Good Old-Fashioned Shootin’ Fun,
By Massad Ayoob
For a few years I was into SASS, the Single Action Shooting Society, and loved it. Having grown up with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and all the rest on black and white TV, I spent significant time as a boy quick-drawing and playing cowboy. SASS was a chance to relive the part of my childhood with live ammo.
SASS was fun, for sure. You needed four guns: a couple of 19th Century-style sixshooters, a pistol-caliber lever-action and either a double-barrel shotgun or a lever or pump gun no later than Winchester 1897 styling. I started out with all period guns: one of the Winchester ’97 12 gauges I had inherited from my dad, a Colt Frontier Sixshooter in .44-40 with 7-1/2-inch barrel, and a Smith & Wesson No. 3 single action. The latter was in the .38-44 gallery chambering—not to be confused with the later high-powered .38 Special also known as .38-44—and worked fine with .38 S&W ammo. For a rifle, my then-wife kindly lent me a Winchester 1892 .38-40 she had inherited from a relative. And, dang, it was fun.
I figured out early how much value would be lost if I accidentally bumped the ancient gutta percha grips of the old Colt and Smith with a long gun’s stock, and bought a couple of Ruger Blackhawk .357’s to shoot in Modern class. The adjustable sights, I admit, were much easier to see and hit with. There was also a brief flirtation with a pair of .32 caliber Ruger Single Sixes, aka Vaqueritos. Toward the end of my time in SASS I had gone to a pair of modern Colt .45’s, a Third Gen Single Action Army and the short-lived Colt Cowboy. When the wife and I parted, she rightfully kept her .38-40 heirloom and I bought a sweet little Marlin .357 Magnum carbine running fine on Black Hills .38 Special Cowboy loads.
Time went on. Years after my divorce, I bonded with my current significant other, a self-described “shooter chick.” I tried to get her into Cowboy Action. She said, “I shoot IDPA with you. I shoot GSSF with you. I’ve shot USPSA, bowling pins and steel matches and even PPC with you. But I will not dress up like Dale Evans!”
“Red Rob,” left, and “Fast E. Nuff” shoot man-on-man against the timers in Cowboy Fast Draw.
Guns are Ruger Vaqueros in .45 Colt. The 24-inch steel plate is 7 yards away and has to be hit
to count. Loud misses don’t cut it. Photos: Gail Pepin
So I put my cowboy togs away right down to the flat-heel stockman’s boots (never could master heels), and the ’97 and the Marlin and the single actions went into retirement in the gun safes. But then…
I found out a friend of mine, Jim Willis (aka “Fast E. Nuff”) was running Cowboy Fast Draw matches near me and went out with old buddy Bob Houzenga to see what it was all about. Turns out instead of the three guns of SASS, you only need one for this game: a single-action sixshooter. You still need the cowboy garb, though your first time they’ll let you “come as you are,” as Bob and I did. Holsters should be similar to over-the-belt styles worn in the day. Buscadero rigs, contemporary fast draw rigs and steel-lined holsters are not allowed. All the shooting is done with wax bullets and chambering is .45 Colt. The special casings are powered solely by 209 shotgun primers.
Your target is a 24-inch disk 7 yards away. You start with your hand on the holstered revolver. Your signal to shoot is when a light goes on in the target, which signals a timer has also started. When your wax projectile hits the disk, it stops the time and a digital readout appears in huge numbers above your target. You’re shooting next to someone else. It’s easy to see who won. Can we say, “Instant feedback”? Can we say, “Audience appeal”?
“Fast E. Nuff” (left), and “Red Rob” await the start signal with hands on holstered Ruger Vaqueros.
When the target’s light goes on, they go for the draw and the difference is an edge measured in mere
thousandths of a second. Photos: Gail Pepin
You can take your first try at Cowboy Fast Draw with street clothes, but after this, period garb
is expected. Bob “Buck Staghorn” Houzenga (left) prepares to slap leather with Mas “Camelback Kid”
Ayoob. Photo: Gail Pepin
The winning times are shot from the hip: Shooting from eye level takes time. Hip shooting at 7 yards can actually work if the target is at a known height and isn’t moving. This ain’t the old “fast draw blank cartridge, how quickly can you make a loud noise” competition of yesteryear. If you look at some of the old pix of the winners in that game, you’ll see the muzzle was so far off target, someone who took their time and aimed from the other side (like, oh, Wyatt Earp) would have left them dead on the ground with a fruitlessly-fired empty casing under the hammer of the Colt dropped from their lifeless hand.
Of course, in Cowboy Fast Draw the rules allow you to take the extra time to raise the gun to line of sight. It’s just that you won’t be as fast. But if you miss, and the other guy doesn’t, you lose, just like in real life. The people who’ve mastered this are phenomenally fast: the national record time to react, draw the grasped gun, and register a hit is 0.295 of a second in male division and 0.344 in female. (Master Gunfighter and Honey Badger, congratulations. Oh, did I not mention that as in SASS, an “alias” is needed? “Camelback Kid” here, pleased to meetcha, pilgrim.)
I bet you might find a club just within striking distance of you on the organization’s website. Me? I’m seriously thinking about taking my SASS-wear out of mothballs, digging one of my Colt .45 “Peacemakers” out of the safe and getting into this game.
Because yes—we’re allowed to have fun with guns.
Cowboy Fast Draw Association, P.O. Box 5, Fernley, NV 89408, (775) 575-1802, www.cowboyfastdraw.com