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ANDY ANDERSON, "The Gunfighter"

Unfortunately, in the early days of fast draw, during the mid 1950's, many people had tragic accidents, usually shooting themselves in the leg or foot with a premature shot, fired while their J.A. Colt was still in the holster. This was due more to a design fault in the holsters than any other reason. The low slung holster, (very low, muzzle being at the knee) hanging straight up and down or slightly muzzle to the rear, caused the muzzle to point at the body as it cleared the holster. A new holster manufacturer in North Hollywood solved this problem with his radical new design of muzzle raked holster. This man was Andy Anderson, and he developed a complete line of Gunfighter fast draw holsters.

Andy's story is a fascinating one. Being interested in guns since a small boy his favorite past time had been hunting rabbits with a handgun. He had found that in the cold winter weather, he could keep both hands warm by using a holstered handgun, and had developed the speed necessary to draw and hit a rabbit at 20 yards and under. Andy modestly explains that this wasn't as hard as it sounds, as the rabbits couldn't run very fast in the deep snow.

His hunting activity was interrupted by World War Two, in which he received crippling wounds in combat. As a result, Andy has a stiff right wrist. Returning home to Fort Smith, Arkansas, Andy bought the local saddlery and learned the trade. At this time, most saddle makers included holsters as one of their products. Andy was no different. He was soon back to his favorite sport of handgun hunting, but he was very disappointed to find that, because of his stiff wrist, he could no longer do satisfactory work from a holster.

About this time Andy took an extensive course in commercial art, using what he learned to improve his craft. It was during this time that Andy made his revolutionary discovery. With his new knowledge of bone structure (obtained from the commercial art training) he started analyzing his problem. He found that he could comfortably hold his handgun, in a proper shooting grip, at his side as though in a holster, with the muzzle pointed to the front at a slight angle. The higher the gun is raised toward the hip, the greater the angle of muzzle rake. Extended straight down at arms length, the muzzle points slightly to the rear. I can't overemphasize the importance of Andy's discovery. It has been the greatest advance in pistol-craft of the 20th century. The muzzle rake holster allows one to have the correct shooting grip, with wrist locked straight, from contact with the handgun to line up on the target. The previous muzzle to the rear forced one to draw the gun with the wrist bent, trying to straighten and lock the wrist sometime between holster and target line up. This greatly complicated a speed draw.

Moving from Fort Smith to Los Angeles in 1958, Andy opened his now famous Gunfighter Shop, specializing in fast draw rigs. In order to demonstrate the superiority of his rigs, Andy organized a single action live ammo fast draw school, turning out two classes a year until 1965. Before long, most of the top shooters were using Gunfighter rigs. The reputation of Andy's rigs was so great that he found it unnecessary to advertise nationally, as the other manufacturers of fast draw holsters did.

Famous fast draw exhibition shooter Thell Reed uses Andy's leather exclusively. The first Hotel Sahara-Colt Las Vegas National Walk & Draw Champion, Gerry Freymueller won the title shooting out of a Gunfighter rig. One of the fastest shooters in the sport, Bob Munden, exhibition shooter for Hawes firearms, uses Andy's rigs. He holds many of the records for twisting blanks, and these were set using a custom version of Andy's famous Walk & Draw Western rig.

In addition to the muzzle rake, Andy was the first holster manufacturer/designer to produce fully contoured gunbelts. These are designed so as to fit around the flair of the hips smoothly and comfortably. Andy was the first to offer a rig designed especially for the walk and draw competition. Once again, his knowledge of human anatomy came in handy, as he incorporated a steel lined plate on the back of the Walk & Draw Standard rig, which fits into the hollow of the hip. When the gunbelt pulls this hip plate snuggly into place, there is no need for a tie down.

The Gunfighter stitch, the decorative stitching which is so popular today on rifle slings, saddles, boots and gunbelts, was another Anderson original, first offered on the Walk & Draw Standard Fast Draw rig. As well as making holsters, Andy is qualified to repair and tune single action revolvers. From 1957 to 1966 Andy serviced all single actions used by Warner Studios. A side line with Andy has been the production of beautiful custom grips for the Single Action. He has made grips for such stars as Steve McQueen, Doug McClure, James Drury, Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd.

Andy considers a set made for Clint Eastwood to be his finest work. These custom grips are inlaid with a rattlesnake caught in mid strike, made from pure silver. Speaking of super star Eastwood, Clint has used nothing but Anderson leather from his days as "Rowdy Yates" on Rawhide, to the double rig for a pair of Colt Walker replicas in the western movie "The Outlaw Josey Wales." My first look at a Walk & Draw Standard rig was in that classic of western movies, The Magnificent Seven, in which one was used by Steve McQueen. As you may have guessed, a large part of Andy's business has been in supplying the television and movie industry with gunbelts and holsters for their westerns. Such stars as Doug McClure, James Drury, Nick Adams, Peter Brown, Robert Horton, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, and Gary Cooper used Gunfighter rigs on their respective TV series and movies such as The Virginian, The Rebel, Lawman, Laredo, Wagon Train, Tue Grit, The Dakotas, and The Hanging Tree. An old favorite, Chill Wills and Gene Autry's side-kick Smiley Burnette used Andy's rigs.

But the crowning touch had to be when Italian movie director Leone flew from Rome to Hollywood to personally meet Andy. Leone ordered all Anderson rigs for each of his western epics, A Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Once Upon A Time In The West.

Of the many people Andy has instructed in fast draw, he says his best pupil was, surprisingly, Raquel Welch, whom he trained for her role in the western movie Hannie Caulder.

Asked who the fastest of the Hollywood fast guns is, Andy replied: "Of the ones I have personally watched in action and being an instructor and participant (in the past) I can give only my opinion in this manner - If Steve McQueen, Ben Cooper, Peter Brown, Nick Adams (deceased) and Steve Benson were shooting it out for point - it would be one hell of a shoot out. Those guys are (and were) good! Real Damn Good!"

Other entertainers who appreciate Andy's fine craftsmanship, using his rigs, are Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Johnny Westerland, (who sang the ballad of Paladin, in Have Gun, Will Travel), and Mary Robbins. Marty has honored Andy by naming three of his record albums, The Gunfighter Albums, after Andy's business.

One of Andy's best performances in live ammo single action fast draw was in 1971 when he shot in an invitational shoot. The nine best shooters in California shot a double elimination, one shot per draw at four inch balloons at 21 feet. The balloons were suspended in mid-air by rubber bands. Andy is justifiably proud of placing third to Thell Reed and Ray Chapman. He uses his favorite sixgun, "The Big Iron," a Colt S.A. 44 Special with 7 1/2" barrel out of his own favorite rig, the "AA", a high rise version of his Walk & Draw Western.

About Fast Draw, Andy says: "The sport of Fast Draw is one that has mostly spawned Good. Good guns, good leather and good men. My acquaintances and friends number in the thousands and I personally do not know of a single Fast Draw man who has ever abused our criminal laws because of his ability with a gun."

The Southern California earthquake of February 9, 1971 destroyed the Gunfighter shop and Andy was forced to move to a new location. Just as he was getting things going well again in 1972, he suffered three massive strokes. Andy's terrific desire and determination to hunt, fish and fast draw again had him back on his feet within six months. Due to his poor health Andy decided, in 1975, to retire. To all of his many friends he says: "To all my friends and former customers, Please don't swamp me with orders and letters. I would love to hear from all of you but -- I am enjoying my semi-retirement so I beg of you, don't spoil it for me. How am I physically? Great! Fishing, Hunting The High Country, walk in pack, experimenting with a new design of hunting holster, rifle and handgun ammo development, and so many enjoyable things that there are not enough hours in the day."

That's the story of the King of Fast Draw holster makers, Andy Anderson, the Gunfighter. Long Live the King. Article used with permission and taken from the book, Fastest Guns Alive, by Bob Arganbright. Thanks Bob.

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