Cowboy Action
Shooting 101

Saddle Up For Fun!
; .

Tools of the trade: Only in CAS can you compete with reproductions of the
Colt 1872 Opentop. These guns have the grace and style of older cap-and-ball
pistols but the convenience of using brass cartridges.

Sweat slowly slithered down my back as I squinted in the sun. Heat waves shimmered in the distant tallgrass prairie. My breaths came deep and controlled as I steeled myself for what was about to happen. A crowd had gathered behind me and I forced their talk from my mind. My guns were placed strategically and within easy grasp. I heard gunfire in the near distance and knew my time had come.

Tyler “P.R. Undertaker” Tutterow prefers using a cross draw with his left Ruger Vaquero.
The targets are close but still easy to miss, especially when you shoot fast.
Photo: Amber Nicole Black


“That’s a pie crust promise,” I muttered, “Easily made and easily broken.” Suddenly there was a buzzing. I took a step forward and swung my 1873 Winchester rifle, levering a round as it came on target. As fast as I could work the action the rifle spat lead. In seconds, it was empty. I pulled my six-shooter, cocking the hammer as it came up to eye level.

The smoke from the gunfire was starting to obscure my vision but I had to keep fighting. I pulled my second revolver and kept up the barrage, the heavy .45 bucking like a living thing trying to escape my grasp. Too soon, it was empty. I sidestepped and picked up my shotgun, shoving the shells home as I pulled the stock to my cheek. The two blasts sounded almost as one and hadn’t echoed away before I slammed two more shells home and fired.

It was over. I was alive. I’d won. Suddenly I heard someone shout out, “Thirty-five and spotters say clean! Thirty-five seconds and clean.” Someone else yelled over, “Nice job, Cholla!”


As one of the top shooters in the USA, Mike Cannon is a great competitor to emulate.
Notice the four spent cases still in the air as he transitions to his next gun.
hoto: Amber Nicole Black

Dress Up And Shoot

That’s me. My alias is Cholla. Two Saturdays a month I dress up like a cowboy and shoot in a four-gun competition with firearms designed before 1899. I love it. For brief seconds I’m Alan Ladd, John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, or whoever western hero I’m identifying with at the moment.

Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) is fairly unknown in the shooting world, but once someone discovers it, they often become hooked for life. Why? Tex, one of the founders of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) sums it up in a nutshell. “Yes, it’s a competition, we keep score, but it is first and foremost a fantasy sport for the whole family. It’s meant to be fun.”

So just what does a normal CAS event consist of? First, it isn’t a quick-draw competition. Second, we don’t ride horses, at least not real horses. Third, we don’t twirl our pistols like Doc Holliday or our rifles like Lucas McCain. Safety is of paramount importance at any CAS match.

There are two major organizations in the CAS world. The largest is SASS. Next is the National Congress of Old West Shootists (NCOWS). SASS and NCOWS are alike in many ways and different in a few. Many shooters, myself included, are members of both.
There isn’t enough space in this article to go into the ways SASS and NCOWS differ. The biggest difference is this: NCOWS strives for historical accuracy in dress and in firearms, to the point many NCOWS clubs also perform historical enactments. SASS is more liberal on what is acceptable in dress and firearms so members have fun with the costumes and firearms seen in B-grade western movies and TV shows, authentic or not.

In general, a CAS match is made up of six stages. Each stage includes a series of targets to be shot using pistols, rifles and shotguns. To make things interesting the location of the targets and the order they are shot in changes from stage to stage. To make the event feel “Old West” many of the stages are shot from small western town settings, from saloons to jails, from churches to cemeteries.

The score for each stage is the time to shoot it, so like golf, the lower the time, the better the score. Top shooters can easily clear an average stage in roughly 15 seconds. Slower shooters, like myself, get to enjoy the match a little longer!


Top: The HRA New Original is a beautiful copy of the Henry 1860 used during the Civil War.
Middle: The Uberti Winchester 1873 rifle. Bottom: The CZ Hammer Coach has the 1800s style in modern steel.

The Guns

The most popular pistol used in CAS is the Colt Single Action Army and its countless reproductions. With prices hovering around $2,000 for a real Colt SAA, most shooters choose to buy a reproduction.

The most popular rifle is a reproduction of the famous Winchester Model 1873 or Model 1866. Both are quick to load and dozens of companies have created modifications to shorten lever times and improve speed in a match. The Marlin 1894 is also very popular. Avoid any rifle without a side-loading gate. Some stages require loading a few rounds on the clock and having the ability to just shove a few more rounds in the loading gate shortens the time required to clear a stage.

Most shooters pair their pistols to the same caliber as their rifle. The most popular cartridge is the .38 Special. Brass is cheap and easily found. The second most popular cartridge is the .45 Colt. The .44-40 Winchester, .357 Magnum and .44 magnum are also popular, but here’s the caveat: All bullets have to be lead and loaded at or below the equivalent black powder load, which means no copper jacketed bullets and no magnum loads.

Just about any modern side-by-side shotgun will pass muster for CAS. The preferred barrel length is 20″ and they are often referred to as coach guns. Baikal shotguns are popular, reliable and inexpensive. My personal choice is the CZ Hammer Coach. Yes, it’s twice the cost of other cheaper coach guns, but I feel it’s worth it.

If pump shotguns are your thing, the Winchester Model 97 is highly prized by CAS shooters. They were used by the U.S. Military and produced into the 1950s so it doesn’t take much shopping to find one. There have been reproduction model 97s made but their quality ranges from great to poor so do your research before buying.


The author, aka “Cholla,” on the lookout for rustlers and desperados while
holding his modern Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle. Alan competes
in the SASS Classic Cowboy category.


No one can deny the expense of two pistols, a rifle, a shotgun and leather holsters is high. NCOWS and many local SASS clubs have taken some of the sting out of it by making a “Working Cowboy” category, which only requires one pistol and a rifle to compete.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’ll want to reload your own ammunition. You can buy CAS ammunition from companies like Black Hills Ammunition, but considering each match will take about 120 rounds (not counting shotgun shells), buying ammunition can drive the cost of a match to $100 per shooter. Reloading your own knocks the cost down significantly.


Carolyn “El Paso Susie” Lockman is tough to beat. She won the SASS World
Championship in her class in 2016. Photo: Amber Nicole Black

On The Line

All CAS targets are steel, some static and some knockdown. At many events, they are close enough new shooters assume they can’t miss — right up until the moment they do. In fact, a clean run (no misses) is statistically low at most major events. Unlike other shooting venues there isn’t much movement on the part of the shooter, which is a big reason CAS attracts so many older shooters. The majority of the shooters range from 50 to 80 years of age.

In general, the shooter might have to move 10–20 feet during the stage. At “Stand and Deliver” stages, the shooter doesn’t move at all. In other events, the shooter might have to punch a bartender (dummy), throw a stick of dynamite, or ride a horse (a saddle on a stand) during the stage. It’s all for the fun of the game.


Other popular CAS guns include the Colt Bisley (top) and Wadsworth British Bulldog
(bottom) flanking a first-generation Colt Single Action Army.

Saddle Up

If you like watching westerns, reading westerns and shooting “Old West” guns, Cowboy Action Shooting is your game. Luckily for you, CAS events can be found around the USA and even overseas. I encourage you to visit the SASS and NCOWS websites, find a club match nearby and check it out. You can thank me when we’re shooting on the same posse someday.

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