WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter I


PISTOL shooting was originally confined to the military and naval services, to that necessary for personal protection, and to the long countenanced practice of duelling.

The first weapons that rightly belong in the category of pistols were the crude cumbersome muzzle-loading matchlocks invented about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and their improved and immediate successors, the more efficient wheellocks. The wheellock dispensed with the inconvenient glowing match for igniting the priming charge and substituted therefor a lock so constructed that, by releasing a tightly wound spring, a notched steel disc or wheel was revolved at high speed against a stationary flint thereby producing a stream of sparks in the flashpan. Because of their size, these weapons were convenient only for mounted men and soon became generally known as horse or holster pistols.

Authorities differ as to the birthplace of the pistol and the origin of the name given the weapon. It is claimed to be so-called because its caliber was that of the coin known as the “Pistole.” Some maintain that it was named after Pistoja, Italy, and others that it derives its name from the word “pistallo” which means pommel. Caminellio Vitelli is generally credited with having made the first model at Pistoja in 1540, but this is disputed on the grounds that there were weapons of this type made previous to that date at Perugia, Italy, and elsewhere.

The value of the pistol for military purposes was appreciated soon after its invention. As early as 1550 the pistol was adopted for the French cavalry. It has always been well adapted to mounted service.

The invention of the flintlock about 1630 increased the dependability of small arms and made practicable the manufacture of pocket pistols in addition to increasing the output of the heavier Horse and Navy pistols. Weapons with this type of lock remained in use for over two centuries, and long after the invention of the percussion cap system of ignition in 1807.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century when the small sword gave place to the pistol as a more equitable means of settling affairs of honor, the dueling pistol was perfected. This marked the first real strides in pistol shooting. During this period great impetus was given to gunsmithing by the demand for suitable pistols for this form of practice. This resulted in the manufacture of more accurate weapons and the development of better shooting. Pistol dueling became so firmly established in continental Europe that when it finally met with public disapproval and was largely discontinued, substitutes in the form of target practice at silhouette targets and duelling with wax bullets, was adopted by men interested in the sport of pistol shooting. These forms of practice are still followed to some extent in France today.

To the pistol enthusiasts of Europe we are also indebted for that highly refined form of practice known as “free pistol” shooting which is much in vogue today among pistol men of many nations, who are organized under the International Shooting Union. The International style of shooting is rapidly gaining favor in our country, increased no doubt by the several defeats administered to our teams in International Matches in recent years.

American pistol shooting began in colonial days with the introduction of European hand guns into the several colonies and the developments in the practice of dueling. Since that historic day on Lexington Green when the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired from a Highland pistol by Major Pitcairn of the British Regulars, the pistol, and its contemporary arm, the rifle, have played an important rôle in the history, growth and development of our country. The pistol and revolver have also played a most unfortunate part in our national affairs and has been the cause of many ineffectual laws to control its unlawful use, and even its manufacture, sale and possession. The famous pistol duel that was the cause of the death of Alexander Hamilton at a time when the services of that brilliant statesman could ill be spared by his country, as well as the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley were deplorable examples of the misuse of pistols. When events of this nature are combined with the ruthless and despicable murders by gangs of bandits and gunmen in our large centers of population, it is not surprising that pistol shooting as a sport is condemned by many unthinking persons who do not appreciate that it has some benefits.

American literature is interwoven with innumerable thrilling tales of travel, romance and adventure, in which the skillful use of pistols is exploited, and while much is fiction based on ignorance of the capabilities and limitations of weapons, these exciting stories are the results of the tremendous sale and use of pistols and revolvers during the expansion of our frontiers, the waging of Indian wars, the settlement of our western territories and the establishment of our social code in what was popularly known as the “Wild West.” In addition to the use of pistols by our pioneers, our Army and Navy has always believed in the use of these weapons as side arms for our armed forces. The advantages of having a weapon that is instantly available for sudden emergencies has always been appreciated by our mounted services and they have always been equipped with the best available revolvers and pistols. These were especially useful during the Mexican, Civil, Indian and Philippine Wars because of the kind of warfare, the nature of the terrain, and the large proportion of mounted troops employed. Even today our Infantry divisions and field armies have a much greater preponderance of pistols than rifles in their tables of organization, and considerable emphasis has been placed on Pistol Marksmanship by the War Department. Our Navy and Marine Corps both use the same excellent automatic pistol that has been adopted by the Army as the official side arm. From 1799 to 1828 over fifty thousand flintlock Horse and Navy pistols were made for our Army and Navy by Simeon North of Berlin, Conn., first official pistol maker for our government. To North’s has been added the famous names of Colt, Remington, Browning, and Smith and Wesson as the inventors or manufacturers of the celebrated pistols and revolvers with which our military and naval forces have been armed.

The use of the pistol and revolver by police and constabulary officers is of importance second only to that of their use by military personnel. The revolver has long been the chief arm of reliance of law enforcement officers. The automatic pistol is now being adopted for the same purpose. United States Marshals, County Sheriffs, State Constabularies and municipal police officers have been armed with hand guns since they became practical. Skill in their use by such officials has always been in accordance with the demand and necessity for marksmanship, good, poor or indifferent.

Within the last ten years there has been a decided increase in pistol practices on the part of municipal and other police forces. Whether or not this is due to the increased activities of gunmen, bandits, hijackers and bootleggers, or to the realization that a straight shooting police force which shoots to kill is much more efficient than one composed of poor pistol marksmen cannot be definitely stated. It is apparent in some places, however, that the necessity of checking the increasing “hold-ups,” robberies and homicides by more drastic methods than those that have failed in the past, has resulted in many of our large city governments installing pistol ranges, appointing competent instructors, and requiring of their police a certain standard of marksmanship with the pistol. New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles, Toledo, and Portland, Oregon, have made great headway in properly arming, instructing and training their police forces, and the moral effect of this intensive work on the criminal element has been quite noticeable and well worth the efforts and expense involved.

Aside from its use in self defense, home defense, for the enforcement of laws, or for military purposes, the pistol has been the means of providing a beneficial form of recreation. Pistol target shooting has been practiced with much profit and pleasure for many years and interest in it has always been retained by those, who as the result of the development of skill in the art, have become pistol enthusiasts. Once a pistol shot, always a pistol shot, is a familiar slogan among devotees of the art of pistol shooting.

State laws, passed for the avowed purpose of reducing crime, often restrict the manufacture and sale of pistols suitable for home and personal defense and even those adapted to recreation or military shooting. These laws are generally ineffectual and more harmful to our country and to Americans than their advocates realize. The criminal will never be without suitable weapons for the commission of crime, whether they be knives, pistols, blackjacks, machine guns, or what not, no matter how drastic the laws forbidding their possession. Unreasonable, poorly conceived laws which may prevent law-abiding citizens from possessing suitable weapons with which to protect themselves, their homes, and their property from highwaymen, burglars and reckless hoodlums not only work injustice to good citizens but indirectly aid and abet the criminal. Any sensible law which tends to put all possible obstacles in the way of undesirable gentry securing and carrying pistols and at the same time makes it possible for reputable persons to possess and use these weapons for proper personal or property protection, for training for national defense, and in the pursuit of happiness in healthful recreation will always receive the support of right thinking people and particularly those who follow pistol shooting as a sport and pastime.

The popularity of target shooting has increased with the improvements in the accuracy of pistols. Whereas fifty years ago certain favorite frontier models were most popular, nowadays the civilian pistol shot’s fancy turns to the more accurate small caliber revolvers, “automatics,” and single shot pistols. The methods of firing have also changed and the skill of the practical frontiersman in quick drawing, gun pointing and snap shooting has given way very largely to modern super accurate deliberate fire and to well coördinated rapid and timed fire. This shooting now consists of firing a group of shots within short time limits at disappearing or bobbing targets.

A certain group of enthusiasts still prefer the practice of bygone days and they get much pleasure and very practical training out of practicing quick drawing and snap shooting, at moving targets. Regardless of a tendency to overrate skill of our pioneer pistol shots, credit must be given to the experts of that period for the cleverness they developed with the ammunition and arms then available. They deserve a place in the hall of fame for their mastery of the art of pistol shooting as practiced at that time, for they pointed the way to a new sport, in which we as followers thereof now derive much pleasure and profit. The names of Travers, Cody, Hickok, Paine and others will always be to pistol shots as inspiring as the names of Boone and Crockett are to riflemen.