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Support your local gunfighter: catering to old west action shooters can boost your business and put more gold in your pocket.

Heard the ring of spurs in your gunshop lately? Notice any frock-coated gunslingers asking directions to the OK Corral? How about trail-dusty cowboys stopping in to buy .45 Colt cartridges?

If so, you've probably rightly concluded that a shootout is brewing - but don't board up your windows or holler for the sheriff. Chances are Old West action shooting has come to your area, and for the local firearms retailer that can be good news indeed.

Old West matches combine the excitement of modern action shooting with the color and flavor of the wild west - 1865 to 1900. Competition is designed around singleaction revolvers, lever-action carbines, and authentic historical shotguns. A typical stage may require use of six-shooter, rifle, or shotgun, either singly or in two- or three-gun combinations.

For authenticity, participants dress as cowboys, cowgirls, lawmen, outlaws, saloon gals, Apache scouts, or any other Old West character that catches their fancy. Targets, most often steel cutouts, topple or clang when hit, providing instant feedback. It all adds up to a safety-conscious shooting game that's loaded with appeal. Because of its ties to a colorful period of American history, the game has gotten fair play from even normally gunshunning media.

In a dozen years, Western matches have spread like tumbleweeds. Today, there's a national organization - the Single Action Shooting Society (or SASS) - boasting several thousand members, while local clubs, most of them SASS-affiliated, are popping up all over, even in such unlikely places as Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii. At last count, 26 annual two-day (or longer) matches were scheduled around the country, while hundreds of one-day, local club matches round out the bill.

Some 400 competitors are expected at this year's End Of Trail, the original Old West shootout and still the biggest. This world series" of the sport, held each April in Norco, Calif., has been regularly treated to ESPN television coverage.

Where's The Market?

Is the Western market worth catering to? If there's an active club nearby, the answer is certainly "yes." Cowboy shoots are held most of the year, as only really nasty winter weather will keep Western shooters home. Competitors run the gamut in age and income levels, but the greatest number are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s - meaning most are settled family men with steady incomes. Separate shooter categories for juniors, women, and seniors keep this game open to just about everybody.

Beyond the demographics is the matter of dedication. While a deer hunter might buy one box of ammo per year, competition shooters are confirmed hobbyists, using up vast amounts of reloading components, "trading up" for new guns now and then, and talking up their sport to anyone who will listen. As such, they can boost a retailer's business far beyond what their numbers night suggest.

Old West shoots have already made a splash in the marketplace. The 1993 SHOT Show had a noticeable Western flavor. Large-scale replica importers like EMF and Cimarron Arms are doing great business serving a growing sport, while firearms giant Sturm, Ruger & Co. recently introduced the Vaquero, a fixedsighted version of its classic Blackhawk. To quote from Ruger's 1993 catalog, the Vaquero"... is sure to be a hit with participants in Old West action shoots."

The Gear For The Games

What do Western competitors need? For starters, a minimum of three guns per shooter, along with holsters and cartridge belts. At every match a wild and woolly mix of old and new guns is seen, from replicas, to originals. Since Old West competitors shoot a lot and use their equipment hard, the savvy retailer can do a considerable business in keeping firearms operational. SASS rules forbid exterior modifications, but trigger jobs, action smoothing, recoil pads, and the like can keep your gunsmith staff happily busy.

In hardware, almost any single-action revolver has a place in this game. The Ruger Blackhawk, plus its Bisley variation, is hugely popular and will remain so. The Vaquero, with its Peacemaker styling, is going to be a very big seller. Despite their four-figure price tags, the number of genuine Colt Single Action Army revolvers seen at Western matches is amazing. Wellworn "shooters" are every bit as prized as new-in-the-box collectibles.

Authentic and accurate replicas of the Colt SAA include the New Hartford, imported by EMF. Other very "Coltish" revolvers built by Uberti of Italy are imported by Cimarron Arms and others. These importers also supply some fine products for fans of the old Remington single actions of 1875 and 1890.

Popular lever-action carbines include Marlin's 1894, the Winchester 94 in both .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, and the Rossi Puma, a Winchester 1892 Replica imported by Interarms. Other long-gun replicas are the Henry, the Winchester 1866, and 1873, all made in Italy and imported by EMF, Cimarron Arms, and others.

As for shotguns, the old Winchester M97 pump is so popular that values have risen steeply all around the country. Shooters favoring doubles most often pick sturdy Stevens or Savage models, or the fast-handling IGA Coach Gun, imported by Stoeger.

Since SASS rules mandate use of pistol calibers in both revolvers and lever-action carbines, the most popular calibers are .38 Special, .357, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .44-40 WCF, and .45 Colt. To minimize dangerous splash-back from the steel targets, lead and only lead bullets are mandated, and magnum-level velocities are forbidden.

Because of the sheer volume of shooting, nearly 80 percent of Western shooters reload, and gun retailers that stock presses and reloading supplies are very popular.

Western shooters buy lead bullets by the thousand. To get a slice of this business, locate a regional casting company, then be assertive about your customer's needs. Semi-wadcutter designs can jam some lever actions, while many round-nose designs are too pointy for safety in tubular magazines. For problem-free shooting, your customers will be best served with truncated cone bullets, having a tapered nose with a flat point.

Old West shooters buy factory ammo too, of course, often as a way of amassing reloadable brass. Lead-bulleted cartridges in popular revolver calibers are offered by Olin/Winchester, Federal, Remington, and others. For the non-reloader, CCI's aluminum cased Blazers provide good shooting at low cost.

If you have ever considered offering semi-custom reloads, the low-pressure, target-level ammo used in Western shooting presents an ideal, low-liability place to get started.

As for shotshells, promotional brand 12-gauge trap loads fill the bill. The 2 3/4 dram, 1-ounce or 1 1/8-ounce target loadings are all that' s needed. Never sell a Western shooter steel shot; it can rebound off steel plate targets at dangerous velocities.

In Old West action matches, every sixgun needs a holster. Low-slung Hollywood-style gun rigs were never used in the Old West, and are now declining in popularity in matches. One company wholesaling authentic cartridge/money belts and authentic "slim Jim" and Mexican-loop holsters is G. Wm. Davis & Son.

The Gun Shop Of Choice

If one or more clubs offer Old West shoots in your area, consider making Western guns a specialty. Old West competitor and master gunsmith Lee Fisher has done exactly that, in the City of Orange, Calif., into an all-but-official cowboy shooting headquarters. With Western decor right down to a plank flool, Lee's looks the part of an old-time gunsmith shop.

"We treat our customers like they would have been treated back in the 1800s." Lee said. "The coffee's hot and the talk is all cowboy shooting."

While the bulk of Lee's business is custom action work, with customers shipping him guns from as far away as Hawaii and Connecticut, he rounds out his offerings with cast bullets, powders, and various competition accessories. In addition, three craftsmen create made-to-order gunleather right on the premises.

Lee's Gunsmithing also offers the Old West bunch a selection of 1880s bib-front shirts and sturdy cotton-duck britches made by Wah-Maker, the company that outfitted the recent Western motion picture "Unforgiven."

Before turning your retail outlet into a similar Old West headquarters, you should request a copy of the SASS shooters' handbook. Certain rules relating to safety and fair competition are worth familiarizing yourself with. Also, an inexpensive SASS membership brings you a shooter's badge and a 30-page quarterly newsletter, The Cowboy Chronicle.

If you've been looking for a new source of sales to keep your profits booming in the future, you may find a gold mine in gun sales from the past.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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