Judging Guns By Their Looks
The old saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But, many people judge guns that way. The practice probably got started with the Western movies of the 1930s and 1940s and television Westerns of the 1950s. The good guys very frequently had special guns, often nickel or silver plated with mother-of-pearl, ivory or stag (make much of that read “plastic”) grips. The bad guys had black guns with black grips. And, as we all know, very much of the time, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. It was the same with detective and cop stories. The good guys mostly carried revolvers and the bad guys frequently carried automatics. In the classic gangster pictures of the 1930s, bad guys used submachineguns more frequently than did the “G-Men.”
All this conditioned us to judging guns by their looks and imparting a guilt by association thing to a gun because of the way it looks. As human beings, of course, we’re constantly dealing with judging people by their looks – It's wrong but we all do it. As we become more and more enlightened, we’re finding ourselves better able to realize that looks mean very little and it’s character that counts. When it comes to guns, however, prejudice runs rampant, and especially among many of those who – rightfully – preach tolerance and understanding in other aspects of life. Many of those people are horribly bigoted when it comes to guns in general and, in specific, guns that can be used for self-defense, home defense and defense of the nation.
We are told, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So is ugliness. The anti-gun forces who wish to disarm America for a wide range of reasons, ranging from naiveté to the sincere and misguided to the horribly insidious, will always see our guns as ugly and evil. Support the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation. Support, work for and donate to pro-gun candidates and causes. Fight prejudice.
Cowboy action shooting is governed by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), which has sanctioned shoots divided into many categories. Aside from various shooting styles, there’s a division between black-powder shooters and smokeless-powder participants. Smokeless categories include Traditional, Modern, Duelist and Gunfighter. Black-powder categories are Frontier Cartridge, Frontiersman and Classic Cowboy/Cowgirl. The B Western Category is like the open division, with flashy and fancy costumes.
There are also age divisions in cowboy action shooting. Juniors are 16 or younger, and are divided into Young Guns, 14 to 16, and Buckaroos, 13 and younger. Forty-Niners are 49 and older, seniors 60 and older, and Elder Statesmen/Grand Dames are 70 and older. There are also divisions for women. Costuming is important at a cowboy match, and competitors must wear authentic garb throughout the shoot and ceremonies. It’s unique to the sport and part of the fun. No Cordura or nylon — only natural materials like cotton and lots of leather.
To get started in cowboy action shooting, you need two pistols, a rifle and a shotgun. The pistols must be single-action six shooters, and the type of sights will decide whether you shoot traditional or modern.
According to the rulebook, pistols with adjustable sights place you in the modern category. The Traditional category requires the blade for a front sight and a notch or slit in the frame or hammer for a rear sight.
Revolvers must be centerfire from .32 to .45 caliber and in common revolver calibers. Participants in the Buckaroo Category, for the youngest shooters, can use .22 rimfire calibers.
The rulebook lists the legal revolver for each shooting category, so if you’re just getting into the sport, that can help you decide which gun to choose. I’ve always liked traditional-type revolvers, which have fixed rear sights. I shoot in the Gunfighter category, and a traditional revolver is required for that.
The main revolver emulated in cowboy matches is the Colt Peacemaker Model 1873. Many shooters use Remington or Paterson conversions, but Colts are the one. A new-model Colt will easily cost you $1,300 or more, and you need two to compete.
Most shooters rely on modern replicas for match guns. Ruger remade the single-action-type revolver in the 1950s, and in the mad rush of cowboy shooting, the gun evolved into the Vaquero. The first Vaquero — now classified as the Old Vaquero — was replaced a few years ago by the New Vaquero.
Holstering revolvers in period-correct or B-Western style is also important. Leather will make or break your look. You can find leather in all price ranges, and it doesn’t hurt to start with less-expensive stuff until you determine your style and shooting category.
If you shoot Traditional or Duelist, you might want to go with a cross-draw for your second revolver, unless you plan to use a border-shift technique (drawing your weak-hand gun with your weak hand, shifting it to your strong hand to shoot and then returning it in reverse order).
The rifle is probably the most romantic weapon of the old West. The lever gun is the symbol of the West and is still a tactically sound defensive rifle. With a little practice, you can fire a lever carbine as quickly as you can line up the next target. Some shooters are so fast that their brass lines up on the side of the rifle just like with a semiautomatic.
Rifle selection depends on the category you intend to shoot. In general, a rifle must be a lever- or slide-action manufactured about 1860 to 1899, with a tube magazine and an exposed hammer. The calibers must be a pistol caliber for main-match shooting. The .25-20 and .56-50 are exceptions. It’s wise to have your competition pistol and rifles be the same caliber. That comes in handy when reloading ammo, as all your supplies are the same.
Experienced cowboy competitors have several favorite rifles. Early Winchesters had a toggle-action operation system, which still makes for a smooth, fast lever gun. The 1860, 1866 and 1873 Henry rifles are period correct, and the lever is as fast as on newer models. The Marlin and Winchester 1894 models are great cowboy guns. Even though the Winchester is out of production, you’ll always see a few at every shoot. It has a smooth action and is a great shooter. The Marlin is still in production, and you can’t go wrong with one of the company’s cowboy series rifles.
Shotguns are also category-specific for some shooters. Generally, folks use any side-by-side or single-barrel shotgun from 1860 to 1899 without automatic ejectors. Guns can be box-lock or external-hammer guns with single or double triggers. Lever-action, single-barrel, tube-feed exposed-hammer guns of the period are OK, but the only slide-action allowed is the 1897 Winchester original or replica. Various categories require that only certain shotguns can be used. For example, the Frontiersman category requires a side-by-side or lever-action shotgun. All guns are shot with black powder.
Until recently, you could find an original shotgun for a good price. I just found a smoking deal on GunBroker.com for an original 1897 from 1905. I had to remove a poly choke and reface the barrel, but it was well worth the time. It’s very cool to shoot matches with an original gun. (That goes for pistols and rifles, too.) Stoeger is still a good choice for double-barreled shotguns, and the Chinese make 1897 replicas that are a less expensive option than originals. Remington markets some inexpensive doubles that are good for cowboys.
Shotguns can only be loaded with two rounds at a time. That keeps pumps equal with doubles. Also, it’s wise to have a spare shotgun, especially if you travel far to shoot. Some originals are finicky and can break down. The same goes for the newer replicas. One thing about cowboys is there will always be folks that let you borrow a gun to finish a match, even if you shoot better than they do. It’s the cowboy way.
Cowboy shooting is one of the fastest-growing shooting sports, and it’s easy to see why. It’s more fun than a tree full of young hoot owls. To get dressed up like a cowboy, mountain man or B-Western hero and shoot guns in old West scenarios with like-minded grown-up adolescents is just plain fun. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind cowboy shooting — having fun.
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