Outdoor Journal: Cowboy action shooting growing in popularity

Cowboy action shooting has grown in popularity over the last several years and now enjoys an interna

Categories: Sports

Last month in Wyoming, I got to watch a reenactment of a cowboy gunfight.

This weekend, I’m going to watch and enjoy another one, but this time I can walk to it because it will be taking place near my home at the Kayaderosseras Fish & Game Club grounds, when the Circle K Regulators host their eighth annual Single Action Shooting Soc­iety

Heluva Rukus New York State Championship.

Cowboy action shooting has grown in popularity over the last several years and now enjoys an international membership in excess of 80,000, with registered clubs in 50 states and six countries. Currently, there are 17 SASS affiliated clubs in New York state.

Cowboy action shooting was

created in California in 1981 by Harper Creigh, aka Judge Roy Bean, who has SASS membership No. 1, but it wasn’t until 1987 that SASS was formed and affiliated clubs were developed and registered with the new organization. And it has been growing ever since.

When I first attended a shoot several years ago, I immediately noticed that the “cowboy way” has caught the attention of not only the men, but also women and children, as well. And since that time, the lure of cowboy action shooting has added a considerable number of women to the firearms shooting ranks.

One other obvious difference I noticed watching these events was that those who participate have a different attitude toward winning and losing than most of the other shooting competitions. Their code is more focused on the spirit of the game where participants, not competitors, try to dress the part, use the appropriate competition tools and in general respect the trad­itions of the Old West. Winning or losing does not seem to matter as much as sportsmanship.

The guns that can be used in cowboy action shooting are strictly regulated. The requirements to shoot the open events are: at least one single-action revolver, lever-action rifle and a side-by-side (a pre-1899 pump or lever-action shotgun). A contestant must have one of each.

Both original and reproduction guns are acceptable. These are the minimums. Should you choose to compete in the optional side events, derringers, pocket pistols and long-range rifles are needed. And those who complete in the New York State Heluva Rukus Championship actually need two single-action pistols. All guns must have non-adjustable, traditional sights — no scopes.

As one who never saw a gun that he didn’t like and a long-time Blackhawk single-action .44 magnum handgun owner, I found both the handguns and the rifles were very appealing, especially when hung from the hip resting in a real cowboy holster. Some of the man­ufacturers that cater to cowboy action shooting participants include Uberti, U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co., Colt, Cimarron Firearms and Ruger. And due to the popularity of cowboy action shooting, most of the gun shops in our area carry a variety of handguns, rifles and shotguns that meet the required standards.

Center-fire rifle calibers must be at least .32 and not larger than .45 caliber. Examples of these are .32.20, .32 magnum, .357 magnum, .38 Special, .38-40, .44-40, .44 Spec­ial, .44 magnum and Colt 45. The only allowed exceptions are the .25-20 and .56-50 caliber guns.

SASS also allows competitors with black powder guns and to insure authenticity of smoke obscured targets those revolvers, shotguns and rifles must produce smoke.

Revolvers must be center-fire and at least .32 but no larger than 45 caliber or percussion calibers of .36-.45. Examples include, .32-30, .32 magnum, .38-40, .44 Special, .44 Russian, .44 magnum, .44-40, .45 Schofield, .45 Colt. or .36 caliber.

The minimum standard for center-fire smokeless ammunition used in all SASS matches is lead bullets for pistols and rifles. No jacketed ammunition is permitted.

As was mentioned earlier, the proper attire is required in all competitions and dress must center around the lifestyles and philos­ophies of the American West during the 1800s. And it must be from head to toe.

According to the SASS Shooters Handbook, cowboy action shooting is a combination of historical reenactment and Saturday morning at the matinee. Contestants can choose the style of costume they wear, but all clothing must be typ­ical of the 19th century, a B Western movie or Western television series. If I were to join SASS, I’d fashion my wardrobe in an all black outfit including the hat after my favorite 50s western TV western hero Pal­adin, in the CBS series “Have Gun, Will Travel.” I think I still have one of his cards.


A stage is a particular shooting scenario designed for competition, often based on Western movies, news articles or historical events. Each scenario usually lasts several minutes, depending on the abilities of the shooters. Each shooter is timed and awards are made based on the lowest times. Here’s the good part: All awards are trophies/plaques in the championship — no money. And the winners of the monthly shoots receive “bragging rights,” but only for one month. But the biggest reward is the fun.

Because shooting is with live ammo, there are strict safety rules that must be followed. At each stage a shooting area is provided for a number of shooting positions as well as a loading and unloading table. Loading tables are all facing berms and all shooting positions are facing down range. All shooters are required to wear ear and eye protection.

The Circle K Regulators has three stages with permanent structures. One is a whole western town with six building fronts (bank, saloon, barber shop, sheriff’s office, boarding house, general store) plus an alley, boardwalk, kick-down door and even a three-sided cabin. Other props include a stagecoach, couple of wagons, 1897 buggy, train and even a boot hill cemetery scene. In addition to knock-down plate targets, there’s a gravity-fed moving target.

Before any shooting begins, all participants are required to attend a safety briefing where they receive a very detailed explanation of the events and safety precautions established during the meeting. And to make it easier for the nervous first time shooters, they’re paired with experienced shooter/mentors. And after the meeting the shooters are divided into posses.

To give you an idea of what these scenarios are like, let’s take a look at the Stage 7, one in last year’s “Take ’Em Down.” The marshal is out of town and you’re in charge, and while you’re out leisurely putting up wanted posters, the T-Bone Gang comes to town to break one of their gang out of jail. They fan out around town and open fire on the marshal’s office. Time for you to take ’em down, one-by-one. In this one, the clock starts when the shooter yells, “There will be no jailbreak on my watch!”

This stage required 10 rounds of pistol, 10 rounds of rifle and four rounds of shotgun ammo. For this stage, the shooter moves to four different shooting positions. Just like in the movies.


This championship, better known as Heluva Rukus, begins Friday,

10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and continues Saturday and Sunday at the club

located at 706 Geyser Rd., Ballston Spa. Once again this year, they have 225 SASS shooters from 18 states entered. The public is welcome and admission is free, just remember to leave your guns at home. Let the SASS shooters take care of the bad guys.

As a spectator, you’ll be required to stay behind the ropes at all times and maintain control of your children. Ear and eye protection is highly recommended. Throughout the weekend, there’ll be 18 vendors exhibiting western clothing, accessories, leather goods, and everything that pertains to cowboy action shooting. Food and beverages will be available.


If you are looking for a new shooting game where hitting the target is important, but not as much as having fun and looking good

doing it, stop by the Heluva Rukus this weekend and watch what’s going on, then if you’re interested, contact the Circle K Regulators about joining their posse. They’ve already had six monthly shoots and have two remaining — Oct. 19 and Nov. 9.

These open shoots usually attract about 60-70 shooters, and you do not have to be an SASS or Circle K Regulator member to shoot. But you still need to wear the proper duds. You also must have the proper guns, holster, ammo and a valid pistol permit/license.

For more information about cowboy action shooting, go to circlekregulators.com and sassnet.com. Be sure to click on the photos section of the Regulators site and see how much fun they are having and start thinking about what your alias will be. I think I might try “Fast Eddy Paladin.”

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