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.