Family Shooting Fun S.A.S.S Style

posted on June 21, 2017

Since Graham Nash encouraged parents to "Teach Your Children Well," parents have been trying to figure out how to do that. To grow patience and patriotism, to find ways to interact with people of all ages and all walks of life with tact and generosity, and to learn firearm safety while coming to understand that you don't need have a computer in order to have a good time? How do you instill confidence and responsibility? Whether, growing up, you owned a Red Ryder BB gun or pair of silvertone cap guns with white plastic grips, or knew someone who did, the answer hearkens back to childhood.

Michael and Carolyn Hillebrand from North Carolina explained that they "wanted to find the perfect family sport to share with their daughter and son." They were impressed with "one where everyone can participate, and even if you are a different size or age the playing field is the same for all." They have become Huckleberry Mike and Penelope Petticoat, and their children are the award-winning Linden Kid and Snakeboot Betty. "I realized that for my son, it was about having fun and learning to shoot guns, but it was so much more for him and the rest of the family. It was about discipline and structure, how to deal with winning and losing sometimes...and having the ability to cope with that. For our family, these days spent outdoors together are our best days. In short, now that I am competing with them I like to say, ‘I am not the fastest, or the bestest, but I am the one that has the mostest fun.'  Also, I know that when our son is grown he'll bring his own family into this the way we did." Which sport was this? Why, Cowboy Action Shooting!

The Single Action Shooting Society (S.A.S.S.), the governing organization of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS), was created in the 1980s in California. S.A.S.S. is represented in all 50 states and 18 foreign countries; as of this writing it has more than 97,000 members and 700 affiliated clubs. S.A.S.S. members are usually NRA members, all of whom have registered a shooting name or "alias." All agree to be bound by the "Spirit of the Game," which is the embodiment of good sportsmanship. Now located on a New Mexico ranch, the annual international week-long match, "End of Trail," is truly the "world series" of lever-action shooting.

Cowboy Action Shooting uses four firearms, all of which must be similar to those used in the Old West: two revolvers (also called "six-shooters" or "wheelguns"), one lever-action rifle in a pistol caliber, and a side-by-side or pump-action shotgun. Replicas are allowed-and are usually more affordable than originals. You or an older family member may already own what you need, without having to shop.

Targets are usually the size of a paper plate (or larger), made from a variety of materials and set at a distance likely to secure hits: for pistols, 7 to 10 yards; rifles at 13 to 50 yards, shotguns at 8 to 16 yards. For extra fun, the configuration of targets and the order in which you shoot them may depict an actual historical event or scene from a Western movie.

The sport has a tendency to draw you in. Often, spectators start out by volunteering to re-set targets, help pick up brass, and keep score. Before too long they will be found on the firing line competing. It goes beyond competition, too: Individual clubs will get involved in activities like dinners and barbecues, hayrides and train rides. They'll throw their own events with names like "McShoot for the Cure" and "Cops versus Cowboys," to benefit local charities such as Heroes, Inc. After the match, families who enjoy camping or RVing in conjunction with the shoot will relax and share stories around a campfire.

There are 31 shooting categories, including age-based ones for those under 13 and over 70.  There is a place for everyone who wants to shoot, from the smallest shooter (called Buckaroos or Buckarettes, accompanied by a parent or legal guardian), to Young Guns and Juniors, Wranglers (46 and older), Forty-Niners, and then Seniors, Silver Seniors and, finally, Elder Statesmen and Grand Dames.

Part of the fun is that competitors dress in Old West costume. Some aficionados will arrange elaborate period-correct costumes, but it's not necessary. While the "Classic Cowboy" category has a long list of practical but required costume elements, it is easy to get outfitted with what you might find in your closet, a thrift store or farm-supply outlet. Jeans and a hat? No problem. No hat? Just start shooting anyway. As long as you leave your sneakers at home-and your wristwatch and cell phone in the car-you will be comfortable while you make friends and shoot targets.

Once an avid PPC competitor, and now a consecutive 9-time Maryland State S.A.S.S. Champion, Beate Andersen Varrecchia continued shooting while she was pregnant. As Kiddo Caldwell, she and Cash Caldwell brought baby "2 Bits" to the range in a jogging stroller. They agreed to let their daughter decide when she was ready once she became tall enough and strong enough to manipulate the rifle and shotgun. She explained, "Kids learn incredibly fast. When they start early they never make the type of safety mistakes that older first-time shooters often do. Safety gets embedded into the muscle memory. That is really great since ‘Safety is #1.'"

Right before her 10th birthday, 2 Bits announced, "I go with you anyway, now I want to shoot!"  Since then, she has even used her mother's .32-caliber pistols because of the ammo shortage. 2 Bits said that although she "really likes to shoot the rifle because it's fast," her "favorite part is seeing the people there and watching everybody shoot." The people she spends time with at the range are her extended family. She explains the sport pragmatically:"Using three guns and following the sequence of targets takes a lot of practice and a lot of hard work, but nobody's perfect, so you just try to do your best. Don't be frustrated if you don't do well your first time. It is fun-and if you practice, you'll improve. Everybody can shoot at any age."  Her goal is to hit a sequence of targets in 30 seconds.

One thing we are hearing more about is the crazy challenge that keeps girls like Cardinal Wind and Mustang Shelby practicing-and their fathers in a state of dread: If your daughter shoots in a major center-fire caliber and she beats your raw time, Dad has to wear a dress or fancy apron to the next match! Just thinking about achieving this milestone has sent more than one "little miss" into paroxysms of laughter.

Folks who embrace this type of target shooting enjoy camaraderie and socializing before returning home in a motor-driven vehicle to comfortable lives with climate-controlled rooms, hot showers and labor-saving appliances. Besides this type of reminder, reenacting scenarios from history will bring out your patriotism and gratitude for those in the "Wild West" who lived and died making this country what it is today. If you're looking for a multi-generational family-oriented activity, shooting competition, historical knowledge or outlet for creative design or community involvement, then find a local club and give Cowboy Action Shooting a try.


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