There are many different calibers and kinds of guns. It is a matter of personal taste, availability and budget. The number one rule is that the gun must be authentic or a replica of guns actually used before 1899. The most common is a replica of the 1873 Colt Single Action Army. There are now and have been several manufacturers of this model. I started out shooting cap n' ball black powder guns. Still shoot 'em when I can. Due to the kind of shooting done in my area, I changed over to the cartridge guns. I started out shooting what some call the "contemptable class". That is .38 special (.38/.357). When some of the black powder .36 caliber guns were converted over to cartridge guns, they were converted to .38 caliber. This makes the .38's an acceptable cartridge. If you haven't figured it out by now, part of the attraction to Cowboy Action Shooting, is the history involved. There have been many a discussion as to just what was the real history of almost every aspect. That is also part of the fun.
After a year or so of thoroughly enjoying the .38 calibre I got a hankering to see the "big" cartridges in my gunbelt. A good friend was gettin' inerested in Cowboy Shooting and decided he wanted to start getting his gear together. I sold or traded him some of my .38 guns and moved myself over to 45 Long Colt. Now I have been corrected a time or two by know-it-alls who say there never was such a thing as 45 Long Colt. It was just 45 Colt. I am not going to enter into that debate, I just know that I have seen 45 Long Colt written in a whole lot of places. As far as I am concerned Long Colt has been made legitimate by common usage. Either way, I know what it means. 'Nuf said. Below are some pictures I "borrowed" of an 1861 Colt cap 'n ball, 1873 Colt Cattleman and an 1875 Remington. My personal preference is for Ruger Vaqueros, which I shoot. I also have a pair of Uberti 73 Colt SAAs.
Some of the other calibers of guns used in this sport include .44, .44/40 and .45 Long Colt. The .38's cost about half as much to shoot and load, compared to the .45's. Some say the .44/40 is difficult to work with because of the tapered neck of the cartridge. Some say there just ain't no substitute for a .45 Long Colt. It's a matter of personal preference. I suggest hanging' around for a few shoots. Get to know some folks. Most of 'em are proud of their guns and are more than happy to let you shoot off a few rounds. One thing many folks like to do is keep their pistols and rifles using the same loads. I have a Model '92 Rossi and a Marlin Cowboy lever action that are also chambered for .45 LC. Never have to worry about grabbin' the wrong shells that way.
Most shoots have stages using pocket pistols. The general requirements are a pistol of .38 caliber down to .32s. They must have a barrel length of 4" or less and shoot only 5 shots. There are a lot of 6 shot pocket pistols out there, so they can only load 5 bullets. They can be single or double action. The double action are a lot faster, but anyone can miss very fast. I use a second generation, single action "spur trigger" Smith & Wesson in .38. Not as fast as a double action, but it sure is a lot of fun to shoot. Good size and shape to carry in a shoulder holster.
It never hurts to be prepared by having "hide out" gun. A little double barrel derringer can be a life saver in a rough card game or a side match. I like to call them "table guns". They aren't very accurate shooting much farther than across the table. But some side matches will test both cowboys and their hide outs.
Links to other great sites
J. M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum
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