Book Review – American Pistol Shooting (Maj. William Frazer, 1929)

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 1929, Major William D Frazer published this book. He was a member of the US Army and recipient of the 1922 Distinguished Marksman Badge. He participated in the 1924 Olympics in Paris in the pistol shooting competition, placing 11th overall.  He is also related to current NRA national secretary John Frazer, who recommended this book to me.

From the author’s foreward:

The main objective in mind in writing American Pistol Shooting was to provide a means of instruction in all forms of pistol practice in America today.  When the Author took up the sport more than 20 years ago he had to learn it much as he did swimming and skating as a small boy, without instructors or the aid of books of any kind, and this handicap was keenly felt at times.  It resulted in slow progress and many discouraging hours because of the necessity for correcting bad habits formed by lack of proper coaching. 

His book is one of many published in the late 20’s and 1930’s, each providing written instruction in pistol skills.  I’ve reviewed many of them in previous blog posts.


Like the other books of this era, it covers all the standard topics, with more emphasis on competition shooting than other books I’ve reviewed:

  • Origins of pistol shooting & history
  • Types of pistol shooting (military, police, recreational, competition, defensive, hunting)
  • Pistol and holster selection
  • Pistol shooting fundamentals
  • Shooting Against Time
  • Aerial Practice & Exhibition Shooting
  • Defensive Shooting and Quick Drawing
  • Police Handgun Training
  • Shooting Psychology
  • Competition Shooting
  • Coaching and Teamwork
  • On Instructing Ladies
  • Game Shooting / Long Range shooting
  • Ammunition and Accessories
  • A Few “Don’ts”

Target Design

He provides detailed dimensions for the military “L” (slow fire), “E” (rapid fire) and “M” (mounted) targets, as shown below.

and specs for the Standard American Target (50 yard) and its smaller cousins, the International target and Standard American 20 yard target.

Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, pre-printed targets were harder to obtain than they are today, and many readers of these books may have had to make their own targets, drawing circles to the correct dimensions.

Handgun Shooting Tips

After one has fired ten or more shots rapidly with the .45 caliber Service Automatic pistol or its contemporary .45 revolver, he may find that the repeated shock of the heavy recoil on his pistol hand has caused tremors in it, and this, exclusive of any nervousness due to mental agitation, makes steady holding more difficult and is conducive to flinching.

He would probably be amazed at the modern trend of 300-500 round per day intensive handgun skills courses. Then again, back in 1929 they were shooting mostly one-handed without hearing protection.

Foot position and shooting stance was an obsession with competition shooters of the bullseye era, with books devoting dozens of pages to photos showing the different form of top shooters.  Maj. Frazer’s book provides a detailed engineering drawing of his concept of perfect foot position.

Frazer’s book contains the first reference to what we call “frame dragging” (as explained in this article from Tom Givens) that I’ve found in the old books.

You will find that you have a natural tendency to press against the right side of the trigger and the pistol frame.  Now move your finger to the right until no part of it rests against the frame; then any pressure you may exert will come on the face of the trigger.  Squeeze with that part of the finger that rests on the trigger naturally and enables a squeeze straight back.

Advice on Rapid Firing

1. Every movement of pointing and aiming must be made in the quickest and most direct manner. (KR note: This universal concept still applies.)

2. In rapid aiming the shooter should first establish his line of sight by fixing his master eye on the aiming point of the target, and then bring the pistol sights into this line of sight.  To attempt to align the sights first and then, by moving the pistol, to align the sights and the target is the wrong procedure. (KR note: in the modern area this problem occurs when shooters are trying to get a sight picture when the gun is in a ready position, rather than bringing the gun to the eye-target line as part of their presentation.  The concept applies both to bullseye shooting and to defensive shooting.)

3. In all rapid firing care should be taken to release the trigger fully after each shot. (KR note: the idea of pinning and slowly releasing the trigger is widely taught, and I taught that technique for many years myself.  I stopped teaching it because my observations agreed with many others, particularly top tier USPSA competitors, that found that students would often concentrate too much on pinning and slow release, but still jerk the trigger when actually firing the shot, and using pin-and-reset for anything other than slow fire group shooting severely limits the speed at which the pistol can be shot.  Trying to hold the trigger back or not fully release it, for very high speed shooting, often causes ‘trigger freeze’. So his advice, while intended for bullseye shooters, is valid for all speeds of shooting.)

Aerial and Exhibition Shooting

Shooting pistol bullets at aerial targets was something that people seemed to think was perfectly OK as recently as 1960.  The book devotes a chapter to shooting of aerial targets, with zero discussion about safe shooting direction or any concern as to where the fired bullets might land.

Exhibition shooting was more popular and common than it is today, and early exhibition shooters would engage in what Major Frazer calls “William Tell” stunts trying to hit objects held by, or placed on an assistant’s head.  Frazer wisely advises against this, listing several cases where assistants were injured.  His chapter on exhibition shooting provides guidance on a wide variety of trick shots involving mirrors, guns fired upside down, splitting bullets on axe blades, and more.

Exhibition shooting has made a comeback, thanks to youTube, with many creative shooters re-creating classic trick shots and coming up with their own variations.

Since it’s almost Christmas, this example of modern trick shooting seems appropriate…


Frazer offers 4 essential tips to minimizing flinching:

  1. Keep the nervous system in a normal healthy condition by sensible exercise and diet.
  2. While firing, concentrate on aiming, holding, squeezing and calling the shots until the habits become mechanical.
  3. Do not fire many shots at each practice period while learning the game or until the muscles and nerves become thoroughly accustomed to the noise and recoil.  Too much shooting is conducive to carelessness and flinching.
  4. Know your pistol, especially its cocking action and trigger pull and avoid treacherous and uncertain triggers and actions.

Competition Shooting

A large portion of the book is advice specific to those training to attain a high level of skill specific to bullseye competition. Advice is given on how to train, how to work with others on a shooting team, gear, diet, fitness, and many aspects of the mental game of shooting.  Compared to other shooting books of this era, this book covers those topics in much more detail, with more sophistication than the others.

Instructing Ladies

All of these quotes from the book made me smile, for various reasons:

Most women have an inherent dread of firearms and the sight of them will at once arouse nervousness and sometimes bring on hysterics.

The author has taught over 300 women to shoot, most of them university students.  Girls learned more quickly than the boys..and with the rifle the young women did better work than the young men. The big majority (of the boys) had done some shooting at an earlier date and felt that they knew how to do it. They invariably showed the lack or absence of proper instruction and had acquired enough bad habits to require a lot of correcting.

After a few trying experiences with the first classes of young women, in which one had hysterics, another fainted, and a third almost shot an instructor, the necessity for very close supervision, individual coaching, and a carefully thought out plan of instruction was an absolute necessity if accidents were to be avoided and confidence and enthusiasm developed in the pupils.

The thrills a girl got from seeing her shot in the bull’s-eye were often enough to cause her to turn quickly about with the gun in her hand and acclaim her success to her neighbors on the firing line or to the rear of it.  This could not be tolerated.

There have been some very fine pistol shots among women.  The pistol and revolver championship of Texas was won by a woman using the .45 Colt Automatic pistol a few years ago.

1911 Advice

Terrible advice regarding handling of the 1911, from the book:

It is perfectly safe to carry this pistol so charged (full magazine and loaded chamber) with the hammer down, and is safe than to carry the gun with a cartridge in the chamber and the hammer cocked and locked. 

Sadly, this advice is completely wrong and dangerous.  In Frazer’s era, double-action revolvers were rarely shot double action, as slow fire bullseye shooting was all done in single action mode.   1911 pistols of Frazer’s time all had a large spur hammer, much like a cowboy sixgun, so the idea that the 1911 could be thumb-cocked when drawn did not seem as wrong as it does today.  It wasn’t until 1983, when the Colt Series 80 line was introduced, that any 1911 maker acknowledged that carrying the gun in Condition Two (loaded chamber, hammer down) was inherently unsafe without the firing pin safety the Series 80 guns added.

This may be the worst two handed grip I’ve ever seen in a book.

Other advice was better, as the book contains a good photo of correct and incorrect alignment of the gun with the hand and arm. In the left picture, the gun is recoiling on top of the thumb knuckle.  That’s a frequent problem with modern shooters, who often buy guns that are too wide/fat for their hand, and twist the gun in their grip to compensate. That’s not an appropriate fix. The correct solution is to grip the gun properly, and choose a narrower gun if the trigger cannot be reached at all, or can only be reached with “frame dragging” when the gun is oriented properly in the hand.

Frazer’s Reading List

For those wanting to go farther down the Historical Handgun trail, Frazer’s list of recommended “older” books on shooting, referenced in his book, are:

The Art of Revolver Shooting, Walter Winans

Firearms in American History, Charles Winthrop Sawyer

Pistol and Revolver Shooting, A.L.A. Himmelwright

The Long Shooters, Wm. Brent Altsheler

The Book of the Pistol, Capt. Hugh B.C. Pollard

Pistols and Revolvers, Maj. J.S. Hatcher


American Pistol Shooting is well written and would have been very useful to any serious pistol shooter when it was published, particularly those interested in being a serious competition shooter or exhibition shooter.  Skyhorse Publishing reprinted this book in both print and e-book format, and good condition used copies of the print edition are fairly easy to find online and at used book stores.