American Pistol Shooting (2015)
WHEN one has become an all-around pistol shot of more than average skill and has played the game from slow fire to aerial practice, it is but natural that he should feel the desire to demonstrate to others the talent he has developed and to exhibit in an interesting manner the variations in a versatile sport. As a most enthusiastic follower of the game he may merely wish to show others the possibilities in the sport, with the purpose of encouraging them to take it up, or to make greater efforts to excell in it, if they are already participants. But not infrequently, in every line of sport we find individuals who, after they have mastered a game, wish to see if it has more material rewards to offer than the satisfaction and pleasure that comes from success. They have made, in the form of years of study and practice, certain investments in a game and they would like to know if there are any monetary dividends coming to them, even though they may never have considered this point when they took up the sport. There are no ethics that should prevent a marksman from entering the field of exhibition shooting, either as an amateur or a professional, if he desires to do so, as long as he plays the game in such a way as to encourage and create interest in it and at the same time provide healthful amusement and entertainment to satisfied audiences.
Many times we find amateurs putting on a few stunts at the close of a day’s practice at the range or the gun club and these add to the interest in the sport. A marksman is always interested in the work of other shots and particularly enjoys witnessing any specialties a brother shooter may have perfected in the pistol game. This holds true of all sportsmen but more particularly of those who shoot and can appreciate skill with arms. It matters little whether they be disciples of Samuel Colt, artists with the scatter gun, or mere riflemen, they all enjoy a good shooting exhibition. The ardent fight, football, or baseball fan is not even mildly interested in watching a rifle or pistol competition where firing is done against the usual paper target. He wants something more exciting, something that will bring him to his feet yelling and cheering. The only kind of shooting that will cause him to cross the street is something that partakes of the spectacular, or appeals to his sporting instinct, as for example, a live turkey shoot where skill and chance play strong parts and the rewards are of a material nature that he can fully appreciate. By far the largest class of spectators to whom one may expect to exhibit his skill is that variable multitude of pleasure seekers who attend anything that offers the probability of varied amusement. The revolver and pistol always have had, and probably always will have a romantic appeal to Americans because of the part they have played in our national life and history. It is therefore not difficult to arouse interest in an exhibition of skill in the use of these weapons, but to maintain this interest the exhibitor must furnish a much different program than that seen at competitions with hand guns. From those who attend charity affairs, civic carnivals, bazaars and similar entertainments the demands for high class exhibitions are not as exacting as those made by a theater-going crowd who expect to see not only first grade skill but also spectacular and thrilling performances. This kind of an audience does not care whether or not the stunts are all legitimate, nor do they appreciate, with a few exceptions, real shooting skill of the target variety, but they do enjoy the spectacular and if some of the feats are of a mystifying nature so much the better, for many people like to be fooled, so that they may try to determine just how this was done.
If one watches and analyzes the occasional shooting number that appears on our vaudeville stage, or is shown in connection with some circus side-show or wild west performance he will soon realize that either the performer is a marvelous shot or that there is something wrong with the way he accomplishes the feats he passes off on the crowd. A genuine marksman goes away from such an exhibition with nothing but disgust and ridicule for the performer who is getting credit for fine shooting. He loses sight of the fact however, that though the show may be a farce from a target shooting standpoint, it is, from a showman’s way of looking, quite satisfactory, for it has given the audience an exhibition that is spectacular, amusing, and perhaps surprising and mysterious. The expert in shooting may also think that the few stunts or shots that he witnessed which were not faked were very easy and that a good shot would be ashamed to pan off on an unsuspecting assembly such mediocre work under the guise of expertness. He is wrong again, for the average citizen has no conception of what good shooting consists. Distances on a stage always appear greater than elsewhere and a good stage set-up for shooting is very deceiving. And regardless of the distance at which the firing is done the audience will applaud the marksman if he handles his pistols with dexterity and breaks objects rapidly, cleanly, and with mechanical regularity, for this demonstrates skill of a kind. As for the ease of doing these stunts I suggest that the critic try some of them himself before a crowd, even though it be composed only of his shooting friends, and see how well he gets away with them. He has something in the nature of a surprise coming to him and his respect for the stage shot will be greatly increased after he has tried to put on a show of his own, however brief it may be. It is one thing to be a good target shot when practicing alone or even in the presence of other shooters, and a horse of quite a different color, to do the same things when you know that the eyes of a large crowd are on you, and on you alone, and that they are ready to laugh at your failures or applaud your good work. Then the element of time again enters the problem. No crowd will be at all interested in watching you plug holes in a bull’s-eye at the rate of a shot a minute, at least no crowd that is out to be amused. They want action and skillful action at that.
A musical artist rendering a concert, may have a fair percentage of his audience who appreciate his fine technique and a much larger part that is not educated up to his art. If he wishes to have his concert enjoyed in such a way as to react fully to his benefit he must include enough popular or familiar numbers to please the less musically inclined. And so it is with the exhibition shot. He may include in his program a few stunts that show the experts that he can do fine shooting and then he must make up the rest to amuse the majority of his audience. If he is clever and gives sufficient thought to his work he can, with apologies to Barnum, please all of the people some of the time. If, on the other hand one intends to give an exhibition before a group of shooters he should cut out the easy stunts and try only shots that show real skill. To make a real impression, it is well to try feats that individuals in the crowd are not in the habit of practicing. It does not usually pay to play a man at his own game.
The stage shot should keep in mind the fact that he is entering the realm of the entertainer and must make a study of means of showing his skill to the best advantage with the primary mission of pleasing his patrons always before him. A cardinal principle to observe is to carefully prepare the program and rehearse it frequently so that there will be no question about the time it takes and the smoothness with which it is conducted. This is one place where alibis are not permitted and failures are costly to one’s prestige. We find in this specialty as in others, there is no place for the slow deliberate shot and only the versatile marksman will be successful. A friend, whom I knew as a fine military shot at Camp Perry, has recently taken up exhibition shooting as a means of supplementing his income so that he may be enabled to meet the increasing expense of his hobby without drawing too deeply on the family budget. He has worked out a series of stunts that combine expert skill with amusing and interesting entertainment, and is making a success because there are so few in the field who can give a good exhibition with the pistol and revolver. His stage setting consists of a room containing an old fashioned fire place, which forms his backstop, and about which are grouped various fixtures cleverly arranged to make good targets. Imitation light bulbs, ornaments made of toy balloons, and the usual light colored composition balls furnish targets that are unique in appearance and that go to pieces in a blaze of glory when hit. Among other things he shoots out candles, and lights from different positions, and with either hand. He works a few tricks that keep the marksman guessing and which look quite marvellous to the layman. The point to be made is that he plays the game from the showman’s viewpoint and yet gives enough of a demonstration of real skill to make his work appreciated by all who witness it.
Shooting with the revolver reversed. The arm must be held so that the wrist does not interfere with the line of aim and the trigger should be squeezed with the little linger.
The novice at this game should go slowly and try out a few stunts at a time with his regular practice so as to keep his hand in at all-around work. The feats that amuse and entertain are those that involve breaking objects, for an audience likes to see the result of the shot immediately. Shooting done on a stage must, of necessity, be limited to that performed against a backstop but for an out-of-door exhibition a greater variety can be given to the show. Indoor work introduces the problem of securing satisfactory lighting which must be perfected or the difficulty of the work will be greatly increased. Fifteen feet is about the usual distance for indoor shooting and when done on a stage appears much farther.
There are certain stunts that may be well called standard because they are practiced by many exhibitors and these are what are usually seen at a show put on by a real shot. They consist of hitting the old favorite glass or asphalt balls in rapid succession with the pistol held in different positions. To shoot with the gun turned sideways and upside down is not difficult if one remembers where to aim as the aiming point varies with the different positions of the gun. Firing with the pistol inverted is done by squeezing the trigger with the little finger. Hitting two objects simultaneously calls for more skill and also care in placing the targets so that the hands are not too far apart. This shot requires steady holding and good co-ordination in aiming and squeezing. A more difficult stunt is to hit simultaneously one object that is stationary and another swinging. These should be arranged so that the guns are close together and stationary when fired and the swinging target is at one end of its swing. The farther apart the targets are the more difficult the shots become. Shooting corks out of bottles without breaking the latter is a good stunt. Splitting cards held with the edge exposed like a vertical line is not difficult, but to do it when the card is horizontal is not as easy. This stunt is made easier by using large caliber revolvers and square shoulder bullets, as the latter will cut the card almost as though a knife had been drawn through it. Mid-range cartridges are the best to use in this case as the noise and recoil is less than with full loads. Breaking objects with a piece of cardboard placed over the muzzle so that the sights cannot be aligned with the target is a mysterious stunt to those who do not understand it. This is accomplished by shooting with both eyes open and cannot be done by the one-eyed shot. The binocular shot finds that when he attempts to aim, his right eye will align the sights and his left eye will make it possible for this alignment to coincide with the target. If the card on the muzzle is so wide that in aiming the left eye cannot see the target then the stunt cannot be done with certainty. This shot demonstrates an advantage in using both eyes in shooting. Another favorite is the mirror shot. It consists in aligning the sights by using a mirror and firing without looking directly at the target. The easiest way to do this is to hold the revolver across the body and rest the shooting hand on the left arm at the elbow, then with a small mirror held in the left hand in rear of the hammer the sights can be aligned. This takes a little practice to master and can be done best by first getting the sights aligned in the mirror and then bringing the alignment on the target by a movement of the body instead of the gun only. To split a card while shooting in this manner is not an easy shot.
Two simple methods of making mirror shots. More difficult positions can be assumed with practice.
Fancy shooting of the William Tell variety is generally condemned by writers on this subject and yet I venture to say that all good exhibition shots attempt it at some time or other until they lose their nerve by reason of a loss of skill or because of an accident. Ira Paine, who perhaps distinguished himself as one of the greatest pistol shots of all time by his international exhibitions, did shooting of this nature. He would shoot objects off the head of an assistant or held in their fingers. A protest against this form of exhibition work was made against his work in England and not without reason, for it was there that legal action to recover damages was taken against him by an assistant who lost part of a finger while holding an object for Paine to fire at. This is only one of many accidents on record in this kind of shooting and while it is spectacular and always brings a “hand” when done successfully it is not to be recommended. Aside from the question of skill there is always a chance that a cartridge may be defective and the accident be entirely due to it. If you must practice stunts of this kind do it by placing the target on your watch or some other valuable object so that human injuries will not result should you have an accident.
If shooting out of doors aerial stunts will always please and can be practiced with small bore ammunition with little danger of the falling bullets injuring anyone. Do not be too ambitious in this work for the audience expects you to hit, and failures will always bring forth derisive comments from certain types of individuals. It is better to try only shots that are easy for you and there are enough stunts of this kind that can be done to make your exhibition worth while. Breaking clay pigeons tossed in the air in rapid succession will bring applause. To pick up a bottle from the ground, toss it in the air and then draw a concealed pistol and break the glass with a bullet is real shooting and will demonstrate quick drawing as well. To do this requires considerable practice but for a good aerial shot is not difficult. Breaking inch marbles or hitting golf balls in the air with a bullet are other aerial stunts of high class. A golf ball hit squarely from below with a .38 bullet will astonish the crowd by the height to which it will fly.
A favorite stunt of some expert fancy rifle shots is to outline profiles of well known characters with .22 rifle bullets fired rapidly from an automatic rifle. An Indian head is one of the usual models cut out. This not only requires good shooting but artistic ability as well. While it is not recommended that this kind of work be done with a pistol the same idea can be carried out and simple designs made using a pair of automatic pistols, This is a neat and effective stunt.
Place a bottle on top of a tumbler or glass jar. Hit the jar and then the bottle before it reaches the ground and see how easy it is. Don’t try this before a crowd until you have mastered it.
As a climax to an aerial exhibition release several toy balloons and burst them by shots fired with guns held in both hands. If they get too far away have a revolver loaded with shot cartridges to finish them off.
If, as you run through your program before an audience that has been educated in fancy shooting by the cleverly faked performances of movie stars, you hear disparaging remarks when you miss an occasional difficult shot do not let it upset you, for the ignorant critic is always present.