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Back in the day, TV was heavily censored. Even married TV couples had to sleep in separate beds (Luuuuuuucccccyyyy!). But characters could shoot at each other with reckless abandon, if the spirit moved them. And move them it did; there was a fair amount of gunplay in old television shows. Westerns were big, with at least one climactic firefight per week—usually more—to keep things interesting. Some of the more “action-packed” programs were based upon World War II themes. The basic recipe was the same: somebody bad was going to get ventilated. That said, the early TV programs were still subject to strict violent image restrictions. The Powers That Be prohibited graphic depiction of the real physical damage. Most of us young ‘uns grew up believing that a gunshot wound was little more than a scratch. Anyhow, here are five famous weapons from TV’s “Golden Age.”

One of the most interesting weapons was The Rifleman’s modified Winchester Model 1892 rifle. The lever action rifle provided a rapid-fire custom trigger release that allowed Lucas McCain an opportunity to shoot very fast and ask questions later. It also meant that the opening sequence to the program was a very intense moment as the rangy hero moved forward behind a spray of bullets.

Josh Randall in the western series ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ also owned a modified Winchester rifle. The king of ultra-cool Steve McQueen played the lead, bring ice cold cool to cowboys—-who were already plenty damn frigid.

Randall wore a leg holster to carry the shortened Winchester and he was able to draw the weapon as quickly as any fast gun with a pistol. And he looked cool doing it. (Did I mention that already?) He even wore larger caliber 44-70 bullets on his gun-belt, even though his rifle had smaller caliber 44-40 bullets.

Paladin from ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ was a master of many weapons. His primary weapon was an old favorite from the western: a Colt 45 handgun. The opening sequence had Paladin in an action pose that ended with the viewer staring down the barrel of his gun.

Paladin also carried a saddle-holstered Winchester lever-action rifle on his horse; he was an expert marksman with the trusty weapon. To add an element of concealed lethal surprise to his arsenal, Paladin hid a derringer small bore handgun.

Marshal Matt Dillon from ‘Gunsmoke’ was a big man who could settle disputes with his fists or his Model 1873 Colt 45 single action handgun. The actual TV prop was a real Colt manufactured in 1895, so Matt was essentially period correct. The opening sequence was originally a showdown in the streets of Dodge where some idiot tests Matt’s draw. Wrong answer.

The final TV show for discussion is ‘The Rat Patrol’. Nothing says impressive like a Thompson 45 caliber machine gun mounted on a vintage Jeep. The show was all about   WW11 desert action and the sight of a Jeep getting air time while a gunner blazed away at enemy forces was mighty impressive for young viewers.

All in all, it was a bygone (if not politically correct) TV era where the weapons were the stars.

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  1. On old black and white TVs, handguns were hard to see clearly. Except for Clayton Moore's gleaming Colt .45s, and the unusual weapons you describe above, they all looked more or less alike. I am told I once asked for a Buntline Special, and was given some sort of longish toy revolver for Xmas. Then Maverick caught my eye, and my brother and I had a succession of belt-mounted, derringer cap pistols.

  2. I loved the old television westerns and I really liked Maverick. Wish that I would have included the show in the mix. As for WW11 shows, I could have included Combat as a favorite as well.

    • This is posted years later but Combat was the most watched and rated #1 in Vietnam. Just thought it needed to be posted!

  3. You are likely right, but the actual TV show used Thompsons for much of its run. The guy who drew this may have used artistic license.

  4. You are likely right, but the actual TV show used Thompsons for much of its run. The guy who drew this may have used artistic license.

    Is that a joke or do you know absolutely nothing about guns?

  5. In the TV series “The Rat Patrol”, the Jeep Mounted Machine guns the show used replicas of M2 Browning Belt Fed Machine Guns mounted on a spindle, belt fed by “disintegrating belts” from an ammo can so that a second man was not needed to “feed” the belt. The replicas were sheet metal and pipe mock-ups that fired LP gas charges fed up thru the spindle into the fake barrel, and ignited by a spark plug. By careful timing they were able to get great “bangs” and muzzle flame replicating an actual M2 .50 BMG without the hassles of a class 3 license or the cost of real BMG’s or the cost of feeding them real cartridges. It also avoided the problems inherent with loading blanks into the belts, feeding, jams, and running out of ammo.

    If you have any doubt just watch the show and compare the jeep mounted .50 BMG
    to these photos:

    .50 BMG :

    Thompson SMG:

  6. you forgot about Wild Wild West.his fancy revolver, the silver studded carbine…oh,…. who can forget that derringer up his sleeve on a spring loaded device.

  7. So what about Matt Dillon’s rifle? I read one place that it was a Winchester Model 92 and another place where it was a Winchester model 94. Both would have been out of context with respect to the time period for the show, but I would like to have a model 92 or 94 jut because I was such a fan of Matt Dillon/James Arness.

  8. Rat patrol used a 50 bmg.
    The still use it to this
    Day. The longest built gun
    By Browning. They did carry
    45 Tommsons in a boot attched
    To the dash.

  9. Re: Nitpicking:

    1) The cartridges worn on Steve McQueen’s gunbelt as Josh Randall were .45-70, not .44-70 – but the rifle itself WAS .44-40.

    2) Matt Dillon may have used an original Colt during some of the series, but in at least part of the show’s history, his pistol was actually a Great Western clone – you can tell by the fact that there is no firing pin on the hammer. Great Westerns had a frame-mounted firing pin.

    • As a gunfighter/stunt man in the early ’60’s at 6 Flags-Arlington, we carried the Great Western. We found that the double loaded black powder and the constant pounding of 21 shows a day took a greater toll on the case hardened Colt. As a firearms instructor for Texas DPS for the last 25 years, my favorite gun is still the Colt SAA.. My business card says “Have Gun Will Teach” and has the iconic chess piece from Paladin. Anyone who thinks guns are the problem, rather than society, is still living in a make believe world.

      • Thanks for your input. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment regarding the problems with modern society. This country is either heading towards a civil war or it is going to sadly give it all away to people that hate what this country once proudly stood for.

  10. I’m curious about the representation of the Winchester Model 1892 Large Loop Carbine rifle.
    At the period, was it sold with the large loop & would the average man be able to modify the trigger as portrayed?
    Another question, would “Josh Randall” merely cut down both the barrel & stock of his Winchester Model 1892 Large Loop Carbine rifle ?
    I’ve long been intrigued by the ” Bounty Hunter ” offered by
    Of course there are other manufacturers offering similar HANDGUNS, like the ROSSI Ranch Hand and the HENRY’s Mare’s Leg

    Thing is, I’ve often heard these reproductions are not worth the price or are they accurate.
    I’d like to have one simply as a backup when I go out in to the forest as, there are increasingly more Black & Grizzly Bears.


  11. i held matt dillions guns he used on the show,a freind that deal’s in very rare and expensive firearms, had them along with one of Adolf Hitlers guns,in a bank vault. they looked real to me. the guy who owned them sold them at auction and the jew that had hitlers gun sold it to cheap at an auction

      • The Jews you are referring to are really Khazar’s. If you want to know who the real Jews are, they are one of the countries of European decent. The 12 tribes of Israel are today the white Christians who are in fact being exterminated by the none white heathen.

  12. I have heard and read from many “experts” on TV western heroes’ guns. They all seem to criticize the producers of Bonanza for arming all of the Cartwrights with SAA’s and no extra ammo on their belts. If these people had ever watched the early episodes of the show, they would have seen the heroes armed with Remingtons or Colt Armies or Navies, all of which were originally cap and ball. The series opened as having been set BEFORE the Civil War, not after.

  13. TV’s Wyatt Earp was noted for toting a long-barreled revolver.

    The Lone Ranger didn’t use modified pistols, but he manufactured silver bullets.

    I can’t recall the name, but there was another TV show that, like Steve McQueen’s character, used a modified rifle.

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  15. Paladin has a SSA Colt, but the barrel looks smaller than a .45 Colt. Looks more like a .38 or even a long cartridge .32. Anyone else ever notice the handgun’s cylinder looks quite narrow?

  16. Anyone ever wonder that the cartridges in Matt Dillon’s belt look a lot smaller than 45 LC? Both in diameter and length.

  17. does anyone REALLY KNOW what happen to the carbine with the chess piece/ horsehead in the stock ,seen only maybe in a couple of epsodes of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL? i want to do mine like that if i can find someone that would know how to inlay it. thanks to anyone who can help.

  18. There was an episode of Hunter where some nut was using a machine pistol to kill people.. as usual, they took care of the guy…


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