Ahh, spend any time in the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Zion National Park or Monument Valley and the romance of the Old West will tempt you to pull out your cowboy hat and hand-tooled boots.
Choose an alias such as Jackpot Jerry or Mistress Mel, add a silver buckle, chaps and a wild rag, strap on a holster and you’d be warmly welcomed into a posse of Cowboy Action Shooters anywhere. Carson City, Sparks, Fernley, Elko, Pahrump, Las Vegas and Boulder City have active clubs.
The Old West lives again worldwide. After the Cowboy Action Shooting started in California the early 1980s, interest spread across the United States and internationally to Italy, France and Australia and other countries. Modern-day lovers of Western lore, customs, costumes and single-action firearms can find kindred spirits by joining a Single Action Shooting Society club.
The Single Action Shooters Society (sassnet.com) is a worldwide organization of shooting enthusiasts devoted to competitive shooting matches using 1850-99 style firearms like those used by the generation that developed the West.
Cowboy Action Shooting camaraderie hark back to a time when owning several firearms was commonplace. Now, firearm ownership and use is controversial. It wasn’t always so. Current discourse over the right to bear arms is a complicated web of upholding traditions pitted against the awareness of mishaps and violence involving inappropriate gun use. It is a hot topic.
While the debate over gun control continues, SASS provides a peaceful haven where gun aficionados find lively competition, in a safe setting, while re-creating a version of the Old West.
Towns such as Deadwood, Tombstone, Dodge City, Yuma and Virginia City are just a few that are famous in American history. These iconic places of our Western heritage evoke wild tales of cowboys and settlers, native peoples and pioneers, missionaries and desperadoes. Westward expansion and the dramatic clash of cultures that ensued as American colonists pushed West overturned centuries of wide open spaces and freedom to roam.
Towns were established and fences were built. The Native Americans were dealt a losing hand and their old order of life began to disappear. Trails across the prairies lured hardy souls West.
These towns began as notorious outposts and served the hordes of adventurers, entrepreneurs and pioneers as they moved into new territory. Dusty wagon-rutted crossroads whose clapboard buildings, wooden sidewalks, saloons and one-room schoolhouses dotted the landscape, met the need. Provisions, church spires and ladies of the night wooed the cowboys in from the range. Wranglers, trappers, scoundrels and lawmen flocked to the towns that sprang up in their paths.
In keeping with historical influences many SASS groups have developed their club shooting ranges into veritable frontier settings, complete with permanent shooting bays built to resemble those Western edifices. You might find an old bank, a saloon, a jail or a hotel facade to heighten the Western theme. Shooting at a target through the window of the general store or the bars of the jailhouse adds to the frontier ambiance. Even Boot Hill is re-created with tombstones, epitaphs and a picket fence.
SASS promotes a friendly atmosphere of skilled and safe fun for all ages. The “spirit of the game” or good sportsmanship is the rule. A safety meeting precedes every match and a range officer monitors and will disqualify anyone who has a safety violation.
The Western atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the authentic attire worn by attendees of all ages. Besides cowboys and cowgirls you’ll see vintage Victorian ladies and gents, buckaroos, dance hall gals, schoolmarms, card sharks and an occasional undertaker. Period clothes are required, likely chosen to go with your personal alias, and give each shooting match a unique flair.
As for an alias, many are funny or tongue-in-cheek, such as one couple dubbed Hellfire Preacher and Fallen Grace. Most of the famous historic names have been claimed and since no one is allowed the same alias, imaginative monikers abound.
There are nearly 100,000 SASS members worldwide and each has a different, registered alias. Drifter John and Rowdy Robin, Justice Coldsteel, Nevada Blaze and Sagebrush Sam give you the idea. At the shooting range your alias is the name you’re known by, so pick a good one, join a club and get it registered.
If you are interested and have always dreamed of playing cowboy get yourself down to the next Cowboy Action Shooting event in your area. El Dorado Cowboys (www.eldoradocowboys.com) in Boulder City will host their annual competition Saturday and Sunday at the Boulder Rifle and Pistol Club. “The Best Shoot By a Dam Site” will bring together participants from several Western states and beyond.
All are welcome to come and check out the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting. Just look for the friendly posses in Western hats and boots and respect the spirit of the game.
Melinda Biancalana, a writer and educator, has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology, lives in Reno and frequently visits Boulder City. She enjoys observing and reflecting on the diversity of human nature.