Getting Started in Cowboy Action Shooting

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

Welcome to my first post on the Gray Drifter Saloon. I thought a brief overview of how to get started may be helpful. The caveat being that many of my suggestions may not be possible until we all weather this COVID-19 pandemic. For background, our family found Cowboy Action Shooting completely by accident. My son, aka Wildcard Ace (what kind of name is that? Keep reading!) asked me to teach him to shoot. I decided to look for a .22 caliber since it would be good to learn on. The trail led me to the Heritage Roughrider, because it was inexpensive and looked fun to shoot. I then soon found Cowboy Action Shooting while researching Single Actions.

Cowboy Action Shooting finds its origins in the 1980s when Harper Creigh aka Judge Roy Bean, had a light bulb moment after watching western movies. Those ideas would eventually form the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Cowboy Action Shooting became not only a sport that tests the shooters accuracy, but also a forum that brings back the days of the Old West in a veritable celebration of the cowboy lifestyle.


Every SASS member is required to select a shooting alias representative of a character or profession from the Old West or the western film genre. This can be a very fun exercise when you first start out. For instance my SASS name, Graydrifter combines the colors gray (morally ambiguous) with drifter. My persona is a former cavalryman who just drifts from town to town after the war. Sometimes working as a cattle hand...or gun for hire.


The best thing you can do is find your local clubs. Many of the questions you may have will be answered there. It may seem daunting at first, walking into a live match and not knowing anyone. However, I can assure you we all have been there. I remember reading how folks would be welcoming and it is very true. You can find a list of clubs for every state on the SASS website.


Cowboy Action Shooting is a family sport! Bring the kids out. They can earn money picking up brass each match. This will help them save up for their own equipment. They also learn their way around the range and about gun safety! Those 13 and under can also shoot in the Buckaroo/Buckarette category.


This is going to be where many people agonize over the myriad of choices. In Cowboy Action Shooting you will need two single action revolvers, a lever action rifle, and side by side double barreled, pre-1899 pump, or lever action shotgun. One of the best things you can do for yourself again is to visit a live match. Most of the cowpokes there will be happy to answer questions, show you their irons and maybe even let you test them. If not you run the risk of buying twice, since you may not like something or just become more educated in the sport. This is a topic I plan to delve into much further in the future.

Eye and Ear Protection

This goes without saying when you’re around any shooting area. The most important thing is safety, so make sure before visiting a match you have eye and ear protection. If you don’t make sure to let the match director know before you arrive.

Clothing & Accouterments

Cowboy Action Shooting is a combination of historical reenactment and Saturday morning at the matinee. Participants may choose the style of costume they wish to wear, but all clothing must be typical of the late 19th century, a B-Western movie, or Western television series. This is one of those areas where you can develop it as you go along. All you really need to get started is a pair of jeans, a button up shirt, laced work boots and a cowboy hat. Don’t let the lack of period clothing stop you from coming out to a match!

Gun Leather

This is yet another area where rushing out and buying something is often a mistake. Cowboy Action shooters need a two holster gun belt. You will also need either a shotgun cartridge belt, slide or bandolier. The sheer variety can be overwhelming for a new shooter. Doing your homework and visiting matches to see many gun leather examples will pay off in the end.

Gun Carts

You will absolutely need a gun cart to play this sport. A typical match has multiple stages and you will need to lug all your gear and irons around. They are made in all shapes, styles and configurations. Much like guns, seeing them first is a great idea. Some cowpokes make their own, others purchase pre-made versions. Some folks have very elaborate designed ones that are literally a work of art on wheels. This is yet another area you can really customize the more involved you become in the sport.

Spirit of the Game

You will hear this mentioned often. What is it? It is a code by which we live. It means you help reset targets, pick up brass, run a loading or unloading table, teach and welcome new shooters, use appropriate competition tools (don't game the game) and respect everyone. In short, just good old sportsmanship.

Single Action Shooting Society

This is the organizational and governing body of our sport. Your next step in this journey of Cowboy Action Shooting is to visit the SASS website and join the posse!

Below is a great video to watch from Champion Cowboy Action Shooter Jim "Long Hunter" Finch. Long Hunter talks about many of the subjects we just reviewed.

In closing, I just wanted to welcome you to Cowboy Action Shooting. You are about to make some friendships and share in camaraderie that is amazing. I hope to see some of you on the trail and we will give those steel banditos hell together!

"My heroes have always been cowboys. And they still are, it seems….”

— Willie Nelson

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