Point Shooting For The Pot

by Skeeter Skelton

 

Shooting Times Magazine

September 1968

 

 

Ask five different handgunners to demonstrate their ideas of a good pointshooting stance and you'll get the benefit of five poses as unrelated as the minuet and the Bugaloo. I wasn't aware of this phenomenon until a recent gathering of my circle of pistolero friends left me with a lonely premise: Everyone is out of step but me.

 

Evan Quiroz, combat infantry officer-turned-rancher and sixgunner par excellence, had laid out a spread of mesquite-barbecued goat, corn tortillas, and Mexican frijoles. This hairy chested feed attracted Charley Askins, Bill Jordan, and Harlon Carter, three of our more salty shortgun men, to help me dispose of Evans's groceries at his remote Ship Ranch near the Texas-Mexican border.

 

The results of the inevitable shooting match that followed the savory meal aren't essential to this tale, and I won't embarrass myself by recounting our relative showings. Suffice it to say that I was up against Quiroz, a handgun hunter of considerable reputation; Askins, former national pistol champ, and ex-Border Patrol Chief Firearms Instructor; Jordon, exhibition fast draw king and NRA Distinguished Pistol Shot; and Carter, a lifelong hunter, handgun and rifle Master, and Past President of the NRA.

 

When our backwoods shoot degenerated into aerial potshots at thrown tomato cans and double action hipshots at empty bottles, as these affairs will, the talk turned to pointshooting at game. Lanky Bill Jordan, asked to demonstrate, went into his favorite hipshooting posture, his Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum held waist high while he mowed down a row of cans with as little strain as he obliterates aspirin tablets as his exhibition shoots.

 

Charley Askins, who like Jordan is on record as having little use for handguns as gamegetters, was more deliberate, raising the single action Ruger I had loaned him to shoulder level and glaring down the barrel as he thumbed the hammer.

 

Harlon Carter thrust out the S&W Combat .357 he had warmed up on a 75 yard bullseye target, and fired from about shoulder high, balancing himself in the classic gunfighter's crouch.

 

Host Quiroz, who takes some sort of game almost every day with his long barreled S&W .44 Magnum, lifted his sixgun to eye level, sighted, and squeezed of a shot.  Expert with a scoped rifle, Evan feels that a handgun man must squeeze every drop of accuracy from his gun, sacrificing speed if necessary.

 

While my own form at this exacting shooting chore may not win any awards for grace or versatility, it is one that I have worried out over a good many years of handgun hunting. For me, it works.

 

To my mind, pointshooting is a term that connotes neither combat-style hipshooting nor concentrated, aimed fire. If you're out for game and you're toting a handgun, that gun will be in your hand when the target moves, just as a rifle would be. Quickdraw has no application in hunting, and hipshooting is the natural child of the fast draw.

 

Still, the necessity for a fast snapshot frequently arises. Running jackrabbits are sporty pistol targets, and move so fast as to make dead aim impossible. Normally I would forgo a handgun shot at a running deer, but I once zapped a muley buck from horseback as he passed broadside, 10 yards in front of my Ruger .44. If I had tried for the perfect sight picture he would have been long gone into the junipers, and if I had shot from the hip I probably would have murdered my old jugbutted bay. The biggest Canadian goose I ever killed, an 11 pounder, had fallen after a load of #4's broke his wing. He was running into the next county, out of shotgun range, when the handloaded .357 slug turned him into Christmas dinner.

 

It is harder to describe pointshooting than it is to do a good job of it. Aligning the front and rear sights of the handgun on the target is not pointshooting, and neither is firing with the gun so low that the sights cannot be seen. The expert pointshooter focuses his eyes on his target. The handgun is swiftly raised and leveled just below a line between the gunner's eyes and the object to be hit.

 

In the lower part of his field of vision, the shooter is aware of the front sight of his handgun, and that it is approximately centered with the barrel and receiver. Using the front blade much as he would the bead of a shotgun, he controls the windage of the shot. Control of elevation, which dictates a high or low hit, is learned through familiarity with the gun and load, a nebulous thing called "gun feel" by some. Knowing how high or low your handgun will shoot, simply by the lay of its grip in your hand and the relationship of your shooting arm to your body, can only be accomplished through many hours of practice and the expenditure of a great deal of ammunition.

 

When you begin your study of pointshooting, it is imperative to know where your bullets are striking, so that a miss may be compensated for in the next shot by shift in the angle of the gun arm, and the body. A good place to practice this work is against a dirt embankment, such as the backstop of a target range. Bullet strikes that kick up the loose dirt at either side of the target, or above or below it, indicate that the body must pivot right or left, the gun muzzle move up or down, to center the hit.

 

Practice should commence with a still target, preferably a large one. A one gallon can at a distance of about 10 yards is challenging, without being so difficult as to completely frustrate the beginner. As skill is earned, the target can be reduced in size, and finally moving marks can be essayed.

 

I prefer to face the target squarely, lifting the gun to about shoulder height, or slightly lower, and centering it with my body. My weight rests on the balls of my feet, which are spread slightly, but not enough to prevent my pivoting comfortably to change to another aiming point up to 90 degrees from my first. My eyes focus on the target and its background, but I am still aware of the gun barrel and front sight in the lower part of my frame of vision. I am leaning into the gun, toward the target.

 

As the gun lines up and feels right, the trigger is quickly but smoothly squeezed. After a miss, only a nudge of compensation will move the next shot to center. Trying to maintain the pistol in its same relation to the eyes, twisting the shoulders right or left will correct windage errors, and elevation can be adjusted by leaning forward or back, with only a tiny degree of body movement necessary to move the point of the bullet's impact several inches.

 

Pointshooting is a business that requires concentration. All of us at the informal shoot I mentioned earlier were caught by the camera as we cut loose at a rolling tin can. The pursed lips, out-thrust jaws, and generally silly looks about us show that we were thinking about hitting the target, rather than how the film would reflect our image.

 

Revolvers are best for pointshooting, and good results can be had from either double or single action shooting, as long as pulls have been worked over to be smooth and light. The proper barrel length for this kind of exercise has been a matter of contention between Bill Jordan and me. Within reasonable bounds, I consider the longest barrel the best for point-and-shoot. Bill insists that the length of barrel is unimportant as long as the handgun has muzzle heaviness that will steady it as the shot is let go. From his long years as a Border Patrol officer, he has come to prefer a 4 inch barrel of large diameter, which is short enough to ride comfortably in a holster as the officer drives a scout car, yet is sufficiently weighty at the front end to approximate the feel of a longer barreled gun with a slimmer tube.

 

Jordan's argument makes sense, and anyone who has seen his snapshooting knows it will work. But I would choose the stretchier length of barrel. To me, the difference is parallel to that in pointing a can of beans at a target and leveling a walking stick of the same weight. The stick aligns itself perfectly, while the bean can is so thick and coarse as to give no clue as to the line of its axis.

 

Following this same line of thought, I have found few automatics that were satisfactory pointshooters. Granted, the heavy-barreled .22 target autos are quite good, but among bigger bores the only good-feeling performer in my hands has been an artillery Luger with 8" barrel, and its slender length was too wobbly and light for really reliable holding. The blunt and blocky Colt 1911, Browning HP, and S&W M39 types don't lend themselves to precise pointing, although I'll admit that a few shooters of my acquaintance have finally done some good work with them after what seemed an inordinate amount of practice.

 

The best sights for point-and-shoot are those that are mounted low, close to the bore. Especially on tricky problems like aerial targets, my best work is done with a fixed-sighted sixgun, such as my Colt Model P .45 single action. It would be fair to ask, since the sights are not fully employed, why the fixed sights have any advantage over the higher adjustable types found on the Colt New Frontier, the Ruger Blackhawk, or the various, target-sighted Colt and Smith & Wesson double actions. The answer is that most shooters tend to shoot high with such pistolas when they pointshoot, which might indicate that there is a subconscious use of the sights of which the gunner is not aware. As a practical matter, this tendency to shoot high can easily be corrected in practice if the same gun is fired extensively.

 

Running game, especially in pass shooting, is best handled with a two-handed hold. Grasping the handgun in the normal manner, then cupping the off hand under the butt has a great steadying effect, and those who work at this position quickly learn to "track" their quarry just like a shotgunner or a snapshot rifleman. A trial of this system will convince you that it is no slower to line up your holster gun with two hands than it is with one.

 

Confined to a sensible range of about 50 yards on a moving game animal, the handgunner will find his problems of lead similar to those of a rifleman. For this shooting, magnum calibers are best, with their high velocities cutting down the necessary amount of lead, and increasing tolerance for error in holding. Other than these instances where the quarry is getting away, but is still in sixgun range, there is limited use for pointshooting when you are out for meat. The first discipline that a handgun hunter imposes on himself is to take no shots that don't have an excellent chance of stopping the game in its tracks.

 

I have been the patient listener of many tales in which the rifle-armed hero laid his '06 in the crotch of a tree, then had to shoot from the hip with his trusty .44 as the whitetail he thought dead tried to eat him up. Some of my confidents, mysteriously better shots in their younger days, remember dropping flying bobwhites with Stevens tip-up .22's. These guys always recollect that they urgently needed the meat, even though their youth was spent on farms that were home to an assortment of turkeys, chickens, hogs, and cattle.

 

Unfortunately for my own storehouse of local color, none of these desperate, show-down situations have ever caused me to unlimber my hogleg for a speedy snapshot against an animal. Unless you count rattlesnakes.

 

It is regrettable for both me and the rattlesnake population of the Southwest that we have had to share the same territory for the last 40 years. Unfortunate for the snakes because, being aware of their conspiracy to get me, I have blown to doll rags every one that I came across; unfortunate for me that I am too nervous to try to make money by catching them alive and selling them at the going rate of 35 per pound.

 

If there is a Society of Rattlesnake Lovers, they will take umbrage at my observations. So be it. Living as I do in the heart of the homeland of the longest, fattest, meanest, most prolific pit vipers on the North American continent, I have found a handgun necessary for self-preservation. If the snake people would like to come save their pets from my bullets, I will gladly help them gather them up and haul them off. In view of the apparent hatred these reptilian Draculas hold for me, the Society might find me useful for bait.

 

Pointshooting is my snake medicine. Even at 20 yards, the sight of a fat diamondback purges my mind of the principles of sight picture and trigger squeeze, and I shoot fast. This habit has aided in instructing me in the aspects of long range pointshooting, since I always manage, by clever footwork, to extend the distance between me and the snake to a pretty comfortable yardage.

 

Is this pointshot every really necessary in the game fields? Naaahh - but did I tell you about the rattler I almost stepped on last week? I was opening the gate to this cow pasture, see, when I heard this whirring noise, and I looked down and there was this big . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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