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Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS), also known as Western Action Shooting or Single Action Shooting, is a competitive shooting sport that originated in California, USA, in the early 1980s. Cowboy Action Shooting is now practiced world wide with several sanctioning organizations including the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), Western Action Shootists Association (WASA), and National Congress of Old West Shooters (NCOWS), as well as others in the USA and in other countries.
Cowboy Action Shooting Firearms
CAS requires competitors to use firearms typical of the mid- to late 1800′s: single action revolvers, lever action rifles chambered in pistol calibers, and side-by-side double barrel shotguns (also referred to as a Coach Gun – with or without external hammers, although automatic ejectors are not allowed) or 1897-style pump-action shotguns with external hammers. Winchester 1887 lever-action shotguns and Colt Lightning pump-action rifles are also legal. Both original and reproduction 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.
Competition in a CAS match generally requires four guns: two period revolvers, a shotgun, and a rifle chambered in a centerfire revolver caliber of the type in use prior to 1899. Some CAS matches also offer side events for single-shot “buffalo rifles”, derringers, etc. Replica firearms are available from companies such as Ruger, Colt, Uberti, Pietta and U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co.
Cowboy Action Shooting Costumes
Competitors are required to wear an Old West costume of some sort; however safety glasses must be worn while shooting. 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 Gunsmoke.
Cowboy Action Shooting Alias
Participants must also select an alias out of the Old West or having an Old West flair, which is registered with the sanctioning body that will prohibit any other shooter from using that same alias at a sanctioned event. Many shooters get creative in selecting an alias (such as the banker who shoots under the alias “The Loan Arranger”). Registered names cannot sound the same as another registered name.
Cowboy Action Shooting Competition
Competition involves a number of separate shooting scenarios known as “stages.” Stages are always different, each typically requiring ten revolver rounds (shooters generally carry two single-action revolvers), nine or ten rifle rounds, and two to eight shotgun rounds. Targets typically are 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 violations and other procedural violations add 10 seconds. Competition is close and contested, with the national and world championships attracting over 700 competitors.
Cowboy Action Shooting Scoring
Shooters compete one at a time, against the clock. Most matches are scored simply by “total time” minus bonuses and plus penalties. Other matches are scored by Rank Points.
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 to signal that the shooter may proceed. The timer has a built-in microphone and records the time when each loud noise (shot) happens. When there is no more noise, 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.
In “Rank Point Scoring” the winner of a match is determined by adding up each shooter’s ranking for each stage, with the lowest score winning. For example, if a shooter places first in every stage in a 10 stage match the shooters score would be 10 (a 1 for each stage) and would be the lowest score possible. There is some controversy as to whether “Rank Points” or “Total Time” is a better system.
Cowboy Action Shooting Events
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”.
When he comes to the line, the shooter will place (“stage”) his guns as required by the stage description (for instance, he may put his rifle on a hay bale to the left of the start position and his shotgun on a hay bale to the right of where he starts the stage, or perhaps his pistols on a table or countertop. When the competitor steps to the start position, the Range Officer who is conducting the stage will ask if the shooter understands the course of fire and clarify any questions the shooter may have. The Range Officer will ask if the shooter is ready, then will tell the shooter to “Stand By” and will start the timer within 2 to 5 seconds. When started, the timer gives an audible electronic tone and the shooter will begin the stage.
An example of a stage might have the shooter draw his first revolver and engage five steel targets, then holster his first revolver and move to his left to where his rifle is staged. He will retrieve his rifle and engage the rifle targets, which are set farther away than the pistol targets. These might be nine separate targets, or perhaps three targets which the shooter will “sweep” three times. He then lays his rifle back down on the hay bale, action open and chamber empty, and runs to the right where his shotgun is placed. Since shotguns are always staged open and empty, the shooter will retrieve his gun and load it with a maximum of two rounds (regardless of the type of shotgun) and engage two knock-down targets, reload and engage two more knock-down targets (which must fall to score.) The shooter will then lay his open, empty shotgun back on the hay bale, and draw his second revolver, this time engaging three revolver targets in what is known as a “Nevada Sweep” (left, center, right, center, left) for a total of five rounds.
After the competitor is finished shooting, the Range Officer will tell him to take his long guns and go to the unloading table, where another shooter will supervise the unloading and verify that the guns are unloaded. The shooter’s time is then recorded and any misses or penalties added. Targets are scored by three observers who count misses.
Foremost, safety glasses (shooting glasses) must be worn at all times. In a typical stage the shooter who is next in line to compete will load his guns at a loading table under the supervision of another shooter. Western-style “six-shooters” are always loaded with only five rounds with the empty chamber under the hammer. The shooter’s rifle also will be loaded with the requisite number of rounds with the hammer down on an empty chamber. Shotguns are always left unloaded, then loaded “on the clock”.
At a typical Cowboy Action range, ALL guns are kept unloaded except when the shooter prepares at the loading table, shoots the stage, then proceeds to the unloading table to unload the revolvers and prove that all guns are empty. Even with empty guns, CAS is very big on safety, even with the theme of the wild west’s cowboy attire; all shooters must wear safety glasses while on the firing line, in addition to other important safety rules, more than some other shooting sports have.
The Range Officer is responsible for safely conducting the shooter through the stage, so his attention is not on the targets but rather on the shooter and his firearms. One important duty of the RO is to immediately stop the shooter if the shooter’s gun or ammunition is defective in any potentially unsafe way.
In addition to requiring shooters to wear Old West attire, the western flavor of the matches is enhanced by having suitable targets and props for the stages. For example, a stage may be set in a bank and the shooter will be required to shoot through a barred “teller” window, then perhaps retrieve a sack of gold from a safe and carry it in one hand while shooting with his other hand. Another stage may have a shooter rescuing a baby (doll) and having to carry the “child” through the entire stage while engaging the targets. Other props may include buckboards, chuck wagons, stagecoaches, and “horses” as well as jail cells, oak barrels, hitching posts, swinging saloon doors, etc.
No money or merchandise prizes are offered in CAS, but often there are drawings and prizes for people who do not win.
Cowboy Action Shooting Categories
In 2009, The Single Action Shooting Society made many changes in the shooting categories, they now include:
- Cowboy – for shooters of all ages.
- Wrangler – for shooters 36 years of age or older.
- Forty-Niner – for shooters 49 year of age and or older.
- Frontier Cartridge – Shooters use black powder rather than smokeless powder in all their guns.
- Frontiersman – Shooter uses cap and ball revolvers, shot duelist style, and side-by-side double-barrel or lever-action shotguns.
- B-Western – Shooters wear clothing inspired by the B-Western films of the ’30s and ’40s, starring Roy Rogers, William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, and others. “Buscadero” type gunbelt/holster rigs are required, and the shooter must wear spurs.
In addition, there often are categories based on how the shooter fires his guns, such as:
- Duelist – Shooter uses only one hand to fire revolvers.
- Gunfighter – Shooter uses two revolvers at once when the stage allows, otherwise shoots right-side revolver with right hand only and left-side revolver with left hand only.
All of these categories may also be shot as women’s, junior, or senior categories. There is generally no men’s category per se, and women may shoot in the same category as the men.
There are many other categories, especially at the local level, but the above are representative of the main types of categories one finds at cowboy action shooting events.
In addition to percussion (cap and ball) weapons, many firearms are center-fire .32 caliber or larger with revolvers and rifles chambered in .38 Special and .45 Colt being very popular. Ammunition is generally loaded at medium to full power levels, although many junior shooters or women prefer to shoot lighter calibers (such as .32 and .38). A noted trend among some shooters is to use light loads to reduce recoil and improve their times, this tends to run contrary to the “Spirit of the Game”.
Cowboy Action Mounted Shooting
An offshoot of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) is called Cowboy Mounted Shooting. Cowboy Mounted Shooting requires that the contestant ride a horse through a course of fire while carrying the same guns used in Cowboy Action Shooting. The rider competes in a timed event to shoot up to ten balloon targets with firearms loaded with black powder blank ammunition. (Not all black powder will burn during the ignition process and the remaining unburned black powder will travel approximately twenty feet with enough force to break a nine-inch helium balloon target.) Stages designed for Cowboy Mounted Shooting are most commonly designated as “Mounted Revolver Competition” using single-action revolvers of the pre-1900 style loaded with five blanks per gun. Less frequently there are “Mounted Rifle” stages requiring the rider to engage five “revolver targets” with a single revolver and then draw a lever-action, pump or revolving carbine from a scabbard and engage five “rifle targets.” A third type of competition requires the rider to use a single revolver and a double-barrel shotgun to engage seven targets.
In addition to the main stages listed above, side matches such as team stages and fun stages require the riders to team up with a partner to run a course of fire while carrying a bag of “gold” or hand off a set of saddle bags, or engage helium-filled balloons that are set free to float away and may escape before the rider can shoot them.
Modern Cowboy Mounted Shooting was developed by Jim Rogers and Phil Spangenberger. Mr. Spangeberger is an American Old West historian, researcher and writer, and as part of entertaining talks he would shoot balloons with blanks from old-west guns. Jim Rogers, a founder and former director of the C.A.S.-S.A.S.S. Single Action Shooting Society, approached Phil to develop the sport of mounted shooting.
The three primary governing bodies of International Mounted Shooting are: CMSA (Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association), SASS (the Single Action Shooting Society), and MSA (Mounted Shooters of America).