Getting Started in Cowboy Action Shooting, page 3

More About Revolvers

(updated December 2009, December 2010)


New Hammer Rules Mean New Guns (December 2010)

Rules Change:

Two guns with lowered hammers

Two guns with lowered hammers: On top a Taylor's Runnin' Iron in stainless steel, and on bottom a Ruger new model Vaquero with a Super Blackhawk hammer fitted.

Without getting too deep into the details, we'll just say it has become legal to put the equivalent of a Super Blackhawk hammer on any SAA. Read the SASS Shooters Handbook for the rules and exceptions. The advantage of this is the hammer is lower. You can see the sight picture with the hammer down, and, more importantly, your thumb doesn't have to reach as far to cock the gun. As someone suffering from an arthritic thumb, I can appreciate the importance of this.

Taylor's Runnin' Iron hammer. It has a wide spur with grooves in it for improved grip

Duelists have flocked to this in droves. Retrofitting either a Ruger Montado hammer or Super Blackhawk hammer to a Ruger is pretty simple, and the hammers are available, but usually on some backorder. Gunsmiths are reshaping hammers for guns for which no parts are available. The Runnin' Iron hammer and the lowered USFA hammer are only available in new guns.

SASS Vaqueros, .45 Colt, 5.5" Barrels joined .38/.357, 4-5/8" barrel this year. They feature Montado hammers, the same shape as Super blackhawk hammers but with checkering instead of grooves.

SASS Vaqueros are sold in pairs with consecutive serial numbers. The hard rubber grips with SASS emblems in lieu of Ruger emblems are distinctive, comfortable, and functional. You don't need to change to checkered grips.


Barrel Lengths:

Cimarron Evil Roy, 4-3/4” barrel

Taurus Gaucho 5-1/2"

Taurus Gaucho (now discontinued), 5-1/2” barrel

Cimarron Model P, Stainless Steel, 7-1/2" Barrel

Cimarron Model P, Stainless Steel, 7-1/2" Barrel

Baylor firing 4-3/4" Ruger Vaquero

The most popular barrel length is probably 4-3/4". It's quick handling makes up for the short sight radius, and we're not shooting at long distances anyway.

The SASS Wire is always full of people asking which barrel length they should get and which caliber. The answer to the barrel length is get whatever you want. I've shot with more than one World Champion. One shot long barreled Blackhawks. The two others shot 4-5/8" Ruger Vaqueros. Barrel length doesn't matter if you're comfortable with it. Your persona could be a factor. If your alias is a fictional character with a funny sounding name ("Wild Mill Hickenlooper" for example), you can use anything. If you're playing a 1875 Army officer, your gun, for maximum realism, if that interests you, should be a gun used by an 1875 Army officer, a 7-1/2" barreled Colt, Vaquero, or Clone or a 7" barreled Smith and Wesson Schofield (or clone). You get the picture. (But no one cares. Lefty Longridge, traditional class World Champion 2000, dresses as an Army sergeant but shoots 4-3/4" Stainless Steel Vaqueros. They didn't take his world championship away from him. John Wayne used Colts (and clones, Great Westerns) in movies set as early as 1840, and one of SASS's rules is: The Duke Can Do No Wrong. Don't let your "persona" overwhelm you. Shoot what you want. Having said all that, the most popular barrel length among the top shooters is 4-3/4” or 5-1/2”. Long barrels are simply harder to get out of the holster and to re-holster.

Moon firing 7-1/2" barreled Cimarron Thunderer

Moon shoots 7.5" barreled Cimarron Thunderers (Colt SAA clones with birdshead grips, guns that never even existed in the Old West but are okay in SASS). He also shoots Gunfighter, meaning right gun with right hand, left gun with left hand, both guns fired alternately on stages allowing it.

Buntline Special, made competitive by Sundown Jones


Sundown Jones demonstrates the ridiculous end of barrel length, firing 18" barreled Buntline Specials in Frontier Cartridge (Black Powder Cartridge). His buscadero holsters are strapped to his ankles. He won Cartridge Black Powder at the Tin Star CAS Open 2001 and finished in the top ten.


I would recommend .38 Special for economy and future competitiveness. I don't think any of the top guns are using .45s anymore. If you want one of the new Colt SAAs, they're again available in .38/.357. Some of the clones are not available in .38/.357. (I use 45 Colts because I was given bad advice when I started out, but eventually I came to my senses and bought .38/.357s. The cost of ammunition went to about half, allowing me to get about twice as much ammunition, allowing more practice.

If you go on the SASS Wire and ask which caliber to start with, you will get every answer except .455 Webley, and maybe that, with long dissertations about the superiority of one obscure caliber or another. But the truth is 2/3rds of the brass picked up at major matches and auctioned off is .38 Special. You may shoot .38 Special in all pistols except in Classic Cowboy and Frontiersman, and in all rifles except in Classic Cowboy.

I did an unscientific survey while doing this, and the SASS Wire and a local club's flea market were full of used .45s, but .38s were rare to non-existant. This should tell you something. People start with .45s but switch to .38s.


Reasons to use .38 Special Ammo:

1. Cost. Both factory ammunition and reloading costs are considerably less expensive than the big calibers.

2. Versatility. You can shoot 90 gr. bullets at 600 ft./sec. for virtually no recoil or 125 gr. bullets for a good low recoil load or 158 gr. for recalcitrant knockdowns.

3. RECOIL. CAS™ is a speed shooting sport. Thus time spent in recoil SLOWS YOU DOWN. Additionally a steady diet of hot loads leads to joint pain, etc.

4. Availability. If you wind up at a match with no ammunition, good factory ammo can be had at most big matches, including Blackpowder, and so many contestants will be shooting .38s you can probably borrow some from one of them.

Reasons to use .45 Colt Ammo:

1. You already have 2 or 3 .45 Colt firearms.

2. You want to shoot in the Classic Cowboy category.

3. You think warthoggery is the way to go. Warthogs are self-named shooters who shoot big calibers and maximum charges in same until their wrists go. Most of them shoot Blackpowder and never show up at matches but complain a lot on the SASS Wire. I went looking for warthogs at a recent regional and found none in 300 shooters, but I didn't see everyone. Most of the .45 shooters were shooting VERY light loads. 160 gr. bullets dominated. They're the state of the competitive art for 2006 for .45s. (still are in 2009)


Reasons to use .44-40 Ammo:

1. You are terribly masochistic.

2. You already have a full set of .44-40s.

3. You want absolute realism in your weapons, and you know your Winchester 73 didn't come in .45 Colt or .38 Special in 1875. If this is the case, shoot black powder, of course.

4. You intend to shoot only full-charge black powder loads, no substitutes, and you're terribly bothered by blowback. The bottleneck cartridge pretty much eliminates blowback and keeps BP crud out of the chamber.

5. You like to whine that not many firearms are made in that caliber, and the actual bore of the firearm varies from .427 to .430, and chambers vary more.

Reasons to use .38-40 Ammo:

1. You already have a full set of .38-40s and qualify for 1,3, 4, and 5 under .44-40.

2. You like reloading challenges. Bottleneck cases such as .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40 are harder to reload than straight wall cases. Case lube is required, and the likelihood of crushed cases increases dramatically.

Reasons to use .32 H & R Magnum:

1. You're very, very recoil sensitive for one reason or another. The vicious recoil of a .38 special 125 gr. bullet at 600 ft./sec. is too much for you.

2. You have very small hands (women mostly)

3. Arthritis has already gotten to the wrists, and you're trying something to keep shooting CAS

Reasons to use .32-20 Ammo:

1. You are seriously masochistic and recoil sensitive to boot. .32-20 is hard to reload, but it doesn't recoil much.

2. You already have some .32-20 firearms.

Reasons to use .44 Special and .44 Magnum

1. You like to jerk people's chains on the SASS Wire.

2. You have a gaggle of .44 firearms.

3. You like to whine that not many CAS™ firearms are made in those calibers.

4. You want to hunt with your CAS rifle (there are better hunting weapons, you know)

Reasons to use .44 Colt, .38 Long Colt, .44 Russian

1. You have antique or replicas chambered in .44 Colt or .38 Long Colt, maybe .44 Russian.

2. You're a lot more interested in historical accuracy than competition.

Some Rules to Remember:

1. If you reload, use new brass at major meets. Some people use worn out brass to save a few bucks, and when a split case costs them 15 places at EOT.

2. Use one caliber, one load for rifles and pistols. Life is easier that way.

Don’t be surprised if you need to have your gun tuned by a gunsmith. Out of the box guns are getting better since I first wrote this. Late production Ruger New Vaqueros have felt ready to go to me. and the pre-tuned guns on the previous page like the Longhunter Rodeo and Cimarron Evil Roy should be ready to go. As noted in the section on Ruger Modifications, most old model Ruger Vaqueros just need a spring kit to be good for thousands of rounds. But I wouldn't consider using a clone or a Colt SAA without having a good specialist gunsmith look it over. If you're REALLY into this sport you'll shoot more rounds in a year than, say, an active Texas Ranger would shoot in a lifetime. A Colt SAA or clone without perfectly adjusted parts will destroy itself in short order. Every serious competitor I know using either a Colt SAA or a clone has had a gunsmith at least look at it. I could be wrong, of course, and obviously exceptions do occur.

You will find gunsmiths that want to rebarrel and recylinder your gun and do a lot of things that are nice-to-have but not necessary for CAS. Most of the guns out there can be made CAS-Worthy by just putting in a good set of springs, smoothing the rough edges inside, adjusting the timing and trigger pull, and smoothing or cutting the forcing cone. Except for special circumstances, $100-200 a gun should cover it. Beginners should probably just shoot the gun as it comes out of the box until you know what’s going on and have an idea of what you need.

Warning: Stoeger, Beretta, Taurus, and possibly other companies will not work on a gun that has been gunsmithed or sell parts to gunsmiths. A Ruger with non-stock parts will be repaired and the non-stock parts replaced with stock parts. (Mine came with the non-stock parts in a bag.)


Coyote Cap Gunworks—Cap is the shotgun wizard, whether you shoot a Winchester '97, a Stoeger SXS, or a Bounty Hunter SXS, he will make it work better than you ever expected. He can do good work on pistols and rifles, too. 21255 Independence Ave. Morristown, MN 55052 (507) 685-4500 or (507) 685-4511 Send e-mail to

Lee's Gunsmithing—Orange California based CAS gunsmiths. Many of the top shooters use their guns. They're the only ones I know personally of who can make a percussion 1860 Army reliable. LEE'S GUNSMITHING (aka Ringo SASS # 257)
2777 Orange-Olive Road, Orange, CA 92865
Phone: (714) 921-9030

Peacemaker Specialists — Edward Janis, proprietor. (530) 472-3438. Eddie specializes in Colts, not Rugers, not clones. He is not cheap. He was recommended to me by Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch. Clint is very stingy in his recommendations. His action work on my Colts is amazingly good, and the elephant ivory stocks are flawless.

Nate Kiowa Jones — Steve’s Gunz Steve Young, 4525 Alamosa St., Port Arthur, TX 77642, (409) 984-5473 Specializes in Rossi ‘92s but does general CAS gunsmithing full time.

West Fargo — Wes Flowers aka West Fargo,
1792 W. Mount View Lane
Cochise, AZ 85606, 1-520-826-0012
Ruger specialist. Does half-cock hammers and short strokes in addition to nice trigger jobs.

Long Hunter — a World Champion who shoots Marlins can logically be expected to be able to slick up Marlins. He won the World Championship shooting Ruger Blackhawks, so he can probably work on them, too. Tequila sends his Rugers to him.

Just because a gunsmith isn't listed here doesn't mean they're not good. I haven't dealt with every CAS gunsmith. I am pretty picky about who works on my guns, however.

For 2009 I'll add Cody Conagher, Cowboys and Indians Store, and Lassiter (can't find a website, phone is 937-687-1039.) to the good guys list.

For 2010 I'll add Jimmy Spurs of Cowboy Gunworks Jimmy is quite backed up with work, but justifiably so. He specializes in some of the smoothest Rugers you'll ever see.

Recommendations:If you're an IPSC master class shooter coming to CAS for competition, you'll probably get Ruger .357s and shoot light .38 loads. (This isn't a bad place for a duffer to start, either). If you're in this for the history, the fantasy, and the relaxation, get what you want. I will make 2 recommendations: As soon as possible, get 2 guns of the same caliber. We've found .44-40 cases which had obviously been loaded in a .45 Colt at the range. Not good. Also make both guns shoot to point of aim. Having one shoot high left and the other low right will guarantee misses when you forget. Ideally both guns should be the same model. Every time I see one particular competitor with a Colt clone and a Remington 1875 clone I know that competitor will miss with one gun and shoot well with the other. As Holy Terror says, “You should not be able to tell your guns apart.”



I've concentrated on Colt 1873 replicas and look alikes. You don't have to shoot those. You can shoot any nineteenth century single action revolver or replica or look alike. There are Smith and Wesson clones, including one now by Smith and Wesson of the 1875 Schofield, built in a limited run in the early 2000s. I have seen several of the clones at matches. They are very complex firearms and generally have more problems than Colt clones. Many gunsmiths can't disassemble and reassemble them. Their quick-reloading advantage won't be used very often, certainly not at major matches, where reloading stages take too much time. The Smith and Wesson modern version was beautifully done and uses modern coil spring innards, so it should work quite well. It was $1495 at a local Houston gunshop when new and has some collector value by now due to the limited run. Don’t expect to get a pair for the price of a Ruger New Vaquero. I don’t know anyone still shooting any in competition.


Navy Arms Schofield

T. X. Cleanshot shoots his Navy Arms Schofield replica in a cloud of black powder smoke. He has no problems with the Schofield using American Pioneer Powder, but if you use real black powder, be aware that some gunsmithing will be required. Navy Arms and Smith and Wesson do not put in a grease groove which was on the base pin of the originals, and the base pin will bind, sometimes after as few as 3 or 4 rounds. The Navy Arms replica fits .45 Colt cartridges, but T. X. Cleanshot still uses historically correct .45 Schofield rounds, which are shorter and thus fit. The Smith and Wesson requires Schofield rounds.

Cimarron Richards-Mason conversion

1851 Richards-Mason Conversion, 7.5” barrel, .38 Special, Cimarron Firearms (Photo courtesy of Cimarron Firearms.)

TX Cleanshot unloads his Schofield

T. X. Cleanshot opens and instantly unloads his Schofield. This feature is why most cowboys who buy them buy S & W replicas. But don't do it for this reason. You won't reload under the clock that often. We did it once at the Tin Star CAS Open 2001, and that's the only time I can remember doing it at a major match. Shoot Smith and Wessons because you like them as T.X. Cleanshot does.

Cimarron 1872 Open Top

1860 Army Richards-Mason Conversion, 7.5” barrel, .44 Colt or .45 Schofield, Cimarron Firearms.

Cartridge Conversions of the 1851 Navy and 1860 Army are offered by Cimarron Firearms. They’re different. They’re more finicky than SAAs and Rugers, but they have a great “Wow” factor. (Photo courtesy of Cimarron Firearms.)

Jake McReedy's .44 Russian Navy Arms Smith and Wesson #3

From here it looks like the same gun, but this is Jake McReedy's .44 Russian Navy Arms Smith and Wesson #3 Russian replica. .44 Russian is the father of the .44 Special. The sights are quite different from the Schofield as well as a lot of other features.

Cimarron 1872 Open Top

1872 Colt Open-Top, 7.5" barrel, .38 Spcl, .44 Colt, .45 Schofield

The 1871-1872 Open Top was the forerunner of the famous and ever popular 1873 Colt 'Model P' or Peacemaker. Open Top revolvers were manufactured during the same period of time that gave us the percussion conversion models of Richard's and Richard's-Mason type but Open Top's were manufactured as an entirely new model and did not use percussion revolver parts. (Photo courtesy of Cimarron Firearms.)
Major Ned Prentiss makes smoke
Major Ned Prentiss epitomizes the re-enactor aspect of SASS. He is shooting an actual antique Smith and Wesson #3 here. He shoots a Cimarron Open Top, a Winchester ’66 replica, and a hammer shotgun, with black powder in all, and his dress is elaborate and authentic. He is so not into the competitive aspects of this sport he won the costume contest at a major match once and never picked up the trophy.

Cap and Ball (percussion) Revolvers:

Cimarron 1851 Navy

Cimarron Firearms 1851 Navy

Cap and ball pistols are also used. They have a category, Frontiersman, at major matches. At smaller matches they will shoot against black powder cartridge pistols. Aficionados who want to use them will do so without any advice for me. They do require a lot of time reloading them. They appear at first glance to be the most inexpensive way to go. But black powder and substitutes are more expensive than smokeless, so expenses will catch up. As they have the basic Colt action, the C & B Colt clones should be gone over by a good Colt-clone gunsmith, preferably one who understands their idiosyncrasies. (Photo courtesy of Cimarron Firearms.)


Ten Bears 1860 Army with antique finish

This is a "Colt" 1860 Army used by Ten Bears at Winter Range 2002. Highly modified internally, his pistols didn't hiccup all week.

Ten Bears 1860 Army on unloading table

Yes, you get more style points if your 1860 Army looks like it went through all 4 years of the Civil War in the holster of a Confederate cavalryman.

Oops, Confederates weren’t issued 1860s. 1851 Navies were the most common Southern weapon… or a 1860 Army formerly carried by a Union Soldier. So I guess it could still have spent part of the Civil War in the holster of a Confederate cavalryman.


Rowdy Yates, of Lee's Gunsmithing, is the man to talk to about Cimarron 1860s. I'll let him describe the package in his own words: "To make these guns reliable we install cap guards similar to the original Cooper. Trim the sides of the hammers about the same width as Remington and solder in the guards to the frame. With the hammer down this modification cannot be seen. We also install larger and taller front sights and square and open the sight notch on the hammer. The action is smoothed and timed and the sear and hand hardened."

"Forcing cone opened and cylinder edges broken but not chamfered. The package runs about $150. The sight work is an additional $65 but well worth it.

"The 60s are a love hate relationship and will definitely not hold up like the Rugers but they are good for style points."

Bottom Dealin' Mike's son creates a dilemma Bottom Dealin' Mike's son Rob demonstrates why you can't shoot "Gunfighter" style in Frontiersman. On the left is a Colt 3rd Model Dragoon, and on the right is a Colt Walker. Both have dropped their loading levers and hopelessly locked up the weapons unless you (a) tap the levers up on the opposite wrist, no doubt scaring the heck out of all assembled with 170° violations in mind, or (b) lay one down, fix the other. Lay it down. Fix the first. Not good. This is also an example of why these 4 lb. + guns aren't used that much in Frontiersman. But they look good. (Photo stolen from Bottom Dealin' Mike.)
Ruger Old Army:

Ruger Old Army, 7.6" barrel, Stainless steel

A pair of 5.5" barreled Stainless Steel Ruger Old Armies
This is a Ruger Old Army, THE choice for Frontiersman. See Frontiersmen for Dummies
These are new 5-1/2" barreled stainless steel Ruger Old Armies. They were gunsmithed by Lee's Gunsmithing, and when photographed, they sported Eagle American Elk stocks (since changed to gunfighter grips). They do handle better than the long barreled ones, and these operate pretty flawlessly for C & B pistols.

Women and Children First:

Deadeye Dawn's Cimarron Lightning

This is Deadeye Dawn's Cimarron Lightning. It's a 4-3/4" barrel, but the ejector is about 3" long. The grip size is perfect for her feminine hand. I recommend at least the 4-3/4" barrel for sight radius, the longer, the better. When I mentioned something in the SASS Wire about 3.5" not being long enough, Bubbles La Rue said, "Most women will tell you 3.5" is not enough."

Deadeye Dawn fires her LightningDeadeye Dawn shoots 2 Cimarron Lightnings very well. Yes, she is shooting Black Powder
Thunderer and Lightning
Women and men with small hands have been buying the Cimarron Lightning, left, bottom, like hotcakes. Shown compared to the full-sized Cimarron Thunderer, a Model P with birdshead grip frame á la the original double action Colt Thunderer, the Lightning is markedly smaller. The availability of this gun has made the difference for some women, enabling them to shoot in this sport. It comes in .38 Special. They have added a .32-20/.32 H & R Magnum model with interchangeable cylinders, a really good idea now that Marlin makes a rifle in .32 H & R Magnum and Uberti ‘73s come in .32-20. (Photo courtesy of Cimarron Firearms.)

Since I first posted this, the experience level with Lightnings has increased. Some gunsmiths have not been up to the task of tuning the little guns, so if you get a pair and need them tuned, make sure the gunsmith has done several. Asking someone who shoots them will usually get good recommendations.


Ruger made a small framed gun, the Single Six, also called the Vaquerito, a small-framed gun in .32 H & R Magnum. You should be able to find a pair new or used. It can solve the small hands problem. It's in .32 H & R Magnum instead of .38 Special. Theoretically the .32 offers less recoil, but a .38 can be loaded awfully light, and the cost of reloading will still be less in the .38, not to mention easy availability of ammunition. .32 H & R Magnum is becoming increasingly popular, and thus the cost is going down for using it. When we get to rifles we’ll talk about the perfect match for it, the Marlin Cowboy in .32 H & R Magnum.
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