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 2016, Penny had a chance to visit the Armstrong Ranch to conduct interviews as part of the Legacy of Ranching exhibit at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. While there, she noticed a copy of Guns and Gunning by Paul Curtis, on a shelf in the library of what had been Tom Armstrong’s (son of Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong) home. She read a few pages and was impressed – the section on trigger press was terrific. Capt. Curtis was a WWI veteran and longtime editor of Field and Stream magazine.
I was able to find a 1st edition signed copy of the book to add to our library.
Much of Curtis’ book contains advice and observations that remain true 80+ years later. The book covers all types of shooting (rifle, shotgun and pistol), with particular focus on hunting. My comments focus on the pistol shooting part of the book.
Gun buying trends haven’t changed
The pistol buyer who is interested in target shooting is very much in the minority.
The average pistol is bought solely with the idea of having it on hand for self-defense, and the skill of the owner is in most instances highly superficial.
It is sufficient to observe here that it is ignorance and lack of familiarity with the pistol that is responsible for the wrong type of weapon being bought by the vast majority of people.
The Narrative: crime always going up, gun ownership always increasing
Not only are the members of our military and civil establishments devoting more time to practice with the handgun, but bank clerks, messengers and others in responsible positions are recognizing the need of such practice to combat the crime wave which has engulfed the country.
Gun selection advice hasn’t changed either
As a matter of fact, very few of the great number of revolvers and pistols on the market are worthy of serious consideration…
If one requires a pistol for the pocket to be concealed upon the person, the Colt .380 automatic is, in my opinion, quite in a class by itself. There are those who will prefer a revolver… any revolver is more apt than an automatic to catch in the clothing if one attempts to shoot it from a pocket in an emergency.
Obviously the gun for the civilian who must carry one upon his person at all times must be light. A certain amount of power must be sacrificed.
The average man, however, in buying a revolver is not going to carry it around with him day and night. He wants one to have in the house, where it will probably remain in a bureau drawer from one year to the next, or be occasionally slipped into the side pocket of his car or overcoat when he believes he might need it. For such a man the best is emphatically a .38 special…
The householder will probably say, “Why should I bother with such a powerful weapon? I will probably never use it.” One might just as well ask “why buy fire insurance? My house will probably never burn down”. The fact of the matter is if the house does burn down, you could not have too much insurance, and if you ever have an emergency in which you need a revolver, there is none made so powerful that you would not be thankful for its additional punch.
I feel that the .38 special is amply powerful for the average man. Due to its rather mild recoil, he can shoot more accurately with it than with a larger cartridge having a heavier recoil, and for the same reason his wife or any other feminine member of his family can more capably defend herself with it in an emergency. He is more apt to practice with it occasionally because it less expensive to operate and less objectionable to his nerves and ears.
Neverending debates: revolver v. semiauto, 1911 reliability
While in the service, as an Instructor with the automatic and Captain of the Ordnance Officer’s Pistol Team in 1918, I fired some 4000 rounds from a Colt automatic in practice with but two malfunctions, both caused by faulty ammunition. Despite the prejudice which many men still feel against the automatic, this gun has passed beyond the experimental stage and is today as reliable in an emergency as any hand-operated revolver.
Training goals, 1934
It will be long before the novice with the pistol will be able to keep his shots in an 8” group at 50 yards.
A row of bottles full of water set up at 20 yards are splendid targets. When you can hit 4 out of 5 at 20 paces in 10 seconds, you may consider yourself a good practical pistol shot.
(Dry firing) He should begin by learning the proper stance from one capable of coaching , and then devote considerable time to…dry practice…being careful to squeeze off the trigger steadily while holding the sights as near the black as possible.
(Calling shots) The shooter should try also to keep the sight aligned as closely as he with the bull after the hammer has fallen. That is, he should try to name the spot on the target where the sights were aligned at the click of the action.
(Stance) The position should therefore be upright. The feet should be set fairly well apart. I prefer the full extended arm.
(Square to the target) Some face squarely toward the target, while others prefer to stand sideways. If one was hit, a shot transfixing the body was more deadly than one passing through from front to back. Not only did the latter make a smaller wound, but these was less chance of its lodging in a vital organ.
(Don’t move your head / eye-target line) The pistol hand should be raised to a line with the eye, rather than the head lowered to catch the sights.
(Grip) The grip of the gun is most important and must be uniform. If one holds the grip low down for one shot, and with the trigger finger wrapped around the trigger one time and just pressing it with the finger tip the next, he might as well give up practice. The (dominant hand) thumb should be carried in a line parallel to the trigger finger and the barrel.
Flinching & double action shooting
One cause of flinching which can be well avoided is an excessive trigger pull, which in the pistol should not exceed 3 pounds. While all but one of our revolvers are double action, this is of no use where a fair degree of accuracy is demanded, and, in consequence, should only be resorted to for the fastest of shooting at a man size mark at close quarters.
Two handed shooting
…though the conventional use of the pistol is with one hand and no rest, it is really capable of very excellent accuracy when shot with two hands. …hold the pistol in the right hand as usual and then grasp the right wrist with the left hand, while the left arm is pressed tightly against the side for support. The shooter much then face somewhat to the right of his target, with the right forearm across the chest.
(If you do this, what you end up with looks a lot like a Weaver stance.)
Shooting for Women
Women have so firmly established their position…that no book upon shooting that did not consider them would not be complete. I have made the statement many times that in a rifle or pistol match between teams of boys and girls of the same age and experience the girls will almost invariably beat the boys. In selecting the gun for a woman, the points to be considered are the same as those confronting a man.
He preferred the term “press” to “squeeze”, and advocated “riding the slack” in the trigger, similar to what many pistol and rifle instructors teach today.
I use the term “let-off” because trigger “pull”, as it is commonly called, is a misnomer. “Press the trigger” is better. Pressure should be lightly applied the trigger with the index finger as the aim is started, and completed when the sights are in line with the mark.
The biggest differences I found between his book and modern technique were all related to grip. Modern shooters use a two handed grip whenever possible, and grip the gun harder. That’s a result of the change in shooting drills and standards migrating from 25 and 50 yard bullseye to closer, faster drills more closely simulating actual defensive handgun uses.
This book is relatively hard to find but one of the better old books in my collection, since many of Curtis’ ideas and observations continue to be correct and relevant.
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