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The Outlaw Travis James
by on January 19, 2023
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What are they? Which one should I shoot? Why are there so many?

These are all questions I get asked often from new and prospective shooters. Let me start by saying that categories are confusing. And there are a lot of them, like, A LOT! So many that it confuses even seasoned Match Directors when figuring out awards for their matches.

So, with this mind, I offer this advice to new shooters. Keep it simple when you first start. Basic gun safety, safely completing a CAS stage, basic SASS safety rules, the 170° rule, muzzle discipline, ammo, firearms, leather, and so on. These are all much more important things to learn and focus on when you first start out than what category you will be shooting. In most cases, you will not be winning any category when you first start. So why confuse an already confusing time with worrying about it. Shoot in an Open Category or your Age-Based Category when you first start and leave it at that.

With that being said, lets dive in to the categories.

Open Categories

The Open Categories are the most basic categories in our game. They have SASS minimum requirements for firearms and costuming, and have no age restrictions. They have some very basic guidlines and are the easiest to start with. These two categories are Cowboy, the Open Category, which means any competitor of any age or gender can compete in this category. The Ladies Open Category is Cowgirl, and any lady of any age can compete in this category.

The guidelines from the Shooters Handbook, Version 26.2, January 2022, Page 5 are as follows:

  • May use any main match revolver.
  • Revolvers may be shot in any SASS legal shooting style – EXCEPT Gunfighter.
  • May use any SASS legal main match shotgun and any legal main match rifle.
  • May use any SASS legal ammunition.

Age Based Categories

What are Age Based Categories? I am glad you asked. These are the base categories for SASS competitions. They allow for shooters to compete against others of the same age. The guidelines for these categories are the same as the open categories above.

There are many Age Based categories that attempt to keep the competition as fair as possible. You can always shoot down, meaning you can shoot categories that require a younger minimum age but can never shoot up in an older category. These Age Based Categories are as follows:

  • Buckaroo/Buckarette: 13 and under.
  • Junior Boy/Junior Girl: 16 and under.
  • Wrangler/Lady Wrangler: Age 36 and up.
  • Forty-Niner/Lady Forty-Niner: Age 49 and up.
  • Senior/Lady Senior: Age 60 and up.
  • Silver Senior/Lady Silver Senior: Age 65 and up.
  • Elder Statesman/Grand Dame: Age 70 and up.
  • Cattle Baron/Cattle Baroness: Age 75 and up.
  • El Patron/La Patrona: Age 80 and up.
  • El Rey/La Reina: Age 85 and up.

There are some special guidelines for the Buckaroo and Buckarette categories. Because these are younger shooters, we do not want to discourage them. The rules for this category are meant to help our younger shooters learn how to safely navigate a stage while still keeping it enjoyable.

These guidelines from the Shooters Handbook, Version 26.2, Page 5 are as follows:

    • Buckaroo/Buckarette competitors must use revolvers, rifles, and shotguns meeting the external standards but may be chambered in .22 LR for revolvers and rifles and .410 caliber, 28 ,or 32 gauge shotguns.
    • Standard velocity ammunition for these firearms must be used.
    • Knockdown targets are not required to fall for Buckaroo category shooters. A hit will be scored as long as the target is clearly hit.
    • An alternate target must be provided for all aerial shotgun targets for Buckaroo category competitors.
    • Buckaroo category competitors choosing to use center-fire ammunition in handguns and/or rifles must meet all center-fire power factor and velocity requirements.

A note about the Juniors category. This category is no longer called Young Guns. SASS has updated the category names to Junior Boy and Junior Girl. Also, this category does not have the same exclusions as the Buckaroo/ Buckarette categories do. The ammunition and targeting requirements are the same as for the other Age Based categories. It is not legal to shoot .22 or .410 and you must knock down reactive targets in order to be scored as hits.

Shooting Style Categories

Now that we have a basic understanding of the Open and Age Based Categories, let’s move on to something a little more confusing. The Shooting Style Categories.

These are based on how you choose to shoot your pistols. Two handed, one handed, or two at a time, one in each hand. These shooting styles are known as Traditional, Duelist, and Gunfighter, respectively.

Traditional

Shooting with two hands in contact with the gun is called Traditional. This is the shooting style the vast majority of shooters choose to compete in. They will typically shoot this in the Age Based or Open Categories but it is not limited to them. This is the most basic shooting style and the easiest to start with. I recommend that ALL new shooters start with this shooting style so they can learn the basics of Cowboy Action Shooting and its rules before moving on to a more complicated shooting style.

Duelist

Shooting with only one hand in contact with the gun is called Duelist. We can shoot Duelist in any category (there are a few exceptions for Gunfighter but it can be done) without shooting the DuelistCategory’ for the entire match. But you can also shoot the Duelist category and that requires you to shoot with one hand for the entire match. There are two variations of Duelist (not separate categories). Single Duelist, where the shooter shoots with one hand only but uses the same hand each time (i.e. always the left hand or always the right hand). And Double Duelist where the shooter shoots one pistol with each hand, but again, only one at a time.

Let’s look at the definitions of Duelist from the Shooters Handbook, Version 26.2 January 2022, Page 6.

Duelist style is defined as shooting a revolver cocked and fired one-handed and unsupported. The revolver, hand, or shooting arm may not be touched by the offhand except when resolving a malfunctioning revolver problem or when transferring the revolver from one hand to the other. Duelists may shoot one revolver right-handed and one revolver left-handed in what is commonly referred to as “Double Duelist”. Double Duelist is NOT a standalone shooting category.

  1. Duelist Rules:
    • Any main match, fixed sight model revolver may be used.
    • Any SASS legal main match shotgun and legal main match rifle may be used.
    • Any SASS legal ammunition may be used.
    • Only duelist style or double duelist style may be used.
    • The competitor shall not have two loaded revolvers in hand at once. (This may be corrected before cocking either one without penalty.)
    • Cross-draw holsters are allowed by any competitor shooting Duelist/Double Duelist style in any category.

As the die hard Duelists like to say, “Duelist is the coolest.” And that may be so, but not for new shooters. This category carries a lot of safety challenges that may not be the best for new shooters to start with. It is advisable to dry fire practice extensively and to get a mentor in this shooting style before attempting to shoot it live fire. The nuances in this style are many, and having a full understanding of them is critical for having success here. I am not trying to discourage anyone from shooting this category. This category is one that requires a little more practice than Traditional does, especially if you plan to shoot Double Duelist.

One more thing to consider here is that pistols that are comfortable to shoot Traditional, may not be so for Duelist. Due to the requirement to cock the pistols with the same hand you pull the trigger with, some hammer and pistol styles are not very easy to use. Most Duelists use pistols with lower hammers, half cocks, and wider hammer spurs. These modifications make it much easier to cock the pistols one handed. Not all Duelists have these modifications on their pistols but most have at least one or more to help facilitate this shooting style.

Gunfighter

And now we come to what is arguably the sexiest category in SASS, but also the one of the most complex; Gunfighter. Gunfighter is where a competitor shoots with two pistols (one in each hand) at the same time. They are required to shoot 5 shots with each hand. If a stage has split pistols, they can shoot Double Duelist but not Single Duelist. You can only shoot Gunfighter in a Gunfighter Category (i.e. Gunfighter, Senior Gunfighter, Lady Gunfighter, etc.) or in B-Western. If you do shoot this style in any other category, it is a Procedural for shooting out of category.

Gunfighter is a shooting style that adds a lot more challenge to our game. Shooting with one pistol in each hand at the same time is complicated and has many safety factors to consider. You must be able to safely handle and shoot a pistol in your weak hand. You must be able to safely draw and holster two pistols at the same time. You must be able to navigate a stage with two pistols in your hands. Because of these things and many others, it is recommended that you get a lot of dry fire practice and mentoring before attempting this category live fire.

Let us take a look at the special rules and guidelines from the Shooters Handbook, Version 26.2, January 2022, Pages 6&7:

Gunfighter style is defined as shooting with a revolver in each hand. Revolvers must be cocked and fired one handed, unsupported, one right-handed and the other left-handed. There is no set pattern as to how the revolvers are to be fired, but alternating revolvers is clearly the most efficient.

  • Gunfighter Rules:
  • Any main match fixed sight revolver may be used.
  • Only Gunfighter style or Double Duelist style may be used.
  • Any SASS legal main match shotgun and legal main match rifle may be used.
  • Any SASS legal ammunition may be used.
  • Two holsters are required, one on each side.
  • Gunfighter style category competitors are allowed two loaded revolvers “in hand” at the same time.
  • Gunfighter style competitors are prohibited from utilizing a simultaneous “double cross draw” method of drawing or holstering revolvers.
  • Gunfighter style competitors must shoot FIVE rounds with each hand – regardless of how they are drawn from leather.
  • The revolvers must never be held in an unsafe manner (e.g., one revolver behind the other)
  • When a stage calls for 10 revolver rounds in a single sequence or the use of only one revolver for the stage, the Gunfighter may draw both revolvers and engage the targets. The Gunfighter shall shoot the targets in exactly the same sequence as prescribed in the stage scenario.
  • A Gunfighter may utilize any sequence that is available for use by any other shooting category.
  • Stage instructions that specify separate revolvers such as “first pistol/second pistol,” “left revolver/right revolver,” or “with each handgun” are interpreted as “1st five shots/2nd five shots” when shooting Gunfighter style.
  • Both revolvers may be cocked at the same time but must be shot one at a time to facilitate scoring.
  • A Gunfighter may not holster revolvers with the intent to engage another revolver sequence.
  • Stage design may allow a competitor shooting Gunfighter style to stage or restage revolvers between target sequences. If the shooter’s hands are otherwise constrained (e.g., rolling the dice between revolver sequences), the revolvers must be drawn and shot one at a time (double duelist) unless they can be safely staged rather than holstered. In this case, both revolvers may be employed at the same time for the first five rounds, safely restaged, and then employed at the same time again for the second five rounds.

So as you can see, Gunfighter requires much more study of the rules. There are rules for this category that apply to no other and they can be very confusing. This shooting style is best left for more experienced shooters. One note I would like to make, if you choose to shoot this challenging category, do not complain about a stage design being more challenging ("not Gunfighter friendly") for this shooting style. That entire is the point of this shooting category.

Costume Categories

Now we come to the Costume Categories. There are only two official SASS Sanctioned Costume Categories, B-Western and Classic Cowboy. Each of these has their own firearms and costume requirements. They are far too extensive to cover in this blog. I will refer you to the Shooters Handbook pages 7-9 for all of them. I will cover the basics so that we can understand the differences between them.

Classic Cowboy

Classic Cowboy is the category most folks outside of CAS think of when they imagine how a Cowboy Action Shooter should be costumed. It requires five costume accouterments to be worn throughout the duration of the match, including awards ceremonies. These can include things such as chaps, spurs & rowels, vests, scarfs, among many others. This category paints the most romantic picture of what most think of old west cowboys.

There are also firearms requirements for this category. The pistols must be fixed sight and shot Duelist shooting style. Rifles must be of a model that was first manufactured in 1873 or earlier and both the pistols and rifle must be of a rimmed cartridge .40 caliber or larger. Some examples include, .38-40, .44 Special, .44 Russian, .44 Mag., .44-40, .45 Schofield, .45 Colt, or .36 caliber or larger cap and ball. Shotguns can only be any SASS legal external hammered double barrel, lever action, or single-shot shotgun. All pistol holsters must be worn so that the grips rest above the top of the gun belt. i.e. no buscadero rigs.

There are separate costuming rules for Classic Cowgirl. There are other costuming and firearms requirements to legally compete in this category. Please see the Shooters Handbook for reference.

B-Western

B-Western is the other SASS Sanctioned Costume Category. It is meant to illustrate the glory days of the B-Western serial TV shows and movies. Costumes and leather are to be flashy with lots of embroidery and embellishments. Also encouraged, emulating a specific character from your favorite B-Westerns. So if you are a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood fan, or really love the spaghetti westerns; stick to Classic Cowboy. But if you grew up watching Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, or Roy Rogers & Trigger, then this is the costume category for you.

B-Western is unique in a few ways. For one, any SASS legal shooting style can be used at any time during the match. So if you so choose, you can shoot one stage Traditional, another Duelist, and a third Gunfighter. This is the only SASS Sanctioned Category that allows this. This is also the only Category that requires a belt to be worn with your costume and disallows braces (suspenders). And this is also the only Category to require spurs with rowels to be worn.

The firearms requirements for this B-Western are unique as well. Any SASS Legal revolver can be used, including those with adjustable sights. Any SASS legal rifle first manufactured in 1880 or later may be used. So that means no Model 1873’s. Most shooters choose a Marlin Model 1894 for this category. And any SASS legal shotgun may be used.

Leather must be embellished with stitching, or conchos, and Buscadero rigs are required for this category. You must use holsters that situate the grips of the pistols below the top of the holster belt. This is definitely the “Fancy Pants” category within CAS.

Again, please refer to the Shooters Handbook for all the Costume Category requirements and guidelines. Each one has its own appeal and tends to get new shooters thinking about them nostalgically. This is normal, but starting with one of these categories makes for a much steeper learning curve. It also slows new shooters down from attending and shooting their first match because much more gear and specific firearms are required. Just a note, these are the only two SASS Sanctioned Categories that require a hat to worn.

I do not want to discourage those who want to shoot these costume categories. Let’s say there is a shooter who wants to shoot Classic Cowboy. A safe progression would be to come out to a match with the guns and gear you already have and shoot your Age Based Category to get started. Then start dry fire practice and eventually live fire practice in the Duelist shooting style. Once proficient in safe gun handling, shoot the Duelist Category while acquiring the necessary guns and costuming. Once all of these things are squared away, then switch over to Classic Cowboy. This course of action will set you up for success and prevent discouragement when first starting out.

Frontier Cartridge

Frontier Cartridge uses black powder loads to obscure the targets behind clouds of smoke. Why would anyone want to do this? To make our sport even more challenging and using the holy black or substitute certainly accomplishes this.

Let’s look at the Rules governing the Frontier Cartridge Category from the Shooters Handbook, Pages 9-10:

Frontier Cartridge Rules:

  • Any main match fixed sight model revolver
  • Revolvers may be shot two handed or one handed (Duelist style) in Frontier Cartridge category but only one handed in Frontier Cartridge Duelist category. (See Duelist style description for parameters.)
  • If shooting Frontier Cartridge Gunfighter, only Gunfighter-style or Double Duelist style may be used. (See Gunfighter style description for parameters.)
  • Must use blackpowder in all loads (rifle, revolver, and shotgun)
  • Must use a side-by-side, single shot, or lever action shotgun in the main match stages.
  • Any SASS legal pistol caliber rifle is acceptable.

At a Roughshod Raiders Monthly Match in the not too distant past we had our typical first stage conditions of 100% humidity, wispy patches of fog, no wind, and the sun rising from behind the berm. Santa Rosa Slinger steps up to shoot only his second match as a Frontier Cartridge Gunfighter with loads that included copious amounts of black powder substitute. After his  his rifle string, the entire bay was a whiteout. By the end of the stage, the entire posse was coughing, choking, and waving our hands in front of our faces, looking for some relief from the black powder smog that had engulfed us all. And I, being on deck, had to wait for a few minutes to start my stage so that I could see the targets.

https://youtube.com/shorts/lLLX5_fhQtE?feature=share ;

This anecdote illustrates the fun some find with shooting this category. It makes the stages level of difficulty raise as high as the humidity. If you are into shooting loads that make your ears ring and nose itch, then this is the category for you.

There are many considerations to account for before embarking on this journey. One is that there are very few commercial manufactures of black powder rounds and if you are able to find them, the cost is very prohibitive. There are also very few manufacturers of black powder substitute and even fewer for real black powder. Another consideration is the requirement of more maintenance on the firearms before, during, and after the matches.

Black Powder is messy and requires a lot more cleaning. There are those die-hard dark-siders who will refute this claim until the smoke settles. But I can assure you, no matter what witches’ brew of cleaner and lube you choose, black powder requires more cleaning and maintenance to keep your guns operating safely.

It is advisable to start in an Age Based Category and figure out what caliber you would like to shoot before switching over to Frontier Cartridge. The calibers that have necked cases (i.e. .38-40, .44-40, .32-20, etc) work a little better at keeping the guns clean because they seal the chamber tighter than straight case calibers. This keeps fouling mostly to the breech face and bore. These calibers are more difficult to load and is just another reason to get more than a few matches under your belt before considering this category. But when you finally do, I hear that they have cookies.

Frontiersman Category

And last, but certainly not least, is the most complicated category in our game, Frontiersman. This is, in my opinion, the most unique category in Cowboy Action Shooting. It is also the most complex and requires an expert knowledge of black powder, cap and ball percussion pistols, and the duelist shooting style. If you like to load your pistols, for the entire match, then this is the category you are looking for.

Of course, I’m being facetious regarding that last remark. But I wasn’t when I said that this is the most complicated and involved category of them all. You are using pistols that are very difficult for most smiths to make run reliably, stuffing them with black powder that makes the targets hard to see and gunks the guns up, and shooting them the most challenging pistol style, duelist. Add to this, most use actual cap and ball pistols, as opposed to conversions, so loading them is a task in and of itself.

Flashback: EOT 2021 at Paradise Pass, IN. It is Warm Up Day 2, just after lunch and my practice posse is starting on Stage 1. I go up and shoot a very lack luster first stage of the afternoon, maybe too much BBQ for lunch. Then I grab the camcorder from Chickie to film the next few shooters. Cowboy Carty walks up and blazes through the stage in around 16 seconds leaving me highly impressed. Then Deuce Stevens comes up and literally double taps us into oblivian in 13 seconds. “WOW!” was the only thing I could think after watching this. And then, a short little dude with curly hair, a mustache, and a hat bigger than we was, carrying these funny-looking pistols; comes up to the firing line singing, “Here I come to save the DAYYYY!!!Chili Pepper Pete then proceeds to shoot the stage in 21 seconds as a Frontiersman. This, to me, was the most impressive out of all the performances due to the high level of difficulty involved with shooting his category.

I unfourunately do not have the video from that stage. But here is Chili demonstrating how the Frontiersman Category is shot.

https://youtu.be/lrv9_KzB0IU

Here are the Rules for Frontiersmen from the Shooters Handbook, Page 10:

Frontiersman Rules:

  • Any main match percussion revolver with fixed sights.
  • Revolvers must be shot Duelist or Double Duelist style. See Duelist description for required shooting technique.
  • Must use blackpowder in all loads (rifle, revolver, and shotgun).
  • Must use a side-by-side, single shot, or lever action shotgun in the main match stages.
  • Any SASS legal pistol caliber rifle is acceptable.

This is a category specifically for those with a lot of experience, patience, and wherewithal. The learning curve with this category is the steepest in our game. This is definitely not a beginners category. You will absolutely need a mentor to help you with this category because of the intricacy of the firearms, black powder, and shooting style. If someone where to start shooting CAS that had experience with these three aspects of shooting, then they may be able to jump right in. But those folks are most certainly the exception and not the rule.

Unofficial Categories

SASS does allow for local Match Directors to offer categories not specifically sanctioned by SASS rules. There are many variations of each and they tend to follow unofficial rules by region. I will cover a few of the more popular unofficial categories here. Keep in mind that not all matches at the State Level or higher will offer these categories.

Outlaw

Outlaw is the category that puts the TV show the Rifleman to shame. If you have ever seen Tennessee Tombstone or Bo Dacious shoot a stage in the teens as an Outlaw, I think you'd agree. This is certainly a category that requires the shooter to be one with the gun. The thing that comes to mind whenever I see someone shooting Outlaw is, “Sights are for sissies.”

The competitors shooting Outlaw shoot their shotgun and pistols from the hip, not using any sights. The most Outlaw-ish shoot their rifle from the hip as well.

I believe this category was started at Ponderosa Pines in Kentucky. Black Gold, hosted at the Ponderosa Pines by Copper Joe and company is the place to see all the Outlaws in action. Shooters who typically do not shoot this category shoot it during this match. I’ve been told is makes for some very comical stage runs.

Josey Wales

This is a category where I have seen some different variations. Down in Florida, they shoot this category using four pistols and a shotgun. They will replace the rifle string with another pistol string. This makes that string much more challenging because of the farther rifle targets being engaged with pistols. I have also seen this category shot with 5 pistols and if a stage requires more than 5 shotgun knockdowns, the shooters must do a pistol reload on the clock.

During Ambush at Cavern Cove, the 2022 Southeastern Regional hosted by the North Alabama Regulators, I had the pleasure of posseing with Kentucky Drifter who shot Josey Wales for the match. This was by far the coolest variation of the category I have ever seen. He shot each stage with five pistols. But he would shoot his pistol string Gunfighter, his rifle string Traditional, and his shotgun string Duelist. I throughly enjoyed watching him put his pistol shooting skills on display for the weekend.

Steampunk

This is a category I have little experience with. I could not find any guidelines about it in my research for this blog. So I am going to take an excerpt from an article by Leota Harriman in the Independent because she describes it much better than I can.

“This year, SASS has added a new category to its costume competition: Steampunk, a unique sub-genre of science fiction.

In announcing the new category, SASS Board member, Barb Ormand (Cat Ballou, SASS #55) explained, “For some time, many SASS costume aficionados have embraced the Steampunk genre by wearing Steampunk-inspired attire at matches across the country.”

“Steampunk will be a costume category only” with awards for Best Dressed Steampunk Men and Ladies, she explained. Additionally, Ormand clarified shooting match competitors who choose to compete in Steampunk attire will be considered to have met the costume requirement.

But exactly how does sci-fi meet the Old West? With a membership who already embraces fantasy by taking on an alias and dressing in Old West clothing to compete on the shooting range, it’s an easy leap to include Steampunk style. If you are unfamiliar with that style, think along the lines of the 1960s TV series, “Wild, Wild West,” or Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Steampunk has been described as retro-futurism. It’s a fantastical, alternate world where the retro style of Victorian- or Wild West-era clothing, culture, and architecture intersect with advanced technology dominated by steam-powered and mechanical gadgets because—in that perceived timeline—the invention of electricity and the internal combustion engine never happened.”

Original Article: https://edgewood.news/sass-end-of-trail-gets-steampunked/

There are many other unofficial categories, and they tend to be a locally or regionally based.  Some of these include King of Kaboom, Pale Rider Gunfighter, Sultan of Smoke, and many others.

Conclusion

As far as gender for categories, there are only two. Open Categories that allow both genders to participate. And Ladies Categories that only allow women to shoot in them. SASS does not offer man’s only categories.

And there is even more nuance involved in Categories. What if you want to shoot Gunfighter shooting style, prefer black powder, and are 66 years old? You could shoot the Frontier Cartridge Silver Senior Gunfighter category, if offered by the match.

SASS allows for Frontier Cartridge to be added to most categories, excluding the Costume Categories. They also allow Base Categories to be broken down into subcategories by age, gender, propellent type, etc. The possibilities are literally endless and will drive a Match Director crazy trying to get awards figured out for their matches.

So, now that everyone is more confused than they were when we started, stick to your Age Based Category when you first start out. It will make your learning curve much easier to deal with at first. You won’t need to worry about special rules or firearms requirements. There are no special accouterments or costuming requiring above the base. And it will allow you, as a new shooter, to get out to the range sooner and start shooting. Once you get more comfortable with our game, then you can start to explore the plethora of categories offered by SASS.

I hope this helps explain some of the categories. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

What is your favorite category? What unofficial categories did I miss?  Let me know down in the comments.

The OTJ

If you would like more information about the SASS Officially Sanctioned Categories, please follow the link below to the Shooters Handbook.

https://www.sassnet.com/the-shooting/cowboy-action-shooting/handbooks-rules

***UDPATE*** Please see the Category Matrix attachment compiled by Dogmeat Dad for a visual representation of all the SASS Sanctioned Categories.

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