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3-Gun Gone Wild Wild West: Can “Dead Eye” Save Cowboy Action Shooting?

Maybe you were born too late, maybe you grew up watching too many cowboy movies and reading too many Louis L’Amour books, or maybe you just need a new challenge. No matter how you got here, you want to shoot guns out of the old west. 

Like the cowpokes, rustlers, lawmen, and outlaws of old, it’s time to belt on your six-gun, load the lever-action, and shoot your way into history. 

Dead Eye premiered officially at InRangeTV’s CQB/Handgun Brutality 2024 is a fresh and exciting take on cowboy action shooting that drives challenging stages, physically and mentally demanding shooting, wrapped up in a rugged frontier feeling straight out of the American West.  


To really understand why Dead Eye is being launched, you need to know the… issues that revolve around Cowboy Action Shooting. The main governing body for cowboy-style matches is Single Action Shooting Society or SASS. While the community that shoots SASS is pretty great, nothing is perfect.

From the style of the match to the entry gear required to the clothing at the match to a total lack of marketing to help grow the sport, SASS matches aren’t really a booming segment of the shooting sports community. 

SASS matches are generally extremely formulaic known as 10, 10, and 4. 10 shots with your rifle, 10 shots with your pistols, and 4 shots with your shotgun. Sometimes things will get spicy and you’ll have 6 shots with the shotgun. For shooters coming from other parts of the action sports world, this stage design is pretty bland.

Part of shooting these matches is the requirement of period-ish accurate-ish clothing. Some clubs and matches are stricter than others, but the official rules do state that “All shooters must be in costume”. They also have a list of clothing that isn’t allowed, while most of it is basically to ban “modern” clothing — something a little odd is the rule against men wearing short sleeves. Because I guess SASS believes short sleeves were invented in the 20th century? Also, modern shoes are banned. So if you have unique foot needs, SASS just doesn’t care.

But the biggest issue of them all is the cost of gear to get started in SASS. To shoot, you must have at least two pistols, a lever rifle, and a shotgun. Plus leather holsters, cartridge belts, costumes, and more.

To just get started in SASS you should budget at least $3,000. And that’s going basement budget on all the guns with no gun smithing to slick up actions or open up shotgun chambers. 

Dead Eye Difference

What makes Dead Eye different is that all of these hard barriers to entry are removed or at least lowered. 

No costume requirement.

Modern shoes are allowed.

You may use 1 shotgun, 1 rifle, and as many pistols as you wish provided they are safely carried and only used one at a time. You are not required to have multiple guns, if you want to shoot the match with just a rifle or just a pistol, you may. You might be at a disadvantage, but it is doable.

Sometimes getting the hit requires shooting from your weakside. You have trained shooting weakside, right?

And most fun of all is the stage design. Instead of 10-10-4, Dead Eye shoots real stages with reloads, challenges, difficult targets, and a lot more.

For InRangeTV CQB/Handgun Brutality 2024 the stages were the same as what modern shooters were doing, just with a lower round count via some skipped targets or fewer shots required on static steel. 

Diving through tunnels, sitting atop barrel horses, riding in an ATV, and throwing sandbags were all part of the Dead Eye stages just like modern shooters did.


Since I don’t own any cowboy guns right now, I reached out to Ruger, Cimmaron, and Heritage to help me out.

Ruger provided me with a Marlin 1894 in .38 Spl/.357 Mag, Cimarron sent me a Schofield Model 3 in .38 Spl, and Heritage got me their new side-by-side shotgun in 12ga called the Badlander.

Heritage Badlander

I picked .38 Spl/.357 Mag because it is by far the easiest to source ammo of all the cowboy calibers. But I don’t know if I would recommend it now that I’ve done it. More on this later.

The Schofield and Badlander worked wonderfully all match. No issues with either of these. I really liked the Schofield for the ease of reloading. For static steel that I needed to get hits on fast, this was great.

The auto-eject of the Schofield makes reloads a lot faster than on a SAA

I found the .38 Spl to be a little underpowered out of the pistol for some of the targets, but was great for static steel and fast reloads. 

The Badlander did its job for the most part, but the lack of a choke hurt the effectiveness of 12ga birdshot on some of the targets that demanded knockdown power.

Sadly, the Marlin 1894 was simply not up to the task. When it worked, it worked well. It was dead-on accurate out of the box, smooth to cycle, and was my go-to pick for small high-value targets. Unfortunately, I had two stage-ending malfunctions. For a competition rifle, that can’t happen.

I didn’t know this when I asked for Ruger to loan me the rifle, but it’s fairly well known in cowboy shooting circles that the 1894 Marlin has this issue. It can be mostly solved with some extensive gunsmith work, but even then it will still have the chance of happening — so I am told.

38 Spl jammed hard in the Marlin

The malfunction was a cartridge getting stuck coming out of the magazine tube. Something between the elevator and the lever itself can snag the case hard making it extremely difficult to clear. For both of my jams, I needed three hands and a knife to finally work the cartridge free.

After having to deal with that and then watching shooters with 1873 rifles run flawlessly all match, I would strongly recommend an 1873 over the 1894.


These are much more simple and easy to follow than SASS rules. Weapons must be designs that were commercially available before 1898, replicas are allowed. The caliber is simply limited to anything less than .45 Long Colt and does not need to be authentic to the period. 

Rifles and shotguns can be single shot, pump, lever, or break open. Shotguns must be at least 20 ga. No optics or fancy sights are allowed on anything.

Revolvers are only for pistols, but multiple revolvers are allowed as long as they are carried in a holster and no more than one revolver is used at a time.

Load-bearing gear includes cartridge belts, bags, bandoliers, pouches, and pockets. Again, it doesn’t need to be period correct. So if you don’t want to buy new leather, you won’t need to. I didn’t, and I think my belt setup did me well.

To avoid buying leathers I used a G-Code belt, Bianchi M12 holster, 5.11 Drop Pouch and 5.11 Shotgun Shell bag, plus a Kronos Flatout knife.

This is the basics, for a complete rule set take a look at


InRangeTV Handgun Brutality is what it sounds like, a shooting match that is hard on you, hard on your guns, and hard on your gear. This is not USPSA or PCSL, this is Brutality. The targets are often small, far away, and you will be physically tired from doing wind sprints with sandbags or dirty and sore from crawling through a tunnel. It’s also the most fun with a handgun that you can have.

Handgun shots at 50 or 75 yards aren’t uncommon nor are targets that are interwoven with no-shoot targets. You want to be fast, but you need to be accurate.

The average round count per stage was about 60 for modern shooters. Because cowboy guns just can’t practically match that kind of round count in the same par time, the stages were slightly modified for Dead Eye shooters to be about half the rounds.

8 stages of Dead Eye plus a re-shoot and I used less than 200 rounds of .38 Spl, 25 rounds of .357 Mag, and about 35 12ga shells of 7.5 bird shot. Big thanks to for providing the .38 Spl and .357 Mag

Other shooters using just a rifle in .45 Long Colt were able to finish the match with 250 rounds with a little to take home.

Instead of this being like a SASS match with a predictable cadence from stage to stage, Dead Eye works more like 3-Gun but with a Chaos modifier. Every shooter approaches each stage differently based on their guns, the caliber, and what they are personally comfortable with. 

Because Dead Eye has the option of staging long guns during the stage, you have infinite flexibility to choose your own adventure. 

A worn loading gate is a good gate

Between myself and 4 other Dead Eye shooters that I shot with, none of us shot the stages the same way. 

This added layer of complexity in deciding how you use the guns available to you adds a ton of flavor to the match. While you might not always make the best choice, the choice is yours


Cimarron 1873 rifle is at the top of my list for what you should get for Dead Eye. While not cheap, this is the one-and-done gun you need. 20 to 24” in the model design that you like most. While .38 Spl/.357 Mag is more accessible, I would go with .45 Long Colt. The added power and ease of reloading on the clock make .45 Long Colt a much better option if you want to be as competitive as possible.

Winchester 1897 shotgun is the best shotgun you can get, but also pretty hard to find. Thankfully, there are lots of 1887 Lever action shotguns on the market that do almost as well as the 1897 but are easier to find and less expensive.

If you want to go budget, get a side-by-side coach gun. 

More important than the model of the shotgun is the choke. You really, really want a shotgun that has as much choke as possible. Modified choke is good, but full choke is best. Anything less than MC and I would probably pass.

The Badlander is a solid shotgun, but the full cylinder bore made it not great for Dead Eye.

Revolvers are more of a personal choice and I don’t think you’ll go wrong with almost anything. The classic single-action army design is solid and great and offered by a ton of brands at a range of prices and in almost any caliber. Ruger Single Six with classic sights are a more budget-friendly choice, or Cimarron SAA for a more authentic look and feel that is also really high quality.

My heart still goes out to the Schofield Model 3. I just like the break-action nature of it and it makes reloading a lot faster. But I would strongly recommend getting it in .45 LC instead of .38 Spl like I did.

Above all get the cowboy guns you like the look and feel of best. Worry less about gaming the match and do it for the love of the game. You’ll have more fun. 


Cowboy guns in a shooting sport have always interested me, but SASS matches have always been a major bore in my eyes. Dead Eye is honestly the answer to what I’ve been looking for for years. This is everything I hoped it would be and more.

Stages like this that require applying a tourniquet to stop the hemorrhaging dummy’s bleeding while on the clock before starting the shooting portion of the stage are why I love Brutality. Doing it with Cowboy guns was even better.

While my Dead Eye run at CQB/Handgun Brutality 2024 was one of my lowest placements in a match, it is without a doubt some of the most fun I’ve had shooting on the clock. 

This won’t be my last Dead Eye match.

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