[July 30, 2023] Wyatt Earp is known in Western lore as a lawman, gambler, and outlaw, yet his legacy as an accurate shooter has endured. I saw an interesting take on “gunfighting advice” by Tom Grieve (link here) that caught my attention. Like many of my readers, to hear how to win in a dangerous situation grabs our attention.
What is it like to be a gunfighter in the Wild West in late 1800s America? Listen to Wyatt Earp’s words about gunfights.
- The most important lesson I have learned from those proficient gunfighters was the winner of a gunfight usually was the man who took his time.
- If I hope to live long enough on the frontier, I would shun flashy trick shooting and grandstand play, as I would poison. I was a fair hand with a pistol, rifle, and shotgun, but I learned more about gun fighting from Tom Speers’ cronies during the summer of ’71 than I had dreamed was in the books.
In those days, like our best professional military fighters today, gunfighters took their guns seriously, which is to be expected. Shooting their gun was more than aiming at a mark and pulling a trigger. They knew their guns, models, best methods to shoot and reload, the right way to wear them, and quickly get them into action.
What the best gunfighters had in common was they knew how to combine high speed with accuracy. A split second could make the difference in life or death. This took practice, practice, practice.
- When I learned to take my time in a gunfight, I do not wish to be misunderstood, for the time to be taken was only that split fraction of a second that means the difference between deadly accuracy with a six-gun and miss. It is hard to make clear to a man who has never been in a gunfight.
- Perhaps I can best describe the time taken, going into action with the greatest speed of which a man’s muscles are capable but mentally unflustered by an urge to hurry or the need for complicated nervous and muscular actions, which trick shooting involves.
- In all my life as a frontier police officer, I did not know a really proficient gunfighter who had anything but contempt for the gun fanner or the man who literally shot from the hip.
- Anything in gunfighting that smacked of show-off or bluff was left of braggarts who were ignorant or careless with their lives.
Wyatt Earp, like many of the professional lawmen of the time, had respect for their weapons and never took a chance with them. They handled them safely so as not to experience an unexpected discharge; their lives were at stake.
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurray.” – Wyatt Earp
And so lived the life of the frontier lawman. But I would be remiss if I did not draw a parallel between Wyatt Earp’s “rules of gunfighting” to our lives today. Be patient, be prepared, practice with great seriousness, don’t be a show-off, do not bluff, know your stuff, and never ever be a windbag. I sure wish some of our government elected officials would take this advice.
NOTE: See two of my earlier articles on Rules of a Gunfight:
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