Getting Started in Cowboy Action Shooting, Page 4, Rifles


Henrys and Winchesters:


Cimarron Henry Rifle, Brass Frame

1860 Henry, available in .44WCF or .45 Colt. Neither is an historically accurate cartridge since the weapon used .44 Henry rimfire cartridges. Simulating the original load with a centerfire round would be a .44WCF with a 200 gr. bullet with 26-28 gr. FFFg Black Powder (or substitute)

The 1860 Henry reproduction is historically accurate and doesn't seem to have many feed problems, but loading is a problem, especially if you have to reload on the clock. Some ranges discourage them because of rumored blow ups of the mag tube. They require flat nosed bullets for sure and should be loaded carefully. If you have a hankering for a Henry, find a Henry shooter and pick his brain. All Henry reproductions are made by Uberti as is the case with the '66 and '73 Winchesters. Currently they are in the catalogs of Cimarron Firearms, Taylor's and Co., and EMF. Cimarron claims to have the highest standards among Uberti importers. But Uberti, the manufacturer, is not immune to quality control problems no matter what the brand. The Cimarrons will have all of the original proof marks and the like. Original Henrys were all rifles, no carbines. But you can get various models which never existed until now.
Henrys and 1866 Winchesters should be shot only with light SASS loads no matter what the caliber. The military version of the Henry has sling swivels. Since there's no handguard, firing a lot of rounds, especially with black powder, will make the barrel very hot. (Cimarron Henry shown)

The 1866 Winchester reproduction (or "Improved Henry" as it was known until the Winchester '73 came out) is historically accurate and cured the problems of the Henry. They're also available in .38 special. Most rifles are .357 Magnum and some need magnum length cartridges for reliability. With an 1866 Winchester reproduction you can shoot the same .38 Special load in both rifle and pistol. The above is a Cimarron in the beautiful and historically accurate charcoal blue. When you see it in the flesh, you'll know why they call it bluing when current guns are all black.  It shares the Henry’s difficulty of taking it apart to get to the innards when something goes wrong, and it lacks the safety of the ’73 that won’t allow the gun to fire unless the lever is all the way up, and, thus, the chamber closed.  The stock loading gate lever is fragile, but VTI Gun Parts has an American made loading gate for $18, $1 LESS than the Uberti part. Part # is BA:220127

Madame Rose shoots her 1866 Winchester carbine replica

Madame Rose shoots her Winchester 1866 saddle ring carbine.

Badlands Bud won EOT in 2005 using an 1866.

Women shooters: The '66 is heavy.

Cimarron "Original" finish Winchester 1873 carbine replicalica

Cimarron 1873 Saddle Ring Carbine in their "original" finish. Though fairly new, this gun looks a hundred years old. It's a popular finish on Cimarron guns.

The 1873 Winchester reproductions historically accurate and seems reliable of the samples I've watched. Several World Champions use '73s, but not the carbine shown. The removable side plate of the 1873 cured a problem of the 1866. If it is jammed, say with a .45 Colt round stuck inside your .44-40 Winchester, you can remove the side plate to clear it as Texas Ranger George Lloyd did in a fight with Apaches in 1879. He did it under fire. You won't have to. It is also easy to clean and thus favored by a lot of black powder shooters. (Carbine shown. Also available in short rifle, rifle, and sporting rifle configurations).

The current "hot" rifle is the '73 Short Rifle or Deluxe Short Rifle, in .38/.357, with a 20" barrel. (Evil Roy, for his Evil Roy model, sold by the Evil Roy Shooting School, has the barrel cut to 18.5", the shortest that will hold the necessary 10 rounds. Cody Conagher's "CodyMatics" most popular size is 18.5". Taylor's is now sellling their Comanchero, a 18.5" barreled CodyMatic) The serious competitors get action jobs and short stroke kits. In stock form the Uberti '73 has a longer stroke than good condition antique Winchesters, but the short stroke kits have gotten fairly radical. SASS has made an effort to stop further radicalization by limiting short strokes to 4-1/8" of travel, compared to over 7" stock (measured 3" from back of trigger.) It is NOT necessary for a beginner to get a short stroke kit for your rifle. Badlands Bud doesn't have a short stroke kit on his EOT winning '66, and you have to be VERY good for a short stroke kit to help.

Maverick firing his Cimarron '73 Short Rifle

Maverick shoots his Winchester '73 Short Rifle. This is a very popular combination. The sights are better on the rifle than the carbine, but the 20" barrel gives you the handiness of the carbine. It's marginally heavier because of the octagonal barrel. This one's got the case-hardened receiver.

Cimarron Winchester '73 Deluxe Border Short Rifle

Cimarron Deluxe Border Short Rifle

Women shooters: The '73 is heavy.

A little history.  When I started Marlins (described further on) were more popular than ‘73s.  One of the reason was that the operating stroke is shorter on the Marlin.  Then some really fast shooters discovered a “speed limit” in the action of the Marlin.  According to them, the action limited cycling time, and a ’73 didn’t have such a limit.  So some of the top shooters switched.  Gunsmiths Cody Conagher and Jim Bowie of Cowboys and Indians Store, developed short stroking as an addition to their action jobs.  At the time if you took a tight original ’73 and compared it to a Uberti ’73, the original had a shorter stroke, so first generation short stroke jobs just tightened things more to original specs.
But as more and more gunsmiths got involved, the short-strokes got shorter and shorter and became available in kit form.  The shortest, developed by Colt McAlister and Jim Bowie, cuts 3-1/4” off the stroke.  It complies with the new 4-1/8" minimum rule.

2006 Update

The problems with my new Marlin Cowboy .357 (See "2006 Update" below in the Marlin section) left me without a .38 rifle in my quest to switch from .45. Thus I shot most of 2006 matches with my .45 Cimarron '73 Saddle Ring Carbine. By End of Trail I was looking for a '73 in .357 that was ready to go. Having learned my lesson, I looked for a gun that already had an action and short stroke job on it, specifically, a Codymatic. Codymatics are very popular among a large number of very competitive Texas shooters including multiple world champions. I figure they know what they're doing. The Codymatic isn't the shortest short stroke kit, but the action is very smooth and reliable. Taylors and Company had 4 Codymatic '73s with the new 18.5" barrel. The action on each one was flawless. The trigger pulls were all the same, light and crisp. Uberti had outdone themselves with quality of fit and finish that would have made Oliver Winchester proud.

And to boot the sales lady was a knockout! How could I resist?

Unable to choose on the basis of looks or action, I picked the one with the serial number easiest to remember. Out of the box it hit our 8" targets at 100 yards shot standing on my hind legs, and my speed in a speed drill increased by 5 seconds. In other words, I like it.

Codymatic and Taylor girl

Would you buy a gun from this lady?

2009 update: I bought another Codymatic in 2008, a pistol grip model. It's the main match rifle now, and the original is my practice gun and backup. Both work quite well.

With the advent of Wild Bunch Matches (See "Wild Bunch for Dummies"), when asked to test a Taylor's Comanchero, I asked for a .45 Colt model. Taylor's is going to have a hard time getting it back. It's my main Wild Bunch gun now.

The 1892 Winchester reproduction is available in clones from Navy Arms and EMF now and once under its manufacturer's label, Rossi. Ones which have been gunsmithed seem to be great guns. Out of the box samples often are quite finicky and trouble prone. Expect to spend money on a gunsmith. When you find several gunsmiths specializing in smoothing the actions of a particular brand of gun, odds are that gun is rough out of the box. '92 shooters who have 'smithed versions rave about the smoothness and reliability of their '92s. Several name shooters have used them to great success. There is also a Japanese one imported by U.S. Repeating Arms, the holder of the Winchester trademark. The Winchester version does not seem rough out of the box, but it has a non-period safety on the tang. Marble has a tang mounted peep sight which works with that version. (a lot of purists don’t like modern safeties on replicas.  NCOWS, a small “Western Action Shooting” organization with stringent rules on equipment and dress, doesn’t allow them. Strangely enough, the ‘92s without safeties generally cost more than those with them.)

Companero with his '92 replica

Companero just got this brass framed stainless steel Navy Arms '92 rifle. This never existed in the old west, but it's an awfully pretty rifle.

Stainless Steel Navy Arms 92

The Navy Arms '92 in all stainless steel, a very desirable metal if you are shooting black powder. On the other hand the '92 is so hard to detail strip (and reassemble!) that it wouldn't be my first choice for black powder.

The Navy Arms version is available in blued form and in stainless form in carbine, short rifle, and rifle, even a “brass”-framed, stainless steel barreled model which looks great but obviously never existed.

EMF 1892 Collection

EMF has a wide collection of 1892s as well, rifles, carbines, stainless steel, case hardened, and all the usual calibers.

Nate "Kiowa" Jones is the '92 expert among CAS™ gunsmiths. No less a gunsmith than Coyote Cap has recommended him for '92s. You should be able to buy a EMF 1892 from him already slicked up. The EMF Hartford 1892s are among the lowest priced rifles you can buy new for CAS™.

Taylor's & Co. imports a takedown ’92.  Above is a .32-20 with a 24” barrel, but nearly every “cowboy” caliber is available and round and octagon barrels of 24” and 20”.  I can’t think of a reason we would need the takedown version, but it’s an excuse to buy another gun, which can’t be all bad.
Taylor 92 takedown model

Deadeye Dawn shooting her antique Winchester 92

Deadeye Dawn's '92 is no replica, but a real Winchester '92 in .38-40.

Deadeye Dawn and her antique Winchester '92 Saddle Rng Carbine

It is a Saddle-Ring Carbine, too.

1894 Winchester Carbine

1894 Winchester

The 1894 Winchester generally should be avoided. The action was designed for longer cartridges than pistol caliber, and I've yet to see a reliable example. (E-mails aren't necessary if you have one. There's probably a reliable Jaguar out there somewhere, too.) If you have one and are financially stretched, obviously you'll need to use it and learn how to defeat its idiosyncrasies and live within its limitations. I'm told that it is so complex inside that only gunsmiths should detail strip it. The '94 Marlin and '73 Winchester are not that complicated. The Marlin is the simplest of the two.

The Winchester Carbine Front Sight Problem:

The front sight on the Uberti Winchester carbine clones is way too authentic. It is short and too hard to see. Mine shot high with every bullet weight even with the rear sight all the way down. Additionally it has no bead. It's a tapered post, very hard to pick up in a hurry.

If you have a .38, you may have the stock sight milled off the barrel band and the barrel cut for a dovetail front sight. Some Winchesters were done that way originally, but you can't on a .45, not enough barrel thickness.

73 Carbine front sight before
So I sent my sight (the one that came on the rifle, not the one above, which explains the bluing wear. It matches the "ambience" of the rest of the carbine) to Nate Kiowa Jones who welded it up, lengthened it, and added a SASS legal 3/16" brass bead, solving the shooting high problem and making the front sight easy to acquire.

The Grabber Front Sight

Greg Tumn, AKA Manatee, of Banana River Outfitters came up with a sight for sore eyes. Many SASS targets are BIG and CLOSE. A 3/32" front bead, or worse, a post, is hard to pick up in a hurry for a lot of us. His solution was to modify Marbles Front Sights with larger beads, up to .175".

Though not noted on his website, he made one on a '73 Carbine front sight band for me that works like a charm. It came with a removable bead and several to choose from. 2 words:


The Grabber Front Sight

Grabber sights compared

Marlin Cowboy, 20" barrel

Marlin Cowboy — Marlin has made multiple versions of the Cowboy, .32 H & R Magnum, .44 Special, .45 and .357/.38 Special, and Cowboy Competition models in .38 Special and .45 Colt.  The Cowboy Competition Carbines, no longer in production, had case hardened frames and extra care at making the action smooth.  Most of them were not significantly smoother than stock, though. The all-blued models work fine.  You’ll note the checkering is left off now.  When the stock and fore end were checkered, cowboys took the checkering off to make them more “cowboy.”  Now they have them checkered for a better grip.  Go figure.

2006 Update:

I can't recommend current production of Marlin Cowboys in .357. At least one has proven beyond repair out of the box. I obtained a new production Marlin Cowboy in early 2006. I sent it to World Champion Longhunter for an action job. To make a long story short, he couldn't make it work, and Marlin wouldn't/couldn't fix it or replace it.

2009 Update:

I haven't seen anything that changes my mind.

The 1894 Marlin is hated by the historians, loved by the competitors. The CS carbines are used by some and work quite well, but the Cowboy models are the most popular. Most of the ones you see at matches were not gunsmithed but worked out of the box. There is some smoothing which can be done, and the mainspring can be replaced by a lighter spring, but if you keep the screws tight, it'll work stock. (See below about .357s shooting .38s). Click here for Marlin Maintenance and Spares

Marlin Cowboy, 24" barrel, .45 Colt, with Marble Tang sight

Marlin Cowboy .32 H & R Magnum Narlin Cowboy, .32 H & R Magnum, 20" barrel, virtually no recoil.  Black Powder loads don't smoke much more than the minimum required.

Marlin has recently released its popular Cowboy model in .32 H & R Magnum. It's a delightful rifle to shoot. Even the hottest .32 loads don't produce significant recoil, and a case full of American Pioneer Powder behind a 90 gr. bullet produces none perceptible and only minimal blackpowder smoke, enough to be legal, but not much more. The only drawbacks I see are the lack of a loading gate (it loads like a .22 rifle), and the fact that the little bullets don't make much noise when they hit steel.

This rifle is ideal for small-framed, recoil-shy shooters.

2009 update:

They didn't make many .32s before quitting production.

Naturally Short Stroked:

A demonstration of the shorter stroke of the .32 H & R Magnum Marlin on top vs. a .45 Colt Marlin on bottom

The .32 H & R Cowboy has a naturally shorter stroke than the bigger calibers. On top is a .32. On the bottom a .45 Colt Cowboy. The difference is about an inch, with the .32 being about 5", or close to the 4-1/8" minimum. Past a certain point I'm not a big proponant of short stroke kits. If you can keep your thumb on the stock, it's short. If you can't, it isn't.

When I started I saw a lot of Marlin .357 shooters using .357 brass in their rifles and .38 Specials in their pistols, a real pain. Now I see them using .38s.

Hunters Supply 162 gr. round nose flat point bullet

One solution is a bullet such as this Hunter's Supply162 gr. bullet specifically designed for shooting .38s in .357 lever action rifles.

But I have seen shooters using 125 gr. bullets in .38 brass in .357 Marlins. This takes a good gunsmith to modify the carrier and such. There are many who can handle it. Longhunter has won EOT with Marlins, and he states that when he finishes a .357 Marlin it will shoot .38s, and you won't be able to tell the difference between it and one of the short-production run .38 Special only Competition Carbines.


Marlin Spring Kits and the hated Cross-Bolt Safety:

I have tried several of the aftermarket spring kits. When the gun was new I replaced the stock mainspring with a Bunkhouse spring kit and got light primer hits. I added small washers as spacers and added washers until the light primer hits went away. The lighter spring lightened the trigger pull as well as the cocking effort. The action, smoothed by 20,000 rounds (and judicious polishing and stoning), is very light and smooth. I've also used the Longhunter spring kit, with similar results The Marlin needs a lot of cleaning if you're shooting Black Powder. The crossbolt safety bugs some people**, but it has a set screw which can be tightened so it will stay in the "fire" position. You could also get a small C Clip at a hardware store and C Clip it in the "fire" position or do the same with an "O" Ring. Additionally, Clyde Ludwig, P.O. Box 26156 Wauwatosa, WI 53226-0156, ph: 414-536-1101, has built a replacement which looks like a screw in the receiver. $12,95 including shipping and handling (cashier's check or money order only). It's made from blued steel. Installation takes 10 minutes or less. DISCLAIMER: If you're using your Marlin 1894 Cowboy for anything else but CAS, don't replace or deactivate the safety. A cross bolt safety is superfluous for Cowboy Action Shooting because of strict rules concerning loading, unloading, and gunhandling. Installing the Ludwig Replacement for the Marlin Cross Bolt Safety
**NCOWS doesn't like the cross-bolt safety so much that they don't allow Marlins and Winchesters with external safeties at all.

Marlin Maintenance:

Marlins are tough. They need very little in the way of maintenance and last like iron. They need three things in addition to occasional cleaning: 1. Keep the screws tight. 2. Keep the screws tight. 3. Keep the screws tight.  (Once I put BLUE Loctite in the kit I stopped having trouble with screws backing out and locking the gun up.  BLUE, remember that.)
Click here for Marlin Maintenance and Spares
Women shooters: The Marlin is pretty lightweight, and a lot of women shoot them.

Caliber for the rifle should be the same as for your pistols as soon as you can afford it. I've seen .45 Colts stuck in .44-40s. Fortunately no one was shooting at the shooter, but his stage was ruined. I've also seen .44-40s which had been stuffed in .45 Colt chambers.

Barrel length?
Again, a personal thing. I think 19-20" is perfect, but as the eyes get older the longer barrels work better. The Marlin was only available in 24" when I got mine, and I've left it stock. 24" has its advantages for those of us with presbyopia. I've seen 30" barrels work. 16" barrels are too short. 18" carbines are the practical minimum. Your rifle should hold 10 rounds in the magazine. More isn't necessary.
The Marlin Cowboy is now made only in 20" length.


The various rifles come with period correct sights. Some have small notched flat rear sights. Some have semi-buckhorn. Marble makes replacements for most with flat, semi-buckhorn, or full buckhorn, as well as small flip-up sights which go in the dovetail for the stock sights. These are available in various heights and with flat or semi-buckhorn shapes. Marble Arms. Marbles no longer sells them direct, but Brownells does.  The hot thing among followers of Evil Roy’s training is to flat-top the semi-buckhorn or replace it with a flat rear sight. When making a sweep, the leading edge of the buckhorn blocks the target.
The Marlin Cowboy comes with a white diamond rear sight. This violates SASS rules. So when you get your Marlin Cowboy, turn the sight insert around or black it with flat black paint/magic marker/laundry marker, etc.

The Grabber Front Sight mentioned above will work on Marlins as well as Winchesters.

Marbles Flat topped rear sight

Marbles Semi-Buckhorn Rear Sight

Marbles Full-Buckhorn rear sight

Marbles Contour Front Sights

Marbles Tang Peep Sight:

As a Gunsite graduate (3 times), I learned about the "Ghost Ring" and its advantages for speed shooting. Therefore I had mounted a Marble Arms Tang Peep Sight on both rifles. With the insert removed, it's a near perfect ghost ring. I originally kept a flip up sight in the original dovetail just for checking to make sure the Marble hasn't gotten out of adjustment.  After a disaster at Winter Range when the rear sight broke and the flip up sight was inadequate, I replaced it with a Marble's flat top rear sight (Brownell's 579-066-001 #66 Dovetail Flat top rear, long shank). I keep it 2 notches low so it's basically out of the way. But if I break the tang sight again I'll raise it 2 notches and use it (and I keep a spare tang sight in my kit now.)  If the targets are close and big like SASS says they should be, then I keep the Tang sight down and use the flat topped sight.

Marbles Peep Tang Sight

2009 Update

My '73s now all have the same style rear sights, the stock '73 semi-buckhorn flattopped by The Brisco Kid, I find it much quicker as well as being quite precise for the long range target that pops up.

In addition to Manatee's Grabber front sight Pioneer Gun Works' Speed Sight is available with a big bead. It also sports a thick, strong shaft, making it less likely to get broken off. I don't think there's been an epidemic of Grabber front sights getting broken, but the Speed Sight does stand out.

Style Points, the Spencer:

The Spencer carbine was one of the first repeating rifles and was used in the Civil War and some key battles in the Indian Wars (Beecher's Island comes to mind). Spencers were partially responsible for the Northern victory at Gettysburg and other key battles. There are several copies now available in .44 Russian, .45 Schofield, and 56-50. SASS rules have been changed to allow 56-50 as a main match cartridge in this weapon. It is not, as you might expect, a .56 caliber round using 50 grains of BP. It is cartridge design #56, and it's 50 caliber, centerfire in this case, even though the original was rimfire. The magazine doesn't hold 10 rounds in any of the cartridges, and the hammer must be cocked in addition to the lever being worked. Then the gun can be fired. This is slower than any of the other firearms, but there are people who aren't interested in winning. They're interested in history, so you'll see some of these at matches. The Cimarron version, shown at right, starts at $1149.

Spencer Repeating Rifle
The Lightnings, updated for 2009:

Beretta Gold Rush

In the late 1890s, Colt built a pump-action rifle, the Lightning. They couldn't build a lever-action because of an agreement with Winchester to keep out of each-others turf. In the early 21st century several companies have introduced clones or look-alikes of the Colt Lightning. Lightnings are or were marketed by:

Beretta–Gold Rush, in the $1200 range

AWA–Lightning, in the $1200 range

USFA–Lightning, in the $1200+ range

Taurus–Thundererbolt, in the $4-500 range (!!)

The theory was that pump action rifles, with extremely short action, would take over Cowboy Action Shooting. I've seen most of, if not all of the Lightnings in competition. It is rare that I see one finish a match without problems. Larsen E. Pettifogger has one of everything, including a Colt, and some of them work, but he is a skilled machinist who does a lot of work to make them work.

Taurus Thunderbolt in test

Taurus Thunderbolt, .45 Colt, firing black powder

Taurus Thunderbolt Test:

The Thunderbolt wasn't produced very long. It's out of production now, but I'll leave these notes here in case you wonder if you should buy that used one at a bargain price.

I received an early Taurus Thunderbolt, .45 Colt, 20" round barrel, all blued finish for testing. It might have been too early as the weapon suffered from hammer follow, light primer hits, and difficulty in working the action with rounds in the mag tube.

Fit and Finish:

For a rifle listing for $495, the fit and finish were more than adequate. A semi-gloss blue was well done. The plain stocks looked like straight grained walnut, and everything fit fine.


The front sight is a plain black post. The rear is a semi-buckhorn. I found them quite serviceable. Tequila said he would immediately change the front for an ivory bead.


Loading is done with the action OPEN, which is counterintuitive since everything else requires the action to be closed. Getting the rounds in was quite difficult, more so than a recalcitrant brand new Marlin or '73 clone. You really need a small stick to push the last round in.

Cimarron Lightning:

After Mike Harvey of Cimarron Firearms was told he couldn't have any Uberti Lightnings, that they would all be Berettas, he contracted with David Petersoli for a high grade Lightning clone.

Cimarron Lightning
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