Where There’s Smoke . . .

Photographing the “black powder” shooters in action is a treat. These replicas of 1873 Winchester rifles shoot black powder cartridges reminiscent of the days before “smokeless” (modern) gun powder was invented. The percussion “open-top” pistols are even more interesting since there is no modern “cartridge” as we know it. Just a cap, ball and black powder! KaBoom…

Hammer Down

Hammer Down – North Zulch, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 105mm, f/7.1 for 1/160th of a second at ISO 400. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5 using Nik’s Color Efex Pro filters.
Click on the image above for a larger version.



Smoke – North Zulch, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 70mm, f/7.1 for 1/320th of a second at ISO 400. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5 using Nik’s Color Efex Pro filters.
Click on the image above for a larger version.


Shooting Duelist

Duelist – North Zulch, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 73mm, f/7.1 for 1/160th of a second at ISO 400. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5 using Nik’s Color Efex Pro filters.
Click on the image above for a larger version.


No Place for Old Men?

Don’t Bet On It!

Don’t let anyone tell you that cowboy action shooting is for “old men”. I shot this six image sequence at 3.9 frames per second. This old cowboy drew from his holster and fired the first shot (a hit) in less than 2 seconds. That’s a darn good time even for a much younger man shooting a semi automatic pistol in IDPA or USPSA competition and this was a single-action revolver!

Sequence 1

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Willow Hole Cowboys – North Zulch, Texas

Willow Hole Cowboys Logo


Another Match / A New Club
I hadn’t planned on shooting another match so soon after a short but painful bought of food poisoning Thursday but by Saturday afternoon I was feeling better and decided to drive North Sunday morning to shoot with the Willow Hole Cowboys. The WHC is a SASS club located in North Zulch, Texas between Bryan and Madisonville. It’s a 2-1/2 hour drive on a quiet Sunday morning, through some of the most beautiful countryside in East Texas. The town of Zulch boasts a rich history dating back to the late 1830’s and the club takes its name from the original Willow Hole Church that existed up till the 1950’s.

I arrived at the Willow Hole Cowboys range early to see Fairplay John and his lovely wife Bristlecone Jan, whom I’d met earlier at the Thunder River Renegades in Magnolia. I was feeling very nervous about shooting at a new club and seeing these two friendly faces really helped calm the butterflies in my stomach. As I’ve said before, the people in this shooting sport are some of the most warm and friendly you could ever hope to meet. I got my cart all setup and walked up to pay and saw the familiar hat (and face) of Baba Looey, the gentleman I photographed at TRR during my first match two weeks ago.

Winchester 1897 Shotgun in Action

Winchester 97 Shotgun in Action – North Zulch, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 95mm, f/7.1 for 1/125th of a second at ISO 400. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.


Friendly Faces
I wandered around the range looking over the stages when Jan (seeing my nervousness) grabbed my arm and introduced me to the real “Willow Hole Cowboys”: Walter Durbin, DefWillie, Doc Bury’Em, Dealin’ Lead, Red River Mac, Lonesome Lefty, Rooster, Chato, Texican Slim, Yellertooth and One Shot Doc. I could tell that these were some serious shooters with years of experience. After a few minutes of introductions and small talk, Walter Durbin the “Range Master” went through the day’s schedule, rules and safety reminders including a story about a gun being dropped during Saturday’s match.

We proceeded to the first stage and I thought “Oh Lord, Please don’t let me screw up in front of these fine folks”. I swear I felt like a thousand butterflies were darting through my stomach until one shooter looked me square in the face and said, “I wonder how many times you’ve got to do this before the butterflies go away?”. Wow! That simple question coming from an experienced shooter did more to get me through that first stage than I ever thought possible and even though I missed almost every target (6 misses in my first twenty shots) I got through those “first stage jitters”. I must have looked like a frightened schoolboy on the first day of class and Jan graciously came over to me and said “Breathe”.

Intense Concentration

Intense Concentration – North Zulch, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 85mm, f/7.1 for 1/160th of a second at ISO 400. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.


Skill & Speed
The match progressed through the first few stages before I finally relaxed down enough to shoot straight and began to enjoy myself. I spent a lot of time watching the other shooters’ form and strategy and it was a real pleasure to see some great shooting with a variety of different firearms. Let me tell you, these folks can put an 1873 lever-action rifle through its paces faster and smoother than I’d ever thought possible.

I also saw some long distance (Cody-Dixon) rifle shooting that amazed me. It was awesome to see a vintage lever-action rifle hit a six inch steel target at 100 yards with nothing more than a semi-buckhorn sight. John Chisum or Lucas McCain would have been proud to hit such a mark!

Black Powder and Orange Smoke

Black Powder and Orange Smoke – North Zulch, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 85mm, f/7.1 for 1/160th of a second at ISO 400. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.


Great Action / Wonderful Color
The black powder pistols and rifles were especially interesting to watch. I’d never seen one up close before and FairPlay John’s matched set of percussion pistols were gorgeous. I got my camera out and came away with some wonderful action shots of this colorful sport as you can see here. Combining my passion for photography with such a great subject such as cowboy shooting is going to be a real challenge for me. I enjoy capturing this shooting sport and sharing my work with y’all but I “itch” to grab my own guns whenever I see one of these “old pros” step up to shoot a stage!

Many Thanks
I had a great time shooting with the Willow Hole Cowboys and truly appreciate their friendly advice and coaching of this newcomer. I look forward to seeing y’all again next month and around this part of Texas!

Ammunition for the Frugal Cowboy

QUICK UPDATE: I drove North this morning to shoot with the Willow Hole Cowboys in North Zulch, Texas. What a great bunch of shooters! I had several folks ask what kind of powder I was shooting since they all said it smelled kinda funny. You know you’re hanging out with a bunch of experienced shooters when they can tell what kind of ammo you’re shooting just by the smell. 😉

Like most shooting sports, there are two schools of thought on cowboy action shooting ammunition. Most serious shooters load their own ammo to control quality, consistency and cost. Reloading pistol caliber ammunition can save the average cowboy shooter thousands of dollars a year when compared to the cost of factory “cowboy loads”. The only drawback for those of us living in Southeast Texas is the heat and humidity. Reloading ammunition requires a climate controlled workshop and for most of us without a basement, that means setting up shop in your home (not with a wife and four daughters) or air conditioning your garage.

Fiocchi Cowboy Loads

Image Copyright © 2011 Fiocchi Ammunition
Factory “Coyboy Loads”

Others buy expensive “cowboy loads” like that shown above, from manufacturers like Winchester, Fiocchi, MagTech, Ultramax, Ten-X and my personal favorite, Black Hills.

It’s amazing to me how much more expensive these “cowboy loads” are than “self defense” loads from the same manufacturer. When I switched from IDPA to CAS I thought my monthly ammunition costs would go down since “all lead” bullets used in SASS competition must cost less than jacketed bullets. I also thought that the lower pressure “cowboy loads” must be less expensive to produce than my +P match-grade ammo. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Sellier & Bellot 1873 Rifle

Image Copyright © 2011 Sellier & Bellot Ammunition
Click on the image above for a larger version

Sellier & Bellot to the Rescue
When I switched from shooting a 9mm to a 45ACP for IDPA competition I knew I’d have to find a less expensive source for ammunition than my trusty Winchester “white box”. I talked with several “frugal” shooters and they pointed me to Sellier & Bellot, a company I’d frankly never heard of. After putting several thousand rounds of S&B 45ACP full metal jacket through my 1911 without a single failure, I knew I’d found the answer I’d been looking for.

Sellier & Bellot has long occupied a key position in European ammunition production and ranks among the oldest munitions companies in the Czech Republic. They have continuously produced ammunition since 1825. In 2009, the Brazilian company “Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos S.A.” (CBC), also known as Magtech became the owner of Sellier & Bellot.

Sellier & Bellot Ammunition

Image Copyright © 2011 Sellier & Bellot Ammunition

Excellent Quality
When I switched from IDPA to Cowboy Action Shooting I once again turned to Sellier & Bellot for the best value in lead cartridges I could find. S&B produces some of the cleanest burning and highest quality ammunition I’ve ever used. Their powder burns quickly and completely, making firearm cleaning much easier than with other “cowboy loads”. Their lead-round-nose and lead-flat-nose bullets are polymer coated (similar to moly coated lead bullets) and really “fly” through my pistols leaving little residue behind, even in the forcing cone. They feed through my 1866 Yellowboy beautifully and their brass casings come out in near perfect condition.

I hate to admit this but the Sellier & Bellot ammunition I’m currently using (.38 Special, LRN, 158gr, 977 fps) shoots so much better than other brands I’ve tried, that I’m breaking my “Buy American Whenever Possible” pledge!

Incredible Value
So let’s talk money for a few minutes. Not only does Sellier & Bellot ammunition shoot better than anything else I’ve tried, it costs significantly less than any “cowboy load”.

Cheaper Than Dirt (.38 Special, 158gr LRN, 50 rounds per box)
Winchester Cowboy Load – $27.16/box or $0.54/round
Remington Express – $26.58/box or $0.53/round
Magtech Cowboy Load – $21.81/box or $0.44/round
Fiocchi Cowboy Load – $19.04/box or $0.38/round
Sellier & Bellot – $16.94/box or $0.34/round

Don’t take my word for it. Buy a box of Sellier & Bellot LRN cartridges and try them out at your next practice session. Shoot one of your single action pistols with this round and another using your normal “cowboy load” of choice. I’d be willing to bet that you come to the same conclusion that I did. For those of you that load your own, do an honest comparison between your reloading cost versus S&B’s $0.34/round cost. I think you’ll be surprised at how close it is.

I think Sellier & Bellot ammunition is a frugal cowboy shooter’s best choice on the market today!

The Winchester Model 1866 Yellowboy

Yellowboy Short Rifle

Copyright © 2011 A. Uberti Firearms
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Quick History Lesson
In 1848, an inventor named Walter Hunt patented his “Volition Repeating Rifle” which used a tubular magazine to hold multiple rounds and was operated by two levers and some very complex linkages. Hunt’s invention had numerous shortcomings and in 1849 Lewis Jennings purchased the patent rights and developed a functioning “repeating rifle” which was produced in small numbers.

Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson acquired the Jennings patent as well as shop foreman Benjamin Henry. Smith made improvements to the Jennings design and in 1855 Smith, Wesson and Oliver Winchester formed a new company, the “Volcanic Repeating Arms Company” to manufacture the Volcanic lever-action rifle.

This became the famous 1860 Henry Rifle which was used in considerable numbers by certain Union army units during he Civil War. Confederates called the Henry “that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!”. After the Civil War, Winchester renamed the company, the “Winchester Repeating Arms Company” and improved the design of the Henry rifle to create the first Winchester rifle: The Model 1866.

Yellowboy Loading GateThe Winchester Model 1866 was famous for its rugged construction and lever-action mechanism that allowed the rifleman to fire a number of shots before having to reload: hence the term, “repeating rifle”. The Model 1866 was nicknamed the “Yellow Boy” because of its “brass” receiver.

The 1866 Yellowboy lever-action rifle was a marked improvement over the Henry rifle. It was the first true cowboy lever-action rifle, and the first rifle widely carried in a cowboy-style saddle scabbard. The Yellowboy had a convenient new type of loading gate, devised by Winchester plant superintendent Nelson King. The gate passed cartridges through the side of the receiver. This improvement made the lever action more functional and allowed for the installation of a wooden fore-end.

The handy carbine version of the 1866 Yellowboy was a hit worldwide. Chief Sitting Bull had one; the forces of Benito Juarez used the rifles in Mexico; and the Turkish Army used the new Winchester Yellowboy against the Russians.

View the video above for more information.

Modern Day Replicas
The three most common lever-action rifles used in cowboy shooting today are the Winchester Model 1866, Model 1873 and Model 1892. However, most shooters would never dream of running an actual Winchester since these rifles have incredible historic and collector value.

Luckily, A. Uberti S.R.L. of Italy is very well known in the trade as a producer of fine replica rifles and pistols including the Model 1866 “Yellowboy”. Three of the most popular models have been recreated as Uberti rifles: The Yellowboy Carbine with 19″ barrel and carbine-style brass buttplate; the Yellowboy Rifle with 24-1/4″ barrel; and the Yellowboy Short Rifle with 20″ barrel.


Copyright © 2011 A. Uberti Firearms
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Cowboy Action Shooting
I’d been looking for a second cowboy rifle for several months now and spied several gorgeous models last weekend in Rawhide’s gun cart at the Thunder River Renegades match. An old friend from up north traded me his for my Winchester Model 94 hunting rifle and I walked away with a beautiful 1866 “Yellowboy” Short Rifle assembled by Cimarron Firearms in Fredericksburg, Texas. Cimarron imports Uberti firearms and then adds their own special cowboy shooting features including removing unneeded safeties, smoothing the action and generally improving the fit and finish of the rifle. Normally, a Cimarron firearm is fully functional out of the box but in the case of the Model 1866, a few “tweaks” were needed to make this rifle “competition ready”.

I love working on firearms, especially during the winter months when I have to put my landscape photography on hold. There’s something very satisfying about taking apart a historic weapon like the 1911 pistol or 1866 rifle and learning to put it back together correctly. Unfortunately, my knowledge of historic weapons is limited to the venerable Colt 1911 pistol. Luckily, there are several great sources of information on the Internet including Marauder’s Old Irons Page which includes detailed instructions and parts diagrams for working on your Model 1866 rifle.

Clean, Deburr & Polish
Most factory firearms need a little tender loving care before they become reliable enough for competition or personal defense so the first thing I do to every new firearm is “clean, deburr and polish” the key components. This is generally all that is ever needed to make a firearm fully functional and it’s a step that I never skip BEFORE taking the firearm to the range. You’d be surprised at the number of folks that skip this step and find themselves with a jammed firearm after the first few rounds have gone down range.

Carrier Upgrade
Aluminum CarrierThe “carrier” on the Model 1866 is the most important part in the entire rifle and with the exception of the barrel, it’s also the heaviest. It’s machined from a solid block of “gunmetal”, a high copper content bronze alloy and moves up and down to “carry” the cartridge in and out of the barrel. Considering how old the design is, this wonder of engineering does its job with amazing reliability.

The problem is, the “carrier” on the Model 1866 is darn heavy and this makes smooth lever operation a real pain in the butt. Luckily, there are aluminum replacement carriers available from companies like Pioneer Gun Works that weigh less than 1/4th of the original.

Lever Drag
Improving the action on some firearms is beyond my skill level but the Model 1866 is not one of them. Like many other lever action rifles, the “friction” between mating parts on the Model 1866 along with springs that are much too stiff, tends to create significant “drag” on the lever. It’s the one thing that most folks really hate about lever-action versus bolt-action rifles. The lever “drag” on my old Winchester Model 94 was so bad that I could barely operate it at shoulder level. Luckily, the lever mechanism in the Model 1866 is much simpler and with proper lubrication and some polishing, it smoothed up in no time flat.

Short Stroke KitFor even smoother lever action you could install a short stroke kit like this one from Pioneer Gun Works. The unique design of the links in a short stroke kit smooth the lever action considerably while also shortening the lever travel (stroke) by as much as 1-1/2″. For cowboy action shooters this benefit shaves precious seconds off their overall time.

At the Range
I’ll tell you this, the Cimarron Model 1866 “Yellowboy” is a pleasure to shoot. I ran fifty rounds of Sellier & Bellot 158gr LRN ammunition through the Model 1866 without a single failure-to-feed. The magazine tube held ten rounds almost perfectly although the final round was darn tough to insert.

Talk about accuracy! I was able to land all fifty rounds in an 8″ circle from 25 yards with this “short rifle” (20″ barrel) and that was from a standing position. The .38 Special rounds ran through this sweet little rifle with almost no perceptible recoil. The factory semi-buckhorn rear sight and all black front sight are not my preferred combination but they sure did get the job done!

My only complaint about the Model 1866 is the weight. This beautiful old rifle weighs in at a little over 8 lbs versus just over 5 lbs for my Rossi Model 92. Those old cowboys must have worked out a lot more than us old photographers do!

All in all, the Model 1866 “Yellowboy” is a fine cowboy action rifle for shooters of any skill level. It’s reasonable smooth & fast and very (VERY) accurate from 50 yards in. The Model 1866 looks great too with its distinct brass receiver, oiled walnut stocks and charcoal blue barrel. The best thing about using this rifle for cowboy shooting is that you’re holding a piece of history, “The Rifle that Won the West”.

Now That’s What I Call Fun!

Shot my first match with the Thunder River Renegades in Magnolia, Texas this weekend. Many thanks to John Ross (aka Johnny Morris) for the loan of his daughter’s Marlin carbine!

How the Hell Did I Get Here?
I’ve been searching high and low for a cowboy shooting gun belt that would help me transition from IDPA shooting to cowboy action shooting, with very little luck. Last week I was trawling the Internet, searching through dozens of site and happened upon simple web page from JM Leather in Alvin, Texas right down the road from Sugar Land. I try to buy in Texas if at all possible and the leatherwork displayed on this site was top notch, so I thought, “what the heck?” and sent Johnny Morris an email.

I had an idea in my head for a gun belt with three double shotshell loops on the left, just forward of my left holster (exactly where my spare magazines would be in IDPA) and five single cartridge loops on the right, just forward of my right holster. I really hate the thought of wearing a gun belt and separate shotshell belt and just wanted something simple, clean and light-weight. Johnny’s All-In-One Belt was the closest thing I’d seen but I wanted the buckle facing forward.

After a few emails back & forth, I asked Johnny if we could get together to discuss the project and he suggested I come and shoot this weekend with the Thunder River Renegades in Magnolia. Talk about “customer service”. Not only had I found someone local that did high-quality leatherwork, I’d also found someone to shoot with. Johnny even loaned me his daughter’s Marlin since my Rossi 92 is still being worked on. I don’t remember anything like this ever happening in IDPA.

Old Time Shooting

Old Time Shooting – Magnolia, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on aperture priority (Av) using a circular polarizer. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/4.5 for 1/60th of a second at ISO 80. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

A Case of Nerves
There’s nothing quote as nerve racking as your first time out in a new shooting sport. You walk up to that line. I remember vividly the first time I shot IDPA and darn near dropped my magazine on the first reload. The buzzer goes off and all those months of dry-fire & live practice got right out the window. Adrenaline kicks in and your once nimble fingers feel like you’re wearing a catcher’s mitt. You silently pray “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Me Drop This Gun”.

My first experience in cowboy action shooting was somewhat similar but with a really big difference, the people! The folks at the Thunder River Renegades couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. Johnny hooked me up with Rawhide (in cowboy shooting, you are your alias) who ran me through the basics and checked me out on range safety, course etiquette and sweep definitions (we’ll cover these in detail later). He had me load each firearm (rifle, pistols & shotgun) and let me get my first taste of shooting steel plates. This type of immediate feedback sure beats trying to see a hit on an 8″ perforated circle in IDPA, let me tell you!

Once the stage began I waited my turn at the loading table and tried not to let the butterflies in my stomach carry me off. What’s to worry about? It’s just two pistols (single-action), a lever-action rifle I’d borrowed and a coach gun that I’d slicked up myself. The Timer said “Next Shooter” and I thought to myself, “Oh Lord, What Have I Gone and Done?”.  I stepped up to the platform, staged my rifle and shotgun and waited for the Timer to say “Shooter Ready”.

The buzzer sounded and I grabbed my rifle, brought it to my shoulder, levered a round into the chamber and squeezed off my first shot in cowboy action shooting. A clean miss! The Posse Marshal calls out “High” as I send another shot over the second steel target. I adjust my aim almost 8″ lover and am finally rewarded with that most beautiful sound in cowboy shooting, “Clang”. I continue shooting each target: “Clang”, “Clang”, “Clang” until the rifle is empty. I set it down and move quickly to the pistol targets, drawing my left revolver as I move towards the second position. “Clang”, “clang”, “clang”, “clang”, “Miss”. I draw my right revolver and cleanly sweep the same group of targets. I move toward the third position while holstering my revolver with my right hand and grab two shotshells in left hand.

I grap the shotgun just as I’ve practiced and load two shotshells, bring it to my shoulder and fire off my right barrel. I hear the “Clang” and the Timer says “Down” (shotgun targets have to “fall”, not just get hit). I quickly let go with my left barrel and hear that beautiful “clang” once again. I break open the coach gun, dump the spent shells just as I’ve practiced and grab another two from my belt. That’s when my nerves kick into high gear! I bring the two new shotshells toward the open barrels and miss both openings. After what seems an eternity, I load the two shotshells and open fire on the last two targets. “Clang”, “Clang”, Done!

I grab my rifle & coach gun and walk to the uploading table with a big grin on my face and a sense of wonder. What took these seven paragraphs to write happened in less than forty seconds of “real time”. The next four stages went just as fast and I shot one of them “clean” and with a decent time.

Girls & Guns

Girls & Guns – Magnolia, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on aperture priority (Av) using a circular polarizer. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/4.5 for 1/60th of a second at ISO 80. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Some Great Shooting
Cowboy action shooting events bring out the best in people and bring out the best shooters. This young lady, “Hey You” is a Ladies Traditional Texas State and Southwest Regional Champion. Watching her run that lever-action rifle with nary a miss was a joy to witness. Like all the folks I’ve met in this shooting sport, this young lady was enthusiastic, polite and friendly to everyone in the match. Unlike some other shooting sports, folks that come to a cowboy match seem to leave their ego’s at home. I’ve honestly never met such a warm and friendly group of folks before.

My thanks to Johnny, Rawhide, Miss Ellie and all the rest of the Thunder River Renegades for making this a weekend to remember. See you next month!

Southeast Texas SASS – January Match Schedule

Single Action Shooting SocietyFor those of you too timid to jump right in like I did, you can come hang out at any of these SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) matches in Southeast Texas during the month of January. Guests are always welcome and folks are very friendly.

Who knows, you might even catch the cowboy action shooting bug!

Required Reading for Cowboy Action Shooters

Cowboy Action Shooting like any other shooting sport requires a certain level of expertise in handling and maintaining your firearms. The web is full of misinformation, misdirection and downright foolishness when it comes to the proper use and care of firearms. I strongly suggest that you “study” your competition guns thoroughly before taking them to the range; “practice” with them until you feel confident in your abilities and “maintain” them as if your life depends upon them (as it truly may).

Uberti El Patron

Copyright © 2012 Benelli USA. All Rights Reserved
Click on the image above for a larger version.

This is especially true in cowboy shooting since the firearms we generally use are “period correct”, meaning they were designed well over 100 years ago before the advent of modern materials science and manufacturing techniques. Nowhere is this more true than in the world famous Colt Single Action Army Revolver (1873 Model P) and its present day clones and replicas. 90% of cowboy shooters use something resembling the Colt SAA, either a clone such as the Uberti Cattleman shown above or a Ruger Vaquero or New Vaquero.

Colt Revolvers Shop ManualTo get the most out of your competition gun it’s very important to understand how it functions (the firing cycle), how the parts all fit together and how to maintain it in peak condition. It’s also vital to understand how to troubleshoot issues that (will) come up during a match.

Unfortunately, most firearms manufacturers include little if any “real information” in their manuals. Most factory manuals seem to devote fifty pages to  firearms “safety” and less than three pages to disassembly and maintenance. It’s almost as if the firearms manufacturers prefer their customers to be ignorant rather than informed!



Ruger Shop ManualLuckily, there are some wonderfully illustrated reference books by noted gunsmith Jerry Kuhnhausen to help you better understand how your single-action revolvers really work. My two favorites are The Colt Single Action Revolvers – A Shop Manual and The Ruger Single Action Revolvers – A Shop Manual and yes, the inner workings of a Colt (and clones) are very different than a Ruger. Both shop manuals are available from Brownells but their inventory of these classic reference books is limited so you may have to wait several weeks for your order to ship.

The illustrations in both books are absolutely superb in both their detail and artistry. I can think of no better way to explain the inner workings of these incredible firearms. In many cases, Kuhnhausen also includes detailed dimensions for each part that can be used for inspection, troubleshooting and replacement purposes.

Once you begin to understand the inner workings of a single-action revolver I’m sure you’ll come to admire what a marvelous piece of “technology” this was back in the day. I’m often amazed by the design of these early firearms, especially compared to today’s crop of polymer framed (Glock = Ugly) handguns and think folks like Browning, Richards & Mason were inventors and gunsmiths far, far ahead of their time. Their contribution to firearms design is why we have so much fun Cowboy Action Shooting today.

The Stoeger Coach Gun

The “Coach Gun” is probably the most widely used firearm of the late 1800’s. Pioneers, settlers and lawmen alike relied on the double-barrel, side-by-side shotgun for everything from putting food on the table to close-quarters combat. The modern slang “riding shotgun” can be traced back to the days when stagecoaches played a big role in transporting people and cargo to destinations the train didn’t reach. The rough and tumble frontier of the “Old West” was such that these trips often necessitated a guard toting a short-barreled shotgun up front with the driver. Anyone that’s ever watched a John Wayne Western movie has seen just how effective the coach gun was back in the day.

Stoeger Coach Gun

Copyright © 2011 Stoeger Industries
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Today, the “Coach Gun” has found new life for both home defense and Cowboy Action Shooting. The most common shotgun for SASS shooters is the Stoeger Coach Gun at 6-1/2 pounds with a pair of 20-inch barrels. The Stoeger Coach Gun is a simple, effective tool for cowboy shooters. The barrels are short enough for quick handling and its break-open design allows it to be used by shooters of all experience levels. It’s also one of the most fun firearms I’ve ever shot!

View the video above for more information.

Originally developed as traditional, double-trigger models for Cowboy Action Shooters, the Stoeger Coach Gun now comes in single-trigger models for an even faster second shot. They are chambered for 2¾- and 3-inch shotshells in both 12 and 20 gauge and are offered in blued finish with traditional satin-finished walnut stocks. The new top-of-the-line  Coach Gun Supreme also features a blued finish with a corrosion-resistant, stainless steel receiver and stock made from AA-Grade American Walnut. Both 12-gauge and 20-gauge Supreme models come with improved cylinder and modified screw-in choke tubes and a choke wrench.

Stoeger Coach Gun Banner

You can learn more about the Stoeger Coach Gun in Captain Baylor’s great article Getting Started in Cowboy Action Shooting or by watching the video reviews from The Truth About Guns.

I’ll also be posting an article in the coming weeks on how to slick up your Stoeger Coach Gun for cowboy shooting with the tools you already own. So stay tuned!

Getting Started in Cowboy Action Shooting

A Brief History (provided by SASS)

Cowboy Action Shooting (TM) began in 1981 when Harper Creigh (aka Judge Roy Bean, SASS #1) had a brain storm after watching old western movies on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Harper was an avid sports shooter (IPSC, USPSA) and he called shooting buddies, Gordon Davis and Bill Hahn and presented an idea to shoot their next match using western type guns.

Single Action Shooting Society

Cowboy Action Shooting began at a shooting range in Coto de Caza, California. In the beginning, very loose rules were adhered to. But before long an assemblage of rules began to take shape and the new shooting sport evolved into what it is today. In April 1982, the first END of TRAIL was introduced. Sixty-five registered shooters competed. It wasn’t until 1987, however, that SASS, The Single Action Shooting Society was formed.

Cowboy Action Shooting is the fastest growing outdoor shooting sport in the country. Attracting competitors from around the world, Cowboy Action Shooting is not only a sport that tests the shooters accuracy, but also a forum that brings back the days of the Old West in a veritable celebration of the cowboy lifestyle.

Find a Local Club

To get started, visit the SASS web site and find a club or two near you. Here in Texas we have dozens of clubs throughout the state. Go watch a match and talk with the shooters between stages. You’ll never find a more welcoming group of folks in any shooting sport. Everyone wants more cowboy shooters! Most folks will even loan their firearms and leather gear to help you get started.

Required Firearms

Like most other shooting sports, cowboy action shooting does have some specific firearms requirements. What you choose to spend on this sport is completely up to you but it really doesn’t have to break the bank. Many cowboy shooters start off with the basics and borrow the rest to get started. The SASS Handbook lists all the firearm requirements for competition shooting.

Two Single-Action Revolvers

Uberti Cattleman Revolver

The first firearm you’ll want to look for are a matched pair of single action revolvers like the original Colt Single Action Army (1873 Model P) revolver made famous in the western movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most folks won’t shoot an actual Colt but several firearms manufacturers make high-quality clones that work just fine. You can find a list of these in the links area of this blog.

Choosing the style, barrel length and caliber that fits you best can be quite a challenge so I strongly recommend reading Captain Baylor’s wonderful article Getting Started in Cowboy Action Shooting, especially the parts about gun selection.

Lever Action Rifle in Pistol Caliber

Rossi Model 92

The second firearm you’ll need is a lever-action rifle in a pistol caliber to match your single-action revolver. This could be an authentic Winchester but most folks use a clone from Henry, Rossi, Cimarron or Marlin. Rifles must be in a caliber commonly available in revolvers including .32-20, .32 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .38-40, .44-40, .44 Special, .44 Magnum and the famous .45 Long Colt.

Shooter’s Hint: Buy a rifle that matches your pistol caliber like the .38 Special / .357 Magnum to save hundreds of dollars in ammo costs. BTW – Your WInchester 94 in 30-30 is NOT legal for cowboy shooting except for the long distance matches.

Period Correct Shotgun

Stoeger Coach Gun

The final firearm you’ll need is a period correct shotgun and this is where the fun really begins. Any period correct (1860 to 1899) side-by-side or single shot shotgun with or without external hammers, having single or double triggers is allowed by SASS rules. The only slide action shotgun allowed is the Model 1897 Winchester, whether original or replica.

Most newbies here in Texas choose the Stoeger Coach Gun since it is both inexpensive and very easy to operate. It’s also the most “fun” shotgun I’ve ever owned and the classic old western side-by-side (SXS) design sure raises a few eyebrows at the practice range.


Cowboy Action Shooting is unlike most other shooting sports in that it’s a combination of historical reenactment and a Saturday afternoon western movie . Folks may choose the style of costume they wish to wear, but all clothing should be typical of the late 19th century, a B-western movie, or Western television series.

CharacterSASS puts a great deal of emphasis on costuming because it adds so much to the uniqueness of the sport and helps create a fun and festive atmosphere for competitors.

SASS members have selected their alias and adopted a variety of “personas” from lawmen and gunslingers (the most popular) to storekeepers, gamblers, blacksmiths, barkeeps, both U.S. Army and C.S.A. Army cavalry and darn-near every famous B-Western character.

To get started just put on something “cowboy like” and show up ready for some fun. If you live here in Texas, you’ll most likely already own cowboy boots, blue jeans (no designer labels please), a long sleeved shirt, and a cowboy hat. Heck, most of us dress like that in the winter months anyway. Cowboy Action Shooting is where we can all dress up like John Wayne in Rio Bravo without feeling the least bit embarrassed. How cool is that?

Gun Leather

El Paso Speed Rig

As a cowboy action shooter, you’ll need a good 2 holster “rig” which generally consists of the holsters, a wide (stiff) gun belt, and a shotgun belt or cartridge slide. As with most shooting sports, shooters tend to go through a considerable amount of leather gear before they settle on a rig that really works for them.

Shooter’s Hint: Go to a few matches and ask folks what they like before making any decisions on gun leather. You can start out with two inexpensive leather holsters from Triple K Brand and a 2-1/4″ leather utility belt from Sears before you dive in and spend hundreds of dollars for a competition rig.

Gun Carts

Pioneers in the old west had horses with saddlebags or horse-drawn wagons and carried their guns, ammunition and supplies in them. Cowboy shooters today don’t have this “luxury” but we do need something to haul around our long guns, revolvers, ammunition, food and water during the matches so the “Gun Cart” was invented.

Gun Cart

Shooter’s Note: This idea was rumored to have been “stolen” from bird hunters who have used gun carts for years to haul around their gear while in the field. Most cowboy shooters will vehemently deny this rumor and few dove hunters will question a man with two six shooters strapped to his sides.

There are about as many different gun carts today as their are cowboy action shooters hauling them around. Some are simple and some are ornate. Like your gun leather, most folks start off simple until they find a gun cart that suits their style (and wallet).

Next Steps?

If you’re still reading this rather long-winded post then you’re probably “hooked” at this point and can’t wait to shoot that first match. Like me, you probably have some of the required “gear” already and know some folks that you can borrow the rest from to get you started. So all I want to say is “remember to have fun” when competing in a cowboy action shooting event. You’ll meet some of the nicest folks and make some great new friendships that will last for years to come.

Here are a few steps you can take while waiting for my next post:

  • Join the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and pick out an alias for yourself. Choose a character from your local history or someone from a western movie.
  • Do a little research on single action revolvers, lever-action rifles and shotguns starting with the links on the right side of this page. I highly recommend shooting in .38 Special / .357 Magnum caliber and NOT in .45 Long Colt. You’ll save hundreds on ammo!
  • Buy a cowboy hat and boots if you don’t already own them. Don’t worry what your “Yankee” friends think, cowboy boots are the most comfortable footwear ever invented. Go to Sears and find an inexpensive leather gun belt. Search online for the best deal in lost-cost leather holsters to get you started.
  • Find a local club and go watch a match or two. Most clubs in Texas shoot on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Talk with the folks you meet and tell them you’re interested. You’ll never find a more friendly and helpful bunch of folks than at a Cowboy Action Shooting match. I promise!