Friday, January 11, 2008


An addendum to the previous posting on timing, and action versus reaction.

We have two gunslingers, call them Tex and Whitey. Both are crack shots, and they don't miss at combat distance, and they always aim right between the eyes. Otherwise, they are average guys, about thirty-five years old each. They have decided to have a Marshal Dillon face-off out in front of the Long Branch.

As the tumbleweeds do their cliches in the dusty afternoon, some scenarios, and what I think are reasonable conclusions:

Scenario A: Tex and Whitey are equally fast, but not especially so. Takes them each over a half-second to clear their holsters and cook one off.

1) They both reach for their hoglegs at the same time. Result: Both get shot, because they will clear leather and come up to battery together. Simultaneous head hits, both croak.

2) Tex waits until he sees Whitey reach for his gun before he goes for his. Result: Tex gets shot, Whitey doesn't. This is based on the idea that Tex's reaction time is going to be at least a quarter-second, and probably longer. (If you want to take a reaction test, check here.) This means that Tex is going to be a quarter-second behind Whitey, which isn't much, but Whitey's round is on the way before Tex's, and in terms of bullet-travel, if the old six-shooter is throwing slugs at a mere 800 ft/sec. and they are, say, twenty feet apart, it won't take long for the bullet to cover that distance. About 0.031 seconds, if I didn't misplace the decimal.

Which means Tex's aim is apt to be off a bit as he pulls the trigger, what with the bullet smacking into his skull, and Adios, Tex.

Scenario B: Tex is much faster than Whitey. Say that Tex is three-tenths of a second to draw and shoot, to Whitey's six-tenths.

1) They slap leather together. Result: Whitey goes to boot hill, because his gun is still in the holster when Tex shoots.

2) Whitey draws first, and Tex moves when he sees Whitey go for it. Result: Whitey still pushes up the daisies, Tex goes back to the Long Branch for a beer. Because even with his reaction time of a quarter-second, he's still faster, by a piddly tenth of a second. Enough for his bullet to drill Whitey.

Scenario C: Whitey is the fastest cowboy on the plains, he can draw and fire in a quarter-second, and Tex is much slower, but sneakier. (Nobody was this fast out of a cowboy rig, by the way. Nobody got close to that until the modern fast-draw rigs, but just for the sake of the argument. And the kind of shootout I postulate didn't happen much, either, but never mind.)

1) They step out on the street, and Whitey realizes that Tex, the sneaky bastard, already has his gun out. He goes for it anyway. As soon as Whitey sees Tex reach, he shoots his already-drawn peacemaker. Result: Both die, because Whitey's reaction time is is equal to Tex's draw and fire time.

This is most unlikely. In any situation where the guy with the drawn gun has an average reaction time, and the one going for his holstered piece isn't the reincarnation of John Wesley Hardin and Wild Bill, with a dash of Annie Oakley, the guy reaching dies. In order to beat a drawn and aimed gun, if you aren't faster than his reaction time, you are taking the dirt nap.

Even an old guy like me can average about a quarter-second on the reaction test linked to up above; somebody faster already lined up wins every time. Fastest guy who ever lived who draws against that might manage a-uchi, or mutual slaying.

2) As the two men step out onto the dusty street, Whitey realizes that Tex has his gun out. He calls him a cheatin, low-down, fornicatin' hoss-thief -- and Tex shoots him dead before Whitey stops yappin' and goes for his gun.

Remember that scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? If you are gonna shoot, shoot, don't talk ...

Of course, without the head shots, those hundredths of a second don't matter as much. Center of mass impacts, the guy hit first might still get off a shot, since he likely wouldn't die instantly. Which is why I stipulated head shots, which are pretty much the only quick stoppers, and that only most of the time.

The point of all this is that, other things being equal, action beats reaction. Two guys roughly equal, the one who moves first has the advantage. It's not a perfect metaphor, and even if it was, it would still just be a metaphor, but I think it makes my point. If most fights are won by, as Stonewall Jackson used to say, getting there firstest with the mostest, then initiating the action, provided it is done effectively, is better than waiting and then counter-punching.

Except, of course, when it isn't ...


J.D. Ray said...

I've always held that one's first responsibility when finding yourself in a fight is to get out of the situation as quickly and efficiently as you can while maintaining safety. Sometimes this means "run like hell." Other times, strike your opponent (whether by weapon or fist) first, fast and often until there is no chance they will strike back. Then leave.

Of course, avoiding situations where you're required to fight is also a good tactic...

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, proactive doesn't always mean throwing the first punch. Making a sharp left and Nike express to parts elsewhere might be just the ticket. That goes to strategy.

Tactics come in when you can't make the turn, back to the wall, grandkids in tow, little old granny by your side, and running away isn't an option.

Better to avoid push coming to shove; it's safer all the way around. But if it gets there, knowing how and where to shove will serve better than not knowing.