moved along after 40 minutes, but lost track of the quick sales he might have made. The man is dedicated to his craft.

  5. This sounds like so much fun. I’ve been wanting to get into cowboy action shooting for quite a while, but there weren’t any groups near me.

    Just now checked the link for local clubs, and it turns out somebody started one practically next door. Sweet! Now all I need are the guns…anybody got a thousand bucks just laying around?

  6. SASS is a bigoted organization! They are completely lever-action supremacists who marginalize the contemporaneously accurate revolving carbine!
    Revolving carbine lives matter, especially in .45 LC!

    In all seriousness, I would take the time penalty for a 5 shot reload if they would allow the weapon. But they won’t, because they know how superior it is to those clumsy lever guns…

    • Isn’t rossi/Taurus going to be your only option for a revolver carbine? I’d argue that’s enough reason to keep it out right there, but it could be your penalty as well, so… 😉

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