AERIAL PRACTICE - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter X


THERE is nothing magical or especially difficult about hitting objects in the air, providing one does not attempt the impossible by trying to perform feats that rightly belong in the field of shotgun shooting, or in the cleverly faked performances of the “movie” pistol shots. It is much easier to hit a moving target with a charge of shot, or with a rifle bullet than it is with one from a pistol. After the sights of a rifle have been aligned, this line of aim can be maintained by holding one’s cheek firmly against the stock. The rifle barrel may then be swung until the line of aim becomes coincident with the aiming point of the moving target. This procedure is not as practicable with a pistol and consequently the same degree of accuracy cannot be expected as with a rifle. Nevertheless, one who has become moderately expert at rapid and quick firing using binocular aiming, and who has normal co-ordination should, with intelligent practice, soon develop skill in this fascinating and spectacular game. The habitual deliberate fire shot who lacks the faculty of rapid co-ordination in aiming and squeezing the trigger will probably have great difficulty in gaining even moderate skill at aerial shooting and had better stick to his specialty.

Discouragement followed by failure in this kind of shooting is usually due to three things, namely, lack of proper instruction, flinching, and practice at targets too difficult for the beginner. The novice at aerial practice should not expect to hit pennies tossed in the air or tin cans thrown rapidly across the field of fire. He should not attempt to fire more than a single shot during the flight of one target and it should be by single action, if a revolver is used. When he can hit easy targets with regularity and has acquired the knack of gun pointing with ease and smoothness, then he can take up the more difficult work with confidence.

There are three important factors that materially affect one’s success in aerial practice. They are: (a) The fit and balance of the pistol. (b) The method of pointing and aiming employed. (c) The manner of throwing the targets.

A well fitted and nicely balanced pistol is more essential for aerial shooting than for any other kind of pistol practice with the possible exception of defensive firing in the dark.

The gun selected for the work may be either a revolver or an automatic, but like a shotgun used for shooting in thick cover, it must be capable of being pointed easily, accurately, and naturally. Such a pistol is one, which when held with a proper grip in a normal shooting position, will point naturally at the target with same degree of accuracy that one can point his index finger. Hand guns with a natural tendency to point high or low when properly held should be avoided for they are not well adapted to the gun pointing required in aerial work.

While it is possible to do good work with a gun that does not possess all the desirable attributes, the novice will make better progress if he selects a pistol that possesses as many of them as possible. He will find that a nicely balanced weapon of thirty-eight or smaller caliber, which fits his hand properly, weighs about two pounds, has a six inch barrel, and a clean, “sweet” trigger pull of not more than four pounds will probably give him the best results.


Scoring on an ink bottle.

Aiming and Pointing are two different means for accomplishing the same purpose. They may be defined as the methods of giving direction to a gun with or without the use of sights, respectively,—that is we aim a weapon by aligning the master eye with the sights and the aiming point; we point a gun by natural instinct or habit without looking along the sights. If a pistol is aimed the line of sight is nearly parallel with the axis of the barrel whereas in pointing the angle between the line of sight and the axis of the barrel may be quite large, as for example when one shoots from the hip.

Among the first questions asked by a person beginning aerial practice is,—“Does one actually aim when shooting objects in the air?” The answer is “Yes,” with certain exceptions to the rule. One celebrated exhibition shot says he aims every shot he fires at aerial targets. Inasmuch as he holds several records at this style of shooting a novice will not go wrong by following the example. It has been, however, the experience of the author that for relatively large targets a few feet from the muzzle, that a pistol may be pointed accurately enough without consciously aligning the sights with the eye. The natural instinct of a person to point accurately with the index finger combined with moderate practice in pistol pointing will enable one to do this quite satisfactorily if he has a well fitted and balanced pistol. Firing by pointing is the method used by some experienced shots when they wish to hit a large object in the air several times before it reaches a difficult range or falls to the ground.

The novice should try to align his sights for each shot and his success will be in accordance with his ability to catch his aim quickly and to fire the instant he does so. This requires training in pointing the pistol with fast, smooth movements and in squeezing the trigger rapidly without jerking it. Proper co-ordination can be developed by regular snapping practice at moving targets without using ammunition.

More uniformly accurate pointing will be done by fully extending the arm while aiming and firing than will be the case if the arm is bent. Experiments in shooting from the hip, that is, with the elbow at the hip, and then with the arm fully extended will quickly prove the truth of this statement. Smoothness in movements will be increased if the arm is first fully extended and then swung with the target until the aim is caught and the piece fired.

The value of binocular aiming is also evident in this practice for the target can be more quickly picked up, is more clearly seen, and appears closer and easier to hit than when one eye only is used in aiming. One should always aim at the bottom edge or slightly under an aerial target regardless of whether it is rising or falling. Aside from having the entire target visible above the sights, the reason for this may not be apparent but experience has taught that the best results will be obtained if this method is followed. In this practice sights should be adjusted so that the pistol will hit where it is aimed. Large sights are preferable.

There are two methods of executing the snapshooting that is necessary in aerial work. One is to thrust the pistol into position with the muzzle pointed at a spot ahead of the target and to press the trigger the instant the gun comes to a stop. To hit, demands an accurate estimate of the distance to aim ahead of the target. Shooting in this manner is advantageous only for large or slow moving targets, or after considerable experience and practice. The second and the best method, for beginners at least, is to let the master eye follow the bottom edge of the target, thrust the pistol upward until the sights come into alignment with the line of sight, press the trigger the instant the aim is correct and then continue to swing the arm with the target until the gun is fired. The latter method is snapshooting with a swing and is by far the best and most accurate way of hitting small objects. It takes a little more time but as one’s skill in pointing develops and the sights are snapped into alignment more rapidly the swing becomes very short and actual snapshooting results.


Throwing with the left hand and firing with the right.

Principles similar to those that govern the throwing of targets for trapshooting should apply in aerial pistol work. Clay birds are thrown within certain angles with a speed such that they will travel a certain distance and they have a rise not to exceed a certain height. The trap is sprung on command of the shooter who is in firing position a certain distance from it. By observing these rules trapshots are able to standardize their practice and compare their skill under fairly uniform conditions. If a pistol shot desires to make satisfactory progress at hitting objects in the air he must strive for uniformity in the throwing of his targets. In fact, targets for a beginner should not be thrown, they should be tossed. They should be tossed vertically to a height of not over fifteen feet and from a point a few feet in front of the shooter. The propelling of targets at once suggests the necessity of an assistant for the marksman. This is very desirable for the beginner but not an absolute necessity. A little practice with the left hand will soon enable one to toss suitable objects more satisfactorily than can be done by a person who is unaccustomed to the work. If one intends to specialize to any great extent and wants a mechanical means of projecting targets he can secure what is known as a rifle ball trap from manufacturers of shooting accessories. This device is built to throw balls or small objects vertically into the air and can be adjusted to vary the height of the targets. It is very convenient for exhibition shooting and more uniform in its action than a human trap.


A ball trap for aerial practice. This will toss a variety of targets.

The following points should be observed when using hand-propelled targets. For large objects no particular care is necessary except to see that they travel as nearly as possible in a vertical plane parallel to direction of fire. Targets should not be thrown across the front of a person firing until he has acquired skill in hitting those tossed overhead. Nor should they be tossed so that they will fall behind him. If clay birds, clam shells, coins or small disks are used they should be held between the thumb and first finger parallel to the ground and tossed upward with a slight spinning motion. If this is done properly they will always present their maximum diameter to the shooter. It sounds easy to do but requires some practice to perform correctly, especially if the marksman is doing the tossing with his left hand. There is always a tendency to spin the disks so that their edges are presented to the shooter. This is conducive to low scores and much annoyance and discouragement. Targets that do not tumble while travelling through the air are the easiest to hit and are less disconcerting to a novice. The action of gravity should never be lost sight of during aerial practice.

Very satisfactory results have been obtained by using the following procedure in teaching aerial shooting. Place the novice in his normal firing position with an empty, cocked pistol at “Raise Pistol” and caution him not to lower the muzzle below that position while snapping or firing at aerial targets. The coach places himself a few feet in front of and slightly to the right of the direction of fire. Start with a target about the size of a two quart tin can. Hold it in the right hand extended in front of the body and at the command “Ready” given by the pupil, toss it straight up to a height of not over fifteen feet, and so that in falling it can be caught by the coach without moving out of his position. As the target starts upward, the pupil should extend his arm with a smooth easy thrust and bring the sights into the line of sight from the eye to the bottom edge of the target. Care should be taken to keep the gun below this line of sight until the aim is caught. Try to catch the target as near the top of its rise as possible and before it starts to descend. As soon as the aim is caught the pupil should press the trigger decisively at the same time noting, as the hammer falls, whether or not he is on the target and then “call” his shot accordingly. When the pupil is able to call his shots “Good” the coach should permit him to load his pistol and fire a few shots. Unless flinching occurs, there should be no difficulty in the pupil hitting the can with reasonable regularity. Vary the work now by tossing a few clay pigeons overhead as previously explained. These will not go as high and will make good targets that will give the pupil a thrill when he breaks them. The first day’s practice should be limited to twenty-five shots.

Either snapping or firing practice should be continued daily, starting each period with large targets and gradually changing to those of smaller dimensions. The first few lessons should be confined to such objects as large cans, clods of earth, and good sized bottles. Limit the disk shooting to clay birds. As skill develops change the targets to small cans, halves of bricks, blocks of wood, old tennis balls and objects of similar size. As a standard test of skill adopt a 2½ inch cube of wood as a target and keep a record of hits on these to check the progress in aerial work. Clam shells, iron washers with the holes covered with paper, lead disks, and large pennies make interesting targets until finally the pupil gets to the point where large marbles, small coins and even candy tablets can be hit frequently.

Some experts prefer to use large caliber revolvers and automatics for aerial work, claiming that they can obtain a better fit and balance in the larger weapons and because they are more effective in breaking targets. There is no doubt that more pleasure and satisfaction is obtained from seeing a target blown to pieces with a large bullet than there is in merely seeing it hit with a small bore pellet.


Position for Coach and Pupil.

An excellent cartridge for this work is the mid range, wad cutter or sharp shoulder bullet type. It is very pleasant to fire and when used against tin cans will sometimes lift them and enable the marksman to get in more shots than he otherwise could fire.

The novice will do well to use a small bore revolver or automatic until he has become skillful at the game for he will flinch less and can carry on much more practice for the equivalent cost of large caliber ammunition.

There is one very important point to be remembered in connection with aerial practice and that is the effect that this or any other form of snapshooting may have on standardized target practice.


A piece of coal hit by a .45 bullet.

Snapshooting of any kind is not conducive to close holding and if practiced exclusively for long periods will spoil one’s deliberate fire accuracy at paper targets.

A condition which frequently arises during aerial practice is the “flinching complex.” This is more dangerous during firing at aerial targets because the habit is sometimes developed to a bad degree before it is realized. Every one has “off days” in shooting and when these occur in aerial work one is prone to believe he is not well co-ordinated in aiming, and squeezing. The chances are that he is flinching and does not know it because he cannot see how far he is missing his targets as he would if he were firing at a bull’s-eye target. When one’s average drops appreciably in aerial work he should investigate and remedy his trouble without delay or the consequences will be analogous to a baseball player “losing his batting eye.” By using a gun loaded with both ball and dummy cartridges, or if dummies are not available, with empty shells, so that the shooter will not know when his piece will fire, one can soon discover if, and how badly he is flinching. If this fault has developed to any great extent practice should be limited to that with an empty gun and only an occasional ball cartridge. By firing a little slower and concentrating on calling the shot, and by a careful study of the chapter on shooting psychology this obstacle can be overcome readily.