Wild west legends Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok or famed Texas Ranger John Slaughter might have been fast in their day, but their speed by today's standards would be slower than an afternoon snooze.
Unquestionably, Fast Draw is the world's fastest human sport. The average blink of the eye takes approximately 32/100ths of a second; record Fast Draw times exceed 20/100ths of a second. Blink in this sport and you'll miss the contest.
Modern-day Fast Draw mimics a Hollywood gunfight, and contests are held in a variety of public places. Instead of live ammo, today's Fast Draw shooters use customized blank cartridges or wax bullets, both of which leave the losers standing and in good health.
Fast Draw shooters compete in a variety of events using single-action revolvers. Competitors stand behind a line, facing the target that is five to 15 feet away. Revolvers must be holstered, and the shooters' hands must touch neither gun nor holster until the signal is given. A sophisticated digital timing system starts the timer randomly within a five-second interval, turning on a light near the target, signaling the shooter to grab the gun, draw it from its holster, cock the hammer back, pull the trigger and hopefully hit the target. A micro-switch or impact sensor on the target stops the clock. The shooter with the fastest total time or who survives elimination wins.
The sport of Fast Draw as we know it today was born in California in the mid-1950s when Dee Woolem, a stuntman at the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park, decided to see how accomplished he could become with the single action Colt revolver he used in his Hollywood train robberies. He practiced dropping a silver dollar, drawing his gun and firing it before the dollar could hit the ground, and within a week he could beat the dollar. Improved holster designs and draw styles enabled Woolem to eventually fire two or three shots before the dollar landed.
Soon other Knott's stuntmen were practicing Fast Draw, and a means to determine the fastest shot was needed. Woolem worked with Knott's technicians to design a timer that measured the speed at which he drew, fired at and hit a balloon with blanks from a single action six-shooter.
In 1955 Woolem organized the National Fast Draw Championship, which was the first major Fast Draw contest and the first real organized aspect of the sport. Today's Fast Draw events still employ the blanks and timers used in that first contest.
Woolem won the Championship each of its first four years. This doesn't seem unusual to Howard Darby, 2000 All-Around World Champion in Fast Draw and multiple world record holder.
"Winning your own contest might sound a bit suspicious, but that sort of thing even happens these days," Darby told DiscovertheOutdoors.com. It's usually the most enthusiastic people who organize contests, and they are often the ones that practice the most."
After a television piece on Woolem sparked wider interest in Fast Draw, Woolem left Knott's to promote the sport for the Great Western Arms Company, Crossman Arms, and Daisy B.B. Gun Company. During this time he taught others how to fast draw safely, and he organized clubs across the country.
Over the years the sport has seen a number of changes in techniques and equipment. In 1976 the two largest Fast Draw organizations, the Western Fast Draw Association and the Mid-Western Fast Draw Association, merged to form the World Fast Draw Association, which governs the sport today.
Fast Draw contests are classified two different ways: Index vs. Elimination, and Traditional vs. Open. These classifications are used in combination with each other (e.g., Traditional Index, etc.). Men and women always compete in separate divisions.
In Index contests, competitors shoot separately for a low total time, while Elimination contests pit shooters head-to-head.
Each shooter in an Index contest gets the same number of shots. Each round is fired individually, with the target being reset between shots. Times are added up, with a one-second penalty for each miss. The lowest total time wins.
Shooters in Elimination contests fire simultaneously at separate targets. A round is won when a shooter wins a certain number of shots. Usually, a shooter is eliminated after losing three rounds. The winner is the last person standing the one competitor that escapes elimination.
Elimination contests are split into three classes each for men and women, broken down by speed. To keep more skilled shooters out of the two slower classes, there is a cut-off time. Any shot faster than the cut-off time is counted as a miss. Shoot too slow and you lose, but don't shoot too fast, either.
Most fast draw contests are Index, but the large contests incorporate Elimination about equally.
The other classification scheme is Traditional vs. Open. Traditional contests require specific draw types, holsters and stances, while Open contests allow other equipment and techniques.
In a Traditional contest the gun must be drawn in a straight up-and-down motion, with techniques include thumbing, fanning and slap-cocking. Open contests allow traditional draws as well as twisting," the fastest known method of drawing and firing a single-action revolver. The twisting method is used in conjunction with a special holster with a more open boot (the part that holds the gun). This type of holster is not allowed in Traditional contests. Finally, in Traditional contests the shooter must have both feet within a 2' square, must not have an exaggerated stance, and must stand so the gun and holster are no more than 35 degrees from straight up and down. In Open contests there are no such rules.
Most fast draw contests are Traditional style.
There are two types of Fast Draw events: Blanks and Wax. In Blank events, shooters fire a gunpowder mixture at four or nine inch balloon targets. Standing Blanks involves standing in place while firing at a target; Walking Blanks involves firing while walking toward a target; Double Blanks involves firing at two targets, one after the other.
Standing, Walking and Double Wax events are much like their Blank counterparts, only with wax projectiles and steel targets. In addition, there are two Wax events that don't have a Blank counterpart: Step-Back and Step-Up Wax. Step-Back Wax involves stepping back to a designated distance between each shot, with each subsequent distance further from the target. Step-Up Wax is the opposite of Step-Back Wax.
The World Fast Draw Association sanctions several contests in the U.S. and Canada. The All-Around World Championship in Lovelock, Nevada combines Index and Elimination events to determine a men's and women's world champion. Several other non-sanctioned contests are also held throughout the year.
Firearms - Only single action, .45 caliber or smaller pistols may be used. Most guns are customized .357 caliber frames bored out to .45 long Colt with aluminum barrels and cy linders. Sights are taken off and hammers customized for speed shooting.
Ammunition - Custom blanks loaded with a mixture of black powders and pistol powders provide ample projectile to break balloons holding micro-switches in place. Custom-made aluminum shells that take a shotgun primer or .22 blank and wax bullet are used for wax target events.
Holsters - There are a number of makes, models and styles of holsters used in Fast Draw. Open contests allow holsters with a more open boot (the part the gun fits in to); Traditional contests require holsters with a more restricting boot.
Costs - Guns range in price from a few hundred dollars and up. Holsters range from under $100 for used to $500 for a new, custom rig. All of the other gear necessary to shoot Fast Draw can be purchased from shooters at contests.