Range. This week’s post is all about shooting at range with your pistol. It’s one of those skills that, in the era of active shooters armed with rifles, shooters are quickly rediscovering. What’s old is suddenly new again.
Have you ever watched one of those old Western films where two guys show down in the middle of a street at noon to settle a score? A crowd gathers, a tumbleweed blows by, maybe some words are exchanged, then the shooters draw on each other. In dramatic fashion one or more lie dead or severely wounded, while the other walks away like a boss.
Ever wonder where the inspiration for that came from?
It’s not just made up Hollywood fiction, Americans really have fought gunfights like that.
The Greatest Quick Draw Of All Time
The greatest quick draw of all time, the one those Westerns are based on, happened on July 21st, 1865 between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt in the then frontier town of Springfield Missouri. The two squared off at a staggering 75 yards over a gambling debt and a watch in one of the Old West’s best known gunfights.
To set the stage for you a little bit more, the American Civil War had just ended earlier that year with the last holdout confederate generals surrendering in June. America was fresh off one of the deadliest wars in our history, one that killed around 2.5% of the population in just four years. There had been a lot of gunfighting, and a lot of killing and dying over those past four years.
What does the Civil War have to do with the greatest quick draw of all time? Well, the gunfighters in our story had both been soldiers during the war and had been training and fighting for years by that point. Like a lot of other veterans of the war they decided to head West, bringing with them the skills and equipment they’d gathered from their time in.
Davis Tutt was an Arkansas native, having grown up in the Ozark Mountains. Tutt’s family had been influential in that part of Arkansas and were a major faction in the Tutt-Everett War from 1844-1850. Though Davis Tutt was just a boy at the time, his father had played a role during that conflict and ended up murdered. It’s likely that Davis Tutt was more than a bit familiar with a gun with that sort of family history. And for those of you wondering if the Ozarks have always been that sort of crazy, I think the answer is yes.
Hansford “Hamp” Tutt was shot and murdered along the banks of Crooked Creek by a mysterious stranger named the “Dutchman” from Texas who was hired by Everett. Afterwards, “The Dutchman” was never seen or heard from again. Everett and another follower fled to Shreveport, La. Everett died soon after in a cholera epidemic. With Tutt and Everett now dead, the feud effectively ended.
As a side note, the Tutt-Everett War is what we’d call ‘low-intensity conflict’ today. This type of conflict is an indicator you’re likely to see in politically charged times leading up to a civil war or other major conflagration.
Davis Tutt grew up and went on to enlist as an infantryman, fighting for the Confederate States of America in the trans-Mississippi theater. After the war he spent his time gambling before deciding to head out West. By most accounts he was as skilled a gambler as he was a pistoleer, and was known to be a good shot. On his way west he met and befriended another gambler and gunfighter, one James Butler Hickok in Springfield.
Wild Bill Hickok
James Butler Hickok, aka Wild Bill, was born and raised on a farm in Northern Illinois during a period when Illinois was plagued with lawlessness, thieves, and prairie bandits. Certainly we don’t have those sorts of issues today in Northern Illinois (stares at Chicago). After his childhood on the farm Wild Bill worked as a stagecoach driver and got into what may have been his first gunfight with the McCanles gang. Accounts differ a bit, but Wild Bill at least shot and killed David McCanles and some others. Once the war started he joined up on the Union side.
Wild Bill was never a regular but instead found work in the Union Army as a sharpshooter, scout, and spy. As a spy he had joined up with a Confederate unit in order to ascertain the Confederate Generals’ plans, only to return to the union side. His exploits during the war were many, though he didn’t stay a soldier for the duration of the war. In June of 1865 Hickok had wrapped up his time as a Scout for General Sanborn and made his way to Springfield where he took to gambling, among other things.
So here we have two gunfighters, fresh out of the trials of war, both charting a path out west. One had been a soldier with the Union Army, the other the Confederate Army. As you might expect in Springfield at that time there was a bit of a conflict between the former Confederate and Union soldiers in the town.
Tradition has it that Bill threw himself heart and soul into gambling. The town was the rendezvous of the most desperate and depraved of those who had served in either army, recently disbanded. Somehow Wild Bill gravitated naturally to such places.
– Wild Bill Hickock by Frank J. Wilstach pg. 118
There wasn’t much to do in Springfield during the day, but at night you could find most any card game or indulgence you were looking for. For men just off of war such thrills helped to placate that longing for adventure and adrenaline they’d become so accustomed to.
Wild Bill and Davis Tutt had come across each other playing card games. By all accounts Wild Bill had avoided the provocations of Davis Tutt, but would ultimately not allow himself to be put upon by the man. It was a gambling debt that would provide the instigation to the fight. Wild Bill admittedly owed Davis Tutt a debt, for which Tutt took Wild Bill’s watch. Now this bothered Bill, and he asked simply that Tutt not wear his watch across the town square.
“Yer See,” continued the Captain, setting his empty glass on the table in an emphatic way, “Bill was up in his room a-playing seven up, four-hand, or some of the pesky games. Bill refused to play with Tutt, who was a professional gambler. You see Bill was a scout on our side durin’ the war and Tutt was a reb scout. Bill had killed Tutt’s mate and atween one thing and another, there was an unusual hard feelin’ atwixt ’em.”
Ever since Dave came back he had tried to pick a row with Bill; so Bill wouldn’t play cards with him any more. But Dave stood over the man who was gambling with Bill and lent the feller money. Bill won ’bout two hundred dollars, which made Tutt spiteful made. Bime-by he says to Bill:
“Bill, you’ve got plenty of money–pay me that forty dollars yer owes me in that horse trade.”
Bill paid him, then Dave said:
“Yer owes me thirty-five dollars more; yer lost it playing with me t’other night.”
Dave’s style was right provoking, but Bill answered him perfectly gentlemanly:
” I think yer wrong, Dave. It’s twenty-five dollars. I have a memorandum of it in my pocket downstairs. Ef it’s thirty-five dollars I’ll give it yer.”
Now Bill’s watch was lying on the table. Dave took up the watch, put it in his pocket and said: “I’ll keep this yere watch till yer pay me the thirty-five dollars.”
That made Bill shooting mad, for don’t you see, Colonel, it was a-doubting his honour like, so he got up and looked Dave in the eye and said: “I don’t want to make a row in this house. It’s a decent house and I don’t want ter injure the keeper. You’d better put that watch back on the table.’
– Wild Bill Hickock by Frank J. Wilstach pg. 121-122
The following day, around noon, Wild Bill made his way down to the Springfield town square. Wild Bill said “Dave Tutt shouldn’t pack that watch across the Squar’ unless dead men could walk.” Both men were known to be spectacular pistol shooters.
A crowd began to gather, as word had spread of the disagreement between Wild Bill and Tutt. In the crowd were a number of Tutt’s friends, who Wild Bill had recognized cheering on Tutt, telling him to walk across the square with Wild Bill’s watch.
Tutt, by himself, then began walking across the square. About 75 yards apart, the two squared up to each other, Tutt showing his pistol first.
The two gunfighters drew their pistols with shots ringing out at near the same time. Tutt missed, while Wild Bill’s shot struck Tutt through the heart. Tutt stumbled a few steps before dropping to the street and ultimately dying.
Bill didn’t wait to see if his round had hit but immediately turned his pistols on Tutt’s friends, who put up their pistols and agreed it had been a fair fight.
Springfield, Missouri in 1865 wasn’t beyond the law, and a jury was assembled and a trial was held after Wild Bill turned himself in. Bill was tried and cleared the next day with it having been determined to be a clear case of self defense.
75-Yard Modern Pistol
75 yards. To put that into perspective, most modern pistol qualifications don’t go beyond 25 yards. So why bring this up in 2022?
Well, the more things change the more they stay the same. The Ozarks are still a wild place, Northern Illinois is sill crime ridden, and your pistol can easily shoot accurately to 75 yards.
At a time when a lot of shooters neglect to train pistol beyond 15 yards, or even 25 yards, here we have a pistol fight from 157 years ago at 75 yards. What’s more is this gunfight was with cap & ball style revolvers and was resolved with just two shots.
Nearly every modern style pistol is more than capable of shooting accurately out to and beyond 75 yards. A common misconception is that pistol rounds have some sort of significant bullet drop beyond 25 yards, but that’s not really the case. In fact, most modern pistols don’t have significant bullet drop out to 75 yards, and are close to point of aim point of impact at that range. Even at one hundred yards the bullet drop out of say a Glock 19 is somewhere between 6-8 inches.
The point is that many shooters aren’t even getting close to the capabilities of their pistols. For a long time the firearms training industry has focused on defensive shootings that happen at close range, say 3 yards, 5 yards, something on that order. But by focusing on these close engagements they’ve failed to unlock the potential and accuracy that you get when focusing on longer range pistol shooting.
What’s more is that we now have red dot sights for pistols. Previously, compensating for bullet drop at 100 yards with iron sights would have the effect of obscuring the sight of part of your target. Yet in the red dot era you can now have a greater field of vision of your target at long range, while still holding if need be.
Gunfighting In The Active Shooter Era
We’re increasingly seeing the threat of an active shooter, often equipped with a rifle, in modern American society. Now, if I had my choice of weapon when confronting a rifleman it would be to have a rifle myself. However, I don’t carry a rifle with me when I step out to get groceries, go to the movies, or take a walk. No, my pistol is the gun of choice for everyday carry.
In this era of maladjusted fatherless young men hopped up on psychotropic drugs shooting up public spaces it’s becoming imperative to know and reach the potential of your everyday carry gun. That three yard quick shot isn’t going to be worth much when a rifleman starts dropping bodies in the mall food court while you’re having lunch or at your kid’s school.
Wild Bill Hickok dropped a man with one shot through the heart at 75 yards 157 years ago with an old cap and ball style revolver. With your modern tricked out Sig or Glock you ought to be training to match, then surpass that.
When facing a rifleman with your pistol it’s pretty clear why you need to be able to push the range of that pistol. Rifles generally have better range and are easier to shoot at distance. It becomes a necessity to be able to shoot your pistol at distance to have a shot against a rifleman. But what about when you’re facing off with another pistoleer?
Both Wild Bill and Davis Tutt were known to be good pistol shots, but I have to imagine from the outcome and from his later exploits that Wild Bill had a good sense that he’d win that duel at 75 yards. You see, that’s where the ability to shoot pistol at range can become something of a super power. If your opponent cannot reliably hit beyond say 15 yards, but you can regularly hit at 100 yards you have a clear advantage. The problem then becomes controlling the range of the fight, the distance that it happens at.
Similarly, if you know your time out of your holster and can reliably gauge your opponent’s you’re going to have a bit of an advantage.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
– Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
At a minimum you need to find and understand your max effective range with your pistol. After that do yourself a couple of favors.
First, if you’re in Washington State sign up for our Pistol 1 course themed around Wild Bill and Davis Tutt’s famous shootout and learn to shoot your Glock, Sig, or other modern pistol out to 75 yards. Check back as I’ll also be putting out some follow on articles and guides on how to get your groups small and shoot your pistol accurately out to 100 yards.
Second, watch the final duel from The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, get yourself all fired up to go out and train.
Third, share this story and follow us on social media so I can put out more awesome content about American gunfighting and intrepid history for you.