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Education / Training Teach me to shoot: Part 12

Teach me to shoot: Part 12

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

This is the continuing fictional saga and guest report of a man teaching a woman to shoot. Today I will be taking over. I’m going to show you how to shoot a pistol and hold a 1911 pistol one-handed for the best accuracy. This was requested by reader levans, but several of you own 1911s, so this should be of interest to many.

This report covers:

  • Learned from a champion
  • Distinguished Pistol Shot badge
  • Elmer Keith knew something
  • It’s all in the hold and the trigger action
  • The thumb controls the recoil
  • Lock the elbow
  • Cantilever the shooting arm
  • Other pistols?

Learned from a champion

Readers who have been with us for years know this story, but for the benefit of the newer readers, here is how I learned this technique. I was running a pistol range for my cavalry squadron in the Army and the squadron commander, LTC Bonsall, arrived on 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, after all!

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 I had several hundred men to cycle through and 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.

Distinguished Pistol Shot badge

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 2008, there were 1,709 Distinguished Pistol Shot badges awarded to Army personnel 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.

Army Distinguished Pistol Shot badge
This Army Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge is so rare that I hadn’t heard of it before meeting LTC Bonsall.

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.

Elmer Keith knew something

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 tell you what I learned from him.

How do you shoot a pistol? It’s all in the hold and the trigger action

How you shoot the 1911 pistol or the 1911A1 determines how tight it will shoot. Yes, the gun can be gunsmithed to shoot even tighter, but even a tired old clunker will surprise you if it’s held right.

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 — squeeze the pistol straight back into the web of your hand with the middle finger, which is the longest of the three fingers wrapped around the grip, and also highest on the grip. The other two fingers apply absolutely no pressure to the gun. They’re just along for the ride. The thumb also puts no pressure on the gun, although I will tell you something else about it in a moment. Only that middle finger is squeezing straight back. Let me show you what that looks like with an illustration I drew for the Beeman P1 pistol that has the same grip as a 1911.

Beeman P1 pistol correct hold
This graphic is copied directly from the January 1996 edition of “The Airgun Letter.” It illustrates the correct hold.

The thumb controls the recoil

That thumb can ride against the grip, but if you rest it atop the manual safety switch, it will cut the muzzle flip from recoil by half. Some worry that their thumbs will be hurt by the moving slide, but I have never seen that happen. When the pistol comes back in recoil, the thumb doesn’t allow it to rise as much as it wants to. This is a trick I learned from reading the late Jeff Cooper.

This is possible with a stock Colt pistol, but most 1911s you encounter today have special wider safeties that are made for this. Some are even ambidextrous, for lefties.

Lock the elbow

The final trick to Colonel Bonsall’s technique is locking the elbow. When you raise the pistol to take a shot — and you should only shoot one time before lowering the pistol to rest the arm — rotate the arm in the direction of the shooting hand. If you are right-handed, roll the pistol to the right. That moves the elbow under the arm and locks it in place. After the elbow is locked, slowly lower the pistol until the sights are aligned, then take the shot in 5 seconds or less.

Cantilever the shooting arm

Also, lean slightly back, bringing the shoulder above the leg. That turns your shoulder into a cantilever support, taking a lot of the pistol’s weight off your arm muscles and making your hold steadier.

Other pistols?

Can this technique be used for other pistols, as well? Certainly. This year at the SHOT Show Media Day I shot a tiny group on a Shoot-N-C target at 20 yards that others were just blasting at with their two-handed holds. The guy from Smith & Wesson said I must be a target shooter when he saw what I did. I sure am!

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

47 thoughts on “Teach me to shoot: Part 12”

  1. B.B.

    My pistol shooting scores have already gone up 10 points! Thank you.

    What does one have to do to qualify for the Army Distinguished Pistol Shot Award?
    As a kid, I shot small bore, taught by a lot of the Army’s Shooting Team. A real advantage of growing up around DC. I always was impressed by those guys….


  2. You have to earn 30 EIC (Excelience In Competition) points.
    You earn the points by shooting in sanctioned competitions around the country, during the year.
    Matches at Ft. Benning, Camp Perry, Ft. Bragg are some of the big ones.

  3. I’m printing this blog out and memorizing it for when I next go to my 25 yard Bullseye league. Consider this blog a stand-up triple as far as I’m concerned, BB. If my score improves, I’ll give you an inside the park home run! 🙂

    Fred DPRoNJ – still

  4. Just a quick update.

    The Crosman seal that I got for the Brodax to seal the co2 cartridge is the wrong size. So it won’t work. Plus there is a threaded metal retaining ring that threads down to hold the seal in place needs replaced. It’s threads ain’t holding good.

    So the Brodax is dead until parts are sold for it for repairs. Oh well. It was a fun 40 bucks spent while it lasted.

      • BB
        That would be great. I talked to few different people there thinking maybe they missed something. But looks to be true.

        I was going to try to cross reference it with some of their other co2 guns but it’s hard to find diagrams to get part numbers. Heck I have no problem buying from them.

        And it is sad as you said because it’s a very nice shooting pistol. Heck the trigger was finally starting to get broke in.

        I’m seriously thinking about getting the $49 colt Python since the clips are the same. I was even going to order another Brodax but I see their out of stock. They are nice for the price.

        But if you hear something please let me know. I will order the parts from them if they do become available.

          • BB
            You know I never did ask and they didn’t mention it.

            I guess I usually always do my own repairs and didn’t think about asking. Plus I don’t like to have to ship to them and then wait for the return. Plus probably have to pay shipping.

            For the price of the gun it’s more of a hassle than it’s worth. For me anyway. Maybe other people that don’t fix on their own look at it another way.

            • And I should mention this since I’m on the subject of the Brodax.

              I had some Crosman Premium pointed pellets in 7.4 grain in my box of once tryed pellets from the past in other guns.

              Well I tryed them in the Brodax before it died. They actually shot very well. So last night I stopped at the 24 hour Wally world by the house to get the co2 cartridges and saw they had some of the 7.4 pointed premier’s. So I got two tins of 250 count cause I was going to try them today if the seal worked in the Brodax.

              Well we know how that went so I decided get out the old 1077 with open sights and take the HPA conversion off and shoot the 12 gram co2 cartridge in it with the 7.4 pointed premier’s.

              Guess what. I was ringing the 2″ spinner 8 out of 10 shots and open sights out at 50 yards. And of course resting the 1077 on my monkey bag. And there’s even about a 6 mph cross wind.

              The 7.4’s are for sure going on the list for my next PA order. I’m very surprised how well they are doing. I usually have not had good luck with pointed pellets. Or maybe back when I was trying them I wasn’t that good of shot yet. 🙂

              • GF1, (.25 M-rod)

                Just a bit of an update,… The hammer adjustment was 6 1/2 in, from full back, (as it was set). I re-set it to 6 in. The striker adjustment was full back. As best I could tell from my notes, I had it at 2 turns in. So did it move? I do not know. I will recheck again after some more shooting. I returned it to 2 turns in, from full back.

                I did 6×70 yards and 4x 100 yards. I have yet to measure groups, but I was able to keep the same POI at 70 yards over 24 shots without changing hold over.

                The best was 6/8 at 1/2″ at 70. 5/8 at 1 1/4″ at 100. I will play some more tomorrow, but I will recheck the striker adjustment to see if it moved over 80 shots before I head out.

                • Chris USA
                  I could of swore you messed with the adjustments pretty recently. You were trying for more shot count I believe it was. Don’t remember correctly exactly but I know you mentioned it.

                  And when you say 6/8 do you mean 6 of 8 shots went into a 1/2″ group at 70 yards.

                  And 5/8 means 5 of 8 shots went into a 1-1/4″ group at a 100 yards.

                  If so then the other shots are flyers? And if so how far away from the main group?

                  • GF1,

                    Yes, that is what it means. I do not think I would have had the striker full back with the O-rings installed. For each gun, I keep a main page of notes for any changes worth noting, just so it is all in one place. No notes were on that, and no targets had notes that said I went full back on striker. I imagine, if it is going to move, it is going to screw in (back). Really, there is little resistance.

                    As for the groups, I have not measured them yet, other than what I mentioned. They were really no better or worse than yesterday. I will look harder at them in the AM.

                    • Chris USA
                      Maybe take the striker out of the gun. Then use the blue Loctite on the adjustment screws for the striker and spring pressure since you pretty well no you like how you have it set.

                      Anyway give a update what you do.

                  • GF1,

                    On the below comment,.. yes,….. that is (exactly) what I had planned,.. if I can verify movement. Beside locking good,… if moved,… it still has enough “stick”,.. to hold well.

              • GF1

                I have had those pellets do well also. Granted it was a lot closer range. 1/2″ at 10yds. Always had a majority group and a sub group. Back when i fought with a nitro venom i noticed 2-3 out of 10 would enter the breech much tighter than the rest.

                Have you tried the crosman premier copper coated? I have an experiment coming up with them… top secret… They should be here Monday or Tuesday, with the… rest of the testing materials…

                • PH
                  I was surprised how well they did in the 1077. Definitely was getting one holes at 15 yards with the pointed 7.4’s and 50 yards spinner hits with open sights is good for me. The old eyes don’t see like they use to.

                  I have not tryed any copper coated pellets yet actually. And I use to shoot the box Crosman premier’s till I tryed the JSB pellets. Especially after I tryed the JSB 10.34’s and JSB 8.4’s.

                  I like the softer JSB’s. But what I noticed right off the bat was the pointed Crosman premier 7.4’s are softer than the other Crosman premier’s in the other weights.

                  This is going to sound out of the ordinary. But what I usually do with the smaller caliber pellets anyway. The .25 caliber pellets are beefier pellets so it’s harder to judge. But I squeeze the skirt of a pellet between my thumb and finger. The pellets with the softer skirts usually shoot better than the harder pellets. I guess they expand better when the air blast hits them and seals the skirt to the barrel better. More consistency that way???

                  So that’s what I noticed right away about the Crosman pointed premier 7.4’s was the softer skirt.

                  I’m going to try the premier pointed 7.4’s in my 1377/ Discovery conversion this weekend. That’s a accurate gun with the JSB 10.34’s. So that should give me a pretty good idea about them cause I can adjust the velocity with the pumps. But so far I think they will be good pellets after what I seen in the 1077 and the Brodax.

                  And thats going against what I usually like in a pellet. I never liked pointed pellets or lighter weight pellets because windy conditions and pointed pellets just have not been accurate for me. So this pointed lightweight premier may change my mind.

                  And I don’t know what to think about the copper coated pellets. Looks like I’m going to have to do some pellet trying in the future again. And I thought I found my magic pellets in .177, .22 and .25 caliber. Here I go again. 🙂

          • BB
            I was just looking on the Pyramyd AIR site at the Python and noticed it had a 90 day limited warranty. So I checked the Brodax it does too.

            I guess that’s through Umarex or is it with Pyramyd Air?

            I think I will call Pyramyd AIR tomorrow just to see. I was just trying to see my previous orders and I can’t get them to pull up on my phone either to see exactly when I did order the Brodax.

            So maybe I can get the Brodax going. But darn if I could just buy the seal and retaining ring it’s seriously only a 5 minute fix if that long. That’s the other part I don’t like about sending it in. It just is too long of a process to get it there. Have them work on it in the order it’s received and then wait for them to ship it back. Kind of takes the fun out of it all. Will see what happens tomorrow. Definitely not going to send it back though. I might as well buy the Python this time around.

              • BB
                Ok that’s good news. But I wonder why the people I was talking to about parts didn’t mention that? Who knows.

                But ok I guess I will call them if I haven’t had the gun for 90 days yet.

                And for some reason yesterday and so far today I’m not getting back any emails about somebody replying to me. Like you just now for example.

              • BB
                Just to let you know and others that have been following. I just talked to Umarex.

                They said they would email me a form to print out and fill out to ship it back. (forgot to ask if they pay return shipping) They said to send them the purchase order along with it and they will take care of it.

                So at least if someone does get a Brodax that limited warranty is in place.

                Don’t know if I will send mine in though or not still. Told them again it sure would of been nice if I could of got a $1 seal shipped in the mail last week. Would be shooting it right now.

                And I know just me. And it’s how the real world works. Went through all this with one of the FX Monsoon’s I had. The gun was being shipped back and forth and waiting to be looked at. Then fixed. It actually took almost a month to get the gun back. Think about that with a $1400 gun. Well at least the Brodax is only $40.

                And I should say. I’m happy with Umarex and the Brodax. Just wish parts were available.

        • BB:

          Great blog. I hope works slows enough for me to get to range to practice one hand shooting,


          I can’t get the link above to work When I try it I get the following message: The page cannot be displayed because an internal server error has occurred.


        • GF1:

          I had an older Python that I picked up used last year. It’s barrel came loose inside the shroud and I can’t even figure out how to get the shroud off. I also can’t find an exploded diagram for it on the internet. Since I bought it for $20 it wasn’t worth trying to send it in to get it fixed.

          The last PA sale, I was gong to purchase the Brodax as a replacement. The Brodax was out of stock, so I order the $49 pellet/BB Python as a replacement. So far I have a chance to run exactly one CO2 cartridge of pellets through it. The accuracy at 5 and 10 meters has been really good.


          • Jim
            I believe I’m going to get the Python too. It’s supposed to have a rifled barrel so maybe pellets will be better in it then the Brodax smooth bore barrel. But I’ll tell ya the Brodax was a pretty good shooter. And the trigger was getting easier there in the end. Actually a pretty controllable trigger. I hope the Python trigger is as good.

            But pretty sure that’s what I’m going to do. Get the Python.

  5. B.B.,

    I would be interested to hear your opinion on ( hold and rest sensitivity ) of PCP’s. Does it exist? I think that consensus is that once you go PCP, or a single pump, or multi-pump pneumatic, that hold sensitivity “goes away”.

    At least that is what I have gathered from my 1 1/2 yr. here,…. as I do not think I have ever heard it mentioned, that I can re-call.


    • Chris,
      On the idea of hold sensitivity, check on U tube for a new,today, video on barrel harmonics by Matt from AirArms Hunting SA. It talks about a number of factors that can influence poi with pcps. Some of what he discusses is the things that you and GF were experimenting with concerning weighting barrels and such. Its an informative video, I thought.
      My crossover femeral artery surgery went very well! I now have some feeling in both feet for the first time in several years. As time goes on it will continue to improve my ability to walk. I am quite happy with the results!

      • BBB,

        Glad to hear all went well! 🙂 Yes, barrel harmonics are something I would love to play with. But, it takes an exposed barrel. I will try to find the video.

        Everything helps. Without knowing, I think I would say that there (is) some hold sensitivity factors to a PCP, though probably to a much lesser degree than springers.

        Thanks,…. Chris

      • Bruce
        Glad to hear your surgery was a success.

        And yep I have seen some interesting slow motion video’s on barrel harmonics.

        One video was of a cheapy break barrel. I won’t mention brand name. But the barrel was whipping and oscillating like how you snap a rope on the ground and the hump or arch of the rope travels away from you.

        Put it this way. I was way surprised how much the barrel flexed. They say crankshafts on car engines twist back and forth also while the engines running.

        It’s amazing that things even stay together.

  6. B.B.

    It seems that the Comments RSS feed located here /blog//comments/feed/ does not work, it is not providing links to the comments posted.

    I use that feed to follow your blog’s comments to see all posts posted, can you check with your IT folks to see if there is a fix coming up for this issue?


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