Fine Points of Target Handgun Shooting

The following information comes from The Elusive Ten by William Reichenbach. The Elusive Ten is also available to purchase in print.

The most important of the fine points seems worthy of a lengthier treatment.

It is the matter of squeeze and grip as a combined unity.

Intentionally, the grip was treated rather loosely in the first chapters. The squeeze, although approached with greater elaboration, is not complete unless a direct and thorough unification of both squeeze and grip has been accomplished.

As this treatise deals mainly with the revolver and not with the automatic, the unscientific construction of the revolver must be recognized and, perforce, be overcome by several muscular applications.

The metacentre of the revolver is wrong, we should say, if there were an exact science of revolver-shooting. (Maybe there is, but we needn’t bother). Such centre would be found to be composed of the relation of centre of weight to the mysterious action of the recoil, superimposed by the mechanical action of levers, springs, friction, etc. Then there is the fact that the centre of weight changes with every shot. The weight-load of the cylinder gets lighter after every cartridge fired and thus influences the action-coefficient.

I know this sounds semi-scientific. However, I defy anyone to prove that the revolver is really the answer to the prayer, by the expert, for the ideal target gun.

As I said, the inherent weaknesses of the weapon will have to be counteracted by certain muscular applications. (The curious fact that all major target records were made with revolvers is merely an example of the statement that its weaknesses can be overcome through correct muscular applications. Still, the automatic, in my humble opinion, is going to take the place of the revolver in time to come.)

The directional actions of the trigger and hammer, to begin with, must be counteracted.

The backward squeeze on the trigger tends to pull the muzzle down, while the fall of the hammer will jar the weapon out of countenance. We can now, by using a downward hold with the thumb on the cylinder-latch in combination with the position of the ball of the thumb, practically counter-balance the directional actions mentioned. If we support the gun further with a moderate side pressure of the lower part of the little finger and of that part of the trigger-finger which touches the frame, we further minimize the evil forces.

The test is simple. After cocking your gun, place a ten-cent piece on the top of the round barrel near the muzzle, behind the front-sight and squeeze. The coin should stay on the barrel. It is a matter of a little experimenting to find the right minimum amount of thumb and finger pressures necessary to prevent the coin from dropping off.

The proper squeeze, combined with the judicious use of thumb and little trigger-fingers for support of the gun action, has, you will remember, been mentioned in the first part.

I also advocated in a former chapter the absolute relaxation of the muscles of the shooting hand, although I spoke of opposing pressures. We must now readjust ourselves by accepting consciously a few minor muscular applications.

Mind you, I do not say even now that you must religiously do thus and so. I am simply again pointing out certain places where the gun should be supported. It is unique with every one how to achieve this support. If all our hands were alike and if we all were using the same gun with the same action, I might attempt an exhaustive elaboration. What should happen, as you know, is this:

The forepart of the trigger-finger applies a delicate, zephyr-like action on the trigger.

The lower portion of the trigger-finger exerts a fine steadying pressure against the frame of the gun.

The thumb, resting on the cylinder latch, steadies the trigger action effect on the gun.

The ball of the thumb touches the back strap.

The middle finger supports the main weight of the gun and also acts as a sort of fulcrum in cocking.

The ring and little fingers complete the grip (although the ring finger does not call for any muscular action).

While the tips of middle, ring, and little fingers must not touch the stock, the little finger where it touches the stock with its lower part, should exert a light steadying pressure to the left. (Illustration II, VIII.)

Revolver grip points

Illustration VIII
Point “a” on frame against which the lower portion of the trigger-finger exerts a slight steadying pressure.
Point “b” against which the lower portion of the little finger exerts a slight steadying pressure to the left.
Point “c” is the cylinder latch on which the thumb is placed.
The picture permits a view of the special inset which lowers the position of the middle finger. The stock has been lengthened correspondingly by the same insert, which is in one piece and can be easily detached.
Also the back-strap against which the ball of the thumb bears, can be clearly seen.
When looking at the Rear-and Front-sights one should also study the illustrations VI and VII.

There is no perceptible bend at the wrist. The whole arm, wrist, and hand point effortlessly forward. You find now, to your surprise, that the matter of grip, all at once, has become of major importance, and rightly so. If you now combine squeeze and perfect grip, you certainly do have a fine equipment.

Still, my friend, remember again: The main part of the hand should not be tensed; neither should wrist or forearm muscles.

To impress upon you further the dominant importance of an individual and correct grip, I make the unorthodox statement that such a grip is, indeed, the crux of the art of revolver shooting. Things like the squeeze recede into insignificance when confronted with the question of grip.

To illustrate, let us again take under cursory observation the actual mechanics of Squeeze. What is the difference between a pull and a squeeze? There is none. A squeeze could be classified as a modified pull.

We teach the squeeze in order to get as little mechanical disturbance on the hold as possible. While squeezing, the shooter necessarily tends to maintain a uniform hold much better than if he were just pulling thoughtlessly.

A squeeze, according to this conception, would be an action which lets the muzzle dip or tilt as little as possible. The latter result, however, is really not directly achieved through the perfect squeeze, but through the improved holding conditions which we shall be able to maintain by the deliberation of the squeezing action. The secret, therefore, is to find a hold which is easy to maintain and so applied as to overcome the more or less pronounced disturbance caused even by squeezing. I venture to say that it would be entirely possible to actually pull the trigger and hit things, if one assumed a hold which would wholly counteract a given violence of such pull. Doubtlessly, it is easier and more natural to use a restrictive hold for a smooth squeeze than for a thoughtless pull. That is why we favor the squeeze and condemn the pull.

Squeeze the trigger gently and slowly and you will be in an excellent position to find and maintain the ideal grip or hold on your gun. A squeeze alone will not perform unless it has as a basis a suitable grip. Hence the importance of grip. I urge you to concentrate all your faculties on the task of finding your individual grip on your gun. I stressed before that your hold on the gun should entail no appreciable muscular effort. It is agreed that to support the weight of the gun, the middle finger will not be required to be active at all. Realizing this, there are really only two functions of the gun at the time of discharge which demand attention.

We have (1) the actions of the trigger and hammer before the explosion and (2) a certain twisting effect made possible by the recoil. The first tend to pull the muzzle downwards and then partly upwards again, while the latter may throw the muzzle sideways if the hold is incorrect. What causes these movements and how can they be counteracted?

Let us consider the first series of motions: While you depress the trigger you work against a spring and lever arrangement inside the gun. This resistance, with the middle finger as a point of fulcrum, will naturally cause the front end of the gun to tilt downwards. The actual click of the hammer will, on the other hand, throw the muzzle slightly upwards again. The ball of your thumb resting against the back-strap, in juxtaposition to the middle finger, is fully able to offset the downward motion, while the thumb itself, with a slight but steady downward hold on the cylinder-latch, neutralizes the upward flip of the muzzle caused by the fall of the hammer.

We come now to the side-twisting in connection with the recoil. The recoil really should throw the muzzle only straight upwards if it were not for the inefficient way in which the novice holds his gun. (The theoretically straight upward jerk caused by recoil is not sought to be corrected since it has been compensated by the height of the front-sight.) Usually, the novice clamps the tips of his middle, ring, and little fingers against the stock. This, of course, will tend to direct the recoil-motivated muzzle to the left. To correct this, the poor novice is taught to press with his thumb sharply sidewise against the frame. He is expected to actually work one side of his hand against the other instead of latently neutralizing expected forces by strategic placement of support.

Now, suppose you take my advice and keep the finger tips away from the stock. You will find that the recoil will be upwards only. Refraining from further theorizing, let me again make the statement that a revolver should be supported on five points:

(1) The function of the middle finger as a point of fulcrum and to carry the weight, is self-explanatory.

(2) The ball of the thumb bears against the back-strap.

(3) The thumb acts downwards on the cylinder-latch.

(4)The trigger-finger, where it touches the frame, exerts a steadying side-wise pressure and so does

(5) The little finger, with its lower portion. (See Illustrations II and VIII.)

How can we, with these various strategic applications, maintain a tenseless grip? Let me advise you again. I shall use a little example first. If you open your right hand and place a playing card flat against the palm, it is possible for you, by hooking one edge of the card in the loose skin of the lower portion of your middle finger and the other edge of the card in the ball of your thumb, to hold the card in your now relaxed hand without any muscular effort at all. The skin tension between the two points of contact (middle finger and ball of thumb) is sufficient to clamp the card securely. We do the same with our gun. We clamp the stock in the palm of our hand by first stretching the palm, and, after we have hooked the front and back ends of the stock at the two points mentioned above, we just relax the hand. All we do then is to place our thumb and the other fingers. The gun now is held quite effortlessly, and the tremors caused by rigid tension will be absent.

We shall have to experiment to find out how far the middle finger should be pushed under the trigger-guard. If it goes in too far, the gun will shoot too much to the right. By shifting the hand forward or backward, you will soon find a position which permits the recoil to throw the muzzle straight upwards. And this position, once found, should be memorized and assumed every time you take the gun in your hand. Once you find the position you are over the hill and on your way to the expert medal.

Mention should be made of certain media which, experience has developed, will facilitate the search for the ideal hold. With few exceptions, the shape of the grip of the revolver is such that, with the middle finger supporting the weight of the gun, the trigger-finger does not lie horizontally. Indeed, the trigger finger is pointing very much downwards. Instead of just being crooked naturally when squeezing the trigger, the finger is forced to exercise the backward pull on the trigger in a way which is foreign to its anatomy. The trigger is easiest to work when pulled straight backwards. The trigger finger in its unnatural position will, perforce, pull upwards too. This fact has been recognized by experienced shooters, if not by some revolver manufacturers, and several remedies have been suggested. There are on the market certain insets which can be attached to the stock. These attachments will place the middle finger lower and will, consequently, make the trigger finger assume a more horizontal and natural position. These attachments, however, have the common fault of shortening the available stock to such an extent that many shooters will not be able to place their little finger sidewise against the stock. I overcame this deficiency by having my dentist make a wax impression of my hand grip on the gun and then cast this impression in hard rubber. With my individual attachment, the cost of which was exactly $5.00, I now have a stock which is amply long for my hand and, at the same time, my attachment gives me a very comfortable feel. (See Illustrations I, II and VIII.)

I find that this dissertation on grip has become rather involved and penetrating. I fear I may have overstepped the frame set for the Manual, but I also believe that I could not have treated a difficult and important subject in a cursory way.

The sighting is, of course, now synchronized with the “squeeze”.

It does not do any more to waver around the bullseye as advised in the first part.

We must now aim patiently at 6 o’clock. (Illustrations VI and VII.) Since we cannot hope to “keep” the bead at 6 o’clock while we are going through the slow process of squeezing, we must compromise. Every time the bead passes below 6 o’clock, we squeeze. When the bead has passed by, we stop squeezing but hold what we have until 6 o’clock shows favorably again, when we continue squeezing—and we hold and squeeze until the bullet emerges.

The beginner will hastily pull the trigger as soon as he beads at 6 o’clock.

(That is why I advocated in the opening chapters to sight not at 6 o’clock but at an imaginary circle—just so that the squeeze had a chance to be developed).

Our object now, of course, is much more intensified. We are not satisfied any more with just hitting the black somewhere. We are now after the “Ten Ring”, the centre of the bullseye. (The world record is 10 consecutive hits in the Ten-Ring. This accomplishment is called a “possible” and the rating equals 100.) It will be found now that the “Ten Ring” proves rather elusive. This fact, in addition to being very aggravating, virtually suggested the title to this Manual.

At this stadium, you may expect some help from your physical system. Through varied practice, there has developed within you a hitherto latent faculty—namely, the ability to observe a variation in the fine vibrations of your system, as seen at the muzzle. We have acknowledged the fact that these vibrations are inherent with the human body, coming from heart-beat combined with certain nervous pulsations, tremors, etc.

It is logical to believe that if such vibrations are accelerated through physical or mental exertions, the muzzle will respond in accordance. On the other hand, a complete lack of exertion would permit the muzzle to register only the normal pulsations. Now, if we are completely absorbed in the task of sighting and squeezing (everything else being right, and you should see to that), we will observe distinctly a variation in the pulsations visible at the muzzle. They seem to slow down at times, and there occurs an infinitesimally short period where the pulsations are so diminished that the muzzle does not register them visibly. This moment is not of long duration and if it can be co-ordinated with your mechanical task of sighting and squeezing, the resulting shot will emerge under ideal conditions.

I have heard it seriously propounded that all a shooter can hope for, is to endeavor to stay in the black. If you were to resign yourself to such an attitude, you could score good targets only if Lady Luck were at your shoulder. It is entirely possible to stay in the black and score only an “80.” If you are lucky, a few shots may slip into the “9” or even the “10.” (We shall dismiss such an attitude forthwith, since we are supposed to have graduated from the beginner’s course in Part I.) What kind of unintelligent shooting would that be? I had much rather see a close group of shots, even if such group should not happen to be all in the black. If you are able to shoot close groups (and that should be your aim), you are in a position to shift them by correcting your hold, sights, or stance. You are, at least, doing conscientious shooting instead of having to trust to luck all the time.

Before this chapter’s conclusion, I wish to relate an amazing experience. I know one of the instructors of a public institution who is considered quite a shooter and, who, quite possibly, landed his position on the strength of his achievements on the range. A most appalling school of thought found in him a vigorous proponent. The guiding idea seemed to be that since a beginner will always pull the trigger and since pulling will place the shot wildly below the paper of the target, he should be made to hold at the upper edge of the paper target. This, he said, would pull his shots somewhere near the black. Then, as the idea of squeeze is slowly hammered into the poor pupil’s cranium, the bead is gradually lowered until the pupil can safely approach the 6 o’clock-hold. This process appears so unintelligent to me that comments are superfluous. The only merit of it seems to be that, even if disastrous, it is infinitely slow, and if interrupted in time (before the pupil has lost all interest) it might not wreck the pupil’s chances for all time.

We have here one of the reasons why the idea that the safest place is in front of an officer’s gun is so prevalent. I have cited only one example, but it should be illustrative.

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Fine Points of Target Handgun Shooting

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