Tombstone gunfight reenactments try it yourself

“Shoot the guns that won the west.” That’s the pitch Big Iron Shooting Gallery makes on its business cards.

And it’s true. They have 3 real-life Ruger pistols and a .45 caliber Winchester rifle in their shooting gallery.

Big Iron’s new location is on Allen Street in Tombstone, Ariz. You can walk into the storefront shooting gallery, pay $3, pick up one of the guns and take aim at the wood cutouts lined up against the wall.

Tom Davis and Randy Davis take turns at the business, which is open 7 days a week. Tom schooled me on how to aim and shoot.

 “Don’t use the sight,” he said. It’s only useful when you’re 15 feet or more away from your target, he explained. The targets are 12 feet from where you stand and draw. In Tom’s words, that’s “gunfighting range.”

Tom Davis, pictured on the right in front of the pistols at Big Iron Shooting Gallery.

Though the bullets aren’t live, the basic principles are. You load bullets just as you would in a regular pistol. These are “single action” guns, which means you have to cock the gun each time you shoot. The ammunition is basically a shell casing that is filled with paint.

Gunfights in movies – don't try this at home!
Have you ever seen a Western in which the gunfighter uses one hand to cock the gun while rapidly firing it? It’s a pretty common scene, and it looks really exciting. Problem is, it’s not what would happen in a real gunfight. Tom says it wouldn’t work.

When you aim a real pistol, the tendency is for the gun’s barrel to kick up into the air. If you used that method, he said, the first shot would come close to the target but the rest would end up at least 10 feet above your target.

My first shot was above the target. I got a little better with practice, hitting the target’s right arm, chest and body. The “bullets” are basically like paintball. It was fun to experience what it might have been like back in the heydays of Tombstone and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Hollywood studios show you lots of action in their pictures, but if you visit Tombstone you can get a sense of what it was really like to fire a gun and defend yourself against the drifters and ne’er-do-wells so prevalent in the Old West. It was a rough and tumble time back then.

Details: Big Iron Shooting Gallery charges $3 for 6 shots. Anyone can shoot. Minors can shoot with parental consent.

510 E. Allen Street
Tombstone, Arizona