American Pistol Shooting (2015)
SHOOTING accessories are the spice of the pistol game. They add zest and interest to the sport not only when one is actively engaged in it but also during those periods of anticipation when preparations for practice take the place of actual firing. They comprise numerous articles more or less important to one’s comfort and convenience, the securing and assembling of which give much pleasure.
The care and preservation of one’s shooting equipment is an important factor of success in target practice as well as in all forms of practical shooting. Pistols that are not properly cleaned, oiled and protected from the weather, and from unnecessary wear and abuse will not give the efficient service of which they are capable any more than will any other instruments of precision. If they are given the attention to which they are entitled they will last a lifetime barring minor repairs due to fair wear and tear. With this thought and its close relationship to shooting in mind the author will discuss a few of the more important accessories in addition to that of holsters which has already been covered.
Pistol shooting neither demands nor requires expensive or elaborate cleaning apparatus and instead of such articles simple and sensible materials will give most satisfactory service. Compared with rifles a pistol or revolver barrel is easier to care for because of its shorter length and the fact that the ammunition to which it is adapted is less injurious to its bore. The extreme pressures in high power rifles using heavy charges of smokeless powder of either the nitrocellulose or nitroglycerine compounds cause considerable erosion in time, and the accuracy life of such weapons is comparatively limited, whereas the lower pressures and smaller charges of less harmful powder permit of longer service from hand guns. Pistols using lead bullets are easier to care for than those in which the so-called “metal cased” bullets are fired. Those using black, semi-smokeless or Lesmok cartridges can be cleaned with water or any simple solution that will aid in removing the residue from the burned powder. They can then be oiled and put away without fear of further harmful effects due to the chemical reactions that took place in the bore. When smokeless powder is used in high power rifles this is not a safe rule to follow. Nor is it advisable to trust to one cleaning, a pistol that uses metal cased bullets and smokeless powder. This is especially true of the Service automatic pistol, which to my mind is the most difficult of all hand guns to keep in A—1 shape inside the barrel. Fortunately new barrels do not cost much. Black powder when used soon accumulates a residue in the bore that will affect the accuracy if not frequently removed by wiping, but beyond this tendency it will not react on the metal in a harmful manner. Semi-smokeless or Lesmok powder is several degrees better than black powder in this regard, as it leaves less residue in the bore. Smokeless is of course the cleanest of all and many rounds can be fired without affecting the accuracy of the practice, but it is well to examine the bore about twenty-four hours after cleaning it the first time to see if there are any effects noticeable from the acid reaction of the primer compound. If this is neglected in the case of pistols using metal cased bullets, especially the Service automatic, one will soon find the grooves of his barrel filled with a rough corrosion very difficult to remove and in time very detrimental to accuracy. For the care of this type of pistol I have found it advisable to keep on hand one or more wire and bristle brushes with which to scrub the inside of the barrel while first cleaning it and thereafter whenever it shows signs of needing it. For pistols in general it is well after firing to swab them out with a reliable nitro solvent solution or with plain hot water. The bore is cleaned thoroughly and quickly by using water and seldom needs further attention provided it is properly dried and then oiled with a good gun oil. In swabbing out the bore use the solution or the water to get out the residue that has accumulated there and then by passing clean patches through the barrel, on the end of a tight fitting rod, clean it until there is no evident discoloration on the patches. This is the one and only proof that the bore is clean. To run a few patches through the barrel and then say it is clean because it looks so when examined with the eye is the method of the lazy simpleton. For .38 or larger caliber pistols it is advisable to have a cleaning rod of hard wood slightly smaller in diameter than the bore and with a suitable tip over which can be placed a cleaning patch that will tightly fill the grooves when pushed through the bore. For .22 caliber pistols it is well to use a rod made of polished tool steel 3/16 inches in diameter and fitted with a small wooden knob for a handle. One of this type will be much more satisfactory than one made of any other material, especially wood or brass. For removing lead or rust from a barrel it is well to have a rod, to the end of which can be screwed a brass wire brush. For ordinary swabbing of the barrel a round bristle brush may be used. Good patches of Canton flannel cut to uniform size are much more satisfactory to use than miscellaneous ones made of any old cloth, and will save time and trouble in the end. It is quite annoying to have a cleaning rod puncture a patch while in the bore and get stuck for it is not the easiest thing to remove. A piece of Canton flannel about a foot square well impregnated with sperm oil or any good gun oil, with which to wipe off the entire pistol before putting it away after firing or handling is excellent for preventing rust forming on the outside of the frame or barrel. In the case of revolvers care should be taken to clean the inside of the frame where the escaping powder gases come in contact with the metal.
Whenever one starts from home for an afternoon at the range or an evening at the pistol club the matter of carrying his equipment comes first into consideration. He must have some means of packing his guns, ammunition, and the accessories he expects to use and the more convenient this is, the better will be his comfort and peace of mmd. A casual inspection of the various means used by pistol men for getting their equipment from place to place will show that everything from pockets, boxes, and holsters to “Boston” bags, miniature suitcases and specially made gun cases are usually in evidence. Many assemble their stuff in a small bag of some kind and when they need anything therefrom it is necessary “to paw over” everything else to locate it.
The design of a good case gives plenty of opportunity for one to exercise his inventive ingenuity and many an attractive article of this kind can be found among shooters. If one limits himself to but one form of practice his problem is simplified, for only a small case is needed in which to transport one pistol, ammunition, cleaning materials, spotting telescope and scorebook. But if one wishes to indulge in several forms of shooting and intends to go some distance for a day on the range he needs more space and yet a convenient means of carrying his equipment. If the case finally adopted is of convenient size and one does not need many accessories on any particular occasion it is a simple matter to leave them out and lighten the load. It is well to carry high grade target pistols having adjustable sights and high finish, so that they will not rub and knock against other articles, if we would care for them properly. A holster on a pistol affords some protection and can be carried in the case with less danger of damage to the gun. However, it is very bad practice to leave a gun in a holster because of the latter’s tendency to absorb moisture. A better way to arrange one’s case is to have racks or pockets made to fit the pistols and keep them in place. The same plan should be followed for other accessories and then they can be readily seen, and taken from their places without disturbing the others. After going through several years of hit and miss methods of carrying equipment the author designed the case which is illustrated herein. It is shown for the purpose of offering suggestions to others in solving the problem. It is of suitcase type and was originally designed for the .22 S. & W. target pistol with 10 inch barrel, the .38 Colt Officers’ model revolver with 7½ inch barrel, the .45 Service automatic, a 12 power spotting telescope, a pair of shooting glasses, cleaning materials, and additional space for ammunition, score book, stop watch and one or more smaller revolvers or pistols. It is 10½ inches high, 17¾ inches wide and four inches thick, all outside dimensions. It was made by a trunk maker, is of good leather over a wooden frame, and cost $25.00. It is compact, adequate and convenient to carry and use. Its capacity can be judged better by studying the cuts. The cost is perhaps higher than most marksmen feel like paying, but the work required in making it and the high grade materials used in its construction make it worth the money it cost. It is advisable to line the case with felt or velvet to protect the guns from scratches. The felt is serviceable but the velvet makes a handsome case. There are many ways of constructing cases and not a few shooters prefer a compact wooden box in which to fit their guns and accessories. These can be made to any size and shape and for any number of guns and while not always as handy to carry or transport as the suitcase type they are quite convenient to use on the range. For pistols of the European type with their large hand grips and long barrels, it is almost necessary to have a special individual carrying case made to hold them. This seemed to be the practice in Europe and shooters attending the matches are frequently seen with these slung across their backs while they carry their accessories in a small bag.
Three views of the Author’s pistol case, showing the closed case and each compartment with contents.
For the protection of one’s “arsenal” at home, for convenience in inspecting its components and for the sake of having one’s equipment where it can be seen, and perhaps admired, it is a good plan to keep it in some form of cabinet where it will be secured against dust, changing atmospheric conditions and molestation. Pistols that are left lying around the house always come to some bad end either through breakage or loss, to say nothing about the trouble they may cause other members of the family by being in the way. Unlike rifles or shotguns, they do not require much space. If one is a shooter of the other weapons and has a cabinet for them he can easily find space in it where a few pistols can be hung or placed. In certain climates it is very difficult to keep guns in proper shape especially as regards their bores and any parts devoid of bluing. I have found it most advantageous to have an electric light fixture on the inside of my cabinet by means of which I can keep the air dry. A cabinet made with space for holding guns, with a few drawers or a small closet in which to keep the balance of one’s shooting equipment is one of the most useful and convenient articles a shooter can possess, for it enables him to have a place in which to chuck his stuff when he comes in from the range, a receptacle in which to keep ammunition, spare parts, and the many adjuncts essential to keeping one’s pistols in good adjustment. With such a piece of furniture one can be assured of knowing where to find what he wants instead of searching through a dozen drawers, closets or tool chests. The advantage of having all of his equipment in one place is always appreciated most by the marksman when he wants to assemble it preparatory to a visit to the range. A small work bench in conjunction with the cabinet or nearby is also a very useful thing to own, for there are always periods when one must make adjustments, change sights, or perform numerous operations on his pet guns. A small vise with cork jaws in which to hold a pistol for cleaning purposes adds greatly to the convenience of that duty. It goes without saying that a small set of necessary tools should complete the equipment of the work bench.
Among the numerous small things that a pistol shot will find useful is a suitable spotting telescope or binocular with which to observe the location of hits on paper targets. For firing under artificial light on indoor ranges it is customary to have the firing point provided with some form of bracket in which a telescope can be placed or fastened. By means of this the marksman can observe the location of bullet holes in his target without going to the butts or bringing the target back to the firing point. A few years ago on the completion of the construction of an indoor range for one of our large universities it was necessary to select suitable telescopes to complete the equipment. Several kinds were tried out, varying in power from 5 to 33, and after a series of tests to determine which was the most satisfactory for use in artificial light at from 50 to 75 feet we selected one of 12 power which gave the best results for a reasonable expenditure of money. This one was better for the purpose than one of 20 power. Such a scope is also quite suitable for outdoor use at pistol ranges when mounted on a tripod or in some convenient place where it can be used without holding it in the hands. A good pair of eight power binoculars are also satisfactory for this work, but they of course cost considerable more than the small telescope. When using big calibers at the ordinary pistol ranges of fifteen or twenty-five yards it is frequently unnecessary to use a glass to see the holes in the target, as they are of such a size as to be visible to the naked eye, especially if there is a sky background behind them.
This group of tools and accessories has proven to be very useful and quite essential at times in connection with pistol practice. It consists of: Scorebook, pitch pine sticks, matches, sight black, Riflelite shooting glasses, stop watch, friction tape, cotton, spotting telescope, monocular field glass, Dope book, thumb tacks, cartridge block, canton flannel patches, long pointed pliers, Arkansas oil stones, files, jeweler’s hammer and magnifying glass, assorted screwdrivers, cleaning rods and brushes.
For those pistolmen who believe in rapid and timed firing, a stop watch is a desirable article to have. This need not be of the very expensive kind but one with a nickel case of the kind used by track coaches for timing foot races is suitable I have one, purchased in an army goods store just after the war, for which I paid $8.00 and it has been in use for nine years without repairs. For small bore deliberate fire, especially on an indoor range with darkened firing point, it is advantageous to use a small cartridge block. When firing ten-shot scores such a block, holding the required number of cartridges will often save one from putting an extra shot on the target when it is neither needed nor desired. These blocks can be easily made by boring holes in a small flat rectangular piece of wood with a brace and bit slightly larger in diameter than the caliber of the shell. Several years ago these cartridge blocks could be obtained from several of the ammunition firms for the asking, as they were neatly painted with an advertisement of the firm’s products.
Depending entirely on perseverance and intelligent practice, those who specialize in competition shooting, sooner or later, certainly will accumulate trophies as rewards for their efforts and skill. In pistol shooting these usually take the form of medals and badges, although cups are occasionally offered for the more important national events. The athlete usually decorates the mantelpiece or some other prominent piece of furniture with his cups or similar trophies, but the shooter as a rule tosses his medals in a cigar box or other receptacle and forgets them until he wants to exhibit a particular one to a friend. Then he has to comb the house to locate it, and is lucky if he finds it at all. A number of years ago a friend of mine on the Seattle Revolver Club designed a neat cabinet for his medals and after inspecting it, during an evening visit to his home, I followed his example and had one made to preserve my limited collection. It has proved to be most useful and also a constant and pleasant reminder of the days when I was most active in the sport and not in the class of the “has beens.” The only advice I have to offer in regard to this accessory is that one should not be too modest when making his first display cabinet, for it is surprising how rapidly medals accumulate once one gets into competition in earnest. The cabinet can be finished to match the furniture of the particular room or den in which it is to be hung and should be lined with a harmonious colored felt or velvet cloth. Dark green is an excellent color for the lining, and makes a good background for medals.
The Author’s cabinet for medals showing the top raised. It is hung from a picture molding.
As theory and practice both play important roles in any art or science the student of pistol shooting should not be content to learn by practice alone. He will wish to round out his experience and further his education by taking advantage of the knowledge of others as found in printed publications. Books, pamphlets, and articles such as may be found in the better sporting and firearms magazines should be studied with the idea of sifting out the good points and ignoring the impractical. A reference library on the subject is therefore believed to be quite an important accessory to the game. The literature on the subject is comparatively limited and most of the books on it cover the field in a general, rather than specific manner, many of them being devoted to the material rather than the technique of shooting. The author has derived much pleasure and benefit from the volumes and pamphlets in the following list, which includes a variety of information, and from many short articles in magazines which are of course too numerous to mention. If any of these books cannot be obtained from the usual sources they may be found in the library of older pistol enthusiasts. They are listed in the order of their issue, the date of the first copyright being 1901.
The Art of Revolver Shooting, Walter Winans.
Firearms in American History, Charles Winthrop Sawyer.
Pistol and Revolver Shooting, A. L. A. Himmelwright.
The Long Shooters, Wm. Brent Altsheler.
The Book of the Pistol, Capt. Hugh B. C. Pollard.
Pistols and Revolvers, Maj. J. S. Hatcher. Pamphlets
Instructions in Learning Accurate Pistol Shooting, Gunnery Sgt. J. M. Thomas.
Pistol and Revolver Training Course, Col. A. J. MacNab.
Training Regulations No. 150-20 & 320-15, War Department.
The last item I will mention is one that has proved not only useful to me but of great interest as well, and it will increase in interest with time. It is what I term my “Dope Book.” This is a loose leaf volume of convenient size in which a record is kept of items of interest concerning my pistols, guns and shooting. It is not a scorebook as we know such articles but is more of a book of useful information. It contains reminder lists of things to be assembled for a trip to the range, so they may be quickly gathered up and none omitted. There are found the results of tests, notes on observations made of celebrated shots in important competitions, and all manner of data concerning arms and accessories. The future may demand a knowledge of the number, date and place of the purchase of a pistol or one may wish a ready reference as to the weight of a gun, the approximate number of rounds it has fired, the sight settings for different ranges and loads, and many other details, concerning similar data. A comprehensive dope book on pistols and pistol shooting will be found to be not only valuable for reference but, to the student of the game, it affords a most interesting pastime to maintain.