Let’s Take a Trip in the Wayback Machine
This week on Wheelgun Wednesday, we’ll be traveling back to 1959 to take a look at the NRA’s Basic Pistol Marksmanship manual. Found in a collection of my grandfather’s old papers, the booklet is an interesting look back at conventional pistolcraft of the ’50s.
While some of the advice contained therein is still applicable, some of it is terribly dated. For instance, not one depiction of the use of a revolver or autoloader shows the use of a support hand, and ear/eye protection is not mentioned and nowhere to be seen. There is an implied bias against the carrying of a handgun by “civilians” in the introduction, and an implication that the pistol’s only uses are for Sport, Recreation and National Defense, all depicted using the one-handed techniques outlined in the manual.
That being said, the manual remains an interesting look back at pistol fundamentals, especially that of the revolver. The illustrations and verbiage definitely bring to mind the narrative tone of black and white instructional reels one might have seen in school. Let’s take a look.
Safety First (Except for your eyes and ears)
The four cardinal rules have changed a bit. I would say the most critical one we have today that is missing in 1959 would be “keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot”. And we’ve all unfortunately encountered the guy in rule 4. Rules 5 and 6 are redundant, and thankfully combined nowadays.
The revolver loading procedure outlined in the 1959 manual is still pretty solid advice today. It provides a solid grip on the revolver with the support hand and allows for loading the cylinders as indexed by rotation from the support hand as well. Honestly, I see a lot of shooters nowadays fumbling around with wheelguns that could benefit from this four-step diagram.
Get a GRIp
The “Gripping” section includes a very strange procedure. Their “step one” is to cradle the revolver in your left hand, cock the hammer with your right thumb, and then place your left thumb between the hammer and frame! The thumb stays there until one has gripped the revolver with one’s right hand and extended it forward for firing. It is even noted in all caps that “THE LEFT THUMB STAYS BETWEEN THE HAMMER AND FRAME UNTIL THE GUN IS EXTENDED FOR FIRING.” Definitely an odd instruction, as it would be safer to just cock the hammer when you are in position and ready to fire.
The section on body positioning is adequate advice nowadays for bullseye shooting or one-handed firing, but nowhere to be seen is the use of support hands, Weaver or isosceles stances. There is an initial hint of the concept of “natural point of aim”, however: “The eyes are closed to see if the finger stays on target”. I also give a later section of the manual credit for encouraging shooting with both eyes open: “Both eyes should be kept open if possible. More light will be available and depth perception will be better.”
While much of the information is dated, the 1959 NRA Basic Pistol Marksmanship manual is a fascinating trip back in time to pistolcraft, revolver technique, safety and range etiquette of the 1950s. One can really see the quantum leap in technique needed. It makes me thankful for the input of the Jeff Coopers, Elmer Keiths, and other pioneering pistoleros to get us to where we are today. It is very interesting to look at it side by side with today’s fundamentals and training materials. I am thankful my relatives preserved it in such good condition.
A huge thank you to my relatives living and deceased who helped preserve and pass on such documents for me.