To be clear, I'll describe what I mean by quick-draw duel. Two lone gunslingers stand facing one another in an abandoned street with no obstacles between them. They eye each other, hands poised above their holsters. At some point, both of them draw their pistols and fire until one of them is struck fatally. It's well-known that gunfights weren't really so fair or planned, since people generally wanted to survive above all else.

However, even assuming that characters in western films had this fictional honor that compelled them to fight on even terms, the quick-draw duel doesn't seem logical. There's no referee indicating when to draw their guns, so they either draw at a specific time for no reason, or one man draws first after an inexplicable amount of time staring, and the other has to draw quicker to shoot first. Has anyone during the heyday of the western ever attempted to explain the logic?

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    That is exactly the point of the quickdraw. There's no need for a referee. Its all about reflexes and suspense. Who is gonna draw first and who has the quicker reflexes?
    – sanpaco
    Feb 22, 2020 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


The fast draw in films was inspired by some real life accounts

The object of fast draw as a combative sport is to quickly draw one's pistol and fire with the most accuracy. The sport has been inspired by accounts of duels and gunfights which incorporated it during the Wild West, such as the Wild Bill Hickok – Davis Tutt duel, Luke Short-Jim Courtright Duel, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Long Branch Saloon Shootout and others, which in turn inspired the gunfights seen in Hollywood western movies.

Apparently they’re the ‘wild west’ crude form of the classical sword duel we know from Europe and the past. As cited in Agnew, Jeremy. December 2, 2014. The Creation of the Cowboy Hero: Fiction, Film and Fact, p. 88.

According to this, the ‘fast draw’ is nothing more than two pissed off people who have pistols and will react at the slightest provocation, in turn giving us this sort of instant reaction. There wasn’t necessarily any sort of ‘honour’ or rules dictated as might be seen in films, which are highly romanticized.

In the end it was nothing more than a dangerous game of chicken and testosterone.

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    Could you make that a chicken & testosterone to go? With fries & extra chilli sauce, hold the blood. thanks. [Apologies, I couldn't resist]
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 22, 2020 at 14:44
  • dang I thought it was a myth this whole time, can't believe people actually did this occasionally
    – BatWannaBe
    Feb 23, 2020 at 22:38

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