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The Standard Firearm Of America

Whether for protection on the frontier or for hunting in the backwoods, the smoothbore hunting gun played a pivotal role in times of peace and war in the American Colonies.

Men with Rifles

In the days before the supermarket and the meat packer, the amount of meat on the table depended entirely on the marksmanship and stalking skill of the male family members. The old smoothbore musket had to be used at very short range (or on elephant- sized targets). Probably as much game was frightened to death by the noise of the musket as was shot, but it provided food and defense for a long period of time.

In those days a man was not considered fully dressed Unless he had a gun holstered at his hip or somewhere on his person. However, as towns and cities grew and the country began to settle down the need for pistols decreased. Eventually, only law enforcement officers had any need to carry one regularly.

Around 1700 a firearm called the rifle, because of the twisted grooves in the barrel, appeared in America. Because of its lighter weight, smaller caliber and increased accuracy, this firearm proved a better hunting gun than the musket. It was widely used by the men who were opening up the new country west of the Atlantic coastal area. Although it first appeared in Pennsylvania and was largely manufactured there, its fame and use spread throughout the colonies and became known as the "Kentucky". Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Davey Crockett and heroes of the frontier growth of our nation used this rifle, and its refined descendants, to give America the reputation of a nation of riflemen.

During the Revolutionary War, due probably to manufacturing difficulties and to the slower loading of the rifle, the smoothbore musket dominated the field of small arms. The "Kentucky" remained in the background, never considered seriously as a military firearm. On occasion the long rifle was used with notable Success, but the war was fought basically with the smoothbore.

When the target changed after the war from the massed ranks of the British to deer, turkey or the wily native Indian, the superior accuracy and lightness of the rifle brought it into prominence again. Such men as Hickok, Earp and other frontier marshals were faced with the necessity of hunting game and desperado alike with the longer range firearm. The rifle scabbard was a standard piece of equipment for the range rider and cavalryman of the old west. True, the law-enforcement officers of the past and the present have been associated with handguns, but they have also always been proficient with the rifle. The rifle was then, and is now, the standard firearm of America.

Even in this day of destructive powers never before realized, this country owes its survival, as in the past, to men with rifles. It is somewhat ironic that a nation which had much to do with the development and practical use of handguns has not continued to be a nation of good marksmen. Only in recent years has there been a marked reawakening of interest in pistol shooting as a sport and the appearance of many outstanding pistol shooters. The sport is admirably suited to wide participation since it does not require any remarkable characteristics of strength or coordination, nor does it require a great deal of money.

Today the civilian has no need for the low-slung holster and the quick draw, but there is and always will be a need for reputable citizens who can handle pistols safely and efficiently. There is great fun and satisfaction ahead for those who want to learn.

The word "pistol," it is said, comes from the name of a town, Pistoia, in northern Italy. Handguns were manufactured there in the 15th and 16th centuries and the name attached itself to the gun. All one-hand guns are pistols; single-shot pistols, revolving pistols, or revolvers, and self-loading, or "automatics." Although current usage has connected the word "pistol" pretty largely with the self-loading type it is actually proper to use it in connection with all handguns.

The history of firearms is actually a history of the ignition of ammunition. The earliest pistols were simply small iron or bronze tubes closed at one end and attached to crude wooden stocks. (In fact, Webster's Dictionary says the pistol got it's name from a French word nearing "pipe.") Ignition of the powder charge was accomplished by applying a burning match or fuse to a small opening near the closed end.

When the earlest settlers came to America the standard firearm was the matchlock. It was a muzzle-loader and continued in use in Europe until about 1700. This firearm was named for the "match - a wicklike piece of material - which was lighted before use and then lowered by trigger action into a priming pan of loose gunpowder. Obviously, weather conditions had to be almost perfect for it to function properly.

During the 16th century, the Wheel Lock pistol was invented in Germany. In the wheel lock sparks were thrown into the priming pan by a spring-operated wheel. The wheel lock was the successor to the matchlock, and was the first firearm to use flint and steel for lighting the primer. It worked much like a modern cigarette lighter and had to be wound up with a key before use. The priming pan now had a cover on it and weather was a less important consideration. The wheel lock was also a muzzle-loader.

At the end of the 16th century a more practical lock for creating sparks was invented. The flintlock was the next major progressive step in firearms ignition. A piece of flint clamped into the hammer sprayed sparks into the priming powder when it struck the hinged cover of the pan. This firearm came into prominence late in the 1600's and maintained its importance well into the 1800's. Both smoothbore muskets and the earlier Pennsylvania ("Kentucky") rifles used the flint lock. Thus the Flintlock came into being and by 1675 was the only type in use.

Early in the 1800's fulminate of mercury began to be used as a priming agent. Firearms using the separate metal encased primer were percusion arms. The striking of this primer by the hammer exploded the primer which then ignited the gunpowder. This type of primer, and its later refinements, made possible the self-contained cartridge for use in small arms. The explosive primer, enclosed in a copper cap, was mounted on a cone or nipple which served both as an anvil and passageway for the flame. With the percussion cap multiple firing in the modern sense became possible, although pistols were still essentially muzzle loaders.

The Model 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle was designed as a military rifle. It was the standard U.S. service rifle until late in the 1930's. It helped the United States gain its place in the forefront of marksmen all over the world. In spite of the fact that it is no longer the service rifle, its efficiency and tr-oublc-free operation have kept it popular as a sporting rifle.

The full or semi-automatic M14 is a U.S. Military Rifle. This rifle superseded, in 1957, the semi-automatic M1 Carand, which had been in use since 1936. The M14 is a multipurpose rifle, which also replaces the M 1 and M2 Carbines, M3 Submachine gun and Browning Automatic rifle.

Multiple barrel pistols of many types were made but in 1836 Samuel Colt invented the revolving pistol, or Revolver. A revolving cylinder with separately loaded chambers which came into alignment with a single barrel was the innovation. During the 1860's the self-contained metallic cartridge came into use and permitted the development of the true breech-loading pistol. Cartridge revolvers have continued in use until the present time.

The last major development in the pistol came from the famous firearms inventor, John M. Browning, at the end of' the 19th century. Many of today's pistols are the Self-Loading repeating type, frequently called "automatics." They operate on the energy of the gases from the firing cartridge. The magazine, or "clip," which holds the additional cartridges is most often found in the grip. The cartridges are pushed into the loading mechanism by spring pressure. The modified Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber self-loading pistol is a U.S. military pistol.

In some cases the firearm is the best friend a man ever had, in others the most cantankerous piece of machinery ever invented and in still others, a fearsome instrument-but always interesting, always exerting great appeal. With knowledge of the safety practices connected with it and skill in its use, the pistol can be a friend and a never-ending source of pleasure.

The study of any firearm starts with an emphasis on safety. Shooting is a sport, a recreation and a vital part of national defense, but strict obedience to the rules of safety is imperative if it is to stay enjoyable to the millions who wish to participate. To understand safety with the pistol it is necessary to know how the pistol works but safety involves more than mechanical knowledge. Assuming the shooter has sound information and at least moderate skill he still must have the proper attitude in order to be safe. The "smart aleck," the "hot-shot," the "cowboy" is not safe to have around, regardless of his ability to hit the target. Constant awareness of the potentialities of the pistol and concern for oneself and one's fellows are essential to safety. These considerations are of special importance with the pistol since its short barrel and mobility increase the likelihood of pointing it at people unintentionally.

Fundamental knowledge of the pistol is just as important as its proficient use. If there is a thorough understanding of how results are obtained, and why things happen, there is every reason to expect that results will be good and that, based on the foundation of knowing "how" and "why," practice will bring continued improvement.

The .22 caliber rimfire rifle is king! A knowledge of the .22 caliber rifle can be adapted to pistols, high power rifles - or even heavy field pieces since the basic principles are the same for all. The .22 rifle is taken by some to be a toy, but that certainly isn't the case. The modern .22 rifle fires ammunition that, if let go, is dangerous to a mile or more and may have a muzzle velocity (the speed it's traveling when it leaves the gun) of up to 1400 feet per second. Besides, the modern .22 long rifle cartridge is superbly accurate. It is not a toy.

The .22 caliber pistol is widely used in basic pistol marksmanship training. It has many advantages. It makes less noise. Its relatively small recoil makes it easier to spot the more common beginner's faults. It is less expensive to shoot, although the pistol itself doesn't vary much in cost from the larger calibers.

There's an old saying that in things physical, there must be actual practice before the teacher can be sure the student has learned, or before the student can be sure he knows. It is important to spend a lot of time putting into practice the principles learned by lecture, reading, demonstration and observation.

Either the .22 caliber revolver or self-loading pistol may be used in basic marksmanship training. They both shoot the same ammunition and are equally accurate. Each has certain advantages over the other. The self-loader is heavier and many shooters feel that to be an advantage. At the same time, there is a tendency to get the shots off more rapidly with the self-loader because it doesn't need to be cocked between shots. The inclination to consider each shot separately with the revolver is a distinct advantage.

Many new shooters will want to move into timed and rapid-fire quickly since the accelerated pace is very stimulating. There's no denying it's fun but serious bad habits can be developed if the new shooter tries to move ahead too fast. The best foundation for good timed and rapid-fire shooting is a sound background of slow-fire. The establishment of rhythm and good habits in the fundamentals learned in slow-fire will be well worth the wait. The beginner, shooting rapid-fire, may very well violate every rule of good marksmanship in his haste to get shots away. The more accelerated phases of pistol shooting should come after at least a moderate skill has been achieved in slow-fire.

Many shooters feel they would like to begin shooting moving targets immediately. This is perfectly natural, since many new shooters have visions of the game they'll get right away. There's no denying it's fun, but the way to learn to hit moving targets is to first learn to hit stationary ones. The basic elements of good marksmanship are applicable everywhere, but it is impossible to analyze the troubles that sometimes plague the beginner if the target is in motion. The place to begin is with a stationary target - and in the prone position. After this has been mastered it's time to move to the more difficult positions and targets.

Pistol shooting isn't as much of a spectator sport as football or baseball, but it comes closer to real spectator appeal than most shooting sports. The sport is made up of a large group of shooters who are interested in its growth and improvement. The new shooter is welcome and with good training and conscientous practice he will soon feel at home in that company. A thorough knowledge of the fundamentals is the key to success.
In Part: Basic Pistol Marksmanship. Basic Rifle Marksmanship. Basic Shotgun Instruction. National Rifle Association. Washington, D.C. Copywright 1959, 1960 & 1962.



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