Yes, organized Fast Draw is a sport that takes firearms safety very seriously. The concept of the Fast Draw is a potentially dangerous one. It is for this reason that only blanks and wax bullets propelled by .22 blanks or shotshell primers are used in the sport. In fact, no 'live' ammunition is allowed at a competition site. The World Fast Draw Association and the members of this sport do not endorse the use of 'live' ammunition when performing a fast draw.
Although blanks and wax bullets are the recommended method of enjoying this sport, they can be dangerous when not used in the proper manner. Please make sure to follow all normal firearm safety procedures.
What's the cheapest / easiest way to try Fast Draw?
If you're a Cowboy Action Shooter, or already own a single action revolver and western holster, you're already most of the way towards trying Fast Draw. As long as you have normal shells with primers you can purchase some wax bullets, then simply push them into the shell with your fingers (no loading press required). Fast Draw shooters normally use a special shell that can accommodate a 209 shotshell primer, but for close practice up to 12' a normal pistol primer will work. You can use a paper target placed at waist level. You can also check out the Getting Started page for information on finding local clubs or shooters that can help you get started in Fast Draw.
Should I start with Thumbing or Fanning?
The choice of draw style is a very personal one. Thumbing is generally considered a more traditional style of draw, and many people do it because it's what they saw their favorite stars do in Western movies. Fanning is a bit easier to learn for most people, and is generally a slightly faster style of draw, so many people do it because they want to do the fastest style of Fast Draw. Thumbing is the easiest method for a beginner to use because it can be done with a stock single-action revolver, while fanning requires a modified gun to allow the gun to take the stresses of a speed fanning draw. As such, thumbing is generally the easiest method to use to try Fast Draw before getting deeper into the sport.
Are there any books or videos on Fast Draw?
There aren't any books available that tell about how to do Fast Draw, but there is a series of on-line instructional videos at Fast Draw 101 with Howard Darby that will give you a lot more information on the sport of Fast Draw. Also, Cal Eilrich has a two hour video that shows almost everything that someone needs to know about Fast Draw. You can find The Art of Fast Draw at gunvideo.com.
There don't seem to be any Fast Draw clubs near me. Can I start my own?
You bet! Many Fast Draw clubs were started by people who were interested, but looked at the local contact list and didn't see anyone else doing it in their area. This FAQ and the rest of the site is a good place to start with some basic information, then you can also check out the forum and Facebook group mentioned in the paragraph above to ask questions or check for shooters in your area that aren't mentioned on the contact list.
Once you decide to form your own club you'll need to find somewhere to shoot. Some people find local indoor gun clubs that will let them book regular times. Depending on local ordinance or bylaws you may be able to fire wax bullets in your own garage, barn or workshop. You'll need a few sheets of 5/8" plywood to act as a backstop, or you can use a few layers of old carpeting hanging loosely behind the target as a bullet trap (make sure it's not hanging against a wall, otherwise the bullets will bounce back at you). For your equipment you can check the links page or ask for recommendations on the forums.
Once you've started your club you'll want to make sure to organize regular practices. This not only helps you get better at Fast Draw, but makes it so everyone knows you're a serious club. You can check with local gun shops to see if they'll let you post an advertisement on their bulletin board with information on your new club, and make sure to check with local Cowboy Action Clubs, because Fast Draw is a natural extension of that type of shooting since they already have the equipment needed to give it a try.
To make sure it's emphasised again: make sure to utilize the experience available to you by asking questions on the forum or Facebook groups. Fast Draw people are very willing to share what they know, and welcome you into the sport they love.
What type of revolver is best for Fast Draw?
The choice of gun depends on the style of draw you're interested in using.
If you'd like to do the thumbing draw you'll want a gun like the New Ruger Vaquero, a Colt Single Action Army, or one of the Colt clones (Beretta Stampede, Uberti Cattleman, USFA Gunslinger, etc.). In recent years the New Ruger Vaquero has become the most popular gun for thumbing, since most people find it to be the most durable of the single actions. You will want to get it in 4 & 5/8 inch barrel length (the shortest allowable barrel), since the longer the barrel, the more gun you have to draw out of the holster, making your draw time slower. There are a number of shooters who use stock or close to stock guns for thumbing. A tune-job is often recommended to smooth and ease the action, which often comes from the factory quite stiff, although many shooters simply use the single action revolvers they already own to try Fast Draw without getting too deep too fast.
For a fanning draw there is usually a bit of modification required to the gun to allow it to stand up to this style. Single action pistols were not designed to take the stresses put on them during a speed fan, so these modifications allow the gun to continue operating in a reliable manner for many years. The gun of choice is an old model (3 screw) Ruger Blackhawk in .357. It is then bored out to .45 calibre and mounted with an aluminum sleeved barrel (no shorter than 4 & 5/8 inches). The hammer is modified to turn up half an inch above the top of the frame to make it easier to fan. Since we don't use sights in Fast Draw, the top of the frame is often ground down to a smooth finish to reduce the weight. Blocks are also added inside the frame to strengthen the cylinder locking bolt, and at the bottom of the hammer strut to prevent it from bottoming out.
I would highly recommend checking out the rule book of the World Fast Draw Association (or whichever association you intend to shoot with). This way you can follow the rules for allowable gun modifications and not risk finding that you've inadvertently made your gun illegal for use in the sport. Also remember that there are rules on holster measurements.
Tips for buying your first Fast Draw gun
What modifications are required?
The above section on guns gives information on the modifications, but in general a shooter using the thumbing draw will not need to perform modifications on their gun other than perhaps a tune-job to smooth the action, while someone using the fanning draw will need to do a few internal modifications to allow the gun to handle the stresses placed on it during a speed fan.
Before modifying your gun make sure to check the regulations of the organization you intend to shoot with. For example, in the World Fast Draw Association you are allowed to make quite a few modifications, but they must adhere to specific guidelines. However, if you want to compete in the WFDA Hollywood Division you will need a stock gun, although you can perform a tune-job to make it smoother to operate.
What is the best length of barrel?
Almost all Fast Draw shooters use a gun with a 4 & 5/8 inch barrel length (sometimes called 4 & 3/4"). This is the shortest allowable barrel in the sport. With any longer barrel length you'll be slowing down your draw, since there's more gun to draw out of the holster.
What caliber revolver should I get for Fast Draw?
.45 is the caliber you'll want for Fast Draw. At some major contests the host provides the ammunition, and that's always .45 caliber, so you would need to bring a gun in that configuration. Also, when shooting blanks you want to use the largest shell possible so it will hold the maximum powder, because the more grains of powder flying down-range, the better chance you have to break the balloon. However, if you already have a single-action in .38 or .357 caliber there are some wax bullet manufacturers that make bullets in those calibers, so it's a good way to use the equipment you already have to try Fast Draw.
Would a Walker Colt (or other large pistol) be okay for Fast Draw?
As far as using a Walker Colt for Fast Draw... technically you can use it by the rules of the sport, although I've never actually seen anyone use one. The frame size and weight make it pretty unwieldy for doing a fast draw. Normally a smaller single action revolver is used (Ruger Vaquero, Ruger Blackhawk or Colt Peacemaker). You can start out with this gun, but would probably want to switch to something lighter if you decided to stick with the sport.
What are wax bullets?
Wax bullets are pretty much what they sound like. We make a bullet out of wax, push it into the shell, then put a shotshell primer (shotgun primer) or .22 blank into the other end. To explain that better, the shells we use for wax have been specially counter-sunk where the normal primer hole is to accept a shotshell primer. If a .22 blank is used, then a special shell must be built that doesn't have a normal flash-hole, but has a special counter-sunk hole off to the edge of the shell to fit a .22 blank. This special hole allows the center-fire action of the revolver to strike the rim of the .22 blank. Most people use the shotshell primers.
Wax is very easy to load and many people use nothing else for practise. You can load the six wax shells in a few seconds and shoot, then reload and shoot again. There are 4 or 5 companies making wax bullets. For safety reasons these are the only bullets that are allowed in competition. Many people make their own bullets for practise.
No. Wax bullets can be pressed into the shell casing using finger pressure. There may be some wax shaved off while doing this, but that's normal. The 209 shotshell primer drops easily into the enlarged primer pocket with little effort. When unloading the shells after shooting the wax bullet you'll often find that the primer drops out by itself, but if not you can pop it out using the ejector rod or simply by knocking the shell on a hard surface.
My wax bullets drop into the shell very easily. Is this normal?
If your wax bullets drop in too easily you're in danger of them falling out when you put the gun in your holster. This will result in the bullets poking out the cylinder and jamming against the frame when you cock the hammer and rotate the cylinder, which can potentially hurt your thumb of fanning hand when the mechanism jams in place. Make sure the bullet takes some pressure to push into the shell. If it seems to go in too easily turn the shell upside-down and try shaking out the bullet. If you can, you have a problem, and you may need to run your shell through a resizer on a loading press to bring the shell back to the correct size.
What type of blanks are used in Fast Draw?
For practise I generally use a very easy to load blank. This consists of filling the .45 Long Colt shell all the way to the top with 1F black powder (very grainy). I then push a half inch circular stationary sticker just far enough into the shell so that the edges curl up and stick to the shell (you can find these at almost any stationary store). Many shooters use thin cardboard or styrofoam as the wad and keep it in place with a thin layer of nail polish. You don't want to fill the shell so that it's overflowing because you will then crush the powder when you push in the wad. That would turn your 1F powder into finer grains that wouldn't be as effective at breaking the balloon. Conversely, you want to fill up the shell as much as possible to get as much powder as you can. That way you'll have more powder flying out to break the balloon.
For competition I want a load that has slightly more kick to it, and possibly better pattern. I put about a quarter or a third of an inch of a mixture of 4F black powder and Bullseye powder in the bottom of the shell as a kicker. I tend to use slightly more Bullseye than 4F. I then fill the rest of the shell with a 50/50 mixture of 1F and 4831. The 4831 is a very grainy, slow burning powder that will not burn up before getting to the balloon. I then place the wad sticker on top. Every shooter has their own competition load recipe. This just happens to be the one I use.
By the way, most shooters in the sport use standard primers in blank loads, but most people drill out the flash hole in the shell case primer pocket. This tends to reduce the occurrences of primer back-out (which often happens with a blank), and helps speed up the ignition of the powder. You want to make sure that you don't drill out the flash hole enough that the anvil in the primer (the three pointed metal star inside the primer) can go through the hole. I've found that a 1/8 drill bit does a good job.
I can't find 1F blackpowder for my blanks. Can I use 2F?
2F will work, but you won't get quite the same consistency as 1F, and may have trouble at the longer distances past 8'. There are some shooters that don't use blackpowder at all due to the difficulty finding it in their local gun stores, so they use normal gunpowders. In this case you'll want some fast burning powder on the bottom as the "kicker", and a slower burning grainier powder on top as the balloon breaker.
Blanks seem to be very powerful. Are there any safety procedures I should follow?
Blanks are indeed very powerful. A full-powder blank can blow a large hole through a three-inch telephone book. When shooting blanks it is highly recommended that you use a metal blast shield. This shield goes around the top lip of the holster, and down inside the holster. This will protect the holster against a shot fired too quickly, with the blast going down the holster. Without this shield you can easily blow a hole through the front of the holster.
In addition to the blast shield you should also use a deflector attached to the bottom of the holster. This piece of metal redirects the blast away from your leg.
The blast shield and deflector are very important when shooting blanks, but it's also a good idea to use them when shooting wax bullets.
What ammunition do most people practice with?
Due to the ease of making a wax bullet compared to a blank, and the fact that a wax bullet is much quieter than a blank, most shooters practice with only wax bullets. Even when practicing for a competition that will be using blanks, a shooter can use a wax target that will simulate blanks. For example, using a 24-inch diameter round wax target at 8' distance, centered where you would shoot a balloon (normally at the level of your gun belt buckle), is great practice for 8' Standing Blanks at a 4" balloon target. However, if possible, prior to attending a contest with blanks you'll probably want to practice at least once with your blanks to test them and make sure you're confident in their ability to break the balloon.
Is thumbing a competitive style?
Gary Tryon (left) & Bob James - Two of the top Thumbers in Fast Draw
Yes, thumbing can be just as competitive as fanning. Some of the top shooters in the sport have been thumbers, including Jon Wilson, the 2011 All-Around World Champion for WFDA. Like anything, practice and consistency is what's required to become good at Fast Draw, and you can reach that with either style. By the way, you can check out the page with the break down of a thumbing draw for an example of thumbing, and read Jan Owen's detailed instructions of the thumbing draw for further information.
How FAST do I need to be to compete in Fast Draw?
Although "Fast" is in the name, accuracy is just as important in Fast Draw. A competitor that hits consistently, but is slower, will often beat a much faster shooter that misses. In addition, when shooting elimination contests in the World Fast Draw Association there are three divisions a shooter can choose from. The top division is unlimited speed, but the other two divisions have break-off times, and if a competitor fires a time faster than that time it does not count. With this format there's a place for almost any shooter, no matter how fast they shoot.
What's involved in traveling to international competitions?