One of the fastest and slickest looking techniques to fire a revolver has been made extremely popular due to its common depiction in westerns. That technique is called “fanning.” This action is done by holding down the trigger on a single action revolver, and then rapidly pulling back the hammer. With the trigger under pressure, the hammer will quickly drop on to the next round, and when repeated, can discharge the firearm in rapid succession. This sure looks cool, but unless you have customized revolvers for fanning or quick draw, it is not recommended as it can be inaccurate and hard on the gun.
While westerns led the public to believe that fanning the hammer was a commonplace technique among gunfighters, there is little historical evidence to support the fanning style. However, this excerpt from True West Magazine provides an account of an instance where fanning was potentially used (not to any successful means).
Former Texas Ranger-turned-Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Outlaw modified his Colt Single Action with a shortened barrel and had the trigger removed. The rear portion of the trigger guard was left intact to allow for a firm grip, since the gun could only be fired by thumb cocking or by “fanning” it. Unfortunately for Outlaw, this proved to be his undoing in a gunfight with El Paso Constable John Selman on April 5, 1894, when, in a drunken stupor and after killing a Texas Ranger, Outlaw rapidly fired this six-gun several times at Selman, but only succeeded in wounding the lawman in the leg. Selman got off an accurate shot that proved fatal to the gunman. (Spangenberger, “Hideout Hijinks,” truewestmagazine.com)
As seen from this historical account, fanning the hammer can be more trouble than it’s worth. When you fan the hammer on a revolver that is not properly modified for such usage, it can be very hard on the gun. Such issues with fanning are the speed of the technique, which could bend or break the hand that turns the cylinder and potentially wear down the bolt and notches in the cylinder. This messes up the timing of the gun, potentially causing misfires. There is also the hazard of getting cut on the firing pin. More often than not, it does not provide stable or accurate shooting. While it looks like a lot of fun, leave it to Hollywood and the professionals.
One of the pros, who was an expert at fanning and had beautifully customized guns for such showmanship, was world-renowned exhibition shooter Bob Munden. Bob held the title “The Fastest Man with a Gun Who Ever Lived,” and supported that title with 18 world-records in fast draw! At the Cody Firearms Museum, we have the Bob and Becky Munden collection on display, showcasing the guns and gear used by the incredible shooters Bob and Becky Munden. Featured are some of Bob’s customized guns, and even a “fanning glove” for such special high speed shooting. You can view the collection here at https://centerofthewest.org/2015/04/02/the-bob-and-becky-munden-collection/ .