Point Shooting – How The Gun Gurus Were Able To Do It

by Sam Hoober
Alien Gear Holsters' Sam Hoober makes the case that the point shooting masters of times gone by were greatly aided by the guns of the day.

Heavy Barreled Revolvers
Point Shooting – How The Gun Gurus Were Able To Do It
Sam Hoober
Sam Hoober

USA – -(Ammoland.com)- An article was recently published here on AmmoLand News by John Farnam about pistol sights, and more specifically why they should be used.

The thesis is that handgun sights on older pistols weren't as good as they are today, which is why so many old-timers used point shooting. As a result, you shouldn't bother learning to point shoot since sighted fire is just as fast and more accurate with flash sighting given the quality modern sights.

And they weren't. Even the upscale guns from the 1970s had vastly inferior sights to some of today's value-priced pistols.

He goes on to mention some point-shooting wizards from years past, specifically Ed McGivern and Bill Jordan. Both men were capable of some incredible feats of shooting without using their sights; they were known to point-shoot by feel. Delf “Jelly” Bryce was another quick-draw

If you ever find footage of Jordan clearing leather and blasting ping pong balls or wafers in under a half-second…it's harrowing.

But just how were they able to get so good? Practice – and a lot of it – and talent, no doubt…but the hardware of the day helped a great deal.

You see, every one of the abovementioned used revolvers virtually exclusively, as they were the tools of the time. Bryce was known to carry a .44 Hand Ejector or Registered Magnum (both N-Frame Smiths) and Jordan famously talked Smith and Wesson into making the K-frame Model 19 “Combat Magnum” because the Registered Magnum was too cumbersome.

Something that anyone that's fired such a gun knows is the barrel is quite heavy. That provides a counterweight to the cylinder and frame, much like metal-framed semi-autos have a natural balance. Ever hear someone who's a fan of the 1911, BHP or CZ-75 talk about how it “points” more naturally? It's a similar effect; the large, metal frame balances the weight in the hand, making for a more natural “feel.”

If you've ever happened to read “No Second Place Winner” by Bill Jordan, he covers the topic of using the sights. The gist of what he said was to shoot by feel at close range, and to bring the gun up to eye level and “look down the barrel” at intermediate distances. Only at 25 yards and beyond should one really use the sights, and to use slow, deliberate traditional aimed fire.

Some time ago, I ran across an Elmer Keith article discussing Ed McGivern, wherein Keith asserts that McGivern shot by feel, even though McGivern professed to use the sights. When he shot, the sights were nowhere near eye level, so the only way it was possible was by feel.

Lamentably I forgot to bookmark the link, otherwise I'd put it here, and a search for it has been fruitless. If anyone runs across it, please post it up in the comments.

Point being that those incredible feats of shooting skill and speed that those old-school guys were capable of were partially thanks to equipment that made it easier than today's polymer-framed semi-auto pistols. Not that you couldn't get good with practice if you put in the time, but the natural feel of a heavy gun helped.

Today's guns, of course, are better in many respects. They're lighter thanks to more advanced materials. They have better sights, by FAR. Feed ramp angles allow feeding of hollow points that previous-era autoloaders do not.

Also, a person can learn how to use the flash-sight picture in seconds, which is incredibly fast and far more accurate than point-shooting for the typical shooter. You absolutely should use the sights, because they've been improved over time so you can.

That is, unless you want to carry an N-frame and practice a quick draw for several hours every day.

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.

  • 12 thoughts on “Point Shooting – How The Gun Gurus Were Able To Do It

    1. Early in my military career we were taught the technique of point shooting, albeit with rifle and shotgun, not a handgun. The basic idea is that this was for close quarters work only, where sight alignment might not be practical in a given situation. I don’t recall the specific drill (over 40 years ago), but I do recall that it was effective – 90% of the class could hit accurately via point shooting with minimal practice. I don’t think it is taught anymore since the military has moved to the M4 short carbine, a weapon more adept for use in close quarters work. There is value to point shooting, but it is not and never has been a replacement for aimed fire. It is NOT the “spray and pray” approach that some tend to think it is. Point shooting is simply an additional skill, a trained reflexive response to an immediate situation. It has limited application, but it can save a life.

    2. I would add the following food for thought; take just about any semi- auto and balance it on your middle finger with a loose grip (unloaded of course). You’ll feel that it is pretty neutrally balanced on your middle finger. Now try that with any and all revolvers. You’ll find that they are nose heavy or want to fall forward. This, coupled with the sort of pointing that Bill Jordan and others talk about, might explain how revolvers point well one-handed. As they say in a lot of sports “it’s all in the wrist”.

    3. Slow is fast. Fast is slow. Practice your drill correctly by all means and speed it up incrementally while maintaining correct sequence. Repetition is essential. Do not rush the process, and always check to make sure your firearm is unloaded before any dry fire drills.

    4. The significance of Jelly Bryce wasn’t his gun, per se, it was that he could SEE the bullets flying downrange. Bryce had a super-active ocular nerve, and even as a senior FBI Special Agent he preferred to handle raids by himself; it kept his men safe.

      Magazine-fed automatics, with few exceptions, “point” poorly. This is why fight-or-flight, adrenaline-fueled police shootings typically have a high number of rounds fired, and a low hit rate. A 1911 only points well side-to-side, and needs a “finger forward” grip to level the gun up-and-down. This takes time, too much time without hundreds of dollars of practice.

      I have long argued that revolver shooters are far more likely to hit what they aim at, because the guns “point” very near the bore axis. This is also what Elmer Keith argued, it is what Bill Jordan obviously practiced (he probably argued it too, but I don’t know for certain). A lot of Jeff Cooper’s 1911 remarks, and the early practices of the IPSC, should be put in the context of the Cold War, fears of Soviet land invasion, and emphasis on the “ultimate combat handgun” which should quickly fire dozens of magazines. Carry shootings have little or nothing to do with IPSC. Western shootouts generally didn’t either, and when things got heavy, cowboys had sense enough to bring in the Winchesters and the shotguns, just as we do today.

      The average cowboy of yesteryear used less ammo in practice than the average Republican of 2017. He mainly carried a Colt Single Action Army, the sights of which were an afterthought. His practice was typically was to draw and point-shoot a single round into a tin can at 10 yards or less, holster and repeat. There is an article in a 1950s issue of Guns Magazine, written by a retired Texas Ranger, that talked about these things, and about how little the sights were used. He mentioned one lawman that, for several years, carried a SAA with no front sight.

      Very few gun owners today get past the “gear collection/obsession” phase, and into the proficiency/practicality/enlightenment phase. Those who do ascend are frequently wheelgun advocates.

    5. An old timer told me to practice pointing my finger at doors and other openings of potential threats during the course of a day. Just point then look at your finger to see where you are pointing. You will learn real fast where you need to point without looking. He said your weapon will do the same thing.

    6. Bill Jordan gave a demonstration of his skill and talent to our class or Border Patrol Agent trainees (107th) in 1975. This was indoors and he was shooting wax bullets. Hit an aspirin REGULARLY at 10 feet drawing and shooting from the hip. From where I was sitting, looked as if he was using an S&W Model 10 heavy barrel. I imagine the lockwork internally was just like glass. How’d he do it? As Paul Hornung used to say in the old Miller Lite commercials, “Practice, practice, practice.”

      RIP, Bill.

    7. That range master from Gunsite just blabs on and on. They should have said practice until the pistol is part of your arm and mind your distance.

      1. You are absolutely correct. Practicing “speed” does not make you proficient. Practicing smooth does. A professional golfer does not practice speed in their swings but they do practice timing and tempo (smoothness). That generates speed. Nobody needs to train to point their finger at someone as their finger is part of their body and it happens instinctively. Wild Bill is correct in making your sidearm a part of your hand and body in order to point shoot. Your eye contact is your impact point of your shot just as your finger pointing is the individual you are pointing it at. I don’t have to look down my finger to see where it is pointing. All can achieve this at short distances with just a little practice and guidance.

      1. No! It’s top secret ninja magic that only old school masters with heavy revolvers can accomplish. Wtf?

        Ridiculous article.

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