American Pistol Shooting (2015)
COMPETITIONS in pistol shooting as in other sports, are the great incentives to continued efforts after one has learned the rudiments and developed a certain skill in the game. When the novelty and primary interest in a new sport wears off Americans lose their inclination to “carry on” unless they have an objective or ambition which spurs their will to greater efforts. Competitions have always furnished this incentive and we have now reached the point where we seldom engage in any sport for the pure love of the game, but instead we play it only to win. This is a national characteristic and the pistol shooting fraternity is not excepted.
The novice who can be convinced that his greatest pleasure will come from competition shooting and that the thrills and satisfaction he gets from good shooting in practice are not to be compared with those which come as the result of a keenly contested match, will be a much better competition shot or team man than the person who practices all the time and then enters a competition much as he would a mental examination. To develop a match shot the novice should be given a thorough course in pistol shooting with the policy continually stressed and followed of ignoring the scores made until fairly good groups can be shot. The scores will take care of themselves after one has learned, by thorough preliminary training, the technique of aiming, holding, squeezing and calling. When reasonably good groups can be made, it then becomes desirable and necessary, in order to record and stimulate progress, to keep tabs on all the firing done. This is best accomplished by keeping a score book in which all firing is recorded. By keeping an accurate record of all scores made the novice can note his progress or set backs. Recording only the good scores is of little value. From his score book he can, by analyzing his work, determine when he does his best shooting. This may occur after he has fired ten shots or it may take several scores to steady him down to good holding. He can also compare his practice and match scores.
Many times we hear marksmen say they can do better work in matches than in practice but this is usually “bunk.” Where one man is found who can do this there are ninety-nine who will not do nearly as well when they have something worth while at stake. Aside from the exceptional score occasionally made in a match, a pistol shot’s average will be lower in competition than in practice. He should however, strive to maintain his average at all times both in practice and competition. The novice should believe that there is more satisfaction and better practice in match shooting, even though the effort he makes, the strain he undergoes, and the disappointments he experiences may have a tendency to discourage him. He should realize that practice scores are merely for “sighting in” pistols and for checking their sight setting and that the only worth-while shooting is that done against a real opponent with a prize for which to shoot. He should endeavor to shoot a match with someone every time he fires and better progress will be made if this shooting is done against someone who is slightly better than himself. Shooting for qualification badges and medals, for merchandise prizes in club matches, in local turkey and chicken shoots, and in sectional contests is excellent competition training. Reentry matches in which unlimited entries are permitted are not as desirable as single entry ones, for they encourage marksmen to keep only their good scores and to cease firing on a target when they make a poor shot.
About the time a novice gets interested in comparing his skill with others he naturally studies the question of what constitutes good shooting. He wants to know what scores he must make in the various kinds of fire in order to have a chance in competitions against pistol men with ambitions similar to his own. Specifically he would like to know what percentage he should strive for in deliberate fire or in rapid and timed fire at the standard bull’s-eye or silhouette targets. The young man who lives on a farm, ranch, or in a small community where there is little opportunity for competing in local matches because of the scarcity of persons interested in his favorite sport, needs especially some means of testing his skill under match conditions. The United States Revolver Association and the National Rifle Association, realizing the need, have provided for it in the most practical manner. They conduct competitions by mail in which contestants can fire on their home ranges at their own time and pleasure. Such competitions are held twice a year and consist of outdoor and indoor matches during the appropriate season. Qualification matches are also conducted and a shooter may, by making certain scores, determine whether he should be rated as a “Marksman,” “Sharpshooter” or “Expert.” The match conditions and ratings are not the same in both organizations, however. By participating in the competitions of either or both of the associations the novice will soon learn what constitutes good target shooting. Memberships in these national shooting organizations are open to any one interested in shooting and the dues are very nominal.
To enable those who may not be able to benefit from matches of the shooting societies just mentioned, the author offers the following as a reasonable basis for grading pistol practice.
In deliberate shooting, or slow fire as it is generally called, any person who can average 90% on the Standard American target at fifty yards out of doors, with good average shooting conditions or on the reduced target at 20 yards indoors under artificial light is an excellent shot regardless of the kind of pistol he uses. Such a shot can compete favorably in any competitions conducted in this class of fire. This is a broad statement, but it must be remembered that pistol shooting is a game of opportunity to the extent that all pistol shots have their good and bad days and a score that would place several points below the winner today might win in a similar contest tomorrow. To average between 80 and 85% would constitute good shooting and between 85 and 90% very good work under the same conditions given above.
Shooting against time can be rated in a similar manner. If the 50 yard Standard American Target is used at 25 yards, as is the normal procedure for rapid or timed fire, the difficulties incident to shooting against time will be compensated for by the shorter range. For rapid fire, in which 5 shots are fired in ten seconds, “good,” “very good,” and “excellent” ratings are justifiable for percentage scores of 80, 85 and 90 respectively. For timed fire at a rate of 5 shots in 15 or 20 seconds one should be able to increase his scores by about 5% in order to be entitled to the same ratings. For military work using the prescribed service targets and heavy caliber military pistols the same percentage would still stand, by way of comparison, even though the ranges are shorter and the targets easier, especially the silhouettes.
The firing line at Camp Perry, Ohio, during the pistol matches of the National Rifle Association.
In general it is more difficult to shoot well with the larger caliber revolvers than it is with small bore target pistols, so that a marksman using the former weapons should be entitled to the ratings given above even though his scores average several points lower than the standards here established. By using the percentages indicated for each kind of fire one should be able to estimate what should constitute an excellent total score for any match composed of slow, timed and rapid fire.
There is one feature about pistol matches that is unsatisfactory. If a shooter may fire wherever and whenever he chooses there is bound to be a lack of uniformity in the shooting conditions of all competitors which may materially affect their scores so that the best shot does not always win. We have all seen the type of marksman who does excellent shooting locked up by himself or with a lone friend to witness his scores, but who makes a miserable showing in shoulder to shoulder competitions in the open with strange faces and stranger conditions about him. A man training for competitions should do so in company with as many marksmen as possible, for in important matches he will ultimately be required to shoot on a firing line with many other contestants, if he goes very far in the sport.
When one begins intensive preparations for an important competition or series of matches he naturally asks himself the question, “What kind and amount of exercise, if any, shall I take to fit myself properly for the work ahead?” Pistol shooting does not require a highly developed muscular system. It does not require great physical endurance. It does not want nerves keyed to the highest pitch, but, to assure the greatest success for the participant it does demand general good health and enough exercise to maintain the nervous system in a good normal condition. For the person who lives an active outdoor life, is temperate in his habits, and whose physical condition is good, no special training is necessary except that incidental to the firing done in preparation for the matches. For persons of sedentary occupations who expect to attend an out-of-door competition for any length of time, such as the National Matches, it would be wise for them to accustom themselves to plenty of fresh air and more exercise than they normally take or they may find that the sudden change from an indoor existence to an active one in the open air will upset them temporarily and their shooting will suffer accordingly.
There has always been considerable discussion on the question of the effect on a marksman’s shooting, of his use of tobacco, alcoholic liquors or other stimulants, during a training or competition period. After studying the different opinions and methods of team captains and coaches of several successful National and International rifle and pistol teams and as the result of his personal experience, the author has come to the following conclusions on this subject, in so far as pistol shots are concerned and affected.
Smoking in moderation—with emphasis on moderation—is not harmful. To suddenly require a man accustomed to the use of tobacco to give it up entirely will do more harm than to allow him to continue the habit, for he may become discontented, irritable or otherwise nervously upset. The coffee drinking habit is much worse than smoking, especially for persons of nervous temperaments, as the caffeine is very stimulating to some nervous systems.
The use of alcoholic stimulants should be absolutely avoided to get the best results in pistol shooting. Other dissipations which adversely affect the nerves should be eliminated.
The most important factor in the conditioning of a pistol shot is the diet. There are two parts of his system that must be right. They are his digestion and elimination. Indulgence in anything that upsets the digestion is bad and the failure of the bowels to function properly with good daily movements is even worse and may unnerve a good pistol shot so thoroughly and quickly that his scores will look like those of a novice.
A well balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and other roughage which will stimulate the intestines to movement is what is needed to maintain the nervous system in a normal healthy condition. During the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, in 1921 the entire camp was affected by an epidemic popularly known as “Water Sickness” which caused the latrines to be about as well occupied as the firing line. The effect of this diarrhea was certainly not adverse to the shooting, for more records were made that year than have ever been made there before or since that time. This incident should be taken for what it is worth.
It must be remembered that pistol shooting is a great strain on, and demands more of, the nerves and will power than any other form of shooting and anything that causes mental or physical irritation will be quickly indicated through the nerves to the muzzle of the pistol. The effect of too much sleep is quite noticeable at times. As a result, one’s nerves become so keen and keyed up that occasionally a marksman finds himself too much on edge in the morning to do his best shooting then, and that his scores are better when fired later in the day after his system has settled down.
Particular care should be taken of the eyes, especially if one is doing much indoor shooting under artificial light. Shooting in poor light or in brilliant sunshine may cause eyestrain and for this reason the eyes should not be required to do more close work than is absolutely necessary during competitions. Shooting glasses with amber colored lenses will be found beneficial in bright light, if they are ground to fit the eyes. It should be unnecessary to say that the shooting hand and arm should be protected against injury at all times. Scuffling, wrestling and similar pastimes should be avoided at these times.
The time to be devoted to training for a particular competition will depend on whether the participant is entirely out of practice when he begins preparation, the nature and extent of the match he expects to enter, and his personal equation. For one who does a little shooting throughout the year at frequent intervals, and keeps in practice reasonably well the intensive training period need not be long. For older men and those who drop pistol work during half of the year to indulge in other seasonable sports, a greater time is required to get into shape. Young men, because of greater versatility, flexibility, and quicker co-ordination can round into form in less time than older men, although the latter, due to greater experience, may have certain other advantages in match shooting.
If one anticipates attending the National Matches, and every enthusiastic pistol shot should make this his Mecca at least once after he has qualified as an expert shot, he should study the match program, decide on what contests he prefers and then practice for them under conditions as laid down by the rules. The Camp Perry matches cover contests in every style of pistol shooting with more attention paid to contests open to the service pistol. Trophies in the form of cups, medals and cash are offered as prizes, but the opportunities to exchange opinions with pistol experts from all parts of the country and elsewhere, the chance to observe the work of celebrated shots, to inspect the latest developments in hand guns and accessories, and to experience the ups and downs of a large competition will be of inestimable benefit to the young shot in future years.
The nature of the competition should govern the amount of time spent at each practice period. If one expects to fire a fifty shot match he should frequently fire that number of shots under match conditions as nearly as he can arrange them. If rapid as well as slow firing is expected then both kinds should be practiced with special attention to the former. Daily practice in firing a few scores is better than longer periods of practice fired at irregular intervals. If opportunities are limited for range practice the marksman should not fail to hold daily trigger squeeze and rapid fire exercises, to supplement his firing. If a marksman can devote all of his time to training for a short period before the matches it would be an excellent thing to do. Then he can plan a daily schedule with sufficient rest periods to enable him to do all the practicing he requires without overshooting. This assumes that one is preparing for a series of competitions such as the National or International matches.
Teams representing the different branches of the regular military and naval services usually train for about two months before assembling at Camp Perry. Their daily practice varies. Some teams fire only in the afternoons, others both mornings and afternoons. Practice consists of firing through the National Pistol Match course at least once, and more often twice, then working on the class of fire in which individual members are weakest or at slow fire work with small bore pistols.
As a man reaches his peak he should be careful not to shoot too much or he will become stale and perhaps have a slump, to recover from which, it takes time, a rest and change of routine. Assuming that a marksman is enthusiastic and conscientious in preparing for a competition and willing to work hard, he should be careful to note the time when his interest wanes, his practice becomes much like work, he feels irritable and fed up on the game, and his scores fall off or get erratic. Then is the time to take a rest and change, if only for a couple of days, rather than to grit one’s teeth and keep plugging along, and incidentally, worrying about one’s progress. Fighting for a place on a national team, for a state or national championship or for any important trophy is nerve-trying business and worry is a big obstacle to success. Our nervous system which is the controlling factor in our success must be favored continually and not overstrained. By starting his practice with a few scores and gradually increasing it until he can fire through the equivalent of his hardest match without fatigue will get better results for a marksman than burning up much ammunition with the idea of hardening himself quickly.
Firing in a moderate breeze should be practiced, for one may have to fire his match under similar conditions, but practicing on very windy days is of no value. Instead it is a waste of time, energy and ammunition.
When using large caliber pistols less firing should be done at a practice period than if small bore guns are used. Do not practice with an old favorite pistol and then change to a new one just before a match. It will not feel or function the same. It is also well to use a heavier trigger pull than that required by the rules as triggers do wear, some quite rapidly, and it is better to play safe than to be disqualified.
Before entering a match one should be sure he has all his equipment ready so as to avoid haste and confusion on the firing line and the bad effects this may have on one’s shooting. If for some unavoidable reason a competitor is late in arriving on the line he should not permit himself to become excited and hurry his final preparations even though others may attempt to rush him on the line or into a relay that is about to fire.
Sights should be checked carefully to see that they are not bent, broken or loose. In the case of adjustable sights see that the setting is correct and watch it like a hawk throughout the match. One of the greatest weaknesses of certain American pistols is the sight adjusting screws which work loose repeatedly during firing. If there is a graduated scale on the sights, the setting should be recorded in a score book for fear a doubt may arise in the mind concerning the proper elevation or deflection for a particular range, light or ammunition load. Smoke or paint the sights and be careful not to rub them off.
Inspect the ammunition to be used to see that there is powder in the cartridges and that they are not deformed in any way or the shells split. The most reputable firms occasionally turn out a lot of ammunition that is not up to standard, or one may get hold of some old stuff that has deteriorated. In case one gets hang fires, keyholes, fliers, frequent misfires, or unusually low groups, the ammunition causing them should be discarded and another kind used.
Tighten all loose screws and have a screwdriver handy to keep them tight. If one cannot afford to have an extra pistol available in case the one in use fails during a match program, he should provide himself with spare parts, properly adjusted beforehand, for those which have a tendency to fail. Firing pins crystallize, springs weaken or break, extractors and ejectors wear badly, triggers go bad suddenly, and unfortunately these malfunctions occur at most inopportune times, much to the annoyance of the marksman.
The matter of blackening sights is important and a marksman is foolish to fire in any match with shiny sights. They may be effectively blackened in two ways,—by smoking them, or by painting them with a dead-black quick-drying paint. The paint if applied with a brush, is convenient to use and is fairly lasting but it may become lumpy and thick and present ragged and blurry appearing sights for aiming. Smoke can be applied more evenly and leaves the sights sharp and clean cut. Anything that gives a black smoke can be used, from a match or candle to a kerosene or pitch pine torch. Camphor gum gives a heavy smoke but leaves the sights grayish black. Splinters of good pitch pine or fir give off excellent smoke. Kerosene smoke is good. In recent years rifle and pistol men of the Services have been carrying a small carbide lamp in their kits. These lights give the finest kind of black smoke, can be used in breezy weather with ease, and permit the application of the smoke uniformly and quickly. If the smoke is applied too long the black gets too thick and falls off in tiny flakes. The lamps and necessary carbide for recharging them are a little bulky and inconvenient to carry about.
In smoking sights it is well to blacken any part of the gun which may reflect bright light into the eyes while aiming. Sights should be free from grease when the smoke is applied or the results will not be satisfactory.
To avoid needless arguments and delays one should know the order of numbering the targets and firing points, the manner in which competitors are squadded or assigned to firing relays, range officers in charge, the methods of marking and scoring targets, the commands or signals for “Commence Firing” or “Cease Firing” and in fact everything covered by the rules governing the competition. Individuals who are continually asking questions or making groundless protests on points with which they should be familiar are a source of annoyance to others on the firing line.
When marking is done in the pits and scoring at the firing line, one must never fail to check the scorer by seeing that he calls out and records the score indicated by the marker and in case of a re-mark, that the proper score is entered on the score card. One should check his scorebook against the scorer’s record before leaving the firing line. The marking of shots should be verified either by an inspection of the target or by spotting the bullet holes with a telescope or good pair of binoculars as the marker indicates their location. If convinced that you are not getting the score to which you are entitled, that score should be challenged. In case of close, questionable shots remember that the marker in the pits is in a better position than the marksman to determine whether or not a bullet cuts the ring or the edge of the bull’s-eye. If in rapid fire one is so unfortunate as to put a bullet cleanly through another bullet hole without any indication of this fact do not rave and tear your hair when you get a zero for that shot. It sometimes happens and the range officer can only approve scores for the number of bullet holes found in the target. The method of scoring that is the most satisfactory for all concerned, is to issue separate match targets to each contestant and as they are completed have them scored and recorded and filed by an official scorer, at the same time permitting the shooter to inspect his target and check the score.
When actually on the firing line contestants should be very careful to observe all instructions given by range officers especially those regarding safety regulations. If officials act “hard boiled” and critical it is usually the result of misconduct and carelessness on the part of cantankerous marksmen who annoy and endanger the lives of others by their actions.
When rapid or timed fire is the order, listen carefully for the commands of the range officer or you may discover that the targets, in the case of disappearing ones, have appeared and that you are not ready to fire. This occurred to a contestant in the last Olympic Matches and he got one miss as a result.
As a final word of advice in match shooting, do not take the matter too seriously. If you have had previous experience in competition work there is no occasion for worry or nervousness. If you are a novice at the game put your mind on the work at hand and forget your surroundings. No one is watching you in particular. Others marksmen are busy with their own firing. Concentrate on the details of aiming, holding, squeezing, calling your shot and keeping your scorebook. You have no time to be thinking about other matters or to let your imagination work and your mind wander.
The following is a check list of equipment necessary or advisable to have on the firing line:
Screwdriver with interchangeable bits.
Sight blackening materials.
Telescope with mount, or binoculars.
Scorebook and pencil.
Cartridge block for .22 ammunition.
Shooting glasses, amber.
Small pad of powdered resin.
Copy of match rules.
Targets, if not furnished.
Ear protectors or absorbent cotton.