Teach me to shoot: Part 3
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This is the next installment of a fictional guest report about a man teaching a woman how to shoot. Jack Cooper is teaching a woman he met in a bible study group to shoot because she felt she could learn better with airguns. Jill has learned rapidly, which you can read about in Parts 1 and 2, linked above. Today she puts what she has learned to the test. Take it away, Jack.
Teach me to shoot
by Jack Cooper
This report covers:
- Getting cocky
- The first review
- Unsafe moves!
- What has she learned so far?
- More to learn
- A new sight picture
- Which pistol?
Jill and I had our second training session with the Daisy 499 the next evening, and she shot nothing below a 48 out of 50 possible points in 7 attempts. One of our readers asked if she is doing this offhand, and I am pleased to report that she is. That’s what is so astonishing.
As her impressive results accrued on this second evening, she started getting cocky and challenged me to a 5-shot match. I told her I would enjoy that, but I had adjusted the sights for her and they would now be off for me. The truth is I knew she could beat me most of the time. But it wasn’t a contest — which is what every trainer says whenever the student surpasses them. This was a good place to stop and review what we had done until now.
The first review
I quizzed her on the rules of safety by asking questions that would challenge veteran shooters. For example, a Cease Fire has just been called as she is about to fire a shot. Should she:
1. Stop shooting and immediately unload the gun?
2. Stop shooting, take her finger off the trigger and keep pointing the muzzle at the target?
3. Squeeze off the shot immediately and then stop shooting?
The correct answer is number 2, but here is how she answered it. “Answer number 3 is unacceptable. No shots are to be fired after a Cease Fire has been called. But number 1 is a trick answer because it is impossible to unload a Daisy 499. The BB is held in the breech by a powerful magnet and, once loaded, must be shot out of the gun. So answer number 2 is the only answer than can possibly be correct.”
I was really proud that she picked up on how the design of the 499 affected the answer to the question. That shows maturity and depth of understanding that some shooters never achieve. I think that comes from her personality — not from the training. It’s what makes her a good surgeon and also a fantastic cook.
In all, she answered about ten safety questions that were worded similarly. With each of them she used thoughtful reasoning. When we were finished I knew she had internalized the rules of safe gun handling.
I had also made some careless moves with the 499 during this second session that included swinging the muzzle of the gun around until it almost pointed at her. She instinctively grabbed the muzzle and held it downrange when I did this, which was the correct thing to do. I also tried to get her to start shooting before I put on my safety glasses, but she caught me and told me to put my glasses on. I think she knew I was testing her, but her actions were so automatic that they confirmed she understood the safety procedures.
You have to test a new shooter several different ways. Some people are good at memorizing lists of rules, but they don’t act on them when the situation calls for it. Shooters not only have to know the rules, they have to apply them! This was how I was taught to shoot by the NRA and I found it to be a valid way to train Jill.
What has she learned so far?
That marked the end of the first part of her training. I asked Jill to tell me what she thought she had learned in this first part. She said she now knew there were a set of safety conventions and rules that applied to every shooter — whether the shooter acknowledged them or not. If they did not acknowledge and follow these conventions, the person and therefore the situation was unsafe and she should probably leave the area.
She also talked about what I had called gun-handling etiquette. That includes things like asking permission before touching a gun that isn’t yours. She was unaware gun-handling etiquette even existed, but she was glad to know that it did. I told her that many younger male shooters probably do not know the proper etiquette, or they don’t apply it if they do. Women shooters are usually taught as least the basics of gun-handling etiquette because they receive formal training more often than men. Many men are just expected to know certain things about guns because of their gender. That’s not right, but it is how our society operates.
The last thing she told me was how thrilled she was with the way she was now shooting. She had thought this training would be more like learning to play a musical instrument — that it would take months to master, but I had shown her the basics of shooting in just three short sessions.
More to learn
To that I replied that we were not done with our training. There were still many important things for her to learn. However — now we could proceed because I knew she would be safe while handling guns.
Then I gave her a taste of what was to come. I had brought two air pistols with me because I wanted her to try both of them. I was looking for the ideal weight of a handgun for her, the best trigger, a good sharp sight picture and, of course, accuracy.
Before we got to the pistols, though, there were some new things to learn. The first was the different sight picture she would be seeing with these pistols. Their open sights are very different than the target sights on the Daisy 499.
A new sight picture
I told her that she would have to learn a new type of sight picture to shoot with the target pistols we were about to use. I also told her that when we got to defense pistols there would be a different range of sight types to choose from, but we weren’t going to worry about them now. If she would learn what I was about to teach her, almost all of it would carry over to the defense pistol, and the part that was different would make sense when she experienced it.
She said she trusted me to guide her through this process, and she could now see there was a lot more to shooting than she ever imagined. I told her that’s why she was lucky to have an expert guiding her, and to my utter surprise, she kissed me! She said this was exactly what she had wanted to learn and I was explaining it very well. I had meant it as a joke, but I wasn’t going to say that now!
These are the elements that make up the sight picture for a target pistol.
This is what you should see when sighting a target pistol.
I told her this is where it starts getting hard. While my drawing of the correct sight picture looks very clear and straightforward on paper, achieveing it with a pistol held in one hand is the hard part. The pistol is in your hand that is extended in front of you as far as it will go, and the gun wobbles around side-to-side and up and down as you try to achieve the ideal sight picture. And that’s just the beginning!
There are entire forums online where nationally-ranked pistol shooters hotly debate whether you should leave a thin sliver of light between the top of the front sight blade and the bottom of the target, or rest the target directly on top of the sight like I show in my picture. They obsess over this one detail and nothing ever gets resolved. If one of them does well in a match, it becomes proof that their way is the right way.
I told her this and then I told her what really matters. “Jill, I doubt you will ever shoot 10-meter pistol competitively in the Olympics. So you don’t need to be concerned about details this small. Just rest the bottom of the bull on the top of the front sight post, and center the front sight in the rear notch and everything will be fine. I told you about this controversy in case you encounter it in your reading or someone says something to you in the future. I want you to know why you are doing what you are doing, so you can get good results. I don’t want to turn you into a world-class pistol shooter.
“When you look at the sight picture I want you to focus on the front sight post. The rear notch will be a little blurry and so will the bullseye. Your eye can only focus on something at one distance and I want that to be the front sight post. Is that clear?”
She said it was and now it was time to try each of the two air pistols I had brought. Several readers on this blog thought I would pick a Daisy Avanti 747 Triumph Match pistol for her. They are certainly very accurate and they are relatively easy to pump (single stroke pneumatics), but there is a downside. The 747 is very muzzle-heavy and that will cause it to pull Jill’s hand down and twist her wrist as she shoots. Also, the 747 grip is on the large side and Jill has small hands.
Instead I chose a Crosman 2240 for her. It’s nearly a half-pound lighter than the 747, and isn’t as long, so it isn’t muzzle heavy. The trigger isn’t great, but it’s no worse than a 747 trigger. Both triggers can be smoothed and lightened a bit. I had her hold the pistol in her right hand as I positioned her to shoot. She saw right away that sighting the pistol was going to be more difficult than the 499 had been. But I promised her she would be hitting an American quarter-sized bullseye by the end of our first session.
As an aside, the 2240 is a .22 caliber pellet pistol. I would have rather used a .177 pistol, but there is nothing like the 2240 in .177. The 2240 is powered by CO2, which makes it a bit louder, though we still won’t need to wear hearing protection. Because the pistol uses CO2 gas to power the pellet, the effort required to cock the gun is relatively low — we aren’t cocking a powerful mainspring. If you recall, ease of cocking was one of the principal features I wanted in an air pistol for Jill.
Then I handed her a vintage Crosman Mark I Target pistol. Right away she saw how much more ergonomic it was. And the sights were sharper. And it seemed to be lighter. It really isn’t, but the weight distribution is almost ideal for a woman. “This is what your boyfriend in college didn’t know. He thought shooting is all about noise and recoil. He was never shown how the right equipment makes everything click. This is a wonderful air pistol that I think you’re going to like very much, but it’s a vintage gun and has to be bought used. That 2240 is a modern gun that’s available today.
This Crosman Mark I has a pair of custom laminated wood grips that are shaped like the plastic factory grips, but are more attractive. This vintage single-shot is one of the finest air pistols for informal target shooting.
The Mark I is also a .22 caliber single shot pellet pistol. There is a .177 caliber Mark II that looks and feels identical, but I don’t own one. Since we were already using .22 caliber pellets with the 2240, I figured it would be best to stick wit the same caliber for both pistols.
In our next session she would be shooting both these pistols, to get used to them and also to see which one she liked the best.