In 1917, WWI veteran and British gunwriter Hugh Pollard published “The Book of the Pistol and Revolver”. Pollard wrote for magazines and authored shooting books from 1912-1945. He was a soldier, possible spy, firearms expert, widely published author, sportsman, social butterfly (son of a surgeon), forensics and ballistic expert, historian and collector. This particular book was reprinted as part of the excellent Firearms Classics Library and is also available as an inexpensive ebook.
Much of the book, as shown in the Table of Contents, is standard mechanical discussion of how guns work, and how to shoot them. The parts that interested me the most were the sections on Speed Shooting, Duelling (which was in its fading days after WW1), and his course of fire for Active Revolver Training.
Pollard Speed Shooting Standards
Pollard’s basic standards for speed shooting were:
Single action – 6 shots into a 12″ square card, at 20 yards, in 3-4 seconds. (since no discussion of drawing from a holster occurs in the book, I assume this was from open carry, starting at a ready position). Here’s a video I posted to instagram of me shooting the single action qual. I scaled it down to 6″ at 10 yards in 4 seconds.
Double action – 6 shots into a 12″ square card, at 12 yards, in 2 seconds.
Here’s video of me shooting this drill on a 12″ round plate at 12 yards.
For the drill, I used my 1953 S&W K-38 Combat Masterpiece, with adjustable sights and a BK Grip adapter. A more period appropriate gun would have had smaller, fixed sights and possibly black powder loads.
I ran students through these drills in the recent Historical Handgun course I co-taught with Tom Givens. For that class, I created an 11×17 target that had a 10″ square and 6″ square, so we could run both the single action and double action drills at 10 yards quickly. The bottom part of the target had 1.5″ white squares on a black ground for the dueling practice drill discussed below.
Pollard’s understanding of the fundamentals of speed shooting using aimed fire was detailed and specific. In the book he writes:
The average man refuses to believe that such speeds are humanly possible, and reinforces his argument by the claim that the double action of a revolver cannot possibly be functioned by the human finger at this speed. He actually means that the muscles of the finger and eye cannot obey the brain commands necessary for each separate discharge of the six shots. In this he is technically right; but the actual process that makes the feats of speed work possible is—that the eye receives only one command—look straight at the target, and does not need a separate “brain message” for each shot. Next, the trigger finger of an expert operates the mechanism of a revolver much more easily and instinctively than can that of a novice, the muscles of the trigger finger being perfectly trained to their work by previous practice. Then there is the rather complex process of utilizing the recoil of a revolver, translated through the various arm muscles to the trigger finger to operate the double action almost to the point of discharge, before the barrel is level with the target for the next shot. Just as Press photographers develop a knack of instantaneously pressing the button of their reflex cameras a fraction of a second before whatever they desire to snap happens, so the speed shot anticipates the falling in line of target and weapon, and presses his trigger at exactly the right instant. To fire the six shots at different targets takes infinitely longer than to fire the six at one, the time being lost by the transmission of the brain orders to change direction to the muscles as well as by the actual traverse of the weapon. The recoil of a shot naturally throws one off one’s aim, but by practice it can be absorbed, just as one absorbs the shock of a caught cricket-ball, and the muscles trained to bring the weapon automatically back into correct alignment with the target. This is the first point to remember—always accustom yourself to bring the weapon back to the point of aim after each discharge.
Back in the 1990’s I had the opportunity to take a one-day revolver class from Jerry Miculek. In that course, he made the comment that often he started pulling the trigger for the next shot as soon as a shot was fired, and it was “a race” to get the gun to the next target before the new shot fired. That process is very similar to what Pollard describes in the passage above.
Next master the practice of double-action shooting. In this a firm grip of the weapon is taken and steadily increased as the trigger is squeezed back. You will soon get to “feel” intuitively the end of the travel and the imminence of the fall of the hammer. This “feel” of the exact moment previous to the fall of the hammer varies with different weapons, as some have shorter or longer hammer falls than others. In some pistols, notably the .38 hammerless Smith and Wesson, a distinct pause can be felt after the hammer has reached the top of its stroke, and before the continued trigger pressure pulls the sear clear of its bent. Speed practice should be commenced at the short range, and continually varied by practice at two or three targets arranged unevenly at the same distance. A good practice is to let the marker give the command at which target the shot is to be delivered, as the varying order of the commands—Left, Right, Center, as his fancy dictates—insure more practical shooting than plain high-speed discharge at the same target.
Always work against a stop-watch, and vary your practice, firing some targets for speed alone and some for speed and accuracy combined.
Pollard’s advice regarding working with a timer, varying target sizes, positions and distances, is still valid today. Much of what the British pistoleros wrote about techniques and training was either not known, forgotten, or rejected by US shooters, particularly after the FBI adopted the hip shooting approach of Jelly Bryce as their preferred combat shooting technique. It would not be until the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that much of the knowledge was rediscovered and put into practice.
US National Guard Qualification
According to Pollard, the U.S.A. National Guard grades its men into three classes: Marksman, Sharpshooter, and Expert. To qualify as Marksman or Sharpshooter, 65 and 80 per cent of the possible score of 200 points must be made respectively. The course is as follows:
- 15 yards, two scores of five shots, 10 seconds per five shots.
- 25 yards, two scores of five shots, 10 seconds per five shots.
- 25 yards, two scores of five shots, 30 seconds per five shots.
- 50 yards, two scores of five shots, slow fire 1 minute per shot.
The expert qualification is only open to those who have passed the previous test as sharpshooters:
- 15 yards, two scores of five shots, 8 seconds per five shots.
- 25 yards, two scores of five shots, 8 seconds per five shots.
- 25 yards, two scores of five shots, 20 seconds per five shots.
- 50 yards, two scores of five shots, 20 seconds per five shots.
- 75 yards, two scores of five shots, 20 seconds to each shot.
An expert must make 80 per cent. of the possible score—200 out of 250 points.
The U.S.A. revolver course is fired at “Target D,” a silhouette figure of a standing man. Another target, “Target K,” the silhouette of a mounted man, is also used. These targets are set up in groups at varying distances and varying angles to the line of movement of the shooter, who has to ride past them at the trot, walk, and gallop, firing one shot at each as he passes.
In the U.S.A. Navy practice is carried out at “Target A,” a 6-foot by 4-foot rectangle, with an 8-inch black bull’s-eye, counting 5, and other concentric circles of count: 26-inch ring counts 4, 46-inch ring 3, the rest of target 3. The sharpshooter’s course, both for instruction practices and annual record, has to be fired on this target—6 shots at 15, 25, and 50 yards. Time limit, 18 seconds for 6 shots.
Pollard describes a shooting club in France where participants train to duel using wax bullets against live opponents wearing fencing safety gear. This is the earliest reference to training similar to today’s force on force training I’ve found in any book on shooting. The book claims that faux duels were held as club matches, with formal scoring. The next time this type of face to face shooting competition resurfaces was in fast draw matches in the 1950’s.
Pollard’s advice to someone training to fight an actual duel was this:
Practice was made at small white wafers about two inches in diameter pasted on a black background, and the novice was advised to “culp,” or break, three dozen of these each morning before breakfast. When he could be sure of breaking twelve of these at fourteen yards in six minutes, he himself reloading his pistol between each discharge, he could consider himself trained.
I simulated this by printing some 1.5″ squares at the bottom of my Pollard Test target, white against a black background, and ran a 6 round drill in 3 minutes, loading one round at a time. Even going as slowly as I could stand it, I never took more than 2 minutes for this drill, but my best run only landed 5 of 6 in the squares. This is basically the 1918 equivalent of the dot torture drill, but shot one round at a time, at 10 yards (for my 1.5″ squares) or 14 yards for the 2″ wafers.
If you want to try the Pollard drills for yourself, download and print this image on 11×17 paper. The drills, all shot at 10 yards, are:
- 6 shots, starting from ready (can be aimed at base of target stand or even higher just below the target), single action, in 4 seconds. 6″ square at 10 yards.
- 6 shots, same ready position, double action, in 2 seconds into the 10″ square.
- 6 shots, load one, fire one, reload, in 3 minutes. One shot per white square