Cowboy Mounted Shooting: Choose Your Guns & Holster

Posted By on January 25, 2009

Cowboy Mounted Shooting: Choose Your Guns and Holster!
By: Morning Dove (Junior Writer  For Kids By Kids)

Morning_dove_eastersundayDoes galloping around an arena as fast as your trusty horse can carry you with the reigns in one hand and a pistol in the other, firing at balloons as you go sound like fun? Well, I can sure tell you it is and there’s just nothing like it on earth! To give it a try, you can borrow someone’s mounted shooting horse and pistols once or twice, really! The people who play this game are some of the nicest, friendliest people around and they like seeing the way a new shooter’s face lights up when they finish their first stage on horseback. But if you want to continue with cowboy mounted shooting on a regular basis, you’ll need your own pistols and gun belt. A pair of .45 Colt Single Action Army type revolvers is what you need. There are several types and styles to choose from, and manufacturers too. Varying grip shapes and barrel lengths are the easiest differences to see. In this article I’ll explain some of the different choices you have and what other pistols and holsters people use.

The reason you have to use .45 Colt pistols is safety. The Match Director always supplies the blank ammunition at matches but if you could use other calibers they would never know how many blanks they’d need in the different calibers.

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We shoot blanks because if there were bullets flying around the arena, we’d end up shooting each other and people watching us by accident. So, the blank ammunition is supplied for us. It’s the burning embers of black powder that break the balloons when you hit them. If you?re too far away the powder is all burned up before it reaches the balloon and you get a five second penalty for missing!

First, I’ll talk about the guns. Some shooters have small hands and that can make it difficult to work the guns fast enough to do well. Remember the guns are single-action. That means that the trigger only has one function, to release the hammer to fire a cartridge. With double-action revolvers, the trigger has two functions, to cock the hammer and then to release it. So just like in the western movies and television shows, you have to cock the hammer to fire the gun. When you’re riding a horse and have the reigns in one hand, you need to cock and fire the gun with the other hand.

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My hands are small, just like a lot of other shooters. The first mounted shooting guns my dad got for me had birds head’s grips because they are smaller and curved. That let me put my hand wherever I needed to on the grips and as I grow, the guns still fit my hand. I still use the same type of grips in my fourth year of mounted shooting. There are two types of bird’s head grips, one has a sort of hump on the back of the grip (back strap) and stops your hand right there. If you have small hands it might be hard to reach the trigger or hammer with the hump there. My guns came from Taylor’s and don’t have that hump. I like this grip because it lets me keep using the same style grip as I grow older and doesn?t make it uncomfortable if I don?t quite get the grip I want as I?m racing around the arena.AD BuffaloBros2_NovDec07_shotgun

Something else that helps me work the pistol quickly are the hammers. My dad had them lowered so it would be easier for me to reach them and it sure worked. You have to remember that in cowboy mounted shooting you can change the hammers but in cowboy action shooting you can not, it’s against the rules. I guess that’s because in action shooting you can use two hands but in mounted shooting you have to use just one hand. Lowering the hammers makes it easier to handle the guns one handed when your hands are small and that makes it safer too.

 _MG_6638When one of my guns started getting old, my dad contacted the people at Taylors because they make the same type of grip I use and my newer gun that is still working fine after the past three years is one of theirs. My dad asked if they could lower the hammer at the factory and they agreed to do the work. The way my dad thinks, it was better to get the work done at the factory to be sure it was done right. Cody Conagher is Taylor’s & Company gunsmith and he did a wonderful job. We ended up getting a new pair of pistols from them so they’d match exactly. Getting custom made guns from the factory just because my dad asked them to make them is pretty neat, the people at Taylor’s take care of their customers. My new pistols have really smooth actions and the hammer spur is shaped just like the original one only lower. The good news is that the people at Taylor’s liked the way my guns turned out so much they’re going to produce them that way for mounted shooters. By the time this article gets printed the new guns will be available to everyone who wants them with either bird’s head grips or square ones!

There are two other style grips besides bird’s head; square butt, and bisley. RustlersMatchApril08 005The square butt grips are like you mostly see in the movies, my dad uses them because they fit his hand well and he’s used to them. I guess having a choice is a good thing! The bisley has square grips too but they curve way down and the hammer is shaped differently too. A friend of ours tried bisley guns but ended up changing back to the square butt grips. He just couldn’t get comfortable with them and changed back. But if enough people didn’t like the bisley style the manufacturers wouldn’t make them anymore. You never know, you might like them just fine.

The barrel length can be very important, too. Mostly you see three barrel lengths in mounted shooting: 3-1/2″, 4-3/4″ and 5-1/2″. You see people using 7-1/2″ barrels sometimes but most people think they are too heavy and slow to move around quickly. One thing is for sure, you have to draw them out of the holster pretty far before the barrel makes it all the way out! One friend of ours uses the alias of Matt Dillon from the TV series Gunsmoke. Marshall Dillon had a 7-1/2″ barrel on his pistol so that’s what our friend uses. He dresses just like the Matt Dillon on TV too! Since the burning powder embers come out of the barrel in a pattern like a shotgun, the barrel length makes a big difference in the size of the pattern you get when you shoot at the balloons. Two years ago I did a science project on patterning mounted shooting blanks and I’ll explain the results to you.

AD EvilRoyShootingSchool_Website2009Since the blanks are certified not to break balloons at a distance beyond 20 feet I tested them at 5, 10, and 15 feet. I did the test using both my 4-3/4″ barrel guns and my Dad’s 5-1/2″ guns. The longer barrel always had a smaller pattern. So if your aim is ever off a little the bigger pattern on the short barrel guns could help you to still hit the balloon. At five feet the patterns were 11″ and 12″, not too much difference there. The patterns at ten feet were 19″ and 24″, that’s a bit more. But at fifteen feet there is a big difference, 24″ and 36″. Now that could make a shot for you even if your aim is off a little! The only problem is that the three foot pattern usually had holes in it about 11″ across where there was no powder. That’s big enough to let a balloon inside the pattern escape! The short barrels are lighter and a little bit easier to move around quickly, I guess that’s why some people even go to the 3-1/2? barrel. As long as you can keep your horse close enough to the balloons you’d have an advantage with the bigger pattern. Horses don’t always do just what you want and if you get too far away the short barrels could make you miss instead. I didn’t test the 3-1/2″ barrel because almost no one used them back then. Now more people are using them because they’re so light, but I still think the pattern would make you miss a lot if you aren’t pretty close to the balloons. Everybody has choices to make and barrel length is one of them. Now you can make your decision knowing what kind of performance to expect from different barrel lengths.

When you decide how to carry your pistols you have choices too. Some people carry their pistols in holsters attached to the saddle. That’s how I started out because I was too small to wear two pistols on a belt! Sometimes shooters will carry one gun in a holster on their belt and the other on the saddle. Cinnamon Lucy carries her’s that way but has two holsters on her belt anyway so when she gets off the horse she can bring her second pistol with her for safe keeping. Many people, like my dad, carry one gun in a strong-side belt holster and the other in a cross draw where it’s easy to get by reaching across their stomach. When I first switched to two belt holsters I wore mine that way, but the way I ride made me drop the gun from the cross draw holster sometimes. When we’re galloping real fast I lean forward and that made my cross draw holster lean over too far and the gun would fall out once in a while. A lot of people carry their guns like I do now, both in strong side holsters but in front of their body where it’s easy to make fast gun changes while riding. That way when I’m leaned forward my body helps hold the gun in and I don’t drop it anymore. When we need holsters we have them made in Alamogordo, New Mexico by another cowboy shooter. He makes them just the way we like and can decorate or change them a little so they turn out perfect! Most of the belt holsters you see people using are Mexican Loop-style, where the leather from the holster loops around the whole belt and back around the holster. Those are more authentic, like they used back in the frontier days. Buscadero holsters are like you see a lot on old TV shows where the leather from the holster goes through a slot in the belt and holds the gun lower on your body. Most people think that makes it easier for your gun to fall out of the holster, especially if you have the bottom of the holster tied to your leg. But once in a while you see a mounted shooter carrying their guns that way too. One thing to remember is that if you have cartridge loops on your gunbelt and want to carry cartridges in them to look more like the movies, they have to be dummy rounds. That means they can?t have any primers or gunpowder in them and they can’t fire. For safety you can’t carry any live ammunition in your guns or anywhere on your body when you do mounted shooting. That way you can’t accidentally load up with the real thing.

I hope reading this article helps you decide what type of guns and holsters might be more comfortable for you to compete with. I also hope this article has gotten you interested in trying cowboy mounted shooting someday. That way we’ll see you in the arena with a big smile on your face. Cowboy mounted shooting is so much fun it’s the fastest growing equine sport there is. The other fun part is the people you ride with are the best! If you want to ask me any questions just email me from my website, www.morningdoverides.com. Ride hard, shoot straight and never give up. Don’t forget to always be safe and have fun!

You can contact Taylor’s at www.taylorsfirearms.com.

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Copyright and Published By Junior Shooters and Junior Sports Magazines, Inc. December 2008

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One Response to “Cowboy Mounted Shooting: Choose Your Guns & Holster”


  1. GREAT ARTICLE!! VERY HELPFUL!!
    THANKS FOR THIS ARTICLE TO HELP ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING SHOOTING AND EQUINE SPORTS. WE REALLY APPRECIATE ALL YOUR HARD WORK WHICH IN TURN HELPS TO KEEP OUR 2ND AMENDMENT RIGHTS BY GETTING FUTURE GENERATIONS OF SHOOTERS INVOLVED WITH GUNS. I WAS HAPPY TO SEE ALL THE ORGANIZATIONS FOR PROMOTING SAFE HANDLING AND THE SPORTING ASPECT OF GUNS. WHEN MY DAD WAS IN THE SERVICE HE WAS PRESENTED THE EXPERT RIFLEMAN MEDAL WHICH WAS GIVEN TO ONLY A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF SOLDIERS. THE LEADER ASKED THE HANDFUL OF THE EXPERTS HOW THEY HAD LEARNED TO SHOOT SO GOOD. THE COMMON LINK WAS THAT THEY ALL HAD SPENT MANY HOURS WITH BB GUNS WHILE GROWING UP.
    THANK AGAIN!