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!