There are four main components to a Fast Draw competitor's inventory: The gun, holster, ammunition, and timing equipment with targets.
The Gun - Fast draw rules state that all guns must be single action with a calibre no greater than .45. The style of your draw will dictate the type of gun you use. When using the Thumbing draw, most shooters utilize a relatively stock Colt, Colt clone, or Ruger New Vaquero. If using the Fanning draw, most shooters utilize a modified 'old model' Ruger Blackhawk. When using the Blackhawk, the gun of choice is a .357 that has been bored out to .45 calibre. This allows the advantage of a smaller frame gun that can accommodate a large shell. The larger shell (.45 long Colt) will hold more powder during blank events, thus increasing the chances of hitting the balloon target.
Two modifications that are routinely performed on fanning guns are replacing the steel barrel with a lighter aluminum outer sleeve, and turning up the hammer spur to make it easier to 'fan' the hammer. Of course, this hammer modification is not performed if the shooter will be using the 'thumbing' method to cock the hammer. Thumbing guns normally just receive a 'tune' job to smooth the action, although many Thumbers start competing with stock revolvers. The picture here shows a competition Ruger New Vaquero used for thumbing (top), a modified Ruger Blackhawk fanning gun with turned up hammer and shaved top-strap, full-powder blanks (bottom middle), and wax bullets and shells with shotgun primers.
The Ammunition - There are two types of ammunition used in Fast Draw: blanks and wax bullets. The blanks are generally a mixture of black powders and pistol powders. Often (especially in competitions) the blanks will have a layer at the bottom of the shell that is made up of a combination of 4F black powder and bullseye smokeless powder. This is the kicker. The rest of the shell is often filled with a combination of grainier powders that will break the balloon. Usually this is 1F black powder and a grainy pistol powder like 4831.
When using wax bullets they are often loaded into the shell just prior to going onto the shooting line. The bullet is pressed into place, then a shotgun primer or .22 blank is placed into the specially counter-sunk hole at the base of the shell. With the .22 blank, the counter-sunk hole is drilled off to one side of the shell to allow the center-fire action of the gun to strike the rim of the .22 blank (.22's are rim-fire ammunition). Because of the ease of loading the wax bullet as compared to the process involved with creating a blank, many fast draw shooters practice with nothing but wax bullets. This also increases the skill of the shooter because of the increased accuracy required when shooting wax.
Some people make their own wax bullets for practice sessions, but all bullets used in World Fast Draw Association competition must be made by approved manufacturers. These approved bullets have been tested to make sure there is minimal risk of bullet bounce-back, and that the bullets don't shatter too violently and strike shooters or spectators. Three on-line manufacturers are Bandit Shooting Supplies, C&R Wax Bullets and Spitfires Wax Bullets.
The Holster - There are a number of different makes, models and styles of holsters used in the sport. The choice mainly lies with the competitor and what suits them. The classification of a contest does have an influence on the style of holster that you will see. At an 'Open' style contest you'll tend to see holsters that have boots (the enclosed area that the gun fits into) that are wider and more open. In contrast, at a 'Traditional' style contest you'll see holsters with a more restricting boot. Traditional contests also have restrictions on the draw style that is used. The gun must come out of the holster in a straight up and down motion. It can not be twisted on it's side like is common in the Open contests. The holsters shown here are normal traditional (left), speed traditional, and an Open style "Twisting" rig.
Most competitors have a number of holsters in their gun bag that allows them to shoot in a contest no matter what the style or event. Some of the most popular makes of holsters are 'Mernickle Custom Holsters' in Nevada, 'Arvo Ojala Holsters' and 'Alphonso Holsters' in Hollywood, CA. Check out the holster history page for a background on Fast Draw rigs.
The Targets and Timing Equipment - There are two classes of targets to fit the ammunition used: balloon targets and wax targets. The balloon targets are used in events where blanks are being fired. It is the unburnt powder that will break the balloon. There are four inch balloon targets that are generally shot at eight or ten feet, and nine inch balloon targets that are generally shot at twelve feet. The targets have a light mounted inches away from the balloon. It is this light that gives the cue to the shooter to draw and fire.
At eight or ten feet a blank will have a pattern much like a mini shotgun, with an effective pattern roughly the size of a dinner plate. Although these distances may not sound like much, it should be remembered that this sport is attempting to duplicate 'gunfighting' accuracy. In other words, the ability to draw, fire and hit a target as fast as possible at close range. I can tell you from personal experience that when you're trying to do all this in under a quarter second, including reaction time, it's a lot harder than it sounds.
The pictures to the left and right show the balloon target from the side and the wax targets from the rear to highlight the micro-switch on the balloon target, and the speaker pick-up on the wax target. By the way, the wax target shown here is the 18" concave "Balloon Disk".
Wax targets come in three configurations: a 14.5" x 30.5" rectangle with its top edge at six feet off the ground (aka: standard silhouette - shown in picture above along with balloon target), a 20" x 40" rectangle with its top edge 64" from the ground (aka: Blocker target), and an 18 inch round concave target (aka: balloon disk - pictured at right).
All wax targets are metal and have a 60 watt light covered with plexi-glass mounted near the middle of the target. The targets also have an impact sensor on them that picks up the hit of the wax bullet.
All targets are connected to a digital clock that has readouts for two targets. This allows the clock to be used in elimination contests where two shooters shoot against each other, and to record double target events. When the command 'Shooter on the line, shooter set' is given, the timekeeper presses the timing button on the clock. At this point the clock takes over. It generates a random two to five second delay before turning on the target light that cues the shooter to start to draw. Prior to the light coming on the shooter is not allowed to be in contact with his gun or holster. When the light signal is given, the shooter draws, fires and hits the target. These clocks record the time in the thousandths of a second. A miss is assigned a penalty of one full second.
Equipment in other countries - Fast Draw shooters in England, Japan and some other countries must use different guns, ammunition and targets due to the local development of the sport, as well as gun and ammunition laws in those countries. For more details visit our page on Fast Draw in Japan.