The rules governing Cowboy Action Shooting allow for the use of several types of shotguns for main match competition. The SASS Shooter’s Handbook with regard to shotguns reads as follows:
“Any side-by-side or single-shot shotgun typical of the period from approximately 1860 until 1899, with or without external hammers, having single or double triggers is allowed. Automatic ejectors are allowed on single-shot break action, lever and pump action shotguns ONLY. Side-by-side shotguns may not use automatic ejectors. Lever action, tubular feed, exposed hammer shotguns of the period are allowed, whether original or replicas. The only slide action shotgun allowed is the Model 1897 Winchester shotgun, whether original or replica. Certain shooting categories require a specific type of shotgun and ammunition to be used. Military configurations are not allowed (i.e., trench guns).”
SASS currently recognizes some 33 different shooting categories, and all but a few allow the shooter to compete with his/her preferred shotgun action type. So, unless you’re going to shoot in one of the black powder categories or in something like Classic Cowboy, the choice of shotgun (within SASS guidelines, of course) is yours.
Although when one thinks of the Classic Cowboy shotgun, a short-barreled, outside-hammered coach gun usually comes to mind, the hammerless or inside-hammered double gun, which debuted in the Americas in the late 1870s/early 1880s, was also a popular firearm of the time.
Although my preferred Cowboy competition shotgun is a short-barreled Winchester Model 1897 pump gun, if forced to compete with a side-by-side smooth bore, my choice would be a hammerless version. Why? Well, SASS competition is a timed event with the winner determined by essentially establishing who hit the most targets in the least amount of time. Since the hammerless gun is much quicker to operate than having to thumb back the hammers on a mule-eared gun, it’s the one I’d be shooting. If everybody shot with a double-hammered gun, then that would be okay with me, too. Absent that kind of level playing field, give me the hammerless gun.
Cimarron Firearms has got a nice hammerless double 12 gauge in their firearms lineup and they call it the Model 1881. It’s made to Cimarron’s specifications by KRAL AV in Turkey, a closed production firearms facility who’s been in operation for the past 25 years. KRAL produces not only side-by-side shotguns but over/unders, single-barrel, semi-auto and pump action models, along with air rifles, blank-firing handguns and related accessories, and exports not only to the U.S., but also to various European countries, as well.
Built on a box-lock action wherein the locks (internal hammer, sear, spring, etc.) are contained inside the steel receiver (the box), the 1881 utilizes a satin stainless receiver tastefully etched with a border and leafy pattern, with stippling adorning its top that contrasts nicely with the deeply black-chromed twin barrels, forend furniture, triggerguard and top lever. The plating is rich and uniform throughout, attesting to proper metal preparation prior to its application.
The 1881 locks up bank-vault tight via double under bolts and has a “clean” breech face devoid of any projections from the face that could interfere with the removal or insertion of shells contributing to a faster, uninhibited reload. Barrels are separated by a solid, raised, lightly knurled rib, ending in a single, round, brass bead for sighting. The gun sent me for review, at my request, came with the shortest tubes offered, measuring 20 inches in length, but barrels measuring 22-, 26-, 28- and 30-inches are offered. For Cowboy Shooting, the 20- or 22-inch versions seem ideal whereas the longer-barreled versions would make for a dandy field gun and could do double duty for CAS shooting, as well.
The 1881 comes with interchangeable choke tubes, and tubes with constrictions marked “Full, Improved Modified, Modified, Improved Cylinder and Skeet” are included, along with a wrench and choke-tube case. It’s nice to be able to configure the chokes on your double as needed to accommodate the different target arrays encountered and different conditions we shoot in. I had my short-barreled Winchester 97 fitted with interchangeable chokes for just these reasons. With an open tube installed, it works just fine for the up-close and personal targets encountered at most SASS shoots, but can be choked up for that occasional round of Cowboy trap.