Frequently Asked Questions

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The Basics

What is Cowboy Mounted Shooting?

Cowboy Mounted Shooting is the Fastest Growing Equestrian Sport in the Nation. Mounted contestants compete to see who can engage a course of targets set in a complex course in the least amount of time. The targets are colored balloons. The contestant carries 2 .45-caliber single-action revolvers, each loaded with 5 rounds of specially prepared blank ammunition which will pop the balloon targets, but pose no threat to rider, horse, or spectators. The contestant must engage the first 5 targets, round a barrel at the far end of the course, then engage the second set of 5 targets as they race for the finish line. Runs are timed, with missed balloons resulting in a time penalty.

The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association "C.M.S.A." has a variety of levels of competition for everyone, ranging from novice levels to the seasoned professional.

Are there clothing requirements?

Yes. It is required that you dress western. You may either dress in traditional western style or you can dress in the old time style of the late 1800's. Traditional style includes a long sleeve western shirt, 5 pocket blue jeans covered by chinks or chaps, western boots, and a cowboy hat. If you prefer 'rolling back the clock ' to the late 1800's, try to look as authentic to the period as possible by wearing shirts without collars, and high-waisted pants with buttons, not zippers, and an old style cowboy hat, for example. However, regardless of costume all riders must wear either protective headgear or some sort of authentic headgear.

Are there horse requirements like breed, or registration?

No. You can use any horse or mule that you want. Some horses take to this sport easily, others do not. It is up to your horse's temperament and your desire to train him or her to get used to shooting, turning, and going fast. Some riders will use earplugs for themselves and their horses.

Is there an age requirement?

Yes, and no. To run a course with real guns, a rider must be at least 13 years of age. Younger riders are called Wranglers, and run a modified course that does not involve real guns or ammunition.

Weapons and Ammunition

What type of guns are used?

Mounted Shooters use single-action revolvers in .45 Long Colt caliber, like those used in the late 1800's. A single-action revolver must be cocked each time before firing by manually drawing the hammer back. By contrast, a double-action revolver can be fired by simply pulling the trigger. While double-action revolvers did occasionally appear in the Old West, Mounted Shooters may use only the single-action type. Most competitors use replica Colt Single Action Army revolvers, or similar guns from other manufacturers. First made in 1872, the Single Action Army is the famed "six-shooter" of Western lore, familiar from every cowboy movie ever made.

Occasionally we will feature a course that's designed to be run with both pistol and rifle. Some rifle contestants use lever-action rifles; others use a revolver rifle. The rifles used must also be .45 Long Colt caliber.

What about gun leather?

Riders can buy 'off-the-shelf replicas' of the old time gun belts and holsters. Or, you can have custom-made gun belts and holsters to suit your wishes. There are several custom 'makers' that you can find in 'old west' magazines.

Do you use live ammunition (lead bullets) or bird shot?

Absolutely not. Live rounds are strictly prohibited at competitions. Mounted Shooters use blank cartridges loaded with a charge of black powder, but no bullet. When fired, this produces a spray of powder grains that will break a balloon at up to about 15 feet, but is harmless at longer ranges.

Skills and Safety

What does the course look like?

Sample Course

A typical shoot consists of 3 to 6 stages. In each stage, the targets are arranged in a pre-selected course, and all riders then run the same course, one at a time. When all riders have completed the course, that stage is complete and the targets are arranged in a new course for the next stage.

Each course consists of 10 balloons in two colors, usually red and white or blue and white. The diagram at right shows a typical course. The rider enters the arena, crosses the timer line to start the timer, then shoots all 5 white balloons (shown here as open circles) first, using their first gun. This first part of the course tests the horse's ability to accelerate, turn, and change leads quickly. Then, the rider holsters the first gun while riding to the far end of the arena, draws their second gun, and shoots the 5 red balloons (solid circles), which are usually set in a row straight towards the finish line. This final dash, which tests the horse's speed and the rider's accuracy at speed, is called the Rundown.

Are there levels of skill?

Yes. There is a Men's Division, a Women's Division, and a Senior's Division, with Classes 1-6 in each of those divisions. There is also a Wrangler Class for those 11 and under. All riders start at Class 1. When a rider gets a qualified win as a Class 1 four times, they advance to Class 2, and when they get a qualified win in Class 2 four times, they advance to Class 3. Four wins at Class 3 and on to Class 4, 5 wins at Class 4, etc.

Kids? Do the kids ride and shoot?

Yes... and no. Young riders (known as Wranglers) ride the same course that the grown-ups do, but they may shoot Hollywood cap pistols, engaging each target as if they were shooting real blanks. They then shoot the real McCoy (.45's with blanks) at balloons, from the ground while standing stationary with mom or dad at their side.

How does the scoring work?

The riders are scored on time and accuracy. The base time is the time you take to complete the course. Seconds are added to the base score for penalties:

  • Missed balloon - 5 seconds per miss (so 2 misses = 10 seconds, 3 misses = 15 seconds, etc.)
  • Dropped gun - 5 seconds
  • Running the course incorrectly -- 10 seconds
  • Falling off -- 60 seconds

Speed is important, however, accuracy is usually more important than speed. (Remember the words of Wyatt Earp: "Fast is fine, but accuracy is final. You have to be slow in a hurry.") A typical course can be run in 15-35 seconds, so penalties can really hurt.

What about safety?

SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT AT ALL NHCMS EVENTS. This applies to both firearms and horses. We hold a New Shooters clinic at the beginning of each show season to assist new shooters in starting their horses and learn the basics of safe firearm handling. A Range Master is in the arena at all times during competitions to insure the rules are observed for safe riding and safe shooting. Riders do not carry loaded guns outside of the arena or when not competing. New shooters are required to demonstrate that they have achieved minimum acceptable levels of riding and shooting skills.

Any rider who violates range safety rules or mistreats their horse WILL be disciplined.