Book Review: Quick or Dead (Cassidy, 1978)

Quick or Dead was published by Paladin Press back in 1978. There are still copies available online, even though Paladin has closed up shop. The title doesn’t tell you as much about the book’s contents as the subtitle on the inside cover page does.

Written during the time when the Modern Technique (Weaver stance and the rest of the program Gunsite taught) was becoming more widely accepted, the book gathers up the best of all the non-Modern Technique material from 1900 to the present. The tone of the book is better than many “point shooting” books (and the book doesn’t specifically advocate point shooting), because it doesn’t insist that the methods it shows are The Way and that the Gunsite/Weaver/Cooper material is Wrong and Bad. Many of the observations and explanations in the book actually align well with where technique evolved in the 80’s and 90’s.

The list of those named and acknowledged (and those NOT mentioned, specifically anyone that was part of the Gunsite community), is a good indicator of the roots of the book’s content, though.

And in keeping with the spirit of many of Paladin’s other publications, here’s a list of other books the author wrote for them. Several of the topics are very 1970’s in flavor.

The best part of the book, for me, as a student of history of handgun training, was the extensive bibliography. Most of the books and articles the author references were familiar to me, including many of the books written by British shooters in the early 1900’s. His frequent references to Pollard’s writing added that name to my “need to read” list. I picked up a e-book edition of Pollard’s “The Book of Pistol and Revolver” for $10 and will review it here at some point. My current stack of “read and ready to review” is over a dozen books, with another dozen or more in the “to read” stack. (The rabbit hole of old gun books is a deep one.)

Pollard is quoted in ‘Quick or Dead’:

“Shooting at a man is quite different to target practice. You are, unless cast in a specifically heroic mold, excited, possibly startled or alarmed. You may have had to run and be out of breath, or you may have experienced that emotional heart acceleration which makes the hand positively dither. In any case, you will be looking at your man, not at your pistol.”

Pollard, according to historical claims, was a “duellist of some repute”, since formal duels were still being fought from time to time post WWI. (I have been reading old books on dueling and will have a separate blog post at some point in the future discussing how the schools that taught young nobleman how to duel have their own place in the history of handgun training.) Pollard is quoted again in Quick or Dead:

“Never advance cheerfully on your late opponent without reloading. You may have used your last shot, and he may not be properly dead and still spiteful. There is one golden rule which should never be broken. If a pistol is carried it must be loaded and ready for instant use. A unloaded, unready pistol is less use than half a brick in an old stocking.”

(Only 1/3rd of pistols caught by TSA in spring 2020 in carry on bags had a round chambered, although most have ammunition in the gun, indicating that a lot of carry permit holders still need education as to what “unready” means and how little time they will have to deploy the pistol if needed. My suspicion is that most of those guns were flopping around loose in no particular orientation within the bag, which might be the reason the owner was uncomfortable having a round chambered. Two wrongs, in this situation, don’t make a right, as a gun carried off body in a bag should be in its own compartment that has an embedded holster that covers the trigger guard…with a round chambered.)

The book includes some good illustrations showing stance, grip, and other fundamentals.

In 1978, very few shooters were using this stance, but it should look very familiar to 21st century shooters, with the gun brought up to the eye target line, gripped in two hands, fully extended with no asymmetric arm bending.

While the author describes this stance as “instinctive pointing”, clearly the pointing is being done by aligning the finger with the dominant eye, which is not the “point shoulder” position nor the hip shooting position some point shooters advocate. In the 21st century, shooting with the gun at eye level, using the sights but a target focus for close range (the author chooses 25 feet, or roughly 8 yards, as his definition), is widely taught, both with iron sights (particularly by multi-time USPSA national champion Ben Stoeger) and with red dots (by basically everyone teaching red dot pistol classes).

This grip drawing shows proper alignment of the gun with the hand and arm – something that remains valid today. The rise of the wide-body, double stack magazine semiauto pistol has caused many shooters, particularly those with short fingers, to learn to grip the gun with it twisted over their thumb knuckle, as the picture in the upper left shows. The growing popularity of single-stack of narrow guns, such as the Glock 48, M&P Shield, Springfield XD-S and others, has finally given small handed/short fingered shooters better options for guns that fit their hands properly, but based on what I observe with students in classes, understanding of this basic principle of gun selection is poor to nonexistent at the carry permit level. Mis alignment of the gun with the hand also occurs when the grip is built starting with the firing hand fingers, vs. aligning with the web of the hand. Another common source of this error is getting a bad grip on the pistol when drawing from an inside the waistband holster.

The author comments on the importance of keeping the thumb parallel to the slide – something that can be done with a classic thumb over thumb grip, and also with the more modern “thumbs forward” grip. Gripping with enough pressure that the hand trembles is not current thinking, but gripping with significant pressure with the fingers (of both hands) is commonly taught.

The material on how to draw from concealment is dated, showing the classic FBI “bowling” draw including movement of the head and eyes as the gun is being drawn. Draw technique changed radically in the decades after 1978. The average shooter trained in modern draw technique is faster, and getting better first shot hits, than those using the FBI lean, bowl and crouch technique were getting in their day.


A quick overview of the chapters and topics covered:

  1. Influences and approaches – The Moros and the .45 caliber cartridge, advantages of the self-loading pistol, World War I instruction, fast draws, Ed McGivern, A.C. Gould, A.L.A. Himmelwright, and “snap shooting”
  2. The Shanghai Influence – This chapter does an excellent job of presenting the history of Fairbairn’s time in China, and the program of training he developed, particularly his shoot house, scenario based concept of training.
  3. Voices in the Wilderness – Hugh Pollard, William Frazer, J.H. Fitzgerald, A.L.A. Himmelwright, Charles Askins, Fairbairn, Sam Yeaton and Sam Moore — basically a collection of information from all of these influential writers and shooters from the WW2 era.
  4. Specially Employed – Askins, Fairbairn and Sykes, Applegate, and how the FBI got “educated” by the WW2 point shooters.
  5. Post-War Approaches – Cowboy Quick Draw, Cooper, Chic Gaylord, Bill Jordan, Colin Greenwood, Leatherslap – basically 1950’s-1960’s evolution of training and technique summarized nicely.
  6. How to Practice Shooting – this is where most of the pictures of fundamentals in the review came from. From the era before shooting timers were common, there are few courses of fire in this section, just descriptions of how to draw from concealment and shooting using the techniques described earlier in the book.
  7. Technicalities – the final section of the book is mostly a compendium of ballistic studies, mostly dated results advocating for the .45 ACP caliber and the Glaser Safety Slug, with one subsection “All Guns Are More Or Less Equal Except Those Designed by John Browning Which Are Better”, which would have been at home in any late 1970’s gun magazine.


This book would be a good choice for someone that wants the history of handgun training and technique, 1900-1960-ish, from the perspective of those that did not (or were slow) to get on board with what Jeff Cooper was teaching in the late 60’s and early 1970’s. It shows that some of the things that were later merged with the Modern Technique came from those sources, and would give any shooter a sense of historical perspective. It’s a short read, full of references to related works, making it easy for someone interested in diving deeper into the topics to track down the source material.