A Short Course of Active Service Revolver Training

The following information on a short course of active service revolver training 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.

Training for war should specialize upon treating its pistol-shooting as the use of an arme de combat rather than as a target weapon for ambidextrous use.

A revolver in competent hands is the deadliest of all modern small arms, and national efficiency in pistol-shooting is no less desirable than is our skill in musketry. An officer’s personal connection with musketry ceases when he can train his men and control their fire. In combat the officer’s weapon is the pistol, and he should be as skilled in its use as are the rank and file with their rifles.

It is hard to add another “course” to the modern educational system for war. Officers are already overburdened with general and specialized courses in everything, from “gas” to machine gunnery; but when I consider the numbers of young officers whose ignorance of their one weapon has led them into the firing-line in an almost defenceless condition, I cannot but believe that it would be worth while in the interests of the nation were more time devoted to pistol practice. The importance of “double-action” practice has been slurred over by the target shots, and experts of this school frequently condemn its practice.

In time of war the military virtues of a revolver must be considered apart from its target capacities, and we find that the “double-action” principle has always had a following.

The “cowboy” school of novelists have much to answer for, for they have unconsciously grafted myths of the Western hemisphere on to revolver shooting in general, and it is from the West that we get the condemnation of the double-action.

Another tradition that has come from this school is the action of raising the pistol above the head before swinging down on to the target.

It has been assumed that this practice arose from the use in single-action revolvers of excessive loads designed for rifles such as the .44-40 Winchester. Actually the practice is considerably earlier, and arose with the early Colt muzzle-loading revolvers, in which the arm was held perpendicularly while cocking, in order to prevent the exploded caps falling off the nipples and clogging the action of the cylinder. Held properly in this way the exploded cap was disengaged and fell clear. All officers whom I have consulted with regard to their practical experiences with revolvers in this present war are agreed upon the value of double-action work, and I can reinforce their modern testimony with the following quaint old letter addressed to Mr. R. Adams, the inventor of the Adams muzzle-loading revolver:


In these days of warfare, any invention of improvements in firearms should be patronized and assisted, and with that view I write you this letter. I had one of your largest-sized Revolver Pistols at the bloody battle of Inkermann, and by some chance got surrounded by Russians. I then found the advantages of your pistol over Colonel Colt’s, for had I to cock before each shot I should have lost my life, but with yours, having only to pull the trigger, I was able to shoot four Russians, and thereby save my life. I should not have had time to cock, as they were too close to me, being only a few yards from me, so close that I was bayoneted through the thigh immediately after shooting the fourth man. I hope this may be of service to you, as I certainly owe my life to your invention of the Revolver Pistol.

I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant,
S. G. Crosse,
88th Regt.
Mr. R. Adams.


This Adams revolver was the weapon with which the East India Company armed some of its cavalry during the Mutiny. I have not been able to trace details of the institution of these weapons as a cavalry arm in this offshoot of the British service, but have come across references to an incident of the Mutiny reported in contemporary journals in which one hundred of our cavalry charged the rebels with a revolver charge, and in a few minutes left four hundred dead upon the field.

Perhaps some officer of the Indian Army will be able to furnish the information from his regimental traditions, in which case, if he will write to me, care of my publishers, I shall be deeply grateful.

It is difficult to lay down hard-and-fast rules for a course of training for military pistol-shooting, but elaboration of the following scheme will provide a course that can be easily combined with the existing training of young officers, and can be adapted according to the resources of the training area. The main points are that individual care and attention should be given by the officer-instructor to each young officer, and that practice should be frequent and not limited to the disposal of a meagre number of rounds of S.A.A. Pistol Webley.

An outline course of pistol-shooting should begin with:

1. A Lecture.—This should cover general particulars of the Service revolver and similar makes; the care of weapons; the limitations of their use; the fallacy of the superiority of small-bore automatics. The uselessness of the ordinary type of holster and the danger of lanyards fouling the hammer should be carefully pointed out, and officers encouraged to adopt the open Olive holster slung below the tunic in Western American fashion, for Service use. Every incident or anecdote that can be used to strengthen the interest of the class in revolvers and revolver-shooting as part of the essential knowledge of a competent officer should be brought in.

2. Demonstration of the correct grip of a revolver; method of loading and unloading; dismounting for cleaning, reassembling, etc. Never close a revolver with the hammer cocked. Correct position of holster. Smooth, light trigger-pulls. Never point a pistol anywhere but up the range. Explain the principle of instinctive sense of aim and touch, and the necessity for sticking to one type of weapon and not having continual changes. Lesson on aiming. Explain the absolute and unbreakable rule that whenever a pistol is taken in hand it must forthwith be inspected—i.e., the action “broken” to see there are no cartridges in it.

3. Preliminary Practice.—Inspect arms. Then proceed to aiming practice. This should be carried out with empty weapons, and the recruit taught to cock, level, and press his trigger the moment his sights align upon the bottom of the target. The instructor should stand behind an inspection disc with his eye to the aperture below the six o’clock bull.

He should correct individual errors and mistakes, such as snatching, canting, and flinch. Speed should be encouraged and insisted upon, but not so much as to disconcert or flurry the recruit. Within a short while he should be able to cock, aim, and fire within two seconds. Recruits should be instructed to continue this practice of snapping at an aiming mark in their spare time and indoors.

4. Range Practice at Large Target.—This should be carried out at close range—say 12 yards—and at large targets. Recruits should be accustomed to the shock of recoil, and encouraged to group their shots. In cases of flinch an excellent practice can be effected by loading the weapons with odd cartridges, some loaded, some empty cases. The trigger pull as a squeeze of the whole hand must be insisted upon. Speed of fire must also be encouraged, and any tendency to dwell upon the aim rebuked. The trigger should be pressed as the sights fall into alignment with the point of aim.

5. Double Action Practice.—Inspect arms. Clean arms. The class should have the value of double-action work for close action explained to them. Snapping practice with the double action. By continual use of the double action muscle is developed in the hand and arm, and much greater steadiness and rapidity of fire results when the arm is trained. Explain tendency of double action to throw high left when used right-handed, and high right when fired from the left hand.

6. Double-Action Target Practice.—A preliminary twelve rounds fired fairly slowly, and then strict insistence upon speed. This practice must be continued from day to day till a reliable passing-out standard of six shots in twelve seconds is attained. These shots to be within an 8-inch circle at 12 yards. Inspect and clean arms.

7. Traversing and Bobbing Targets.—These depend upon local facilities for their erection. A gravel-pit or chalk quarry is an ideal practice-ground. Counterbalanced targets may be made to bob up from a trench, or simple gravity targets running along a wire higher at one end than the other can be employed. An excellent variation of this can be used as a charging man: a frame target descending from a point in the quarry wall toward the firer along two parallel wires. The recruits should be taught first by empty snapping the amount of “swing” to allow for alternate bobbing right and left targets. Check tendency to use too much effort and haste when swinging on. Teach low aim at charging man. Aim always to be taken at centre line of body at traversing targets and figures.

8. Duelling Practice.—When the recruits have developed some facility at moving or bobbing figures, they can be set in pairs to fire at silhouette targets raised for three seconds for a single shot from a trench. In this three seconds the drawing of the pistol from the holster to the time of discharge is all included. The first to fire and hit wins. For rapid double action the figures may be raised for ten seconds, and the relative scores on time and hits anywhere on the target checked by the scale in the Appendix. This type of practice stimulates wholesome rivalry, and is excellent training for nervous shots.

9. Duelling Practice at traversing targets or alternating bobbers appearing at unknown points from the trench. This is run on lines as the above, and in every case the pistol should be returned to the holster and drawn again between single shots.

10. Long-Range Practice.—This applies to ranges over 20 yards and up to 50. The Service pistol (Webley) is usually issued sighted for this range, but target weapons are mostly sighted for the 20 yards distance. Speed should not be insisted upon, but too long dwelling upon the aim should be suppressed.

11. Charging Practice.—In this the recruits must run in Service kit over a chosen course, meeting concealed targets. They should practise the difficult art of reloading while running. A variation of this is to charge a trench and wire, firing at figure targets that rise from the trench.

12. Left and Double Handed Shooting.—It is obviously essential that an officer should be capable of using a revolver in either hand in case one arm is disabled. I am personally of the opinion that it is unnecessary to insist upon the recruits attaining an equal proficiency with both hands, as one continually finds that right-handed men have a right master eye, and the converse with naturally left-handed shots. Provided that a fair “instinctive” shot can be made left-handed, using both single and double action, I would not insist upon an equal left and right test as part of the “passing-out standard.” Double-handed work—that is, with a pistol in each hand—has a distinct military value, but only comes naturally to the ambidextrous. Shooting with both eyes open at two targets near to one another and in the same field of vision, it will be found that the point of aim or vision should be between the two; instinct will direct the fire of the right and left weapons to the real points of aim, the targets.


Such a course as I have outlined above can be carried out with other training, and can be so compressed that, provided the recruits are keen and fit, they can attain the requisite standard in ten to fourteen days.

It must be clearly understood that this does not turn them out as completely qualified expert pistol shots, but it gives them a training which will safeguard their own lives when in personal conflict with the enemy.

I do not believe in the efficacy of .22 practice as part of an active service pistol course. All practice is useful, but I would prefer the recruit to use the full-weight Service pistol and Service ammunition as much as may be, and to practice snapping, drawing, and instinctive shooting with an empty pistol in his bedroom, rather than occupy his time with the .22 weapon of different grip and no recoil.

The officer-instructor should be a keen man, and have a wide range of liberty in “how” he takes his recruits through and what type of targets he selects for them. I believe that where the terrain permits of it the use of full-size silhouette figures in neutral colours is by far the best training, and I would insist much on providing the element of surprise in the appearance or movement and direction of the target.

When space is restricted, good practice may be had at old bottles, jam tins—in fact, anything that may serve, and, with great caution, even shooting in the dark may be practised. The officer-instructor should be relieved of other duties in so far as is possible, and should devote much attention to the maintenance of ranges and the difficult task of squeezing more ammunition and various necessary materials out of the reluctant departments concerned.

The faults of the individual must be correctly diagnosed, elucidated, and corrected, and, above all, the indifferent shots should be encouraged. Lectures and cross-examination should be frequent, and questions provoked and answered. A complete record of all practices and courses should be kept, and besides the necessary “passing-out standard,” a series of standards of higher excellence than the average should be maintained, so that the better the performance the more it redounds to the credit of the individual on his certificate of efficiency.

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A Short Course of Active Service Revolver Training

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