Americans are known around the globe for the romanticized Cowboy imagery made famous by Hollywood. The Old West certainly did have its share of larger-than-life gunslingers and lawmen to capture the imagination. Hollywood Westerns, with stars like John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, often portrayed rough yet principled characters that, to many, epitomize American grit.
Today, Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) seeks to keep that cowboy spirit alive with the competitive sport of Cowboy Action Shooting – a challenge of skills, with a measure of style and lots of good, old-fashioned fun. Started in the early 1980s by a handful of founding members, SASS is now the sanctioning authority for Cowboy Action Shooting (1860s-1899 era) and Wild Bunch Action Shooting (early 1900s), with thousands of members across four continents. And, each one uses a catchy alias—just like in the movies.
In this sport, competitors are presented a series of ever-changing shooting scenarios that challenge their speed, accuracy, and mental concentration. Adding to the challenge, and the fun, competitors must compete in period-specific costumes using replica handguns, rifles, and shotguns of the Old West era.
Each June, at Founders Ranch in Edgewood, SASS hosts the World Championships of Cowboy Action Shooting and Wild West Jubilee. Competitors from around the world vie for coveted titles in numerous categories, but the biggest belt buckles go to Overall Men’s Champion and Overall Women’s Champion. The public is encouraged to experience all the excitement and entertainment on June 23 and 24. Admission is just $5 a person.
So, is Cowboy Action Shooting a sport that becomes a lifestyle, or a lifestyle that becomes a sport?
“It’s a little of each,” says Barb Ormand, alias Cat Ballou. With her husband, Tex, founding member SASS #4, they have spent decades participating, sharing, and traveling to support the sport. Tex was Overall Men’s World Champion in 1986, and today, in his mid-70s, his shooting remains top notch. He says he’s thrilled to be doing what he loves, and his contagious laughter on the range makes it clear he’s having a great time.
“Boggus Deal” (aka Travis Boggus) of Stanley came to the sport already possessing period correct equipment. That’s unusual, but he had dreamed of being a cowboy since childhood. About 12 years ago, his friend, alias Billy Boots, introduced him to Cowboy Action Shooting and, as Boggus tells it, “Turns out, I was pretty good.”
He is being modest. Boggus since then has captured state and National titles, and second place at the World Championships a couple times. It goes without saying he is fast, but watching him shoot at a recent regional match helped put it in perspective. He fired 36 shots, hitting a series of 36 prescribed targets, while switching among 3 different firearms—all in just under 30 seconds! Woah, Nelly!
At the same match, “Texas Tiger” (aka Terri Galpin) of Tijeras, a many-times state, national and world title holder, also put up great times. But, beyond scores, it’s her laser-like mental focus that is so impressive. While ‘on deck’ she prepared her attack on the targets by going through the motions in her mind. In an interview prior to the match, Tiger disclosed her highly competitive nature, mentioning she practices mentally every day. She also shoots long range with a cowboy rifle. At a Utah event, she set a range record, as the first-ever male or female competitor to shoot a perfect 15 out of 15, at distances up to 490 yards.
Tiger recalled a New Mexico state match, where the scenario required standing in a bathtub to shoot. Knowing her competitive nature, and seeing an opportunity, a fellow competitor poured water in Tiger’s boot, “But, the distraction didn’t work,” laughed Tiger. It’s laughter that she loves best about the sport, and being able to spend time together with her husband.
Tiger got into Cowboy Action Shooting when her British-born husband, alias Jim Miller, asked if she would help him fulfill his childhood dream of shooting Western. It’s a sport they’ve pursued together ever since. Now, he laughs at what he’s unleashed, because Tiger, an admitted introvert, regularly outscores him on the range.
Watching and listening, it’s obvious that laughter and generous spirit are as much a part of this sport as the costumes and guns. Maybe that’s why it’s such an intoxicating mix, drawing in people from all walks of life and around the world. It’s permission to let your inner child play a bit, while simultaneously challenging the adult part of your brain. Boggus has met people from around the world, stayed overnight at the homes of people he only knows by their SASS alias, and has a standing invitation to visit an Australian SASS friend any time.
He’s traveled much of the West, to participate in matches, even finding romance on the range at a match in Roswell, where Boggus met his future significant other, Lady Jane. Jane began Cowboy Action Shooting with her dad while she was still in high school. Twelve years later, she is an accomplished Lady Wrangler winning numerous titles, including a world championship in 2016.
That camaraderie is a common denominator among SASS members. As Boggus puts it, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, bank president, auto mechanic, or ditch digger – everyone treats everyone the same, everyone cares about each other. There is no judgment.”
Lady Jane explains that competitors are very supportive in this sport and often become close friends, pushing each other and helping each other: “If your gun breaks during a match, it’s probably your closest competitor who will lend you her own, so that you can continue. It’s like family out here.”
Boggus mentions the joy of watching one youngster grow up in the sport. He recalls a young boy, about 12 years old, coming out with his family. “He was so short we had to lift him up to see over to the targets. Now, he’s 6’2”, 210 pounds, and becoming a fine man; going to college, and becoming a fine member of society.” You can hear the pride in Boggus’ voice as he speaks about the kind of people he’s met and grown to know because of this sport.
Asked about the cost of participating in Cowboy Action Shooting, Boggus says, it’s like any sport, “You can spend a little, or you can spend a lot.” He’s quick to point out that having the most expensive equipment won’t make you the best shot. Boggus recommends people start out slow, ask for advice from those with experience and look for good deals on used guns. He also notes that costuming rules are very basic, jeans, long-sleeved shirt, boots, and eye protection. Anything beyond that is optional.
“Some get great enjoyment out of the costuming, though,” Boggus points out. One trip to the costume closet at Barb and Tex’s home proves that true. It also proves men, can and do, take up just as much closet space a woman when it comes to their cowboy wear. The collection these SASS ambassadors have gathered over 30 years of living the SASS lifestyle includes beautiful dresses, coats, wigs, hats, and boots. In fact, for Tex, each item tells a story, and he shares his passion for the cowboy way as much through his costumes as through his time on the range.
It’s rare to have the opportunity to experience world-class sports, here, in New Mexico. But, we are fortunate to have Cowboy Action Shooting and Wild Bunch Action Shooting World Championships right here, in our own back yards. Experience a little bit of our Western heritage, watch competitors share their incredible talents, and share a lot of laughter and good times at End of Trail and Wild West Jubilee. So, who will be the fastest guns in the world? Find out on June 23 and 24 at Founders Ranch, Edgewood.