'It's the cowboy way': Cowboy action shooting is the ultimate fantasy sport for Old West fans

It looked like the set of "Gunsmoke" the past few days at the Oklahoma City Gun Club, only Marshal Dillon, Festus and Miss Kitty weren't there. However, there were plenty of people dressed like them.

The gun club north of Arcadia hosted the national championships for cowboy action shooting, a game where competitors pull the triggers on Old West replica guns (pre-1900 designs) and wear the clothes of Wyatt Earp and Annie Oakley.

The Single Action Shooting Society, the governing body for cowboy action shooting, was formed in 1987 in southern California. Today, there are more than 113,000 SASS members, with competitors in every state and 14 countries.

John Simpson, of Magnolia, Texas, ejects a casing Friday as he shoots his lever action rifle. The Oklahoma City Gun Club hosted the national championship of cowboy action shooting.
John Simpson, of Magnolia, Texas, ejects a casing Friday as he shoots his lever action rifle. The Oklahoma City Gun Club hosted the national championship of cowboy action shooting.

"SASS was sort of formed as a fantasy sport. We like to say we are in the entertainment business," said Misty Miller, aka Misty Moonshine, the chief executive officer of SASS. "It's kind of an escape from the real world and all the pressures of that."

Every member of SASS has an alias and during cowboy action matches, nobody calls anybody by their real names, just their cowboy monikers. That's part of the fun. But make no mistake, there are shooters who take this game very seriously.

"There are some fierce competitors out here," Miller said.

More:Boundaries set in Oklahoma Panhandle to search for CWD in deer and elk

A game of speed and accuracy

Cowboy action is a game of speed and accuracy. Participants each shoot single-action revolvers, a lever action rifle and either a pump style or side-by-side shotgun at various stages along the course.

They fire at steel targets and can't pull their six-shooters from their holsters or pick up a rifle or shotgun until the timer starts. Missing a target is a five-second penalty. Shooting the targets out of order is a 10-second penalty.

Each stage is set up like an Old West scene. The cowboy action range at the Oklahoma City Gun Club includes a fort, livery stable, saloon, jail, mercantile, corral, bank, mine and more. Groups of shooters, called posses, move from stage to stage during the match.

"Crazy props. Everywhere you go is different," said Charles Evan, of Tulsa, aka Deadeye Dillard, the current overall world champion in cowboy action shooting. "I've done lots of shooting sports and this one is just more dynamic. There is more going on."

The Oklahoma City Gun Club holds cowboy action matches twice a month on its shooting range. There are six cowboy action shooting clubs around the state.

Phoenix has been the site of the national championship in the shooting sport for the past 30 years, but in late February and early March the world championship will be held there, which is why the national championship was relocated this year to Oklahoma City.

More than 700 shooters from 40 states and four countries (Canada, Australia, Norway, Sweden) participated in the national championship match in Oklahoma City.

'Every kid learns differently': Why a downtown OKC school is offering fishing to students

The Oklahoma City Gun Club played host to the national championship of cowboy action shooting. More than 700 competitors, dressed in Old West attire and shooting the guns of the Old West, competed on Friday.
The Oklahoma City Gun Club played host to the national championship of cowboy action shooting. More than 700 competitors, dressed in Old West attire and shooting the guns of the Old West, competed on Friday.

What's cooler than a cowboy?

Sander Koegsiera of Sweden, aka Ray Heartless, is part of a Scandinavian group of SASS members, normally competing against shooters from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland back home. He's been shooting cowboy action for 20 years and made a 13-hour flight to Oklahoma City to play cowboy.

"Our generation was brought up with Clint Eastwood and all the cowboy movies and it's in our system," he said.

How much fun does he have shooting in cowboy action matches? "On a scale of one to 10?" he asked. "10,000 maybe."

There are men's, women's and youth divisions in cowboy action shooting. Most participants shoot .38 caliber lead ammo but there are divisions for more high-powered guns and blackpowder.

Thirteen-year-old Luke Hanna, of Tulsa, aka the Lever Action Kid, discovered cowboy action at a local gun range more than two years ago and was hooked.

"Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a cowboy," Hanna said. "What's cooler than that?"

Now Hanna is the reigning world champion in the buckaroo division (age 13 and younger) and the overall Oklahoma state champion, even outscoring reigning world champion Deadeye Dillard at this year's state championship.

Oklahoma hunting seasons: Here's your guide to 2022 regulations, dates

Jimmy Dokey, "Yosemite Jim," of Hawley, Texas, reloads his black powder pistol before a competition on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at the Oklahoma City Gun Club. The cowboy action shooting national championship was held at the gun club this year.
Jimmy Dokey, "Yosemite Jim," of Hawley, Texas, reloads his black powder pistol before a competition on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at the Oklahoma City Gun Club. The cowboy action shooting national championship was held at the gun club this year.

Just for braggin' rights

There is no prize money involved. Champions receive a belt buckle but it's mostly about bragging rights. Keeping the prize money out of the sport keeps the focus on fun, Miller said.

"It's the most fun shooting sport I have ever been around," said Paul Hoover, aka Cheyenne Culpepper, of Cleveland, Ohio. "When I found this, I sold all my high-powered guns and bought cowboy guns."

Everyone in cowboy action shooting shares a love for the Old West, and while there is serious competition, it's not cutthroat. Participants often will share guns and ammo with other shooters if they need it.

"I've met a lot of good people," Hanna said. "There is a lot of very good people in this sport, very friendly and inviting. Whenever you show up, if you don't have anything, somebody usually lends you something."

Said Koegsiera: "It's the cowboy way."

More:Where are the best hiking trails in Oklahoma? Try out these places this fall

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Cowboy action shooting is the ultimate fantasy sport for Old West fans