IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT LIKE TO GET STARTED IN COWBOY ACTION SHOOTING, HERE IS A SIMPLIFIED SUMMARY OF THE SPORT, WITH A BRIEF OUTLINE OF SUITABLE FIREARMS & EQUIPMENT.
Cowboy action main matches consist of a number of stages ("scenarios") based upon some historical or fictional situation in which the shooter (competing under a suitable "alias") plays the key role .... moving through the scenario as required by the stage directions, all the while performing actions and engaging targets (usually steel plates or gongs) with various combinations of single action revolvers, pistol-caliber rifle, and "period" shotgun.
Scoring consists of the shooter's raw time to complete the scenario ... adjusted by penalties (levied for misses or procedural error) and bonuses.
Each shooter competes in one of several possible categories, based on types of firearms being used together with certain other factors. (gender, age, etc.)
(Note: for fairness, each shooter competes only against others in the same category.)
Cowboy action shoots may also include various "side matches" ...
such as long-range shooting, man-on-man competitions, and "pocket pistol" events ... as time and facilities permit.
THROUGH IT ALL
... AND WHEN THE SHOOTING IS DONE ...
WE ENJOY MANY GREAT TIMES IN THE COMPANY OF LIKE-MINDED FOLK.
MAIN MATCH FIREARMS
The handguns used in cowboy action shooting must be single-action revolvers. Original 'old west' pistols are seldom seen, due to their value as collectors items, but many modern reproductions of 'period' handguns are available on the market at reasonable cost, made by such manufacturers as uberti and pietta. ruger's vaquero model is very popular, and even the blackhawk is a good choice, though its adjustable sights will affect your shooter category.
Note: although most cowboy action clubs effectively require the shooter to have two revolvers to compete, the rocky mountain rangers have adopted a "working cowboy" category (based on the similar category used by the u.s. "national congress of old west shootists). shooters in this category require only one revolver.
Another important requirement is appropriate holsters capable of safely retaining the revolvers through the full range of activity encountered in this sport.
You will also require a lever-action or pump-action rifle with exposed hammer, chambered for a pistol-caliber cartridge (such .44-40, .45 colt, .38spl/.357mag or .44/.44mag). again, while it is possible to use an original rifle or carbine, most shooters opt for the more affordable option of one of the numerous reproductions of "period" rifles being made today, or a suitable rifle from the current production of "big name" manufacturers such as marlin and (until recently, anyway) winchester.
Finally, to round out your battery of shootin' irons, you'll need a suitable shotgun of no less than 20 gauge. this can be a double-barrel, either hammerless or with external hammers, but it cannot have operational ejectors - in other words, although it can push the empty hulls partly out of the chamber (as all doubles do) it can't throw the hulls clear. Your other alternative for a scattergun could be a "period" lever-action or pump-action shotgun - as long as it has an external hammer. This includes such guns as the winchester models of 1887, 1893 or 1897 - all of which are currently reproduced, also. (You will see more original shotguns in use than rifles or pistols, due to the numbers available and their greater affordability.)
Contrary to what many people think, this is not a "black powder only" shooting sport. The great majority of cowboy action shooters throughout the world use smokeless loads - in fact, as a result of a serious fire experienced at another range with flax-bale berms like ours, we briefly felt it necessary to ban black powder loads at our shoots, though they are again permitted at our range.
Main match ammunition for revolvers and rifle must be loaded with lead alloy bullets only - no jacketed bullets or gas checks are allowed. it also must be loaded to reasonable levels - maximum velocity of 1000fps.
Similarly, shotgun shells should contain only lead (or equivalent) shot, and should be relatively mild - trap loads are quite adequate. No steel shot!
THESE RESTRICTIONS ARE FOR THE SAFETY OF PARTICIPANTS - TARGETS ARE MOSTLY STEEL, SHOT AT FAIRLY CLOSE RANGE.
CLOTHING AND GEAR
In order to help promote the "spirit" of this very enjoyable shooting sport, participants are required to "dress the part" - wearing a minimum of suitable headgear, long-sleeve shirt, pants and footwear. You can keep it just that simple or you can add to the fun by going quite a bit further ... as many participants do.
You don't have to dress as a cowboy, by the way ... after all, most people in the "old west" (whether the historical or the hollywood version) weren't cowboys. so use your imagination ... storekeeper, blacksmith, military man ... or perhaps a saloon girl or schoolmarm for the ladies.
(One advantage of such an alternative non-cowboy impression is that you don't have to spend the day in cowboy boots! Appropriate lace-up leather boots or shoes are perfectly acceptable, and can be a lot more comfortable ...)
NOT ACCEPTABLE ARE SUCH THINGS AS BALL CAPS, T-SHIRTS, RUNNING SHOES, SHORTS, SANDALS .... HOPEFULLY YOU GET THE POINT!
At a minimum, you will also need a suitable "western style" gunbelt and holsters - carrying your revolvers thrust into a belt or a pocket just isn't safe ... even though it may have been a fairly common practice in the "old days"....
The items covered above are the basic requirements. however, just as in many sports, there is lots of other stuff you can consider acquiring once you get "hooked"
.... the following barely scratches the surface!
SIDE MATCH GUNS
LONG RANGE RIFLE(S):
The most common side matches involve long range shooting. sometimes this just involves testing your skill with your main-match rifle and pistols, at greater than normal distances. but usually there are also long-range side matches for "big-bore" rifles - both lever-action and single-shot - chambered for non-pistol-caliber cartridges such as .30-30, .38-55, .45-70, and so on. (gas-checked bullets are allowed for these matches, by the way.)
POCKET PISTOL OR DERRINGER:
Subject to interest, side matches are also occasionally held for small-frame, short-barreled "pocket pistols" (maximum caliber .38) and derringers. under current canadian law, such handguns are "prohibited" (section 12.6) but many shooters are "grandfathered" and own such pistols - hopefully we can keep them alive by shooting them at least once in a while!
Moving all of your guns, ammo and other gear from one stage to another throughout the day can be a bit challenging, so many cowboy action shooters end up acquiring (or making) a "guncart". These range from very basic conveyances based on the simplest golf carts to considerably larger and more ornate units ...