Most folks I know “roll their own” handgun and rifle cartridges for Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) matches or practice. However, for the occasional
competitor or those who don’t have the time or inclination to handload, there are a number of manufacturers out there big and small that make cartridges tailored just for CAS events. Hopefully the above gallery will enlighten you.
Cowboy cartridges feature lead bullets at moderate velocities to help prevent damage to steel targets used in most main match stages. My goal is not to pit one manufacturer against another, but to list several makers and their products. To give you an example of the performance potential of their wares, I will use the same caliber cartridge for each maker—the .45 Colt. I did some target shooting with each load, plus I took the ammo and guns to a CAS match that consisted of six stages, and I used a different brand for each stage in my Colt SAA revolver and Winchester 1892 carbine.
Now for my favorite part—burning powder! I took all of the aforementioned .45 Colt cowboy cartridges to the range to punch holes in paper and to give you an idea of the practical accuracy of the ammunition, plus see where it was hitting in regards to point of aim (POA) with my handgun and carbine. For a sixgun, I selected one of my favorite Colt SAA clones, the EMF Hartford. It has all the features of the original blackpowder frame with a screw holding in the cylinder pin and a “bullseye” head on the ejector rod. Its fit and finish are first class, and my gun has a 4¾-inch barrel, favored by gunfighters like Bat Masterson. Carved faux-ivory grips grace this six-shooter, and its action is as smooth as silk from lots of use. For a long gun, I used my Rossi Winchester Model 1892 carbine replica. It’s fast to get into action with a 20-inch, round barrel, and mine has a step-adjustable rear sight that is flat across the top—a feature I prefer on a rifle or carbine for CAS. It, too, is smooth from much use over the years and will take 10 cartridges in its tubular magazine, the usual number of cartridges used in main-match CAS stages.
For the handgun shooting I selected a target similar in size to those used at the club where I shoot in CAS events. Most of the handgun shooting part of a stage is done at ranges of 7 to 10 yards, so I placed my targets out at the 10-yard line. Since 10 rounds are normally used with the handgun in Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) matches, I elected to shoot 10 rounds at each target with each brand of .45 Colt ammo. The aiming point was the orange oval in the center of the target, and even though I was shooting from the bench with a sandbag rest, I didn’t waste time and fired rather rapidly, shooting as soon as I could reacquire a good sight picture. For the carbine, I used a smaller round target placed out at 25 yards—again a usual distance in CAS for rifle targets—and fired 10 rounds from the bench at a fairly rapid pace.
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First, I noticed that the sights on my EMF Hartford were shooting a little over 3 inches below the POA using a 6 o’clock hold on the orange oval of the target. This point of impact (POI) stayed the same no matter the bullet weight, and all the 10-shot groups were fairly consistent in size, opening up a bit when I didn’t do my part. Like I said, I’m not doing any comparisons, but the average 10-shot group figure came to 2.97 inches, and that ain’t half bad in my opinion! I started out with the Ten-X blackpowder .45 Colt load, and with its higher velocity, there was a bit more “pushback” when I fired. An added bonus was a puff of white smoke at each shot, and it gave a good account of itself. All the loads were pretty mild-mannered, making accurate, rapid-fire shooting possible. This was also a good clue to me that I need to either take a file to the sixgun’s front sight or aim a little higher!
I’ve never changed the sight setting on my Rossi Model 1892 carbine, and at 25 yards, using a 6 o’clock hold on the red dot in the center of the round bullseye target, my 10-shot groups were about 1.5 inches low and slightly left of center. A few shots strayed into the X-ring of the targets, but most were scattered down into the nine and 10 rings. Groups ran from 2.54 to 4.33 inches; the latter figure I think was due more to me than the gun or ammo. The overall average came to 3.21 inches, which is all the accuracy you need for CAS competition. Once again, I felt the carbine’s steel buttplate more with the Ten-X load than the other brands of .45 Colt cartridges, but shooting quickly was not a problem. I think I’ll just continue to leave the sights alone on the Rossi.
For a final evaluation of the .45 Colt cowboy cartridges I took my test firearms and ammunition to a CAS event. This was with an National Congress of Old West Shootists club I belong to, and things worked out just perfectly as I shot in a category called “Working Cowboy” that only requires one handgun and one rifle/carbine. It also happened that the match consisted of six stages and I had six brands of ammo, so I used a different manufacturer’s load on each
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It was still pretty chilly on that late March day, and cold hands certainly didn’t help in the accuracy department. That said, it was not one of my stellar days; being my first match of the season, this was not altogether unexpected. No fault could be attributed to the guns or ammo—when I did my part, they held up their part of the bargain. The stages were fun and challenging, with some small knockdown rifle targets and other larger rifle targets out to 40 or 50 yards. Handgun targets were fairly close, but some of them were on the small side, too. I didn’t really note any difference in the impacts between heavier and lighter bullet loads—all dinged steel when I was on my game. We won’t talk about where I placed in the match, but it did give my factory .45 Colt cowboy loads a good trial, and they performed flawlessly!
For More Information
Black Hills Ammunition
Hunting Shack Munitions
This article originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.