Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS)

The Guns of Cowboy Action Shooting

In General

Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS), also known as Western Action Shooting or Single Action Shooting, is a competitive, but multifaceted amateur shooting sport in which contestants
compete with firearms typical of those used in the taming of the Old West.

Cowboy Action Shooting is practiced worldwide and the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) is the world governing body and trade mark holder of Cowboy Action Shooting. There are other sanctioning bodies such as the Western Action Shootists Association (WASA) and National Congress of Old West Shooters (NCOWS).

Cowboy Action Shooting is the fastest growing shooting sport in the world. The simple fact is it's a non-professional sport, geared for fun to be enjoyed by the whole family. Western Shooters of South Africa (WSSA) is affiliated to the Single Action Shooting Society and therefor we shoot according to SASS rules.

CAS requires competitors to use firearms typically pre-1899: Single Action Revolvers, Lever Action or Pump Action Rifles chambered in pistol calibers and Side-by-Side, Double Barreled Shotguns (also referred to as a Coach Gun when made shorter - with or without external hammers, although automatic ejectors are not allowed) or original Winchester 1897 style Pump Action Shotguns or original Winchester 1887 Lever Action Shotguns. Both original and reproductions of these guns are equally acceptable. All CAS handguns must be "Single Action", meaning that the hammer must be manually cocked before each shot can be fired.

Getting started in Cowboy Action Shooting

Most of our members started out shooting with Single Action, Cap-n-Ball, Black Powder Revolvers, borrowed Lever Action Rifles and Shotguns. Most of us patiently waited for our cartridge firing, Cowboy Revolver licenses to come through.

Shooting with Black Powder Revolvers 'can' be quite fun and I think it might be due to the fact that more of one's senses are involved in such a shoot. Cartridge firing guns go off with a "Crack" and that's it. Black Powder Revolvers and Rifles go off with a "Boom" and lots of visual and smelly smoke, especially when firing 10 rounds against a clock.

They leave you with the sense of sound, sight and smell. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, a cough or two can be produced by the shooter and onlookers alike, which is normally followed by lots of smiles and laughter. As much fun as they can sometimes create, they can also create frustration when they jam up or misfire, but the events are fun and the company even better. That's what Cowboy Action Shooting is all about.
When shooting against the clock during competition, Cap-n-Ball, Black Powder Revolvers are not reliable enough. Very importantly also, they spend most of their time on the shooting range loading between shoots and missing the rest of their competitors shoot and a bit of social time.

Recently, a lot of cartridge-firing firearm licenses have come through as the amount of these firearms at our shoots have increased quite a bit. That is good news for all. Speed, accuracy and competition is going up.

Cowboy Action Shooting - Revolvers

We will start with the assumption that you want something resembling Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolvers as above and then talk about alternatives. More than 90% of SASS shooters use something resembling the Colt SAA with fixed sights.

In South Africa, those trying to get started on the cheap can still find used Ruger Blackhawks with adjustable sights (modern category). New or used Ruger Vaqueros with fixed sights will put you in the traditional category. Nearly all of the World Champion Cowboy Action Shooters shoot Ruger's for their strength and reliability.

Clones or replica Colt SAA's can also be picked up easily, depending on brand. The Uberti Cattleman (Italian manufacture) is a strong, quite reliable and beautiful replica of the Colt SAAs and are readily available still in South Africa. If you have shootable Colts, shoot them. If you don't or don't want to tie up that kind of money, use clones or Rugers or the Colt Cowboys.

If money is no problem, get yourself a new pair of Ruger Vaquero's or even better, a new pair of Ruger SASS Vaquero's. Out of the box, Ruger Single Action Revolvers, are still the best to take the punishment that Cowboy Action Shooting can bestow on it, as proven by their sales figures to Cowboy Shooters.

Cowboy Action Shooting - Rifles

The American West was blazed by explorers, mountain men, scouts, farmers, and soldiers, who carried long guns as a primary defensive weapon and food-gathering tool. The handgun, be it single-shot, muzzle-loading, or revolver, was a last resort, close quarters, self-defense firearm.

For CAS, only one revolver caliber lever action rifle is needed to shoot with. Today, there are more Western Style Lever Action Rifles and Carbines available than there ever was in the real American West.

We will start with the assumption that you would want something resembling the Winchester Lever Action Rifles and Carbines and then talk about their replicas.

In South Africa, one can still pick up original Winchester Rifles and Carbines like the popular 1866 Yellowboy (with brass receiver) and 1873 WCF, but they will be too expensive and rare to actually use for CAS. Some of the original Winchester 1892's in pistol caliber can make a great Cowboy Shooting rifle and they would not be that expensive. Good and original Winchester 1892's in caliber .32-20 have been picked up for around R1500.00, which would be nice for CAS. One would also be able to pick up a few original Marlin Rifles and Carbines that wouldn't be too expensive and are quite popular with shooters today. Original Winchester rifles in non-handgun calibers such as the Winchester .30-30 should be given a miss. It's not SASS legal for the standard matches.

The majority of Cowboy Action Shooters, shoot with replica firearms and they are spoiled for choice over there in the States. In South Africa, there are quite a number of Uberti replica rifles and carbines. Quite a few Uberti replicas of the Winchester 1866 Yellowboy (as in picture above) and the 1873 WCF's have been seen in the market in calibers .38 Sp and .357 Mag, ranging in price from R500.00 to R2500.00. Uberti manufactures very good quality firearms and are probably the most popularly used replica throughout Cowboy Action Shooting, especially the Uberti 1873 in .45LC.

The Rossi '92 Lever Action Saddle Ring Carbine was also a very popular weapon in South Africa and quite a lot of them pop up for sale at a good price. They are based on the Winchester 1892 model and I've seen quite a few for sale in calibers .38Sp and .357Mag. They are short and lightweight and perfect for Cowboy Action Shooting.

Being re-enactors of the Wild West, dating mostly before 1900, SASS rules dictates that revolver ammunition must have a muzzle velocity less than 1,000 fps. Rifle ammunition must have a muzzle velocity less than 1,400 fps. Shooters may be held responsible for damage caused to a target or injury to personnel due to "bounce back" because of inappropriate ammunition. This major safety violation is grounds for "instant disqualification" and ejection from the match.

Revolver and rifle ammunition may not be jacketed, semi-jacketed, plated, gas checked, or
copper washed. It must be all lead.

With South Africa's tough gun laws and even worse licensing department, we are not that strict at the moment with what firearms our members shoot with. If you are looking for or have purchased or are waiting for licenses for the correct Cowboy Shooting firearms, we won't mind you shooting with a seriously downloaded Winchester .30-30 or even if you shoot you're double-action revolver in Single Action mode for the time being.

Cowboy Action Shooting - Shotguns

Any side-by-side or single shot shotgun typical of the period from approximately 1860 until 1899 without automatic ejectors, with or without external hammers, having single or double triggers is allowed. Lever action, tubular feed, exposed hammer shotguns of the period are allowed, whether original or replicas. The only slide action shotgun allowed is the Model 1897 Winchester shotgun, whether original or replica.

Certain shooting categories require a specific type of shotgun and ammunition to be used. Military configurations are not allowed (i.e., trench guns). Side-by-side, single shot and lever action shotguns must be centerfire of at least 20 gauge and no larger the 10 gauge. Slide action shotguns must be centerfire of at least 16 gauge and no larger than 12 gauge. Side-by-side, single shot, and lever action centerfire shotguns in .410 gauge are allowed within the Buckaroo Category only.

In South Africa, old shotguns can be picked up for very cheap. Expect to pay from R100 upwards. They are available all over and don't be alarmed if someone tries to give you one for free.

The Shooting Range

The shooting competition is staged in a unique, characterized, Old West style. Contestants shoot in several one-to-four gun stages in which they engage steel and/or cardboard targets. Scoring is based on accuracy and speed.

Cowboy Action Shooting is not intended to be a precision shooting competition. Small targets and long distances take the "action" out of "Cowboy Action Shooting" and make it more discouraging for newer shooters.

Both experienced and inexperienced shooters want hits on their targets. Some folks just hit (or miss) a little faster than others. Too many misses or the perception the targets are too difficult to hit, discourage folks from continuing to play, especially the less proficient shooters.

Ask any experienced Cowboy Action Shooter, and she or he will tell you there is no such thing as a target too big or too close to miss!

Metal and paper targets of generous size are used. Reactive targets such as pepper poppers and falling plates are used when practical to enhance shooter feedback and spectator appeal. Targets are set at close to medium range. There are no absolute rules, but we suggest the following distances, by firearm, if using a target approximately 400mm X 400mm:

Revolver – 7 to 10 meters
Shotgun – 8 to 16 meters
Rifle – 13 to 50 meters

To the extent possible, reactive targets are set to fall when squarely hit with no more than a standard .38 Special 158 gr. factory load.

Competition involves a number of separate shooting scenarios known as "stages". Stages are always different, each typically requiring ten pistol rounds (shooters generally carry two single action revolvers), five to ten rifle rounds and two to eight shotgun rounds. Targets are typically steel plates that ring/clang/ding when hit. Sometimes reactive targets such as steel knockdown plates or clay birds are used. Misses add 5 seconds to your time, safety and other procedural violations add 10 seconds. Competition is close and contested, with the world championships attracting 700+ competitors in the USA.

The Actual Shoot

Shooters compete one at a time, against the clock. Some matches are scored simply by "total time" plus penalties and bonuses. Shooters are timed using electronic timers which record the duration for each stage to one hundredth of a second. The timer starts when the Range Officer pushes the button and it beeps. The timer has a built-in microphone and records the time of each shot that goes off. When there is no more shots fired, the timer continues to display the final time which is the raw score.

Each shooter's "raw" time for the stage is increased by 5 seconds for each missed target and 10 seconds for any procedural penalty incurred. The fastest adjusted time wins. Targets shot out of proper order incur a procedural penalty, though only one procedural penalty can be assessed per shooter per stage.

Every stage at a match is intended to be different. Sometimes only two types of gun are used or perhaps even only one. Occasionally a shooter is required to reload a firearm on the clock.

Every member gets to step up to the starting point and do his thing with his firearms one at a time. We usually get in two rounds of shooting before a chuck wagon break (lunch) and another two rounds afterwards, giving each competitor about four times on the shooting line.

Cowboy Dress Code


Competitors are required to wear an Old West costume of some sort. Depending on the standards of the sanctioning organization, clothing may be historically accurate for the late 1800s or may just be suggestive of the Old West. Some might even dress like a character in a western B-movie, such as Hopalong Cassidy or a television series like Bonanza. Participants must also select an alias out of the Old West or having an Old West flair. Many shooters get creative in selecting an alias (such as the banker who shoots under the alias "The Lone Arranger") which is registered with the sanctioning body that will prohibit any other shooter from using that same alias at a sanctioned event. In addition, registered names cannot sound the same as another registered name.

Although the cowboys in the Old West didn't wear earplugs or protective eye wear like we do while participating in Cowboy Action Shooting, everything else including his boots, chaps, bandana, hat and vest fit the image of an Old West cowboy.

Our spurs jingle on our boots while wearing our rigs and carrying our rifles and shotguns. Through squinted eyes, outsiders watching might wonder if there's a sheriff with a posse in town. (without horses?)

SASS's SPIRIT of the GAME
As the game of Cowboy Action Shooting has evolved, members have developed and adopted an attitude towards their participation we call "The Spirit of the Game." Competing in "The Spirit of the Game" means you fully participate in what the competition asks. You do not look for ways to create an advantage out of what is or is not stated as a rule or shooting procedure. Some folks would call "The Spirit of the Game" nothing more than good sportsmanship. Whatever you call it, if you don't have it, Cowboy Action Shooting is not your game.

Try it, you'll love it
If you have any Single Action Revolvers or Lever Action Rifles and would like to join us for a shoot, feel free to just arrive, introduce yourself and shoot. All you need are 2 Single Action Revolvers, one Lever Action Rifle and a side by side shotgun, but if you are short of anything, most shooters will supply you with whatever you need to shoot for the day, even their firearms. So feel free to just pop in.