History of the Pistol
PISTOL shooting has been practiced ever since " grained" gunpowder came into general use. It is only recently, however, that it has developed into a popular pastime and has been recognized as a legitimate sport.
The useful and practical qualities of the pistol and revolver have been developed almost wholly during the last half-century. Before this period the small arms designed to be fired with one hand were crude and inaccurate, and were intended to be used only at short range as weapons of defense. The single-barreled muzzle-loading pistol has, nevertheless, been part of the army and navy officer's equipment since the sixteenth century. These pistols were of large caliber, smooth bored, heavy, and unwieldy. The load was a spherical bullet and a large charge of powder. Enough accuracy was obtained to hit a man at 15 to 20 paces, which was deemed sufficient. The usefulness of these arms in action was limited to the firing of a single shot, and then using them as missiles or clubs.
The first pistols of which there is any authentic information were made about 1540 by one Caminelleo Vitelli at Pistoia, Italy, from which place the arm took its name.
The pistol in early days was considered a gentleman's arm—a luxury. It was the arm generally selected for duelling when that code was in vogue, the contestants standing 10 to 20 paces apart and firing at the word of command.
The development of the pistol has been contemporaneous and closely identified with that of the rifle. With the grooving or rifling of the barrel, the accuracy was greatly improved and the arm adapted to conical bullets. Although numerous attempts were made to devise a multi-shot arm with flint, wheel, and match locks, it was not until the percussion cap was invented that a practicable arm of this character was produced. This was a " revolver " invented by Colonel Colt of Hartford, Conn., in 1835, and consisted of a single barrel with a revolving cylinder at the breech containing the charges, the mechanism being such that the cocking of the piece after each discharge revolved the cylinder sufficiently to bring a loaded chamber in line with the barrel.
The greatest advance in the development of firearms was the introduction of the system of breech-loading, employing ammunition in the form of cartridges. This principle rendered the operation of loading much simpler and quicker, and vastly improved the efficiency and general utility of the arms.
The present popularity of pistol and revolver shooting is due, no doubt, to recent improvements in the arms and ammunition. The arms are now marvels of fine workmanship, easy to manipulate, durable, and extremely accurate. With the introduction of smokeless powders, the smoke, fouling, and noise have been reduced to a minimum. The effect of these improvements has been, not only to increase the efficiency of the arms, but also the pleasure of shooting them.
As a sport, pistol shooting has much to commend it. It is a healthful exercise, being practiced out-of-doors in the open air. There are no undesirable concomitants, such as gambling, coarseness, and rough and dangerous play. In order to excel, regular and temperate habits of life must be formed and maintained. It renders the senses more alert and trains them to act in unison and in harmony. But, above all, skill in shooting is a useful accomplishment.
Anyone possessing ordinary health and good sight may, by practice, become a good pistol shot. Persons who are richly endowed by nature with those physical qualities which specially fit them for expert shooting will, of course, master the art sooner than those less favored; but it has been conclusively shown that excellence is more a question of training and practice than of natural gift. Some of the most brilliant shooting has been done by persons possessing a decidedly nervous temperament; but those of phlegmatic temperament will generally make more uniform and reliable marksmen.
It is much more difficult to shoot well with the pistol or revolver than with the rifle. The latter, having a stock to rest against the shoulder and steady one end of the piece, has a decided advantage in quick aiming and in pulling the trigger. The former, without a stock and being held in one hand with the arm extended so as to be free from the body, is without any anchor or support whatever, and is free to move in all directions. Consequently the least jar, jerk in pulling the trigger, puff of wind, or unsteadiness of the hand greatly disturbs the aim. Intelligent practice will, however, overcome these difficulties and disadvantages to such a degree that an expert shot with a pistol or revolver under favorable conditions can equal a fair shot with a rifle at the target up to 200 yards. When the novice essays to shoot the pistol or revolver, the results are generally disappointing and discouraging; but rapid progress invariably rewards the efforts of those who persevere, and when once thoroughly interested in this style of shooting, there comes a fascination for it that frequently endures throughout a lifetime.
Himmelwright, A.L.A.. Pistol and Revolver Shooting. New York: MacMillan, 1922.
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