I was watching a program on the Discovery Channel about snipers and sharp shooters and I noticed how they had special high tech equipment, special glasses, and took a really long time to aim. Which makes me wonder about gunslingers of the old west. They are always portrayed as quick shots that never missed. They also shot from the hip locations and used what we would consider as antiquated equipment. I realize that most of that is just TV, but did they really shoot like that and were they all that accurate? Surely there has to be accounts of the gunslinger techniques and percision. Does anybody have any good resources on the subject?

<—big surprise, ain’t it?
It’s possible, but it takes a lot of practice. If you’re good enough, you don’t even need the sights…it’s like pointing your finger.

It’s possible at close range. I’ve seen a similar Discovery program where an old cowboy (60+) demonstrated his skills by shooting down wine bottles thrown into the air. He was in the standard gunslinging stature, and could even shoot down bottles thrown into the air behind him by turning around and firing without much delay. This guy has been practicing for all his life however. Modern snipers of course, are trained to hit targets hundreds of feet away, so it’s a slightly difference case…

I’m guessing that part of the difference can be attributed to practicality. Gun slingers would need to be a very quick shot, simply due to the nature of a gun fight. Snipers, on the other hand, are usually not in an actual fight. They tend to be hidden, and have the luxury of taking their time. Plus, snipers and sharp shooters often need to worry about hostages and such, making accuracy all the more important.

Well, hitting a tiny target while shooting from the hip can certainly be done. Performers in Wild West shows made that a centerpiece of their acts for years. On the other hand, they spent their lives practicing.

The typical cowboy or gambler didn’t have the time (or the money for ammunition) to do that sort of practicing. On the other hand, a man at 10 or 20 feet is substantially larger target than the flame on a candle or the pip on a card.

Bill O’Neal, in his Enclopedia of Western Gunfighters provides thumbnail descriptions of around 500 gunmen, including descriptions (most not very detailed, but a few described with novel-like intensity) of most of their gun battles. He doesn’t spend much time discussing techniques, as such, but what struck me when reading it was the large number of bullets fired vs the few hits recorded. Basically, they just shot until someone was hit or someone sought cover.

Regarding the comparison in the OP: snipers are firing from a great distance and need to hit their target on the first try. Two guys facing each other across a small room or a narrow street certainly want every shot to count, but they can keep trying as long as one or both isn’t badly hit or out of ammo.