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Old February 27, 1999, 08:58 PM   #1
El Chimango Pete
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I wonder how accurate shooting really was (or needed to be) in the Old west? - We have the legendary lawmen and/or outlaws that were superb. Wild Bill Hickok killed Dave Tutt with a single shot at 75 yards - notable for being one of the few recorded actual 'duels' and also that Wild Bill used two hands. Perhaps these were rare exceptions. There appears little effort towards our idea of "sight picture", most confrontations with handguns would have been at close quarters, and ammunition must have been scarce for practice… and of course there is the old argument - did they usually shoot one handed?

El Chimango Pete ---- A 44 beats 4 aces
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Old February 28, 1999, 01:50 AM   #2
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You basically outline a recent article in American Handgunner (Nov/Dec '98) by Barrett Tillman. He goes right down the line addressing all of your questions and referring to several gunfights (including the one you mention). Can you get the magazine down there?
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Old February 28, 1999, 05:36 PM   #3
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Everything I've read seems to indicate that most cowboys were very poor pistol shots. Ammo was expensive on a cowpunchers pay, they had little time to practice, and most avoided deadly social encounters. I remember reading of two cowboys who got into a shoot out with each other while standing at the bar of a saloon. They emptied their pistols at each other and all of the shots missed. Law officers and outlaws would be a different matter.
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Old March 7, 1999, 02:04 PM   #4
El Chimango Pete
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Missed that issue of "American Handgunner", pity - will try to order it as a 'back issue'. If they were not overly concerned with accuracy, on the other hand, Colt's, Remington, Starr, et al didn't seem to be supplying their guns accordingly: Quality products, generally better than the 'average' buyer would demand (also considering that guns would be relatively expensive to them). We will not use the term 'saturday night...etc.' (a media aberration) - but you see what i mean.
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Old March 15, 1999, 10:51 AM   #5
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I have always read that Hickock had no hesitation about shooting while others might "think about it"
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Old March 31, 1999, 09:41 AM   #6
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The guns didn't allow a lot of accuracy as we understand it today, primarily because of very poor sights. Good guns were expensive; a Colt SA was $17.50, over half a month's pay for a cowboy who got 50 cents a day and his meals and horse. (Cowboys rarely owned their horses, the horse belonged to the ranch, and the cowboy took first serve at the remuda line.) So the more usual carry guns were breaktop DAs, old percussion guns,
cheap ($2 - $3 through MW or Sears mail order) pocket revolvers, etc. Also Remingtons, S&Ws, Merwin-Hulberts, etc., etc. In one saloon fight, two groups of rival ranch hands fired over 200 shots at each other. Result - one dead cat!

Incidentally, the old timers didn't worry about lawsuits, so they carried six shots in their six-shooters, but they weren't crazy. They didn't depend on the hammer "safety" notch, but simply dropped the hammer between rounds, like they had done with the old Colts (safety pins) and Remingtons (safety notches in the cylinder.)

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Old July 23, 2006, 08:43 PM   #7
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A comment or two

I know this thread is old but I wanted to add something of relevent to it.


I live in Colorado, and as accuracy goes. Let me tell you a story about a mine disbute near Cripple Creek/Victor Colorado. I will share the most important detyails so this a condenced version. then you will understand what my point was.

Near Cripple Creek/Victor Colorado there is a mountian called Battle Mountain. it was named that after so many mine claim disputes ended in alot of shooting.

This mine dispute happened at a mine that was one of the biggest produces on that mountain. It came about after the guards (workig for the other side) let claim jumpers into the mine to sieze it. When the owners and miners that worked there found out, they all proceeded to get up there and had a long shoot out with the claim jumpers. Over 3000 rounds were fired by both sides and it didn't end until the claim jumpers ran out of ammo and the military was called in. No one went to jail and only one person was wounded.

Many would say that their guns were not acurate. But in fact it was most likely a case of they really didn't want to be hung for killing anyone (either side), just because you may think your on the right side doesn't mean you are. So fear would be a good reason to miss.

As for the guns not being acurate. I disagree, I have shot many guns both original and replicas and have found that they are in fact acurate.

Wild bill Hickok was asked why he carried black powder (ball and cap) when everyone else was using cartridge. He responded, "just as acurate".

I used to have 2 1851 44s, I could group 3 inches at 30 yards. They were replicas but decent replicas. What it all comes down to is how much powder you put down the barrel and how round your balls are. Speer makes the best round balls as they are swagged instead of cast. Cast leaves a sprue which has to be centered for best acuracy. Thats hard to do. Also bullet weight makes a big difference in groupings. Weigh your bullets and put them into 3-4 groups. shoot only a group at a time. you will notice how much better a pistol shoots.

My old black powder pistols were funny, full loads gave really bad acuracy. But a load 5 grains less (30 grains) was the best for power and acuracy. Shoot your guns and experiment with powder loads. just avoid mousefart loads. anything less than 20 grains is to light.

I had an italian made 36 navy that was a great gun, except if you fired more than 9 rounds in it the acuracy went to hell in a head basket. Swab the barrel and it was fine again for a few more shots. Oh, I should mention that I used to shoot Pyrodex. 2f or 3f. I still do but now I shoot real black powder too.

hope this helps someone.

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Old June 8, 2012, 12:22 PM   #8
ZVP
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Hickock was a killer not hesitant about. Shooting and not caring if. He only cared about hitting good and stopping the attack against him wasstopped.
He was a great shot capible of pinpoint shooting
The average guy couldn't hold 6" under stressful conditions. I am sure they shot for the whole body.
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Old June 8, 2012, 12:57 PM   #9
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Most back then were probably lousy shots, but a good part of the reason was black powder. The smoke prevented a good second shot, especially in an enclosed area like a saloon. I've read a number of accounts where a posse had shootouts in wooded mountainous areas and because they had black powder cartridges and those they were chasing had smokeless, the posse got picked off cause the smoke gave away their position, while they couldn't tell where the outlaws were shooting from.

Last edited by Mike Irwin; June 12, 2012 at 11:32 AM.
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Old June 8, 2012, 01:51 PM   #10
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Quote:
I remember reading of two cowboys who got into a shoot out with each other while standing at the bar of a saloon. They emptied their pistols at each other and all of the shots missed.
LOL, well then the only thing to do at that point is to buy the man a beer!
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Old June 8, 2012, 03:33 PM   #11
Kadmos
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Just for perspective

5,000 shots per kill in Korea

30,000 shots per kill in Vietnam

250,000 shots per kill Afghanistan/Iraq


On the other hand, snipers and experienced hunters average less than 2 shots per kill
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Old June 8, 2012, 05:30 PM   #12
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No full auto back then. Three shot bursts makes more sense too.

Last edited by Mike Irwin; June 12, 2012 at 11:32 AM.
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Old June 8, 2012, 06:50 PM   #13
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To straight shooter.....

They should have bought the beer first and saved the ammunition. (Its easier on the furniture too unless I am the one drinking the beer.)
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Old June 8, 2012, 08:27 PM   #14
4V50 Gary
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James K. Tell me more about that 200 shots fired shoot out.
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Old June 9, 2012, 10:49 AM   #15
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What Ive read indicates most shooting victims in that era lived ten days on average, so I would have to say most were poor shots.
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Old June 9, 2012, 01:32 PM   #16
gunsmokeTPF
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Actually penicillin would've been the magic bullet back then. Most people died from infection.

Last edited by Mike Irwin; June 12, 2012 at 11:29 AM.
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Old June 9, 2012, 01:52 PM   #17
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Some were good, some were bad. Just like now.
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Old June 9, 2012, 02:20 PM   #18
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Actually, back then they were worse shots than today. With TV, videos, movies, gun clubs, internet, shooting ranges, shooting instructors, books, etc., todays gun owners are much more informed regarding the shooting sports. In addition, shooting techniques alone have vastly improved, as well as the quality of our weapons and ammunition.

Back then people were either self taught, or were instructed in how to shoot by a parent, or friend. I can't believe their instruction was all that good unless they were qualified by someone like Wes Hardin, or Bill Hickok. I was given a winchester 94 SRC in 38-55 many years ago that belonged to an elderly next door neighbor of my parents. It belonged to his father father and was bought in the 1920's. He had said that because of that rifle and his dad being such a good shot they were able to put meat on the table.

My point is that those who were forced to hunt to live were by the same token forced to learn how to be a good shot. I can't say how well they'd do with a handgun though. Today people are much better shots in general. But that's only my opinion and since the old timers are dead we'll only be able to guess, but we're the bigger wimps.

Last edited by Mike Irwin; June 12, 2012 at 11:28 AM.
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Old June 9, 2012, 02:55 PM   #19
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Quote:
in the Old west?
Not everyone was a Cowboy. There were some very good shots back in that day too. Just like now some are good, some think they are good and most aren't. Read more history about actual Lawmen and Outlaws and you'll read of some pretty good shooting. Read some history of Buffalo Bill's show, he had some excellent shots including a little Lady named Annie Oakley. She once shot a cigarette out of the Kaiser's mouth.
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Old June 9, 2012, 03:13 PM   #20
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In one saloon fight, two groups of rival ranch hands fired over 200 shots at each other. Result - one dead cat!
Well, the day wasn't a total loss.
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Old June 9, 2012, 03:31 PM   #21
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I've read lots about the old west my entire life and it's true that not everyone was a cowboy, which no one said as far as I know. I seriously collect old western guns and do have some personal family connections to the west as well. My grandfather was a trick roper and bronc rider in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show with Tom Mix. His name appears on one of their rosters. During WW1, because of his experience he was a mule skinner in the army in France and was mustard gassed while transporting supplies in no man's land, which drastically changed his life. He was a lousy shot from what my father said and my father had no interest in guns either. As a matter of fact, my father sat on TM's horse Tony when he visited New Boston Illinois in the 1930's. I never said no one could shoot back then, only there's better shots today for what I think were valid reasons that I gave. It's only opinion, that's all.

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Old June 9, 2012, 04:37 PM   #22
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Quote:
Quote:
In one saloon fight, two groups of rival ranch hands fired over 200 shots at each other. Result - one dead cat!

Well, the day wasn't a total loss.
Sarge, that was the greatest come-back line I've seen in a long time. Bravo.
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Old June 9, 2012, 05:53 PM   #23
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I did a little checking a while ago and learned..

...That accuracy in small arms combat involving police does not result in very high number of hits.

Can't remember precisely but I think it is under ten percent. It would be easy enough to check.

We (Meaning myself and some other of the emergency response coordinators) were trying to rationalize the school's gun free zone policy. For that effort I interviewed around thirty police officers and every one of them though it was a bad idea to permit guns in classrooms. They supported the gun free zone status to a man.
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Old June 9, 2012, 06:39 PM   #24
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Read the book "How I became a Crack Shot" by W Milton Farrow.

Mr Farrow was one of the best shooters in the world, the copy right date of the book is 1882.

Mr Farrow held a 200 yard shooting competition in Glendive Montana, still in the wild and wooly west, for the locals, with, according to him “a sprinkling of Officers from Fort Keogh”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glendive,_Montana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Keogh

Quote:
The target was of the regular Creedmoor pattern for 200 yards, four feet wide and six feet tall, with eight inch bullseye. After a few preparatory shots the practice was begun, and in many cases did the hunters and scouts astonish the celebrated shot (Mr Farrow) and themselves, at the ease and frequency with which they could miss , not only the bullseye, but the entire target.
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Old June 9, 2012, 08:19 PM   #25
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Since I have NO idea what I'm talking about, I think I'll join in too.

I would say that in history the general populace of THAT day were better shots than the general populace of THIS day for several reasons. There was a larger portion of the population living in rural area than in urban areas. Rural people shot guns more often than city folks. However, city folks of history shot guns much more, as a percentage than city folks do now. (gangster excluded) I didn't say that shooters of that day were better than shooter of TODAY, I just can't see how that's possible.

Therefore, if someone is shooting more often and FOR A REASON (trying to kill their food), then it stands to reason that they would be a better shot than those who never do shoot at all or just shoot for fun one or twice a year, no matter how GOOD the gun or ammo is.

However, the OP question had NOTHING to do with rural vs. urban, nor modern day, but that's not going to stop me-no sir.

Today's shooters would be considered very accurate shooters if put in a historical perspective because we have so much more money and so much more time to practice-as has been stated several times in this thread.

Chronologically, as close away as my father and his brothers having to provide meat for the table in the late days of the Depression era, HAD to be good shots. This was NOT that long ago, or so I keep telling myself. So, having to learn how to aim and shoot was part of their everyday life. They were-as I was, born in the rural south. It was a necessity to shoot well for them.

For me, it was just fun. I never HAD to shoot anything to keep meat on the table, my shooting was all for fun. I learned to shot BB guns with my cousins as a young child. We walked "patrol" on dirt roads and (sadly now) shot and killed just about anything that crawled or flew day after day. So, we got pretty good at it. We hunted as kids in a large group of relatives. You shot good because everybody did.

Something else to consider-People can also SEE a whole lot better now than they used to, don't neglect that either in your theories. My Grandfather (b.1899) was considered a very good shot because he could see really well, my Dad (b. 1929)was a bad shot because he had astigmatism. It could come down to simply the fact that people of history didn't have glasses or at least glasses that were much good.

Now back to people who know what they are taking about.
OJW
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