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Competition Shooting 101 – Cowboy Action Shooting

Do you like to shoot?  Of course you do! Do you also like to dress up and role-play a bit?  If that combination sounds like fun, Cowboy Action Shooting Matches might be just the thing to satisfy both!

Cowboy action shooting (also known as Western Action Shooting, Single Action Shooting, or Cowboy 3-Gun ) is a competitive shooting sport practiced in many places around the world. This fun sport is full of old-west nostalgia and competitors run through themed courses with handguns, rifles, and shotguns while in full costume. Here's what you'll need to know about this style of shooting to get started in the sport.


In order to shoot in a Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) match, you will need specific types of firearms.  All guns used in Cowboy Action Shooting are single-action firearms meaning the hammer must be cocked before each shot – no semi-automatic firearms allowed.  Because this is a match that pays homage to the old west, historic type firearms such as single-action revolvers (you may need two of these), lever-action rifles and side-by-side shotguns are the firearms of choice.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to go find an antique revolver to play because reproductions are totally acceptable.  Many modern firearms manufacturers also produce replica firearms that will fit the requirements. 

Some other needs for a Cowboy Action Shooting match that are different that modern shooting matches is the need for a costume.  Participants are required to wear old west type or Victorian-era costumes.   Individual matches may have specific clothing requirements but in general, the gear, such as holsters and belts, and clothing must be historically appropriate to the early 19th century.  The one exception to this, because safety is always a priority, is that modern safety glasses must be worn.

When researching how to get started in Cowboy Action Shooting, it is easy to be a little overwhelmed at the elaborate costumes.  But you can get started with a costume as simple as a pair of blue jeans, boots and a western shirt. 

Shooters will also be required to choose an alias and will be registered for the match under that name so there is no duplication.  Be prepared to be creative when choosing a name for your character.  Familiar period names such as Quick Draw McGraw are likely already taken. 

The Match

The Cowboy Action Shooting match is very similar to other action shooting matches.  Competitors shoot different scenarios, with an old west theme of course that are part of the match while being timed.  Shooters are assigned to posses rather than squads.  Penalties for misses or procedural errors are then added to the raw time of the shooter to come up with a final score.   The governing body for Cowboy Action Shooting is the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS).  SASS provides rules and guidelines for sanctioned Cowboy Action Shooting matches which ensures that all matches are run in the same manner.  

In other action shooting matches, competitors are normally divided up according to skill level and type of firearm.  With Cowboy Action Shooting, because all the firearms are similar, competitors are categorized according to gender, age and shooting style. 

Mounted Cowboy Action Shooting

If you enjoy riding horses, getting dressed up and shooting, mounted Cowboy Action Shooting might get your blood pumping.  Just as the name implies, competitors shoot from horseback.  In addition to exercising your horseback riding skills such as barrel racing and pole bending, the shooter will use special ammunition to pop balloons along a riding scenario. 

Finding a Match

In order to locate this type of match in your area, you can start by looking at the SASS website (Single Action Shooting Society) for a search in your area.  Calling your local ranges is also a good place to start.  As with any competitive shooting sport, the participants and match staff are friendly and willing to help where they can.  Some clubs may even have equipment you can borrow as well as suggestions for getting started.  Usually, these matches also allow spectators if you’d like to see what you’re about to get into. 

Cowboy Action Shooting is family-friendly fun and educational, so get out there and shoot!

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