on the range
The modern day gunslingers of the Single Action
Shooting Society relive the Old West
tightknit community of Red Rock is having a real crumby day and kneads
some uplifting as that veteran of the Indian wars, the Pillsbury Doughboy
died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated
pokes in the belly.
“Doughboy will be buried in a lightly greased
coffin. The funeral will be held today at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.”
a 14-year-old from Fordland, fires his single action revolver from
a stagecoach window during cowboy action shooting match at the
Southern Missouri Ranger’s
facility near Willard. The sport, organized by the Single Action
Shooting Society, is popular at six active clubs around Missouri.
Royster, known as “Fiddler
the reigning junior champion in both Missouri and Oklahoma.
And so begins the “Undertaker” stage
at the monthly cowboy action shoot hosted by The Moniteau
Creek River Raiders on a private shooting range near Fayette. Sponsored by one
of six active cowboy shooting clubs in Missouri, the match combines
the skill of a marksmanship competition with the frivolity of playing
With the scene set,
a procession of gunslingers, territorial marshals and even the occasional
schoolmarm step up to a wooden façade.
Participants — each
armed with two revolvers, a rifle and a shotgun — lower their head
in respect and speak a line from the Western classic “Once upon a time
in the West.”
Few competitors keep
a straight face as they say the required prompt: “People
scare better when they’re dying.” With those words a tone from
an electronic timing device pierces the air and the firing begins. By the
time the smoke clears and the last target clang has ceased, the shooter
is grinning from ear to ear.
a few guys here that when they step up to that firing line they are
literally playing the way they did when they were kids — especially
some of the older guys. It’s hysterical,” says Bart Ballew,
a leather worker from Fayette who hosts the monthly contests on his property.
Waters, aka “Big Muddy,” reloads
his shotgun during a cowboy shooting match near Fayette while
a range officer checks an electronic timer. Cowboy shooters compete
against the clock in a three-gun event, firing pistols, rifle
and shotgun at steel targets.
just reliving their childhood and shooting live rounds.”
Strict attention is paid to safety, but fun is definitely the name of
the game in cowboy action shooting as participants relive the Old West,
both with the guns they fire and the costumes they wear.
than 60,000 people belong to the Single
Action Shooting Society, or
S.A.S.S., the governing body of cowboy action shooting. The sport,
which tests a shooter’s skill with three types of firearms, began
in 1981 when a group of world-class pistol shots from California grew
frustrated with the competitiveness of so-called “practical pistol” matches
and decided to bring fun back into shooting.Instead of tricked-out
firearms that are practical for nothing but competition, cowboy action
shooters fire old-fashioned, single-action revolvers, which must be
cocked by hand before each shot. Whether originals or modern-made reproductions,
these pistols are similar to the old Colt .45 “Peacemakers” — guns
immortalized in countless Western movies and TV dramas. Rifles and
shotguns used in the competition must be of a type common prior to
|Hanging metal targets bear the marks of shots fired during competition.
In Missouri, six
S.A.S.S.-affiliated clubs hold regular cowboy action shooting matches.
With clubs in Willard, St. Robert, Fayette, Higginsville, St. Louis
and now Cassville, there’s a cowboy shooting
match somewhere in the state nearly every weekend when weather permits.
Cliff Day, the reigning
state champion, lives near Chafee in southeast Missouri and belongs
to S.A.S.S. clubs in Illinois and Kentucky. He traveled to Willard
in March to compete in a match hosted by the Southern
the S.A.S.S. club in the Springfield area.
A former police officer
and competitor in a number of shooting sports, he says cowboy shooting
promotes friendliness and good sportsmanship over top performance — an
emphasis formalized in the sport’s rules as “the
spirit of the game.”
Waters, president of the Fayette club, cycles his rifle, an original
Winchester from the 19th century. Cowboy action shooters compete
with single action revolvers as well as a shot gun and rifle
chambered in a pistol caliber in use prior to 1900.
really about the people more than anything. Everybody is trying to
help each other out,” says Day. “I’ve loaned my rifle
to people who’ve beat me before. That’s just
part of ‘spirit of
A full-time pastor,
Day is known as Dr. B. H. Carroll at S.A.S.S. matches. Every cowboy
shooter adopts a persona and assumes an alias, a name he or she uses
in all matches and club activities. Day’s alias honors
a former member of the Texas Rangers who later served as
president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “He’s
always been a hero of mine,” says Day.
Not every shooter
is as attached to their persona. Rod Berg, a member of
the Southern Missouri Rangers from Fair Grove, calls himself “Durango
Rod,” the closest name he could claim to his first
choice, The Durango Kid, a character from classic B-movie
hard picking a name that isn’t taken,” he
says. “This is
probably my 50th choice.”
stations at the Willard range offer a variety of shooting scenery
at S.A.S.S. matches.
According to S.A.S.S.
rules, each competitor must adopt a unique alias
and persona appropriate to a character of the late 19th
century or a Hollywood Western star. Some shooting
cowboys look like they just rode in from the range.
Others dress in the gaudy style of a B-movie singing cowboy.
Still others put on a pair of western boots, jeans, a long
sleeve shirt and a cowboy hat and call it done.
pretty laid back. You can do pretty much whatever you want to as long
as you’re safe,” says
Jeff Dunaway, AKA “Smokie,” a
charter member and secretary/treasurer of the Willard
With his three-piece
suit, watch fob and Tom Mix hat, Dunaway could pass for a banker in
an 1870s Old West town. But, like most cowboy shooters, Smokie takes
the dress code in stride. “I’d say about 70 percent of
the boots out here are not authentic, but we don’t
get bent out of shape about it.”
Buckingham of Waynesville, dressed as “Fingers McGee,” examines
a newly acquired shotgun owned by the “Rootin’ Tootin’ Range
Bum,” Roger Brogue of Republic.
are made for authenticity in firearms, as well.
S.A.S.S. groups competitors into seven categories,
based on their choice of weapon. The Frontiersman class
requires blackpowder cap and ball revolvers while shooters
competing in the Modern class may use adjustable sights.
The various S.A.S.S.
categories reflect the rapid changes in firearms technology in the
latter half of the 19th century as modern cartridges were introduced
and manufacturers produced a flurry of new rifle and pistol designs.
Each of these innovations has its adherents within the cowboy shooting
community as competitors embrace various stages of firearms and ammunition
put with that modern smoky-less stuff,” says Ken Buckingham,
a member of three S.A.S.S. shooting clubs
who fires reproduction Confederate-issue 1851 Navy blackpowder revolvers.
need for historic firearms and authentic Western clothing has created
a thriving market, says Bart Ballew, whose Circle Bar T Leatherworks
supplies belts and holsters to cowboy shooters
nationwide. “It’s huge,” he
says. “It’s given a rebirth
to the whole shooting industry.”
cowboy action shooting is the fastest
growing firearms sport in America.
Recently, the Outdoor Life television network launched
a weekly broadcast to feature the sport.
in cowboy action shooting must adopt a persona and unique alias
inspired by a person of the late 19th century or a Hollywood Western
greatest thing about this sport for
me is that I see 12-year-old kids
to 87-year-old men and women of all shapes
and sizes. Everybody competes,” Ballew
says. “It allows people to shoot
and enjoy firearms.”
competitor that seems to break the
mold is Christina Brogue, one of
a handful of women who compete in Southern
Missouri Rangers matches at Willard.
“I am so much into this. It’s
unreal,” says Brogue, a firefighter
from Republic. Brogue was born in
Madrid, Spain, but has embraced the lore of the American West — at least
in the form it’s presented in cowboy
action shooting. “If I could
do this every day, trust me I would.”
For more information, or to find
a cowboy shooting club in your area,
log onto www.sassnet.com, or write
to the Single Action Shooting Society,
23255 La Palma Ave., Yorba Linda, CA 92887.
Shooting Clubs in Missouri
Ozark Posse, Cassville — (417) 847-0018
Moniteau Creek River
— (573) 687-3103
Rocky Branch Rangers, Higginsville
— (816) 524-1462
Western Shooters, St. Robert — (573) 765-5483
Gateway Shootist Society, St.
Louis — (636) 464-6569
Southern Missouri Rangers,
Willard — (417) 759-9114