Real Western > Firearms

Firearms of the West, Fast Draw

When speaking of close partners of the cowboy since the old west, equally important as his horse was his guns. Even today, sports such as Cowboy Action Shooting, where competitors wrapped in cloths of the time, fire at targets from aboard horseback, and Fast Draw competitions where winners are determined by the hundredth and even the thousandth of a second are gaining in popularity.

Though real guns can not be used in Japan, realistic replicas are utilized for many Fast Draw competitions all over the country every year.

The gun most popular during the time of the cowboy and the old west has to be the Colt Peace Maker, and the rifles of Winchester. Though today, many cowboys carry six-shooters made by Ruger.

Though pistols exert much power at close quarters, they become ineffective against any target over 30 meters away. When hunting or firing at targets that far or further, it is most common to use a rifle.

When people talk of cowboys, it is common for some to imagine a man on a horse with a wide brimmed hat and a gun on his hip. Today, though some cowboys do carry pistols in a holster, it is more for shooting snakes and other wild animals which may pose a threat to them or their livestock, and not for dueling with other men. Even during the opening of the west, this was more the reason a cowboy would carry a gun. While driving cattle through rough terrain cross country, it was seldom cowboys would encounter other people, and there was very little opportunity for them to engage in a heated gun-battle often portrayed in the movies.

It should be remembered that the term "cowboy" is reserved for those men who spent their days tending to and driving cattle, and does not include those outlaws and lawmen known as "gunmen" or "shootists" who were most likely to be involved in battles at the end of a gun. Cowboys of the old west were not called cowboys because of the cloths they wore, but because of their occupation. Cowboys of the day wore the same cheap, tough clothing that most men of the west (including outlaws, lawmen, gunmen and shootists) wore, and as such, people of today often confuse the two types of men.


They have a strong resemblance to the Colt SAA,
but are actually from Ruger.

The star of old westerns, and the gun most often hung in the gun belt of western pioneers was the Peace Maker from Colt. The official name was the "Colt Single Action Army .45" or the "SAA". The historical masterpiece of Colt first went on sale in 1873, and was just as valued in pioneering the west as the trustworthy Winchester M1873 rifle.

A revolver capable of carrying six shots, it was a single action piece which required the shooter to cock the hammer before pulling the trigger to fire. To load the weapon, the lever on the right was pulled down to reveal a chamber in the cylinder where the bullet would be inserted. The rod below the barrel would be pulled forward in order to eject the used cartridges.

As the name suggests, the bullets were 45 caliber, and the pistol used a type of bullet known as .45 Long Colt. The pistol was significantly powerful enough to injure or kill. At the time, guns were mainly for killing other men, and if you consider the necessity for a large caliber pistol which could result in a kill with one shot, it is understandable why the SAA became as popular as it did.

However, the SAA also came in models ranging from .22 to .476 caliber, and in 30 different variations. It seems there were even models which did not have the ejecting rod explained above.

There were also variations in appearance due to the length of the barrel, and were often distinguished by names such as the Sheriffs', Civilian, Artillery or the Calvary to name a few. The Colt often seen on the silver screen is the Civilian version. It is known as the most well balanced and beautiful model.

The SAA is still being manufactured by Colt today, after a number of halts in production in the past. Colt restarted the manufacturing in 1992, and has continued to this day. According to the 1997 edition of "Gun Digest" the retail price for a SAA in the U.S. is $1,200, about twice the cost of an average pistol. (It should be noted that Colt no longer conducts sales to the general public.)

As I side note, I should like to add that there are a number of pistols out on the market today by other firearms manufacturers which closely resemble the SAA. In particular, the Cimarron Frontier, EAA Big Bore and the Rugar Vaquero are practically identical to the SAA.

Winchester M1873

The M1873 is a lever action rifle manufactured by Winchester, which stood side to side in popularity with the Colt SAA during the opening of the west.

Winchester first debuted the lever action with their 14 shot 1860 model, commonly known as the Henry Rifle, which quickly gained significant popularity. In 1866, Winchester introduced their 1866 model which featured a revised loading mechanism, a flawed element in the 1860 model. Further revising the rifle, the 1873 model was introduced seven years later.

The mechanism of the M1873 was made of steel instead of the common iron, thus allowing the use of the powerful .44-40 round. A M1876 model with an extended mechanism allowing the use of .44-70 was also created later.

Lever action allowed the operator to extract a used cartridge, and load a fresh one by simply pulling the lever below the rifle down and returning it. The lever was made part of the trigger guard, and the operator could reload the rifle without having to remove the rifle from their shoulder, thus allowing for a better flowing operation of the weapon.

Looking at the rifle, it would seem to have two barrels, but only has one. The chamber below the barrel is actually the tube magazine where the rounds would be loaded. The lever action would extract a round from here, and insert it into the chamber. Having the magazine under the barrel kept the it from interfering with the operator, but as rounds were used, the change in weight distribution would make the rifle less suited for precision firing.

Winchester continues to manufacture and sale this lever action rifle, and it is still quite popular. The recent M94 model closely resembles the M1873, and is retailed at around $500. Uberti, Browning and Marlin also manufacture lever action models as well.

Cowboy Action Shooting Sports

Written by James Faulkner

The sun is high in the blue cloudless sky as the cowboy wearing a town Sheriffs badge faces several gunmen in the dusty street. He knows he must face this gang that has terrorized the countryside. Suddenly, he sees movement, and with pistols blazing he quickly and accurately hits each man twice with bullets from his two .45 Colts, then as more bad men appear, he uses his rifle and double-barreled shotgun to scatter them, and bring justice to those that had been harmed.

This scenario did not occur in the 1880s in an American western town, but is played out monthly by my firearm shooting clubs Western Action discipline in Albany Oregon, and also approximately 600 clubs located throughout the United States, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France and Italy. Membership in our parent organization called the Single Action Shooting Society, or S.A.S.S. tm has surpassed 80,000 dedicated folks.

S.A.S.S. administers the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting tm, (or C.A.S.) which, according to its website: is a multi-faceted shooting sport in which contestants compete with firearms typical of those used in the taming of the Old West: single action revolvers, pistol caliber lever action rifles, and old time shotguns. The shooting competition is staged in a unique, characterized, "Old West" style. It is a timed sport in which shooters compete for prestige on a course of different shooting stages.

Each member, when competing in a shooting match, will fire two pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun at relatively close distances of between 7-13 yards at steel targets, with soft lead bullets, in each of five stages, or five separate areas. The shooters total time is recorded, and any shots missing a target results in 5 seconds being added to their time. The member with the fastest time wins the match. No money is involved in winning, but ribbons and trophies are awarded after the shooting has finished.

One exciting aspect of the sport is that each state, or province, has a championship, as do each region, or country, and the final World Championship is held each June in New Mexico whereapproximately 1200 cowboys and cowgirls compete for titles and awards. Along with the costumes, and firearms, C.A.S. is a social time, where after the shooting is finished each day,saloon dances, old west-style campfire cooking, and card-playing is enjoyed as well.

Finally S.A.S.S. hosts a convention each December in Las Vegas Nevada, where competitions, informational classes, awards, and an Old West-style Ball are enjoyed by about 3000 members who attend on their own. It was at this Convention last year, that I, and my group from Oregon, met Masaji Munekuni and his friend, who were there attending the National Finals Rodeo.

I recently read an article that reported of a C.A.S. club being formed in Japan, with members shooting air guns, but I cannot locate any information on that.

Thanks for letting me tell you about our sport, and I hope to see cowboys in Japan allowed to have as much fun as we do, whether its with real pistols, or air guns.


World Fast Draw Association(WFDA) - Japan (Japanese)
Officail page of fast draw in Japan.
Pale Riders (Japanese)
A group of fast draw in Tokyo, Japan.
Pemay Club (Japanese)
A group of fast draw in Japn.
Bang ! Beat (Japanese)
Kansai Branch of WFDA-JAPAN.
Hartford company (Japanese)
Toy gun manufacture.
Japan Cowboy Shooting Network (Japanese)
A group of cowboy action shooiting. Shoot a baloon from horseback riding with old western fashion.



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