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Fanning is a revolver shooting technique in which one hand holds the trigger and the other hits the hammer repeatedly. This turns the cylinder and hits the firing pin, in that order, allowing for 'semi-automatic fire' of single-action revolvers. The technique does not work on double-action, which are designed to require a trigger pull for each shot. When performed very quickly, it can be very damaging to the cylinder stop mechanism. This technique is used extensively in fast draw competitions, which generally use special lightweight aluminum or titanium blank-firing cylinders, rather than the steel cylinders normally found on single-action revolvers.
The idea (as spread by old western films) that people in the "Old West" fanned their hammers in actual firefights with any regularity is considered a caricature. It was done in shooting shows (where trick marksmen entertained crowds with shooting tricks) and by many a curious target-practicer; but it was probably not common in actual firefights, because it doesn't lend itself to most real-life tactical situations, in accuracy or cover. One longtime firearms instructor, George L. Tooley, said: "Fanning is hard on the revolver, in addition to being inaccurate, and is not recommended".
A similar rapid-fire method called sliding, in which the thumb of the gun hand exerts just enough pressure on the hammer to pull it down, but not lock it into readiness for firing, is also known in many references.[examples needed]
A slip gun is a revolver which has been modified to disconnect the trigger from the hammer, so as to cause it to fire by pulling back and releasing the hammer. Often the hammer spur is lowered, so the gun may be fired by wiping one's finger across the hammer. The only difference from fanning is that only one hand is needed, because in fanning one hand holds the gun and pulls back the trigger while the other hand knocks back the hammer repeatedly. Slip shooting is a little slower than fanning, but more accurate and practical since only one hand is needed.
Slip guns were used for various types of rapid trick shooting in which the ability to instinctively rapid fire was crucial.
Thumbing has been used to refer to a similar action as fanning except instead of using the opposite hand to pull the hammer while the trigger is depressed, the thumb of the gun hand is used. This would be necessary if firing paired revolvers.
- Tooley 2000, pp. 80–81.
- 2011, Tactical Shooting, pg 14