Getting Started In Cowboy Action Shooting, page 2

(This page updated in December 2009)


Baylor firing Ruger Vaquero with Black Powder
You'll need 2 single Action revolvers, one pistol caliber lever action rifle, and one side-by-side shotgun without ejectors or an external hammer pump shotgun (Winchester '97 or replica) or lever action shotgun (Winchester 1887 or replica).

Capt. Baylor's well-used Ruger Vaquero, .45 Colt, 4-5/8" barrel. 50,000 rounds and counting. (Finally broke a transfer bar, the first part to break on either gun.)This is a full-charge black-powder load.  Recoil and the cost of ammunition make .45 Colt one of the worst choices to start out, but most people start with the .45 Colt.

Judge Roy Bean's Engraved presentation Colt .45This is Judge Roy Bean's second SASS Colt, meaning serial #1SASS to match SASS1 given him by Colt some time back. the one mentioned above, shown at Winter Range 2002, finally arriving after, I think 19 months. It's heavily engraved, though, which slows things down. At the time he showed it to me, it was going to go away to Bob Munden for an action job and Eagle Grips for real dead elephant ivory stocks. A collector's item like this isn't necessary for CAS. Most of the champions use Rugers that cost less than the ivory now on this gun.
This is one of Ruger’s New Vaquero, released in late 2004 and in very short supply throughout 2005 because they’re probably the best out of the box gun for Cowboy Action Shooting™.  This one is in .357 Magnum and loaded with .38 Special black powder loads from Black Dawge Cartridge Company (now sold by Powder, Inc).  This was part of a test of the New Vaqueros for the Cowboy Chronicle.



We will start with the assumption that you want something resembling Colt Single Action Army revolvers and then talk about alternatives. 90%+ of SASS shooters use something resembling the Colt SAA, either a Colt, a “clone,” or a Ruger Vaquero or New Vaquero. Those trying to get started on the cheap can find used Ruger Blackhawks. Blackhawks and New Blackhawks have just gotten more popular because they can now be used in all age-based categories. Ruger makes essentially the same gun with fixed sights, Ruger Vaqueros. These can be used in all categories except Frontiersman, which requires percussion revolvers. The “New Vaquero” replaced the Vaquero recently and is a superior gun for our purposes.  They cost $500-600. Used Vaqueros are readily available in the $300+ range.

If you are looking for used guns or equipment, check the SASS Wire Classifieds daily. Retiring shooters often sell all of their equipment.  Clones of Colt SAAs start at $300 and go to $1200 or so depending on brand. Colt SAAs are in the $1100 range, and .357s are available again. If you have shootable, non-collectible Colts, shoot them.  CAS™ is hard on guns.  Using collectible Colts will diminish their value considerably.  If you don't or don't want to tie up that kind of money, use clones or Rugers. Until recently, nearly all of the national and World Champions shot Rugers for their reliability and sight picture. Now some have deals to put their names on various guns, so they shoot them.  Evil Roy has Cimarrons.  Long Hunter does USFA Rodeos.  Handlebar Doc puts his name on Ruger New Vaquero.  Ignore the anti-Ruger, anti-Colt rhetoric in the SASS Wire. In fact, ignoring the SASS Wire rhetoric in general is a good idea.

Ruger Blackhawk

This Ruger Blackhawk has adjustable sights. Adjustable sight revolvers may be used in all AGE BASED CATEGORies.

A major change in categories occurred for the 2009 season. Modern and Traditional have been replaced by AGE BASED CATEGORIES:

Buckaroos and Buckarettes: Age 13 and under.

Young Guns: Age 14 through 16

Young Guns (divided into boys and girls) and Buckaroos/Buckarettes may be combined into Junior Boys and Junior Girls.

Cowboy and Cowgirl categories competitors are competitors of any age.

Wrangler and Wranglerette categories competitors are at least 36 years old.

Forty-Niners and lady Forty-Niners must be at least 49 years old.

Seniors and Lady Seniors must be at least 60 years old.

Silver Seniors and Lady Silver Seniors must be at least 65 years old.

Elder Statesmen and Grand Dames must be at least 70 years old.

Additionally the Senior Duelist category allows adjustable sight revolvers.

Of coourse, fixed sight revolvers may be used in all of these categories.

Other Categories:

Frontier Cartridge

Major Ned Prentiss shooting Frontier Cartridge Duelist

Major Ned Prentiss shooting a #3 Smith and Wesson American, .44 Russian

FRONTIER CARTRIDGE, using black powder or black powder substitutes in all weapons. Pistols would otherwise fit in Traditional Category, meaning fixed sights. The Winchester '97 is not allowed in the black powder categories.
FRONTIER CARTRIDGE DUELIST, requiring one handed pistol shooting, same firearms requirements as Frontier Cartridge. black powder or substitute in all firearms.

Ten Bears shoots Frontiersman at Winter Range 2002

Ten Bears shooting Frontiersman at Winter Range 2002 (3rd Place in a tough field)

Texas Paladin, a champion duelist

Texas Paladin, a champion duelist

FRONTIERSMAN: using cap and ball (percussion) revolvers and SXS shotgun, shooting black powder or substitutes in all weapons, shooting pistols duelist style (one handed).
DUELIST: Shooting a fixed sight revolver with one hand.
Gunfighters shoot with a gun in each hand

Lady duelist at Winter Range 2002

Lady Duelist Squaw Creek Rose at Winter Range 2002

GUNFIGHTER: Shooting a fixed sight revolver in each hand. When this is not possible in the scenario, one gun is shot with the left hand, and one with the right hand. This is called Double Duelist.

Not all matches will have all categories. For example Frontier Cartridge, Frontier Cartridge Duelist, and Frontiersman might be combined into BLACK POWDER.

Two relatively new categories are CLASSIC COWBOY AND CLASSIC COWGIRL: These categories have their own dress code as well as some surprising firearms requirements. It's meant to be a big bore category despite the "Cowboy" and "Cowgirl" name. It requires 2 traditional pistols of .40 Caliber rimmed cartridges or larger (meaning no .45 ACP or .40 S & W, etc.) .38-40 is really a .40 caliber, so it's the minimum. 44 Special/Russian/Mag, .44-40, .45 Schofield, .45 Colt, .36 caliber cap and ball or larger are the intended categories. You may use smokeless or blackpowder. The rifle, aside from being big bore, must be a 73 or earlier, leaving the choices pretty much the 1860 Henry, 1866 Winchester, and 1873 Winchester, though theoretically the Spencer carbine in .44 Russian, .45 Schofield, or .56-50 is legal. Don't get one. It's not really suitable for this sport. We'll discuss the costuming requirements later on in the costuming section.

B-WESTERN – another “costume-based” category, but all calibers are legal, and you can use any SASS legal shotgun, but your rifle must be a ’92 or ’94 (Because almost all B-westerns had Winchester 92s).

Jack Houston shot wearing B-Western clothing long before it became a category

Jack Houston (Starring as the Lone Rider) dressed B-Western long before there was a B-Western category.



Some Pistols to Choose From:

Match Ready guns tested for The Cowboy Chronicle

4 Match Ready guns I've written about in The Cowboy Chronicle: Cimarron Evil Roy, Taylor's Smoke Wagon, EMF Alchimista, USFA Single Action

Ruger New Vaquero


Ruger New Vaquero, .357 Magnum, 4-5/8” or 5-1/2” barrel. They're usually ready to go out of the box and need little or nothing in the way of repairs for thousands of rounds. When I say they’re ready to go out of the box, I’m referring to 90% of the shooters.  The top shooters will want them gone over by a good Ruger gunsmith (some don’t.  Tequila’s guns were stock through 5 World Championships).  These can be sold in states requiring internal trigger locks and transfer bars.The sights have a wide front blades and rear notches (not wide enough a rear notch).   A common modification is to widen the notch.
USFA Rodeo

USFA Rodeo  Rodeos are kept affordable by finishing them in a matte blue finish.  The polishing and case hardening that *separates them from their more expensive brethren from USFA doesn’t make the more expensive guns shoot any better.  These guns generally need the attentions of a good gunsmith.  Longhunter, a World Champion shooter as well as a gunsmith,sells them already prepped for a bit more money ($615 each for 2 or more, $645 for 1, December 2009).  Unlike the Ruger which looks like a Colt but is different internally, the Rodeo is Colt-like in most respects.  Both guns have modern sights with wide front blades and rear notches (not wide enough a rear notch on the Ruger.  A common modification is to widen the notch from .0.10 to 0.16” or so.

Special Features:

1. Rear sights widened from .108 inch to .140 inch
2. Serrated front sight
3. Forcing cone cut to 11 degrees
4. Comes with a crisp, no creep trigger pull
5. Radius the square corners on the trigger and polish
6. Replace factory flat “hand” spring. The frame is drilled and a Ruger style coil spring is installed for reliability.
7. Factory main spring is replaced with a Lee's Gunslinger spring for a smooth, reliable cocking motion while maintaining a quick hammer drop
8. Factory flat “trigger/bolt” spring is replaced with a Lee’s Gunslinger wire spring for added strength.
9. Hammer is relieved .007 inch on each side through hammer slot to eliminate drag marks. For that special custom look, the hammer is then jeweled (plain polished on request)


USFA Gunslinger

USFA Single Action
From Long Hunter's Website:

USFA SA revolver with Old Armory Bone Case™ and Dome Blue™ finish. USFA Hard Rubber grips are standard. Barrel lengths: 4¾", 5½", 7½". Calibers: 32 WCF, 38 Special, 38 WCF, 44 Special, 44 WCF, 45 Colt .
Price w/Standard Hammer : $895.00 for two or more... $920.00 for one + Shipping
Price w/Low Profile Hammer : $920.00 for two or more... $945.00 for one + Shipping

We tested one of these for the Cowboy Chronicle and found it extremely accurate and, with Long Hunter's action job, very easy to cock and with our requested 2.5 lb. trigger pull. Since these guns INSIDE are the same as the RODEO, you can expect the same performance from a RODEO.

Cimarron Firearms:
Cimarron sells some pure clones, first Generation Colts down to the blackpowder frame, thin blade front sight, and v-notch rear, very accurate copies.  They also make versions with 2nd generation sights and frames.  Lately they’ve started marketing the Evil Roy model, with a wide front sight, wide rear notch, thin checkered grips, and an action job.  Cimarron Firearms is located in Fredericksburg, Texas. Their guns are Uberti-made. Several importers import Uberti guns, but Cimarron sets very high standards for Ubertis in fit and finish. Some are assembled and finished in the US. They will cost more than some imported by other importers, but usually they will be closer to ready to use. If they're not, Mike Harvey, and the staff at Cimarron are very helpful in warranty work.

I didn't do a test, per se, on the Evil Roy, but I did buy a pair before the other "match ready" guns came out. I've used them quite hard as practice guns. They received new springs and a gunsmith tuneup at over 5,000 rounds. They're over 10,000 and going strong still.

Cimmaron Evil Roy Model

Cimarron "Evil Roy" Model

EMF Great Western II, Blue/Casehardened, Tru-Ivory grips

EMF Great Western II, Blue/Casehardened, Tru-Ivory grips

EMF Company, Inc., owned by SASS #2, General U.S. Grant, has been importing Italian replicas for a long time. Their “Great Western II” is made by Pietta. Their "Great Western II" is an extremely accurate reproduction of a 1st Generation Colt made by Pietta.  It has received good reviews from buyers. I tested a "Great Western II Custom" to good reviews. It was a "match ready" gun with extra tuning in the US. It's not in the catalog now.

I also tested their "Alchimista," a factory tuned gun with Colt 1860 Army grips (brass grip frame). I gave it good reviews, too.

Navy Arms Gunfighter
Navy Arms “Gunfighter Series”

Navy Arms
Navy Arms Company was the original importer of Colt clones, beginning with a 1851 Navy in the fifties.  Val Forgett and Aldo Uberti invented the replica firearms business.

Among their many offerings is a gun made just for us:

Navy Arms “Gunfighter Series”
“After consulting with the top shooters in Cowboy Action Shooting™ Navy Arms is proud to announce its “Gunfighter Series” of single action revolvers. Each revolver features a color case hardened receiver, trigger and hammer and high-polish blue barrel and cylinder. In addition, Navy Arms has taken its standard 1873 Single Action and upgraded it with the following features:
“U.S. made Wolff™ spring kits: All Navy Arms Gunfighter revolvers have had the original factory springs removed and replaced with legendary, American-made Wolff™ springs. Wolff™ springs are famous for their strength and reliability.
“German silver-plated backstrap and trigger guard: Rather than a standard blue finish, Navy Arms Gunfighter revolvers have a distinct backstrap and trigger guard that make it instantly recognizable.
“Black checkered “Gunfighter” grips: Navy Arms has replaced the smooth wood grips with impact resistant black checkered grips favored by 19th century gunfighters. The checkering on the grips provides a better grip when drawing, firing and re-holstering.”

Smokewagon tested for The Cowboy Chronicle
The Smoke Wagon we tested for The Cowboy Chronicle, a truly match-ready Six Shooter

Taylor & Company
Taylor imports Uberti firearms from Italy. They have a very popular "race ready" revolver, the Smoke Wagon:

The Smoke Wagon™ from Taylor’s & Company is a second-generation, stagecoachstyle, single-action revolver. It boasts a low-profi le hammer and wider-style sights that allow the user to acquire sights faster, without cocking the pistol. It also features a thin, richly-detailed, checkered grip for comfort and improved aim. All of these features are available on both standard and deluxe edition models. The deluxe edition model also includes custom tuning; custom hammer and base pin springs; trigger-spring at three pounds; jig-cut, positive angles on all triggers and sears for crisp, reliable action; a coil-loaded hand; and wire bolt and trigger springs.
MSRP: Standard Model $485.00
Deluxe Model $620.00


Beretta has purchased Uberti and has recently introduced a line of CAS™ guns of their own, such as the Stampede shown at right. They have a transfer bar but otherwise look very Uberti-like.

See below for the fate of the Colt Cowboy. The Stampede looks very much like it, but, unlike the Cowboy, the Stampede seems to be selling.

They also have a S & W Schofield clone, the Laramie.

Beretta Stampede Deluxe
If you have small hands, note the information on the Cimarron Lightnings further on. There are now several small-framed revolvers from Uberti and Ruger.


Colt Single Action Army, 3rd Generation, blue and case hardened finish, 4-3/4" barrel, black rubber "eagle" grips

This is a "Real" Colt, a Single Action Army, 3rd Generation, 4-3/4" barrel, Colt .45 Caliber. The brighter case hardening, real bone charcoal casehardening, is visible even in the photograph. This one is a SASS Colt. You can get a new Colt SAA through SASS.  It will have your SASS Badge # as its Serial #, SASS#####. Order 2, and the mate will have #####SASS as its Serial #. It'll take over a year to get it probably, and it'll still need gunsmithing when you get it. But it's a real Colt.

Colt Single Action Army with Ivory Stocks

This is my SASS Colts after they spent 6 months at Peacemaker Specialists for action jobs and real dead elephant ivory. The action job was phenomenal with unbelievably light hammers and precise 40 oz. triggers to my specs.. Everything is as smooth as silk.  Then I won engraving by Kelly Lasster, so they’re engraved, too.  When I was shooting for the TV show Cowboys, these are the guns I used, firing black powder, of course.  They never missed.

Colt SAA and Ruger Vaquero (old model)

This is a "Real" Colt and a Ruger Vaquero (the ‘old’  model. You can see how much bigger the Vaquero is. Power Custom will sell you a Colt-sized Ruger grip frame, but the balance is still different. The Ruger has the superior sight picture, and you'll notice the lower angle of the hammer means you can see the sights when the hammer is down, another advantage. But the main advantage, aside from cost, is the Ruger is hell for stout, both in action and cylinder strength.

Colt Single Action Army, Ruger New Vaquero, Cimarron 1st Generation Colt Clone

Top is a real third generation Colt.  Middle is a Ruger New Vaquero.  Bottom is a Cimarron Blackpowder frame replica.


Colt Cowboy

This is a Colt Cowboy. You can tell it from a Colt SAA by the transfer bar and flat-faced hammer reminiscent of a Ruger.

I was impressed with late production Colt Cowboys when they were new in the early ‘00s. Out of the box they were pretty much ready to shoot, light cocking pressure, slightly heavy trigger but usable. I would still have a good specialist gunsmith do an action job. Early Cowboys had problems and got a bad reputation. They say COLT on them, feel exactly like Colts, and have a transfer bar safety. Not bad.   They were a failure in the marketplace (a lot of cowboys REALLY hate Colt’s recent management –before the current group, by the way).  They were also in .45 Colt only, mostly 5-1/2” barrels.  I heard of some .38s but never saw any.

Colt Cowboy or Colt SAA?   Can you tell?

Is it a Colt SAA or a Colt Cowboy?

Tony Tinhorn's Six-gun Grip Page  
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