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Cowboy Shooting For Beginners

By Don Burke



The best thing about cowboy shooting is the people.Cowboy shooters as a whole are the nicest people you would ever want to meet.How hard is it to shoot a cowboy match?Not hard at all.The targets are really big and really close.The most important concept about cowboy shooting is "Spirit of the Game".In a nutshell, this means good sportsmanship.You don't look for crafty ways to get an advantage over other competitors by using trick guns, gear or whatever like IPSC.If you want to improve your defensive skills, go to an IDPA or maybe an IPSC type match.But if you want to have FUN and meet really great people, cowboy shooting might be for you.


Cowboy shooting is a shooting competition where shooters use old west style guns in staged matches.Old west-style dress is required. IPSC and IDPA shooters will find many of the rules, range management and stages to be familiar.


Itís not hard to get started; you will need two single action revolvers, a lever action rifle in a pistol caliber and a shotgun.A partial listing of guns allowed is below.Black powder or smokeless loads are acceptable.Most people shoot light loads, less than 1,000fps.My loads in .45 LC are about 700fps and are considered "hot", but many use loads a lot lighter than that.You will need some cowboy clothes, and other stuff.




Instead of your name you'll use an alias.An alias, if you are a SASS member, is yours.Nobody has one like it.Cowpuncher Ted, Fingers LaRue, Pistol Pete, General Trouble, etc.Easy.See?




Modern - .32 caliber or larger single action and has adjustable sights such as Ruger Blackhawk, Colt New Frontier, etc.


Traditional - .32 caliber or larger single action cartridge, percussion or black powder with traditional sights (non-adjustable).


Frontier Cartridge - Same as above except must use black powder. Also must use a side-by-side or lever shotgun.


Duelist - A traditional revolver cocked and fired with one hand.


Gunfighter - Shoot one left handed, one right handed alternating the pistols. IE: left, right, left, right.


Frontiersman - Same as Frontier Cartridge but using percussion pistols .36 caliber or larger shot duelist style.


Of course you can shoot revolvers with both hands as many do.Very fast!


Please note that the above is a summary of the categories and in the interest of brevity they are not complete.For complete rules on each category, please refer to the SASS web page at




Revolvers are single action and can be originals or modern made such as Ruger, Beretta (Uberti) or any of the great companies making single action old west style revolvers.Shotguns can be the same from 20 to 10 bore, side-by-side, lever or pump action exposed hammer shotguns of the period, #4 lead shot or smaller only.Rifles must be .25-20 or larger pistol calibers with tubular magazines.I'd suggest one with a ten round magazine, as many stages will require ten rounds from the rifle.




Clothing must be "period", typical of the late 19th century, western TV or B-movie clothing.Need some ideas?Watch any old western or some of the great movies such as Tombstone or Wyatt Earp and you'll see tons of clothing ideas.Cowboy, Gambler, Storekeeper, you name it.If you have the money you could go to any of the stores specializing in period clothing such as Wild West Mercantile and spend a bundle to look proper.Or, you could go to the thrift store, get a pair of light wool pinstripe pants and a cotton shirt.Add a vest and your almost there!In the late 19th century belts were not common and most people used suspenders.So, take an old pair of Levi's (no designer jeans) remove the belt loops and add buttons for suspenders.A pair of cowboy boots and a hat, maybe a pocket watch and chain, bandanna and you're all set.Ladies can dress similar to the guys or, take a frilly silky dress, change the hem and add some frilly stuff.The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.The bottom line on clothing is you should try to look the period.My first outfit was a pair of Levi's, leather belt, cowboy hat and boots from the western store, a band collar shirt from the thrift store and a vest bought on sale at Wild West Mercantile.I fit right in.Not fancy, but close enough!


Holsters & Stuff


You will of course need western style holsters.No Hunter stuff with the snaps, though.Needs to be period.You might find some used stuff around, but most likely you'll have to buy it new.Dillon's, Wild West Mercantile, local gunshops and web vendors have the stuff you need.At a minimum you will need two holsters, strong side or cross draw meeting SASS regulations and a gun belt.Cartridge loops are a good idea.You will also need a set of loops for shotgun ammo too.Nice to have are stage strips, or some kind of leather or canvas bag for ammo and brass.Shooting glasses and hearing protection are mandatory.


The Cowboy Cart


Most matches are anywhere from four to ten or so stages.You will need something to lug around all your guns, ammo and "stuff".Stuff includes eats, water, maybe a chair and whatever comfort items you want to have on the shooting line.You can go the full-boat $500 custom cart or you can make your own.I made my first cart from a golf bag cart, bolted on an old wooden box and added some leather scabbards for the long guns.Not very period, but it works.Wagons or even handcarts will work.If you are handy with tools, get a $20 cart from Harbor Freight and make a wood long gun rack and box with $40 bucks of Home Depot wood.Pretty easy!




There are local matches in the Phoenix area almost every weekend.Statewide there is a match just about every weekend.Start with signing in and if you are a first time shooter tell them and they will probably team you with an old hand to show you the ropes.Matches go anywhere from four to ten stages, shooters are divided into "Posses" and assigned a stage to start from.Posses rotate through the different stages until they are finished.


Matches usually run with a cold range, meaning all weapons are unloaded until it's your turn to shoot.At each stage, competitors all help out timing, spotting hits, picking up brass and so on.When the posse starts a stage, a range officer will read the stage and what you have to do.The shooter order is read at the first stage.The first shooter goes to the loading table and loads his or her weapons.This is where a stage strip or ammo/brass bag helps.When you know how many rounds to load, take up to the loading table only what you need for the stage.Helps prevent errors.Stage strips are short leather straps with loops for 10 to 20 rounds.I use a homemade denim bag for this.After the stage I use the same bag to collect my brass for deposit in a container on my cart.The next shooters in line watch for safety.As each shooter runs the stage, others spot hits on target or pick up your brass as you finish.Once the shooter has completed the stage he (or she) goes to the unloading table and shows each weapon unloaded.Once again, the next shooter in line stands by to verify the weapons are unloaded.


The stages run something like this:start at position one, revolvers holstered.Shotgun staged, meaning leaning open and empty against the shooting rail.Rifle is staged at position three, again leaning against the shooting rail action closed on an empty chamber and magazine loaded.On the start beep draw and engage targets 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 with one round to each target in any order.So, draw revolver #1, 1-2-3-4-5, holster and draw revolver #2 and again 1-2-3-4-5.Holster revolver and pickup shotgun, moving to position two.Engage targets 1-4 left to right with the shotgun.Many matches use Comstock rules, meaning you have to knock down the shotgun targets.If you're a bad shot, you'll use more rounds.Shotgun open and empty, take it with you to position three.Place against rail and pick up rifle, engaging targets 1 through 5 with two shots on each left to right.Your total time is your score.If you had any missed shots, 5 seconds is added to your score for each.If you had any procedurals, meaning you shot targets out of sequence or didn't follow the stage correctly 10 seconds is added to your time.Stages are as varied as imagination allows and are challenging and a lot of fun!


Getting started


To get started in Cowboy Shooting I'd suggest visiting the following websites for further information.Especially recommended is the Single Action Shooting Society web page, which has the complete rules rather than the abbreviated ones I listed here.Have fun and happy shooting! †††††††††††††††††††††††††† Single Action Shooting Society †††††††††††††††††††††††††† Arizona Cowboy Shooters Association †††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Ben Avery Shooting Range Rio Salado Shooting Range †††††††††††† Legendary guns - Phoenix ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Cowboy Emporium Homepage ††††† Wild West Mercantile - Phoenix †††††††††††††††††††††† Dillon Precision Reloading - Scottsdale