by Chauncey Dewey
You find yourself standing at your first SASS, single action shooting society, shootout. You see a fellow dressed in what appears to be a pretty flashy cowboy outfit, stroll up, place a rifle and shotgun on the counter of an 1800’s store front. He prepares himself as another gentlemen dressed in cowboy attire holds an electronic timer to his ear. There is a beep, a sudden flash of movement, a pistol is drawn from a holster and a mild report erupts from it five times. He quickly holsters, pulls another six gun and five mild reports erupt from his second gun. He shoulders his rifle and levers off ten quick shots followed by another gun change and four rounds from his shotgun staged at this side. You hear the cowboy with the timer yell out, “29.56 and clean”. In less than thirty seconds this cowboy, shooting in the modern class, has gotten off 24 rounds from four different guns and hit everything he aimed at. Impressive, to say the least.
Now you hear the timer say “come on down” and you see another cowboy stroll to the firing line. This cowboy has a different appearance. Modern in dress he is not. He’s sporting a felt hat, chaps, scarf, canvas vest, and spurs. You wipe the sweat from your brow, glad you have on shorts as you feel the warm breeze pass over your bare legs on this 90 plus degrees day. He sets himself in shooting position, gets a go from the timer and his pistols begin to roar and buck. As you watch the muzzle jump you notice this guy doesn’t even try to hold onto them with both hands as the previous shooter had. His rifle is twice as loud and you notice those large steel plates are swaying with each hit he places upon them. They ring like a church bell as each lead bullet finds its mark. The shooting ends and this time the cowboy with the timer yells out, “45.28 and clean” As before all targets have been hit but almost 14 more seconds have been required to accomplish the same feat.
Why in the world is this fellow not sporting the straw hat of the previous cowboy? Why those leather chaps and jingling spurs? What you and his fellow shooters have witnessed is what cowboy action shooting refers to as the “classic cowboy”. He’s wearing all of the obvious items you saw plus a pocket watch, leather roping cuffs, vest, bandanna, large knife, suspenders, and garters around his sleeves. This cowboy is wearing not the required five items for a classic cowboy but ten. He put them all on thirty minutes prior to the match and will keep them on until the match is over and everyone is headed home for the day. To shoot in his class for the Single Action Shooting Society you must wear a minimum amount of five items on your costume plus shoot large caliber weapons that are not required in any other category.
Your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you have to find out why this fellow would subject himself to such abuse on a hot day. You walk over as he’s putting his guns away and inquire if you may have a word or two. Your first question is why he was dressed so differently from the others you have seen shooting this hot July morning. With a broad smile he begins to tell you that his character depicts a cowboy from the west that would have pushed cattle, scouted for the army, or worked a ranch anywhere from Texas to California. Time of year has nothing to do with his clothing. What a cowboy wore in the 1800’s changed little with the seasons. When you inquire about his guns you discover he likes the guns that are true to the early 1800’s. They are of the same caliber that would have been available one hundred and sixty years to one hundred and twenty years ago. What he refers to as the “big bore” calibers, all 40 caliber and larger. He tells you about the preferred 44-40 and 45 Colt rounds of years ago and how they produced the recoil you witnessed as he shot the stages. He tells you how he is required to shoot duelist, the one hand hold that he and those cowhands of yesterday preferred. His required rifle is a reproduction of a Winchester produced in 1873 or the earlier 1866 commonly known as the “yellow boy”.
Like so many of my time, I rode the arms of that big old couch in our living room. I shot bandits, roped cattle, and kept the peace from that couch. I watched Hoppy, Gene and Roy do the same every chance I had. They were my hero’s. Now a lot of years and couches later I find cowboy action shooting allowing me to relive the past. I find myself following not the obvious heroes, but those that backed their plays. The drab cowhand wearing one gun, not slung low in a buskadero rig, but at waist level. Another favorite, the shotgun rider who usually got it in the belly but got off some rounds with that hammer double barrel. What I have come to love is this category called classic cowboy, requires a one hand hold on a pistol that must be of 40 caliber or larger, rifles produced from 1873 back, and those hammer shotguns.
The dress is simple, drab, and functional. Of all the cowboy outfits classic cowboy is probably one of the easiest to put together from what little you may have in your closet. Many of us find someone to make our clothes to be period correct. Once committed you have an outfit that can be added to easily. So come on out and give Classic Cowboy a go.
I promise a smile at the end of every match.
Chauncey Dewey, SASS #72795