SHOOTING AGAINST TIME - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter VIII


ACCURATE rapid shooting is the true measure of one’s skill and co-ordination in pistol shooting; skill in manipulating the pistol and co-ordination in aiming, holding, squeezing the trigger and calling the shot. It is not only the most practical kind of shooting to learn but is a highly advantageous adjunct to other kinds of firing and should be practiced to a certain extent at all times when one is training with the pistol. By rapid fire practice we develop co-ordination to a high degree and this aids greatly when we fire very deliberately as it keeps our mind and muscles from becoming sluggish and prevents the development of that fault or habit known as “freezing,” that is, of being all set to fire and unable to squeeze the trigger.

During the tryouts to select pistol teams to represent the United States in the Olympic matches and the annual matches of the International Shooting Union in 1924 the practicability of rapid firing was clearly demonstrated. The Olympic matches consisted entirely of rapid firing, while those of the International Shooting Union of only deliberate firing with “free pistols” with practically an unlimited time allowance in which to fire sixty shots. The American tryout was participated in by pistol shots from many parts of the country as well as from Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone and included National competition winners in both slow and rapid firing. The Olympic team tryout was held first, and the entire team selected, including substitutes, was composed of Army and Marine Corps men who were primarily military shots. Three of these men also won places on the International team. All pistol shots present tried out for both teams. It was quite evident that the old experienced deliberate fire shots were incapable of firing rapidly with accuracy, whereas the rapid fire specialists could do both kinds of shooting well. Incidentally those particular American teams shot the highest scores of any teams that had represented us in such matches up to that time.

Before the advent of the automatic or auto-loading pistol, accurate rapid firing against time consisted mainly of two problems. These were, aiming and squeezing the trigger, and cocking the revolver between shots. Success then depended largely on one’s skill in solving the latter either by single or double action. The introduction of the automatic pistol simplified the problem of accurate rapid firing very much for with this weapon cocking by the shooter is eliminated and the entire time allowance can be devoted to aiming and squeezing the trigger.

Perhaps because of the popularity of the revolver and in order to encourage rapid fire practice by those who prefer this weapon the time allowance per shot in qualification and competition shooting has not been reduced, though this might well be done for automatic pistol shooting as the elimination of cocking allows a maximum of time for aiming and firing.

Depending upon his choice of weapons the novice may learn rapid fire with either the revolver or the automatic pistol but if he chooses the former he will always be at some disadvantage when competing against men using automatics.


There are three principles that must be understood and observed if one desires to secure the greatest results in rapid firing.

1. Every movement of pointing and aiming must be made in the quickest and most direct manner.

2. In rapid aiming the shooter should first establish his line of sight by fixing his master eye on the aiming point of the target and then bring the pistol sights into this line of sight. To attempt to align the sights first and then, by moving the pistol, to align the sights and the target is the wrong procedure.

3. In all rapid firing care should be taken to release the trigger fully after each shot.

Regardless of where the pistol is when we commence rapid firing it should be thrust into the firing position without unnecessary flourishes or other time wasting movements. In military and N.R.A. competitions in this country it is usual to start with the pistol in the position of “RAISE PISTOL” as prescribed in the U. S. Army Training Regulations for the pistol. This is, with the pistol held in the hand, six inches in front of the right shoulder, muzzle up, barrel to the rear and inclined to the front at an angle of 30 degrees.

In Europe, and the U.S.R.A., rapid fire competitions the rules require the marksman to hold the pistol with the arm extended toward the ground at an angle of 45 degrees with the body. Other rules sometime require the pistol to be in a holster until the signal to commence firing is given. In practice that simulates firing in self defense the pistol may be in a holster, in the pocket, or any other convenient place one may desire to carry it. In any case no time should be wasted in unnecessary movements of the gun into firing position. Even from “Raise Pistol” men frequently swing the pistol and forearm through the area of a circle in taking the aiming position, instead of thrusting the hand straight toward the target and dropping the muzzle below the aiming point as they make the thrust. Quicker aim can be secured if the sights of a pistol can be brought into the line of sight from below rather than from above and through it. This can be done from “Raise Pistol” if the head is held erect and the muzzle kept below the line of sight. During the rapid firing of a string of shots on the same target the sights of the pistol should be held in alignment with the aiming point except when recoil or wind puffs derange the aim. Swinging the gun to a vertical position or similar flourishes between shots are always indicative of inexperienced shooters.

While it is always advisable to aim as accurately as time will permit obviously one cannot hope to align sights as carefully and exactly in rapid as in deliberate firing. As an aid to rapid aiming it is therefore desirable to have a front sight large enough to be quickly caught by the eye and a rear sight notch of sufficient width and depth to enable one to center the front sight within the notch easily. A combination of a broad blade front sight and a large U shaped rear sight with a horizontal upper edge is very satisfactory for quick and rapid firing. Several of the newer military revolvers and pistols have sights of this form.


One of the first questions that arises when a novice begins firing with a revolver is that of using the double action. While there are exceptions to the rule it is generally agreed that the most accurate rapid fire target shooting can be done with the revolver by cocking it for each shot as though it did not have the double action. The author however does not agree with many others who say that accurate rapid firing cannot be done using the double action. The reason we do not become skillful in this method of firing is because we do not have to fire within a time limit that would make it difficult to get in all our shots if we used single action. A few years ago the Rapid Fire Championship at Camp Perry was won by a man using the double action and I have known two men who have developed uncanny skill in this method of firing simply because they specialized in it rather than in the popular method of firing.

If our purpose in learning to shoot a revolver is something more than mere target practice and we have the thought in mind that we may sometime have to use it in self-defense and at close quarters, then, we should by all means practice double action shooting, emphasizing quick drawing and pointing rather than aiming. In emergencies like this it would be well for us to employ the tactics suggested by the words of a famous Confederate cavalry leader who said: “Always git thar fustest with the mostest.”

To cock the revolver smoothly and with greatest speed when using it as a single action weapon requires a little knowledge and a lot of practice. A person with a small hand may have considerable difficulty in manipulating a large caliber revolver, while one with an unusually large hand has diametrically opposite troubles in cocking small caliber weapons conveniently and speedily. With this in mind one of the three practical methods of cocking herein described and illustrated will be found suitable for almost any person except he be possessed of a very abnormal hand.


Cocking Method No. 1. Note that the grip is not changed while cocking in this manner.

METHOD NO. 1: Hold the revolver in the proper normal grip with the hand high on the stock, three fingers around the butt and thumb along the left side of the frame in a position most convenient to the particular type of revolver used. With the thumb parallel to the barrel place the ball of the thumb on the cocking spur of the hammer, press downward and backward to cock the gun, at the same time turning the muzzle very slightly to the right without releasing the grip on the butt more than is absolutely necessary. The advantage of this method is that it assures one of retaining the same hold or position of the hand on the stock. It can be executed by an average sized hand and carries out the principle of keeping the sights aligned most of the time.


Cocking Method No. 2. Showing the position of the thumb and the release of the grip between shots.

METHOD NO. 2: Hold the revolver as in Method No. 1. Flip the muzzle upward and to the right, at the same time placing the thumb across the hammer spur nearly at right angles to it and cocking the gun by pressing downward. The chief disadvantage of this method is that the grip must be entirely released and each succeeding shot may be fired with the hand in a different position unless time is taken to adjust it carefully. The advantages are that the work of cocking is made easy especially for small hands and that the recoil of the pistol helps the operation.

METHOD NO. 3: Grip the revolver with the little finger under the butt. Place the ball of the thumb firmly on the hammer spur, thumb parallel to the barrel, press down and cock the piece. If the thumb cannot reach the hammer it will be necessary to start the latter back by pressing firmly on the trigger until the hammer spur can be securely gripped by the thumb. The trigger is then released and the cocking completed by the thumb alone. The advantages are that the grip remains the same for each shot, the hammer can be easily cocked, the sights can be held more nearly in alignment and, when the thumb can reach the hammer and the double action be dispensed with, it is the fastest of all cocking methods. It has the disadvantages of requiring a lower grip on the pistol, a great deal of practice to execute smoothly when the double action is used and causes considerable strain on the wrist when firing is done with a heavy caliber revolver. To execute it most conveniently this method requires the arm to be slightly bent during the cocking and firing.


Cocking Method No. 3. This shows the position of the thumb and little finger as the cocking begins. The grip is not changed at any time. Persons who cannot reach the spur with the thumb should start the hammer back by pressure on the trigger.

When he entered the military service the author was taught this method of holding and cocking the .38 caliber revolver then issued to the army. His instructor was an officer who had won the National Individual Pistol Match using this technique in both rapid and slow fire and as a result it was a favorite method for several years until the .45 caliber automatic pistol became the official side arm of the Service. This new pistol compelled the adoption of a higher grip because of the grip safety and the removal of the little finger from under the butt.

During a fairly wide experience in competition shooting the author has seen only two real rapid fire experts use Method No. 3 successfully, although there have been several outstanding shots before his time who favored this practice. Of the two referred to, one of them probably has captured more rapid fire trophies than any other American on record. He uses the bent arm in all kinds of firing. As an aid to a more secure grip he has cut away the corners of the wooden stocks on some of his revolvers so that his little finger fits snugly and comfortably around the bottom of the butt.


In practicing rapid fire exercises one should simulate as nearly as possible the conditions of actual firing, as regards size of target, starting position and time allowance for the string of shots to be fired. The purposes of the exercises are to develop quickness in manipulation, rapid co-ordination in aiming and squeezing, and regularity in firing. Quickness in manipulation is very essential when the single action of a revolver is used and its attainment depends entirely on practice. With automatic weapons this problem is greatly simplified. Coordination which will give uniform firing intervals and accurately placed shots, will be developed by practicing aiming and snapping systematically. The first shot of a string usually takes more time than the succeeding ones, and it is well therefore to devote considerable practice to snapping single shots from the position of “Raise Pistol.” If one is slow in getting off the first shot it will cause hurry throughout the rest of the string with resulting inaccuracy and irregularity in the firing intervals. The novice should learn from snapping practice just how much time he requires to complete the string of shots and then by practice assure himself that he can get them all off well within the time limit. If he has learned by experience just how much time he has to spare, he has a comfortable feeling of confidence, when he is delayed in firing his first shot, because he knows he still has sufficient time to complete his string without sacrificing accuracy. The good rapid fire shot gets his first shot off in a minimum of time and the remaining ones with clock-like regularity, safely within the time allowed. The mediocre marksman fires his first shot either too fast or too slow and the others of the string at irregular intervals with absolute lack of smoothness; this results in very erratic shooting.


Take the correct firing position in front of an appropriate sized sighting bull’s-eye with the revolver at “Raise Pistol.” The grip for rapid fire should be firmer than for slow fire and all slack taken up almost to the extent of partially squeezing the trigger when “Ready” is given.

At a signal or command for “Commence Firing” given by someone acting as a coach thrust the muzzle of the revolver directly toward the target and bring the sights into the line of sight, which should have been established by keeping the master eye fixed at six o’clock on the bull’s-eye. Simulate firing by squeezing the trigger smoothly and decisively when the aim is correct. Cock the revolver quickly, maintaining the grip and the sight alignment as far as possible, and when the aim is again correct squeeze decisively as for the first shot. Repeat the procedure until five shots are fired. Rest a few minutes and repeat the exercise, being careful to execute it each time with care and attention. Start slowly at first and strive for smoothness in manipulation, that is, in cocking, squeezing, and especially in thrusting the revolver forward for the first shot. As smoothness is acquired speed will be developed and then the novice can concentrate on regularity and uniformity in snapping, which can best be acquired by snapping the piece at a regular interval of time regardless of accuracy of aim. This may be accomplished by having the coach call off the seconds to you or by counting to yourself—One and, Two and, Three and, up to Ten and, which should take ten seconds. Co-ordination will be developed by careful regular practice to the point where the squeeze will fire the piece at the instant the aim is correct and both will occur at regular intervals of time.


An automatic pistol that cannot be cocked conveniently while held in the firing position is impracticable for rapid fire exercises beyond the point of simulating the firing of the first shot of a string. Hammerless pistols and those without cocking spurs come in this category. With this fact in mind the novice who desires to train himself in the technique of rapid firing without expending ammunition will do well to select a pistol with a convenient hammer which can be readily cocked between shots either by the thumb method used on revolvers or by some other practical method. Actual practice in rapid firing may be held at small cost with the .22 caliber automatic pistols but to do this with large caliber weapons would be very expensive. The substitution of good rapid fire exercises in place of firing is highly desirable for several reasons.

Since its adoption in 1911 as the official side arm of our Army and Navy the .45 Caliber Automatic pistol. Model 1911 (Colt Government Model) is now more generally used throughout the country than all other automatics due to its wide distribution during and immediately following the World War and to the fact that government ammunition for it can be obtained readily at very reasonable prices. As a further incentive to practice with this pistol, all government qualification courses, the National Pistol Matches, and many other competitions, are limited to this pistol. In view of these facts the following exercise with this weapon is suggested:

Obtain a strong cord about four feet in length and of not to exceed one-eighth inch in diameter and tie one end securely to the cocking spur of the hammer with the knot on top. Hold the other end securely in the left hand near the left thigh and take the firing position opposite a sighting bull’s-eye with gun cocked and at “Raise Pistol.” At the signal for “Commence Firing” extend the right hand quickly and smoothly toward the target, align the sights, hold the breath, squeeze the trigger and call the shot. After the hammer has fallen recock it by a jerk on the cocking cord, so as to flip the muzzle upward, or by raising the pistol hand until the taut cord cocks the hammer, and immediately thereafter aim and squeeze the trigger for the second shot. Repeat until a string of five shots are snapped. Care should be taken to observe the principles of rapid aiming, squeezing straight to the rear and of releasing the trigger after each shot. This snapping practice should be done against time as described for the revolver.

The value of rapid fire snapping exercises cannot be overstressed for they are a most important factor in successfully shooting against time.