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  • Writer's pictureBrad Parker

Wyatt Earp's Teachings on Gunfighting

The legend of Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is indelibly etched in the history and character of the American West.


Earp was a deputy sheriff in Pima County and Deputy Town Marshal in Tombstone, both of which were then in Arizona Territory. The territory became the state of Arizona in 1912.



Now, most people would most likely picture Earp as portrayed by Kurt Russell in the 1993 film Tombstone.


Behind the legend is the real man who trained diligently to master the craft of gunfighting. Earp is purported to have given this interview in 1910 which gives us a remarkably clear approach to the subject.


Wyatt Earp's Deliberate Practice to Master Gunfighting


I've pulled three of the most salient paragraphs from the above article to highlight and discuss. The emphasis added here is mine.


"I was a fair hand with pistol, rifle, or shotgun, but I learned more about gunfighting from Tom Speer’s cronies during the summer of ’71 than I had dreamed was in the book. Those old-timers took their gunplay seriously, which was natural under the conditions in which they lived. Shooting, to them, was considerably more than aiming at a mark and pulling a trigger. Models of weapons, methods of wearing them, means of getting them into action and operating them, all to the one end of combining high speed with absolute accuracy, contributed to the frontiersman’s shooting skill."


  • Earp refers to the serious approach that differentiated between 'shooting' and 'gunfighting'.

  • Different models of guns were no doubt evaluated, tested, and shot so the bearer could be confident that the tool was the best for the situation -- and best for the individual.

  • Where and how the gun was holstered was carefully considered. We see this all the time now. Individuals are experimenting with carrying concealed, carrying in the appendix position vs. another variation like the 3 o'clock position, or carrying off-body. Where and how you carry can be complicated sometimes with different cover garments during different seasons, different levels of concealment, and the threats you would most likely encounter.

  • Serious students now are training for sub-second draws, fast and effective reloads, and re-functioning the gun should it malfunction.


"The sought-after degree of proficiency was that which could turn to most effective account the split-second between life and death. Hours upon hours of practice, and wide experience in actualities supported their arguments over style."


  • The critical and deadly nature of lethal force encounters means these men sought to train to a high level. Some would call this the unconsciously competent or virtuoso level of skill.

  • Deliberate, high-repetition practice is necessary to build these critical skills to a high level.

  • These practitioners valued functional, proven, real-world skills vs. the flashy, fast-draw and fanning skills which looked impressive, but were proven to be lacking in real gunfights.

Earp reveals notable disdain for fancy, unproven techniques throughout the interview.


"When I say that I learned to take my time in a gunfight, I do not wish to be misunderstood, for the time to be taken was only that split fraction of a second that means the difference between deadly accuracy with a sixgun and a miss. It is hard to make this clear to a man who has never been in a gunfight."


  • The winner of a gunfight is usually the first one to get relevant hits on the adversary.

  • What Earp is saying is that having the mental discipline and the physical mastery to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship is what is needed to win the fight.

  • Take your time, but do it quickly.

  • Train for speed and accuracy.

Despite the 135 years that have passed since the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, humans are still humans, and fights are still fights.


Wyatt's methods and approaches for us are timeless.



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