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My significant other had never watched High Noon. Thanks to Netflix, I rectified that omission. I hadn’t seen Gary Cooper’s darting eyes in a good forty years.

Watching the Marshal fail to marshal the townspeople to defend themselves against a quartet of outlaws, it all came flooding back. How a good man sometimes has to stand alone. How fine Grace Kelly looked in a skin-tight bodice (not an observation I shared with my SO). How a single shot can make a man fall down dead in an instant.

Wait. What? Yup. Here are three really stupid lessons I learned from watching cowboy movies as a kid . . .

1. Handguns kill instantly 

What I learned . . .

Thanks to Saturday matinée westerns on UHF TV, I grew-up believing bad guys died when you shot them. They did so without hesitation, deviation or repetition. One bullet was more than enough to shuffle a bad guy off this mortal coil. I also learned that the good guy never dies from a gunshot wound, although he sometimes seems to. And if a bad guy’s bullet does take out a good guy – usually a supporting player – he’s got more than enough time to say something heroic and stoic first.

Truth be told . . .

With modern medical care and internal combustion-powered hospital transportation, most people who get shot live. No matter what caliber ammo you use, it’s really hard to stop someone in their tracks with a handgun round. Even if you hit the bad guy center mass, perforating his heart or severing a major artery, they’ve got at least 30 seconds to drag your ass into the afterlife with them.

2. Handguns are the ideal weapon for self-defense

What I learned . . .

I watched The Rifleman as a wet-behind-the-ears whipper snapper. No question: Lucas McCain was one lethal mo fo (as we never said back in the day). But the real Western action was always a shootout between the good guy and the bad guy using handguns drawn from holsters. It was all about speed; the fastest gun won. Which made me wonder why bad guys liquored-up before the inevitable shootout (Dutch courage, Dad told me, increasing my perplexity).

Truth be told . . .

After taking SIGSAUER’s Active Shooter class I saw the light: a rifle is a vastly superior firearm to a handgun when it comes to stopping a threat. Yes, well, as today’s Chipotle ninjas may attest, carrying a long gun around as you go about your business can be a bit socially (and politically) awkward. Even so, if you KNOW you’re headed for a gunfight, it pays to have a long gun in hand or at least plan to get to one, STAT. Trunk gun much? Yes. Yes I do.

3. Always fight fair

What I learned . . .

Westerns were all about honor. White hats vs. black hats, or, in the case of High Noon, clean-shaven vs. stubble. A challenge is issued. Tensions boil. The good guy accepts the challenge, reluctantly. The good guy and the bad guy square off for a showdown. Good triumphs over evil. I’m not talking about cowboys vs. Injun movies, where the “challenge” to the brave, virtuous white settlers was [supposedly] inherent. I’m talking about white-on-white, right-makes-might gunfight movies.

Truth be told . . .

Fighting fair is tactical suicide. Watching High Noon, my boyhood naïveté lost in the mists of time, I wondered why Marshal Kane didn’t grab a couple of lever guns off his office wall, position himself on a rooftop and American Sniper the bad guys. We’re talking a quartet of hirsute men stupid enough to walk down main street four abreast. Of course, the bad guys fought dirty; one of them torched the barn to smoke Kane out of his hidey hole. Live and learn, eh?

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    • Many do, but the following are pure genius, some of the best movies ever made, period.
      The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
      The Searchers
      High Noon
      The Wild Bunch
      True Grit (either one)
      A Fistful of Dollars
      Even…Blazing Saddles and Cat Ballou!

      • You forgot “Open Range” which is often credited with the best and most realistic final gunfight filmed.

        • There’s a part in “Open Range” when Kevin Costner rapidly fires eight or nine rounds out of his Colt SAA without reloading. Any prior respect I had for the realism of the film died when that happened.

      • Some of those I agree with, some I don’t. But I do like Westerns, and anyone who days they’re categorically crap had better be willing to fight for their crappy opinion.

        My own personal list of favorites is a little more recent in flavor and includes (in order from serious to comic) Pale Rider, Quigley Down Under, Silverado, and Shanghai Noon.

      • Appaloosa is one of my favorites , along with Unforgiven and Tombstone the movies taught me John Wayne never ran out of bullets

  1. Oh, Sergio Leone sometimes got it right:

    “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk.” (Tuco Ramirez, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).

    “When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with a pistol will be a dead man. That’s an old Mexican Proverb…and it’s true.” (Ramon Rojo, Fistful of Dollars) [unfortunately for Ramon, the Mexican proverb doesn’t apply when the man with a .45 is wearing a plate of steel under his serape]

    • Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

      Unforgiven – Muny to Little Bill (maybe the best movie line of all time).

    • Quoted by King Abdullah of Jordan after ISIS burned their pilot alive and they started bombing the crap out of ISIS… either “Any man don’t wanna get killed better clear on out the back.” or ” Any man I see out there, I’m gonna shoot him. Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I’m not only gonna kill him, but I’m gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down.” (either way, badass).

  2. Let’s not forget that real-world physics precludes a half-ounce piece of lead traveling at around 1,000fps from being able to throw 180lb of meat through the air.

  3. 6. Targets 50 or more yards away are easily hit with handguns, even when moving.
    7. Handguns have unlimited ammunition capacity.
    8. Thin pieces of wall or wood stop bullets.

  4. It seems the gunfights have gotten more realistic, while the barfights have gotten more unbelievable. 100 pound chicks regularly wipe the floors with hardened goons, especially on cop dramas.

    • This is one that bugs me. Not because of gender bias, but because I’ve had some hand to hand training. There is no magical Bruce Lee martial art that will overcome a significant weight advantage. If you have two opponents who are in reasonable shape and are determined, (that’s a key point, sometimes pain will stop someone who isn’t committed) then an advantage of 50 lbs is nearly insurmountable odds for the lighter fighter.

      To be clear, I’m talking about a real fight in the real world, not a regulated sport with points and breaks and such. Even in regulated competitions, fighters are often segregated by weight. The idea that a 110 to 150 pound woman could manhandle a 180 to 250 lb man will often pull me out of the suspension of disbelief in a particular piece of drama. I have no problem with it in a fantasy film, like the comic book based movies. I can’t get spun up about Scarlett Johansen kicking ass like the guys in a movie that has a Norse god and a giant green man whooping ass along side her. But it doesn’t work for me in a story that’s supposed to be realistic. I think part of the reason producers have gals that can mix it up with men twice their size is because the obvious solution, pulling a gun to end the fight, is anathema to them.

      • google “waif-fu”, lots of humorous stuff pointing out the ridiculousness of a 105lb woman taking down 200lb men.

      • Eh. If I’ve got 50 lbs of muscle on you, that’s a pretty fair advantage. Not totally insurmountable but you’re going to have to be better or a lot luckier than I am to win.

      • That’s funny. My F-in-L and I like a lot of the same shows and movies. I recently told him about The Americans, which is a great show. He watched a few episodes and really liked it. We discussed it a few times and then I realized that he wasn’t saying much about the show anymore. I asked him if he is still watching it and he said no because he couldn’t buy into Keri Russel fighting men 3x her size and winning. LOL, this coming from a 5’5″ 62 year old man weighing in at 145lbs soaking wet! Damn it! I criticize that every time she gets in a fight now!

    • I’ve seen women who can go toe-to-toe with men… And they don’t look like Scarlett and Angelina.

    • In all honesty I believe it is a concerted effort to prime the American public for a female president. Oh, and it dovetails nicely with the other concerted progressive effort to emasculate men in the United States.

  5. In my thoughts it definitely depends on location that being said the more power you bring generally brings good results. I have seen game animals (elk) fall from one good shot with a 243 Winchester, certainly not a first choice elk round for most of us. I also saw an elk take multiple (like 8) 7mm mags. It ran at least a 1/4 mile with half itself not functioning. I would imagine a 45 in the right spot could kill someone quick but certainly they overdo it.

    • My neighbor was hunting for moose with a .30-06 rifle shooting 180 grain bullets. He found a moose and, at about 100 yards, had to shoot it something like 6 times to kill it … and he claimed that all shots were good shots to the heart/lung area. Even then it still took several minutes to keel over.

      Terminal ballistics are about as predictable as the weather — just when you think you have a handle on something you learn otherwise.

      • A Mainer friend went moose hunting this winter – shot the moose, shot it again, got mauled & would have died but for his second shooter who finished the 800 lb. bull moose off. My Maine friend is an extraordinary shot – first shot should have done it.

        • A Mainer?

          I always called ’em Main-iacs.

          My grand-dad was almost killed in the 1930s up in Maine when his truck hit a moose.

          Big-assed roadkill.

    • That practiced skill of hip shooting has saved my life a couple of times, as it allows you to fire immediately after clearing leather giving a couple more fractions of a second to fight in a situation of having a drawn gun on you. I’m faster at putting a bullet in the immediate threat by shooting first from the hip and continuing firing up until the threat isn’t much of one anymore. By my third shot my gun is held by both hands extending a foot from my chest and if a final shot has to be placed down range to resolve the situation, well then I’m no longer point shooting so I’d be squaring up to finish the Mozambique drill of how to best handle evil savages.

      • “Always get your first shot off fast…it disturbs your opponent and allows you to make your second shot count.” –
        Robert Heinlein

  6. High Noon is one of the most overrated Westerns of all time. Without going into the whole thing about it being a condemnation of HUAC or the Howard Hawks response message of “Rio Bravo” that only trained professionals can protect the pubic, consider that two of the most famous shootouts in the history of the Wild West were at Northfield Minnesota and Coffeyville Kansas. Each time, armed citizens grabbed their weapons, joined local lawmen and shot the hell out of organized criminal gangs.

    • OK, I’ll go with High Noon/HUAC for now–but Rio Bravo and “trained professionals”? Don’t think I’m quite there–well, at least not any more so than most other westerns. And Rick Nelson’ character was a “gifted amateur”, no?

  7. If the police shoot you with handguns, you will usually die. Of course, they usually put about 15 rounds of .40 into you (and another 30 into the street or bystanders), only stopping when every officer’s mag is empty. (Maybe a bit of exageration)

  8. The worst thing about Westerns and most gun movies is:
    Two kinds of people have guns in the movies; bad guys and cops.
    I want to see an episode of How I Met Your Mother and have one of the main characters carry a gun. No reason and not pertinent to the plot. Just show gratuitous images of armed citizens in TV shows carrying guns and never shooting them.
    America is under attack from the Liberal media. We are being barraged with homosexuality in shows and commercials to teach our children that it is normal to be gay. That’s fine. Just put images of non LEO and criminals carrying guns to not only show that it is normal, but that it is a EXPLETIVE DELETED right!

  9. The fair fight stupidity exists in the minds of many antis. I won’t fight fair if my life is on the line. It’s about surviving, not some made up BS moral high ground.

    I also see antis who think that all you need it martial arts training to be safe. I’ve only seen one female beat a male in BJJ out of many. I’ve also only seen a few males beat people outside of their weight class. it was of course more likely for the lower weight males to win against bigger guys. These are also controlled fights so dirty tricks are not used.

    So, as mentioned above, the chances of a 100 lb female wiping the floor with some goon on a cop show is almost non existant. That’s why carrying a gun is better than relying on the hope that you can grapple better than topponent the thug wanting to rob you.

    • While the moral high ground has its philosophical place, in the real world it tends to function more as a tactical ravine.

      • Of course I am not talking about blatantly immoral actions such as murder, but I do not believe the “moral high ground” that the antis believe in right. I should not have to allow myself to be a disarmed victim of violence because of the criminals misuse firearms.

        I will have to remember that tactical ravine line. That is good.

    • The first time I watched “From Here to Eternity I was ten years old and saw it on TV with my father. He was a prewar Regular. I asked him if he ever participated in a regimental boxing tournament. He said “No, why would I want to get into a fair fight.”

    • Just a reminder, Rickson Gracie, considered a god amongst men in the bjj community, was asked what was his preferred technique against multiple attackers. He responded, “My Sig 229.”

  10. Your number two came to mind as I watched the video before reading the article. As soon as GC took the high ground in the stable, I literally said out loud “somebody needs a rifle”.

    • I can’t stand that in modern movies too. The hero (often Jason Statham or Chow Yun Fat) will have one or two handguns, miraculously (i.e. with script immunity) take out a bad guy who had a rifle, and then the hero will not bother to pick up the bad guy’s rifle.

    • I refer you all to “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (Paul Newman)

      A HIGHLY fictionalized account of the old bastard, but…

  11. I’m of the opinion that number one is why so many people (even those who aren’t dedicated antis) scoff at the idea of needing more than 10 rounds in a defensive situation. Even now, pretty much every movie or TV show that features killing with handguns, they are ALWAYS depicted (unless the plot demand otherwise) as being able to instantly kill with a single center mass shot.

    It’s so common that my guess is that this belief is so deeply ingrained into the minds of so many (non gun) people that they consider it a fact beyond questioning, the same way we don’t even consider the factuality of two plus two equaling four. It just IS, plain and simple. As with everything, education is the key. When discussing the issue of magazine capacity, always be sure to hit the fact that any handgun will take an average of 3-5 shots to stop a bad guy, and that among soldiers and cops, accuracy rating is about 20 percent at 3 yards in a gunfight (no, that’s not hyperbole; it’s a well-documented but little known fact). So, you’ll need 3-5 shots to stop a bad guy, and one in five shots will connect. Ergo, having way more than 10 rounds is a very good idea.

    • You talk about it as if the left is trying to control guns for safety. The left wants to disarm people for the sake of control, not safety. The antis gobble up the nonsense because they actually trust that the Government is looking out for their best interests. The left banks on the fear tactics scaring its base into willful submission. The left’s base fails to see that banning high capacity magazines, and armor piercing bullets only pertains to the citizens and not the controllers. When they are comfortable with every cop having an AR-15 with 30 round mags of armor piercing bullets, but fear your average Joe under the same circumstances then you know the left is winning. The irony is that the left go ballistic when a cop kills one of them.

  12. In the history of the “Wild West,” there were less than a handful of one-on-one, quick draw gunfights as depicted in movies. The most famous is the Hickok-Tutt shootout in 1865, where Wild Bill had no trouble perforating Tutt from a distance of over 50 yards. IIRC, Hickok used a .36 Cal. Colt Navy Revolver. Tutt managed to stagger around for a bit until he succumbed.

    Needless to say, Hickok was an excellent shot. He was Annie Oakley before Annie Oakley was Annie Oakley.

  13. Don’t you just love the way the sheep come running out into the street to help after the shooting stops?

    I love High Plains Drifter. One of my favorite lines:

    Mordecai: What happens after?
    The Stranger: Hmm?
    Mordecai: What do we do when it’s over?
    The Stranger: Then you live with it.

  14. I can’t remember what movie it was but it sticks out in my mind because one scene broke the mold of all the Westerns I had seen up to this point.
    There were shooters across the canyon shooting rifles toward the men in the foreground. You would see a puff of smoke from the rocks in the distance. Then someone would get hit and then you heard the gunshot. This realism shocked my senses because I had never experienced this before but my common sense new that that is how it would happen.

    • Especially when Clint is confronting Sheriff Gene Hackman and his goons, pulls the trigger on his Rifle and nothing happens – then Gene yells out misfire!

  15. Though few movies ever get anything right I’d say of the westerns the Clint Eastwood movies are more accurate than most others. Simply because Eastwood is always jacked up, dirty, pissed off, and tired looking as one would be strolling around a wasteland. Oh, one thing all these movies lack though is the amount of people that would have died of infection due to a minor wound.

    • Maybe the atmosphere is the most realistic, the action scenes, specifically the shooting is nowhere near realistic with the exception that the gun goes bang when they pull the trigger.

    • Not to mention the sea of mud and horse manure that would have been the streets in many cases. Deadwood got that part down.

  16. Rex O’Herlihan is my favorite gunfighter (with Handsome Stranger being a distant 2nd). He explained that the winner was foreordained. The better man won regardless of all of this physics and tactics hocus pocus you realism crazies seem to worship.

  17. In Judge Roy Bean (1972) Paul Newman has a Nast outlaw come to kill him. The guy gets a lot of screentime showing how bad he is. Then Newman shoots him in the back from ambush.

    Worked for me

    • James Colburn “Water Hole No. 3.” Called out for a gunfight in the street, walks to his horse, pulls a Winchester from the scabbard and shoots his opponent from about 75 yards out.

        • Michael in GA:

          The ATF issued a ruling a while back that said if you buy certain pistol models that come with the stock included, then they are exempt from NFA as “collector’s items”. I assume this applied only to what we call C&R eligible guns today ’cause all the legal hullabaloo I read about dealt with pistols like the Mauser C96, P.08 Luger, Browning Hi-Power, etc. It’s when you buy one of these exempt pistols by itself and then slap a random stock on it that the legalities get murky. I don’t see why buying a cap & ball revolver with a stock on it would constitute it being an NFA item though, because firearms manufactured prior to 1898 and replicas thereof don’t even require shipping to an FFL after purchase and aren’t treated as “modern” firearms (unless you live in the really bad states like NJ).

    • First thing I thought of, too – I posted the video a few comments higher up.

      I also love how a single shot from Bad Bob’s .45 dropped the horse in its tracks.

  18. Here’s what I learned from Westerns:

    Nearly all cowboys, regardless of era, carried some version of the Colt SAA, even if it hadn’t been invented yet.

    It’s called a “hand gun” because it’s most often used to shoot the gun out of the other guy’s hand as he draws.

    Even though the SAA has lots of rough edges, during a fist fight, it will slide across a barroom floor like it was on ice.

  19. Supposedly, John Wayne was offered the starring role in High Noon first.
    Having met and spoken with real old time western types, The Duke found the plot too far fetched and turned it down.
    He knew that in real life, a mob of heavily armed townsfolk would have met the train and persuaded the bad guys to keep right on moving.

  20. I love westerns. But like anything Hollywood they’re entertainment, not educational. Every wester I saw as a kid showing an indian attack on the white folk showed big mobs of mounted warrior. Men riding into desperate battle against their sworn enemies and every one of those warriors had just one weapon. A lone tomahawk. Or a lone spear. Or a lone bow and arrows. How underequipped would you be in that situation?

    And how many westerns did we see with the stranger riding out of the wastelands and into town with just the clothes on his back and his sixgun and the saddle he sat on? No saddle bags, blankets, rifle or even coat.

    You can make a real argument that the shotgun won the west. It was every where. Until you get a western movie. Then the only time you see a shotgun is on a stagecoach or in the hands of the town law. According to most Hollywood horse operas everybody in the west carried a Winchester lever action and a Colt revolver. Just like hollywood, no variety at all.

    • I can’t remember if the movie Appaloosa was true to Robert B. Parker’s novel in this respect, but in the book a 10 gauge figured quite prominently.

    • Did you ever notice almost all the time anybody is riding a horse, out side of town, it is at a full gallop!

  21. A great Rabbi of my acquaintance commented on the “fair fight” morality so often depicted in Westerns. He said, and I paraphrase, “he’s evil! What will happen if the good guy loses? There are women and children! Shot him in the back!”

  22. Yeah RF it’s just Hollywood. We got a bunch of TV westerns on local channels now. Kung Fu is the silliest(Carridine is SLOW). And tiny women kicking the hell out of giant guys. That’s why they have weight.classes in boxing,wrestling or weightlifting…but in my old age a lot of gals can kick my a##(sigh).

    • That occurred to me recently while sitting in a bar with my significant other nursing a beer. It’s a quasi-sports bar, and UFC came on the main screen. One of the first matches was a women’s match. I’m guessing at most, they were 135 pounders.

      I’m convinced that any one of them could have mopped the floor with me with one hand. The GF couldn’t bear to watch.

      • Strangely, I find the opposite to be true. When I watch “professional” women’s mma, I find it to be quite underpowered and slow. Women tend to have much weaker frames than men (something no amount of training can fix). Then again I’m 6’8″ and have been training in some sort of unarmed fighting style for the past 12 years or so. So, I don’t intimidate easily. That said, women should get a gun and learn how to use it, because it is very difficult for even “pro” female fighters to beat a large male who has had any significant training.

  23. I like the Wyatt Earp scene when he pelts the guy with the pool ball. When that time comes, strike, and strike hard.

  24. Fanning the hammer allows fast shots from the hip, killing every bad guy in the saloon. Closing your eyes helps.

  25. I learned all good westerns are stolen from Kurosawa’s samurai movies.

    Those guys who got cut in half with a katana seemed to stay down after one hit too, which actually seems pretty realistic.

    • Although, remember, in Yojimbo (which was the admitted basis for Fistful of Dollars), badass Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) was cowed by a S&W Model 2 (.32 rimfire). In close combat, with his level of proficiency, I’d choose the sword over the mousegun.

  26. Waterhole #3 had an interesting take on #2 and #3 (and interesting background music by Roger Miller). James Coburn’s character is quite the card sharp. He enrages a fellow player to the point that the man asks him to an afternoon duel. Coburn obliges, and as the two men square off, he casually pulls a levergun out of a saddle scabbard, shoots his opponent center mass, racks the action and puts the weapon away.

  27. Gary Cooper was shooting the .45 Long Colt from a Single Action Army Artillery 5.5″ barrel pistol. And he was Gary Cooper. I think one shot is plenty.

  28. Wyatt Earp was once asked how many gunfights he had been in. He said none. For one thing he was nearly blind without glasses and was more inclined to shoot the bad guy in back. Much safer.

  29. Given an opportunity, most gunfighters of the Old West would go for a Winchester 1873 rifle or a Remington 10 gauge shotgun. A lot of impromptu gunfights were by a bunch of drunks playing cards. Of course, gunfights were actually fairly rare for most folks as most of the communities were actually quiet places filled with decent people trying to earn a living. Most townsfolk would not back down easily from a gang of criminals as many of the settlers had been veterans of the Civil War.

  30. You folks have totally epiphanated (caused to have an epiphany) me as to why I was always a Sci-Fi fan over Westerns. With Sci-Fi, the “Physics be damned” attitude can be passed off with something like, “Psh, prove me wrong that a single shot from a phaser won’t make you glow then disappear!”

  31. The best example of dirty good winning . . .

    The Cowboys w/ John Wayne.

    John Wayne fought fair and lost. The cowboys fought dirty and won.

  32. “How a single shot can make a man fall down dead in an instant. Wait. What? Yup. Here are three really stupid lessons I learned from watching cowboy movies as a kid . . .”

    Let’s kindly remember those heaters spit 45 long colt… they very well could drop a guy in one shot.

    Or to put it in the words of one of my favorites….

  33. Great scene toward the end of “Hombre”, where Paul Newman listens to Richard Boone make all his threats, then says “Hey, I’ve got a question. How are you going to get back down that hill?” Then he shoots Boone – with a rifle.

    Of course, he ruins the movie by going out to save the bitch/wife of the old Indian Agent/thief. She couldn’t have been that thirsty with all the whining she was doing.

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