The following information on testing revolvers and pistols for target shooting comes from Section 14 of Shooting by J. Henry FitzGerald. Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
It sounds like a simple thing to do. Some friend will order a revolver, for instance, an Official Police, with six-inch barrel, check wood stocks and checked trigger, to shoot center when held at six o’clock. They do not make any mention of distance or target to be used, which means that the revolver may be used at twelve, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five and fifty yards.
Fifteen yards is the usual testing distance, using a twenty-yard target. When holding at six o’clock on this target at fifteen yards and the bullets strike in the top half of the ten ring, the arm will shoot high at twenty and twenty-five and fifty yards. To avoid this the arm should be tested to strike just above the point of aim at fifteen yards.
The matter of holding, eyesight, and many other things enter into the perfect targeting of a revolver by one person for another. The method of holding or grip may be different; the thumb pressure due to long or short thumbs and muscular development may vary; the arm may be canted or tipped. The sights may be held with either wide or narrow white line below the bull’s-eye, or, in shooter’s terms, the bull’s-eye may be set on top of sights, no white showing. The trigger squeeze that is perfect for one man may not suit another. The eyesight may be different, and sometimes different brands of ammunition may group in a different place on the target. All of these things enter into the perfect targeting of a revolver with solid sights.
Two shooters, even though they are practically equal in the above-mentioned details, may be shooting a light model such as the Police Positive Special, and the one who has mastered the art of shooting a light arm will shoot center and the one who has not will shoot to the left if he is a right-handed shooter. However, thumb pressure will correct this and possibly a slight change of grip.
Implicit directions for targeting are needed with an arm having stationary sights. They are: Favorite distance for target work; target used; aiming point, whether holding with a white line or touching the black; kind of ammunition used. Of course if the arm has adjustable sights, a change may be made in the sights to correct these troubles after the arm is received by the owner.
If the favorite target distance is fifty yards, then the revolver and pistol should be targeted at fifty yards. If the arm shoots correctly at fifty yards a little allowance can be made for twenty-five, twenty, fifteen and twelve yards. In the stationary-sighted arm the principal correction is for right and left shooting. Great pains are taken to make the arm shoot not more than one-quarter of an inch to right or left of the center of the bull’s-eye. This is, of course, for fifteen-yard shooting. If the arm is corrected to shoot in that way at fifteen yards, it will shoot close enough to keep all shots in the ten ring on the different targets and ranges. Right and left shooting may be slightly corrected by turning the barrel in or out and by filing the rear notch on one side.
The right and left shooting disposed of, we have the high and low shots to worry about. As I have mentioned before shooters have different ideas about where to hold. Dr. John L. Bastey of Boston, Massachusetts, will hold center, therefore his front sight must be approximately twelve-thousandths higher than the man who holds at six o’clock. Lieutenant Jacob Saylor, Brooklyn Police Department, will shoot two inches low with a revolver properly sighted for me. Another of my friends with an arm properly sighted for me will collect a fine group of sevens at seven o’clock. To correct this I draw a line from the center of his group through the center of the bull’s-eye and as far beyond the center of the bull’s-eye as the distance from the center of the group to the center of the bull’s-eye, then when I hold at six o’clock and hit the new center located by the line drawn through the bull’s-eye he can hold at six o’clock and hit center.
It is very easy to correct an arm that is shooting low and it is well to leave room for a slight correction. If an arm is shooting low, and this cannot be determined with two or three shots, the arm should be shot until you are sure before making the change; file the top of the front sight a very little to make the arm shoot higher. Whenever I have occasion to file a sight for my own use I file it flat for when looking at front sight through rear notch the angle is upward, therefore you can only see the near edge of filed surface. Care must be taken when filing to leave right and left sides of the sight the same height or at least it must look so to the shooter. The top of the front sight must correspond in direction with the sides of the rear sight. The only thing not easily corrected is an arm shooting high, the only remedy is a high front sight.
Not only must revolvers and pistols be tested as to accuracy but they must function properly. The spring must be of proper strength to explode all primers both single and double action. The firing pin indentation must be near the center of the primers and, in fact, every working part must be thoroughly examined before the arm is finally passed.
It is possible that many arms are purchased by shooters throughout the country which shoot high or low, right or left, for him and perhaps it is his fault. I know hundreds of times I have been called upon to try out a revolver or pistol that the owner claimed was inaccurate, and found that the arm was shooting correctly for me. I find that my two partners for the last twelve years, Mr. Edward Kiely and Mr. James Molloy, shoot the same as I do and any arm tested by them I would feel needed no sighting in, before entering a match. This proves to me that many shooters’ troubles are due to difference in holding and trigger squeeze.
No revolver or pistol will shoot as accurately when it is new as it will after five to eight hundred shots. This wearing in process is as true of a firearm as of an automobile or any other machine. A lighter spring may be used after an arm is thoroughly broken in. Proper care will lengthen the life of any firearm and proper care in target work will place many more bull’s-eyes to your credit.
I have tried to convey to the readers of this section that the life of a small arms targeter and tester is not one continual round of pleasure. It must be remembered that many different models pass through the tester’s hand and each model must be held slightly different according to weight, size, and shape. Seventy-five to one hundred small arms per day is all that any tester can pass as being properly targeted. Target arms and those used for police work are targeted offhand. Some smaller models are targeted from an arm rest. This method is used that the tester may rest his arms and be in better condition to shoot offhand the arms used for fine target work. The arm-rest shooting, if properly done, is a very accurate way to test the arms and many times is used to check up on the offhand shooting.
The different kinds of ammunition must also be checked up to see that all the makes are giving equal results as to accuracy and function. Many times it has come to my notice that one make of ammunition was the cause of many misfires or other troubles, and if the other makes function perfectly then ammunition and not the arm is at fault.
I have heard many gun-bugs (as Captain Hardy calls them) say they wished that they had a job with nothing else to do but shoot. After firing, as I am credited with doing, between two and three million shots, I am wondering if these same gun-bugs would still be willing to shoot from ten to twelve hundred aimed shots each day for years. I have found the best system was shooting with both right and left hand, about an equal number with each, and using right eye part of the time and then changing to the left. All kinds of ammunition should be used in the testing and every morning the tester should try one or two targets with his favorite arm to check up on his own shooting before beginning his day’s work. If shooting glasses are worn they should be checked up several times each year to keep the eyes as near normal as possible. If the tester does not wear glasses the eyes should be checked up just the same to determine whether glasses are needed. The tester owes it to his public (as they say in Hollywood) to put his best efforts in this work and even then mistakes will happen.
All the above information will help to perfect and place in the hands of the shooter a perfect shooting arm. Of course, we cannot expect the impossible of the hand gun; the small, light models with short barrels could not be expected to do the accurate target work of the heavier target models with long barrels. Fifteen yards would be as far as the lighter, short-barrel arms would make a good target, that is, a two-inch group, but this does not mean that a target the size of a man could not be regularly hit at one hundred yards with the two-inch barrel.
It is best to procure a catalogue from the company manufacturing the arm you wish to purchase, or talk the matter over with your favorite salesman. Improvements are made on the arms from year to year and it is better to have the latest information.
Here is the proper information to send when ordering a firearm: model of arm, length of barrel, caliber, sights desired, trigger pull, checked or plain trigger, checked or plain front and back strap, targeted at what distance, targeted with what target, and what the normal aiming point is.
With this information the average shooter can be suited. If any peculiarity exists, it is best to send to the factory an arm that is properly sighted for the person ordering the new arm and, if possible, a target shot with it. This is a perfect check and the new arm can be furnished to group the same as the old one. Do not feel that all the bullets must pass through one hole when sending a target to the factory for testers miss the black as easily as men on the outside.
A few months ago a .22 Colt Automatic was returned to the factory and handed over to me with the claim that the group was not small enough at twenty yards. The group of ten shots measured one-half inch across and three-quarters inches long (at twenty yards) and on the target was written the following: “Gentlemen: This pistol should make a group no longer than it is wide, which is one-half inch, and I cannot make a better group than the one sent with this arm.” My answer to this was: Neither can I.
Great care must be taken by the tester in passing revolvers and pistols, because at the present time thousands of excellent target men and women reside in the United States, and if one revolver or pistol should by chance pass through the target range not properly sighted it would be sure to fall in to the hands of an expert, then trouble would be in store for the tester. When such an arm does fall into the hands of an expert he should not blame the manufacturer of the arm, for it is their belief that all arms are leaving the factory properly sighted. The tester alone is to blame if normal conditions exist. However, if at first we don’t succeed we can try again, and all mistakes can be corrected if the arm is returned to the testing gallery for correction.
From twelve to twenty-four shots must be fired through each arm to properly test it and furnish a presentable target, for it is as easy for the tester to pull out the fifth shot as it is for the purchaser and the same language is used in both cases. All testers are able to express themselves very forcibly when this occurs.