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Do You Know the Why and How of Calling “Shotgun?”

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Yelling “shotgun” to secure the front passenger seat is a well-known practice, and with many well-known practices its origin is a bit well, more unknown.

Why is the word “shotgun” the key to riding up front?

According to Best Life writer Eric Spitznagel, the word “shotgun” harkens back to the 1880s and ‘90s when financial institutions would employ fierce-looking men to protect the stagecoach transport of valuables or money—these “shotgun messengers” would take their seat on the stagecoach and were instructed to protect the loot at all costs.

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This practice, however, did not spur the term, “riding shotgun,” according to Spitznagel, who cites the earliest reference of the term in an Ogden Examiner article about an impressive shotgun messenger, A.Y. Ross.

According to Spitznagel, the term then made its way to Hollywood, appearing in 20th Century Westerns and cowboy films, but how it became the choice phrase to scream for passengers vying for the front seat of a car? Well—that’s anyone’s guess.

“But, we do know that by 1980, it was a common enough phrase that The (London) Times used it in a story without explanation, writing ‘It was quite by chance that The Times found itself riding shotgun for the Red Army,’” reported Spitznagel.

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So, although the why of calling shotgun remains a bit muddy, the how is pretty clear according to experts at

“The Standard Rules”

  • You must say the word “shotgun.”
  • The deed (activity prior to the car ride) must be finished before shotgun may be called.
  • You must be outside to call shotgun and someone needs to be there to hear you.
  • If you break a rule while calling shotgun, you may be “voided” from attaining shotgun privileges for that ride.
  • Shotgun may be called for one ride, one final destination where the agreed-upon deed (activity) is complete.

(For a complete list of ancillary rules and exceptions, visit

“Calling Shotgun may seem like fun and games, but just like in the days of covered wagons, there are serious responsibilities that come with the sacred privilege of occupying this seat. Although Shotgun riders typically no longer carry real shotguns (except in Texas and On Base), it is still their responsibility to help protect the other passengers from harm,” stated the experts at

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