The Henry Repeater
The Henry Repeater

Getting Started In Cowboy Shooting

Part I: Choosing your Organization, Persona, and Alias

June 29, 2020
The author dressed up in his CAS regalia.

The author, Bernard Molloy, transforms to “Tuolumne Lawman” through dress and a researched backstory.

CAS (Cowboy  Action Shooting ™ ) is part historical re-enactment,  part Hollywood Western fantasy, and part shooting competition.  It is a way of celebrating the rugged frontiersmen, lawmen, heroes, and villains of the Old West.



CAS was started in the 1980s in southern California by a group of shooters who wanted to honor the Old West and shoot guns of the 19th century in a shooting competition setting, rather than a strictly historical re-enactment like Civil War re-enactments.  The original group called themselves “The Wild Bunch” in honor of Sam Peckinpah’s classic western of the same name.  They started the Single Action Shooting Society, or SASS as we call it, to propagate and regulate this kind of shooting competition.

SASS is an excuse for guys and gals to dress up and play cowboy or cowgirl (cowpersons?) and shoot real old West type firearms at real targets in a structured environment.  SASS has spread to worldwide popularity. Here is a quote from SASS’s web site:

            The Single Action Shooting Society is an international organization created to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting™. SASS endorses regional matches conducted by affiliated clubs, stages END of TRAIL The World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, promulgates rules and procedures to ensure safety and consistency in Cowboy Action Shooting matches, and seeks to protect its members’ 2nd Amendment rights. SASS members share a common interest in preserving the history of the Old West and competitive shooting.

One of the unique aspects of SASS approved Cowboy Action Shooting™ is the requirement placed on costuming. Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star, or an appropriate character from fiction. Their costume is then developed accordingly. Many event participants gain more enjoyment from the costuming aspect of our sport than from the shooting competition, itself. Regardless of a SASS member’s individual area of interest, SASS events provide regular opportunities for fellowship and fun with like-minded folks and families.


          There is a second organization that engages in Old West shooting matches, NCOWS, or the National Congress of Old West Shootists. It was started in the mid-1990s.  It is more of a historically based organization. While SASS allows costuming and guns of the modern westerns and movies, NCOWS costuming and guns are limited to historical pre-1900 costuming and weapons.  Here is a quote from their web site:

          The National Congress of Old West Shootists was founded in Iowa in 1994 by a group of dedicated western action shooters who had a background in muzzleloading, buckskinning, historical reenacting, and many other of the modern shooting sports. To this end we determined that our new organization would be different from existing organizations in a number of ways: we would insist on historical authenticity in all of our activities, we would not require that our members assume an “alias” (although they may if they wish), and we would be a democratically-structured organization, run by the entire membership.

Since its founding NCOWS has grown slowly but steadily, gradually gaining recognition from the shooting fraternity as a viable and significant organization. Early on there was some misunderstanding on the part of some members at least of The Single Action Shooting Society (SASS ) who believed that NCOWS had been founded in opposition to SASS . NCOWS’ original aim was to operate parallel to SASS, doing what we could to promote the growth and development of cowboy/western action shooting which, after all, had been invented by SASS . Although we present NCOWS as an alternative organization to those who desire a greater level of historical authenticity and member involvement in governance than SASS provides, we encourage all of our members to support SASS as well as every other shooting organization.

While SASS is worldwide, NCOWS is predominantly centered in the US’s central states,  as well as Texas, Florida, and one club in California.

I joined SASS in 1994, and since 1997 I have been a staff writer for SASS’s newspaper, the Cowboy Chronicle.  (I write both historical articles and product reviews). Personally, I lean towards the NCOWs version of the sport, but as there are no NCOWS clubs in driving distance, I practice historical accuracy in SASS matches.  In fact, that is one of the best things about SASS and CAS.  There is room for everyone and a niche for everyone in the sport.  If you want to be historically correct, and shoot slow (like me), or if you want to push the limits of costume and equipment and shoot really fast (known as “being a Gamer”), you can in SASS.


          Before your start shooting “cowboy matches”  you need to choose an alias or shooting name, and a “persona” – that is a character you wish to portray.  The concept of an alias for an Old west character is based on historical fact.  In the mid to late 1800s, people went west to either search for a better life or adventure, or to escape a bad life or troubles they wanted to leave behind.  Often they would leave their names behind, too.  A new name to go with their new life. There was a popular Minstrel Show song in the late 1800s, which stated: “What was your name in the states? Was it Thompson, or Johnson, or Bates?  Did you murder your wife, or flee for your life? What was your name in the States…”  

          When doing my wife’s genealogy, I found that her great, great grandfather “Johnson” appeared full-grown, with no past, in the Oklahoma territory in the 1880s. Family legend was that he had been an outlaw, and changed his name to Johnson when he went straight.  This was also true of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Civil War veterans who came west.  The southern veterans, many having lost homes, family and property were the most affected by the war. Many engaged is various levels of banditry after returning home, just to survive the “Reconstruction” of the South by the victorious North. A majority of those moving west for a new life after the war were these displaced Southerners.

The “Persona” is the type of character you wish to portray: cowboy, lawman, bandit, gunslinger, townie, saloon girl, gambler, schoolmarm, frontiersman, cavalry trooper, or Native American brave or Medicine man.  In SASS you can also base your persona on a character in a Western novel or movie, including the “B Westerns” that proliferated the large and small screens in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. You base your costume and weapons on the persona you have chosen. Your persona can be superficial and general, or you can develop it in depth like I did.

The author, "Tuolumne Lawman

The author, “Tuolumne Lawman” shooting his New Henry Original during a CAS match.

For example, my SASS persona “Tuolumne Lawman” is a sheriff’s deputy in California’s Gold Rush in the late 1860s to early 1870s.  He is an ex-soldier who went west after the Civil War and got a job as a “Law Dawg” working in the Motherlode.  In my case it mirrors the facts I was also an Illinois boy that moved west, being ex-Army that worked as a deputy in a modern-day sheriff’s office in the Motherlode after I separated from the service.  I dress accordingly and use period weapons: a New Henry Original 1860 and a pair of Remington New Model Army (also called 1858) Remingtons, that have been converted to fire centerfire cartridges.  These weapons are correct for the 1869 period of my character.  In the legend I created, the lawman carried the Henry during the Civil War as one of Union General Blunt’s selected mounted bodyguards, keeping the Henry (as most veterans who had them did) when he left and went west.

You do not have to be this detailed, but rather can wear a western shirt, jeans, cowboy boots or work boots, and portray a working cowboy.  I suggest that you take some time to decide on your persona and alias.  Once you develop it, then start with costuming and firearms.

Stay tuned for Part II:  Getting Started in Cowboy Shooting: Firearms

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