Eats, SHOOTS, and Gives Away Books


  A Gunfighter’s Rules to Live By

  • Bring a gun. Two is even better

  • Stand with the sun at your back

  • Shoot first and don’t miss

  • There’s no such thing as fair play

  • In a gunfight take your time in a hurry

  • If you’re not shooting you better be loading


Okay, I admit it; where guns are concerned I’m a chicken. So when my son announced he signed me up for a shooting class I didn’t exactly jump with joy.  “Come on, Ma,” he beseeched when I balked.  “I told them you write westerns and they agreed to bring their Old West collection.” 


Well, shoot!


The first challenge was finding the place.  It’s hidden somewhere in a canyon in the San Fernando Valley at the end of a very long dirt road.  Upon my arrival I was introduced to Bodie aka Willy Clark. Dressed in authentic cowboy gear he looked like a character right out of a Louis L’Amour book. He didn’t just know weapons he knew the west.  Bodie likes to put history in context.  “Hollywood did us no favor,” he explained. “While cowboys were shooting up Tombstone, Bell was talking on the telephone.”


Bodie and I discussed a tricky scene I’m working on and he gave me some terrific ideas.  The other workshop attendees—all men by the way—got in the act.  I wonder what they’d say if they knew they were helping plot a romance novel?  


Bodie ran down the safety rules and taught us how to load a weapon with black gunpowder cartridges.  What you need to know about gunpowder is that is smells like sulphur and makes a lot of smoke.


Contrary to popular belief poor shooting was the norm in the Old West and it’s easy to see that gunpowder smoke was partly to blame. A gun battle between cowboys and Indians would have created quite a smokescreen.   Some lawmen fared no better in shooting skills than did your average cowpoke.   A self-generated reputation–the deadlier the better– saved many a lawman from dying in the street.  No one was better at exaggerating than Bill Hickok, who described an ambush of three farmers as a shoot-out with nine desperados.  


Few gunslingers carried a notched weapon, probably because they didn’t want to embarrass themselves.  Of course, this didn’t keep Bat Masterson from running a successful business selling “genuine” notched guns during his retirement.


The Real Gun that Won the West


Hint, hint, it was not the Peacemaker. Cody insists it was the 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun (also called a scattergun).  The double barrel means it has two triggers. The shotgun was the most prevalent weapon in the U.S. and every rancher, farmer, wagon train emigrant and cavalryman had one. The shotgun was easy to use and the perfect weapon for everything from shooting game to fighting off Indians.   


The scattering effect of buckshot had its good and bad side.  Buckshot spreads eight inches for every twenty-five feet.  In layman’s terms that means that unless you are close to your target you’ll probably miss.  But it was precisely this spreading effect that made it the weapon of choice for lawmen wishing to control unruly crowds.


A Kick like a Mule


The first time I pulled a shotgun trigger I near fell over backward.  That kick would make any mule proud. The hands you see behind me belong to my son, ready to catch me on my second round. I learned the hard way to hold the butt against my shoulder—hard!  


 After “mastering” the shotgun I moved on to the Colt Peacemaker.  The Colt was popular with lawmen and outlaws alike. Loading a Colt was more involved than loading a shotgun. To keep a round from discharging a loaded chamber by accident you load only “five beans in the wheel”  by loading one, missing one and loading the rest. If you’re heading for a gunfight be sure to load all six beans.  If by chance you’re chased by outlaws while on your horse, hold your gun and reins in your left hand and load with your right.


 The thing you need to know about the peacemaker is that the barrel tends to move upward after you fire.  That’s why Bat Masterson said to aim for the belt buckle and hit ’em in the chest.  Bat was credited with shooting thirty-one men though in reality he shot only one.  This proves that shooting at belt buckles isn’t as easy as you might think. 


I came away from my lesson without any notches on my belt, but taking a cue from my fisherman husband I can now talk about the target that got away.


How about you? Any notches on your belt?  The best story–true or false–wins a book!


A Vision of Lucy (A Rocky Creek Romance)


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48 thoughts on “Eats, SHOOTS, and Gives Away Books”

  1. What an awesome post, Margaret. I need to meet this guy! I fired a peacemaker on my writing retreat in Bandera TX and had four kill shots on my green poster man. It was great fun.I really enjoyed reading about your experience as well as the historical info. Good job! oxox

  2. Margaret,
    Sounds like you picked up some valuable information, and you’re right your instructor could have stepped right off the pages of Western. I’ve only shot .22s and .12 guages. I’m jealous you got to shoot a Peacemaker.

    Last summer I visited my friend’s ranch in North Dakota and her husband offered to teach me to shoot. He gave me a few initial instructions and then set up about 20 cans. I hit every target first try. He was quite impressed, but credited it to my Wyoming blood. I’ve been addicted to shooting ever since. So, this summer when I visited my parents and brother we headed to the rifle range for a family shoot out. We fought over who would fire the first shot. Not because we were anxious to be the first, but because the rifle we were using was my grandfather’s and hadn’t been fired in a looong time. So, it was a case of who wants to risk their fingers. :o) We all held our breath as my dad slowly pulled that trigger. When nothing blew and he was still standing, we all grabbed for the gun and it was on. Can’t say my notch ratio was as good this time around (first 40 shots only hit 7), but I blame the wind. Yeah… the wind. :o)

  3. When I went fishing when I was younger with my dad who was the fisherman par excellence, I learned everything from him, his pointers, advice and patience. We used to while away the time in the small motorboat talking and fishing. This was his time to relax. Finally I got the bite that everyone waits for. He helped me but I managed to snag the big one. This lake was beautiful filled with bass, perch, pike and I caught a beauty which we ate for supper. Grilled in the old days. When you are small everything is heavy and this one beat his by a mile. a 50 pounder.

  4. We had a bb gun when we were kids and I shot that some. We had a big metal grain bin and we’d shoot at it to hear the neat PLINK of the bb hitting it. I think I was a bad enough shot that anything smaller and more nimble than a grain bin was out of the question.

    As an adult I’ve shot a gun once. A handgun. A neighbor got one, this was YEARS ago and I got a turn with it. The thing I remember is the NOISE. I’d be deaf if I had to do much shooting.

    When they show the police firing range scenes in movies and they’ve all got ear muffs on, they’re not kidding, those things are a necessity.

  5. Having said that about no shooting experience, Margaret this experience of yours sounds fantastic. I want to do this so badly.
    Did they have a Winchester 73? Did you hold one, shoot one? Is it heavy?
    I would do this if I could find a place, I love the hands on experience and the stories you got to hear. LOVE IT!!!!!!!!

  6. Mary, got sour milk?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. (for those who might have missed it, Mary found a gallon of petrified milk in her car).

    You’re not kidding. Guns are noisy. We had to wear ear plugs, which of course I forgot to take out. I spent the rest of the day asking everyone to repeat themselves. It’s a wonder all those old cowboys weren’t deaf.

  7. Great post Margaret! I think the only gun I ever shot was a 22 riffle when I was a teen. We would take it out and shoot at coffee cans. I always enjoyed doing that. The 22 riffle didn’t have a kick to it so it was easy to shoot.

  8. Did learn to shoot in my early twenties, with a Smith and Wesson. My instructor tried me on a shotgun. Bruised shoulder, from flinching. So my boyfriend tried, with me seated on a sandy beach, with the rifle snugged up. Shoulder came out okay, but I was scooted back a good foot through the sand, so I had, uhm, saddle burns on my bottom.

  9. Yeah, that’s me with the Winchester 73. My heroine shoots this in a book I’m currently working on and I wanted to get it right. It weighs less than ten pounds but it felt heavy to me. It probably wouldn’t feel heavy to a man. You have to hold it tight to your shoulder and I failed to do that the first time. I kept aiming too high–don’t know why. I think it was because I wasn’t leaning forward enough. It has two barrels which means it has two triggers.

  10. Quilt Lady, it sounds like a 22 rifle is more my style. I still have a bruise on my shoulder and I couldn’t lift my arm very high for a couple of days. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. What a fabulous experience, Margaret! I’m jealous. I have to admit that I’ve never fired a weapon in my life, but I would love the chance to hold and touch the real guns of the west. I might even channel one of my heroines and fire the thing. I’m so glad your son talked you into going. Sounds like the perfect event for a P&P getaway.

  12. Yep, I have shot many guns but always at nonliving targets. Because of the noise and kick I usually missed! I have a scar on my forhead from one pistol that kicked horribly and the end sight hit me in the middle of my forhead.
    I was much better at shooting a bow and arrow and started as a young child when our dad made my brother and I a homemade bow and arrows. It was all fun and games until my brother shot me! The arrow went through my lip, between my teeth and stuck in my tongue. My mother, answering the scream, took time to break the bow and the arrows and then took me to a doctor. My brother had problems sitting but I had trouble eating as there were splinters in my tongue! In spite of that many years later I married a man who shoots league and hunts with a bow and both of us have shot many tournaments. Someday I will have to tell of my hunting skills.;)

  13. I have an uncle who, in his younger days, was an expert skeet shooter. He traveled around to competitions doing it.
    My daughters have gone with him to shoot skeet or blue rock, whatever he’s shooting at today.
    We don’t do any hunting, though I have a son in law who loves it and my husband goes along to help and for the company sometimes.
    We do have guns around, mainly to shoot the occasional rabid skunk. My cowboy loves guns.
    I don’t get the attraction.

  14. When I was eleven my uncle decided to teach me and the cousins how to shoot. My first time to hold a gun I hit the bulls eye.

    A few years ago my husband and son were shooting with a paintball gun. There was one can on a log they could not hit. Splashes of paint covered the log, the ground, everything but the can. Someone said ‘let mom try’. I grabbed the gun Clint Eastwood style pointed toward the can and blew it into the woods.

    The men in my family don’t like to go shooting with me LOL

  15. Mary, I never got the attraction to guns either until my shooting experience. When I held that gun in my hand I felt like I could conquer the world. I felt invincible.

    The feeling ended the moment I pulled the trigger and was knocked backwards. oh, well, it was fun while it lasted.

  16. I’ve never shot a gun. When I was a girl, my dad and my uncle would frequently shoot clay pigeons on Saturday mornings and it was fun to watch. My BIL is a hunter and my husband used to hunt when he lived in TX. Oh, and my stepsons were always making potato guns, LOL! I think it would be fun to try skeet shooting.

  17. My brother was a Deputy Sheriff. We had guns every where. All shapes and sizes. Everytime he got a new gun he wanted me, (little sister), to go with him to shoot it. His wife decided long before that she wasn’t interested. So off we would go to the foothills outside of Bakrsfield, CA, to shoot. One of these jaunts, I was 13. He handed me this rifle that resembled a cannon. It was a .44-40. Hefting it was a chore, but I held on and shot. Ended up on my tush—–hard. I don’t remember if I hit anything or not. Probably not. I had a bruise on my shoulder for a very long time. Mother said, “No more.” But we did, anyway. My greatest score was with a .22, long rifle. That is a ladies gun. Light weight and easy to handle.

  18. Potato guns are made with PVC pipes, but not sure what else is involved. I can only imagine. My boys also put little, and not so little, firecrackers/rockets on an old remote control car, so when lit, it VROOM! down the street. 🙂

    I just remembered that when we were cleaning up and out my cousin Beverly’s house after her death, we found a rather large pistol in the top drawer of her dresser. It’s comical to think of it now, but my mom lifted it out of the drawer with one finger, letting it dangle, saying, “Hmmm, wonder why she had this thing?”

  19. When I was a teen, I shot a few times with a 22 long rifle and a 410. Also went out with my dad to shoot a pistol, once. Held my arm out straight and pulled the trigger. Never thought about it having a kick.
    Went to an arcade with some friends when I was a teen and went to the shooting gallery. The guys made a big deal shooting at the moving row of ducks and other things that would pop up, managing to hit a few. They laughed when they handed the gun over to me. Don’t think I missed more than a couple shots. Surprised the owner, the guys and myself. They even had me do it again because they couldn’t believe it.

    My husband, son, and one daughter hunt. Said daughter’s husband and sons are also hunters, more so than her dad and brother. Her family is also into bow hunting. I bought a shotgun (20 gauge I think) at an auction for my husband (he was at work). They did the background check on me, so I guess it is my gun. Shot it a couple of times and had the bruises to prove it. My husband and son are currently interested in black powder rifles.
    I was doing a class on native americans and the “trunk” had a bamboo blow gun. Tried it and hit the bull’s eye every time. Not hard at all.

    Connie L. – how terrible to be shot in the mouth with an arrow. You are very lucky you weren’t hurt more seriously.

  20. Patricia, I’m learning all kinds of interesting things today. I never heard of a bamboo blow gun. I’ll have to look that one up.

    Thank you for stopping by–and stay cool!

  21. I lived in the country and grew up with guns. My Dad taught me and my siblings to shoot. He hung a tobacco can by a string from the clothes line crossbar, gave us a twenty two rifle and told us to hit the can. When we mastered the can, he started it swinging. When we were proficient at that he told us to shoot the can down by severing the string.

  22. Wonderful post. Both my husband and I are members of Front Sight — a shooting club in NV. I even did a blog about it once, showing my very first shot (I cried, by the way).

  23. I had a similar experience as you when my husband and a dear friend decided I needed to shoot the guns to describe the feelings better. The first time I pulled the trigger on a shotgun I sported a bruise for a week!

  24. I grew up learning how to shoot guns. I started with a .22 rifle. I don’t like shotguns i guess because the first time I shot a shotgun I ended up on my butt in the dirt; because of the kick-back. Even with the kick back of Muzzle loader I still prefer a muzzle loader.

  25. Back in the ancient days of my youth, I spent some time visiting in my roommate’s hometown. It was in
    the country with a square in the middle of town. A
    place where you made your own “fun.” My roomie and her friends took me shooting. Moi, who had never held a gun in my life. Our weapon of choice was a 22 and we took turns firing the rifle. To make a long story short, I taught those cans a lesson –
    never come up against a newbie with an outstanding
    run of beginner’s luck!

  26. My three sons wanted a BB gun to shoot at cans.
    They had a lot of fun doing this. Competitions were fierce with lots of bragging rights. One day may oldest son, Luke, said he was going to shoot a squirrel. He was kidding but he motioned like he was going to do it. My youngest son, Jason, got all excited and grabbed Luke’s arm. The gun accidentally went off and hit a squirrel! After the burial, my sons put away the BB gun.

  27. Margaret,
    The river cane and bamboo that grows in the south was evidently something the native populations took advantage of. I was surprised how accurate it was. I should really research it more. It was in the teaching trunk, so I used it and assumed it was historically accurate.

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