Gunfighting Advice: Wyatt Earp

By | July 30, 2023

[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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:


Please read my books:

  1. “55 Rules for a Good Life,” on Amazon (link here).
  2. “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Gunfighting Advice: Wyatt Earp

  1. Eddie Gilliam

    Good evening my friend. Excellent job. Life lessons to patient, be prepared, practice with great care, don’t be a show boat.

    1. Bernie

      Hi again, Eddie, don’t ya just love these articles from Gen. Satterfield? I sure do. And many, like today’s article on “Concertina Wire” is just another example of his storytelling abilities and giving us life lessons. Too bad, most folks have no desire to learn the good lessons in life.

  2. Jerome Smith

    Just loving Gen. Satterfield’s website more and more with articles like this one. Wyatt Earp is my favorite “gunslinger” from the wild wild west.

  3. Jonnie the Bart

    Enjoying this leadership and life blog one day at a time.

    1. Watson Bell

      Same here. Jonnie, we are just like Gen. Satterfield. At least I hope so. Courageous and with the grit to stand up to the crazies.

  4. Ron C.

    #3. 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.
    My favorite and the one that says the most.

  5. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Nothing like a good story in the morning. I grew up on cowboy movies with wagon trains, shootouts, gunslingers, sheriffs, and dirt streets. Nothing like the wild west of yesteryear. We can learn from those times and one of those lessons is that you have to be strong and stand up for yourself and for the weak. That is what the great gunslingers, those we still love to read about, did in those times.

  6. American Girl

    Loved today’s article, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks.

  7. rjsmithers

    Gunfighters of the Old West
    The terms “gunfighter” or “gunslinger,” as they are most often called today, are actually more modern words utilized in films and literature of the 20th Century. During the days of the “real” Wild West, men who had gained a reputation as being dangerous with a gun were more commonly called gunmen, pistoleers, shootists, or bad men. That being said, Bat Masterson, a noted gunfighter himself, who later became a writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, sometimes referred to them as “gunfighters” but, more often, as “man killers.”

  8. Greg NH

    “Never run a bluff with a six-gun.” – Bat Masterson
    Bartholemew William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (November 26, 1853 – October 25, 1921) was a U.S. Army scout, lawman, professional gambler, and journalist known for his exploits in the late 19th and early 20th-century American Old West.

    1. Bryan Z. Lee

      Yes, this is the idea. Never bluff, never shoot without aim, never shoot when you can’t see the target, and always always be safe so you don’t kill yourself from an accidental discharge of your handgun.

      1. Greg Heyman

        Bryan. Thanks for helping make Gen. Satterfield’s point. If you would like to read more about this thinking, then get a copy of his book, “55 rules for a good life” and then follow his advice for a happy life.

  9. Wild Bill

    “The boy who became a man progressed from darkness and unlearning to light and responsibility.”
    ― Stephen King, Gunslinger

  10. Ursala J. Simpson

    Application to real life today? Yep! Can our young folks see that? Nope! Says alot about our country’s predicament.


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