Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS), also known as Western Action Shooting or Single Action Shooting, is a competitive shooting sport that originated in California, USA, in the early 1980s. Cowboy Action Shooting is now practiced in many places with several sanctioning organizations including the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), Western Action Shootists Association (WASA), and National Congress of Old West Shooters (NCOWS), as well as others in the USA and in other countries.
CAS requires competitors to use firearms typical of the mid-to-late 19th century: single action revolvers, lever action rifles chambered in pistol calibers, and side-by-side double barrel shotguns (also referred to as a Coach Gun – with or without external hammers, although automatic ejectors are not allowed) or 1897-style pump-action shotguns with external hammers. Winchester 1887 lever-action shotguns and Colt Lightning pump-action rifles are also legal. Both original and reproduction guns are equally acceptable. All CAS handguns must be "single-action", meaning that the hammer must be manually cocked before each shot can be fired.
Competition in a CAS match generally requires four guns: two period revolvers, a shotgun, and a rifle chambered in a centerfire revolver caliber of the type in use prior to 1899. Some CAS matches also offer side events for single-shot "buffalo rifles", derringers, etc. Replica firearms are available from companies such as Ruger, Colt, Uberti, Pietta and U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co.
Competitors are required to wear an Old West costume of some sort; however safety glasses must be worn while shooting. Depending on the standards of the sanctioning organization, clothing may be historically accurate for the late 19th century or may just be suggestive of the Old West. Some might even dress like a character in a western B-movie, such as Hopalong Cassidy or a television series like Gunsmoke.
Participants must select an alias out of the Old West or having an Old West flair, which is registered with the sanctioning body that will prohibit any other shooter from using that same alias at a sanctioned event. Many shooters get creative in selecting an alias (such as the banker who shoots under the alias "The Loan Arranger"). Registered names cannot sound the same as another registered name.
Shooters compete one at a time, against the clock. Most matches are scored simply by "total time" minus bonuses and plus penalties. Other matches are scored by Rank Points.
Shooters are timed using electronic timers which record the duration for each stage to one hundredth of a second. The timer starts when the Range Officer pushes the button, which beeps to signal that the shooter may proceed. The timer has a built-in microphone and records the time when each loud noise (shot) happens. When there is no more noise, the timer continues to display the final time which is the raw score.
Each shooter's "raw" time for the stage is increased by 5 seconds for each missed target and 10 seconds for any procedural penalty incurred. The fastest adjusted time wins. Targets shot out of proper order incur a procedural penalty, though only one procedural penalty can be assessed per shooter per stage.
In "Rank Point Scoring" the winner of a match is determined by adding up each shooter's ranking for each stage, with the lowest score winning. For example, if a shooter places first in every stage in a 10 stage match the shooters score would be 10 (a 1 for each stage) and would be the lowest score possible. There is some controversy as to whether "Rank Points" or "Total Time" is a better system.
Every stage at a match is intended to be different. Sometimes only two types of gun are used, or perhaps even only one. Occasionally a shooter is required to reload a firearm "on the clock".
When he comes to the line, the shooter will place ("stage") his guns as required by the stage description (for instance, he may put his rifle on a hay bale to the left of the start position and his shotgun on a hay bale to the right of where he starts the stage, or perhaps his pistols on a table or countertop. When the competitor steps to the start position, the Range Officer who is conducting the stage will ask if the shooter understands the course of fire and clarify any questions the shooter may have. The Range Officer will ask if the shooter is ready, then will tell the shooter to "Stand By" and will start the timer within 2 to 5 seconds. When started, the timer gives an audible electronic tone and the shooter will begin the stage.
An example of a stage might have the shooter draw his first revolver and engage five steel targets, then holster his first revolver and move to his left to where his rifle is staged. He will retrieve his rifle and engage the rifle targets, which are set farther away than the pistol targets. These might be nine separate targets, or perhaps three targets which the shooter will "sweep" three times. He then lays his rifle back down on the hay bale, action open and chamber empty, and runs to the right where his shotgun is placed. Since shotguns are always staged open and empty, the shooter will retrieve his gun and load it with a maximum of two rounds (regardless of the type of shotgun) and engage two knock-down targets, reload and engage two more knock-down targets (which must fall to score.) The shooter will then lay his open, empty shotgun back on the hay bale, and draw his second revolver, this time engaging three revolver targets in what is known as a "Nevada Sweep" (left, center, right, center, left) for a total of five rounds.
After the competitor is finished shooting, the Range Officer will tell him to take his long guns and go to the unloading table, where another shooter will supervise the unloading and verify that the guns are unloaded. The shooter's time is then recorded and any misses or penalties added. Targets are scored by three observers who count misses.
Foremost, safety glasses (shooting glasses) must be worn at all times. In a typical stage the shooter who is next in line to compete will load his guns at a loading table under the supervision of another shooter. Western-style "six-shooters" are always loaded with only five rounds with the empty chamber under the hammer. The shooter's rifle also will be loaded with the requisite number of rounds with the hammer down on an empty chamber. Shotguns are always left unloaded, then loaded "on the clock".
At a typical Cowboy Action range, ALL guns are kept unloaded except when the shooter prepares at the loading table, shoots the stage, then proceeds to the unloading table to unload the revolvers and prove that all guns are empty. Even with empty guns, CAS is very big on safety, even with the theme of the wild west's cowboy attire; all shooters must wear safety glasses while on the firing line, in addition to other important safety rules, more than some other shooting sports have.
The Range Officer is responsible for safely conducting the shooter through the stage, so his attention is not on the targets but rather on the shooter and his firearms. One important duty of the RO is to immediately stop the shooter if the shooter's gun or ammunition is defective in any potentially unsafe way.
In addition to requiring shooters to wear Old West attire, the western flavor of the matches is enhanced by having suitable targets and props for the stages. For example, a stage may be set in a bank and the shooter will be required to shoot through a barred "teller" window, then perhaps retrieve a sack of gold from a safe and carry it in one hand while shooting with his other hand. Another stage may have a shooter rescuing a baby (doll) and having to carry the "child" through the entire stage while engaging the targets. Other props may include buckboards, chuck wagons, stagecoaches, and "horses" as well as jail cells, oak barrels, hitching posts, swinging saloon doors, etc.
No money or merchandise prizes are offered in CAS, but often there are drawings and prizes for people who do not win, ensuring a more family-oriented sport.