Shooting Sports: An Introduction to SASS

Saloon Bay

While I have put in many hours of square range time and attended serious training as well, I love shooting sports; they’re fun, informative, and a great way to practice.  One can also make new friends, and sports afford the opportunity to either just have fun or competitively push oneself to better one’s skills with firearms.  The love of shooting sports is a big reason why I am an IDPA RSO (International Defensive Pistol Association Range Safety Officer).  Recently, I wanted to expand my horizons and try a new challenge.  I was attracted to SASS (Single-Action Shooting Society) for a few reasons:  The focus on fun appealed to me, as well as the challenge of using “period correct” firearms, carry, and ammunition management.  Given that I am a “greenhorn” to the sport, I wanted to take an introductory course.   I have seen many people struggle when attending an IDPA match for the first time, and while I try to help them as much as possible, it can be difficult to do in large matches.  I didn’t want to be a boat-anchor at my first SASS match, so an “Introduction to SASS” course appealed to me.  As luck would have it, I would be passing by Coyote Valley Cowboys range in Morgan Hill, CA  on my travels, and they offered such a course.

From a distance, the range looked like many ghost towns one can find in the American West.  I was impressed at the effort that went into creating this replica western town, complete with a corral, bank, stagecoach, saloon, mine shaft, and livery stable.  It certainly helped create an appropriate setting for SASS shooting. The course itself involved 100 rounds, and instruction on the rules and equipment, and sample courses of fire used in SASS.  The firearms and ammunition were provided, which was fortunate as I did not as of yet have a SASS-appropriate shotgun.  The firearms provided were two stainless Ruger Vaqueros and a Taylors 1873 Trapper Rifle in .357, as well as a 12ga. Stoeger Coach Gun.  The 1873 was quite interesting to me, as it has been slicked up with a polished and jeweled hammer and trigger, a large brass front sight, and a short stroke kit, which shortens the throw of the lever when ejecting and chambering rounds.

My instructor was dressed for the part as well, in order to demonstrate accepted methods of carry and ammunition management during the courses of fire.  SASS does have a period-appropriate dress code, and requires the use on an alias for your “character” as well (I’m having a hard time deciding between Gabby Johnson and Gus Chiggins).  He ran me through the way that their particular club ran the match (cold range), acceptable ways of transporting firearms between stages (barrel-up if not holstered), and loading firearms for stages.  A point of interest was that revolvers had to have five loaded with the hammer down on an empty chamber.  This is to keep things even between revolvers with no hammer block or a firing pin integral to the hammer and more modern revolvers with hammer blocks.  Stages of fire incorporated all three types of firearms, fired at steel targets.  The Vaqueros and the Taylors/Uberti 1873 rifle were very easy to shoot, and the large brass front sight on the 1873 made for quick target acquisition, especially on the swinging steel targets.  The Stoeger coach gun was easy enough to shoot, but I will have to practice reloading a side by side quite a bit to get proficient.  Side by side shotguns used in SASS cannot have ejectors, so my instructor recommended that I polish the chambers of such a shotgun so that I can reload a lot easier.  I was given the extremely kind offer from one of my friends of using their 1897 trench gun, which is SASS legal, but I am too afraid of potentially destroying a piece of history, as match use can quickly wear out guns that are more than 120 years old. SASS also has a rimfire/.410ga division for those under 13 called “buckaroos”, and this range had a whole bay devoted to such competitors, with about 50 rimfire targets.

Shooting for suits

Shooting for suits

The "Buckaroo" Bay

The “Buckaroo” Bay


As with some other shooting sports, there are different divisions that use different equipment, and in the case of SASS, propellants and costumes factor into that as well.  In the case of propellants, this is to ensure even footing for those who’s view of the targets would be obscured by the use of black powder.  I believe I will be competing in one of their more basic divisions, “Classic Cowboy”.  All said and done, the course was fun, the instructor very personable, and I will definitely be participating in SASS matches in the future.  If you have any interest in SASS or any other shooting sports, this author would highly encourage you to find somewhere that has such introductory courses in order to better to learn the sport, and see if it is for you.  If one’s experience with firearms thus far has been limited to square range shooting, one should give competitive shooting of any kind a try.  Firearms proficiency is a perishable skill, and competition can be a great way to keep things fresh.  And remember:

Some wisdom from The Duke

Some wisdom from The Duke

For more information on SASS, please visit SASS’s official website or Coyote Valley Cowboys.

Many thanks to Hangin’ Hank, Coyote Valley Cowboys and Coyote Valley Sporting Clays

Rusty S.

Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


  • Joshua

    How about “Gabby Gus?” Looks like a ton of fun.

  • Blake

    For anyone in the NoVa area looking for SASS gear, stop by

  • Renegade

    If you pick Gabby Johnson, you better be fluent in Authentic Frontier Gibberish.

    • Rusty S.


    • Evan

      “Authentic Frontier Gibberish”. Priceless.

  • David

    For how serious they are about being period correct, it strikes me funny that they would accept a .357 rifle instead of requiring a caliber that existed at that time.

    • Joshua

      there aren’t very many calibers from those times still around, it’s pretty much just .45 colt 30-30 Winchester and a couple of it’s brothers, both of which were pretty late to be considered period,

  • Evan

    This sounds fun, except for the fact that you have to buy a cowboy costume to compete.

    • DW

      Can we cosplay as Chinese railway workers? That is also period accurate.

      • Evan

        If you’re not Chinese, I think it counts as “cultural appropriation”, which is apparently the newest taboo to the PC crowd. Personally, I was thinking something more along the lines of ditching the Stetson and boots and showing up in nothing but a breechcloth, and saying that my name is Running Bear or some such nonsense. Discount Indian costume right there.

        • Jwedel1231

          As long as you shoot a period-correct bow and arrow, I don’t see a problem.

  • Glenn

    Flame away but I think SASS and cowboy action shooting is childish and juvenile. A bunch of adults trying to relive their childhood of cowboys and Indians. At least 3 gun competitors are serious.

    • Bob

      I’m thinking of trying it just for fun. I already have a black powder six shooter, a cowboy hat I like wearing when it rains, (not really a hat person, so it is for function rather than fashion) I understand jeans are good as a costume, etc, etc, I just need to scape up a safe to shoot old singleshot shotgun and the most expensive part of the kit, the lever action rifle. It may not be your cup of tea, but it could still be plenty of fun. A chance to see how it might have been for an outlaw or sheriff back in the day.

      • Bob

        To put it another way: Where else are you going to be able to put a black powder six shooter through a pseudo three gun competition?

      • iksnilol

        Get a blackpowder coach gun 😛

    • Evan

      In what way are three gun competitors serious? It’s the exact same thing, except playing soldiers instead of cowboys and Indians.

      • SGT Fish

        3-gun shooters are more serious about what exactly? 80% or more of them have guns that would be useless on the battlefield due to reliability issues. And if you think shooting a shotgun is any more “tactical” than what sass is then youre mistaken.
        I haven’t shot SASS but I do respect the people who do, as long as they respect 2-gun and the things we do on the other end of the 2nd amendment. guns have many uses. and saying someone is playing out their childhood in SASS is like saying someone is playing Jason bourne in 3gun. its all still just a competition. and not a substitute for training,

        • Evan

          Thank you. I’d even go out on a limb and say three gun shooters are LESS serious, as they’re “training” for practical applications with weapons one would never use in a real world context. At least SASS shooters know they’re just playing. Play is play, but you should train like you plan to fight.

      • hking

        3 Gun is about as polar opposite as you can get from combat shooting. Having been heavily involved in both for many years.

    • Jwedel1231

      I think YOU are childish and juvenile for hating what others do for fun for no reason other than you don’t like it. What could be less mature than that?

    • Madcap_Magician


  • hking

    I like shooting old guns but I am not going to play dress up and have a fake name. The closest SASS club to me all the people “role play” their “characters” too so its just super cringey. Its really not a welcoming environment for someone just looking to shoot firearms from different eras.

  • Tim U

    I’d be more inclined to try SASS if I didn’t have to dress the part and make a fictional identity. I’m fine with using correct guns, ammunition, reloading, etc. that would be fun. But I don’t pull off a good cowboy look.

  • Edeco

    Probably the first shooting sport I’d consider. Dial up the Culture Club/Karma Chameleon music video for costume ideas 😛

  • Marcus D.

    It is seeing speed like that that scares me off. I can’t shoot that fast with a semiauto pistol.

  • Fruitbat44

    People having fun shooting guns for fun? Nice.