Throwback Thursday: Ed McGivern, World's Fastest Gun

posted on January 18, 2018
Someone once told Ed McGivern there was no way he and his six-gun could hit a tin can thrown 20 feet into the air six times before it hit the ground. McGivern, who had never before tried such a trick, was sure that he could. A few months and 30,000 rounds later, he was ready to prove it.

And so, before an assembled crowd, on a hot July day in central Montana, he handed his assistant a tin can and instructed him to throw it 20 feet into the air. As the can began its descent, McGivern fired his .38-caliber Colt revolver six times in rapid succession, sending the can dancing and spinning as it tumbled to the ground.

His assistant retrieved the can and held it up for the crowd to see. Sure enough, six bullet holes were clearly visible. McGivern had hit the can every time he fired. The crowd clapped and roared its approval.

“You know,” the assistant said to McGivern as they walked back to their cars after the show, “you could make it easy on yourself and use an automatic.”

“Sure, I could,” replied McGivern, “but automatics are just too slow. I can shoot faster with a revolver.”

And he could, too.

Edward (Ed) McGivern (1873-1957) was an exhibition shooter, a shooting instructor and the author of the book Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting. Frequently referred to as the best handgun shooter of all time, this champion marksman earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for “the greatest rapid-fire feat.”

The record-setting feat took place in 1932 at the Lead Club Range in South Dakota, when McGivern took less than half a second to draw his gun from its holster and fire five shots from 15 feet into an area a little over an inch wide—or about the size of a half dollar. It was a feat he repeated a second time that same day. Despite numerous attempts to break McGivern’s record, it stands untouched today, some 78 years later.
The speedy shooter had a lot more tricks up his sleeve, too—not to mention, additional records to set. The man responsible for the first revolver speed-shooting records used his factory Smith and Wesson double-action revolver to shoot a dime on the fly, break six simultaneously thrown clay pigeons before they hit the ground, drive a nail into wood with a single shot and split the edge of a playing card. Even more amazing—he could do so firing with either hand!

McGivern, who worked with law enforcement, traveled throughout the United States to teach marksmanship to federal and state troopers. His training techniques combined exhibition shooting with instruction on how to put a lot of lead on a target in a short amount of time and under any circumstances. As a handgunner, McGivern’s focus was on the fast and accurate use of a police revolver at ranges of up to 600 yards.

Over the years, McGivern studied the revolver and the art of handgun shooting. Using electric timers and other tools, he spent countless hours experimenting and researching what angles and techniques could be used to get the fastest and most accurate shots.

Regarded as one of the top authorities on the subject of handguns, his 1938 book, Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting, became an instant classic. Here, McGivern covered everything he knew about shooting, from developing speed and accuracy to training techniques, from shooting with the weak hand in case the dominant hand is injured, to quick-draw methods. He peppered his text with gun lore and photographs. The book has remained so popular that it was republished in paperback in 2007 and is available through bookstores and online.

The Final Tribute
Ed McGivern died in 1957, but he has not been forgotten. On June 14, 2008, just outside Lewiston, Mont., a memorial and park were dedicated to Ed McGivern, “World’s Fastest Gun.” Local historian John R. Foster, who led the effort to establish the memorial, said McGivern actually earned his “fastest gun” title during the time he lived in Lewiston, between 1924 and 1949. The official dedication of the Ed McGivern Memorial Park and Monument, located at the East Fork Dam site, took place during the annual Snowy Mountain Muzzle Loaders and Re-enactors Rendezvous.

Although many of Ed McGivern’s records have fallen in the almost 60 years since his death, his Guinness Record for “greatest rapid-fire feat” remains unbroken. It is certain that the phrase “best handgun shooter of all time” is one that will belong to him for some years to come.

Editor's Note: The NRA National Firearms Museum has McGivern's Colt Single Action Army on display. Click here to find out more!


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