Let’s be honest. At one time or another while watching your 1,005th episode of Gunsmoke, the thought ran through your mind that it would be cool to be the mysterious stranger, Wyatt Earp, or Marshall Dillon, now didn’t you? Pistols blazing. Round after round cycling through that old reliable lever action. A shotgun blast—BLAM!—in a back alley that takes down another bad guy.
Exciting, eh? Well, you didn’t have to live in the mid-1800s in order to experience the thrill of the quick draw, the smell of burnt powder and the dust of the Old West, thanks to the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), cowboy-action shooting (CAS), and the CAS lifestyle. But who can be involved? What guns are needed? Can the wife and family come along? Great questions, and we’re going to show you just how you and your family can get started in one of the fastest-growing shooting sports in the U.S.
If all this shooting and dressing the part has got you interested in cowboy-action shooting, the first thing you do is to check out the SASS website at www.sassnet.com. Prospective new members can complete and submit their application on-line, or you can simply do it old-fashioned way by calling 877-411-SASS.
When you send your membership information into SASS directors, you are going to be asked to supply an alias. This will be your SASS name, the handle by which you will forever be known. Your alias can be fictional western character like Desert Slim or Tequila Rose. Or it can relate to an old-time profession such as Barkeep Billy or Dance Hall Doris. Regardless of its origin, your alias is unique to you.
Once you have decided on an alias, submitted your paperwork, you will received all of your information from SASS headquarters. Congratulations, pardner, you’re a full-fledged member! But wait, isn’t there the little issue of firearms?
“You’re going to need a handgun, a pistol-caliber rifle and a shotgun with an exposed hammer,” said John Semms, aka Johnny Colt. A two-time Northwest Regional and one-time Oregon state SASS Champion with over 150 match wins under his gunbelt, Colt has owned Shooter’s Service Center in Portland for more than 20 years. “You can share equipment. We have several couples who share equipment. So if you had those firearms, we’d place you in the posse—the group of shooters—so that you could comfortably and easily share those firearms.”
The SASS Handbook discusses the following firearms.
Handguns: Single-action revolvers of .32 caliber or larger. Pistol ammunition must have a muzzle velocity less than 1,000 feet per second (fps).
Rifles: Lever or slide (pump) action rifles or carbines manufactured between 1860 and 1899 or a period reproduction thereof with a tubular magazine and exposed hammer. Rifle must be a centerfire firearm of a pistol caliber, .25-20 or larger. Muzzle velocity for rifle ammunition is limited to 1,400 fps.
Shotguns: Side-by-side or single-shots, with or without exposed hammers, are permitted, as are tube-fed pump or lever-action (exposed hammers only) shotguns in 20 to 10 gauge. Shotguns must be typical of the period from approximately 1860 through 1899.“You can shop at gun shows,” said Colt, “and you can look for used firearms. If you budget and shop wisely, it’s not too expensive. There is a cost there, of course. You can also come out to the matches. There’s always someone upgrading, and there’s always used equipment coming on the market.”
Dressing the Part
For many SASS members, the attraction is as much in the period dress as it is in the shooting events. At matches from East to West, you’ll see it all in terms of clothing—dusters, sombreros, vests, chaps, suspenders, spurs, lassos, bullwhips, corsets, petticoats, and bloomers. But like firearms, this new-old finery might at first seem intimidating to the newcomer.
“Chances are,” said Colt, “you can go through your closet and find something to get started with, clothing-wise. A round brimmed hat. A denim shirt. A pair of Levis. A lace-up boot. When you start attending the larger matches, that’s when you start acquiring your outfit. There are always people selling clothes. You can pick up a shirt for $5 or $10.”
Fun for the Family
Two points of order dominate SASS’ philosophy, safety, and a strong desire to promote the organization as a family-oriented group.“Our main emphasis is safety,” said Colt. “That’s the main reason why I started this safety orientation part in our gun club. I wanted to make sure that the people understand the rules and regulations of cowboy-action shooting, and that they were going to be safe with their firearms.”
“We’ve had people come out to our club,” he continued, “who have never fired their gun before. They’ve just taken it out of the box for the very first time. We really have to help these people along. We want to get them started the safe way. And the right way.”
As for family involvement, Colt puts it very simply. “The family atmosphere is really pushed at SASS events,” said Colt. “We try to promote that all the events include the family; there’s no exclusion. We encourage families to bring the kids out. We provide safety equipment so that the kids may participate. Now, the kids have to be over 12 to shoot and they have to be a SASS member, but we want them to come out. We encourage them to bring their friends. A lot of people bring their relatives because it’s like a big celebration. There are food vendors, clothing ventures. There’s something for everyone, and I think these events help to pull the family together.”