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Cowboy-action shooting! Make big bucks in this specialized market.

There's money in cowboy-action shooting. It's a specialized market and not for every gun shop, but if you're in an area with a lot of cowboy-action shooters, you can make big bucks serving those customers.

"We're a full-service shop, but at least 50 percent of our business is cowboy-action shooting," said Michael Gordon, Thunderstick Trading Co. in Tucson, Ariz. "If we didn't have the cowboy-action business, I think we would just close up."

Gordon said it was a customer's urging that caused his store to start carrying cowboy-action inventory.

"When we first opened, we had a customer who was into it," Gordon said. "He got us into it, and since we do it and are out there, we have most of the cowboy-action business in Tucson."

Stay Informed

Serving the cowboy-action market means understanding cowboy-action shooting and keeping up with trends. A number of Web sites can give you a window into the sport. These sites can provide resources for newcomers and, for veterans, can help draw customers into your store.


The Single Action Shooting Society Web site,, provides a lot of information about cowboy-action shooting and a calendar of events so you can find out what's going on in your area. It also has a list of merchants who carry all kinds of cowboy-action gear.

"Having our name on the SASS Web site has brought us business," Gordon said. "We've had customers who were out-of-town shooters and have forgotten something, or who have come into town for a match and needed something. Sometimes SASS members who are passing through just come in to see what we have."

The Web site of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association,, is a horse of a different color, literally--these shooters all do their thing on horseback. The Web site also has a calendar of events on it.

Another Web site,, has lots of resources, as well as a list of vendors of cowboy-action supplies, a newsletter and an events calendar.


In addition to these sites, a quick Google search will turn up lots of state and local cowboy-action shooting sites. All of these can provide resources or give you an opportunity to become a local resource.

Equipping Shooters

Cowboy-action shooters buy rifles, shotguns and revolvers. A shooter starting out in the sport is going to buy a pair of revolvers, a rifle and a shotgun, which is not an inconsequential purchase. And that's only the beginning.

"We carry the guns that people who are winning matches are shooting," Gordon said. "We carry the Uberti 66 and 73 rifles. They're the top rifles on the match circuit here. Generally people are buying .38s and .357s, but there are some categories that require larger calibers."

Other top-selling lever-action rifles include Winchester and Marlin.

When it comes to revolvers, Gordon says nothing replaces the Ruger Vaquero.

"That's what the majority of customers purchase," he said. "There are some Italian clones that are copies of the Colts and they do well--particularly if they're tuned up by a gunsmith who knows how to do it."

Uberti makes several revolvers in Colt's image. Other guns are available from Navy Arms, Colt and Cimarron.

Then there are shotguns.

"We carry shotguns that are replicas of the Remington 97 pump, made in China," Gordon aid. "We also carry the Remington side-by-side double barrel. Those are probably the top two shotguns in the matches in this area. Some people are shooting older brands of shotguns that aren't manufactured anymore."

If you deal in used guns, this is an excellent opportunity to pick up older Winchesters and other shotguns for your cow boy-action clients. It's also an opportunity to serve as their FFL when they order one from

In addition to the very consequential purchase of multiple firearms, cowboy-action shooting is an ammunition-intensive enterprise. Although some shooters buy factory ammunition, most get into reloading fairly quickly.

"We sell a lot of reloading components," Gordon said. "At a one-day match, a shooter will go through 50 rounds of pistol ammunition, 50 rounds of rifle ammunition and a box of shotgun shells. At a two-day match, it's double that. At a three-day match, it's three times that. And that doesn't include going out to practice."


It's not just about guns and ammunition, Gordon says. There's also leather to consider.

"We have a full line of holsters and cartridge belts for rifle and pistol ammo and for shotgun shells," Gordon said. "We buy leather that's made locally at Old Pueblo Leather, which is also nationally known."

Other popular brands include Rustedfables, Circle KB, Mernickle and M. Shelhart. Many more brands can be found once you start looking.

Getting outfitted for cow boy-action shooting is also about the dress.

"The shooter has to dress correctly to the period," Gordon said. "No ball caps, no short-sleeved shirts--everything has to be reasonably period-correct."

Gordon doesn't get into period clothing. Instead, he has a short list of stores and Web sites where he sends customers.

"One place we direct customers to is Wild West Mercantile in Phoenix," he said. "They have an extensive line of clothes and a very nice Web site. Some western wear shops have a few items that will work, but not a lot."

Here's another advantage to being on I the Web sites mentioned above. Not only I do they contain lists of gun shops that carry cowboy-action guns, but clothing stores are also listed.

Be Accommodating

Across the country in Baton Rouge, La., Jim McCIain, owner of Jim's Fire arms, has a somewhat different perspective on the cowboy-action phenomenon. Although he doesn't sell nearly as much I cowboy-action gear as Thunderstick Trading Co., he says cowboy action is a sport 1 that's growing in his area.

McClain said he sees two different categories of cowboy-action shooters. One is the diehard, full-bore shooter who wants one of everything--the same kind of shooter Thunderstick Trading Company is serving.

"Those customers get into cowboy action shooting wholeheartedly, with the I clothing and everything," McClain said. I "They want everything that goes with it."

The second category of shooter, how- I ever, is the more casual shooter.

"There are a lot of people who like to I shoot cowboy action, but who don't dress I up," McCIain said. "They don't get all geared up with the clothes or get into the true mystique of the shooting."


Although this diverse customer base makes it hard to budget for and stock cowboy-action shooting equipment, McCiain said it's still worth trying to accommodate both groups.

"If the more casual cowboy-action shooter comes into your store, he's going to buy other shooting stuff," he said. "And most shooters want any excuse to buy another firearm. So you're going to see that customer come in and spend his money and enjoy all the aspects of the shooting sports -- and have a great time doing it."

Stocking Advice

If you don't carry cowboy-action products, but arc thinking about it, Gordon's advice is to go out and watch a cowboy match in your area.

"Look at the age of the shooters," he said. "Most of them are in their 50s or older. And that's where the majority of the money is in the United States. If you go to a major match, you see people arriving in $250,000 to $300,000 motor homes. They have money to spend."

Just to outfit a new shooter in guns costs about $2,000, Gordon said. That doesn't include leather, ammunition or reloading equipment and supplies.

McClain suggests you take a hard look at your customer base as you develop your purchasing plan for cowboy-action products.

"I'd start out by carrying the basic cowboy-action guns," he said. "Ruger Vaqueros, a couple of rifles and things of that nature. But don't jump off into super specialty stuff right away."

It's better to start out with the basic cowboy needs, McCiain said, and don't overspend your budget until you know you have the hardcore customer base.

"If that part of your business starts to grow beyond your existing inventory selection, then it's time to look for ways to expand your cowboy-action sales," McClain said. "I think one of the biggest mistakes retailers make is overspending their budgets by trying to please everyone at once."

Careful planning and understanding your market can help you ease into cow boy-action shooting sales. Soon, you'll be making money at whatever Jevel your marketplace will support.

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Comment:Cowboy-action shooting! Make big bucks in this specialized market.
Author:Boyles, Carolee Anita
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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