Firearms

Cowboy Guns Perfect for the Old West

.22 LR Firearms rifle and revolver

In a high-speed, low-drag world, it’s often all about the latest and greatest. This is usually semi-automatic firearms intended for self-defense and home protection. However, sometimes it’s nice to take a step back in time and use a firearm from a more civilized age. 

Cowboy guns are not only fun to shoot, they have utility as well. Single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles, and double-barrel shotguns — they’re time tested and often hit hard with modern calibers and ammunition. In a pinch, they can even be pressed into defensive roles, especially if you spend much of your time outdoors. With that, let’s take a look at some of the best cowboy guns everyone should add to their stable. 

Heritage Barkeep .22 revolver
The short-barrel Barkeep is a handy little piece.

Handguns

Heritage Rough Rider

Heritage makes an affordable firearm for cowboys big and small. The standard Rough Rider is an inexpensive way to get a feel for the single-action revolver. Offered with .22 LR or .22 WMR cylinders, with several barrel length and finish options, the Rough Rider is a versatile platform. The fit and finish aren’t heirloom grade, but the guns run well in my experience. 

Short-barrel Barkeep versions are handy against pests such as snakes and rodents. Long barrel models work well for plinking and target shooting. There’s a version of the Rough Rider to appeal to every shooter. And with most coming in under $200, why not pick up a few? 

Ruger Vaquero

Many outdoorsmen have turned to the Ruger Vaquero for their Western needs. The Varquero provides a rugged example designed to hold up to real-world use. I’s available in .357 Mag, .44 Mag, .45 ACP, and .45 Colt, in stainless or blued finish, with several barrel lengths. 

Since 1993, the Ruger Vaquero has dominated cowboy action shooting and earned its reputation for durability and reliability. The Vaquero combines that Old West style and feel with modern mechanical enhancements to ensure years of enjoyment. From the XR-3 style steel grip frame to the large crescent shaped ejector rod, the revolver is meant to run. Additionally, the large transfer bar and loading gate interlock provide an unparalleled measure of security against accidental discharge. 

Ruger Vaquero
The Ruger Vaquero is a durable single-action revolver.

Colt SAA

Of course, for the diehard enthusiast, there is no substitute for the real thing. The Colt Single Action Army was the sidearm of the U.S. Army from 1873–1892. The original chambering was .45 Colt, and the pistols were supposed to drop a Native American War Pony at 100 yards. 

The six-shot revolver was later deemed the Model P, or Peacemaker due to its success on the battlefield. Nothing handles and points quite like a finely-tuned single-action revolver. 

Today, original examples have become out of the realm of affordability for most of us. But it seems Colt is still producing modern variations with 4.75-, 5.5-, and 7.5-inch barrels on special order. 

Bond Arms Roughneck 

Every cowpoke needs a good backup. Bond Arms derringers come in a vast number of calibers and configurations for every chore. They’re available in a standard series that feature a high-degree of fit and finish. The Roughneck series was designed to provide the same performance, for those on a budget. 

A spring-loaded, cammed locking lever gives you a tighter barrel-to-frame fit and facilitates faster loading or unloading of the firearm. Additionally, the majority of pistols are compatible with all of the Bond Arms optional interchangeable barrels, allowing you to easily change calibers while using the same frame. 

Bond Arms Texas Defender
Bond Arms makes the finest derringers and some excellent cowboy guns.

Rifles

Marlin 1894

I have written on my fondness for Marlin lever-actions before. My father hunted with a classic lever action, and the new models manufactured by Ruger are high-quality. The Model 1894 is available chambered in .357 Mag/.38 Spl, or .44 Mag/.44 Spl. The “Classic” version is the clear choice for the cowboy enthusiast with its American Black Walnut stock and forend and blued finish. 

The rifle loads via a side loading gate, allowing shooters to quickly top off the magazine tube when behind cover. The lever action operates smoothly and reliably. The receiver is drilled and tapped from the factory for mounting a scope. Further, these newer Marlins are hand-fit and finished. This results in incredible accuracy and a very attractive rifle. 

Rossi Trapper

Rossi offers a number of lever-action rifles perfect for the aspiring Westerner. For general use and timeless aesthetic, the R95 Trapper is a good choice. The .30-30 Winchester offers adequate power for hunting medium-sized game and modest recoil for fun at the range. 

The Rossi R95 Trapper combines a traditional hardwood stock with blued finish to deliver a rifle suitable for the backwoods or the back forty. An adjustable, rear buckhorn sight, elegant classic wood profile, and exquisitely smooth-cycling action prove that contemporary engineering can pair seamlessly with time-honored craftsmanship and design. 

Rossi R95 Trapper
The Rossi R95 Trapper is an affordable lever-action with classic styling.

Winchester Model 94

Many shooters grew up watching TV heroes of the Old West running a Winchester ’94 lever-action. This would make the perfect companion to a classic Colt SAA revolver. The Winchester 1894 is available in several variations, all of which are superb rifles. The standard carbine is the entry-level offering with a 20-inch, button-rifled barrel and round locking bolt trunnions. It features a Marble Arms front and adjustable rear buckhorn sight, making for excellent accuracy. 

Additionally, I’d like to give a special nod to the Trails End Takedown Model, which combines classic cowboy styling with modern design enhancements to aid in transport. 

Henry Pump .22

Step back to an Old Western shooting gallery with the Henry Pump Action .22. Perfect for small-game hunting and day-long plinking, the rimfire rifle features a 20-inch octagonal barrel. Its tube magazine can hold up to 15 rounds of .22 Long Rifle ammunition, and it can also accept .22 Short and .22 Long. A ⅜-inch dovetail groove on the receiver allows for the easy addition of scope rings and mounts, and the buckhorn rear sight and front sight bead offer a very usable option, should you prefer to stick with irons. The Henry Pump Action Octagon makes an excellent first rifle for young shooters and is a wonderful addition to any gun collection. 

Henry Pump Action Octagon
The Henry Pump Action Octagon is a classic gallery .22.

Shotguns

Chiappa Coach Gun

Any cattleman would be well-armed with a Chiappa Coach Gun. This side-by-side shotgun is chambered in 12 gauge and features 20-inch barrels with 3-inch chambers. It’s outfitted with a beautiful walnut stock and forend that looks as good as it feels. Chiappa designed the SxS with extractors, so it will eject both spent and unspent shells. Additionally, the single selective trigger allows a hassle-free method to toggle between barrels when firing. 

RIA Single-Shot

Rock Island Armory makes an affordable single-shot 20-gauge that would serve any cowperson well. The break-action shotgun is simple, reliable, and durable. The 20 gauge is lighter than the 12 gauge, making for a faster swing, while still delivering a substantial payload. 

RIA 20-gauge break action
A break-action is likely the simplest and most dependable of all cowboy guns.

It features a compact contoured 20-inch, fixed-cylinder bore barrel and bead front sight to get you intuitively on target. The 3-inch chamber can also accept 2¾-inch shells, giving you a wide range of loads to choose from. Additionally, the lightweight polymer stock sports a faux wood grain finish for a timeless look. 

What are your favorite cowboy guns? What do you use them for? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. I dunno what cowboy shows they were watching but usually they had Winchester Mod 73 and Mod 92… not the Mod 94.

    I have a 1981 USRAC Winchester Mod 94 in .30-30 for whitetails. As close to “cowboy” as I’ve got.

  2. Love old west guns,shoot a lot of 45 .org colt and a tuned awa that has a increadable smooth fast action. I also used an 45-70 Winchester made in1895 for deer hunting here in Texas,used it one year and got a nice 9 pointer. I then about 15 years ago bought a 38-55 Winchester model 1895 with an 4power leatherman scope which was used back in 1800’s still available today.This rifle I have continued to used with jacketed Hornady bullets I reload myself, very accurate rifle and puts deer down immediately. Rifle is a blast to shoot on my range amazingly quiet., also you don’t shoot up as much ammo because its a single shot,but if you get proficient that’s all you need when hunting. Other hunters are amazed at the rifle being designed back in the late 1800’s.but the designer was the one and only “ John Browning.”

  3. The Ruger Vaquaro is one of the best wheel guns ever. I’ve probably owned a dozen of them in the past but now I am down to just one but I do have the Blackhawk also for fun. My Henry Big Boy and both chambered in .45 long colt. But if you want to have fun on the cheap then Heritage manufacturing is the best way to go. They are very good quality and a ton of fun to plink with or even take down small game. These wheel guns are a blast from the past. Please Always be safe out there and know what is behind your target.

  4. Surely you can’t forget about the Henry Big Boy with the brass receiver and octagon barrel. I put the large loop lever on mine so that you don’t have any problems when wearing gloves and I also have the scope mount for long distance shooting. You need to keep some Brasso on hand to keep the receiver looking like new. I highly recommend Henry Manufacturing for the best lever action rifle that I have ever purchased.

  5. I quit reading when I saw the writer was giving wrong information. First off the rossi trapper is no good for cowboy action as it will not hold 10 rounds and the large loop.slows you down on time.
    Second the old cowboy shows and movies did not use the 1894 winchester. The 94 is a large caliber rifle. The movies and shows used the 1892 winchester.

  6. I like the wheel guns.
    I have a pair of Blackhawks in 44 mag, an Italian 1873 in 45 Colt a couple of Heritage 22/22wmr. My lever’s are newer, a model 39g and a BL.
    I’ve shot 12 and 16 doubles since the mid ’60’s but don’t currently own one.
    I enjoy them all and not a bad shot.
    If you don’t enjoy it, Don’t do it !!
    Great article !!!

  7. I think they mean Ruger “New Vaqueros”, and no mention of 1866 or 1873 Winchester or stoeger/CZ coach guns? 1897 pump action? These are the most commonly seen in cowboy action shooting. Model 87 lever shotguns are fun as well.

  8. Cowboy Action guns….I have been in the game since about 1995. Early on, I settled in and worked at using two single action revolvers, “double duelist” style, that is one in the left hand one in the right,. I can shoot about as well with either hand now.

    I also prefer using black powder in everything…More traditional you know.

    Then. I decided to regress and go to Cap n Ball revolvers, bought a matched pair of 1851 Navy’s
    (Uberti), and a third for a “spare”. These two revolvers have been in pretty continuous seasonal use since 2003, and misfires are virtually unknown, once I changed out the factory nipples to modern stainless steel ones made for current production caps (Remington or Winchester only, no CCI).
    I had some minor spring issues (replaced the original flat hand springs with flat duplicates I made myself, and went to piano wire bolt/trigger springs.. also stronger loading-lever latch springs, Retained the stock mainsprings.

    As to the “long guns” I shoot a Uberti/Winchester 1873, sporting rifle in .45Colt caliber.
    This rifle is plumb stock, no mods, is absolutely reliable, and well broken in and fast. Best $$ I ever spent on a gun.
    I load.45Colt cartridges full case, BP or Pyrodex behind a Lyman 454190 hand cast bullet. This bullet has two lube grooves on it and with my 90/10 blend of Beeswax n Olive oil lube, will shoot all day with no loss of accuracy. The “lube star” on the muzzle after shooting indicates the lube is doing it’s work, and there is never any leading or hard fouling to clean out at the end of the day.

    Shotgun is a Chinese copy of the 1878 Colt SxS Hammer double, 12 gauge, 20 inch cylinder bore barrels.
    I use “range pickup” shells, cut the crimp folds off , and load a 2 dram charge of BP or Pyrodex , a cut-down plastic shot-sleeve wad, 1 1/4 ounces of No. 8, 7 1/2 or 6 shot. Thin over-shot wad on top, and roller-close them with an antique crank-type roller tool.. Gits ’em every time. Plenty of “Blast n Bang”. Knockdowns die quickly.

    Never any more spring issues or other problems in 20+ years of shooting these guns hard and fast.

    Only problem now is I cant get percussion caps anymore, So I have scaled my shooting way back. I’m 81 YOA. and I guess it is time to take it a bit easy now anyway….

  9. Love cowboy guns! I have a passel of various Ruger Wranglers; a couple of Cimarron Pistoleros in .375 magnum, one blued and one nickel plated; and a Winchester Model 94 .30-30 that was manufactured in the 1930s. Brought down many mule deer with that rifle.

  10. “Cowboy Guns Perfect for the Old West” – or any other direction, just a fun, relaxing day, at the range or farm, with kids, grandkids, or friends, and not really use a lot of ammo in the process. It turns into more actual gun handling time, improving skills, and not just magazine dumps. Nice article.

  11. Yrs ago 1975 after o got of the Navy. I was wanting a Winchester 1873 in 44-40 and stopped in a local shop in Novato,CA. Well he didn’t have one but he had a Colt Lighting pump action in that caliber. What was nice it came with a letter from Colt stating that they sold 400 of them to the San Francisco Police Department, and stamped on the trigger guard was SFPD 145. He was wanting only $350 for it, but since it wasn’t a Winchester I turned it down. Alway wondered what it would be worth today.From what I remember it was in really good shape little wear

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