It was a skill—even a trade—that went by many names: gunslinging, throwing lead, leather slapping, gunplay, makin’ the town smoky. By whatever name, in its Old West heyday it was a high-stakes affair that could make a man a legend or cause him to lose everything in a fraction of a second. As a sport practiced by the likes of Cowboy Action Shooters and other devotees today, gunslinging is markedly less lethal, yet the fundamentals remain the same.
The lingering image of the fast-draw, shoot-from-the-hip gunslinger is a misleading one. For old-time shootists, it was about speed, but only secondarily. As the legendary Wyatt Earp is quoted as saying, the key to winning a gunfight is to “take your time… in a hurry!” As Earp quoted his old friend Jack Gallagher, “the gunfanner and hip-shooter stood small chance to live against a man who took his time and pulled the trigger once.”
A modern-day traditional gunfighter will use two hands on his six-gun and train his eye through the rear sight notch at the back of the pistol, lining that notch up with the front sight blade so that the two points are in a direct line with the center of his target. In today’s Cowboy Action Shooting scenarios, there are categories called Gunfighter and Duelist in which the shooter uses only one hand to balance and aim his pistol, but even so he will still train his eye down the barrel and through the sights, if only to bang steel targets while being timed.