The following information on target shooting with handguns comes from Section 2 of Shooting by J. Henry FitzGerald. Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
Ever since the invention of small arms, or at least dating back to the early efforts of Colonel Colt, it has been the ambition of every red-blooded American to be a good shot with pistol and revolver. Thousands of professional and business men have taken up the sport of target shooting and have been well repaid for their efforts for they have found that shooting quickens the eye and teaches the control of every nerve and muscle in the body.
After a strenuous day at the office take a little hand bag with two or three of the favorite hand guns, cartridges, and cleaning outfit, and go to the range. With a few good fellows present to match their skill with yours and talk around the cleaning table, not forgetting the alibis (and this is the part of the shooting game that the shooter never has to learn), a few scores to compare with the ones you shot the last time you were at the range, then you have reached the end of a perfect day.
I do not believe that more lasting or greater friendships are formed in any fraternal order or wherever men gather than on a shooting range. It is a pleasure to spend an afternoon or evening on a range with the members and listen to their troubles and successes. I find that the men who succeed in becoming extra good shots are the ones who ask questions and try out different positions, etc., eliminating those which do not improve their scores, and who stick to one, two, and not over three, hand guns.
There is an old and true saying, “Beware of the man with one gun,” and I have seen this proven on many ranges. The man who tries to use six or eight different revolvers and pistols the same day is going to be disappointed with the results. The same thing applies to the man who spends half his shooting time on whittling out different grips, changing the sights and in other ways trying to have the revolver or pistol do what he must do himself. Revolvers and pistols now on the market are so perfect in grip and balance that the shooter can easily adapt himself to the arm as issued.
Many and varied are the attachments and improvements that are tried out on the various arms; but the attachment which will place more holes in the ten ring than any other is the attachment which the shooter may have for actual shooting instead of trying to force a point or two more out of his revolver which is doing more than its share anyway. But with all our troubles and all our disappointments target shooting is to many people the finest sport in the world.
Each individual will, as he advances, develop a position slightly different from the others. The build, development of certain muscles, eyesight, etc., all tend to develop a certain position and, when a comfortable position is found, the new shooter should practice doing the same thing in the same way every time. First, he should be sure that the arm is sighted correctly for his eyes. If he has not had experience in this work he should ask some of the older members to help him out. If the arm shoots center with them and shoots somewhere else with him, he should ask the instructor to watch him and try to find out what is wrong. Perhaps he is shooting to the left, due to insufficient thumb pressure, or perhaps he is flinching, which will account for low shots. If he is shooting high it may be due to seeing too much of the front sight. Many things enter into the making of good scores, which neither the revolver nor ammunition can correct.
As many kinds of shooters are in evidence at a well-patronized range as there are models of arms and kinds of ammunition. I believe you will recognize in the following a few of the shooters you have met.
First, the man who joins the club, buys a good target arm, uses it a few days, then, because some other member with another model is making good scores, he buys one like that and in a short time repeats the performance until he has six or eight of the finest guns to shoot, but because he finds he must work hard to become a good shot, that money and a fine collection of revolvers and pistols will not make him so, his enthusiasm cools as fast as it is kindled and he gives up the sport. We may think that such a man is God’s gift to the revolver manufacturers, but he is not because he does not stick to the game. I meet in my travels each year thousands of shooters who have followed the sport for ten, twenty, and sometimes thirty, years, men who in that time have owned hundreds of firearms. These are the true boosters who have in their time encouraged and assisted hundreds of others to become good shots.
We have the beginner, who joins a club and gathers up all the information possible from his fellow shooters and, in a short time, is making good scores, winning a few matches, and a little later the big club matches, everything going smoothly until some other shooters come along and shooter number one commences to finish second. Then shooter number one finds other amusements and the shooting game has lost a good member. Stick to the game, boys; a few beatings will do you good and will help the other fellows, too.
Another of the specie, is truly called “the grip and sight specialist.” He will work for days to perfect the one perfect pair of stocks or grips for his favorite arm and, after a thorough try-out, starts out in quest of more wood to conquer. This goes on and on until finally the artist discovers that stocks as issued are not so bad. The sight question is another breeder of sleepless nights, and after many experiments the same conclusion is reached that the sights as issued are not so had. What wonderful target men we would have if all this effort was expended in trying to hit the ten ring, but if we all have fun and follow out our own ideas whose business is it, I ask you?
Another class of members which I must mention are those who come to the club every shooting night, but who shoot very little; they get their enjoyment from sitting around the lounging room talking to their friends. You will find, that even though they shoot very little, they know the game, if they have belonged to shooting clubs for any number of years, because they are observers of the mistakes and successes of others. They are all good fellows together ready to lend a helping hand to the beginner.
I believe the greatest assistance that any beginner can receive is the installing of a short range of twelve yards and using the twenty-yard target. The shooter must learn to creep before he can walk, and it is far better to start on the short range and hit the bull’s-eye five shots out of ten and the other five on the paper, then to start at twenty yards and only get three or four shots on the paper. It is easy to change to the longer range at any time. Many things may be learned on the short range that it would take months to learn on the longer range. If the sights are right for the twenty-yard range they should be held three-quarters of an inch above the bottom of the black for twelve yards, or if they are adjustable sights they may be changed to hold at six o’clock with a white line or just touching the black. Care must be taken with every shot, otherwise the shooter will acquire a careless habit that will cause many wild shots.
To the beginner it seems a simple thing to hold out the arm, line up the sights, and squeeze the trigger. But assuming that the body and feet are in proper position it still takes months to train that arm, and to control the muscles to work in conjunction with the eye. Only a short time is required with normal eyesight to line up the sights; however, the trigger squeeze is a different proposition and requires much study.
Nearly every shooter after reaching a certain stage, from one to three months, reaches a slump and for a short time will be unable to make a satisfactory score, but with a little perseverance he will emerge from this shooting better than ever. He may even reach another slump after five or six months and, emerging from this one, he may expect average scores if he practices faithfully. When the average scores on the twenty-yard target at twenty yards reach ninety per cent or better, then the shooter is at peace with the world, and, if still looking for more worlds to conquer, change the .22 pistol for the target revolver.
The knowledge gained from the pistol will be of great assistance in conquering the revolver and this slow-fire revolver work is the proper foundation for the faster shooting to follow. If the shooter cannot make good scores at slow fire it is of no use to try the thirty, twenty, fifteen, and ten second time; speed does not improve the scores.
The most satisfactory system, if the twenty-five yard Camp Perry target is to be used at twenty-five yards, is first to practice slow fire until scores of ninety-five per cent or better are reached; then commence firing five shots in thirty seconds, taking more time at first, if necessary. The sights should be in line with the bull’s-eye and the shot should not be fired until one is reasonably sure it will be in the bull’s-eye. It is nothing to worry about if it takes forty seconds each the first few times to get a score of ninety-five or better for two five-shot strings. A little practice and without seemingly trying to lessen the time, the same scores will be made in thirty seconds that it formerly took forty seconds to make.
When the scores are satisfactory in thirty seconds try for the twenty second mark, but the time should not be lowered until it can be done without injuring the score. Twenty seconds is not excessive speed and the slow-fire score should not be over three points higher for ten shots. I know many target shooters who can make as good a score on this target in twenty seconds as they can at slow fire.
Below twenty seconds the scores will commence to fall. When trying for the fifteen second mark the same course should be followed; fifteen seconds should not be reached until it can be done without lowering the average scores below ninety-two. The real test comes when one has a ninety-six per cent slow fire, ninety-three per cent in twenty seconds, which makes the score down eleven points, and the place in the match depends on the ten second score. It is necessary to practice very carefully for the ten second stage. It should not be reached until ninety per cent is averaged, and when this is added to the above score it makes a total of two hundred and seventy-nine. This score is based on fair weather, no wind, and good light condition. Adverse conditions will lower this score from five to fifteen points, but regardless of conditions ten second scores will nearly always decide the match.
Care should be taken in this course to use up at least nine seconds of the time. I have sometimes found it necessary to speed the men up by starting at fifteen yards on this same target and holding the time to ten seconds, gradually working back a yard at a time until twenty-five yards were reached. This has proved to be very satisfactory.
The score I have named of two hundred and seventy-nine, with a decrease of five to fifteen points for adverse conditions, may seem a little high to the beginner, but is the point that must be reached and even higher to win matches. I cannot place too much emphasis on this: The ten second time must be mastered or fine scores at slow fire and twenty second time will be of little use. Matches of this kind always go to the ten second experts.
Perhaps the timed and rapid shooting does not appeal to some of the shooters; if not, I believe the reason is that they have never tried it or, if they have, it is only to fire one or two scores in ten seconds without the preliminary practice necessary to make it a success.
One very fascinating branch of target shooting is the long range shooting at from one hundred to three hundred yards. Many fine matches may be shot and scores will be high. At one hundred yards, shooting on a fifty-yard Standard American target, the scores will drop from ten to twenty points. At one hundred yards, using the A Military two or three hundred yard target, five ring ten inches blacked for sighting bull, four ring twenty-six inches, three ring forty-six inches, two ring balance of target, many fine scores can be made. The Military Target B used for rifle shooting at five hundred and six hundred yards makes an excellent target for two hundred yard shooting with revolvers and pistols. The five ring is used as a sighting bull which is black and twenty inches in diameter, four ring thirty-seven inches, three ring fifty-three inches, two ring balance of target six feet square. The Colt Police Silhouette target may be used with the K zone to count. Military Target C for eight hundred and nine hundred and one thousand yards with a rifle may be used at three hundred yards with a revolver. The five ring is thirty-six inches, black, for sighting bull, four ring fifty-three inches, three ring six feet square. The Colt Police Silhouette target may also be used at three hundred yards.
At the National Shoot held at Camp Perry, Ohio, in 1930, during an exhibition given by Captain A. H. Hardy, Peters Cartridge Company representative, volunteers were called upon by Captain Hardy to shoot three hundred yards at a Colt Silhouette target. George Marshall and Claude Shaylor of the Portland (Oregon) Police Team came forward and gave the best exhibition of long range shooting that I have ever seen or heard of. Each officer fired five shots and seven hits out of the ten shots were registered in the man target. The shooting was done with a .38 caliber Colt Officer’s Model 7 1/2″ barrel, with a high rear sight (.635), no other change in the arm, and one-tenth inch Partridge sights were used. Neither man had ever fired that particular revolver before that day. This exhibition demonstrates not only the reliability of the revolver for long ranges, but the perfection that can be attained by men in perfect physical condition who take their practice seriously.
Many interesting matches may be shot at the long ranges, but skill and good judgment are necessary to make a success of this branch of shooting, for it would not be a practical match to shoot in a heavy wind at two hundred or three hundred yards. The only added equipment necessary for this shooting is an adjustable rear sight. The difficulty may be overcome very easily by filing an Officer’s Model rear sight flat and brazing, or soldering the folding adjustable top of a rifle sight on it, or it may be attached by screws. The Company making the revolver may be induced to make the sight.
When proper sight adjustments are found for the different distances and targets, the sight should be marked so that it may be accurately replaced for each range. The Officer’s Model allows for a reasonable amount of windage, and for the long range work the 7 1/2″ barrel is the favorite in the .38 caliber. The .44 Special and .45 Colt cartridges are well adapted for long range shooting and also for short range shooting if added weight and recoil are not a handicap.
The practicability of long range revolver shooting was demonstrated several years ago by the long shooters of Kentucky, who shot at the silhouette of a turkey at three hundred yards and many averaged three hits out of fifteen shots. Captain Hardy and several other shooters, including myself, duplicated this score and four and five hits were registered. The turkey was, of course, several sizes smaller than the targets I have mentioned, so a fair score can be made with correct sights after a few trials. I have spent a great deal of time on the long range work and I believe all shooters who try it will find it a pleasant diversion.
An outdoor novelty match which is a favorite with the shooters is the Clay Pigeon Match. Hang clay pigeons on a board twenty yards away from the shooters; two shots allowed to hit the pigeon; the successful ones move back to twenty-five yards and the ones who fail to hit the pigeon in two shots are out of the match. Two shots are allowed at twenty-five yards and the performance is repeated, moving back five yards each time until only one, the winner, remains on the line. This and many other novelty matches may be worked out to keep the club members interested and as a revenue to the club. The Hamilton Club in Chicago has installed moving targets such as are used in the commercial shooting galleries.
Do not become discouraged if others are making better scores than you are. Perseverance and study of each shot fired will finally overcome this handicap. The center shot requires no study; you know that it was caused by one of two things, either from a correctly fired shot or from one of those lucky shots which sometimes occur (usually in practice). If it occurs from a correctly fired shot there is nothing to learn, only remember to fire the next shot in the same manner.
Every shot fired creates a new problem; if it does not strike the ten ring, why did it go to right or left, high or low? There is a reason for every wild shot and in nearly every case it can be traced to the shooter and not to the arm or ammunition. I have been informed by several target shooters that they had a very peculiar revolver. It would make fine scores in slow-fire shooting, but would not group in ten or twenty second work. As soon as they could be convinced that they, themselves, and not the revolver, were to blame, they began to improve in the faster shooting.
Then we have the hurry-shooter. He hurries to the range, hurries to the firing line, and hurries through his match or practice. His scores are far below those that he is capable of making and his expected advance toward better scores will be slow to materialize.
Another handicap to winning scores is the man who feels that there are several in the club who can easily beat him and who will say, as he enters a match, “I know I won’t win anything, but I’m going to enter anyhow.” He is half-beaten before he shoots. His is not the spirit of a winner. A match is seldom won until the last shot is fired and your competitor, whom you feel is a better shot than you are, may get one or two wild shots. Such things have happened.
Now we have another class who count backward while in a match. Thus in the Camp Perry Match of 300 points they figure on 300 points minus, of course, the few points they will lose in thirty shots. When the sevens and eights come along and they add the points together they have lost in the first ten shots, their courage takes flight and a poor score is the result. Shoot the first shot thirty times and cease to worry about the final score or the scores that others in the match are making and the match is half won then.
In target shooting the nerves and muscles must be at rest. Do not expect good scores until you have rested fifteen minutes after running upstairs or getting excited in an argument. When the arm is unsteady lay the revolver or pistol down for a few seconds and rest; this can be repeated as often as necessary. If the noise of others shooting bothers you, use cotton in the ears to deaden the noise and do not wait for other men to fire; attend strictly to your own shooting. Do not bother other men by talking to them on the firing line and do not let them bother you; the best cure for them is not to answer their questions. A hat or cap should be worn that will shade the eyes and if shooting outdoors button coat or other garment to avoid its flapping in the wind and be sure that it does not bind the body or arms. All movements should be free, but a wrist strap may be used to advantage by men of slight build. Wrist watches and stoned rings are safer in the pocket, as shooting does not improve either one.
I think the best proof of the popularity and fascination for target shooting with the pistol and revolver is the hundreds of men who visit Camp Perry every year, coming from all parts of the United States, and who leave at the end of the matches with the avowed intention of coming back the next year.