FREE PISTOL SHOOTING - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter IX


“FREE PISTOL” shooting originated in Europe and is the form of practice held under the rules of the International Shooting Union (Union Internationale de Tir). The name grew out of the custom of using pistols unrestricted as to caliber, length of barrel and weight of trigger pull in the competitions controlled by that organization. The name applied is not strictly accurate for there is one limitation placed on the arms used and that is that they must have open sights not containing glass. Regulations for this kind of shooting further provide that firing be done at fifty meters (about 55 yards) at the International target. The latter consists of ten rings, two and a half centimeters (.983 inches) apart, counting respectively one to ten points. It is shown in Chapter II. There is practically no time limit per shot as twenty-four hours is allowed in which to complete the course of fire for the International Free Pistol Match which consists of eighteen sighting and sixty record shots.

Twenty-eight nations are now represented in this international shooting organization, and pistol practice in accordance with its rules is increasing in popularity. This is due largely to the conditions under which firing is done. The use of a universal target, sheltered firing points, liberal time allowances, and free pistols makes it possible for marksmen of all nations to compare their skill under as near uniform and ideal conditions for accurate shooting as it is practical to devise. The use of free pistols stimulates initiative in the designing and perfecting of super-accurate target guns, and though they may be of little practical value for military purposes or for self-defense they do provide the pawns for a highly scientific game, which after all is a worthy purpose in itself, and one which may eventually be the only legitimate reason for the possession and use of pistols by civilians.


The shooting stand during the 1924 International Matches at Rheims, France. Note the comfort, convenience and completeness of the arrangements for the marksmen.

Unquestionably this International style of shooting is the highest form of accurate pistol practice, and one which appeals particularly to the student of the game and to those who follow the sport as disciples of accuracy and close holding. It is not spectacular nor does it carry with it the thrills and excitement of other forms of practice, but bears much the same relation to them that billiards does to pool, or that long range duck shooting does to upland bird shooting. It demands a high degree of skill, a carefully developed technique, the closest kind of holding, and the finest and most accurate shooting equipment.

The target used is quite difficult, much more so than the Standard American Target, and wild shots penalize the marksman’s score severely. The sighting bull’s-eye of slightly less than eight inches is not unreasonable and the ten ring is about the minimum diameter within which the best pistols and revolvers will group their shots.

Accuracy is the keynote of success in this game and advantage is taken of every detail that will aid in securing it. Sheltered firing points are authorized as a means to steady holding. Shooting must be done under natural light, which, of course, is superior to artificial illumination. There is no time limit per shot to worry the firer and cause him to hurry his work. Pistols especially designed for fine shooting with long sighting radius, long accurately bored barrels, set triggers adjustable to the most delicate touch, very fast non-jarring actions, and stocks and grips fitted to each individual’s hand are permitted and generally used for free pistol shooting for it is decidedly disadvantageous to be otherwise equipped.

It is not the game for the novice in pistol firing, nor the specialist in aerial snapshooting or quick and rapid firing. It is, however, an advanced course for the deliberate fire shot and the military or police shot who has had good training in slow firing. When one is able to consistently average around ninety percent on the Standard American target it will be well worth while for him to try the International one at fifty meters and determine what average he can make on it with its closer spaced counting rings and smaller center.


An older model “Tell” pistol.

The European type of free pistol is, to one accustomed to the familiar American models, a clumsy, cumbersome appearing arm, but a close inspection of a good model will quickly convince one of its efficiency for the work to which it is adapted. This type of pistol generally weighs from two and a half to three pounds, and has octagonal barrels from twelve to fourteen and a half inches in length. The stocks appear quite unwieldy but this is due to their carefully shaped thumb, finger, and palm rests, which are made to fit and support all parts of the hand. As a further aid to holding, the trigger guard is provided with one or more spurs or finger holds, which when used as a part of the grip enables one to keep the arm nicely balanced with minimum muscular effort. Set triggers are the rule on these guns. Some have double triggers, the forward one being set by squeezing the rear one until it clicks. Other models have only one trigger which is set by means of a small lever on the side of the frame. The greatest asset of the European pistol is its action. The powerful leverage obtained by the cocking arm easily compresses a strong main spring and this, acting on a light hammer with a short fall, gives a high speed action that is positive and yet so delicate that there is no jar given by the hammer striking the primer that can cause a disturbment of the sight alignment. The aiming equipment of these foreign pistols enables them to be shot with great accuracy as they have a long sighting radius which is sometimes increased by the addition of a rear sight bracket that extends well to the rear of the breach. The sights vary from delicate pin head beads, protected on both sides by metal wings, to the conventional broad rectangular blades. These are interchangeable and fit into a dovetail slot in the top of the barrel and are held there by a flat spring. The principle is good but the method of holding the front sight in place is not generally satisfactory. The rear sights have a broad horizontal upper edge of about an inch which is a great aid in the prevention of canting. They can be adjusted for elevation and deflection by means of substantial screws which are turned by small keys resembling those used to wind clocks. The latest means of sight adjustment is by a micrometer sight which gives a change in elevation of one-tenth of an inch, at fifty meters, for each click of the sight.


The Stotzer “Perfekt” pistol.


Here is shown a very late model of a System Büchel “Tell” Pistol. It has a 14¾” barrel and the grip is sloped at an angle to the barrel that is very similar to American pistols.

The technique of free pistol shooting is in general the same as slow fire practice with American pistols with the exception of a few distinctly different details, the most important of these being the manner of holding or gripping the pistol and the method of using the set triggers. Instead of gripping the butt of a free pistol with three fingers of the hand, as an American is accustomed to doing, the foreigner hooks the second and sometimes the third fingers also around the spur of the trigger guard, leaving only one or two fingers, as the case may be, about the butt of the pistol. By doing this he is able to move the hand a little higher on the stock and to support the piece a little further forward so that it is perfectly balanced, in spite of the long barrel, and can be held with little effort while the trigger is touched or squeezed off.


The two methods of holding the free pistol generally practiced by European pistol men. The position of the thumb should be noted. The shape of the thumb rest makes this position desirable if one wishes to maintain the most comfortable and efficient grip on pistols of this design.

A study of the illustrations will show that on the older model “Tell” and on the “Perfekt” pistol the shape of the grip and its slope or angle with the barrel is quite different from those found on most American pistols. It should also be noted that the rear support of the trigger guard of these models is so far back that it interferes with the second finger if one tries to hold the grip as he would an American pistol. The more modern guns have the rear support carefully shaped and further forward so that there is more space for the fingers that hold the stock, and the grip feels more natural to marksmen accustomed to our hand guns. It should also be noted that the stocks of the newer free pistols are better shaped and with an angle to the barrel more suited to us.


The method used by some Americans for holding the free pistol. This is possible only with the later models which have the trigger guard shaped so as to permit a comfortable grip with three fingers around the butt. Even with these new pistols European shots prefer to hook one or two fingers over the trigger guard.

The most important detail for American shots to master in firing free pistols is the use of the set trigger. Our technique has been to squeeze the trigger rather than to touch it off and we have been accustomed to comparatively heavy pulls for so long that when we attempt to use a very light set trigger, which can barely be touched without firing the piece, there is at once presented a mental hazard which is very difficult to overcome. The pistol novice who takes up set trigger firing early in the game has one advantage over an old experienced shot because he can adapt himself to the peculiarities of this style of trigger without having to overcome a long developed habit of resting his finger on the trigger and applying a noticeable pressure before the gun will fire. Our European rivals have been brought up on set triggers and there is nothing about them they do not know and while they occasionally have accidental discharges they have learned to expect them and the results are not so startling or demoralizing.

There are two methods of releasing a set trigger. They are both used in free rifle shooting with very satisfactory results. The first is performed by a gentle tapping motion of the index finger pivoted from the second joint. When the aim is correct the shooter starts the movement of the finger and as long as the sights remain properly aligned he continues it until the trigger is touched and the rifle fired. One might think that this would develop flinching because the marksman knows that when he touches the trigger the explosion will occur. Perhaps it does, but apparently as a result of training, the set trigger expert develops a very delicate sense of touch and can with experience get his shots off as free from flinches as an American can who applies a steady pressure to the trigger.

The other method is to have a trigger set to such a weight that the index finger may be gently rested on it, until the aim is correct, when it can be released by a very light squeeze.

The latter method appears to be the more satisfactory for application to the pistol, but even then it is a more difficult problem than in free rifle firing and it is very necessary to have a support for the index finger such that very little pressure is put on the trigger until it is desired to release it. This is accomplished by extending the wooden stock as shown in the newer models of free pistols.

It is also quite practicable, with some models of European pistols to omit setting the trigger and to use it as one does an American trigger. The author found it very difficult to learn the use of set triggers after many years’ experience with ordinary ones and finally by trigger adjustment experiments was able to secure a trigger pull of about a pound without using the set triggers as such. This weight is light enough for anyone and permits of squeezing the trigger in the normal American way and is offered as a suggestion to others who may find difficulty in using set triggers. While it is theoretically quite possible to adjust them to different weights, practically it is not so easy, for when one begins increasing the set trigger weight beyond a few ounces a decided creep or sponginess becomes evident in the trigger action.

Anyone who watches a free pistol match conducted by the International Shooting Union will be impressed with the leisurely manner in which the firing is done and will soon realize that the principle followed is to get every shot off with the greatest care and accuracy regardless of the time it takes. The participants take full advantage of favorable shooting conditions. If an incident occurs that upsets them they stop firing until their nerves are quite normal again. If they are not holding well they frequently take long rests between shots. If they think their pistols are not sighted properly they may fire a few sighters between their record strings, which is permissible under the rules. In simple language they take no chances.

The International game is not without its disadvantages, for to play it properly requires a range equipped with sheltered firing points. It might be argued that one could fire without this shelter, but a little experience with set triggers in a very moderate breeze will soon convince one to the contrary. The greater surface of free pistols causes them to be affected by wind to a greater degree than the more compact American hand guns. The best foreign pistols are quite expensive when one pays the high duty necessary to import them. The International target is quite satisfactory for fifty meter shooting but when reduced for twenty yard indoor practice the rings are so close together that the scores made thereon are not equivalent to those made on the full-size target at fifty meters but are generally several points higher.


A beautiful “Tell” model Büchel pistol of most modern design. It is handsomely engraved and inlaid with gold and silver. The stock of Circassian walnut is carved with an oak leaf design inset with ivory acorns, and the forehand with a spread eagle. This masterpiece of the pistol markers’ art is valued at $1000.00 and is owned by the B. H. Dyas Co., of Hollywood, California.

In America, free pistol shooting is in its infancy and there is at present little incentive to take it up as there are only a limited number of competitions open to free pistols, and the National organizations which control our National and State matches still insist on restricting the competitions open to “Any Pistol” to hand guns with ten inch barrels and trigger pulls of not less than two pounds. A few more defeats in this style of shooting, and a few more years of experience in the game on the part of our best deliberate fire shots will convince our pistol men that we should include this highly desirable form of practice with other kinds of American pistol shooting.