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!

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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!

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.