Cowboy Action Shooting is a shooting sport that balances accuracy with speed in a perfect union creating a dynamic, fun and challenging shooting competition.   Cowboy Action Shooting has something for everyone whether you are a novice, a casual shooter, an old west buff, or a lightning fast competitor.  You will find others in your posse (your range group or squad) that are just like you.    This guide will attempt to provide all the information that a new shooter will need to feel comfortable coming out to their first match. 

Getting Started

Safety Gear You Will Need

Eye Protection

You must wear eye protection at all times while at the range.   This includes visitors.  Shooting glasses are the best since they generally protect from the sides and are shatter resistant.

Hearing  Protection

Hearing protection should be worn while at the range.   This includes visitors. When selecting hearing protection look for in-ear types as opposed to over-ear muffs.   Cowboy hats and ear muffs don't mix well.

Two Pistols

One Rifle

One Shotgun

The biggest challenge starting Cowboy Action Shooting is NEEDING FOUR GUNS.    You will need two revolvers, one rifle and one shotgun and there are restrictions on the types of each.  So, be prepared to go shopping (which for some is the best part of CAS -- an excuse to own some of history's most iconic firearms.)   One of the best places to find the proper guns for sale is to show up at a SASS match and ask around.  Someone probably has something for sale or knows someone who is a dealer that carries the appropriate types.

  • Two Single Action revolvers of a pre-1899 design (modern replicas are OK).
  • Must be of at least .32 caliber and no larger than .45 caliber.

Note, full rules found in SASS Handbook.


Most common are Ruger New Vaqueros, Colt SAA, Colt SAA Clones like Uberti, etc.


Most common calibers are 38 Special, 45 Colt and 44-40.

  • Original or replica of lever or pump action rifle from approx 1860 to 1899.
  • Must be chambered in a pistol caliber of at least .32 caliber and no larger than .45 caliber.

Note, full rules found in SASS Handbook.


Most common are Winchester 1866, 1873, 1892, Marlin 94s, and Colt Lightning.


Most common calibers are 38 Special, 45 Colt and 44-40.

  • Any side-by-side from the 1860-1899 period without ejectors.
  • Winchester 1897 pump shotgun
  • Lever action shotgun with an exposed hammer

Note, full rules found in SASS Handbook.


Most common are Stoeger Coachgun SxS, Winchester 1897 pump, and Winchester 1887 lever action.


Most common gauges are 12 ga and 20 ga

Now you are going to need some gun leather to hold your pistols, ammunition and a few odds and ends.   Your standard leather gear, known as a rig, consists of a gun belt, two holsters, a shotgun belt or slide.   You can get by at your first match without a shotgun ammo belt or slide (you can use your pockets) but you will want one as soon as possible.   You must have holsters.  You may not carry your pistols around in anything else (like pockets or stuff in your pants)!    Holsters and gun belts come in a wide variety.  It is ok to buy cheap ones while you explore what you like but be aware that you will probably upgrade.   

Gun Belt & Holster Styles

Double Strong Side

This style consists of one holster on each side of your body and you draw the left gun with your left hand and the right gun with your right hand. Both pistol handles point toward your backside.    Generally, double strong side is easier to start with even though cross-draw seems easier.

Cross Draw

This style consists of one strong side holster and one cross-draw holster on the opposite side.   The gun in the cross draw holster has the handle pointing forward so you can draw it with the hand on the other side of the body.    So, if you are right handed you would have the strong side holster on your right and the cross-draw holster on your left.  You would draw both guns with your right hand.  Cross-draw requires attention to the 170-rule (see safety later) every time you draw.

We sling lead.   Lead from your pistol.  Lead from your rifle and lead from your shotgun.   We do this because that is what cowboys did but also because it is safer than jacketed ammo.   We shoot at steel that is pretty close and the lead bullets help to reduce ricochets.    You don't need hot loads for CAS.   Most cowboys reload their own ammo but for starting out you can use factory loads.   Get the lightest shotgun loads you can find.  No reason to blaze away.  Light loads have plenty of power to knock down the targets.   See below for the summary of the SASS ammo rules but make sure to consult the SASS handbook for a complete description of ammunition. 

Power Factor and FPS

Ammunition Requirements

Ok, you came here to shoot not geek out about ballistics data.  The important numbers are as follows.

  • Minimum Power Factor is 60  (bullet weight * fps / 1000)
  • Minimum FPS is 400 FPS
  • Maximum 1000 FPS for pistols
  • Maximum 1400 FPS for rifles
  • Shotgun #4 shot or smaller (most use #8)
  • No magnum shotgun shells

Read the side of the box for factory ammo and make sure it is less than 1000 fps and you should be all set.

How much to Bring

Most clubs shoot six stages, with 10 rifle and 10 pistol per stage so a pretty common ammo count is given below. 

Need: 60 Rifle, 60 Pistol, and 24 shotgun MINIMUM so bring more.

Bring: 100 Rifle, 100 Pistol, and 50 shotgun.  At this point, you are set for the day.

Example Dress

This concludes the basic list of stuff to bring.  There are a few items that will make your life easier for the day and they are listed below.   All are optional but you will find them to be very common around a cowboy shoot'n match.   

Up next is what to expect when you arrive at the match.  

Getting Started Part II

Ammunition Quantity

Gun Belt & Holster Styles

2016 SASS Ohio State Shoot

A brass bag - if you are collecting your spent brass a small bag or bin is great.


A gun cart - You have a LOT of stuff to manage.  Gun carts make life manageable.  For your first match you can borrow some space from a cowboy but having your own sure is nice.

This is Cowboy Action Shooting.   Dress up like a Cowboy!   In actuality, there are very few requirements in the SASS handbook when it comes to attire.  Most of the requirements are specific to a few shooting categories but most cowboys think they apply generally.  So, what should you wear?   To fit in well at an event you should wear a cowboy hat or other hat of the 1880's era, jeans, long sleeve shirt and some boots.    You should avoid t-shirts, modern hats, athletic shoes, and shorts.  Ladies may also wear dresses.