Going Akimbo: Is It Useful?

Going Akimbo, aka dual wielding, is one of those things movies and TV would have us thinking is super common. One of the best parts of Hot Fuzz is when one character asks another, “Have you ever jumped through the air firing two pistols at one time?” It plays for a laugh because everyone, even non-gun people, knows what dual-wielding is. Today, I want to look at the history of dual-wielding and try to see if movies and video games are on to something. 

What Is Akimbo 

The word Akimbo has an odd definition. According to the dictionary, Akimbo means “with hands on the hips and elbows turned outward.” How that tied to dual wielding, I don’t quite know. The first popularization of the term Akimbo in this sense came from Call of Duty, where it was a multiplayer perk that allowed you to dual-wield guns. 

tow guns in each hand
Going Akimbo seems real, but is it practical?

The term Akimbo caught on and maintains the one word used to describe dual wielding. Enough so that we got a rather odd film called Guns Akimbo. This film features Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe dual-wielding handguns in an underground tournament. He doesn’t have a choice since the guns are essentially drilled into his hand. While COD might have popularized the term dual-wielding, it has been part of pop culture for a very long time. 

Pop Culture Popularity 

Dual wielding goes all the way to legendary warriors like Samurai, using swords and short swords at the same time. In terms of firearms, it can be traced back to the era of Westerns. It was common for a Pistolero to blast away with a pair of six-shooters. The image of a cowboy firing from the hip with two guns is ingrained into the image of the Hollywood cowboy of the 1920s all the way to the 1970s. 

Modern films embrace the art of Akimbo as well. John Woo movies, in particular, are known for characters firing two guns at the same time. Inspector Tequila, for example, famously dual-wields guns. Films like The Matrix famously stuck to the dual-wield formula, going beyond handguns and showing characters running, submachine guns and even some crazy shotguns in a scene. 

aiming two guns
The movies would have you believe this is the best way to shoot handguns.

We mentioned COD, but we can’t forget Max Payne, who also greatly popularized the dual-wielding phenomenon. In Max Payne, you could dual-wield tons of handguns, small submachine guns, and even sawn-off double-barrel shotguns. According to these movies and video games, going akimbo is the way to go. 

That doesn’t mean it’s only famous in pop culture. 

Historical Dual Wielding 

There are plenty of examples of cowboys carrying two guns. Wild Bill, Doc Holliday, and John Wesley Hardin are just a few examples. Most of the time, these men carried two guns not to dual wield but to New York Reload. Revolvers of this era were slow to reload, so having two allowed you to keep fighting after firing six, or more likely, five rounds. 

aiming two guns
Aiming two guns at one-time proves to be difficult.

Although, this doesn’t mean it never happened. John Wesley Hardin, for example, reportedly once drew both his pistols and killed a single man shooting at him. John King Fisher got in a shoot-out with three bandits and according to the story, pulled both guns and killed all three of the men. The legend of a prospector named Jonathan Davis reports that he once killed seven bandits with two revolvers and then another four with a bowie knife. 

It did happen, and you’ll notice it mostly occurred in the times of the American West. One thing to realize about this era is that most shooting was done with one hand anyway, so adding a revolver to a second hand wasn’t too off-the-wall. In the modern era, we shoot with two hands on one gun, so that leads me to ask, is it still a viable technique? 

Akimbo in Real Life 

I can read lots and lots of historical accounts, and I can watch Myth Busters, but that doesn’t mean anything unless I go out there and try it out myself. I started with the only ‘pair’ of guns I have, two Glock 17s. I loaded them up, set up two targets, and tried my best to see if I could control and handle both guns. I started seven yards from both targets in the low ready. 

shooting akimbo
Shooting akimbo is fun, but not exactly accurate or fast.

At the beep of my shot timer, I’d fire each gun at the same time as fast as I could on each target. Obviously, getting two sight pictures wasn’t possible. I aimed with my right gun as best I could and let loose with the second. While I could land shots with my right hand, I was missing or hitting everywhere with my left. Iron sights are somewhat weak at this point, so let’s move to something more modern. 

Seeing Red

I grabbed my Echelon and P320, which both wear red dots. I hit the range once more and found that a red dot does work a hell of a lot better. I could get a sight picture with both dots and shoot the targets. However, it still takes a second to get that simultaneous sight picture and then fire two rounds. I was looking at 2.8 seconds on average to deliver both rounds decently accurately on target from the low ready. While my right-hand group was much tighter, and while my left-hand group was looser, it was still effective. 

red dots on two guns
Red dots make shooting akimbo a lot easier.

To see if there was a better way, I decided to stop firing the guns simultaneously. Instead of getting two sight pictures and firing at the same time, I focused on getting one sight picture at a time and firing one round at a time. At the beep, I went to the ready position but got my right handgun on target and fired, then shifted my eyes to the left gun and got on target and fired. This provided the best accuracy but was still slow, often averaging over three seconds. Even red dots didn’t make a huge difference when it came to going akimbo. 

One Hand 

Just for comparison, I switched to a standard two-handed position and timed myself firing a round into each target. I swapped between the SIG P320 and the Echelon, just to be fair. At the beep, I went from the low ready fired one round in each target. It was fast and I could put two rounds on two targets in 1.2 seconds. More than a full second faster that any of my Akimbo attempts.

shooting one gun
One handed proved more effective than shooting akimbo.

The Final Word of Akimbo 

Duel wielding, or going akimbo, is a silly thing to do in a gunfight. At extremely close range, or when you just want to provide overwhelming firepower for a few seconds, then hey, knock yourself out. In reality, duel-wielding simply doesn’t hold water. It’s harder to aim, you have way less recoil control, and trying to fix malfunctions or conduct reloads is seemingly impossible. 

If you have two guns instead of dual-wielding, consider the New York reload concept. Fire one gun until it runs dry, then grab your other gun instead of reloading. Akimbo looks cool in the movies, and might be fun to try out, but it’s not exactly practical in real life. 


Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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