Old West Advice…Lessons Learned From Wyatt Earp


Life was better when Westerns ruled the roost! It was a simpler era when we knew the difference between good and evil. Our moral compass still had a sense of direction. Lessons were learned with each show, or movie, as good, conquered evil.

Wyatt Earp was one of the most popular stars portrayed during the time with several movies and even a weekly TV show. Why are we talking about an old gunslinger from the 20th century? Wasn’t he just some made-up Hollywood character? For you youngsters, Wyatt Earp was real, made famous from the notorious gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. And yes, that was a real event, too.

Earp was involved in several other gunfights as town marshall, while never being seriously hurt. He has several famous quotes credited to his name which are as pertinent today as the day he first spoke them.

Here’s a list of his more pertinent quotes followed by a brief explanation.

1. “No wise man ever took a handgun to a gunfight.”

Earp obviously knew the advantage of weapon superiority. If you know your opponent is armed with a handgun, bring a shotgun, or rifle. Give yourself every advantage possible. You don’t want to fight fair. You fight to win. Something to think about for home defense.

2. “The most important lesson I ever learned was the winner of a gunplay usually was the one who took his time. The second was if I hoped to live on the frontier, I would shun flashy trick-shooting, grandstand play, as I would poison. In all my life as a frontier peace officer, I did not know a really proficient gunfighter who had anything but contempt for the gun fanner, or man who literally shot from the hip.”

The saying slow is smooth, smooth is fast applies here. Also, a fast miss never neutralized anyone. Guns have sights on them for a reason. Use them! Pick up your front sight during combat shooting. As Gunsite, famous fighting school preaches, “front sight, press” is the key to winning armed confrontations.

3. “Fast is Fine, But Accuracy is Everything…”

Again, a fast miss never helped anyone. Take the time to use your front sight for making solid hits. The spray and pray mentality is useless with today’s high-capacity semi-autos.

4. “The most important lesson I learned was the winner of a gunplay usually was the one who took his time.”
This is related to #3. Take your time, but do it quickly, ensuring a smooth draw. Pick your front sight up and press your trigger smoothly, not jerking your shot, missing your adversary.

5. “Shooting at a man who is returning the compliment means 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.”

A photo of Earp taken in 1920.

All this means is don’t lose your head. Easier said than done, but a cool head will prevail. Focus on the mechanics of a smooth draw and calculated shot. Fast shooting is useless in the “spray and pray” fashion. Remember your training. We all revert to training under stress … which emphasizes how vital proper training is.

If you’re not formally trained, do it. Training is the most important accessory you can buy, more than any gun, or ammo.

A mock display of both fanning and shooting from the hip,
two methods discouraged and labeled as useless by Earp.

Good Sense Never Ages

Wyatt Earp’s words were spoken over a hundred plus years ago yet remain applicable to today’s world. We’ve come a long way in the strategies, techniques, and firearms used for combat shooting. Men like Earp got the ball rolling with good old-fashioned horse sense. His thoughts are the building blocks of today’s training.

Smooth draw, using your front sight, combined with a steady trigger press are implied. Earp should be commended for these savvy thoughts without formal training. Reading his words today makes you realize they’re as applicable now as they were back in the days of the old west.

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