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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ruminations of an Old-School Pistolman…

I’ve been at this stuff awhile and it recently struck me just how radically our thinking on the subject of handguns has changed. At one time, the budding pistolero would read up on the collective works of various gun-gurus, consult a few experienced handgunners, evaluate his needs and then select a handgun.

The general consensus was that one should start with a good .22 handgun and this still makes a lot of sense. It was understood then, that a LOT of shooting would be required to make the journey from novice to expert. Close attention to established marksmanship fundamentals, and due diligence in their application, would still be required; or all that ammunition was simply wasted.

All this work with the rimfire was usually undertaken in the high hopes that perhaps in a year or two, we’d be ready for a real handgun- a .38 or .45. Committed individuals looking for some excitement turned to the .357 and hairy-chested, he-man types might eventually be able to handle the .44 (gasp) Magnum!

Our perception of marksmanship has changed, too. For decades, the gold standard of accuracy for both handgun and shooter was the X-ring of the Official NRA 25 and 50 yard pistol targets. For those unfamiliar with such things, the 50 yard target has an X-ring spanning 1.695 inches. Yes, people hit them regularly at that distance. They did it using ONE hand.

Boy, things are different today! Let’s look at some of the differences.

Today’s budding shooter wants to be an operator. No, not like Lily Tomlin; more like Steven Segal. This operator stuff is just too important for him to waste time with the little 22, so our stalwart decides that his first hand-fusil must at least be a 9mm. To determine what he should buy, he gets on the Internet and finds thousands of ‘cool pics’ of tactical-black handguns, equipped with all manner of flashlight mounts, etc.

The Internet is also where he seeks ‘expert* advice’ which usually means from the guy with the highest post count on his favorite firearms forum. The Internet has also changed the definition of accuracy, with the standard being more of those ‘cool pics’ of targets fired at seven to fifteen yards. Never mind that these targets would have gotten you laughed off the range in 1975.

I shot quite a bit on unsupervised, state-maintained public ranges a few years ago and watching this new generation of handgunners has convinced me that ‘accuracy’, in the classic sense, isn’t important to them at all. I watched in wonder as groups of 2-3 shooters would take turns loading magazines, while one of them would step to the line and empty those magazines as fast as they could jerk a trigger. 100-300 rounds would go downrange in a matter of 15 minutes, with volume of fire being the obvious goal. They were having just a hell of a good time exercising their Constitutional rights and I got a kick out of watching them.

I was usually one bench away, at the 50 yard line, busting cans or clay birds on the dirt berm with whatever handgun I happened to be carrying and/or hunting with. The hosers sometimes noticed I was actually hitting something, but few came over and asked for help on how to actually do it. When they did, the first thing I did was check their zero. Then I walked them through the basics of sight picture, alignment, hold and trigger release. I’d sit them down at my bench, let them shoot over my range bag and often within 20 rounds, I’d have them chasing cans across the berm. It ain’t all that hard when you adhere to the basics.

My perusal of the various Internet gun forums, tells me that many handgun shooters are interested in improving their results. Unfortunately, many get mislead into thinking that ‘mods’ are the answer so they bolt all manner of gee-gaws on their pistol in hopes of buying some skill.

When that don’t work, they watch videos of the various IPSC magicians charging through speed stages in colorful, sponsor-provided attire. Now these guys and gals are fast, and they definitely can shoot; but they didn’t get there by bolting fender skirts and fuzzy dice on their handguns. They did it by ingraining the basics of marksmanship, repeating them until they become second nature, and then making small changes in their technique that allowed them to do it faster. Yes, they burn a lot of ammo- but every round goes toward perfecting accuracy- so it can be done faster by means of committing it to the subconscious. Yes, ‘equipment’ plays a role- but only in the fine point spread that wins specialized matches.

No boys and girls, this modern age of handgunning, with all its fancy guns and equipment, hasn’t changed a thing. There are still absolutes and you must follow them if you intend to hit anything. You still have to zero your sights. You still have to align them, properly and in relation to the target, and you still have to press the trigger without disturbing them.

Want to get better? Want the subconscious ability to hit well under stress, when you life is on the line? The answer is to live with the gun. This topic came up in discussion awhile and my summary answer to the question follows. My good friend Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged Holsters thought it relevant enough to re-post it on his website:

“To me at least this means that you prove the gun, select a carry load and dead zero the sights to that load at 50 yards- meaning that a beer can divided by the front sight grows a hole through the middle. Then you build a bulk reload that shoots to the same spot. You might even build a third, small game and pest load which just cycles the action and also shoots to the sights at say, 20 paces.”

“From that point on you immerse yourself in THAT gun. For me that means ‘to the exclusion of everything else’. When the zero is dead-nuts, you get off the bench drone the accuracy work until you are sick of it. You shoot big and small game with it. If starlings or bluejays are a nuisance and they are dumb enough to offer safe targets of opportunity- they become delicacies for the barn cats instead. When the zero is proven to that degree, you start improving your own ‘zero’ by shooting bullseye targets offhand. When its ‘easy’ you ain’t improving- force yourself to do something harder!”

“For some variety, you do yank & blast (spitting distance), double-triple taps, point shooting and any other fast-close work that forces you to keep the gun running while moving around with it. I work hard enough at that aspect that I sometimes have to really hunt for mags I have dropped along the way. I don’t pay attention to where I changed magazines, or how I released the slide if I ran dry. (I do cuss myself for running dry, though.) All that matters are centerline hits- and that the gun seemed to run itself.”

“You’ll be through about your third 500 cast bullets about now, a pound and a half of powder and at least one bottle of Hoppes. It’s dirty work but few things are more comforting than knowing you can kill a 20-yard bluejay, with the gun you just shoved in your ‘work’ holster.”

I didn’t come up with anything new here. Elmer Keith painted an accurate picture of the process when he wrote:

"More time is required to master the handgun than any other type of firearm. To become an expert sixgun shot, one must live with the gun. Only by constant use and practice can one acquire a thorough mastery of the shortgun. You must work and play with it, eat with it, sleep with it, and shoot it every day - until it becomes a part of you and you handle it as surely as you would your knife and fork at the table." (Sixguns, page 57)

"Pistol shots are not born. They get that way by constant hard work and steady practice, studying each and every move and perfecting their technique..." (Sixguns, page 59)

I credit another friend, Jim Taylor for first citing these Keith quotes in his excellent article, Old School Gunology’ located on his page at the Los Angeles Silhouette Club’s website. A good collection of Jim’s work is available there and it is well worth your time to peruse it.

If you’re going to be loafing around the Internet, you might just as well read something constructive.

*Expert: "The Village Idiot, ten miles from home."


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hello, how are you? I recently discovered your blog site and web site and have been enjoying both greatly. I just finished reading your blog post, "Ruminations of an Old-School Pistolman..." and have a question.

I shoot well from rested positions but want to start learning how to do combat-style shooting at close ranges (yank and blast, double-triple taps, point shooting, etc.). I'm almost totally new to this type of shooting and was wondering if you know of any good literature that could help me get started.


PS I also appreciate your strong testimony for the Lord!!

Friday, October 02, 2009 9:43:00 PM  
Blogger gman said...

I've been pondering this idea as of late. I started getting into shooting two years ago and started with the Glock 19 and soon thereafter, a Browning Buckmark because I soon realized I could put much more lead down range training with a .22 than a 9mm.

The year after I rapidly expanded my collection to 3 .22 rifles and most recently a 12 gauge.

I've recently realized that in my zeal for shooting I spent way too much money on acquiring new guns, rather than spending that money on investing in the ammo required for serious range time; really spending the necessary time to master my first two firearms.

I've been considering selling off my long guns to invest that money in ammo for training. What do you think?

Monday, October 01, 2012 10:40:00 PM  

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