by B.B. Pelletier
Announcement: Here’s this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 gift card.
A departure from the usual camo-wearing players we see in airsoft skirmishes, Joey Demonti is wearing a suit and overcoat. I don’t know which scenario he’s playing out, but the Thompson should take care of it. Wonder where he put his violin case?
Today’s report is a special one, requested by several readers who want to learn how to hold their Beeman P1s for best accuracy. I wrote about this originally in the January 1996 issue of The Airgun Letter.
It started with the 1911
Like most of you, I grew up thinking the Colt 1911 semiautomatic pistol (and its many variants) was a hard-kicking, inaccurate sidearm. I was very familiar with wheelguns in the early 1970s, but not so much with pistols. I even owned two 1911s by the time I went into the Army as a second lieutenant in 1970, but neither of them had changed my opinion of the gun or the cartridge. The funny thing was that I was reloading and shooting Colt Single Action Army revolvers with the much harder-recoilling .45 Colt cartridge that I loaded to Elmer Keith’s specifications, so I wasn’t recoil-shy. But something about the old slabsided pistol turned me off.
As a young officer in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, it fell to me quite often to run firing ranges for annual qualification and familiarization. In the cavalry, we had more weapons than typical soldiers, so not only did we have to qualify with the M-16 and the .45 if we carried them (which I did), but we also had to shoot a plethora of machine guns and the M3A1 submachine gun. Cavalry units don’t have just one kind of machine gun. We had four — five if you count the 20mm automatic cannon we had on the M114A1E1 scout vehicle. And there are 40mm grenade ranges, demolition ranges, mortar ranges, etc. In short, it was the best of times for a gun-lover like me.
One day I was running the squadron qualification range for the 1911A1 pistol. Out of a thousand men, perhaps 400 were armed with the pistol and had to qualify, so it was a long two days on the range for me and my non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who are all sergeants of one level or another. We had shooters lined up 20-25 at one time with one safety NCO to every four shooters and then several other safety personnel behind them, all the way back to me and my bullhorn.
Hour after hour, I watched men shoot the pistol, sometimes kicking up dirt 10 feet in front of them as they flinched in anticipation of the discharge. The safety and operations personnel could never relax because all one shooter had to do was turn around with a cocked and loaded pistol in his hand and there was trouble. To say all of us were focused is an understatement.
Then, the brand new Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Bonsall, arrived at the range in his jeep. I had never seen a lieutenant colonel at a small arms range before. I’m sure they went, just never when I was running the range. The colonel introduced himself, because I hadn’t met him yet –he was that new. Then, he asked to qualify. Well, sure he could qualify. It was his range, when you got down to it!
I directed him to a table upon which we had about 50 pistols waiting for the next shooters. You’re supposed to qualify with your own weapon, but to keep the range moving we had 50 pistols that the entire squadron used. That way there weren’t a lot of malfunctions. After weeding out the bad magazines in the first few relays, we had the range running smoothly. It was also much easier to clean only 50 pistols instead of 400.
Colonel Bonsall selected a weapon and took his place on the line with another 24 shooters. The shooting commenced and that’s when I lost track of him until my chief NCO came up and discretely asked me if I had noticed the colonel’s target. We were shooting at man-sized silhouettes at 25 yards. Each man got a fresh target when his relay began and the course of fire was 50 shots at the silhouette. We called it qualification but it was really more like annual refresher training. Most of the silhouettes looked as though they had been peppered by a shotgun firing huge balls. But the colonel’s target had a small hole right where the heart should be. He had fired about 30 rounds through a one-inch hole when I caught up with him, and the rest of his shots didn’t stray far from it.
The upshot of that day at the range was that our new commander wore the Army Distinguished Pistol Shot badge, a qualification badge so rare that not only had I never seen one, I had never even heard of it! And I was a gun buff serving in the Army! As of 2006, there were 1,689 Distinguished Pistol Shot badges awarded since its inception in 1903, making the badge rarer than the Army Medal of Honor that has been awarded over 2,000 times, though admittedly over a 40-year longer span of time.
After we cleared the colonel off the range, I examined the pistol the he’d used for his demonstration. It was a typical loose-as-a-goose arms room M1911A1 with green phosphate finish and brown plastic grips. It had probably been made around or just before World War II, and the only special care we gave it was to bring it to the range in the bed of a 2-1/2-ton truck inside a wooden footlocker with 49 others just like it. When it wasn’t being shot, it laid on a table in the hot sun while dust blew over it and through it all day long. By the time the colonel got his hands on it, it had probably already been fired several hundred times without cleaning or lubrication. The parts inside were just good enough to avoid condemnation during a major inspection.
That was the day when Elmer Keith’s last printed lie turned out to be true — you really CAN hit a man at 100 yards with a 1911 pistol. Repeatedly! But you have to know what you’re doing. Anyway, the colonel got my attention. Being a kindred gun buff, he taught me how to shoot the pistol. Now, I’ll pass on to you what I learned from him.
It’s all in the hold and the trigger action
How you hold the 1911 or the 1911A1 determines how tight it will shoot. Yes, the gun can be gunsmithed to shoot even tighter, but even a tired old clacker will surprise you if you hold it right. The Beeman P1 has the same grip frame and responds to the same hold in the same way.
You must always grip the pistol the same way every time you hold it. Hold the palm of your shooting hand flat with the thumb extended and place the pistol into the web of your hand. The three fingers that aren’t the trigger finger should be wrapped around the grips, and the thumb comes in on the other side of the grip, Now — and this is the key — you squeeze the pistol straight back into the web of your hand with the middle finger, which is the highest of the three fingers wrapped around the grip. The other two fingers apply absolutely no pressure on the gun. They’re just along for the ride. The thumb also puts no pressure on the gun. Only that middle finger squeezing straight back.
The other aspect of this hold is that the trigger finger presses straight back until the gun fires. Use the pad on the end of the finger for this, not the crease under the knuckle or any other part of the trigger finger. The object is to exert as little sideways influence as possible, so the gun always recoils in exactly the same way. Once you learn to shoot like this you will always be able to outshoot those who use a two-hand hold. They can move the gun faster from one target to another, but you have precision on your side.
A lot has been written about the P1’s recoil simulating that of a firearm. In my opinion, it doesn’t do that at all. The P1’s recoil is quicker than that of a .22 rimfire, and it’s nothing like the recoil of the .45 ACP. It does move when it fires, though, and that’s what this special grip is designed to counteract. Think of it as the artillery hold for pistols.
One last update
I took out my 1996 newsletter for this report and I read what I had said back then. Everything is still true today. I didn’t bother mentioning in the newsletter where I’d learned how to shoot this way, but I thought it was appropriate to do so here because I know you guys better than I knew my newsletter subscribers. You know my weaknesses and have come to understand that I’m not a special shot. What I do well, I do because others who were far better taught me how.
In reading that article, I saw that after a 500-shot break-in period, the pistol was shooting RWS Hobby pellets at an average of 593 f.p.s. As I’d mentioned in Part 2 of this report, my lube tune did slow down the gun quite a bit.