Lasso the cowboy market: Are you ready for impressive profits in this growing sport? Here is what it takes!
Membership in the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), the governing body of most cowboy action shooting, is fast approaching 50,000. There are at least a like number of cowboy action participants who are not SASS members. In addition, approximately one in five cowboy action shooters is a woman. That's important to note, because cowboy action competitions, and their Western atmosphere, attract the entire family.
This all means cowboy action is a viable market. It can be extremely profitable for gun dealers who choose to become involved and stock the products to meet the needs of cowboy action shooters.
Cowboy Gun Shop
How important - and profitable - is the cowboy action market? Willie Brannon of Shooting World in Boise, Idaho specializes in meeting the needs of cowboy action shooting.
SI: Why do you cater to cowboy action shooters?
Brannon: "Cowboy action shooting has provided a resurgence in guns sales like I've never seen in 30 years in the business. Not only is it profitable for us to sell guns to cowboy action shooters, we also realize many other sales. It's also good business for our gunsmithing department.
"The sport appeals to many people who are in an age bracket with disposable dollars. That's good news for any gun shop. Last year we sold 78 pairs of Rugers to cowboy action shooters, as well as 75 to 80 Marlin and Cimarron lever actions.
"We're also into the sport ourselves. Six of our nine employees are active participants. We find it is great fun and a natural for the store. It's also a great way to support the industry. We try to take care of all the local clubs within 140 miles and post the shooting schedule as well as the scores for four clubs."
SI: What products do you stock for cowboy action shooters?
Brannon: "We try to keep a large inventory of all brands of revolvers, rifles and shotguns, with anywhere from 100 to 125 items always in stock. We not only stock WahMaker clothing, but one of our employees is a highly talented seamstress. She can make custom clothing of almost any kind for the cowboy action shooter, male or female.
"For the shooter who does not reload, we stock a complete line of Ultramax Cowboy Ammunition. For the shooter who does reload, we carry Dillon, RCBS and Lyman reloading equipment. In addition, we have powder, primers and a complete line of bullets designed for cowboy action. We also have a large inventory of custom leather."
SI: What do you offer that other gun shops don't?
Brannon: "We have an entire line of products for the Traditional, Modern, and Black Powder shooter. Having an indoor range allows shooters to find out where their guns really shoot.
"We have replaced many front sights for shooters who got carried away trying to file the sight down to bring the point of impact up. With an indoor range, we help shooters sight their guns in. The range also allows shooters to try used guns before deciding to buy.
"We also maintain a Dillon loading station where shooters can use our equipment to load their cowboy ammunition."
SI: What do you tell a shooter who wants to get started in cowboy action shooting?
Brannon: "First, we ask, 'Are you sure you want to be involved?' The sport is great fun, but it also requires a great outlay of dollars. We keep a scrapbook on the counter to show shooters how much fun there is in cowboy action shooting. We also have an assortment of videos they can watch right here in the store.
"Finally, we go over their needs and wants and then invite them to go to a shoot with us - this before they buy anything. For the past three years, we have introduced 20 to 25 new shooters to the sport each year - all by using our guns and our ammunition."
SI: Any frustrations?
Brannon: "Yes, factory-new guns with problems. Fortunately, our in-store gunsmithing is able to handle 99 percent of the little problems. It's very rare for us to send a gun back to the factory."
SI: What other tips do you have for dealers interested in the cowboy market?
Brannon: "Cowboy action shooting is a business blessing, but the shop must be involved. For those shops that are not involved, I suggest they find a local club, take an active part, and stock the store accordingly. It's also important to become a SASS Supporting Dealer. We are Store #49. Above all, have fun.
"Cowboy action shooting is very profitable but the volume is built over a year, not daily or even monthly. It does not happen overnight. It took us two years to become a real cowboy action shooting store."
The Cowboy Inventory
In everyday gun-shop business, a customer goes into a gun shop, purchases a firearm, and perhaps some ammunition and other gear. If he is treated right, he'll come back to purchase another firearm, or perhaps to trade in the original for something better. This repeat business and gun trading keeps many gun shops operating in the black.
In cowboy action, this success formula is greatly enhanced. The new cowboy action shooter starts with not one gun, but a minimum of four. Then there's ammunition for the four guns. But the sales don't stop there. A serious cowboy action shooter needs leather gear, authentic Western clothing, reloading equipment, and stacks of supplies. That's a healthy business situation for gunshops.
Cowboy action shooters are also gun traders. They are always looking for better equipment. Selling one customer four new firearms, and then being ready to handle their trade-ins for other guns, is about as good as it gets for the gun shop that is prepared.
A gun dealer who stocks the right gear and properly handles sales to the beginning cowboy action shooter is likely to see a lot of repeat business.
What firearms should you stock for cowboy action shooters? First, they need sixguns: Western-type single-action revolvers. Cowboy action shooting requires each participant to have two sixguns. These may be originals, replicas or Rugers.
Original single-action sixguns must have been designed and in production before 1899. These include the Colt Single Action Army and the Smith & Wesson Model #3. Acceptable replicas include versions of these sixguns, as well as Remingtons and early Colts such as the Cartridge Conversions and Open-Tops. Rugers that may be used are the Ruger Blackhawk and Vaquero.
It's important not to confuse the current crop of replica single actions with those offered 30 years ago. Today's replicas are better built and eagerly sought by cowboy action shooters.
Companies such as Cimarron Firearms, E.M.F. and Navy Arms have worked diligently to produce modern replicas that are extremely close to the originals in finish, operation and chambering. In addition, American Western Arms and U.S. Fire Arms offer quality sixguns that are assembled and finished in the United States. U.S. Fire Arm's latest offering is the Rodeo. The sixgun is a less finely finished, but highly functional, single-action designed for the needs of the cowboy action shooters.
Colt's Manufacturing still offers the original Single Action Army that dates back to 1873. It is available in a blued and case hardened finish or full nickel plating, chambered in .45 Colt, .44-40 and .357 Magnum. This year, Colt's reduced the retail price of the high-dollar Single Action Army by more than $400. That's good news for gun dealers and shooters.
At the other end of the price scale is the very reasonably priced Bounty Hunter from European American Armory (EAA). The sixgun is chambered in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum.
Priced between the Colt's and EAA are the Rugers. The Vaquero is the most popular single-action sixgun used by cowboy action shooters.
Don't neglect the cowboy action shooter who prefers cap-and-ball sixguns. Replica Colts are available from Traditions. The modern, but allowable, Old Army from Ruger is also a favorite with cap-and-ball shooters.
Cowboy Long Guns
The cowboy action shooter needs two long guns: a lever rifle and a shotgun.
In rifles, Marlin offers their very popular 1894 Cowboy chambered in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, and until very recently, in .44-40. Their newest offering, which should be a runaway best seller, is the 1894 Cowboy Competition, chambered in .38 Special. It has a beautifully finished casehardened receiver.
Winchester Firearms' Model 94 Trails End is chambered for 11 rounds of .45 Colt, .44 Magnum or .357 Magnum.
Cowboy shooters can also select replicas of famous Winchester rifles: the 1860 Henry. 1866 Yellowboy and the 1873 and 1892 Winchesters. Cimarron and Navy Arms offer all four models in various configurations and chamberings. American Western Arms and E.M.F. offer the 1 892 Winchester. Henry Repeating Arms even offers a slick .22 copy of the Yellowboy that makes a great practice lever gun.
In shotguns, cowboy action shooters have several options, including the 1897 Winchester pump or double barrel Coach Gun from Liberty Firearms. American Western Arms has a solid-built side-by-side shotgun, as does EAA with their Bounty Hunter double barrel.
Stacks Of Gear
Firearm sales are just the beginning for dealers looking to take advantage of the cowboy action market. The competitor also needs leather gear; at least two holsters, belts and scabbards.
There are many excellent makers of cowboy action leather. Hunter Co. offers entry-level, inexpensive cowboy leather and El Paso Saddlery has many authentic designs from the l880s and 1890s. Kirkpatrick Leather (both the Kirkpatrick boys are cowboy action participants) has competition rigs designed by some of the top shooters.
Many new cowboy action shooters are new to firearms, so they haven't discovered reloading. For them, it's important to stock ammunition especially designed for cowboy action shooting. The sport's rules require ammunition with lead bullets that produce muzzle velocities of less than 1,000 fps from a revolver.
Black Hills, Hornady, PMC, Ultramax and Winchester all provide ammunition specially tailored for cowboy action shooters. The most popular chainberings are .45 Colt and .38 Special followed by .44-40.
For those cowboy action shooters who do reload, quality brass is very important. Starline offers a complete line of sixgun brass in virtually any chambering. They also offer lever-gun and single-shot brass in .45-70 and .40-65. The Starline .32-20, .38-40 and .44-40 brass is especially notable. It is slightly heavier than offerings from other manufacturers, and is less likely to buckle at the case mouth during reloaded. I have never lost a single piece of brass in any of these chamberings when the headstamp read "Starline."
All shooters, including those in cowboy action, need powder, primers, loading presses and dies. Many shops, however, neglect a large segment of gun owners - those involved in black powder shooting. The well-stocked shop will have black powder offered by Goex, Elephant Brand, KIK or Swiss, as well as black powder substitutes like Clean Shot Powder and Hodgdon's Pyrodex and Triple Seven.
Clinch The Sale
To tap into the cowboy market requires more than just stocking a few guns and cowboy gear. The gun dealer who provides the best service needs to study what products he should carry in inventory. In addition, as Willie Brannon pointed, added profits go to the gun shop that has employees actively participating in cowboy action shooting. Shooters prefer to give their business to those who understand their sport.
John Taffin (aka Sixgunner, SASS #7417) is an active participant in cowboy action shooting. He has at various times shot in the Traditional, Modern, Black Powder, Duelist and Gunfighter categories. He is on the staff of American Handgunner and GUNS magazines. He has tested every sixgun, both cartridge and capand-ball, and every lever gun appropriate to cowboy action shooting. Many of the results of these tests, and his keen insights, are available in his book "Action Shooting Cowboy Style."
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2002|
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