Book Review – Pistol and Revolver Shooting (A. Himmelwright, 1930 edition)

Over the past year I’ve been developing a new course for KR Training, Historical Handgun, that teaches the history & evolution of defensive handgun skills.  Part of that effort has been seeking out and reading old books on shooting, purchasing copies signed by the authors when possible.

In 1916, competition pistol shooter Abraham Lincoln Artman Himmelwright published his “Pistol and Revolver Shooting” book. Himmelwright did a significant revision of the book in 1928, and it was reprinted again in 1930.  His credentials included a term as president of the United States Revolver Association, and serving as captain of the Americas Shooting Team.  He wrote a earlier book called The Pistol and Revolver in 1908.

You can download a free ebook here.  My copy is a fancy reprint from Palladium Press.

The concepts in this book are the same as are repeated in the many books from the 1930s that I’ve reviewed in previous blog posts.

Of pistol shooting, he writes:

It is a healthful exercise, being practiced out of doors in the open air.  There are no undesirable concomitants, such as gambling, coarseness, and rough and dangerous play.  In order to excel, regular and temperate habits of life must be formed and maintained.  It renders the senses more alert and trains them to act in unison and in harmony.  Skill in shooting is a useful accomplishment that should be cultivated by every patriotic citizen.

About 90 pages of the book is discussion of specific pistols and revolvers: military arms, target arms, pocket arms, arms for home and shop protection, arms for hunting, and shot pistols.  His advice on home and shop protection? He recommends a 4″ barrel, .38 special DA revolver, Smith and Wesson or Colt.

His opinion on pistol sights:

The front sight should have a rear face or tip of some light colored metal… Such a front sight forms a conspicuous contrast against a green, drab, brown, grey or dark background and consequently can be seem more distinctly and can be “picked up” much more rapidly than a black sight, under normal field conditions. 

On competition pistols:

One match for pistols known as the “Free Pistol” match, in which there are no restrictions whatever, and the result is that competitors frequently develop and use arms with such radical modifications as to make the weapons absolutely useless and impracticable for any other purpose except competition in that particular match.

As someone that shot USPSA during the late 80’s and early 90’s – the era before there was a Limited division and typical competition guns changed from single stack iron sighted 1911’s drawn from leather holsters to red dot sighted, compensated, high capacity 2011’s, his comments about the arms race and “gamer guns”, written at the turn of the century, sound exactly like what gunwriters were saying in the racegun era. Nothing is new.

SHOOTING DRILLS & STANDARDS

Himmelwright recommends that someone armed for personal defense should practice every 2-3 months, firing at least 15 rounds, at 20 feet, using a 20 yard bullseye target with a 2.72″ center.  A more modern equivalent would be firing at a 3″ dot at 7 yards.

He includes specs for the American Standard Target, which was a very common target prior to WW2.

He lists shooting scores, from 1886, where 100 rounds were fired on this target, using a .44 S&W Russian revolver with a 2.5 lb single action trigger pull, at 50 yards (one handed, of course), with the highest score recorded 914 out of a possible 1000 points.   100 rounds, at 50 yards, with the majority striking inside a 5.5″ bullseye (the 9 ring), with many hitting inside a 3.5″ 10-ring is an impressive feat far, far beyond the abilities of all but the very best modern day shooters.

Himmelwright uses the term Practical Shooting to describe both handgun hunting and shooting for pleasure, by rolling cans on the ground or shooting at objects floating in a stream.

He describes the 4 courses of fire commonly used by the US Revolver Association:

Marksman Course

(Slow Fire) 10 shots at 10 yards.  60 seconds for each set of 5 shots (2 minutes total). 90 points to pass.

(Rapid Fire) 10 shots at 10 yards.  30 seconds for each set of 5 shots (1 minute total).  80 points to pass.

Sharpshooter Course

(Slow Fire) 10 shots at 20 yards.  60 seconds for each set of 5 shots (2 minutes total). 90 points to pass.

(Rapid Fire) 10 shots at 20 yards.  30 seconds for each set of 5 shots (1 minute total).  80 points to pass.

Expert Course

(Slow Fire) 10 shots at 20 yards.  30 seconds for each set of 5 shots (1 minutes total). 90 points to pass.

(Rapid Fire) 10 shots at 20 yards.  15 seconds for each set of 5 shots (30 seconds total).  80 points to pass.

Quick Fire Course

Face target, arms at sides, weapon in pocket or holster. Distance of 5 yards.  At command “fire”, draw weapon and shoot.

10 shots, 1 shot per string, double action.  Record time for each shot. (1 shot draw)

10 shots in 2-5 shot strings double action. Record total time for each string.

These drills are clearly the precursor to modern defensive handgun drills.  No recommended par times are given.

Himmelwright quotes Col. R.R. Raymond (“well known writer and authority on small arms”):

The quickest draw for a right handed man is from a holster on the right thigh at such at a height that the hand falls naturally on the butt.  Quick drawing can only be acquired only by diligent practice, grasping the butt from various positions, and putting special thought upon smooth movement rather than speed.  The thing to be avoided in practice is too much haste, resulting in a fumble.

Raymond’s observations about holster position can be seen in the modern cowboy fast draw holster.

 

Chapters

  • Introductory and Historical
  • Arms
  • Ammunition
  • Ballistics
  • Hand-loading Ammunition
  • Sights
  • Shooting Position
  • Targets
  • Target Shooting – Historical
  • Practice Shooting
  • Revolver Practice for the Police
  • Pistol Shooting for Ladies
  • Clubs and Ranges
  • Hints to Beginners
  • Appendix 1 – US Revolver Association
  • Appendix 2 – NRA matches
  • Appendix 3 – War Department Target Practice
  • Appendix 4 – War Dept Tests of Automatic Pistols
  • Appendix 5 – Colt Automatic Pistol
  • Appendix 6 – Powders for Pistols and Revolvers
  • Appendix 7 – Priming Compositions and Effects
  • Appendix 8 – Stopping Power
  • Appendix 9 – Gunsmithing
  • Appendix 10 – Directory

Summary

It’s a long book, filled with plenty of technical information.  The level of detail is at the ‘serious gun nerd’ level, particularly those interested in the mechanical engineering, chemistry and physics of shooting and the history of pistol competition.  In its day, it was probably the most complete collection of information about all aspects of handgun shooting available, and remains an excellent historical record of what was known about the topic prior to 1930.

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