Hearing Research Conflict

Cowboy Action Shooting and Hearing Research

My office at a Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) event. But, it may just as well have said – Gone Fishing.

Occasionally I get an opportunity to mix pleasure with business.  Such is the case when I attend Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) events.  Also known as Western Action Shooting or Single Action Shooting, this is a competitive shooting sport having its origins in California in the early 1980s and is now practiced in many places in the USA as well as in other countries.  CAS is the fastest-growing shooting sport in the US. Now, I have to admit that when it comes to shooting, I am an expert marksman.  So to be sure I hit the target, I shoot first, and call whatever I hit the target.  But, not these shooters.  Everyone knows what the target is, and they compete to hit it.

I actually pretend to be working at such events, as can be seen from the sign on the back of my pickup (yes, it is true that everyone in the West owns a pickup).  My “work” at these shoots varies from making noise measurements under different situations to researching electronic earplugs, but I find that the motivation to be a dedicated researcher during these events just is not there.  It seems that I would rather check out the firearms, the outfits worn, listen to the names competitors use, and watch the competition.  So, in my reports I just refer to CAS as Continuous Auditory Stimulation.  That has an aura of truth and, since most people don’t know what I am describing, they nod their heads and tell me that it sounds “interesting,” and never ask me to explain what it is.

As luck would have it, the second week in October of each year brings to St. George, UT about 10,000 participants to compete over a two-week period in the Huntsman Senior Games.  The Cowboy Action Shooting competition registers hundreds of competitors from many states and countries.  CAS events include 12-stage shooting, duelist category, gunfighter category, B-Western/classic cowboy category, and black powder category.  Side matches include Wild Bunch – both modern and traditional, plains event, long-range rifle black powder, long-range rifle smokeless, speed pistol, speed rifle, speed shotgun, shotgun challenge long-range pistol, .22 pistol, pocket pistol, derringer – all individual events.  Team events include couples, four-person, and six-person events.  Men and women mostly have separate competition, with the exception of team events.  If this doesn’t give you some idea as to why I find it difficult to concentrate on my research during these events, then you belong in an underground sound-treated room with no windows working on a grant.


Loading table as contestants line up for their turn at a “stage.” All barrels are pointed toward an earthen divider and no firearm is allowed to be loaded except at this table. Each stage has its own loading table and safety rules are strictly enforced.

Competitors use firearms typical of the mid-to-late 19th century.  These consist of single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles chambered in pistol calibers, and side-by-side double-barrel shotguns (also referred to as “Coach Guns” – think stagecoaches), or 1897-style pump-action shotguns with external hammers.  Because it is almost impossible to obtain originals of these firearms, reproduction guns are equally acceptable.  However, all CAS handguns must be “single-action,” meaning that the hammer must be manually cocked before each shot can be fired.  Additional events to CAS are finding their way into shoots as well.  For example, the SASS Wild Bunch (Single Action Shooting Society) allows for side events for buffalo rifles, derringers, turn-of-the-20thcentury firearms, etc.



Competition generally requires four guns: two period revolvers, a shotgun, and a rifle, the latter chambered in a center fire revolver caliber of the type in use prior to 1899.  Rules are very strict for firearms, ammunition, and overall safety.  For those of you who thought this would just be easy reading, know that all ammunition for pistols or rifles must meet a minimum power factor of 150, calculated by multiplying the bullet weight in grains and the muzzle velocity in feet per second and then dividing the result by 1000.  Also, maximum muzzle velocities are limited to 1000 ft/s for pistol ammunition and 1400 ft/s for rifle ammunition.  (Somehow I had to get in something to remind you that this was not all just fun and play, but required some serious thought.)


CAS shooters in dress.
Other Requirements

An Old West costume of some sort, safety glasses, and hearing protection must be worn while shooting.  Depending on the standards of the sanctioning organization, clothing may be historically accurate for the late 19th century or may just be suggestive of the Old West.  SASS-sponsored Wild Bunch shooting requires military dress clothing of the early 20th century, western clothing typical of that time, or Mexican period dress.  And, in the Old West spirit, there is no better way to complete the fantasy than to have an alias.  Actually, participants musthave an alias out of the Old West or have some kind of Old West flair.  This name is registered with the sanctioning body and prohibits any other shooter from using that same alias at a sanctioned event.  Expect to see names such as the Loan Arranger, Wildcat Wayne, Loose Lips Lou, One-Eared Mary, Masked Heir, Sir Uman Kid, etc.  These are actually the names shooters are identified with at shooting events – not your birth name.  Additionally, the names cannot sound the same as another registered name.

Line of 12 different stages for shooters. Each stage is lined with high-banked earthen backdrops on the sides and behind the targets.
CAS Stages

Many “stages” or shooting scenarios are provided and might represent saloons, banks, delivery stables, railroad stations, telegraph offices, etc.  These stages are lined up on a long row with appropriate earthen bunkers lining three sides for safety purposes.  Targets are generally steel plates that ring/clang/ding when hit, but at times reactive targets such as steel knockdown plates or clay birds are used.  The shooter engages the targets with different weapons, using a revolver for closer blue targets, a rifle for distant red targets, and a 12-gauge shotgun for a clay pigeon.  Stages are always different with each stage typically requiring ten revolver rounds (shooters generally carry two single-action revolvers), nine or ten rifle rounds, and two-to- eight shotgun rounds. In addition to requiring shooters to wear Old West attire, the western flavor of the matches is enhanced by having suitable targets and props for the stages.  For example, a stage may be set in a bank and the shooter will be required to shoot through a barred “teller” window, then perhaps retrieve a sack of gold from a safe and carry it in one hand while shooting with his other hand.  Another stage may have a shooter rescuing a baby (doll) and having to carry the “child” through the entire stage while engaging the targets.  Other props may include buckboards, chuck wagons, stagecoaches, horses as well as jail cells, oak barrels, hitching posts, swinging saloon doors, etc.

One of the stages. Each stage has a different theme. Each has one Range Officer and three scorers, along with the shooter who moves between 3 locations in the stage, with a different firearm used in each stage, along with different targets and distances.
A livery stage.

Shooters compete one at a time, against the clock.  Most matches are scored simply by “total time” minus any bonuses and plus for penalties.  Other matches are scored by Rank Points.  An electronic timer records the duration for each stage to one hundredth of a second, and starts when the Range Officer pushes a button, which beeps, and signals for the shooter to proceed.  The timer has a built-in microphone and records the time when each loud noise (shot) occurs.  When there is no more noise, the timer displays the final time, which is a raw score.  Each shooter’s “raw” time for the stage is increased by 5 seconds for each missed target and 10 seconds for any procedural or safety violation incurred.  The fastest adjusted time wins.  Targets shot out of proper order incur a procedural penalty, though only one procedural penalty can be assessed per shooter per stage.  In “Rank Point Scoring,” the winner of a match is determined by adding up each shooter’s ranking for each stage, with the lowest score winning.  For example, if a shooter places first in every stage in a 10-stage match the shooters score would be 10 (1 for each stage) and this would be the lowest score possible.

Rifle shooting in action. Range Officer follows the shooter and measures the total time taken using a special meter that records loud sounds (shots) and has a start sound. Points are added or subtracted from the final score depending on the number of misses and any penalties.
Stage Events

Every stage at a match is intended to be different.  Sometimes only two types of gun are used, or perhaps even only one.  Occasionally a shooter is required to reload a firearm “on the clock.” When he/she comes to the line, the shooter will place (“stage”) the guns as required by the stage description.  For example, he/she may put the rifle on a hay bale to the left of the start position and shotgun on a hay bale to the right of where the stage starts, or perhaps the pistols on a table or countertop.  When the competitor steps to the start position, the Range Officer will ask if the shooter understands the course of fire and clarify any questions the shooter may have.  The Range Officer will ask if the shooter is ready, tell the shooter to “Stand By” and then start the timer within 2 to 5 seconds.  When started, the timer gives an audible electronic tone and the shooter begins the stage. An example of a stage might have the shooter draw his/her first revolver and engage five steel targets, then holster the first revolver and move to the left where the rifle is staged.  He/she will retrieve the rifle and engage the rifle targets, which are set farther away than the pistol targets.  These might be nine separate targets, or perhaps three targets which the shooter will “sweep” three times.  The rifle is then laid back down on the hay bale, action open and chamber empty, and the shooter runs to the right where the shotgun has been placed.  Shotguns are always staged open and empty, so the shooter will retrieve the gun and load it with a maximum of two rounds (regardless of the type of shotgun) and engage two knock-down targets, reload and engage two more knock-down targets (which must fall to score.)  The shooter will then lay the open, empty shotgun back on the hay bale, and draw his/her second revolver – this time engaging three targets in what is known as a “Nevada Sweep” (left, center, right, center, left) for a total of five rounds. When finished shooting, the Range Officer will tell the shooter to take the guns to the unloading table, where another shooter will supervise the unloading and verify that the guns are unloaded.  The shooter’s time is then recorded and any misses or penalties added.  Three observers who count misses score targets.

Unloading table where a range official watches and checks that all firearms are unloaded and the chambers are empty after the shooter finishes. Each stage has an unloading table. Spent casings are also returned to the shooter at this table.

Safety glasses (shooting glasses) and ear protection must be worn at all times.  In a typical stage the shooter who is next in line to compete will load his/her guns at a loading table under the supervision of designated loading official.  Western-style “six-shooters” are always loaded with only five rounds with the empty chamber under the hammer.  The shooter’s rifle also will be loaded with the requisite number of rounds with the hammer down on an empty chamber.  Shotguns are always left unloaded, then loaded “on the clock.” At a Cowboy Action range, ALL guns are kept unloaded except when the shooter prepares at the loading table, shoots the stage, then proceeds to the unloading table to unload the revolvers and prove that all guns are empty.  Even with empty guns, CAS is very big on safety.  The Range Officer (RO) is responsible for safely conducting the shooter through the stage, so his attention is not on the targets but rather on the shooter and his/her firearms.  One important duty of the RO is to immediately stop the shooter if the shooter’s gun or ammunition is defective in any potentially unsafe way.

My Electronic Earplug Test Results

I think someone changed my Electronic Earplug Research sign to “Gone Fishing,” and as a result, I will have to provide any results in a future blog, providing I can manage to get my “research” hat on at the next event.  Fortunately, I have ample opportunities to finish what I started – not the fishing, although that sounds good.  Hmmm…..I wonder if one can experience hearing loss due to the fishing reel drag sound when a large fish is on the line?  That sounds like my kind of research.

Still, following are a few observations, which is the least that I can do for making you endure this blog:

  • CAS shooters generally use earplugs rather than earmuffs.  This is primarily because of the outfits they wear, which usually include some kind of headgear.
  • Quite a few use their hearing aids turned off as earplugs (primarily those earmolds without vents), or depend on low output settings.
  • Amplified earplugs seem to be best because scores and instructions still need to be heard.
  • Earplugs of some kind are essentially necessary anywhere along the line of stages.
  • More than a single level of amplification in electronic earplugs is desired.
  • The earplugs must be comfortable.
  • Many of the custom-made earplugs seem to be made more for show than performance.
  • I have not seen any .32 special spent shells (casings) substituting for earplugs, as in the past.

I really have to go now because two of my favorites are about to shoot – Long-Nosed Lillian with her Dead Eye, and especially Orus Mortis, who I found has a Dead Ear.

About Wayne Staab

Dr. Wayne Staab is an internationally recognized authority on hearing aids. As President of Dr. Wayne J. Staab and Associates, he is engaged in consulting, research, development, manufacturing, education, and marketing projects related to hearing. Interests away from business include fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, golf, travel, tennis, softball, lecturing, sporting clays, 4-wheeling, archery, swimming, guitar, computers, and photography. Among other pursuits.


  1. Well done, very infomative and entertaining blog. I thought you may include Cowboy Mounted Shooting in your study.

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