GETTING STARTED IN COWBOY ACTION SHOOTING,Page 5, Shotguns:

(updated December 2009)

 

 

Calvin N Hobbs fires his Stoeger SXS at Winter Range
Left: Major Calvin N Hobbes shoots his Stoeger SXS at Winter Range 2001, taking 4th in Cartridge Black Powder. (World Champion Black Powder Cartridge Duelist 2003 End of Trail).

Sundown Tex shoots his Winchester 97

Sundown Tex shoots his Winchester '97 at Winter Range.

Winchester '97--faster than a double on long stages, used by most of the top guns. Absolutely requires a gunsmith. The gun should be at least checked over by a good gunsmith. (Holy Terror says to have 3, one working, one in the shop, and one spare.  Sounds like Jaguar built a shotgun.)  They're all 40-100 years old. They have 100 parts. Parts break. A good gunsmith with experience in '97s is a requirement if you're going to use it extensively. After having mine break and hang up at various times I finally had gunsmith Coyote Cap do a full race job on it. Subsequently he has done my Bounty Hunter and Stoeger.

Interstate Arms '97 WCSE

Interstate Arm ’97 WCSE-18

'97s WILL BREAK

ANY '97 will break under SASS usage. There are over 100 parts in a '97. It will break ONLY during a match. Holy Terror, a whiz with '97s says:

"You need 3, one to shoot, and one for a spare, and a third one at a gunsmith being repaired."

Thus a lot of SASS top guns have gone to doubles for reliability. Then Wild Bunch came along and REQUIRES a '97.

The Chinese ‘97s
‘97s have been imported under more than one brand name.  Early Norincos were pretty terrible. They were improved mightily after Coyote Cap made several trips to China to get the production down right. The importer changed to Interstate Arms. The year of production was important. Serial numbers started with the year, 04 being the earliest of the guns that were "right." 05 and 06 prefix guns were gppd. For a while Cap was selling full race guns fully modified, the 97 WCSE-18

97 WCSE-18

  • Factory Tuned Action
  • 18.25" barrel, thicker than normal
  • #4 Front Sight Bead
  • Opened up Forcing Cone
  • "Win-Choke" System with Cyl, Mod, & Full Stainless Steel tubes
  • Sporting Clays Style Recoil Pad, CAS™ turned down at heel 4°
  • AMerican Walnut Stock

Cimarron 1897 Shotgun

Cimarron '97

I bought a Cimarron '97 (for Wild Bunch) at the 2009 SASS Convention that worked. It has a screw in choke-tube,* walnut stock, and matte blue finish. It has a thin black recoil pad that won't win any appearance contests. It's tight and feeds Remington STS, Winchester AAs, and S & B 2.5" shells. It could use an action job by a good SASS gunsmith, and it will get it in 2010. Now I have 2 '97s for Wild Bunch, which is a good idea.

*Tru-Choke system. Any choke wrench will work.

Current Chinese '97s

You might find guns with "IAC" lsted as manufacturer. They have recently started importing guns again. These seem to be okay.

TTN imported a lot of guns that should not have been sold, with parts that just did not fit. Many gunsmiths will not work on a TTN as a result.

Polytech '97s

The gestation and name changes have gotten confusing. TTN became Polytech. Cimarron imports Polytech '97s. I talked with Robert at Cimarron, and he said out of 700, 50 came back for repairs. This is not good. We can assume that several just went to gunsmiths for repair. The metal is good, and it's hard, so if the parts fit or can be made to fit, the gun will work and not wear out under SASS usage easily. Robert was happy to hear that mine is working. Odds are he only hears from the owners of ones who have guns that don't.

Stoeger Coachgun

Captain Baylor's first Stoeger Coach gun, 12 ga.

 

 

Doubles:
must not have ejectors. Can have hammers or be hammerless. Most hammerless guns are not designed for CAS. Shooting the shotgun is secondary. Targets, except for aerial targets which plague some events, are usually 10 yds away and stationery. You should be able to hit them with #9 Winchester Featherlights. But every stage starts with the shotgun empty and ends the same way. Pick up most shotguns, open the lever, and note that the barrels, unsupported, will tilt back up and try to close, making it difficult to load them.
Your double should be:
1. easy to open. Thumb pressure should do it. It shouldn't require breaking the shotgun over your knee.
2. The barrels should hang down enough for you to load two rounds with one hand, the other holding the butt of the gun, preferably at your shoulder.
3. The empties should fall out when you tilt the barrels or jerk the open shotgun rearward. If you have to pick the empties out, the chambers need to be polished with a flex-hone kit. Brownells sells them. Use their flex-hone oil, nothing else. Follow the instructions.
There are a lot of hammerless doubles, but the following are the most common seen at SASS matches:

Stoeger Coachgun

Stoeger Coachgun, Black Powder

Captain Baylor's Stoeger Coachgun belts out a warm black powder round at the 2005 Texas State Championship, Jailbreak ‘05.  This is what a black powder shotgun round should look like on a humid sday with no wind

"You get a Stoeger, have it smithed for SASS, and in 5 years you throw it away." Jim Bowie, Cowboys and Indans Store

This is generally the most common beginner shotgun in SASS. Out of the box it will stay open. It's not as easy to open as I'd like, but it will lighten with use. The Stoeger is very plain to the point of ugliness. The stock on one of mine, didn't have stain all the way to the end of the stock. The finish is dull and workmanlike. I like it. I didn't have to worry about it falling over and getting dinged (though that would get me a stage DQ.) Eventually I got 2, and one went to Coyote Cap for his full-race modifications. Big bead up front, VERY easy to open, rounds fall out if you keep the chambers clean, internal modifications so it won't eat itself up in a few years, 3" chambers, opened up forcing cones, light recoiling with my heavy BP loads.
Several friends shooting relatively stock Stoegers have broken the barrel lugs after extensive use.  They were unable to get them repaired or to get replacement barrels, thus necessitating the purchase of new guns. Eventually one of mine broke its front lug at Winter Range (bad timing). Another stopped working reliably just before the event. Currently I have one worn out Stoeger I can't use in a match or sell with a straight face. Want a parts gun?
As a minimum the following should be done to a Stoeger:
a. Flex hone the chambers to facilitate rounds falling out.
b. Polished the mating surfaces of the opening-closing/locking mechanism so it will pop open easily.
Stoeger has been bought out by Beretta.  Beretta will not work on, sell parts for, or warranty guns sold by Stoeger.  If you buy a new Stoeger and do any modifications, such as honing the cylinders, the entire warranty is void.  Some parts are becoming available from aftermarket sources.  Long Hunter sells stainless steel firing pins, for example. e-gunparts has some parts, including stocks and firing pins, the most requested parts. Stocks break at the weak point from all the slamming open and closed we do in competition, and the firing pins are soft, so they mushroom.

Companero firing his Bounty Hunter Hammer Shotgun

Companero fires up his Bounty Hunter Hammer Double

Bounty Hunter/Baikal/Spartan
When I bought mine it was imported by EAA and called the Bounty Hunter.  It was made in Russia by Baikal.  They imported several versions, single and double triggers, screw in chokes, even faux hammers and real hammers.  Remington imported them under the Spartan label. I was told EAA was going to do them again, but they're not in their website at press time (December 2009)

Gunsmith's tell me they're still exceedingly rough. Several gunsmiths won't work on them. Others like them.

SKB 100 firing BP

This is an SKB 100 smithed by Johnny Meadows. Yes, it cost more than my first car. But since I bought that, the market for SKBs went up, and I paid more for a SKB 200 that Shotgunner had smithed. SASS needs a good $500-700 hammerless double that has good parts availability, importer backing, and durability.

High Grade Shotguns

Because of the non-availability of low to medium priced shotguns that were up to the rigors of constant practice and competition, a lot of serious competitors have gone to fairly expensive guns, Ithaca SKBs and Browning BSS. Both are out of production. Both use single triggers. The SKB is recoil activated to switch barrels. The Browningis mechanical. Both need to be tuned for SASS Competition by a gunsmith who specializes in them, not your average parts changer. Parts are a problem with the Browning, but not the SKB.

Near Future:

At the 2009 SASS Convention Cimarron was showing pre-production copies of a new Turkish hammerless SXS with mechanically operated single trigger. They looked and felt good, needing the normal action job to smooth and lighten operation. Mike Harvey told me they should be $650 or so. He detailed problems working with the Turks. We don't yet know if it will have good parts availability and durability. It does have a good importer, Cimarron.

Abilene holdng a new Cimarron hammerless double with single trigger

External Hammer SXS Shotguns: A lot of shooters like the external hammer guns for their authenticity. To my knowledge no top competitor shoots one in a category other than Classic Cowboy/Cowgirl because they do take longer than a hammerless double. Rossi Coach gun was quite popular, causing the prices to rise. They're rare now. The EAA Bounty Hunter was a low priced gun with external cocking levers which look like hammers. The ones I've seen seem serviceable. EAA also built one with real external hammers that worked pretty much like their hammerless models. There are now hammerless guns being built for SASS.

CLASSIC COWBOY AND CLASSIC COWGIRL REQUIRE external hammer or external cocking lever doubles or lever action shotguns. Several hammer doubles have come, and most have gone. They have their proponents, but if you can't get one from your average gunstore, and the importer is no longer in business, I'm not sticking my neck out and recommending them.

The Model 1887wse-18
One of the best SASS oriented hammer doubles was Coyote Cap's 1887wse-18, He only made 200 of them. If you're looking for a hammer double and find one for sale, buy it.

Interstate Arms 1887WSE-18

Interstate Arms 1887wse-18


From Coyote Cap’s website:
“I completely re-designed the model 99 double barreled shotgun, specially to my  specifications as a full blown competition shotgun for use in Classic Cowboy category in SASS events.   Every one of these new shotguns have my re-designed and MUCH taller hammers, lower opening levers, (that clear the right hammer), much shorter (real coachgun) barrels, American designed Sporting clays recoil pads, (turned down 4-degrees neg. for CAS) Really nice American walnut stocks, (from Missouri), a very large (brass) #4 front sight bead and chambers which are deliberately (and very slightly) larger than 12 gauge, (more like an 11-7/8 ga.,) to make sure even the black powder spent hulls come flying or falling out, every time.
Additionally, and of good news to the Cowboy Action community, is that the troublesome cross-frame safety on model 99's has been eliminated on these new 1887wse-18 coachguns ! 
These new "Coachguns" have a re-designed manual tang safety, plus my new MUCH taller hammers, coupled with a newly designed factory tuned rebound spring set-up, that operates as an automatic safety device on each barrel. The only way these guns can fire is if the triggers are deliberately pulled, because my new automatic safety will stop the hammer at halfcock.

Cimarron hammer double variations

Cimarron 1878 Coach Guns

TTN/Polytech 1878 Coach Gun has been imported by EMF and Cimarron. Currently I believe only Cimarron imports it. Early ones were quite good, and the Classic Cowboy/Cowgirl world went to them. T-Bone Dooley won six Classic Cowboy championships using them. He says his is only lightly modified. It is slicked up, but you can't lighten the hammers and still get reliable ignition. Watch the Cowboys TV episode (2009 season) on shotguns and see how fast he can work the gun.

Some TTNs have had poor quality control. Cimarron has been working with the factory to get the problems solved. Examine any used ones very closely before buying.

Pioneer Arms

Note the quality of the checkering and wood finish

Captain Baylor shooting the Pioneer hammer double

3 hammer doubles in a test

3 SASS oriented hammer guns, top IAC 1887wse-18, middle TTN 1878 Coach gun, bottom, Pioneer Arms Pioneer

The hammers are easily cocked together if you use T-Bone Dooley's method

There is at least one extremely high quality hammer double, the Pioneer from Pioneer Arms Corporation. You can read my full review on their website.

This is an expensive (over $1000), well-built, beautifully finished shotgun featuring a full Greener action. ("Get me my Greener," John Wayne in Big Jake).

A crossbar holds the action together. Move the opening llever, and the bolt retracts.

allowing the heavy barrels to drop open

Screw In Choke Tubes: The trend in Cowboy Action Shooting ™ is toward knock-down shotgun targets. At Winter Range 2003 the knock-downs spelled disaster for many of us with open-choked guns. If you're starting out, get a gun with factory-installed choke tubes if you can. Adding them to a '97 is no big deal. Briley can do a fantastic job. Adding them to a double isn't as successful. Coyote Cap talked me out of of adding them to my Stoeger. Long term durability is apparently a problem. I've managed to live without screw-in choke tubes. If you don't need them, that's wonderful. It's better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. You don't need exceptionally hot loads, but you do need for the gun to shoot to point of aim with both barrels. Patterning your shotgun is a necessity.
  Choke tubes haven’t become a necessity as I feared.
Automatic Safeties
All of the new hammerless doubles and some hammer doubles have automatic safeties which flip to the on position every time the shotgun is opened. This means you'll have to practice putting the safety on every time or have it deactivated. The Bounty Hunter can be deactivated and reactivated at will. The Stevens and Stoeger require cutting a part and thus aren't restorable to politically correct status. I do not advocate deactivating any safety of any firearm. If your shotgun is also used for another purpose, such as home defense or hunting, it is doubly important that the safety not be deactivated. It is not illegal to deactivate it for Cowboy Action Shooting.

IAC Model 87

Interstate Arms Model 87WCSE

Coyote Cap mpdified IAC '87s into Model 87WCSEs These have all the modifications necessary for competition, a factory tuned action, the special thicker barrel cut to 18.25”, Winchokes, a Sporting Clays recoil pad installed at a 4 degree down angle for CAS usage, a leather wrap on the lever, a big #4 bead, a special “two shot” feeding system allowing you to load two rounds at once, and American walnut stock.

Winchester 1887 and clones:

This lever action shotgun has its following. Models modified by Coyote Cap and Lassiter make the gun work for SASS usage. It takes some precise machine work and knowledge about the gun. If I were interested in shooting one of these in competition, I would talk to both of these gentlemen first.

Gauge:
If you're buying, get 12 gauge. You can get Winchester Featherlights and get less felt recoil than with a 20 gauge, and if you encounter hard-to-knock down targets, you can use hotter loads. Dad's old 16 gauge is legal, but it's a pain in the neck getting cheap ammo. Ditto 10 gauge.
What if:
You’re reading this and thinking, “but I’ve got dad’s old double, it meets the regulations but has 30” barrels.  Do I need to spend all of this money on one of these new guns?
No.  Take it to a SASS match and shoot it.  Ditto if you have SASS legal revolvers or a rifle.  I don’t want anyone to think, “Gee, I’ve got to spend $2,000-4,000 in new guns and gunsmithing to get started in this sport.  No.  You don’t.  Run  what you brung and see how you like the sport.  I know people who have bought 30-40 SASS guns and others who have bought 2 and pulled 2 from the gun safe, and they’ve never bought any new guns.  This is a big sport.  People shoot for all kinds of reasons, and because they have fun doing it is the best one.
Please go to Next Page Back