Practical Pistol Shooting for Army Officers

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Practical Pistol Shooting for Army Officers

Post Number:#1  Postby kilogulf59 » Thu Dec 01, 2011 9:37 am

I have borrowed this from Jimmy Fatwing’s most excellent website. Mainly I posted this for a fun and historical read as it is from 1915 England. Nonetheless, do not overlook the old texts, these guys usually had actual combat experience sans today's so-called "high-speed" did they ever do it?

Historical read from 1915 England
Practical Pistol Shooting for Army Officers
by W. Horton c1915

The following is the complete text of "Practical Pistol Shooting for Army Officers" by W. Horton (specialist in gunfitting). Published by Begg, Kennedy & Elder in 1915


While all men agree that if offensive arms are to be used it is highly desirable to procure the best that are obtainable; it is often lost sight of that a man perfectly armed but unacquainted with his weapon, cuts a poor figure against one much less perfectly armed but master of his weapon.

In order to facilitate that mastery I have, for the guidance of the many young officers who may in the near future have pistol shooting to do, issued the following instructions.


A pistol, owing to its shortness, is easily pointed in a dangerous direction without the person handling it being unduly careless. It is therefore requisite for a habit to be established of so handling, even an empty pistol, that it is not pointing to danger. This habit with the empty pistol will be unconsciously used when it is loaded! It is even more necessary in the case of a pistol than of other fire-arms to always have it empty unless it requires to be loaded.


This is the type of pistol used in the British Army. The term "double-action" was introduced to distinguish from, on the one hand those Revolving Pistols that can be cocked by the thumb as an ordinary "hammer gun," thus allowing of a steady rifle aim being taken: and, on the other hand, those pistols that by a long pull of the trigger rotate the cylinder, raise the hammer, and fire the pistol. Both those actions are combined in the double-action pistol.


Target Shooting is done usually with the use of the former-described action of the pistol. I do not propose to treat this branch of shooting as though it were the principal use of the weapon. That would not be relevant to the present purpose. All I now give is instruction to enable the pistol shot to shoot fairly at distances such as 50 yds or 60 yds. At these some aiming is necessary.

The difficulties to be overcome in order to good pistol shooting are those existing in the case of (2) steadiness being marred in most men’s cases by the tendency of the hand to move (in some cases to positively tremble) while aiming, for want of the support afforded by the other hand on the weapon; (3) liability at the moment of shooting to somewhat relax the grip, which fault accentuates the admitted tendency of a pistol to throw high.

The steadiest position is when one is standing easily, legs not bent, feet 16-in to 20-in apart, the angle of body to line of fire being such that a line drawn through both shoulders would be about 45° from the line of fire. The pistol having been cocked, should be firmly grasped with three fingers and thumb of the right hand, the thumb passing close to the second finger. This is the firmest grasp, and the easiest to assume when quickness is of moment. The fore-finger should be near the trigger, its nail pressing against the inside of the forward part of the trigger-guard; this to secure that the trigger shall not be touched until it is time to shoot. Prior to addressing the target, the shooter’s elbow is bent and the pistol pointing upwards. The pistol is then lowered, at the same time the arm is extended until it is at full stretch, not painfully straight but easily so. Aim is then taken by means of fore and back sights, left eye closed as in rifle shooting. As soon as the aim is got the trigger must be steadily pressed until the shot is fired. While pressing the trigger the eye must see to preservation of the aim, for success depends on the correct position of the pistol when fired.

I now propose to leave the pupil to his own devices in his target shooting. He will measure himself against his fellow, building his expertise on the groundwork I have given.

As a parting word, I suggest his close attention to the exact firmness of grasp that gives the steadiest aim. He will judge of it by noting the tremor of the pistol during aiming, also by the shooting. He will thus find the golden mean of firmness.

The distance at first may be 10 yards, at a target 1 foot square. It may be extended to 50 yards at a target 1 foot wide by 2 feet high.


Pistol shooting as above mentioned is very well as a pastime, but will not meet the requirements of active service.

The other and more rapid action of the pistol now comes into use, for success largely depends on forestalling the enemy in shooting. There is no time to choose a position, to observe any recognised form, nor to "draw a bead." The weapon is held in the manner already described, which will have become customary. The shooter’s eyes are fixed on the subject. It may be that portion of an enemy to which his watch is usually attached. Both eyes are open. The occasion to shoot is one of sudden arising, it must be met by as sudden an action. The pistol arm (not always the right) is suddenly extended, the weapon naturally pointing to the gaze-point. Immediately the arm is at full extension the trigger is pulled. If the action is properly carried out the shot will be truly placed.

This manner of shooting is much easier than some men suppose. So much so that many men do better work in this way than by the steady arm method. It is to instruct in this method of pistol shooting that this booklet is written.

The central fact to be borne in kind is that the power to act as above is already instinctive in man. To a large extent man is ignorant of his possession of the power. To such men the power must first be demonstrated when it will be realised that the use of powers already possessed will leave much less to be acquired.

Let the student no place himself in front of a mirror of sufficient size to show his best. Let him stand as far from it as possible, short of being too far to see details of the image. Holding the pistol as directed (his hand being at his side or anywhere it may be at the moment), he looks at the reflection of his face. He then promptly closes his eyes, and immediately he has done so he presents his pistol at the unseen image and then opens his eyes. He will then see (or fully 95% of men would see) an image shooting directly at his own face. This is a purely instinctive act, and depends for its success on the prompt, determined action I have described.

The power to present a pistol at least as accurately with both eyes open as with both shot will surely not be denied. It should not be claimed that one needs to have one eye closed in order to see the truth of one’s aim. If one gives attention to one’s pistol, all instinctive power of direction will be lost, also some time. Therefore let the two-eyed habit be cultivated and the eyes kept on the mark, never on the pistol.

Some practice may now be taken at various marks in this way (two eyes open), but at first without handling the trigger, to cultivate co-operation between eye and hand. The covering of a postcard across a large room will soon be easy. It is of course assumed that the pistol is a well made handy weapon lending itself to the work.

The requisite action of the fore-finger is new to most men. Considerable practice should now be taken to strengthen the fore-finger and to gain the power of working the lock of the pistol without destroying the power of direction. The best way to do this is to aim at a mark (with left eye closed), and while the aim is carefully preserved, the pistol is to be slowly and steadily cocked and snapped with the fore-finger. This practice should be freely taken until familiarising with this use of the trigger is established.

The next exercise is two-eyed pistol-direction combined with snapping. Besides noting accuracy of aim, care must be taken that the "snaps" occur at the exact moment requisite to serve good shooting. The special fault to be avoided is that of snapping before the pistol is at rest. This can be avoided by a pause equal to the interval between the ticks of a watch before firing the shot. In order to see the quality of the aim the left eye may (occasionally) be closed as soon as the pistol is snapped. In order to do this some men may have to slightly move the head so as to bring the right eye into line with the pistol, which of course must remain unmoved. The mirror may again be used – both eyes open this time – to enable the shooter even more easily to see if the shot (had one been fired when the snap occurred) would have been true.

The student will now be able to notice that at the moment of snapping he is grasping his pistol very firmly. That firm grasp for the one part, and the quickening of the act of shooting for the other, account for the better success many men have in this than in slower work, in which unsteadiness of hand would come into play.

The forgoing exercises should be taken also with the left hand, for an officer ought to be ambidextrous with his pistol!

All the practice so far towards rapid shooting can be done indoors, often after other duties are finished. I am reminded by the occurrence of the word rapid that there is to be no attempt to gain speed at the expense of accuracy. The natural speed of men in any work varies. In this there is a speed natural to, and therefore best for, each man. That is the speed he will ultimately settle to and use. If he departs from it – as for example, working slower by way of producing better work – the work instead of being improved will suffer.

It will now have to be decided by the student when he has so far mastered the various points as to begin burning powder in snap-shooting, even after he does so the indoor practice should continue. It is of great value in familiarising him with his weapon.

The power of directing one’s pistol truly though one’s eyes are shut, is of more real service than at first appears. In a dark room or tent, a person may be seen against the light, and the pistol may need to be brought into use. As the darkness makes it quite impossible to see the pistol, shooting by aim is not possible. Facility of shooting straight by intuitive direction at once puts power into the hands of one in these circumstances. It is thus a very useful accomplishment.

Even if the enemy is in motion when shot at, all that is requisite is to look at him and shoot as directed. Any attempt to make allowance for his motion would, by necessitating that forbidden look at the pistol cause failure.

The case is different if an aimed shot is fired at say 50 yards. In that case eye and conscious judgement must regulate that allowance as it does the aim (in the former case both were subconsciously done). As it would be impossible to use a table of allowances for all speeds and all angles of crossing, we will use the allowance all over that is proper when the angle is 45°. Thus:
At a running man 8mph, aim in front 15 inches

At a horseman 16mph, aim in front 30 inches

At a man motoring 32mph, aim in front 5 feet
This table is sufficient approximately to all conditions, and meets the situation in the most practical way.

The final hint is that practice at taking the pistol from the holster with the proper grip be taken. When snap-shooting it is usual that a fresh grip has to be taken after each shot. That is done by a slight jerk or toss of the hand.

A few pages back I advised that the pistol never be loaded unless required so. On military service a loaded pistol is the only safe weapon for the user.


Besides the quality of the weapon, and correctness of its use, it must not be forgotten that its proper condition must be maintained if it is to continue a serviceable tool.

As a rule, the concealed mechanism had better be left alone by the amateur mechanic, unless he obtains instruction from a qualified gunmaker in its stripping, cleaning and remounting. He will the require to obtain the means suitable for his particular make of weapon for cramping the mainspring in order to its re-insertion.

If he has his pistol periodically overhauled by the gunmaker, and takes the best means he can to exclude dust and moisture from the works, it will probably give him no trouble. The accessible mechanism must be kept clean by wiping, and the parts where there is contact and motion smeared with a good lubricating oil, or with vaseline.

Most important of all is that the barrel and the cartridge chambers of the cylinder be kept scrupulously clean. For that purpose a cleaning rod is indispensable. With it can be applied tow, rag, or "four by two." To soften the fouling he may use oil or any good cleaning fluid. The weapon is clean when by this means he no longer finds the cleaning pad to be stained. If his cleaning fluid is not of an oily nature the finishing operation is to oil well when, if the work is CLEAN, it will not show after-rust. If rust does appear the fault may be imperfect cleaning, or the cleanser used has been defective. Black powder cartridges favour easy cleaning. Cordite requires both a good solvent and special care.

The time to clean is as soon as possible after firing. If a lengthened practise is taken the barrel and the chambers may be occasionally wiped through. The penalty for omitted or imperfect cleaning is loss of the shooting quality of the weapon.

In the case of Webley or Smith & Wesson Pistols the cylinder must be removed in order to clean. The Colt does not require that removal.
Take Care and Stay Safe,
Ken aka kilogulf59

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Practical Pistol Shooting for Army Officers



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