Ripple background

Studying the firearms that have been possessed by Western soldiers, farmers, hunters, mountain men and pioneers as well as legendary personalities like Buffalo Bill Cody can be instructive for students of history like myself.

Some firearms are almost romantic in their artistry, like Buffalo Bill Cody’s Winchester 1873 lever-action rifle that features engravings of a standing buffalo on one side and Buffalo Bill Cody on horseback chasing a running buffalo on the other. Some firearms are clunky. Some are downright terrifying.

Firearms-Inspired Western Colloquialisms

Buffalo Bill Cody was often photographed and depicted with firearms.

There are several places in Cody Yellowstone for visitors to learn more about the history of firearms and their impact on our lives. The Cody Firearms Experience lets visitors shoot replica guns at a high-tech indoor shooting range under the instruction of experienced staff. The Cody Dug Up Firearms Museum features an extensive exhibit of guns that have been unearthed from battlegrounds, farms, fields and other locations around the world. One of the best places to go for a comprehensive understanding of the impact of firearms is the Cody Firearms Museum, one of five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The museum traces the evolution of firearms, offering insights on the technological advances and artistic interpretations that make the subject so very fascinating.

Firearms-Inspired Western Colloquialisms 1

The Cody Firearms Experience also offers a laser arcade for visitors to test their sharpshooting skills.

The Cody Firearms Museum is undergoing a huge renovation that will enhance the interpretive offerings of this celebrated museum. Scheduled to open next July, I can hardly wait to see how curators will showcase the museum’s collection of thousands of firearms.

Until then, here’s a fun way to learn more about the impact of firearms on our history. Cody Firearms Museum has provided this entertaining list of firearms-related colloquialisms that have made their way into the English language. Each lists the weapons-related definition (a) and the second line (b) is the modern-day meaning.  I use these sayings all the time. How about you?

Firearms-Inspired Western Colloquialisms 2

From “straight-shooter” to “long shot,” firearms inspired colloquialisms have added color and interest to the English language.

Armed to the teeth:

  1. Heavily-armed person or persons.
  2. Well-supplied with information or equipment.

Bite the bullet:

  1. Prior to modern medical care, a wounded person was given a lead bullet to bite down on while undergoing surgery to lessen the pain.
  2. To do something unpleasant in order to get it out of the way.

Flash in the pan:

  1. When a flintlock’s priming pan powder burns or “flashes,” but fails to ignite the main powder charge in the barrel.
  2. A person who claims great skills or achievements but accomplishes nothing.

Going off half-cocked:

  1. Placing the hammer of a firearm on a halfway position so that it is unable to be fired.
  2. Thoughtless or hasty behavior.

Gunning for someone:

  1. Searching for someone to shoot.
  2. Aggressively going after someone.


  1. Frightened by the shooting of a firearm.
  2. A timid person or animal.

Keep your powder dry:

  1. Making sure that one’s black powder does not get wet, rendering it unable to be fired.
  2. A request to be careful.

Lock, stock, and barrel:

  1. The basic components of a firearm.
  2. An activity or assembly of parts that is complete.

Long shot:

  1. Long-distance shooting.
  2. An attempt or action that has little chance of success.

Parting shot:

  1. The last discharge of a firearm, generally as you are escaping or leaving an area.
  2. Final remarks, usually obliquely insulting.

Riding Shotgun:

  1. Position taken by an armed guard on an express wagon or coach.
  2. Riding in the front passenger seat of an automobile.

Shoot from the hip:

  1. Quickly firing a pistol without aiming.
  2. A rash statement or behavior.

Straight shooter:

  1. An accurate firearm or marksman.
  2. An honest, trustworthy person.

Until next time, I’m shooting straight and loving life here in Cody Yellowstone Country.