The Old West Is Here and Now
Cowboy Action Shooting provides old-time fun for competitors and spectators
By Tony Mandile
The mention of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Jesse James or any of the other colorful folks from their time usually evokes memories of the Old West. Although the real-life characters who lived during that wild and wooly era have long since passed, the personas still exist. Now, however, disagreements are no longer settled by duels in the streets. Instead, the gunfire takes places within the realm of friendly competition and fun of Cowboy Action ShootingTM, conducted under the watchful eye of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS).
The SASS, the worldwide governing organization of Cowboy Action Shooting, now boasts more than 75,000 members in hundreds of affiliated clubs from all 50 U.S. states and 18 foreign countries. The SASS endorses local and regional matches and promulgates rules and procedures to ensure safety and consistency in Cowboy Action Shooting matches.
Most importantly, SASS members share the common interest of preserving the history of the Old West by using 19th century aliases, costumes and firearms. As a result of these efforts, Cowboy Action Shooting is the fastest-growing outdoor shooting sport in the country.
History of SASS
In the beginning, very loose rules governed the cowboy matches, but as time passed a more defined set of rules took shape and soon evolved the new shooting sport into what it is today.
In April 1982, the first End of Trail world championship gathering took place with 65 registered shooters. Then in 1987, the governing board known as the Wild Bunch was put together, and the SASS became a reality.
In the beginning, the Wild Bunch formulated the rules, created the membership benefits and developed The Cowboy Chronicle, the monthly Journal of the Single Action Shooting Society. Today, a consensus of international Territorial Governors determines any new rule changes in the game.
In 2004, the SASS purchased a rustic 480-acre ranch in the rolling hills 20 miles east of Albuquerque, N.M. Founders Ranch, named in honor of those who founded SASS, has become the premier Cowboy Action Shooting location in the world. The facility includes a state-of-the-art, 20-bay shooting range; camping pads for up to 600 recreational vehicles; parking for up to 4,000 cars and as a weather-proof road network. The center piece of the shooting facility is the functional Western Town replica used by SASS, its sponsors and vendors. There's also a complete equestrian center, including a 150x300-foot arena. If that's not enough, a small herd of bison and several longhorn cattle roam the property.
SASS is now headquartered in Yorba Linda, Calif. A staff of 14 employees conduct the day-to-day operations.
Spirit of the Old West
The shooting competition is staged in a unique, characterized, "Old West" style. It is a timed sport in which shooters compete for prestige on a course of different shooting stages. Each scenario, as they are called, features an array of situations, many based on famous incidents or movies scenes, in which the shooters must test their mettle against steel targets.
The Mounted Shooting matches are somewhat the same, but the competition takes place from the back of a 1,200-pound horse as a cowboy or cowgirl gallops through a course of fire with six-guns a blazing. In other words, the sport combines the elements of an old-time Wild West Show with aspects unique to barrel racing, pole bending, reining and other equestrian skills. Competitors typically use two .45 caliber single-action revolvers, loaded with five rounds each of black-powder blanks to shoot 10 balloon targets set in a special random pattern or Old West-type scenario called a 'stage'.
A competitor crosses the timing beam at a full gallop and engages the first pattern of five targets. After a shooter fires the fifth shot, the shooter returns the empty revolver to a holster and proceeds to the next set of five targets. Each shooter is timed through the stage and can receive penalties that are added to the basic time. For example, a knocked over barrel, dropped gun or missed target will result in a five-second penalty.
A unique aspect of the SASS is the requirement for each member to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood Western star or a fictional character. Each member then develops a costume accordingly. No alias may duplicate or easily be confused with any other member's alias. To keep things straight, the SASS maintains an Alias Registry.
An individual membership is $55 for one year or $130 for three years. A basic life membership costs $750. There are also reduced rates for spouses and juniors.
SASS members receive a wagonload of benefits, including: SASS membership card; shooter's alias registration; permanent member/shooter number; SASS Marshall lapel pin; SASS badge; SASS decal; and a distinctive membership certificate. A copy of The Cowboy Chronicle is also available in either print or electronic form, depending on the membership level.
The SASS regional events include the Western, Northwest, Southwest, High Plains, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.
The End of Trail at Founders Ranch is the nation's oldest and largest Cowboy Action Shooting competition and Wild West festival. Each year, more than 1,000 authentically dressed competitors from around the world vie for the World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting. The End of Trail will take place June 17-24 in 2012. Admission is $8 per person per day. SASS members pay $4 with current membership card, and youngsters 12 and under are free.
Winter Range is the Single Action Shooting Society's National Championship Of Cowboy Action Shooting, Encampment And Frontier Exhibition. Held annually at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility north of Phoenix, Ariz., Winter Range regularly has more than 600 competitors vying for the SASS National Championship. In 2012, the competition will take place February 20 - 26.
The Buffalo Stampede is the SASS Four Corners Regional Championship and also takes place at Founders Ranch. It is scheduled for April 18-22, 2012.
SASS matches are fun for both participants and spectators, and many active Cowboy Action shooters began their involvement by simply taking in, and not shooting in, a match. Why not visit an upcoming event in your region?