Book Review – Combat Pistol Shooting (James Mason, 1976)

James Mason’s 1976 book, Combat Pistol Shooting, is an excellent book full of great photos and scientific discussion. Mason was a “small arms and ballistics consultant” to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. The book merges the classic techniques of the pre-Gunsite era with Modern Technique information.

The photographer for the book liked big plumes of smoke, and while wearing ear protection was common in 1976, wearing eye protection was not.

Classic law enforcement basket weave duty gear

This photo sequence shows the lingering influence of cowboy fast draw and FBI hipshooting drills on gear and technique. Note the finger on trigger as soon as the gun is out of holster – a holdover from fast drawing single action revolvers, where the trigger was pressed before the hammer was thumbcocked. The dropped and offset position, and holster angle is very similar to holster rigs used in USPSA. The commentary notes that using closed front holsters would be more realistic and practical. Disagreements between competition and defense-oriented shooters about gear and technique have been going on since the first gun and holster were created.

The book contains a lot of discussion about grip and gun fit, with some nice drawings of muscle groups.

Revolvers were still in much more common usage than semi-autos, so the book includes a lot of useful information relevant to double action revolver shooting.

The top picture of the pair of photos shows a two handed grip that’s very close to the thumbs forward grip in wide use today. The book recommends the technique shown in the bottom, not the top, picture as optimal. By 1986, ten years after the book was published, the grip shown in the top picture was more representative of what the top competition shooters were doing.

Interesting data on reaction time to different stimuli

Part of book addresses hip shooting, which was still widely taught by law enforcement trainers and advocated by the FBI.

Data from fast draw tests using holsters with different cant angles (rake).

This sequence shows variations on point shooting positions, with a recommendation that point shooting be used beyond 15 yards. Even at 25 yards, thinking in 1976 was to only use the “tops” of the sights.

The Weaver stance and aimed fire is also discussed.

Interesting graphs of trigger pull weight vs pull distance for common double action revolvers.

Discussion of courses of fire mention the classic FBI Practical Pistol course, and several of the courses we shot at the recent Practical Pistol Reunion, like the Los Alamitos Pistol Match and Advanced Military course.

Classic barricade shooting techniques are shown in detail.

Part of the old FBI Practical Pistol course required reloading the revolver using loose rounds. Some reloading time measurements for revolver and semiauto, when the semiauto magazine had to be filled with loose rounds as part of the reload.

Revolver speed loaders were still a relatively new thing in 1976.
Calculation of recoil
Recoil data relative to gun weight.

Mason clearly shared my interest in measuring different aspects of shooting. The data here shows that the ultralight 14 oz snub revolver had almost triple the recoil of the 39 oz model.

Before the Dillon progressive presses took over the high volume pistol reloading market, Star was state of the art.

Early calculation of Force Factor

“Force Factor” was a more accurate name than “Power Factor”, which became more widely used. M*V is momentum, not “power”, using traditional definitions from physics.

Ballistic data
My copy has many handwritten notes

The used copy I purchased is full of handwritten notes from the previous owner.

I enjoyed this book more than many that I’ve read for my historical handgun research, mainly because of the smoke & fire shooting photos and ample supply of equations and graphs. This book is the successor to Paul Weston’s 1968 book. Weston’s book was pure classic technique. This book, written 8 years later, is a historical marker of how the semiauto pistol, Weaver stance, aimed fire and other elements of Jeff Cooper’s influence on firearms training began to be incorporated into mainstream shooting instruction.