Tall, Tough, Faster’n Lightning
If Bill Jordan were the most unforgettable character I’ve ever met, this story would appear in the “Reader’s Digest.” Although lacking not a whit of color and charm. Long Bill falls short of some of my more raunchy acquaintances in the eccentricity department. If you’ve encountered this drawling giant, you will remember his 6’6” physique and the contrast of his soft, Louisiana speech. One of his low-key pungent anecdotes may have stuck in your mind, and you might recollect that you laughed a lot when you were with him.
But if you ever saw him shoot a sixgun, one thing will categorize him indelibly in your memory. Bill Jordan is the most unforgettable handgun man to emerge in the last third of a century.
The profession of arms is an exacting trade, and one that often leads humorless men to a premature callousness or the unlucky to an early grave. At 58, Bill has retained the wit and reactions of a Scaramouche after having devoted more than 30 years of his life to the dangerous and sometimes sordid pursuits as a professional law enforcer and combat Marine.
When Prohibition was on the wane in the 30’s, Jordan scouted the river that separated the Mexican smugglers from this country. Duty with the U.S. Border Patrol then meant guaranteed acquaintance with the sound of angry gunfire, and Jordan listened to his share. A stretch at clearing Japanese snipers from the caves of Entiwetok and Okinawa sharpened Bill’s adroitness with his small arms, and his postwar return to the Border Patrol kept a gun in his holster.
Retirement means a rocking chair or a fishing pole for most ex-warriors. The first day after Bill’s farewell to the federal service found him visiting me in Eagle Pass, Tex., and sheepishly explaining that he couldn’t take the inactivity. He had gone to work as Southwestern Field Representative for the NRA, and was striking out in a post that carries him and his guns 100,000 miles a year.
Bill did 10 years as an instructor at Camp Perry, guiding police in the intricacies of the riot gun, combat shooting, and fast draw work. This led to public appearances for the Border Patrol and tours with the Knife and Fork and Executive clubs. Television spots followed, with Bill demonstrating his skills to the nationwide audiences on such programs as To Tell the Truth, I’ve Got a Secret, You Asked for It, and Wide, Wide World. In various local TV programs, Jordan has sometimes found himself executing a bit of clever gunplay while the popular cinema cowboy of the moment manned the microphone and discoursed knowingly about the secrets of the fast draw.
This vaudeville aspect of his work is not Jordan’s liking. Gratified if his listeners enjoy the patter that carries them from one shot to another during his exhibition, Bill emphasizes that no chicanery is involved in his shooting. Shot cartridges for aerial work and breaking candy wafers against a vibrant steel plate while blindfolded are not part of his repertoire.
The first reaction to Jordan’s gun work is amazement at his speed. A pin pong is held on the back of his gun hand, the palm hovering six inches above his holstered gun butt. The hand moves, the Smith & Wesson is drawn and fired, and the ball rests inside the holster, displacing the revolver after a travel of less than a foot. For encores, the stunt is started from the same point, but this time the sixgun is drawn, then poked forward , the muzzle striking the falling ball and propelling it forward like the serve of a table tennis ace. Bill claims that his speed is not a big factor in these exercises. The hard part, if you would believe him, is to hit the holster with the ping pong ball.
The Jordan speed is a matter of record. The Robot Dueller, an electronic tester of gunsharks skills, has recorded Bill’s time for draw-and-hit at .27 of a second. A similar device, the McAvoy timer, marked him at .28 of a second. Both instruments include the reaction time of the shooter, who draws only after a signal is given, in the total score.
More startling than his quickness is the fantastic accuracy that attends Bill’s hipshooting sessions. After a bit of kidding around with 12” balloons and aluminum baking tins, he settles down to the real meat of his routine. Two-inch wafers, sliced from a cedar pole, are zapped calmly with quick hipshots. The range is 10 feet – good shooting, but nothing you would stomp your feet and whistle about. Next comes a line of Necco candy wafers, which are smaller and shatter in pleasing fashion. Bill’s guests nudge their drowsy neighbors awake as he blasts Lifesaver mints with quick hipshots, and everyone is muttering in awe when he reaches the finale, unerringly obliterating aspirin tablets with his Magnum held at waist level. Worried that the folks were getting blasé, Willie has added a new target to the series. He now finishes by centering a saccharin tablet with a wax bullet. For exhibition work, Bill’s bullets are of paraffin. For many years he performed all the same feats that are now enjoyed by his audiences, using 38 Special wadcutter ammunition. The transition to wax loads came as he worked more frequently before indoor groups. He makes all his own ammunition, and his method is simple. Decapping an empty 38 Special case, he drills the flash hole to 1/8” diameter, then shoves the case mouth through a ½” cake of paraffin. These “loaded” rounds are stored in a refrigerator or a thermos jus, so that the wax slugs won’t deteriorate in hot weather. Shortly before shooting, Bill caps the rounds with CCI Magnum small pistol primers, using a Lyman 310 tong tool for the chore. Case life is practically interminable with such a combination, and Bill says he has loaded some of his cases as many as 500 times.
Figuring that the other mechanics of Bill’s gun handling would be of interest, I ran him to earth in El Paso and tried to pick his brain. Responding to questions in his bantering, jocular style, the Jolly Lean Giant came through with a clear description of his guns, holsters, and other equipment.
Jordan favors two guns for fast draw and hipshooting. One is the Smith & Wesson Model 19, the 4” Combat Magnum. The Jordan piece has a few conservative alterations. The trigger guard is narrowed, a semi-circle of metal being cut from the front of the finger side to allow untrammeled access to the trigger. The square corners of the rear sight leaf have been rounded off with a file and touched up with cold blue. A third, but unseen improvement is the use of a lighter than normal mainspring and a trigger rebound spring that has been weakened slightly by the removal of a couple of its coils. These lighter springs greatly enhance the smoothness of the double action function of the Smith.
Bill has enormous hands. “I never wear gloves because I can’t find a pair large enough,” he complains, noting that a size 13 is far too small. While his gigantic mitt gives him absolute control over his handgun, it necessitates the use of a special pair of stocks. Finished smooth, with a filler behind the trigger guard and covering the backstrap, Jordan’s design of sixgun handle has enjoyed a wide appeal since being offered to the public by Herrett’s Stocks, Twin Falls, Ida. As the Jordan Trooper, these big stocks have solved recoil and pointshooting problems for most of the big handed gents who have tried them, and Bill uses the same grip on all his DA revolvers, whether Colt or Smith & Wesson.
Jordan’s second gun for slick work has a history as colorful as his own A family heirloom, this old S&W Military & Police 38 Special was presented to Bill’s uncle by the Smith & Wesson factory in 1910. The uncle, a handgun man of the old school, was Dr. Ira J Bush, a pioneer El Paso resident who is well remembered for his enthusiastic participation in the troubled affairs of the Mexican border country during that revolution-torn heyday of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
As Surgeon General of Francisco Madero’s rebel army, Dr. Bush held the rank of Colonel, and felt the obligation to contribute a bit more to the cause than the extraction of rifle slugs and the healing of saddle sores. During a stroll down a quiet El Paso street, his eye fell on the McGinty cannon, a non-descript artillery piece that had years previously been retired from some unrecorded military activity and put to recorded military activity and put to firing Fourth of July salutes at the annual McGinty Club beer busts. Now even that honest work was denied the old field piece, and it lay a-mouldering in front of the El Paso city hall.
A man of action, Colonel-Doctor Bush wasted no time in hooking the carriage of the pigeon-marked old cannon onto the tail of his touring car. Crossing the Rio Grande under cover of darkness, the physician delivered the gun into the grateful hands of the revolutionary artillerymen, who promptly put it to work in leveling the federal garrisons at Ojinaga and Camargo. After a short, hot run in Northern Mexico, the McGinty cannon stealthily returned to Texas and resumed its career as an El Paso artifact.
The Bush 38 remained inactive for many years until Bill decided to clean it up. Stripping the old sixgun, Bill scoured out the accumulated gunk in its innards and left a touch of Gunslick inside when he reassembled it. The old long action of the piece was the smoothest double action lockwork he had tried, and he looked around for ways to improve the Smith for his specialized holster work. Smith & Wesson was producing a special, heavy barreled 4” M&P for the Border Patrol about then, and Jordan had one of these tubes fitted to the Bush gun. The hammer spur was cropped, and the trigger guard altered to Bill’s order. Topped off with the Jordan handles, fashioned from the flashy Mexican hardwood, Guayacan, the family jewel is now one of Bill’s favorites for double action hipshooting.
Jordan holsters are known to uniformed law enforcement officers throughout the United States as the most advanced design available to suspend a DA revolver from a Sam Browne belt. Rigidly reinforced in the belt loop area by an enclosed metal strap, the Jordan rig is rigid and unmoving, always holding the gunbutt in precisely the same relationship to the gun hand. The revolver’s trigger guard is completely exposed, and the gun is held away from the back portion of the holster well by a cunningly inserted plug of leather, allowing the trigger finger to enter the guard as the draw is commenced.
Designed by Jordan 30 years ago, this streamlined gun shuck is the standard of the U.S. Border Patrol, as well as many other top police agencies. Don Hume, the Miami Okla., leather craftsman currently makes thousands of these fast riggings annually, dubbing them the Jordan “River” holster.
For his exhibition work, Bill now uses a modification of the original Jordan rig, one that was designed by Lt. Dan Combs of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, himself an outstanding exhibition handgunner. The Combs improvement consists of a stainless steel insert throughout the complete holster, including the gun well, and the sewing of the belt tang to the belt for absolute rigidity. “This change is unnecessary for the officer who wears his belt and holster every day,” comments Jordan, “but it’s a help to me since I travel so much. My belt and holster are packed in my luggage most of the time, and the stainless steel liner prevents the holster’s being flattened out to cause binding of the gun.”
The talk of Bill’s gear was pleasant, but when I attempted to get him to spell out the secrets that make him today’s finest hipshot, we ran into hard going. Like so many masters of a physical skill, Bill finds it next to impossible to describe the combination of agility and subconscious awareness that goes into his shooting. Lining up on a tiny target. Jordan lets his bullet fly when everything “feels right.”
One big help is a pair of custom stocks that fit the shooter perfectly. While adapter type grips that fill the space behind the trigger guard throw more recoil into the shooter’s hand and forearm, they allow the trigger finger to pull straight back naturally. Jordan agrees with most DA experts that a straight, uninterrupted DA pull is to be preferred, and describes the two stage pull – hauling back on the trigger until the cylinder locking bolt engages, then pressing the short remaining let off – as a poor substitute for straight single action shooting.
Bill and I are also agreed that a large diameter, hefty barrel is a definite aid to pointshooting. The sixgun with its weight well out front seems to home in like radar on a small target. Jordan’s style requires that he “feels” the barrel as it moves in front of him. Contrary to the teachings of some police instructors, he does not use his body as a reference point in aiming his hip shot. Rather than going into an exaggerated crouch and locking his elbow rigidly into his midriff, Jordan fires from a relaxed, erect position, his arm extended at waist level, and his elbow away from his torso.
In the tense, elbow-against body pose, it is necessary to lean forward to lower bullet strikes on the target, and to lean back to raise them. Jordan finds that the slightest change in the angle of the torso, when firing with a rigid gun arm, moves the group to an extreme degree, and prefers simply to raise or lower the gun hand to correct for errors in elevation.
Since he performs so frequently, Bill has found practice unnecessary, and while he sometimes misses his aspirin tablet when he does indulge in a warm-up exercise, this seldom occurs in front of an audience. “The pressure seems to help,” he avers, “and if a too-healthy dinner makes me feel a little loggy, before I stand up to shoot, I key myself up by thinking “be careful.” For me, a good edgy feeling is a definite aid to good shooting.”
Action photographs have shown that when Jordan draws and shoots his arm is under a terrific strain, with muscles bulging and tendons standing out.
Asked if he followed some sort of physical training regimen to meet the exigencies of his work, the slender Southerner admitted that he travels with a pair of 35 lb. dumbbells, and that he indulges in a bit of jogging when time and location permit. “I’m sure these little workouts are a help to my shooting, but really I just exercise for general well being,” Bill says.
While Jordan genuinely wishes that he could lay down some easy rules to follow for becoming a top handgun man, he knows that there are few shortcuts. “It takes time and patience, trial and error. Years of it. Eventually, if you’re dedicated enough, hipshooting will become a cultivated reflex, like tying your shoes without thinking about what your fingers are doing.”
Asked what he thought a crash program in which he fired a large quantity of ammunition in a very short time would gain an eager, would-be sixgun man, Bill replied, “A complete loss of all confidence and a desire to take up golf.”
In his classic book, “No Second Place Winner,” Bill Jordan lays down his methods in a style as fast moving and fascinating as his draw. Now in its second printing, this unique volume has been read by serious sixgun men all over the globe, and is soon to appear in foreign languages.
This tough border country that is home to me has a special phrase that it bestows on special men – the ones who are hard when they must be and laugh whenever they can. I’ve known Bill Jordan for a good many years and the homey Texas expression fits. He’ll do to ride the river with.
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