Field Notes: This Group Celebrates Cowboy Culture With Monthly Shoot-Outs
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: SASH, the cowboy gun club.
Photos: Natalie Nakasone
What it is
Picture a hot and dusty day at Koko Head Shooting Range, where a posse of Stetson-clad gunslingers have gathered, and railcars line the horizon. The hand of one buckaroo tensely clutches his six-shooter, plucked from an intricately tooled leather holster slung at his hip. Quick as a rattler, he pulls it up to sight-level, hollers, “This is my claim!” and sends two .45-caliber slugs straight into the side of the caboose with an echoing ping.
There aren’t any tumbleweeds, but this scene from the Single Action Shootists of Hawai‘i’s monthly meeting could be straight out of a classic Western. And that’s the aim. Founded in 1981 by enthusiasts who grew up on the magic of Wild West flicks, this unique club (the local chapter of the national Single Action Shooting Society) celebrates cowboy culture with monthly shoot-outs, which are often courses designed to imitate famous scenes from Western movies or history. President Philip Rapoza, who is also president of the Hawai‘i Historic Arms Association, has been a member since 1988. “Part of it is a history lesson,” he explains. “In that period, the firearm was everything. It was home protection, survival and hunting. So your one shotgun fed you and defended you.”
The club comprises about 40 men and women—“The women outshoot most of the guys,” says Rapoza, “because they have nothing to prove”—who are all about reliving the Old West. While the four-gun matches (involving two pistols, a lever-action rifle and a shotgun) are scored, and the fastest shooter walks away a winner, the club is less about snaring a bullseye and more about having a rootin’, tootin’ day at the range. “I tell people: It’s the most fun with a gun you can have,” says Rapoza. “Win or lose, I’m going to ask everyone, at the end of the day, if they’re having fun. If a new person didn’t have fun, we did something wrong.”
All the weapons are reproductions, with strict national guidelines that determine which types of guns are “legal.” Even clothing and leatherwork is supposed to fit the era, down to boots, which are usually ordered from the Mainland, and shirts, which, if you’re lucky, you can find at stores such as Ross.
All SASH members have a period-appropriate persona, alias included. “You can be the belle of the ball, they have what they call the soiled dove, or the lady of the evening. You can dress like an Annie Oakley,” says Rapoza. “Do you wanna be the good guy, the bad guy, the rancher, the banker? That would affect the type of gun you buy.”
Hold your horses
Rapoza encourages prospective members to come try their luck at a match before they start ponying up the dough for cowboy accoutrements. “What we don’t want you to do is go out and buy stuff right away. We want you to think of your persona.”
The Single Action Shooting Society Handbook is a hefty, 30-page beast of rules and regulations. Here are some standouts:
Rifles or carbines in the original matches must be originals or replicas of lever- or slide-action rifles manufactured during the period from approximately 1860 until 1899.
Ammunition required for reloads during the course of any stage must be carried on the shooter’s person in a bandolier, belt, pouch, holster or pocket … No ammunition may be carried in the mouth, ears, nose, cleavage or any bodily orifice.
Every SASS member is required to select a shooting alias representative of a character or profession from the Old West or the Western film genre.
Modern, feathered cowboy hats are not allowed.
Ball caps and designer jeans are not allowed.
Stan Michaels, 74, “Silver Wolf”
“I’m a Lakota scout. I try to imagine that I’m the one trying to let my people know there’s a sense of inevitability with (working with) the white man—without us losing our dignity.”
James Barboza, 59, “Captain Barboza”
“It’s all about the guns. Because of my last name being in Pirates of the Caribbean, they gave me the nickname. So I stuck with Captain Barboza.”
Karen Rapoza, 50, “Kamuela Kowgirl”
“I’m from the Big Island and I just love that area. They have ranches there, and horses. I couldn’t find anything I liked in other Westerns, so I made it my own, Paniolo-style.”
To get involved, visit sashgunclub.com
Did you know? One of the most iconic guns of the Wild West, the Colt “Peacemaker,” a .45-caliber revolver, was notoriously used by Billy the Kid and Jesse James in their bloody hijinks.