American Pistol Shooting (2015)
THE ESSENTIALS OF PISTOL SHOOTING
TO MASTER an art one must be endowed by nature with certain talents and the ambition and perseverance to apply these inherent advantages to the attainment of super skill by practice, study and experience. Comparatively few of us possess the qualifications of a master artist but on the other hand we can by reasonable study and practice acquire a skill that will classify us as experts in many of the arts unless we are handicapped by some mental or physical deficiency. The art of pistol shooting is more difficult to excel in than that of rifle or shotgun shooting and yet there is nothing about the game that is mysterious or that requires special aptitude. It can be learned readily by a beginner who is properly instructed providing he will carefully and diligently practice the principles taught.
There are many cases on record of men qualifying as “Pistol Experts” who have little real knowledge of the weapon they used, but nevertheless they were able to win the expert rating because they were well coached and trained in the technique of shooting and their pistols were properly adjusted for them. The term expert is a comparative one and may mean little or much. Though a man may have qualified as a Marksman, Sharpshooter, or Pistol Expert over a military course using military weapons he may be a novice at the more highly refined deliberate target shooting game practiced with special single shot pistols against more difficult targets. Likewise the deliberate fire specialist would probably be rated “poor” should he attempt to compete with a skillful, quick drawing snapshot in a match fired at rapidly moving aerial targets and, carrying the comparison still further, the snapshot usually makes a fizzle of firing at fifty yards on the Standard American target. So one may become an expert in one of several forms of pistol shooting and make a reputation for himself which is creditable and enviable, or if he is not satisfied and inclined to look for greater accomplishments he can in due time take up each style of shooting and work for the distinction of being known as an expert all-around pistol shot.
To master the art of pistol shooting one must excel in all its essentials. These may be grouped under three headings:
A thorough knowledge of the pistol must be acquired. Its capabilities and limitations must be known. Its care, all necessary adjustments for its efficient use, and familiarity with the ammunition for which it was designed must be understood and observed.
One must gain superior skill and accuracy in the technique of firing by learning and applying to practice those principles of shooting known as aiming, holding, squeezing the trigger and calling the shot.
One must, through training and experience, develop a high degree of co-ordination of mind, nerves and muscles to the end that he may eventually shoot mechanically.
A comprehensive knowledge of pistols is an excellent foundation to a thorough course in shooting and while very desirable is not so important to the novice as an accurate, practical acquaintance with the pistols with which he wishes to become proficient. Information tracing the development of the hand gun from its origin, through the various steps in its alteration and improvement to the period of its present perfection is of value, chiefly to the collector. An intimate knowledge of the mechanism of the pistol with which one practices so that he can quickly dismount it for purposes of adjustment, repair or alteration of trigger pull is of infinitely more value to the shooter than to know who made the first matchlock.
The lack of practical skill in the adjustment of one’s pistol is very much appreciated when, through ignorance, one is forced to send it to the factory for repairs because that rarest of all mechanics, the good gunsmith, is not to be found, or if he is located it is found that he has so much work ahead that one must wait indefinitely to have his particular job finished. The old adage “Know your gun” has great significance to the pistol marksman.
While stationed in the Philippine Islands the author had the misfortune to have the hammer break on a fine hand made European target pistol. The rupture passed through the sear notch in such a manner as to make welding impracticable and the nearest good gunsmith was seven thousand miles away. Realizing, at the time the pistol was purchased, that it was hand made and that spare parts were not available the precaution had been taken to make a study of the mechanism of this so called “free pistol” and this knowledge now came to be very useful.
With the assistance of a Filipino machinist a new hammer was made and I then had the satisfaction of being able to accurately fit this into the action and to cut the delicate sear notch so that the trigger mechanism functioned perfectly on the first attempt. No doubt there was some luck in this, but fifteen years’ experience in filing and stoning various kinds of trigger mechanisms had given me some skill in this one detail.
Of equal importance with those mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs is that of sight adjustment. This must be not only understood but skill in actually adjusting sights must be acquired. This is especially true when it becomes necessary to change the elevation or windage of a pistol with fixed sights. Sight adjustment is covered more in detail in the chapter on Aiming.
Pistols and revolvers are essentially short range weapons and rifle accuracy cannot be expected from them. It does give one confidence to know that his target pistol or revolver will shoot closer than he can hold, and all good pistols will do this. The best single shot pistols will group their shots in an inch circle at fifty yards when fired from a machine rest. A knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of the pistols now available for our use makes it possible for us to quickly decide on which weapon to use for a particular kind of shooting and lack of this information puts us at a distinct disadvantage should we attempt to use a pistol in a match for which it is entirely unsuited. Familiarity with pistol ammunition is absolutely necessary nowadays when one considers how many different cartridges there are available for each of the different calibers of hand guns. Every gun is designed to do its best work with a particular cartridge and we should be sure that we know which cartridge that is. If we attempt loading our own ammunition, then as a safety precaution, if for no other reason, we must know the powder suitable to use and the maximum load it is safe to put in our cartridges, otherwise our shooting career may end abruptly. A study of the ballistic tables of pistol cartridges as issued by our leading cartridge manufacturers will be found very helpful in the study of questions of ammunition.
Assuming that one has absorbed the necessary general knowledge prerequisite to intelligent practice and has decided on a particular kind of pistol with which he desires to become proficient his mission then becomes one of developing skill in the technique of firing. This resolves itself into acquiring further knowledge, but of a more specific nature and the intensive application of his knowledge to practice.
As the golfer, the fencer, and the batter must learn to take positions most suitable to the games they play, so must the pistol novice learn the proper shooting position. As the bowler or billiard expert learns to align his sight with the pin or ball he desires to hit, so must the shooter learn to point or aim his pistol correctly and accurately on the target he desires his bullet to strike. As the sculptor, the painter and the surgeon learn to hold their instruments with firmness that is at once positive and yet so delicate as to be responsive to the slightest impulse of mind and muscles, so must one learn to be steady without tenseness, to use sufficient strength to grip his pistol firmly but without rigidity and to squeeze the trigger so gradually that the movement borders on the imperceptible. All this means that he must learn and practice the essentials of technique which are aiming and holding the pistol, squeezing the trigger, and calling the shot. Each of these important factors will be covered thoroughly in other chapters.
Co-ordination in pistol shooting may be defined as the harmonious action of brain, nerves and muscles which results in automatic shooting with mechanical precision. All forms of shooting demand co-ordination but none so much as the pistol game. The good clay bird shot gives an excellent example of mechanical shooting showing co-ordination in which the time element is intimately associated with a moving shotgun and a rapidly moving target. The expert rapid fire rifle shot also exhibits good muscular and mental co-ordination when he makes a ten shot possible in a minute. Both of these marksmen however have their sights held in alignment with the eye by the support given their weapons by the shoulder, cheek, arms and hands and with them co-ordination consists largely in squeezing the trigger decisively when the target comes in the line of sight or, in the case of the bird shot, when the point at which he shoots passes the sights of his moving gun. The pistol shot has the problem of co-ordinating his aim, hold, and squeeze with nothing to aid him in maintaining the alignment of his sights except the nervous and muscular control of his shooting arm.
The beginner has his lack of co-ordination impressed upon him when he finds that he has difficulty in aligning his sights with his eye and when he gets them aligned that he cannot hold this alignment and finally, when he tries to bring the target into the line of aim he meets with increasing difficulty. If he does get eye, sights, and target aligned he discovers that he cannot maintain his aim and that he cannot co-ordinate his trigger squeeze with his aim, with the result that his pistol fires when his aim is off the target. It is during this trying period that one realizes what the lack of co-ordination means and the necessity for developing it.
With intelligent practice and greater experience there comes a time when the aim is caught instantly, is maintained by a steady hold, the trigger squeezing muscles function without hesitation, the shot is fired and the call is “good.” Due to acquired bad habits experienced shots frequently develop a condition such that while they are able to aim accurately and hold steadily they are unable to squeeze the trigger. This condition is known among shooters as being “frozen” but it is nothing more or less than a lack of co-ordination. The cause, effects and remedies for this phenomenon are discussed in a later chapter.