Guns of Young Guns: Western Pew Pew

Even if you’re a dedicated, big fan of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, odds are good you’re going to love “Young Guns.” The 1988 movie is basically the guilty pleasure of Westerns. This is a show that’s not quite as rough and tumble as other Westerns and might not be exactly on point historically, but who cares? It’s fun, and it includes an enjoyable look at a number of historical characters. Since it’s a Western about some of the younger outlaws in the Wild West, there are plenty of firearms. And firefights. And trick shots. Check out our top five gun list from “Young Guns.” 

Sharps 1874 Cavalry

young guns sharps carbine
The Sharps makes quite a few appearances throughout the movie. (Photo credit:

The Sharps rifle was popular and saw a lot of military use, probably because it was known for accuracy (at least by the era’s technological standards). In “Young Guns” it’s mostly used by Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock. In real life, Doc was a known gunfighter and cowboy and was, of course, well known for his association with Billy the Kid. He was also one of the men who founded the Regulators. There are some fascinating stories about Doc, including one where he was in a gunfight and the guy he was fighting fired first. The bullet went through Doc’s mouth, knocking out teeth, and exited out of his neck. Yes, he survived, and he also ended up winning that gunfight.

In the movie, Doc’s Sharps is used in quite a few gunfights. He even aims it at Billy the Kid himself early on when they first meet, and is seen using it toward the end of the movie when they’re trapped in a house. This rifle is historically accurate for the time. It was designed in 1848 and produced until 1881. The gun was made chambered in a variety of calibers. The longer-barreled rifle variant was favored by soldiers during the Civil War. It makes sense Doc would have one.

Winchester Model 1873

winchester 1873
The Winchester 1873 is practically a must-have in a Western. (Photo credit:

Considering the fact that the Winchester Model 1873 is credited with being the Gun That Won the West, it comes as no surprise it’s seen throughout “Young Guns.” Dick Brewer is one of the characters who wields one, played by Charlie Sheen. In real life, Brewer was the original leader of the Regulators, a gunslinger, and a lawman in Lincoln County. According to historians, Brewer was focused on avenging the death of John Tunstall (watch the movie for an idea of who that is).

The Winchester Model 1873 is a lever-action that gained part of its popularity due to sharing calibers with many revolvers. It was first chambered in 44 Henry, which was a rimfire, and it was then also made in other calibers such as 44-40 Winchester, 38-40 Winchester, and 32-20 Winchester. Today you can get an 1873 from the modern, current production Winchester line of firearms, or you can try to track down an original.

Colt 1877 DA Lightning

billy the kid with revolver in Young Guns
Revolvers in a movie set in the Wild West? Of course! (Photo credit:

If you’ve been waiting for one of the guns used by Billy the Kid, who was played by Emilio Estevez in the movie, you’re in luck. He uses quite a few firearms throughout, but one memorable scene involved the Colt 1877 DA Lightning. Officially, Lightning wasn’t part of the gun’s model designation, but unofficially, it did earn that label. In fact, each of the three calibers the revolver was chambered in had a nickname (Lightning, Thunderer, and Rainmaker). In “Young Guns,” Billy the Kid has his own Lightning, and so does the character Sheriff Brady. Billy gets the sheriff’s own Lightning away from him in one scene, and aims at him, saying “Reap the whirlwind, Brady. Reap it.”

The Colt 1877 was a double-action revolver made in three calibers. The Lightning model was chambered in 38 Long Colt. It was designed by William Mason, who was one of the men behind the creation of the Colt SAA. Historically, this gun was the first double-action revolver to be produced with actual success in the United States. Barrel lengths varied from 2.5 to 7.5 inches.

Side note: Historians say Billy the Kid actually carried the Thunderer model, chambered in 41 Long Colt, and had it on him when he died.

Winchester 1866 Yellow Boy

Yellow Boy in young guns
The Winchester 1866 Yellow Boy shows up as well. (Photo credit:

Jose Chavez y Chavez was played by Lou Diamond Phillips in the movie, and he’s seen with a Winchester 1866 Yellow Boy (among others). Chavez y Chavez was a cowboy turned outlaw, and one of the rare ones who died of old age rather than lead poisoning. Here’s a fascinating excerpt on the life of Chavez y Chavez courtesy of Desert USA:

The story, apocryphal or not, may have led to a job as a lawman, because José became one of three policeman in Old Town, Las Vegas. Unwilling to escape his past, he joined Vincente Silvas’ gang, La Sociedad de Bandidos (Society of Bandits), and Las Gorras Blancas (White Caps), the terrorist arm of El Partido del Pueblo Unido (People’s Party). The White Caps, a Klan-like organization, sought through fence-cutting, arson, and physical assault, to drive settlers from lands that had once been common pasture. The Society of Bandits was a Mafia-like collection of some of the meanest, cruelest men ever assembled in New Mexico. Chavez y Chavez felt right at home.

The Winchester 1866 Yellow Boy used by Chavez y Chavez in “Young Guns” was a logical pick. This rifle was a lever-action that was the founding rifle of the Winchester company. Most were chambered in 44 Henry, the same rimfire the Model 1873 was first produced in, and had shiny brass receivers and polished walnut stocks. Their barrels were also blued. It was and is an eye-catching gun. Although some modern versions have been made, it’s currently considered a past product of Winchester Firearms.

Colt Gatling Gun

gatling gun
Yes, a Gatling Gun is dragged out for the final showdown. (Photo credit:

What do you use against a house full of Regulators? Apparently, the gun of choice is a Colt Gatling Gun and the answer is to dump as many rounds as possible. Overdoing it was definitely the name of the day in “Young Guns.” This is accurate, too, because the Army really did bring a Colt Gatling Gun to try to finish the fight against the Regulators. They also brought along a Howitzer, because why not?

The Colt Gatling Gun was produced with different numbers of barrels and in a few different calibers. It could fire around 800 rounds a minute, so it far outdid other guns of the time. What’s coming next is a total spoiler alert. So, if you don’t know how that final standoff ends, you’ve been warned. Although a Howitzer and Gatling Gun were used against the Regulators, Billy the Kid and some of the others managed to escape.

What do you think the best gun moments were in “Young Guns”? Drop your thoughts in the comments.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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