After going pistol shooting with some co-workers, I became interested in target shooting. My first pistol was a Ruger New Model Blackhawk in .357 calibre with the stainless steel finish. I immediately liked the really big noise that it made and ran through a couple of boxes of ammunition before deciding that 1) this could get expensive at approximately $0.25 per “bang”, and 2) I wasn’t hitting where I was aiming except on rare occasions, and didn’t know why. Talking with my friends and the other shooters, I discovered what “flinch” meant, and I had it big time. I learned that as I pulled the trigger, I knew when the gun was going to go off and my body was reacting in anticipation, and in a protect-myself manner, just before the hammer actually fell. That reaction was pulling the gun away from the middle of the target and I was never going to hit what I thought I was aiming at with any semblance of regularity.
Reading up on “the flinch” I discovered this was a very common problem [phew!], especially with larger calibre guns [oh-no!]. An often recommended cure was to shoot much smaller “bangs” until the flinching stopped.
So, on a visit to the gun store, I bought a .22 calibre automatic handgun, a Walther P-22. It was cute, sexy, and loved “high velocity” ammunition so I wouldn’t have to give up all of the “bang” I enjoyed – and yes, I know, this contradicts my whole reason for going to the smaller calibre to get rid of the flinch – but it was such a neat looking gun, I just couldn’t resist.
And I was right – the Walther P-22 was just plain fun to shoot. The ammunition was cheap (I used a lot of Federal Bulk ammo from Walmart at $8.99 for 525 rounds) and, little by little, my subconscious reaction to the “bang” began to decrease.
But at the same time, I also discovered what “short sight radius” meant, especially to an unskilled shooter such as myself. The short distance between the front and rear sights meant that the slightest wobble in my wrist, or the slightest off-centering of the front blade in the rear notch, or even the slightest misalignment across the tops of the front and rear sights rapidly translated into a large offset in where the bullet was going to go.
And the trigger pull wasn’t what I’ve since learned to call “crisp.” Instead, the pull on the Walther was rather long and heavy so that, as I pulled it through that relatively long distance at ever increasing pressure, my entire hand tended to “help” in the “squeeze” (rather than the “pull”) of the trigger, and that too deflected the gun from my intended aiming point.
Although the Walther was cheap and fun to shoot, it wasn’t a good pistol on which to learn the basics of accurate shooting. In a sense, it amplified my sins and, as a beginner with so many things to learn, it complicated the process well beyond my ability to cope.
At about that time, I learned about Bullseye Competition shooting. This is target shooting whose primary concern is putting the bullet through the center of the target, and not much else. That seemed like a good thing to learn and so I started introducing myself to the Bullseye shooters at the range. (Once you see one, you’ll recognize a Bullseye shooter. Look for the big case with the attached spotting scope, the characteristic one-handed stance, and the “hold the gun in place for many, many, many seconds before pulling off one solitary shot and then look through the scope to see where that round landed” look. That’s a Bullseye shooter.
Through this very helpful community, I began to learn a little here and a little there. First, they confirmed what I already knew about flinch and short sight radius. Then, they confirmed, by shooting my guns, that the faults I was seeing were within my skills, not within the guns I had purchased. (One shooter produced a 1" grouping with my Walther at 50’ – I was utterly astonished because I would be lucky to get 10 rounds in the entire target at half that distance.)
One of the Bullseye shooters I met mentioned that a big competition was scheduled in town in October and that perhaps I’d be interested in attending as a spectator.
So, I met Coach Pat in October of 2004. He was in charge of that Competition.
At that competition I found that not only was I very interested in Bullseye shooting, but also, in talking with Coach Pat, I found out that he was available as a shooting coach, and at a very reasonable rate. He said, “I charge $20.00 until one of us gets tired or pissed off.” I thought that was a very equitable arrangement and asked for his telephone number.
At that time, however, I was still doing most of my shooting with a Walther P-22 but knew I would have to make a change. I needed a .22 with a longer sight radius, and with some more bulk (weight) to help steady my aim.
So at the competition, I looked to see what pistols the competitors were using in the .22 caliber events. Many (perhaps a third) were shooting Smith and Wesson Model 41s. There were several shooters in the US military (sorry but I don’t remember which branch). They all had S&W 41s, and they looked very well used. But when it came time to examine the targets, I could see, by comparison with what the other shooters were getting with other brands, that the 41s were right up there with the best.
Another third of the competitors were using Ruger Model II’s or similar models (from Ruger). Some of the individuals shooting the Rugers were considerably younger than the other competitors (down to as young as 14 years), but were producing excellent groupings in their targets.
And the final third of the shooters were using a variety of what I would soon learn were either very high-priced target pistols, or other less expensive models that had undergone considerable rework by expert gunsmiths.
Overall, the competition was a real eye opener. I enjoyed the shooting, was amazed at the precision I witnessed several shooters produce in targets as far away as 50 yards, but was most impressed with how really nice, helpful and informative all of the shooters had been to my novice questions.
I was hooked. Bullseye Competition shooting was what I wanted to do.
Now, I needed an appropriate set of pistols, starting with a .22 similar to what I had seen in use.
So, in the weeks after the competition, I read up on the various models and alternatives I had seen and, before long, narrowed my focus on the S&W Model 41 and the Ruger Mark II, both of which were still in production.
Between them, it appeared that the Ruger would almost certainly need the touch of a gunsmith almost immediately whereas the S&W would probably be a better pistol to begin with and the gunsmith’s honing could wait until my abilities caught up to the gun (if ever). Although the S&W was more expensive to begin with, it wasn’t by much when I figured the gunsmith’s cost in to that of the Ruger.
I also reasoned that, if I started with the Ruger, I would almost immediately begin wondering when I should sell it and move up to the S&W, and that I would probably be viewing the Ruger as simply a stepping-stone to something better. So, with apologies to Ruger and the very fine pistols and rifles they make, the Smith & Wesson Model 41 looked like the best answer for my immediate needs.
To raise the cash for that, however, I would need to liquidate my current armory. So, early in December of 2004 I took my .357 Ruger single-action New Model Blackhawk and my .22 Walther to a gun show in Phoenix and sold them both to private individuals after carefully reviewing the laws in this regard and making certain to document the transaction for posterity, and to protect my posterior. (And in case anyone is interested, I sold each of those two pistols at a small profit!)
A few days later I went to Sportsman’s Warehouse in Phoenix AZ and bought a factory new S&W Model 41 for slightly less than $750 (which rolled over $800 after taxes were added).
Examining the pistol at home, I was immediately impressed with the very high degree of precision in the metal work. Compared to the Walther, the new Model 41 was a work of art.
And shooting it at the range a couple of days later, I found my groupings were immediately much tighter and, after several more sessions, and even on a couple of “bad days,” they were still much better than what I had previously produced with the Walther.
“Now,” I said to myself, “I’m ready to learn how to shoot!”