Book Review: The Modern Technique of the Pistol (Morrison, 1991)

The Modern Technique of the Pistol was written by Gregory Morrison, as part of his PhD work. It compiles many of the techniques and concepts taught at Gunsite in the 1980’s. The book is available direct from the Gunsite Pro Shop.

The contents of the book are listed below. It covers the standard topics found in virtually any handgun training manual, separated into mindset, gunhandling and marksmanship categories, with some additional material included in the final section.

From the foreword of the book:

It must be emphasized that the Modern Technique of the Pistol is a completely civilian development and not a product of either the police or military establishment. It is practically impossible for anything radical or innovative to be introduced by people on the public payroll, bureaucracy being what it is. Several of the people involved in the movement were indeed in the public service at one time or another, but their pioneering work in shooting was done on their own time, at their own expense, and in some cases contrary to the policies of their superiors.

The Modern Technique of the Pistol, Jeff Cooper foreward, 1991

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the Weaver stance was widely taught and used. The book provides explanation and pictures documenting what a proper Weaver stance is.

In this video, Jack Weaver discusses the history of the stance that bears his name.

During the 1980’s, semiauto pistols began to displace revolvers as the standard duty handgun for law enforcement, and interest in semiauto pistols for personal defense grew, as traveling trainers teaching Modern Technique and practical shooting matches became more popular. Discussion of revolver reloads, in particular, began to be phased out of training programs and books on handgunning. Morrison’s book covers revolver techniques for right- and left-handed shooters. In the current era very few instructor programs spend any time at all on these techniques. Tom Givens included a block of instruction on that material in his Master Instructor course.

Gunsite has multiple shoot houses, and has always taught “house clearing” (armed movement in structures) skills. Prior to the Gunsite era, armed citizens typically had no access to this type of training.

In the early days of practical shooting, kneeling and prone positions were far more commonly taught and practiced.

The majority of students training at Gunsite were using 1911 pistols, and many of the techniques taught for gun manipulation were specific to that model (and in some cases, such as the press check method shown below), only possible for certain configurations of 1911. The pinch technique does not work for a gun with full length guide rod. (That’s one of many reasons why that technique is no longer commonly taught.)

In the section on malfunctions, a 1911-specific malfunction is explained. It occurs when the firing pin stop drops down, preventing the firing pin from returning to its correct position after a round is fired. In the days of custom 1911s this may have been a more common problem. I shot 1911 pistols in the late 80s and all throughout the 1990s and never saw this particular malfunction occur in my own guns or anyone else’s — but apparently it occurred enough times to make the malfunction list in the book.

Perhaps the most misunderstood term that’s part of the Modern Technique is “double tap”. Both USPSA and IDPA competitions require “best 2 hits” on paper targets, and many competitors (particularly those that begin competing without getting any training beyond the carry permit level) hear fast shooters rattling off quick pairs and assume that what is occurring is “aim once, work the trigger twice” shooting. (There is a USPSA club in San Antonio Texas named the Alpha-Mike shooters. Their name comes from the score that often occurs when the “aim once, shoot twice” technique is used: one A-zone (Alpha) hit, and one miss (Mike).

The book explains the more precise terms of ‘hammer pair’, ‘dedicated pair’, and ‘controlled pair’. Just as the Eskimos have many words for snow, shooters have many words to describe the nuances of sights and trigger manipulation. According to the book, the hammer pair involves pressing the trigger for shot #2 as quickly as possible and is “usually reserved for distances of a few paces”). For a dedicated pair, the shooter uses their experience and familiarity with the recoil cycle of the gun to sync the timing of the second shot to point at which the gun is roughly indexed on the target. Each shot of a controlled pair has its own sight picture, and is controlled individually. The subtleties of these concepts only make sense to those that put in a lot of time working on fast pairs (or longer sequences such as 6 shot Bill Drills), and in practice become a balancing act between timing and visual information and recoil.

Unlike many older books on shooting, the Modern Technique book is not easily located in the used market and new copies are not listed on amazon. There is no e-book version. The best way to get a copy is to order direct from the Gunsite Pro Shop.

For a sample of what training at Gunsite in 1992 was like, here’s a class AAR from Barry Needham.