PISTOL SHOOTING CLASSIFIED - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter II


WHEN a person takes up a new sport or hobby in earnest it is usually with a definite object in view. Though his ultimate achievement may be different from his original purpose, he does have, nevertheless, something in mind when his enthusiasm is really aroused or he probably will not go beyond the stage of casual interest.

If we study the art of pistol shooting with the purpose of mastering the theory and practice as part of our professional education, as an army or police officer might do, we are then apt to solve its problems as we would any others that are incidental to our profession. If we learn to shoot a pistol because we have reasonable knowledge or assurance that our life may depend on our ability to draw quickly and fire rapidly and accurately at a time of great personal danger, this responsibility will cause us to put forth a maximum effort in learning the game, much as the pioneers did during the settling of our western frontier. If we have as our object the winning of a national championship, or the making of a national team we will approach the subject from an entirely different viewpoint than we would were we considering personal safety or professional efficiency as our chief objective. Likewise, if we follow the game mainly for pleasure and recreation we will probably solve its problems, enjoy its fascinations, and reap its rewards in a much different frame of mind than when more responsibility rests on the outcome of our efforts.

With the foregoing in mind we may divide present day pistol shooting into three classes:

(a) Military practice.

(b) Police and Defensive shooting.

(c) Recreational target practice.

A knowledge of the characteristics of each style of shooting, including the targets, weapons and methods of firing used, will aid a novice in deciding which kind of practice to take up and the proper pistols to select for the purpose.

Military shooting is practiced by the personnel of the Regular, Reserve, and National Guard components of the Army and Navy and in addition by many civilians who either acquired some skill and training in this class of shooting during the World War, or to whom big bore pistol shooting appeals much in the same way as do the fascinations and complications of heavy artillery to the Coast Artilleryman. To the man interested in National preparedness or military work of any kind, or to the one who likes to play with the highest powered weapons of the hand-gun game, or to those who feel that small bore shooting is a child’s game, then, to them the military game with its variety, action and thrills opens a field of endeavor in which they can indulge with much profit and pleasure.

With all its fascinations however, military shooting would be very expensive were it not for the interest taken by the War Department in its encouragement. This department through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship sells pistol ammunition to members of the National Rifle Association at the Government price. As an incentive to attendance at the National Rifle and Pistol Matches, the War Department also issues without charge, selected match ammunition for practice and record shooting for all who participate in these matches thus permitting one to shoot as much as desired as long as he uses a pistol that is designed for the service ammunition.

In American pistol competitions a military pistol or revolver is defined as one of .38 or larger caliber that has been adopted by any civilized government for the armament of its Army and Navy, without modification or additions, with a minimum trigger pull of four pounds, and with substantial fixed front and rear sights of the general type made for military service.

Practice and pistol qualifications in the army consists of mounted and dismounted firing at various targets. At present, dismounted practice is limited to 25 yards although in the past some firing was done at 50 yards. Cavalrymen fire the dismounted course in the first year of their enlistment only, and thereafter the mounted course, while other branches of the service fire only the dismounted course.

The targets used are:

Target “E”; for quick fire in the dismounted course.

Target “M”; for the mounted course.

Target “L”; for the dismounted course.

They are shown herein.

The target used for general pistol practice in this country is the Standard American Target. It is required in pistol competitions conducted by the National Rifle Association, the United States Revolver Association, and the United States Army and is an excellent practical target for slow or rapid fire. This target reduced in size is used for twenty yard indoor practice and competition.


The character of shooting is varied in military practice. In fact all military qualifications require skill in slow, timed, rapid and quick firing and it is this variety that makes it interesting, for it encourages the development of all-around pistol shooting. Many men can shoot well if they have plenty of time, but when they are limited to 10 or even 20 seconds for a string of five shots they lose their control and in their anxiety to get the required number of shots fired are very apt to jerk, flinch and otherwise shoot badly. Excellent military shooting is more difficult than it appears to be, not because of the targets used or the range at which it is done, but because of the heavier pistols with their greater recoil and the effects of both these factors on the muscles and nerves. After one has fired ten or more shots rapidly with the .45 caliber Service Automatic pistol or its contemporary a .45 military revolver, he may find that the repeated shock of the heavy recoil on his pistol hand has caused tremors in it, and this, exclusive of any nervousness due to mental agitation, makes steady holding more difficult and is conducive to flinching. If one uses a .38 caliber military revolver of reputable make designed for the .38 Special cartridge it will be found to be much more pleasant to shoot and will give most excellent results. It must be borne in mind however, that if one expects to compete against military automatics in rapid fire it will be necessary to develop great skill in manipulating the revolver as a single action gun, in order not to be put at a decided disadvantage in this kind of firing.

The rewards for military pistol shooting in addition to the satisfaction that comes with the accomplishment of a worthy purpose are the ratings and badges given by the Government for qualification as Marksman, Sharpshooter, Pistol Expert and Distinguished Pistol Shot. These can be obtained by members of the military or naval services and by civilians who attend the National Rifle and Pistol Matches conducted by the War Department.


A practice pistol range at Camp Perry, Ohio.

Persons who qualify as pistol marksmen, sharpshooters and experts receive a silver badge indicating their qualification, while those who gain the coveted rating of Distinguished Pistol Shot receive a very handsome gold badge, the possession of which places them in an enviable position among marksmen.

Pistol practice for police officers, unlike that for the military personnel of the country, lacks uniformity. The municipalities with well organized practice in pistol marksmanship are endeavoring to prescribe courses of fire that will simulate as far as possible the kind of firing that might be expected of officers on duty. This may consist of very close work in sudden emergencies in which quick drawing and shooting by instinctive pointing rather than by aiming may be necessary. It may be more often at fleeing criminals concealed by darkness, at gangs of speeding automobile bandits, at mad dogs running amuck in crowded thoroughfares, and occasionally in riots to disperse mobs. Firing may be done from afoot, from a rapidly moving automobile, from a motorcycle or horseback but seldom from a position conducive to accurate shooting. Obviously the practical kind of training would be that similar to military practice, with emphasis placed on quick and rapid fire at silhouette targets either bobbing or moving. As in military shooting it is very essential that the novice police shot be trained first in slow fire and then in rapid shooting in order that the idea of accuracy be firmly instilled in his mind, after which he should practice at moving targets and should be taught certain tactics of police fire.


Colt’s Police Silhouette Target.

The main difference between police and military shooting is in the weapons used. The great majority of police departments arm their officers with .38 caliber revolvers or automatic pistols and these are usually of the pocket type with a barrel of four inches or less in length. Many police departments do not prescribe any particular type of weapon and consequently officers of such forces carry anything from .32 to .45 caliber. In certain sections of the country police officers are now arming themselves, or their municipalities are doing it for them, with .45 caliber pistols and revolvers which take the service ammunition. By purchasing ammunition through the government practice can be held with reasonable cost. It insures uniformity as well as efficiency in equipment as there are only a few weapons that take this cartridge at present and they are of reputable manufacture. The adoption of this heavier weapon really takes the police gun out of the pocket pistol class and necessitates, for quick work at least, that the pistol be carried in a belt or shoulder holster, and in addition makes the carrying of such weapons somewhat of an inconvenience except for the mounted patrolman. A well made .38 caliber pocket revolver designed for the .38 Special cartridge, with a good grip, four inch barrel and military sights is a fine shooting gun and accurate enough for target work up to fifty yards especially that kind of work in which police officers should be proficient. Defensive shooting in the protection of lives and property should be anticipated and prepared for in much the same manner as that for the police, and with similar weapons.

When one enters the field of recreational shooting there is spread before him many attractive phases of a sport incomparable for its variety, its fascinations and its liberal rewards. At once one finds himself in an environment of good fellowship with real sportsmen, with men of good habits and reputation, who follow the game because it is worth while. Here one finds an attractive and intriguing assortment of interesting hand guns with which to develop skill and gain healthful recreation. Let one who is interested in arms gaze upon and handle an assortment of beautifully polished pistols of superior workmanship, with their alluring and mysterious fascinations and suggestions of pleasure, sport and adventure, and he cannot help but feel his blood tingle, his enthusiasm kindle and his ambition whisper of skill to be acquired and worlds to be conquered.

At once the novice is struck with the fact that he must make a decision before he can get action in this broad field of pleasure shooting, and he must determine for himself whether he wants to do any of the standardized forms of target work or merely improve his skill and shoot for fun at miscellaneous targets, He must first decide between small bore and big bore work, or expressed differently, between twenty-two caliber shooting and that of the larger calibers. This should be an easy decision and one that is natural and logical, for, as the artillery gunner gains skill and accuracy in firing big guns by first firing Sub-caliber weapons, so should the pistol man first become proficient with an accurate, easy shooting, neat handling twenty-two pistol or revolver of good make such as are now available on the American market.

While it is by no means impracticable to become a good shot by starting with a thirty-eight or larger caliber pistol it is nevertheless more satisfactory, if good progress is desired, for the beginner to start with the smaller weapon and gradually work up to the heavier calibers.

The twenty-two weapon in addition to being much cheaper to shoot is more accurate and much more convenient and pleasant to fire. It is important to know in this connection that in many indoor ranges anything above twenty-two caliber is barred because of the noise, fumes and other disturbing features of the heavy weapons, to say nothing of the wear and tear on the backstops and adjacent fixtures. These objections apply out-of-doors to a less degree but one may avoid many embarrassing moments, caused by nervous neighbors or by overzealous police officials, if he uses a twenty-two target weapon and confines his big bore shooting to a properly equipped and operated range or to the open prairies, the mountains, or the heavily wooded country.

In addition to grouping pistol shooting under the three general heads just described, Standardized Pistol Practice might be divided into three classes:

(a) Target pistol shooting.

(b) Revolver shooting.

(c) Automatic pistol practice.

The first class is intended for single shot target pistols and deliberate firing. The second and third classes are frequently combined, in that matches are open to either revolvers or automatics, and the shooting is either slow, timed or rapid fire.

Target practice with single shot pistols is the most accurate kind of pistol shooting. In the United States today two methods are being followed. The majority of deliberate fire shots are practicing, as they have been for many years, under rules which restrict target pistols to ten inch barrels, to trigger pulls of not less than two pounds, and open sights located between the hammer and muzzle. Firing is done on the Standard American Target and must not be slower than fifty shots an hour. These rules practically leave the game open to American pistols only. The other style which is rapidly gaining favor, is the International or “Free Pistol” shooting of Europe, in which the only restriction as to weapons is that the sights must be open. The International target with a five centimeter center (less than two inches) is used at fifty meters (about 55 yards) and no time limit is fixed for completing a score. This class of practice demands the finest kind of shooting equipment and has been followed in Europe for many years though it is comparatively new to Americans. For its practice a special target pistol superior to any other type for the purpose, has been designed by the gunsmiths of Europe. Being hand made they are more expensive than American arms and the import duty adds considerably to their cost. In either American or International target pistol shooting it is evident that only single shot target pistols are suitable or advisable for use if the best results are to be obtained, consequently a novice desiring to become strictly a target pistol shot should start with such a weapon.


For revolver or automatic pistol practice the novice will find matches for all models of these types of hand guns. There are matches for “Military revolvers or automatic pistols,” for “Any revolver or automatic pistol” and for “Pocket revolvers or pocket magazine pistols.” If one prefers either type of hand gun he can find plenty of opportunity to use it, especially in the heavier or military calibers.

The following tables give a comparison of the standard pistol targets in use today.


The Standard American 20 yard target is not reduced in proportion to the range at which it is used. The U.S.R.A. and the N.R.A. have, however, reduced the International target for 20 yard shooting indoors, in proportion to the range and this makes it out of proportion with the S.A. indoor 20 yard target.

The U.S.R.A. also issues a combination target with both the S.A. and the International rings on it, the former being printed in heavy circles and the latter in light circles.

The latest improvement in pistol targets is to change the old 50 yard Standard American target with its eight inch black aiming bull’s-eye, which was always quite satisfactory for fifty yard shooting, to one more suitable for short range rapid firing. This has been accomplished by reducing the black so as to include only the nine and ten rings with a total diameter of 5.54 inches. The new target has proven very satisfactory for the purpose intended and is now used in the timed and rapid fire matches held at Camp Perry each year. The diameter of all scoring rings remains the same as formerly.



A great many enthusiasts follow pistol shooting principally for fun. They see little sport in firing at paper targets once they have learned to shoot. They like the thrill of seeing something break or show some active sign of being hit, much as the trap shooter likes to see his targets fly into dust when he hits them. There is a thrill that comes from hitting miscellaneous targets of varying difficulty. The bottle or tin can bobbing on the water or rolling on the ground, growing acorns, walnuts or the round buttons of the sycamore tree all make fascinating targets at which to shoot. The man who lives in the cattle country of the West can show his skill by hitting the elusive prairie dog chattering over his burrow or the running jack rabbit or coyote scurrying through the underbrush, or in bringing to bag the wonderfully camouflaged sage chicken squatting under the bush from which it gets its name. Some fishermen like to carry an accurate revolver or automatic target gun with them on their trips to put the finishing touches to a fighting muskallunge or to cut off the annoying branch that has ensnared a trout fly in the overhead brush of a favorite mountain stream or to afford profitable recreation in camp on rainy days when time hangs heavily and the reading material is exhausted. There is a great deal of pleasure to be obtained from mastering the art of aerial shooting, that is, to hit objects thrown in the air. A novice wishing to excel in this kind of shooting will find it not so difficult to learn, but a game that requires good co-ordination, constant practice and the use of plenty of ammunition. It is most fascinating and to the layman the most spectacular and marvellous of all forms of pistol shooting. And incidentally it is the game to be avoided while one is training for any other forms of competition.