Unique shooting events and matches stem from criteria that can be limiting to equipment, distances, and like the Buffalo Matches held at the Sheboygan Rifle and Pistol Club can be limited to an era.
The sport of Cowboy Action Shooting developed from a desire to level the playing field in competitive shooting while at the same time adding some flavor to events by paying tribute to a different time and era.
Like with most sports, equipment can play a large factor in success. Equally skilled shooters using unequal levels of equipment ($500 gun versus a $3,000 gun) favored the higher end using participant and began to turn away some shooters.
But what if shooters were limited in the firearms they use to an era? Of a certain level of technology? This thinking resulted in the creation of Cowboy Action Shooting.
Though firearms can be new manufactured as well authentic, Cowboy Action Shooting requires competitors to use firearms of the mid to late 19th century. These would include single action (hammer must be manually cocked before each shot) revolvers, lever action rifles chambered in pistol calibers, and side by side double barreled shotguns (also known as “coach guns” for the stage coaches they protected). Pump action shotguns of the era (such as the Winchester 1897) with external hammer are also allowed, and if a double barrel it can be with or without external hammers but cannot have automatic ejectors).
Though not required, participants are encouraged to dress appropriately for the era. Further yet most shoot under alias, and the Sheboygan Rifle and Pistol Club has shooters going by names like “Two-Bit Charlie”, “Harry S. Grogan”, “Scipio Sam”, “The Analog Kid”, “Rusty Mike” and “Snake Bayou”.
Singular or multiple stages can be shot, each typically requiring 10 shots from revolvers (six shooter loaded with 5 cartridges, resting on an empty chamber for safety), 10 rounds from the lever action (chamber empty to start, action must be worked to get first round in) and between 2-8 shotgun rounds. Targets are steel and only “hits” and “misses” are recorded.
To keep with the adventure of this style of shooting, stages often have a theme. Bank robberies, stage coach attacks and any other theme from the wild west are eligible. Scenarios are presented to the shooters, and often to begin each round the shooter will signal they are ready by saying an opening line (i.e. “I’m looking for the men who robbed the stage coach”).
In mind with safety, loaded firearms are not allowed unless you are the shooter. A separate loading area is put on the side so that muzzles can be kept in a safe direction. Each shooter loads under the watchful eye of another shooter to make sure it is being done safely. When ready the shooter meets an RSO (Range Safety Officer) who will stay with them through the course. With firearms stationed where they need to be (sidearms in holsters), the shooter gives their opening line.
The RSO activates a timer that responds to gunshots, accurately measuring the time though when any last shot is measured. As the timer’s alarm goes off, shooters engage targets as the scenario dictates. For example, shooters may be required to shoot a series of 5 targets with a revolver, then 4 targets with shotgun, then 10 with their rifle before finishing the final 5 targets with their other revolver.
When done, the RSO escorts the shooter to an unloading area that offers the same safety to handle the firearms in making sure they are empty and clear of any cartridges. At this point the stage is scored.
Scoring in Cowboy Action is based on time and actual hits. Usually it begins with the shooters actual time, added to that is 5 seconds for each miss. An additional 10 seconds is added to the score for any “procedural” penalties.
These include shooting targets out of order given and any action outside of the prescribed instructions in that scenario.
With a focus on safety and fun, Cowboy Action is for anyone. Popular with shooters who do not want to struggle with keeping up on technology and just want to use simple manual firearms to see how they engage steel targets, and those just looking to have some fun are encouraged to try it out.