It was incongruous. There, sitting on an overturned 10-foot boat in the deepest wilds of Alaska, was Bob Munden, who swears he is the fastest man ever to draw a gun. Fast draw, he says, "is the only sport in the world that functions at under one second at all times." But at the that moment, fast counted for nothing and slow counted for everything. Munden was waiting for a bear. Waiting. The seconds slowly turned into minutes, the minutes turned glacially into hours, and the hours simply refused to pass. People who don't believe that time can stand still should come bear hunting in Alaska. Only a loon on the lake put an occasional sound into the silence. It doesn't get much slower—or quieter—than this.
Which made it the perfect counterpoint to the normal racket that surrounds Munden, created in part by the repeated high-speed crack of guns—especially his single-action Colt .45—but principally by his mouth.
At exhibitions in Wasilla, 30 miles from Anchorage, Munden's wife, Becky, had repeatedly introduced him as "holder of all world records in fast draw since 1960." Well, no. He holds no official world records. One man who does is world traditional fast-draw champ Bob Arganbright of Wood River, Ill. Says Arganbright, "There is no man alive as good or as fast as Bob Munden tells you he is. Anyway, at no time did he ever hold all the world records."
Says Munden, "Yes, I did."
Another doubter, Ernie Hill, 33, of Litchfield Park, Ariz., is in fact the world-record holder for fast draw, with a time of .208 of a second, squeezed off in 1982 in Fort Worth. He is apoplectic in his criticism of Munden: "None of his claims are true. He was never the world champ at anything."
The problem is exacerbated because fast-draw records are at best spotty. Dick Plum, chairman of the World Fast-Draw Association, in Tiston, Calif. says that Munden never held all the records—likely, not any of them—and certainly holds none now.
Still, Munden tells people that documentation for his fast-draw feats is in the Guinness Book of World Records. They are...if you can find the 1980 edition. And at that, Guinness hedges its bets on page 625: "Bob Munden, well-known claimant to the title of 'World's Fastest Gun'...." Guinness omits the entry in subsequent editions. Bill Jordan, a magazine writer on the sport, says of Munden, "He does recommend himself highly. But I am not impressed."
Munden, 47, who lives in Butte, Mont., was asked how many shows he did in the past year. "About 40," he says. When even Becky raised her eyebrows at that, Munden reduced the number to 36. In fact, he did 24 last year, 21 the year before. "Basically, I'm doing shows every weekend," he says. Basically, he's not. During a three-day appearance at Nye Frontier Ford in Wasilla, Munden boasted, "Nye sold more cars on Friday when I was there than they did in the previous four months." No. In fact, Nye sold 16 vehicles on that particular Friday; over the previous four months, general manager Rocky Spear says, Nye sold about 500 vehicles—but 16 still is about four times the daily average, and you will not hear Spear complaining. Munden claims to have won 3,500 fast-draw trophies, 2,200 of them first-prize awards; nobody in the sport believes that one, and Munden says he doesn't know where all those trophies are now. To his credit, however, Munden frequently says, "Bull makes the world go around."
But above all there is the suspicion surrounding The Shot that Munden says—trust the source—makes him the World's Fastest Gun. It occurred in Arcadia, Calif., at Huntington Ford on June 4, 1972. Right off the bat, that ought to be suspect: Who believes anything heard at a car dealership? Anyway, Munden says that he touched off The Shot in the walk-and-draw-level competition, in .15 of a second—"the fastest shot ever," he swears. Hill says flatly, "It never happened. Period." Hill says it takes .16 simply to react to the timer before any drawing, aiming and shooting. In Munden's home there's a trophy that commemorates The Shot. The engraving reads: ALL TIME WORLD RECORD INTERNATIONAL FAST GUN LEAGUE. Arganbright says, "The sport does not recognize the International Fast Gun League. It was organized by Bob [Munden], run by him, and he holds all the records. It is not kosher." So whom do you believe, Munden's report on what happened out amidst the Mustangs and Fairlanes or virtually everyone else in the sport?
So messed up is the sport that no one is sure exactly when—sometime in the early '60s—all its records were lost. Yes, lost. Just like car keys. And so the decision was made to start establishing world records all over again. It's Munden's assertion that he was holder of the lost records: "Just because we don't have written proof does not mean that they did not happen." However, no source is willing to verify Munden's claims. In the late '60s and early '70s, the records subsequently set after the loss were "retired" because of the switch from using mechanical timers, which recorded in hundredths of a second, to digital timers, which can time a draw in thousandths of a second. Times were substantially faster and far more erratic under the mechanical timing method—which is how The Shot was recorded.
One of Munden's defenders is John LaPaille, a millwright from Riverside. Calif., and former vice-president of the International Fast Gun League. "People couldn't beat him, so they tried to cheat him out of it," says LaPaille.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Munden seldom competes in tournaments. He thinks, but is not sure, that his last major single-action fast-draw win was in a match in Southern California in 1972. Regardless, he insists he would win if he did enter tournaments. The reason he doesn't, he says, is not that he fears being outdrawn, but that he is furious over the use of "funny guns"—specially made firearms that have aluminum barrels and cylinders, which make for lighter weight, and cutaway holsters, which make the draw easier. Cameron Hopkins, editor of American Handgunner magazine, recalls a major tournament in 1985 that Munden entered and "did pretty horribly" in. That probably is unduly harsh; even Hill admits that Munden has done well in some of the tournaments he has entered. What we are dealing with seems to be a man with a heightened sense of reality.
A woman approaches Munden at one of his Wasilla shows (he did nine 20-minute shows over three days) and asks, "I was wondering how many times you've shot yourself." "None, ma'am," says Munden sharply and defiantly. In truth, shooting blanks at the U.S. Fast Gun Championships in 1963 at the Paso Robles (Calif.) County Fair, Munden thought he had failed to cock his Colt and went for the hammer again. He had cocked it, and the gun went off, blasting his left hand, which required 8½ hours of surgery to make it whole again. Here's the problem: There is something macho about having been shot with the most legendary gun in the nation's history and having survived it; and yet there is something about being such a pro with a gun that shooting yourself with it just couldn't happen.
Ironically, Munden is damned good, if not as good as he professes to be. At a live-ammo shooting range near his Butte home, Munden tosses a six of hearts into the air, draws and splits it—edgewise—at 10 yards on the first try. An ace of hearts incurs a similar fate. Munden tips back his cowboy hat, spits in the dirt and says, "I can shoot a gun. I'm just good at what I do. It's wide-open speed, beyond vision. I can do things so elaborate that people don't believe them. A magician gives the illusion he is doing something that he's not. What I do with speed gives the illusion it's not being done, but it is. People think, I don't know how you did it, but you didn't do it." With that, he fires a round, ejects the casing, then fires and hits the casing before it hits the ground. Try it.
What has happened is that Munden has been traveling around the country swearing that he is the World's Fastest Gun for some 17 years, and because he is a terrific self-promoter, people tend to believe it. He clearly operates on the principle that if he says it often enough and loud enough, it's true. And it works, to the extent that he is the only fast-draw artist—two decades ago, there were some 45,000 fast-draw shooters; today there are about 500—making a living at the sport. Hill, for instance, manufactures holsters. Arganbright is a computer-systems manager for the Department of Defense.
Munden is also slick and shrewd, and he counters any inference that he is not the fastest by suggesting that any challenger compete against him—in his show. Fat chance. Munden would almost certainly demand a "self-start" competition, in which the shooter pushes a button to activate a timer before he starts the draw. That method has been discredited because it's too easy for competitors to cheat by not pushing the button until they are as much as two thirds through the draw.
Still, Munden is the perfect guy to carry the banner of fast draw and the old West. That's because, he cheerfully concedes, "fast draw is fiction. There was no such thing. The way they took care of fast-draws like me was to shoot them in the back." So what has happened is that Munden has taken the Wild West legends—built on the mythical exploits of Bat Masterson, Marshal Dillon and a bunch of real and fictional characters—and portrayed them as something that did happen. Television does the same thing. Munden caps it all off by saying he's the best at it.
But you have to hand it to Munden. He will, he says, make $100,000 this year doing shows, selling videotapes and repairing guns. If he earns as much as a hundred thousand bucks—and that is between him and the IRS—then it seems odd that a friend would admit he had to lend Munden $10,000 for living expenses.
Munden gets car dealerships to pay him from $2,000 to $4,000 to appear for them. He is a proven attraction, if perhaps not the fastest with a pistol. The dealers don't care if he's the world's fastest gun so long as their salesmen get plenty of prospects to latch onto. A perfect example of Munden's appeal was the show in Wasilla, at which Spear was ecstatic, estimating that Munden had brought in 2,000 people over the weekend, a big improvement over normal showroom traffic of 200. "Munden is what Alaska is all about," said Spear. "The last frontier. Everyone has got a little bit of cowboy in them. This is the most successful show we've ever had. I'll throw anything against the wall, and if it sticks, I'll use it." Munden definitely sticks. For the month, Spear estimated that Munden was responsible for the sales of at least an additional 35 vehicles, and over several months, as slow buyers came back, at least 100 more cars than the norm.
"I spent $3,500 for Munden," said Spear. "He draws far better than George Foreman and much better than the four Seahawks we had up here." As Spear rhapsodized, Munden was doing some selling on his own, telling the crowd that he had only "a few, maybe five or 10 more" of his videotapes, at $49.95 a copy, left. At his feet were piles of tapes.
There's a lot of chatter on the back of the flatbed that serves as Munden's stage. In fact, a Munden show consists of a lot more yammering than shooting. Bob fires 12 to 15 rounds in a show. Becky shoots one. But the act gives the crowd something to titter about as well as to marvel at. There are a lot of old jokes: Becky says, "Bob likes to speed things up. I found that out on our first date"; Bob hoots at the idea of a cowboy jumping off a hotel balcony onto a horse, saying that if that horse moves, well, "any cowboy that has had that happen talks really funny and don't walk too good either." Even when things go awry, Munden has a patter to please the crowd. In the climax of the show, he draws, cocks, fires, then cocks and fires again—it all sounds like a single shot. At one show, he messed up but laughed it off: "I didn't tell you I was perfect. Just the best there is."
Life has been a hardscrabble existence for Munden. To hear him tell it, Job had a comparative walk in the park. To wit, he was born in Kansas City, Mo.; spent some 3½ years in Colorado Springs, where his father was hospitalized after being wounded by machine gun fire in World War II; then moved along to California. At age five, he got his first gun, a .22 rifle. He was hooked. By sixth grade, he was the California State Marbles Champion, winning, he says, 8,000 marbles. About the same time, he says, he won a kite-flying contest. For that, he got a nine month's supply of ice cream. When he was 11, he entered his first fast-draw tournament. "I didn't win," says Munden in a stunning confession.
Munden attended Mount San Antonio College, in Walnut, Calif., briefly, then wandered around, shooting at tournaments every weekend and picking up pocket money doing dry wall installation, welding, carpet laying, house framing, and machine-shop and gun-shop work. He married Becky in 1964, when he had nothing, which he parlayed into less.
In 1965, they moved to San Luis Obispo, Calif., where they spent $50 to rent a motel room for a month, $9 to fill the car's gas tank, and were left with nothing in this world but $3.75. "I had to feed my family, so I spent that money on a slingshot and marbles," he says. So armed, he killed quail and rabbits to feed his pregnant wife and baby daughter. The hardest thing was finding the marbles to use again, because he couldn't afford to buy any new ones. At least things couldn't get worse.
They did. He got a job in a tallow factory, which was indescribably awful, and then, moving to the other end of the spectrum, he worked with the SPCA. He later got a job as a janitor but was fired. Things couldn't get worse.
They did. The Mundens moved to a turkey ranch, where they lived in coops with the turkeys—and mice. Things couldn't get worse.
They did. They sold their meager possessions, including a guinea pig, for $500, and went to Las Vegas—"We figured that was where the money was"—where he worked as a security guard. Then to Big Bear Lake, Calif., where Munden was hired—and soon fired—as a cable-TV installer. Then on to Bishop, Calif. where he made $200 a week hauling trash. Things couldn't get worse.
And lo and behold, they didn't.
Munden learned about the National School Assemblies program, and he joined it, from 1969 to '71, doing fast-draw shows for gawking students for $300 a week. He soon discovered he could book himself at car dealerships for $500—and a career was born.
He estimates he has done hundreds of thousands of fast-draw shows. Along the way, as you no doubt suspect, there have been more setbacks, including an ill-fated Bob Munden Firearms Academy. But in 1978, after more disappointments in New Jersey, the Mundens decided to put everything they owned in a U-Haul and move to Montana. Friends advanced money to get them a house, and over the years, hard feelings have ensued over the repayment of the debt. But Bob still has his house.
And his arrogance. "I was an s.o.b. in fast draw because I came to win," says Munden. "My attitude doesn't sound very humble. I don't shake hands with a guy after I beat him. What am I supposed to say? I'm sorry? I'm not sorry. Better luck next time? I don't want him to have that, either. So I don't say anything. All I ever wanted was to be top dude. But where do you go from the top? I tell everybody that no matter how fast you shoot, I will shoot faster. I am your better, and you'll have to learn to live with that."
Or at least with hearing about it.
At an abandoned gold mine in Alaska, Munden keeps himself in fast-drawing form.
Munden can toss a playing card in the air, draw his Colt .45 and riddle the target.
Munden's claimed best—and the cause of dispute—was a .15-second draw in 1972.
As the decor of his Butte home shows, Munden shoots at more than inanimate targets.
Becky and Bob return to the Big Sky Country between fast-draw bookings.