Retro Cowboy Cool: Sam Elliott’s Iconic Firearms

We all know his gravelly baritone voice and his iconic mustache. I grew up watching him acting in Louis L’Amour Westerns and other war movies. To me, Sam Elliott embodies a classic man’s man persona, whether real or manufactured, that draws me to a lot of his body of work.

From campy classics like “Road House” and the narrator in “The Big Lebowski”, to more serious films like “We Were Soldiers” and “Tombstone,” and even on the small screen with “The Ranch” and “1883,” Sam Elliott brings a presence to the screen that draws you in. A lot of his works have been in the military or Western genres, so he looks like a natural with many different firearms, showing proficiency across different platforms. Now, whether that’s from personal experience or good on-set training, you can’t be entirely sure. But he reportedly owns at least a few firearms himself.

Let’s take a gander at some of my favorite Sam Elliott firearm moments, shall we?

Sam Elliott with Winchester 1894 in "Thank You For Smoking"
Elliott, as Lorne Lutch, in “Thank You For Smoking” on the porch of his ranch house holding a Winchester 1894 lever-action rifle. The rifle is reportedly Elliott’s personal rifle. [Photo: Searchlight Pictures]

Thank You For Not Smoking

This is one of my favorite entrances of Sam Elliott on screen. The movie centers around Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for Big Tobacco. The satirical comedy features Naylor as a fast-talking man who can convince anyone to do what he wants. We meet Elliott as the character Lorne Lutch, the Marlboro Man from the 1970s, who is battling cancer caused by all the cigarettes he smoked. Naylor visits his ranch and is met with Lutch pointing a rifle at his face when he steps out of his car. The rifle, a Winchester 1894, is a beauty.

The Winchester 1894 is a lever-action repeating rifle designed by the godfather of firearms, John Browning. The rifle was in production for over 100 years in total across producers and would ultimately sell over 7 million models. The Winchester 1894 was the first modern commercial rifle developed to be used with smokeless powder. It was powerful, lightweight, quick-shooting, and easy to carry, all of which made it an extremely popular hunting rifle. Reportedly, the Winchester 1894 rifle seen in “Thank You for Smoking” was from Sam Elliott’s personal collection by the actor to give the character his flare. Point achieved, I’d say.

Sam Elliott holding M1911 in "We Were Soldiers"
In his role in “We Were Soldiers”, Elliott played Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley, who preferred his .45 ACP Colt M1911 pistol to an M16 rifle. [Photo: Paramount]

We Were Soldiers

Based on the book by General Hal Moore, the movie documents the first major battle between the US forces and Viet Cong forces in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. The movie shows a multitude of firearms from the period used by all military forces in Vietnam. Elliott portrays Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley. The man preferred to use a sidearm rather than the M16, so he is always seen with the Colt M1911 pistol.

The Colt M1911 pistol, designed by none other than John Browning, is a single-action semi-automatic pistol chambered in .45 ACP. It was originally designed in 1911, as the name implies, and would see a few updates over the years. Adopted by the military starting in 1913 by the Navy and Marine Corps.

The pistol would see occasional updates, like the one that happened after the pistol was used in WWI. In the mid-1920s, the M1911A1 would be released with a shorter trigger, a longer grip safety spur, and simplified grip stippling. The Colt M1911 pistol would continue to be used by the US Military forces into the 1980s when it was replaced by the 9mm Beretta M9 pistol.


Ok, I know Elliott’s part in this film is small compared to other characters, but I have a special place in my heart for this one. The movie is based on the historical fiction novel, The Killers Angels, which documents the men and action during the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War and is one of my all-time favorite books. Yes, I know it’s a work of fiction when it comes to dialogue, but it helps make the men and their actions very real.

In the film, Elliott is seen with a Colt 1860 Army revolver, designed by Samuel Colt. The revolver was produced by Colt between 1860 and 1873 and was used as a sidearm by cavalry, infantry, and artillery forces. The .44-caliber Colt Army 1860 held six shots with a single-action function and was said to be accurate from 75 up to 100 yards. I had a fixed sight on the front of the barrel and the rear sight was mounted on the hammer but was only usable when the revolver was cocked. During the production period of the revolver, more than 200,000 were made, with over 125,000 of the guns being sent to the United States Government.

Sam Elliott in "The Quick and The Dead" with Winchester 1873 rifle
Sam Elliott can be seen using a Winchester 1873 lever-action rifle in Louis L’Amour’s “The Quick and The Dead” movie. The Winchester 1873 rifle is a Western staple. [Photo: HBO]

The Quick and The Dead

Don’t confuse this with the mid-1990s film with Sharon Stone, this is the late 1980s film based on the Louis L’Amour novel in which Con Vallian, played by Sam Elliott, becomes friends with a young family heading West. During the film, he helps to protect them from a gang of outlaws that the father of the family inadvertently offended. During the made-for-TV film, Elliott is seen with a few firearms, like a Single Action Army revolver and a Winchester Model 1873 rifle.

The Winchester Model 1873 rifle was a lever-action weapon, often called the “Gun that Won the West”, or at least one of them. It was one of the most produced and used rifles with almost three-quarters of a million units produced between 1873 and 1923. The rifle was available in a few different calibers and reportedly would be used as part of Browning’s automatic rifle prototype.

Sam Elliott seen with S&W New Model No. 3 revolver in "Tombstone"
In “Tombstone”, Elliott portrayed Virgil Earp and could be seen with different firearms during the film. Firearms like the Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 with nickel finish and pearl grips. [Photo credit: Buena Vista]


The 1993 western film follows the lives of the Earp brothers as they all converge on the Arizona boomtown of Tombstone, the shootout at the OK Corral, and the aftermath of the encounter. In the film, Elliott plays Virgil, the eldest Earp, and is seen with a few firearms during the film like a Single-Action Army revolver, a Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver, and a Meteor 10-gauge shotgun.

The Smith & Wesson New Model 3 revolver with a nickel finish and pearl grips is seen often in the movie. Produced starting in 1878, the New Model No. 3 revolver was a single-action top-break revolver that was smaller and lighter than the previous models. According to historians, it was a popular option on the frontier, just behind the Colt Single-Action Army revolver. It was available in a whole myriad of calibers, as was a standard thing for the weapons of the day. It weighed right around 3 pounds and could hold 6 shots at a time.

The Meteor 10-gauge shotgun was a double-barreled Belgian-made firearm that was seen as a cheaper version of American or English shotguns. In the film, it’s referred to as the street howitzer, given to the fact of the power behind the 10-gauge and the speed at which the user could fire off both barrels. It was said to be both powerful and accurate in a fight, which would prove handy for the frontier towns.

…And Many More

Sam Elliott in "1883" with Single Action Army revolver
Honorable mention for firearms and Sam Elliott goes to his role in the “Yellowstone” prequel “1883”. During the show, Elliott is often seen with the Colt Single Action Army revolver. [Photo credit: Paramount]
There is way more that can be said or discussed when it comes to Sam Elliott, his films, and the firearms that are seen within his films. Honorable mention would go to his turn at Shea Brennan in “1883” with more classic firearms used, but I recently covered the firearms of that show in a different write-up. To me, you can’t go wrong wherever you have Sam Elliott and firearms together.

Patti Miller is one of the most awesome females in the tactical/firearm (or any) industry. Imagine a tall, hawt, dangerous Laura Ingalls Wilder type with cool hair and a suppressed blaster and you'll be getting the idea. What's interesting is that in addition to being a willing brawler and intrepid adventuress, she's also an Ent/Ogier level gardener and a truly badass baker.

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