ON SELECTING PISTOLS - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter III


THE preceding chapter should furnish the necessary information to enable the novice to decide, if he has not already done so, on the form of pistol practice he desires to pursue, for until he has done this he cannot logically select his shooting equipment. Even with this decision made, there is such a variety of arms from which to choose that he can profitably give considerable study to the subject. There is no essential of the game in which one can go wrong more easily than that of selecting suitable pistols for the different classes of shooting. There is no one detail that will cause deeper regret to a novice than to buy the wrong kind of arm, especially if his funds are limited, and there is no greater pleasure to be experienced than that of having the most suitable equipment for the work to be done.

While proper ambition is always commendable, there are two things a novice must not expect or attempt to accomplish. He must not expect to become an all-around pistol shot in a month or a year and he must not attempt to find an all-around pistol, for it is not made. There are occasionally, however, several suitable pistols or revolvers for each class of practice and not infrequently we find several which are satisfactory for more than one kind of work. But, for example, there is no military hand gun at present manufactured that is suitable for free pistol shooting, and vice versa, free pistols are not suitable for military work, if the requisites of both kinds of practice are carefully considered.

Having decided on the character of shooting to be practiced, pistols should be selected with due regard to their mechanical efficiency and accuracy, their cost and that of the ammunition for which they are designed, as well as the availability of the latter, and finally with regard to their fit and balance. The best advice that anyone can follow in buying hand guns is to purchase the very best, from the standpoint of mechanical efficiency, reliability and accuracy, that one’s funds will permit. The best is none too good for certain classes of work, whereas the low grade products made of poor materials and with inferior workmanship are a source of constant annoyance, discouragement and danger. Since the World War the American market has been flooded with cheap foreign revolvers and magazine pistols made to imitate, in appearance only however, the arms of our most reputable small arms manufacturers. They should be avoided in spite of their attractive prices. If one’s funds are limited and his interest and desire to own a gun so keen that he feels he must buy a pistol, then by all means curb that enthusiasm until enough money is available to buy a weapon of at least reputable make.

The purchase of used or second hand pistols is not to be recommended unless one possesses reliable information concerning the actual condition of the action and of the barrel of the gun whose purchase is contemplated. A well worn bore carefully polished with emery dust may present a creditable appearance to a novice but appearances are of minor importance compared to accuracy and reliability. A knowledge of the care and attention given a gun by the previous owner is a good guide but a thorough try-out of the pistol by an experienced shot is always preferable and desirable before a decision to purchase is made. It is also advisable for the prospective owner to try the pistol to see if it fits his hand, balances well, and has a satisfactory trigger pull.


A Colt trio suitable for all-around big bore shooting. The Officers’ Model, the Single Action Army and the Government Model automatic.

While one’s funds may be limited at times, especially when the initial purchases of a shooting outfit are made, it has been the experience of many who follow this hobby that it is not long before one’s arsenal expands, perhaps sometimes at the expense of more necessary articles. Nevertheless it does grow and in the course of a few years the pistol enthusiast finds that he has the necessary arms to carry on all classes of practice and has reached the stage of frequently selling and exchanging first favorites for pistols of more modern manufacture, in order to keep his equipment up to date.


The cost of ammunition and the convenience with which it can be secured are often governing factors in the selection of any gun. If one cannot afford to fire the more expensive cartridges, or if he cannot conveniently purchase them, there is little or no point in buying a weapon designed for such ammunition, unless one does it merely for the sake of collecting rather than shooting. When we jump from the inexpensive small bore, rim fire ammunition, to the large caliber center fire cartridges with jacketed bullets, we at once increase the cost of our pleasure very materially and at the same time make more difficult the securing of ammunition, especially if we live in the more thinly populated parts of the world. Small town and country stores carry only the more popular cartridges and usually a very limited supply of these. In the days of the settlement of our Western Frontier, the difficulties of securing ammunition caused the most popular revolvers to be designed for the 44-40 or 44 Winchester rifle cartridge used so extensively in the rifles of that period. A glance through the catalog of an ammunition manufacturer will reveal the fact that there is a great variety of cartridges designed for an equally varied assortment of pistols and revolvers. The latter, like many other articles, have been designed to serve certain purposes, and the ammunition adapted to them has been made accordingly. Hence we find many pistol cartridges of the same caliber yet possessing decidedly different ballistics.

The popular .22 Short and .22 Long Rifle ammunition can be obtained nowadays wherever 12 gauge shotgun shells can be bought. In certain localities, the old favorite .44 Winchester and .45 Colt cartridge can still be readily obtained, and since the World War it is becoming much easier to buy the .45 Colt Automatic pistol cartridge for use in the official sidearm of the military Service, which has now become so popular. Aside from the ease of securing these cartridges, it is problematical if one can get his favorite .32 or .38 cartridge from the average small town hardware or sporting goods store and he must depend for his supply on a mail order house, or on the factory, which involves additional expense. The local situation in regard to the cost and supply of ammunition should be investigated as a pertinent item bearing on the choice of calibers.


Shotgun experts continually harp on the necessity of fit and balance in a shotgun, especially in one for field shooting. They maintain that a gun with a good balance handles rapidly, and if it fits the shooter in such details as length of stock, thickness and shape of the comb, the length, shape, size of grip, the slant and shape of the butt plate and similar particulars, it can be shot with much better results, especially when it comes to quick shooting in thick cover, where aiming is the exception and gun pointing the rule. If it is desirable to have fit in a shotgun that throws several hundred shot at a target and makes a killing pattern thirty inches in diameter at forty yards, then it is extremely desirable to have a pistol that fits the hand and balances well if we wish to do accurate shooting, especially rapid shooting, with a weapon that fires only single bullets.

Fortunately for the wing shot, he can have a stock made for his shotgun that will fit his physique without interfering with the mechanism of his gun, whereas almost without exception the pistol shot must accept the product of the pistol maker as issued, inasmuch as the model or shape of the frame governs the size, shape and length of the grip and its distance from the trigger. The length and size of the barrel determines to a great extent the balance of the gun and its suitability for certain kinds of shooting. A pistol that is not well balanced when held in the hand in the normal shooting position, requires muscular effort to keep the muzzle up while aiming and when the hammer falls. On the other hand, one that balances well does not require this effort and consequently steadiness is maintained and sights kept in alignment more easily. The weight of a pistol, while not exactly affecting its balance, does have an important bearing on the steadiness with which it can be held on a target, for very light long barrelled pistols are more affected by wind currents and nerve tremors than are those of greater weight and better balance. To test the balance, hold the pistol loosely in the shooting hand and with arm extended point the gun at a target. In the case of revolvers, support the gun mainly by the index finger held inside of the trigger guard, and when testing pistols of the automatic or European target type support the gun by the second finger under the guard. If the barrel remains horizontal without the necessity of gripping the stocks, the gun can be considered as well balanced. To fully appreciate this test however, it is necessary to try it on several guns of different model and length of barrels. This can be accomplished best by visiting a gun shop or inspecting the arsenal of a real pistol crank.


The Author’s favorite pocket battery. A specially made Colt Police Positive Special and a Remington Model 51 automatic.

The balance and fit of a gun are very closely related. If a well balanced pistol fits an individual, it is capable of being pointed easily and accurately. A gun may be balanced well and yet not fit a shooter at all satisfactorily and as a consequence he is handicapped in his work. To obtain the very best results, especially for rapid firing, for shooting in the dark or at aerial targets it is very essential that a pistol fit the hand of the marksman. If the grip is too large, or if the distance to the trigger is too great for the trigger finger, or if the shape of the stocks is uncomfortable the gun cannot be handled most efficiently. A man with a large hand and long fingers needs a grip of corresponding size, while one with a small hand or stubby fingers cannot handle effectively a large sized hand gun.


An unbeatable pair for miscellaneous small bore shooting. The Colt Woodsman automatic and the 22-32 Heavy Frame S. & W. target revolver.

On some single shot target pistols, it is possible to substitute specially made grips to fit any person’s hand, and to so construct them as to provide finger and thumb rests and even a support for the fleshy part of the hand nearest the butt. Trigger guards shaped in conjunction with the stock sometimes furnish finger holds for the second and third fingers of the pistol hand. On other target weapons, the metal frame of the butt prevents any but makeshift improvements of the grip. On military revolvers and magazine pistols, alterations of the grips are not generally practicable, even if they were advisable, for usually rapid fire competitions are limited to military pistols as defined in the preceding chapter. To obtain a military pistol of good fit and balance and one eligible for competitions, it is necessary to select one from among those models now on the market, and this should be done only after testing them for balance and the way they fit the hand of the prospective buyer. Those who prefer revolvers for military shooting will have no great difficulty in finding one to fit the hand fairly well except in the matter of shape, and in this particular it will be necessary to accept the maker’s ideas of a well shaped grip, which are usually based on convenience of manufacture rather than on sound principles of marksmanship. For balance, facility in handling, and general utility, a revolver with a barrel of not to exceed six inches in length is the best six shooter for military work, especially for rapid and quick fire.

Those who prefer magazine pistols for military practice will find their choice more limited if they desire American made guns, and the man with a small hand may have difficulty in getting a satisfactory fit. It was with the idea of improving the balance and pointing qualities and of making the grip more suitable and comfortable for men with average sized hands that the Service automatic pistol, caliber .45, Model 1911, was modified by shortening the trigger reach, knurling and raising the mainspring housing, extending the tang of the grip safety, and cutting away the receiver on each side of the trigger. The pistol as first issued had a tendency to point slightly downward when held naturally in the firing position, due to the angle between the grip and the barrel. In calibers less than .45, the grips of automatics are smaller and a fairly good fit can be obtained for a small hand unless one is too fussy. It is well to state at this point that if one desires to practice rapid fire exercises in connection with military or police shooting it is desirable to have a pistol with an outside hammer in order to cock it conveniently for snapping practice.


The old and new in S. & W. target pistols. The Perfected Model and the 22 Straight Line.


For military shooting, a choice must be made between revolvers and magazine or automatic pistols. The former are rapidly becoming obsolete for military purposes, and matches open to Army and Navy weapons are favoring automatic hand guns more and more, because rapid and quick fire is being given greater emphasis. In this the automatic pistol has considerable advantage, as it cocks itself after each shot. These modern weapons have the advantages of greater rapidity of fire, of quicker reloading when using extra magazines, of a greater number of shots without reloading, of no escape of gas between the chamber and barrel resulting in loss of velocity and corrosion of adjacent parts. They are of greater compactness with generally higher velocity and lighter recoil in proportion to the caliber, as some of the recoil is absorbed by the auto-loading mechanism.

The revolver is still a favorite among many older shots, who through years of experience have become accustomed to its grip and balance and have learned to manipulate it with speed and facility to the extent of competing favorably against men armed with automatic pistols. As to the relative accuracy of military revolvers and automatic pistols, there is some advantage in favor of the former. As to reliability in functioning, they are about on a par except in a windy, sandy country such as along our Mexican border where excessive dust and sand in the air make it difficult to keep the service automatic functioning perfectly without careful and frequent attention especially during active military operations. There is greater possibility of jamming in automatics than in revolvers, due to defective magazines, variation in ammunition and lack of cleaning. A misfire with an automatic means a stoppage until the faulty cartridge has been ejected and this generally requires the use of both hands. Revolvers if closely fitted are subject to jams, due to primers which bulge on firing and prevent the rotation of the cylinder. It must be remembered in this connection that automatic pistols are comparatively new and are still subject to improvements, which necessity is rapidly providing, and which time will soon perfect.

My advice to a novice who contemplates following military pistol shooting would be to select an automatic pistol in preference to a revolver though the latter is the safer weapon to handle. Of the military automatics in use today, there are few the equal and none superior to the present side arm of our Army and Navy.

The following pistols and revolvers are recommended for military shooting:

.38 Colt Super Automatic.

.45 Colt Automatic Pistol Government Model.

.45 S. & W. Revolver (U.S. Model 1917).

.45 Colt Revolver (U.S. Model 1917).

.44 S. & W. Revolver (.44 Military Model).

.45 Colt Revolver, New Service.


The primary requisites of a pistol for police officers are: Safety, reliability, handiness, medium weight and stopping power.

Outside of the field of recreational shooting it is doubtful if one can find a subject on which there is greater difference of opinion than on the question of the best type of pistol for police use. Several years ago while instructing the police force of one of our large cities, the author was asked so many questions regarding the relative merits of revolvers and automatic pistols for police purposes that it was very evident that this was a question of considerable discussion among those officers who really used their weapons in the performance of duty and the enforcement of laws. At that time magazine pistols and their ammunition were not as reliable as they are now, and the revolver was the favorite weapon among pistol men.


A Colt combination suitable for any kind of target practice. The Officers’ Model, Camp Perry Model and “Woodsman.”


A pair of S. & W. Pistols with specially fitted grips. The Perfected S. & W. Target pistol and the 22-32 H. F. Target revolver.

For many years hand gun makers have specialized in police revolvers and have developed a characteristic design for these weapons. The popular police gun for the dismounted patrolman is of the pocket type, with caliber from .32 to .45, barrels about four inches in length, and weigh about 1½ pounds. For semi-military organizations such as State Constabularies, Texas Rangers and other mounted forces, military weapons are generally used. It has been quite noticeable, however, that when there is an increase in crime and in the activity of gunmen and auto bandits, there is a decided trend toward more powerful hand guns among police officers. Whereas the .38 caliber weapons were considered of ample size in the past, the .45 caliber guns and especially military automatics have been gaining in favor in certain localities. Motorcycle patrolmen, mounted officers, plain clothes men and special officers who feel the need for suitable life insurance from their weapons are depending only on those with maximum stopping power.

To the patrolman, who at most has only occasional need for his weapon, the lighter caliber and more convenient pocket pistol appeals and this type of police gun still remains the great favorite. A .38 caliber revolver with a barrel of from 2 to 4 inches, designed for the .38 Special cartridge and using full factory loaded ammunition, with preferably the square-shoulder or wad-cutter bullet, makes an excellent weapon for general police use. It is safe, convenient, easily concealed, comparatively light, and if made by a reputable firm, has sufficient accuracy for ordinary police purposes.

If, on the other hand, a police officer’s duty requires the enforcement of laws and the protection of property in localities where quick, accurate shooting is essential to self protection, and where it is a case of stopping the criminal before he gets the officer, then a weapon of large caliber should by all means be used. A Texas Ranger once stated that he wanted a pistol big enough that when he put a bullet through a “bad man” and he didn’t drop, it would be necessary to go behind him to see what was supporting him.

The choice between revolvers and magazine pistols can be made on the same basis as for military shooting, that is by weighing the pros and cons and then selecting the weapon preferred.

To get away from generalities and be more specific the following arms and cartridges are recommended for police work:

In selecting pistols for self-defense, the rules which govern in choosing a suitable weapon for police work are equally applicable. If pocket weapons are adequate for the purpose, the police type of pistol with barrel not to exceed four inches is suitable. If belt or shoulder holsters can be worn and personal danger is great, heavier caliber weapons with barrels not to exceed six inches in length may be carried and used to advantage.

Weapons carried unconcealed have been known to have a deterrent effect on offensively inclined individuals, but carefully concealed pocket weapons give one a comfortable feeling of confidence and protection without attracting attention and creating comment. If they are carried in a position to be put into action quickly, they possess an element of surprise that may give the user the drop on a slow thinking thug and be the means of preventing assault and robbery.

For recreational shooting there are many pistols available, and when one decides which kind of shooting he intends to follow, the selection of a pistol suitable for its practice is greatly simplified. Opinions based on sentiment, prejudice, and advertising propaganda frequently cause us to make decisions and selections which experience eventually teaches us are erroneous. The recommendations made herein are based on actual experience in the use of pistols and are made without partiality or favor. They are listed in the author’s order of preference.



A matched pair of Colt Target pistols both made on the same frame and with similar grips. An ideal battery for target shooting. The .38 Officers’ Model and the .22 Camp Perry Model.

For small bore deliberate fire target practice there are on the market at the time this is written the following American made pistols that can be recommended for this form of shooting:

Colt .22 Caliber Single Shot Pistol. (Camp Perry Model.)

S & W .22 Straight Line Pistol.

Colt .22 Automatic Target Pistol. “Woodsman” Model.)

No. 10 Stevens Target Pistol.

No. 35 Stevens “Off Hand” Pistol.

In addition to these target pistols, there can be purchased through importing firms or direct from the makers the highly refined European type of “Free Pistol” which for International competition shooting under the rules of the International Shooting Union are the finest examples of target pistols. The makes that can be recommended are:

“System Buchel” (Tell Model), German.

Widmer (Tell Model), Swiss.

Hartmann, Swiss.

Stotzer (Perfect Model), German.

In buying these foreign pistols it is well to assure oneself that they have been bored and chambered for American .22 Long Rifle cartridges and nothing else.

For general small bore target practice at miscellaneous targets the following can be recommended:

Colt Automatic Pistol Caliber .22 “Woodsman” Model.

Smith and Wesson 22-32 Heavy Frame Target Revolver.

Colt .22 Caliber Police Positive Target (New Heavy Frame Model ).

For general target practice with pistols of larger caliber any of the following hand guns will give excellent service and satisfaction:

Colt Officers’ Model Target.

Smith & Wesson Military and Police Target.

Smith & Wesson .44 Target.

Colt New Service Target .44 S & W Special Cartridge.

Colt Auto Pistol, Govt. Model Cal. 45.

Colt Single Action Army, chambered for .44 S & W Special, .45 Colt or .45 Automatic Cartridge.

For fit, balance, weight, accuracy and workmanship the first two named revolvers are the finest models of target weapons made today. They are adapted to the .38 S & W Special, and the .38 Colt Special cartridges in full and mid range loads all of which are very pleasant to shoot, free from excessive noise and recoil and with sufficient accuracy to suit the most particular gun crank. The last named revolver is included, not because it is a special target gun, for it is not, but because it is the most famous of all Colt guns and though it has been out since 1872 is still used extensively. It has the finest grip of any of the hand guns made in America and is chambered for at least eight different cartridges, the latest of these being the .45 automatic cartridge. It is made with either 4¾, 5½ or 7½ inch barrels. With a 5½ inch barrel it is a well balanced gun. Many tales have been told of using this gun without a trigger and of firing by “fanning” or “slipping” the hammer. By using a special hammer with short spur, slip shooting has been done and is still being done by a few specialists with quite remarkable results in speed and accuracy. “Burro Puncher” John Newman, of Seattle, is the leading exponent of this form of shooting and it has been the author’s privilege to witness his skill on many occasions. At either military or aerial targets Newman’s work is quite astonishing.


The Newman Slip Hammer Colt. Showing the Single Action Army Colt made over by J. D. O’Meara from specifications by John Newman, the cleverest exponent of slip shooting in America. The cylinders shown are interchangeable, making it possible to use either the .45 Colt or the .45 Automatic cartridge. The pistol may be fired with the trigger or by tying the latter back and slipping the hammer from under the thumb.