The following information on practical speed pistol shooting practice comes from The Book of the Pistol and Revolver by Hugh B. C. Pollard. The Book of the Pistol and Revolver is also available to purchase in print.
There is such a wide difference between speed shooting and target shooting, that it is best to treat the former section under a separate chapter heading. Of all practical pistol shooting, speed work is the only section worth considering, for where your deliberate, hair-trigger target shot may be capable of immense accuracy, he is seldom a quick or instinctively accurate shot at a moving target that traverses his line of aim.
Shots at a target that bobs up and down in the same place are fairly easy; but for practical work with the revolver as a weapon of offence or defence and for sporting purposes, it is necessary that actual aiming should be almost done away with, and the whole training devoted to developing an instinctive facility with your weapon, which should enable you to put all six shots on a 12-inch card at 20 yards within three or four seconds.
The pistol is pre-eminently a weapon designed for quick use at close quarters, and the “target-shooting” side, which has developed the present excellent modern revolvers and pistols, is certainly an important branch of the art of pistol shooting, but by no means the most practical.
If you had to choose between entering into a revolver duel at ten or twelve paces, with an expert target shot accustomed to take possibly thirty seconds or more of time to take proper aim, dwell on the target, and eventually press trigger; and meeting a man who was not a target shot, but accustomed to use or carry a revolver for self-defence work in wild countries, it would be better to select the target shot as an adversary. The self-defence man would be fairly certain of not taking more than thirty seconds to discharge the whole six shots, and place them within the radius of a 4-inch circle.
The old Western practice of throwing up a tomato-tin into the air and emptying one’s pistol at it, so as to keep it continually moving along the ground after it had fallen, was a very useful form of training, as it taught one to shoot instinctively without so much as looking at the sights, depending on the balance and set of the weapon in one’s hand to enable one to shoot and hit instinctively and without mechanical aim, exactly as one throws a stone or cricket-ball.
When you reflect that an expert can fire the six shots out of a Webley Target revolver and get them all on a 12-inch square card at 12 yards in less than two seconds, and that the eight shots of an automatic pistol can be equally accurately discharged in less than one second, the extraordinary effectiveness of the revolver or pistol as a weapon when handled by an expert can be readily realized.
The average man refuses to believe that such speeds are humanly possible, and reinforces his argument by the claim that the double action of a revolver cannot possibly be functioned by the human finger at this speed. He actually means that the muscles of the finger and eye cannot obey the brain commands necessary for each separate discharge of the six shots. In this he is technically right; but the actual process that makes the feats of speed work possible is—that the eye receives only one command—look straight at the target, and does not need a separate “brain message” for each shot. Next, the trigger finger of an expert operates the mechanism of a revolver much more easily and instinctively than can that of a novice, the muscles of the trigger finger being perfectly trained to their work by previous practice. Then there is the rather complex process of utilizing the recoil of a revolver, translated through the various arm muscles to the trigger finger to operate the double action almost to the point of discharge, before the barrel is level with the target for the next shot.
Just as Press photographers develop a knack of instantaneously pressing the button of their reflex cameras a fraction of a second before whatever they desire to snap happens, so the speed shot anticipates the falling in line of target and weapon, and presses his trigger at exactly the right instant.
To fire the six shots at different targets takes infinitely longer than to fire the six at one, the time being lost by the transmission of the brain orders to change direction to the muscles as well as by the actual traverse of the weapon.
The recoil of a shot naturally throws one off one’s aim, but by practice it can be absorbed, just as one absorbs the shock of a caught cricket-ball, and the muscles trained to bring the weapon automatically back into correct alignment with the target. This is the first point to remember—always accustom yourself to bring the weapon back to the point of aim after each discharge.
Next master the practice of double-action shooting. In this a firm grip of the weapon is taken and steadily increased as the trigger is squeezed back. You will soon get to “feel” intuitively the end of the travel and the imminence of the fall of the hammer. This “feel” of the exact moment previous to the fall of the hammer varies with different weapons, as some have shorter or longer hammer falls than others. In some pistols, notably the .38 hammerless Smith and Wesson, a distinct pause can be felt after the hammer has reached the top of its stroke, and before the continued trigger pressure pulls the scear clear of its bent.
Speed practice should be commenced at the short range, and continually varied by practice at two or three targets arranged unevenly at the same distance. A good practice is to let the marker give the command at which target the shot is to be delivered, as the varying order of the commands—Left, Right, Centre, as his fancy dictates—insure more practical shooting than plain high-speed discharge at the same target.
Always work against a stop-watch, and vary your practice, firing some targets for speed alone and some for speed and accuracy combined. The various so-called “quick shoots” at Bisley are archaic, as they are really pure target competitions, with a limit of time in which to discharge the shots. Two and three seconds per shot are frequently allowed, and there is no scale of proportion between time and accuracy.
The “bull’s-eye” revolver competition is of little practical value, and the substitution of speed competitions fired on a man-sized target at 20 and 40 yards ranges would have many times the actual military value of the present competitions.
In France and the U.S.A. the proper military value of quick shooting and man-sized targets is recognized, and it is to be hoped that the new military programme of the control of the N.R.A. Bisley meetings will evolve an efficient series of reforms, and that a proper standard course of revolver instruction and practice at proper targets will be adopted by the military authorities.
The U.S.A. revolver course is fired at “Target D,” a silhouette figure of a standing man. Another target, “Target K,” the silhouette of a mounted man, is also used. These targets are set up in groups at varying distances and varying angles to the line of movement of the shooter, who has to ride past them at the trot, walk, and gallop, firing one shot at each as he passes.
In the U.S.A. Navy practice is carried out at “Target A,” a 6-foot by 4-foot rectangle, with an 8-inch black bull’s-eye, counting 5, and other concentric circles of count: 26-inch ring counts 4, 46-inch ring 3, the rest of target 3.
The sharpshooter’s course, both for instruction practices and annual record, has to be fired on this target—6 shots at 15, 25, and 50 yards. Time limit, 18 seconds for 6 shots.
The U.S.A. National Guard, which corresponds to our Territorial organization, uses the same target, and grades its men into three classes: Marksman, sharpshooter, and expert. To qualify as marksman or sharpshooter, 65 and 80 per cent of the possible score of 200 points must be made respectively. The course is as follows:
15 yards, two scores of five shots, 10 seconds per five shots.
25 yards, two scores of five shots, 10 seconds per five shots.
25 yards, two scores of five shots, 30 seconds per five shots.
50 yards, two scores of five shots, slow fire 1 minute per shot.
The expert qualification is only open to those who have passed the previous test as sharpshooters:
15 yards, two scores of five shots, 8 seconds per five shots.
25 yards, two scores of five shots, 8 seconds per five shots.
25 yards, two scores of five shots, 20 seconds per five shots.
50 yards, two scores of five shots, 20 seconds per five shots.
75 yards, two scores of five shots, 20 seconds to each shot.
An expert must make 80 per cent. of the possible score—200 out of 250 points.
The French military practice is carried out both at silhouette and ring targets, but at Gastinne Renettes all duelling pistol practice is performed at special electrically-indicating silhouette targets. Practice is performed on the “word of command” system, as in the recognized code laid down for duelling, described later in the section on wax-bullet duelling practice.
The silhouette targets have varying values according to the portion struck, and the usual range is 25 paces (19 metres).
The well-known wax-bullet duelling practice is the outcome of research and experiment on the part of Monsieur le Docteur Devillers, whose inventions have rendered it possible to obtain actual duelling practice and exchange shots with an adversary without actual harm resulting. The system employed consists of fitting breech-loading duelling pistols of .44 calibre with a special steel cartridge bush—or adapter. The fore part of this is hollowed out to accommodate a bullet made out of a special soft wax that has been evolved after much experiment, and experiments in the use of other materials, such as papier-maché, are still proceeding. The difficulty was to find a material that would not shatter from the force of the explosion, would not deform in the barrel, and was yet soft enough not to bruise the person at whom it was discharged.
In 1904 M. de Docteur Paul Devillers had discovered the necessary materials and founded the Society of “L’Assaut au Pistolet ” for the practice of wax-bullet duelling and pistol shooting in general.
The charge employed is of necessity very light, and consists of a special .22 calibre cap, which is loaded into the base of the steel cartridge.
In order to make this cap centre-fire, two projections of the shell are doubled back inside it in such a manner as to form an anvil. The wax bullet is pressed lightly in a cup on the opposite side of the adapter and the whole combination inserted in the pistol. These bushes or adapters are made in a variety of calibres to fit various revolvers and pistols, but the practice is carried out with a specially designed pistol that is modelled as closely as possible upon the standard muzzle-loading duelling pistol.
These and all wax-bullet fittings and ammunition are supplied by Piot-Lepage, 12, Rue Martel, Paris, the official armourer of the Society.
The weapon used is a side-lever-action, breech-loading, duelling pistol of .44 calibre, fitted with a special steel-plate heart-shaped guard that completely shields the firer’s hand, but does not obscure the free view of the sights and barrel. This guard is fitted just in front of the trigger-guard, and is essential, as the wax bullet, though innocuous when its flight is arrested by soft drapery, is yet quite powerful enough to bruise or break a finger clenched against a hard substance, such as a pistol stock, which would act as an anvil.
The rest of the outfit consists of a fencing-mask fitted with a thick glass window and a loose overcoat or overall of thin but loosely draped material.
The process of practice is regulated by a special code of rules, and all the special observances of correct duelling etiquette are observed.
The order of the turns in which combatants shall shoot, pool shoots, and all the pairing and handicapping of members and general arrangements, are under the charge of le directeur du combat, who is assisted by two commissaires de tir, who take the place of seconds, and a third member, who is the official loader.
The two members about to exchange shots take up their positions cloaked and masked at twenty-five paces from one another. The two seconds are charged with the duties of handing their man his weapon and observing the effect of his shot. The director of combat gives the order to fire, and decides which pistol was the first to be fired.
Having received his pistol from his second, the duellist cocks it, and takes up his position or stance. This is given in the rules, as the feet should be 70 centimetres or more apart, measured from heel to heel. The pistol arm should hang down beside the body, with the barrel pointing to the ground, the butt touching the thigh.
Under no condition may the pull-off or loading of a weapon be examined or tried by the duellist, nor may the weapon be moved from its position, with the butt upon the thigh, before the command, “Fire.”
The director asks the duellists:
“Are you ready ?”
To which they, having cocked their weapons, reply:
“Yes.” Both must answer.
The director then gives the word:
“Fire! One!—Two!—Three!” and shots must be exchanged between the first sound of the word “fire” and the last of the word “three.”
The time for the firing period is judged by the director from a metronome, and the complete sentence, “Fire! One!—Two!—Three!” is calculated to occupy four beats of the instrument. The lowest rate of command is to a metronome rate, equivalent to sixty beats to a minute; the average, one hundred; and the quickest possible, one hundred and twenty.
Thus, the highest rate of fire allows two seconds in which to raise the arm, aim, and shoot.
The period of time between the last duellists’ answer of “Yes” to the “Are you ready?” question and the command “Fire,” should not exceed five seconds.
This wax-bullet practice is by no means as easy as it seems. The whole process of “fire at the word of command,” and the fact that your opponent also shoots back at you, tends to unsteady one’s nerves.
After a bit one gets used to it, and with practice satisfactorily “fatal” shooting can be effected by merely butting the elbow upon the hip-joint, and quickly swinging up the pistol and pressing the trigger. Nearly all the members adopt a crouching, feather-edge position, with the head bent low. This is in order to offer as little target space as possible to one’s adversary.
When this wax-bullet duelling with revolvers in place of single-shot pistols is practised, the seconds watch the fall and rise of the hammers of their principals, stop-watch in hand, timing from the first to last shot fired within the time of command. An additional second to each principal counts the number of shots that hit.
The score is then worked out upon a scale of time in fifths of a second as against hits. The score is proportional to the number of hits, and inversely proportional to the time. Thus, a man making six hits in six seconds scores 400, and a man making five hits in three seconds 667. For details, see the scale in the Appendix.
For the man who wishes to become a competent pistol shot, and not a specialized competition expert, quick or speed shooting is the best system to follow, and certainly the only one suitable for modern automatic pistols—a weapon built especially for speed work. In any case, the preliminary training must be the same, but for really practical use of a weapon, a skilled speed shot is a more competent man than the purely target exponent.