Bob Nichols published this book, “The Secrets of Double Action Shooting” back in 1950, in an era where most handgun shooting was one handed bullseye, or point shooting (unsighted) from the hip. Nichols was ahead of his time, advocating for handgunners training for personal defense to transition from thumb cocking to double action technique. The book discusses nuances of grip and trigger control in more depth than most books on shooting from the 1950’s do. It was reprinted by Sportsman’s Vintage Press, who brought it back into print in both physical and e-book format.
Nichols was convinced that the Smith and Wesson revolver design was far superior to the Colt. It’s worth noting that both the best revolver shooters of the 20th century, Ed McGivern and Jerry Miculek, accomplished all their world record feats using S&W wheelguns.
Nichols was a big fan of Lt. John D. Leppert, of the municipal police force of Saginaw, Michigan, who would shoot traditional bullseye matches, firing all his shots double action, rather than thumb cocking for each shot as was common in that era.
The ten-second interval for five shots in the conventional rapid fire stage of bull’s-eye match shooting was a laughing cinch for Lt. Leppert. He could shoot five shots in five seconds, or even faster. Leppert’s rapid fire scores were nearly always winning scores, too; and the same was true of the other double action shooters (William Peterson, Joe Rivers) mentioned here.Nichols, Bob. The Secrets of Double Action Shooting . Sportsman’s Vintage Press. Kindle Edition.
As Nichols describes it, McGivern manipulated his trigger using a smooth, continuous roll all the way through the double action. Leppert staged his trigger pull, pausing part way through the stroke with hammer at full cock, confirming his sights before finishing his trigger press. McGivern shot with the gun in a traditional grip, with the barrel aligned with the bones of the arm, recoiling into the soft space between thumb and forefinger. Leppert twisted his gun to the right, as shown in the photo.
Nichols believed that combining Leppert’s grip and McGivern’s trigger control techniques was the key to shooting the double action revolver well.
- In the long, smooth double action trigger pull to let-off of the shot, no “breaking glass rod” climax of single-cocked sear disengagement takes place. We are therefore not tricked into easy transgression of the first commandment of all good pistol shooting, which is: Know not the instant of thy trigger let-off. The long, smooth double action trigger pull simply “dissolves” into let-off of the shot. Result: accuracy of fire
- The one-digit fire control and four-digit alignment control, as in double action shooting, gives us much more positive alignment control over the pistol—especially with the added control of the trigger finger on the long double action trigger pull following the recoil disturbance of the fired shot. Result: speed of fire.
- Double action triggering is a technique of natural motion—which naturally blends and synchronizes with natural and unavoidable body motion, both internal and external—and which also blends and synchronizes with target motion, if any. Result: hitting, whatever the target, whether motionless or in motion—and easier hitting.
Nichols, Bob. The Secrets of Double Action Shooting . Sportsman’s Vintage Press. Kindle Edition.
Nichols’ notes that McGivern’s trigger finger was abnormally short, causing him to manipulate the trigger using his finger tip, from an unusual angle compared to most revolver shooters. This likely required a significant amount of grip strength.
Another historical fact in Nichols’ book may be the origin of a training technique still in use today. He credits with Col. Sandy McNab, during World War One, with developing the technique of having the shooter aim, and the instructor press the trigger for the student, or press the trigger while the student’s finger is resting on the trigger, so they can feel what a proper trigger press feels like. I use this technique a lot, because one repetition of this drill can convey the concept of what a good trigger press feels like more than thousands of spoken or written words can.
Nichols explains that there are two dominant modes of “one-digit fire control and four-digit alignment control”: either pinning the trigger of a Colt single action to the rear and running it purely by manipulation of the hammer, or shooting a double action revolver purely in double action mode. He felt that the awkwardness of thumb cocking, whether it was a single or double action revolver, added unnecessary complexity. Similarly, he felt that having to click off the manual safety (or rack the slide as part of the draw) made the 1911 semiautomatic’s design suboptimal as well.
Many of the arguments Nichols’ makes for the double action revolver can also be made for the modern striker fired semiautomatic pistol. Here’s his description of trigger manipulation:
With the long, smooth double action trigger pull, this sudden climax of the “breaking glass rod” single-cocked sear disengagement simply disappears. Actually it no longer exists—there is no such sudden climax, no sudden change from the static condition to a condition of abrupt motion. The long, smooth double action trigger pull simply “dissolves” into a let-off of the shot. Automatically we are thus led to obey the first commandment of all good pistol shooting, Know not the instant of thy trigger let-off.Nichols, Bob. The Secrets of Double Action Shooting . Sportsman’s Vintage Press. Kindle Edition.
In his discussion of the “new” Commander sized 1911, he writes that
I wish Colt’s might have foreseen what a long, smooth, imitation double action take-up trigger pull might accomplish for its already cunning hitting quality. Such an imitation double action trigger take-up continued into quietly “dissolving” let-off of the shot would, I surely feel, make this new light-weight big-bore centerfire automatic the most astounding gun ever produced in its class. Such an imitation double action trigger take-up continued to quietly “dissolving” let-off of the shot should avoid completely the treacherous climax of the “breaking glass rod” trigger let-off which is inherent in all single cocking. Also, the extra realignment control of the gun from the trigger finger, following the recoil of the fired shot, should give the big-bore gun increased speed of aimed fire with better accuracy. Even with an imitation double action trigger take-up, of smooth quality, the .45 automatic could be gripped for best control, whatever the shooter’s preference in hold so long as it seemed to him secure and steady.Nichols, Bob. The Secrets of Double Action Shooting . Sportsman’s Vintage Press. Kindle Edition.
In a later section of the book, Nichols shares his opinions on statements made by earlier authors, such as Winans, Frazer, Hatcher and Himmelwright – several of which I’ve read and reviewed in previous posts. He cites Askins’ 1939 book as the only one in which double action shooting is discussed in any detail. Nichols also discusses Ed McGivern (his book, and his shooting skills) in detail, giving some insight into how influential (or not) McGivern was in his day.
Here’s a fascinating tidbit about Colt legend Henry Fitzgerald:
Next, we come to the trigger guard. Shall the front be cut away, or not? This all depends. On a snubnose pocket gun for a civilian, yes. This cut-away front of the trigger guard was originated by Fitz of Colt’s. Fitz was a civilian. Fitz’s favorite carry was the side trousers pocket carry. When Fitz rattlesnaked his guns on his lightning double draw, his guns were lifted out of his pockets by the trigger finger, already on the trigger, already to go. Fitz carried his two big snubnose .45 FitzGerald Specials strictly as shooting man killers, not as striking weapons.Nichols, Bob. The Secrets of Double Action Shooting . Sportsman’s Vintage Press. Kindle Edition.
Throughout the book Nichols points out that American pistol shooting has become too focused on sport, with the defensive aspects being ignored. His observations were ahead of their time, as it wasn’t until the Southwest Pistol League began developing what became known as “practical shooting” to change the focus of both sport and defensive shooting.
This book should be a “must read” for any fan of the double action revolver, and the content makes it one of the most significant books on handgunning published in the 1950’s.