All firearms, including single action sixguns, have a serious side such as hunting and self-defense. However, this is just a small part of firearms usage, probably less than1%. The vast majority of the time firearms are used for fun activities, great times with family and friends, just generally enjoying life with a firearm as part of the picture. As an extra-added bonus, most of these, but certainly not all, fun activities help to train as they prepare us for the serious side of sixguns. Let's have some fun!
Western Movies: Anyone growing up in the 1930s and 1940s spent much of their time in the front row of the neighborhood theater with a large bag of popcorn, an equally large pop to wash it down with, and a double feature with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Johnny Mack Brown, The Three Mesquiteers, an on and on with a nearly endless list of cowboy heroes. By the 1950s the switch had been made to television and the same B movies came around once again with a whole list of new heroes added from TV productions. Matt Dillon, Paladin, Maverick, The Cartwrights, all galloped across the little box giving everyone a vicarious experience with single action sixguns.
Westerns, whether they were big screen movies or came from the corner of our living room, had common attributes. They were fun. Good always triumphed over Evil, there was no doubt who the hero was, and we always left the theater on Saturday afternoon feeling inspired and uplifted, almost like coming from a religious service. We would be pumped up through the weekend, and then a weeklong schedule of school would drain us, and we would have to return the following Saturday for new inspiration. The heroes and bad guys alike, but especially the heroes, accomplished the impossible with their single action sixguns. The shooting, especially on the part of a hero, was incredible but perfectly believable to any eight-year old. The down side to both movie and television westerns was, and is the unsafe handling of firearms, especially single action sixguns. Thousands upon thousands of times, thousands upon thousands of impressionable youngsters, received their first “training” in handling firearms from the movies. Hopefully, by the time they reached adulthood, the same youngsters realized the difference between fantasy and reality and approached all firearms with the proper attitude. Unfortunately, not all were able to make the transition resulting in firearms "accidents", which in reality for the most part are nothing more than negligent and unsafe handling practices.
Plinking: The grandest of all single action sixgun sports is plinking. There are no rules except those addressing safe practices and also cleaning up any mess created. The number one plinking target is the lowly pop can and at no time under any circumstances should glass targets ever be used. One of the best targets for plinking is charcoal briquets. They are cheap, large enough to hit, and biodegradable so there's no cleanup required. The number one caliber for plinking is the .22 Long Rifle and the number one single action sixgun, at least since 1953, has been the Ruger Single-Six.
In the late 1950s, Saturday afternoons were reserved for good friends, the Ruger Single-Six, and my companion Marlin Mountie. Plinking builds many pleasant memories that never leave no matter how many years have passed. The powder smoke and the smell of Hoppe’s #9 still remain a half-century later and memories are rekindled as I regularly plink these days with my grandkids. The old friends are long gone, however the grandkids are now building their own memories.
Fast Draw: The sport of Fast Draw was directly responsible for the tremendous improvement in leather belts and holster taking place in the 1950s/1960s.I started shooting Fast Draw in the late 1950s, first using a double rig built by Ray Howser of the Pony Express Shop in California, and then later a single Arvo Ojala Hollywood rig. The Ojala was soon seen in all the Western movies and TV westerns as Paladin, Matt Dillon, Cheyenne, Bret Maverick, and virtually every other Western star of the time frame used an Ojala rig. This rig featured a steel lined, low riding holster with a steel reinforced shank, all to provide a solid platform that would not move and would also allow cocking in the holster when using blanks or wax bullets only. The 1960s saw a new style of holster emerge as Andy Anderson, a former employee of Arvo Ojala, opened his own shop to sell his Gunfighter line of fast draw leather. Instead of the low riding holster, Anderson brought his holster up on the belt with a marked muzzle forward slant and called the design the Walk-n-Draw. This is the style holster normally seen on the hips of Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns and James Drury as The Virginian.
The favorite sixguns for Fast Draw then were 4 3/4” Colt Single Action and Great Western sixguns chambered in .45 Colt. Great Western offered specially tuned Fast Draw .45s and Colt sponsored many fast draw contest. The only revolvers I ever used in Fast Draw were 7 1/2” Colt Single Actions; if that barrel length was good enough for Paladin, Matt Dillon, Chris Colt of Colt .45, and Clay Hollister of Tombstone Territory, it was certainly good enough for me!
Most fast draw contests, whether with blanks or wax bullets, were set up with a timer giving the shooter a light or sound signal to go for his sixgun. Rules required the hand to be at least six-inches away from the gun butt before the signal was given. Top shooters then, and now, could get their times down well below a half-second to react, grip the sixgun, cock the hammer, and with the case of wax bullets, hit the target. In the glory days of Fast Draw there were clubs all over the country as well as many major contests. Fast draw still exists though on a much smaller scale.
Cowboy Action Shooting: Cowboy Action Shooting is a large enough topic for a whole book and several have been written including my own Action Shooting Cowboy Style. CAS came out of southern California with the Wild Bunch, a group of single action shooters who got together for informal competition. It has now spread to the entire country and beyond, with the Wild Bunch forming SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) as the main governing body for this great sport. Simply put Cowboy Action Shooting attempts to capture the Spirit of the Old West by having shooters dressing in frontier period clothes using frontier period single action sixguns, leverguns, and double barreled shotguns in a fast paced competition. It has proven to not only be great fun but also a major force in attracting new shooters. It is without a doubt the fastest-growing shooting sport with now well over 60,000 registered members with SASS and at least an equal number of non-member shooters.
To compete, a Cowboy Shooter needs two single action sixguns, a levergun, and a period double barrel or pump shotgun. By period we mean prior to 1899 with the use of original guns of the time or replicas thereof. The single action sixguns of Cowboy Action Shooting fall into three major classifications, the Real Sixguns, original sixguns produced before 1899 such as 1st Generation Colt Single Actions, the thoroughly modern coil spring operated Ruger Single Actions, and the Replica Sixguns, both cartridge firing and cap-n-ball versions.
Competition consists of several stages, usually five or six at the local level, and 12 or more at Regional and National competitions. Each stage normally requires two single action sixguns each loaded with five rounds, a lever action rifle chambered in a pistol cartridge and holding 10 rounds, and several rounds from the shotgun. Targets are normally made of metal and are big and set close. The score is determined by the time for each stage plus five seconds for each target missed. There are two basic classes of competitors, those who approach it mainly as a speed shooting game using low recoiling loads to shoot as fast as possible, and another larger group who just like to shoot the old-style sixguns with the same level loads used in the 1880s. There is the vast difference in recovery time between a minimum velocity .38 Special with a light bullet and a full house .45 Colt black powder load. No matter how one wishes to compete or shoot, safety is the number one rule followed closely by fun.
Cowboy Shooting clubs offer many classes of competition, covering all types of single action sixguns. Whatever the class entered, all loads must be lead bullets only with a muzzle velocity from a sixgun under 1,000 fps. Modern Class is for any .32 or larger single action sixguns with adjustable sights such as the Ruger Blackhawk. Traditional class is for the use of fixed-sighted sixguns such as the Colt Single Action, the Ruger Vaquero, and Smith and Wesson and Remington single actions, real or replicas thereof. This class allows the use of smokeless or black powder loads, as well as cap and ball sixguns. There are several classes that are offshoots of the Traditional Class. Frontier Cartridge allows black powder or black powder substitute loads only; Duelist Class requires the single action sixgun to be cocked and fired one-handed only; Gunfighter is shot double duelist, that is one shoots a sixgun in each hand; and Frontiersman Class requires percussion revolvers. The most recent class is Classic Cowboy requiring sixguns of .40 caliber or higher, and in the case of percussion revolvers, .36 or larger. This class is designed to be historically correct, so the shotgun must be a double-barreled version with outside hammers, while the rifle must be a design from 1873 or earlier. There are also age and gender based categories all resulting in such a very large umbrella that virtually any one interested in shooting single action sixguns is able to get under.
One aspect of Cowboy Action Shooting is Mounted Shooting This game requires two single action sixguns and a good horse. The course of fire consists of balloons on sticks and the competitor must be able to guide his or her horse through the course while shooting .45 Colt blanks at the balloons. The blanks, of course, are for safety, however it still requires a great deal of skill to be able to control the horse and shoot at the same time. Obviously, the most important item in this game is the horse! Said horse must be able to travel the course speedily and safely and at the same time put up with the noise.
Cowboy Fast Draw: The latest single action sixgun game is Cowboy Fast Draw differing from the original Fast Draw in several ways. Steel lined holsters are not permitted, the top of the holster must be no lower than three-inches from the top the belt, and the rules state the holster must be of the Slim Jim or Mexican pattern. Competitors start with their hands on their gun and draw and fire when the light in the center of the target comes on.
Targets are steel discs, 24” in diameter and set anywhere from 15 to 21feet in front of the shooters. Single action sixguns must be chambered in .45 Colt as the ammunition, which consists of a wax bullet and approximately 6.0 grains of black powder, is provided to the shooter. Competition is man-to-man or woman-to-woman with the best three out of five times declaring the winner. Most competitors use 4 3/4” Colts, Colt replicas, or Ruger Vaqueros. I'm still using my 7 1/2” Single Action from an El Paso Saddlery 1897 Sweetwater Mexican loop holster.
Long Range Silhouettes: The sport that tells us more about our shooting ability and also the capability of our single action sixgun than any other is long-range silhouetting. The sport goes back to the 1970s and really grew in the 1980s until it peaked. At one time there were organized silhouette clubs all over the country, however the interest today is nowhere near when it was in the late 1980s. On a cold, wet, rainy, snowy, windswept day in February in the early 1980s we had 132 sign-ups. This is not total shooters, as some shooters shot two or three times, however it does show how popular the sport was. Now the club is gone, the target rails have been removed from the range, and the closest club is 150 miles away.
Throughout this book mention had been made of single action sixguns for long-range shooting. The Long Range Silhouette course of fire consists of 10 each of metal chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams set at 50, 100,150, and 200 meters. While I was competing I used several 10 1/2” barreled single action sixguns such as the Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk and .357 Maximum, the U.S. Sporting Arms .375 SuperMag, and the Freedom Arms Model 83 in .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, and .357 Magnum. All great sixguns, all superbly accurate sixguns, however the most accurate long-range sixgun I ever found was the Freedom Arms Model 83 chambered in .41 Magnum.
Shooting should be fun for the most part, and all of these activities simply add to the enjoyment of life, especially our sixgunnin’ life. Plinking can take place anywhere there's a safe backstop, and organized competitions are now so widespread that one or more should be within a short driving distance of everyone.