Cowboy ammo – a modern term

There was no such thing as cowboy ammo in the 19th Century, but now in the 21st we have a new metal cartridge called the “Cowboy 45 Special”.

In a discussion of loading, on a forum I hang out on, SASS (the
Single Action Shooting Society) was referred to as “Silly Arses Shooting Squibs”*.

I don’t want to put down a shooting sport organization. Rather I would like to see shooting sports more relevant to real world shooting. When you have an organization to “preserve” (your words) an older action type, then maybe you’d want to preserve the original power of the ammunition in your sport. I would suggest then, that if you don’t want a full power 45, you should use the 38 Long Colt or etc. Don’t tell me you’re using a “45” when you’ve downloaded it to 38 S&W energies.

How can I say any of this?– I want Starline to flourish. I buy their excellent brass by the case of 1,000.

This concept of gaming and range shooting becoming separated from “the real thing” is one that I have brought up before, and will harp on in the future. I have no problem with people having fun with guns. The more the better. It’s when they say their being “practical” or “historic” and aren’t that I’ll chime in from time to time. So shoot me, or call me a nerd or a jerk.

Either treat the game as a game, and don’t get serious about it as having much practical or historical significance, or treat it as practical, or historical, and be serious about that.

*A squib is a load that fails to fire with its full power. Sometimes it can fail to even launch a bullet clear of the bore. Thus the joke.

13 thoughts on “Cowboy ammo – a modern term

  1. Sounds something akin to SCCA re-enactors using longbows with half the draw weight of ‘traditional’ bows (60-ish lbs v. 150-ish lbs)

    • You mean SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism? That has “creative” right in the title. A bit different I should think.

      • Indeed. I keep conflating the acronyms for The Society for Creative Anachronism, and The Sports Car Club of America.

        They both hold an interest for me…go figure.

  2. We shoot even less powerful loads than SASSS shoots. We are members of the Cowboy Fast Draw Association (CFDA) and use a lot of Starline brass. We shoot wax bullets at steel targets, one at a time, and time the interval from the start light until the bullet hits the target.

    With these extremely low powered loads, we’re able to draw, cock, and hit the target in well under half-second times. More importantly, it’s a family sport, with shooters from 8-80 participating regularly. We also shoot indoors, in parking lots, any place we can find to set up a portable range.

    What’s really important is that we have a hell of a lot of fun, safely, with firearms and travel the country getting into gunfights. We teach firearm safety, Our firearms rules ate more stringent than SASS, requiring guns that are faithful to the outward appearance of the guns used in the 1880s. No short stroke, no outward modifications. Generally a tuning is all that is required.

    We’re having a ball while advancing the 2nd Amendment.

    • That’s totally cool. More power to you. Just don’t tell the world that you’re shooting the same thing cowboys of the 1880s used, or any such (unless said cowboys were also gallery shooters).

      I know a guy who re-works single action revolvers for fast draw and for what he calls “fanners”, and I have a lot of respect for him. Normally that kind of shooting would be abuse of the gun’s lockwork, but he makes them so they hold up to that abuse very well.

  3. My Ruger Vaqueros in .44-40 shoot regular loads, and they match up well with my Rossi lever gun in the same caliber, but we’re not a “serious” SASS group (not strict about clothing either, just no sneakers or short-sleeve shirts mainly), and the most popular caliber is .357mag because it feeds well in the lever guns.
    My “Cowboy” loads are 200 or 210-grains and still running about 850fps or better which is what the .45acp was designed after. They might exit the rifle’s 20-inch barrel going a bit faster. Nobody shoots +P or jacked-up loads because we’re not hunting, and all bullets have to be lead only with no jacketing because of splash-back.
    The squib loads came about because Baby-Boomer SASS Roy Rodgers wannabes have gamed the sport and turned it into a circus in order to go faster and win trophies and boost self-esteem by down-loading the guns to mouse-fart poppers. I hate boomers.
    I do shoot reduced-recoil 12-gauge loads in the coach-gun because I don’t need to reach out and knock down birds – and that gun weighs nothing and comes right back at you.

    • 210 grains at 850 would be pretty close to the original black powder loads in the 44-40. Anyway, you’re right there in the zone with a load like that, so you’re shooting “the real thing”.

      I have nothing at all against the lighter calibers. I own several 22 rimfires, and a 36 pocket gun. Just don’t say you’re using or doing something you’re not, is the only point. And shotguns have always been loaded to a wide range of charge weights and payload weights.

      • And I agree -with the lighter caliber issue, and the .44-40 is a bit spendy besides being antiquated – but mainly the “sport” has been gamed and that is what results in Cowboy loads.
        I may need to get a couple rimfire single actions so I can afford to practice! My only rimfire is a Ruger 10/22 for varmints and pests, and an antique single-shot olympic S&W pistol circa 1912.

        • Well, the subject of the post was hand loading, at least in part (the link was to Starline Brass after all), and I had thought that most any competitor would be loading his/her own match ammo.

          In reloading one handgun cartridge verses any other, with hand-cast bullets, the cost differences are negligible (lead mass and powder mass are the only real differences). So 44-40, 44 Colt, et al, though they may be rare as hen’s teeth and more expensive than gold, can be re-loaded for the same cost as the 38 Spec. – 45 Colt price range.

    • You could fit more in the tube, but watch out for feeding problems with the shorter cartridge. I think there are gunsmiths who specialize in lever-guns who could give you a better idea whether it would be practical or not.

  4. My recollection is that the Army specified a shorter .45 cartridge capable of being loaded into .45 Colt or .45 S&W revolvers hence the unofficial nickname of .45 “Long” Colt.

    • True. The S&W Schofield revolvers, in military use at the same time, couldn’t chamber the 45 Colt, but the revolvers chambered for 45 Colt could take the shorter rounds, so the word is they standardized on the shorter round for logistics purposes.

      Cowboy shooters went to using the shorter Schofield cases for loading their mouse fart loads for 45 Colt guns (more consistent ignition in the smaller case when using miniscule powder charges), and so now they’re going to the even shorter-yet, brand new “Cowboy” 45 case. Sooner or later I suppose they’ll go with no powder charge at all, using the primer alone to propel a rubber bullet.

      If one wanted to be “authentic” to the period, then stuffing as much fine black powder as would fit into the case behind a 255 grain lead bullet would be the norm for 45 Colt, and similar loads for the 44-40 and other period cartridges— A full case of black, and a heavy-ish lead, grease groove bullet lubed with tallow and bee’s wax. That’s what “cowboys”, as we think of them, would have had, but they’d also have had access to several smaller calibers, so there were options. 38 Long Colt for example, as I said (though there were others), would be “authentic” if the goal were to reduce the recoil effects and still have a somewhat “period” setup.

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