Cowboy Action Shooting matches are slightly different from club to club but if your club follows SASS rules you can be sure that the safety rules will be similar. Below is a description of a typical match day at most Ohio clubs. We hope that this will help you to feel comfortable about coming out to your first match. SASS clubs love new shooters so you will surely be made to feel at home.
A cold range means all firearms remain unloaded except when at the fireing line. SASS clubs expect you to arrive with unloaded firearms in a safe condition -- actions open or cased. Local club rules take precidence so ask.
Most cowboys use a gun cart. When long guns are in your cart the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction, typically vertical, and the action is open. Unloaded pistols are usually in holsters or in your gun cart pointed down.
When carrying unloaded long guns at a match keep the muzzles pointed upward.
Find the registration table. Sometimes this is more of a challenge than it sounds but most shoots do registration very near the shooting stages. Let them know you are a "New Shooter" even if you have shot other types of shooting sports before. You may get to shoot for free your first time. You will need to fill out some paperwork including a waiver and provide your cowboy alias. If you are with friends you can usually request to be on the same posse so that you can shoot together.
All SASS matches begin with a mandatory safety meeting. Here the club safety officer will remind everyone of the important SASS and local safety rules.
Pay attention. SASS has a fantastic safety record and we all want it to continue that way.
Don't ever sweep (point the barrel of a gun) someone with a gun. A way to ensure this never happens is to only load guns at the loading table and then keep them pointed down range from then on. While moving along the firing line and while completing a stage you must keep the barrel of all guns within +/- 85 degrees from directly down range. This gives us a cone of 170 degrees of safe direction to point a loaded gun. If you break this safe area, regardless of loaded or unloaded, you are in violation of the 170 rule and will have consequences.
At the end of the safety meeting, the posse leaders will call out the names of everyone on their posse (aka squad) and announce where they will start. Big clubs will have multiple posses and multiple stage locations. Smaller clubs might just have one location and one posse. The easiest way to end up in the right spot is to follow your posse leader. Below you will find the standard order of events for a stage.
Understanding the Stage
Up next: Jobs, Tips, and big matches.
The posse leader will now read the stage description. You will learn the order in which to shoot the guns, how many shots from each gun, where to stage the guns and your start position. After reading to the posse the leader will place the stage instructions on the loading table so shooters can review them before coming to the line.
Ask questions now if you are confused. There are a lot of terms in CAS and now is the time to get clarification on what a "Nevada Sweep" is. Experienced cowboys will ask questions as well so don't feel nervous about asking.
Ohio clubs don't usually use a pre-set shooting order. If the loading table line is short enough jump right in. Other locations shoot in a fixed order. Just ask the locals. They know the drill.
Move to the loading table with your four guns. Lay your guns on the table so muzzles are pointed down range or toward the berm. As you load, you will be observed by the Loading Table Officer.
Load five rounds into each pistol. When you are done you have to make sure that the hammer is down on an empty chamber. There are several good techniques to accomplish this depending on the type of revolver.
The Loading Table Officer must now check and clear your pistols before you can put them in your holsters. Hold up each pistol so the barrel is safely pointed down range. The LTO will look for daylight at the top chamber of the cylinder. If you have it correct you will be told "good to holster". Otherwise, you will be told to correct the issue.
You are now loaded up. While you wait your turn you MAY NOT leave the loading table with your pistols in your holsters. If you have to leave you can lay your pistols back on the table.
After the shooter in front of you has completed shooting the stage and has moved to the unloading table it is your turn. Make eye contact with the Timer Operator. He or she is in charge of the firing line. The TO will call you forward with a "Next Shooter" or a wave. Move forward with your guns and keep the muzzles pointed in a safe direction. The 170-Rule is in effect so your long-gun muzzles must be pointed downrange while you move to stage them. THE NUMBER ONE THOUGHT IN YOUR HEAD AT ALL TIMES IS WHERE ARE MY GUNS POINTING.
Place your guns in the appropriate starting locations as indicated in the stage briefing.
Place them in such a way that they do not break the 170-Rule and are supported so they won't fall. If the gun is being staged on a flat surface the trigger guard must be fully on the surface.
It is time to shoot! The Timer Operator (TO) is in charge of the firing line. He will wait for you to get ready. If you have any last minute questions ask the TO. He or she will answer. When you are ready and are standing where and how the stage description indicated you may say the starting line. The TO will now say "Shooter Ready. Standby" and then hit the timer which will beep. That is your signal to commence the stage.
Move from the firing line to the unloading table. Keep your long guns pointed down range. The Unloading Table Officer will now watch you demonstrate that your long guns are empty.
Lever your rifle a couple of times and show the UTO that nothing is in the breach. Do the same for your shotgun. Unload your pistols and show the empty cylinder to the UTO.
Once all your guns are cleared the UTO will release you from the unloading table. You may now return your guns to your gun cart. After a quick break, it is time to fill in for one of the jobs.
When shooting a stage it is expected that all shooters will make their best effort to complete the stage as indicated. If for some reason you get confused or lost on a shooting pattern ask the TO for guidance or do your best to complete the pattern as you understand it. You should never give up and just dump all your shots on one target. Trying to bypass a rule or minimze a penalty can result in violating the "Spirit of the Game" rule. Cowboy shooters are generally an honorable lot and we want our sport to have integrity.