So you want to be a cowboy

So you want to be a cowboy

By Blackjack Charlie, NCOWS #3785

[This is the first in a series of articles outlining what to expect as a first time cowboy action shooter]

Do you have an itch to shoot something more than paper at your local gun range?  Do you have a desire to shoot something different from the “Black Gun” crowd?  Do you fancy yourself dressing in historical/fictitious Old West clothing?  These were my thoughts when I decided to get back into shooting after a hiatus due to my new career field.  My initial internet search began with 3-gun competition which is extremely popular shooting sport for those who own AR-type rifles, but I wanted to include my girlfriend “Sadie Jules” who loves historical fiction novels (i.e. sappy romance stories) and Gone With The Wind.   And you never saw Rhett Butler or Scarlett O’ Hara carrying a M4 with red dot scope so back to the drawing board.

I happened to discover cowboy action shooting by accident one day with my Google-fu and a passion that laid dormant due to my career was rekindled.  I remembered the first real gun I ever shot was my uncle’s 30-30 Winchester 1894 at the family farm.  That old lever gun put a serious wallop on my shoulder, but left an impression on my young mind.  I spent my college years buying, trading and shooting those old Winchesters and Ruger Blackhawks.   However the biggest reason for me to join the sport was the idea of reconnecting with my dad who passed away when I thirteen.  My dad was the biggest John Wayne fan (probably because my dad’s name was John Wayne Williams) and we spent every Saturday watching westerns on TV.  Everyone has different reasons for entering the sport, but I will tell you I made the best decision on choosing cowboy action shooting and NCOWS.

I met some great pards in this sport who offered helpful advice and friendship to this newcomer.  I felt nervous during my first shoot at Johnson County Rangers introduction day in 2016.  I feared I would mess up on a stage in front of everyone and both my girlfriend and I certainly felt came to the shoot “under-dressed,” but Cowhide Cliff, Lucky Dave and Gabe offered me their guns to shoot and answered my many questions to relieve my fears.  I left there hooked with a smile on my face nobody could erase and determination to get involved in this sport.  Though there were a few hurdles, my growth has been evolutionary as I decided who/what/where my persona was going to be and what they carried during that time period.   I will eventually enter the “Originals’ Class, which is most unique offering in NCOWS as the shooter must create and document their persona to a particular time between 1865-1899.

I think the best advice I can give to any new shooter is before you start buying weapons and gear is go to one of your local cowboy action match.  I want to create a series of articles covering the popular weapons used in cowboy action shooting, the 19th century style clothing, ammunition and gear and fun that can be had.  So join me on this journey. . . .

What is Cowboy Action Shooting and why does everyone dress up?

This sport of cowboy action shooting emphasizes fun, fellowship, and the Spirit of the Old West, where the shooter dresses in clothing and accoutrements typically found in the mid to late 1800’s.   The clothing can be as minimal or elaborate as you would like to fit your Old West persona.  But why do we have to dress up?  NCOWS believes that the enjoyment of everyone involved — participants and spectators is increased by maintaining an authentic visual appearance at our events.  I know some don’t want to dress out of the norm or get looks from the crowd.  And to be honest the first time I dressed as a cowboy and walked into a convenience store it took some getting use too, but it’s about FUN dressing up as someone different and trying to be authentic as possible.  Dressing up as a cowboy and Southern belle is definitely a conversation starter for my girlfriend and I any place we go.  You can be a fashion trendsetter rather than a follower.  We will discuss in later articles how to get dressed for cowboy action shooting on a budget.

 Alright I’m interested so what guns and gear do I need ?

This is where it gets exciting as the Industrial Revolution was in full gear during this time period and many innovating firearms were designed in the 1800’s.  Most of the Old West guns you will see at a NCOWS shoot are replicas of actual firearms from right after the Civil War to 1899.  Some shooters choose certain firearms to fit their Old West persona, while others never met a gun they didn’t like and just want to shoot.  You will also need “leather” in this sport, which is a holster and belt (with or sans the cartridge loops) for your pistol.  We will get more in-depth in later articles about the different firearms and gear based on your budget and desires, but if you are itching to get started I recommend coming to see a local match first before purchasing any equipment.   Why you may ask?  You can learn a lot by talking to experienced shooters, who are more than willing to offer helpful advice and let you burn some powder with their guns.  These conversations and test firing some different options can keep a new shooter from investing in equipment that really doesn’t suit his or her needs or purchase equipment not allowed by NCOWS.  Click “Check Your Guns At the Door” to see NCOWS’s list of approved and unapproved guns.

 Can this sport be expensive?

Well… getting started does require an investment although not much different then start up costs with many new hobbies.   There are lots of choices involved in the equipment and clothing needed for this sport.   You can certainly spend a lot of money, but there are more moderate options especially if you D.I.Y.   Again attend to some matches before you start acquiring equipment.  NCOWS, however; offers a more budget friendly two-gun Working Cowboy class for those who want to get shooting, but don’t have the funds necessary for four guns.  The shooter requires one single action revolver and one pistol caliber lever-action rifle to compete.  This is most cost effective way for a first time shooter to get into and develop their love for the sport.

What is the most important aspect of Cowboy Action Shooting than plinking at a gun range?

SAFETY.   If your previous firearm experience has been informal plinking or hunting, be prepared for a safety oriented approach that you probably haven’t been exposed to in the past.  Safety is an important focus of our rules and procedures.   You have individuals manning the loading and unloading table to make sure your weapon is safe or cleared at each stage.  There will also be a designated timer/range officer near the shooter to offer instruction and rulings.  We always ask shooters to get to range 30 minutes before the shoot start so safety rules can be discussed.  The rules are stringently enforced by the posse, and no infraction is ignored.   We are committed to keeping the game, and one another, safe and healthy.

What should I expect at my first match ?

First of all, know that you are welcomed at any local Johnson County Rangers match.   Walk up and let the person handling the match registration know that it is your first Cowboy Action Shooting match.   Match registration usually begins  30 minutes prior to the match so everyone can sign in and safety rules are read.   If you didn’t bring weapons, that is okay.  You will be assigned to an experienced cowboy or cowgirl who will assist you in learning and complying with the expected safety and match requirements during our first break and allow you to burn some powder.

If you have never been a competitor in a timed shooting sport, expect to be slow.  Don’t subject yourself to the pressure of unrealistic expectations.  To be honest I don’t think even the most experienced competitors care whether the finish last as they are their for the camaraderie with fellow Old West shooters. Every shooter remembers what it was like getting started and the learning curve involved until they refined their skills.   The game is about FUN.   Play it for that reason.   If your sole desire is to finish first, you may find it unsatisfying.   Do your best.  Play safe.   Have a good time and know that experience and practice will make you more competitive.

REMEMBER you must have hearing and eye protection.   No one is allowed to shoot without these items.