‘Twas a fine day

There are “new shooters”, many of whom, long ago, had their fathers show them how to shoot a 22 or such, and then haven’t touched a gun for 20 years. Stuff like that, and then there are those who’ve never touched, much less fired, any kind of firearm. Last weekend I had the privilege of introducing one of the latter to the fine art of pistolcraft.

(Long, wordy, self-aggrandizing post, with something of a review of the Walther PK, 380 Auto pistol, and detours into cider-making and “gun psychology”, ensues. You have been warned)

I’d known him for many years. Decades. He’s a university professor, probably a leftist by default but we’ve never talked politics. When a musician friend of his recently got him interested in Walther pistols (said friend apparently sees Walther as the only pistol-maker in existence), he discovered that he had to have one, so he ordered one at the local outfitter.

As soon as his new gun order was placed, he called me to see about some basic instruction and direction. I’d never spoken with him about guns or shooting that I can recall, but he knew I’d gone from musical instrument repair technician and sound engineer into designing firearm accessories. Of course I agreed to work with him on his new-found interest.

After a few weeks of me being too busy, and him being too busy, and after he’d taken possession of his new pistol, we got together at my house for near three hours of “ground school” (pre-flight instruction). We practiced the safety rules, the “Six Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting”, the mechanical concepts the self-loading pistol, the differences between a locked breech and a blow-back action, the single action trigger verses double action, verses double-action-only, position, grip, sight-alignment, breath control, trigger squeeze and follow-through, much dry fire practice, the concept of anticipation (how we all do it and how to minimize it), front sight focus, safely loading and unloading the pistol (using inert “ammunition”), etc.

Then it was out for some live fire. He did better, it seemed, than most anyone I’ve worked with, and that’s been a lot of people. He followed instruction, took correction gratefully, and he hit his targets, consistently making respectable groups on paper targets and easily hitting small water bottles at ten yards.

He was the model student. I think his being an experienced professor had a lot to do with that. Hard to tell. In any case he soaked up information easily, as you will see in his after-action letter;

“Hi Lyle,

I can’t thank you enough for our “shoot out.” Your vast experience in all things that go bang was gratefully appreciated.”

[He’s speaking in relative terms of course]

“Thanks also for all the safety drills. Guns can be dangerous, but with your help the risk is greatly reduced. I am still trying to memorize all 9 + 1 drill. (the + is know what is beyond your shooting space).”

[Using the term “9 + 1” he refers to the three NRA safety rules, the six fundamentals of shooting, and the fourth rule I always add to the NRA rules; “Know your target and what is beyond it”– it’s another way of thinking about NRA Rule One. He says “what is beyond your shooting space” which tells me that, rather than memorizing and regurgitating strings of uttered syllables, he is grasping the concepts first and then finding this own words to describe them later – VERY good. I think “know what is beyond your shooting space” is the better term anyway, having more of a 360 degree implication. I’m going to steal it and use it as my own]

“I am doing a bit of a study on the gun club in Lewiston. I don’t really want to be a NRA member but if it is only for insurance then I suppose it will be ok to be a member.

I liked your gun on your hip better than the PK. It had a bit of a rebound but it was a whole lot easier to aim. What is it? Where can I get one?”

[The Walther PK factory sights aren’t bad at all. Standard notch and post, three dots. The gun on my hip he refers to is the Glock 20SF, with the factory sights all the gun writers are eager to make sure you know they hate, AND the dreaded Finger Grooves of Doom (both of which I like fine, though tritium sights are the better idea). I later told him about this, and also spoke quite a bit about the 10mm and it’s relative lack of (though increasing) popularity, about how the preponderance of pistol professors would suggest he get something in a more common and moderately powered chambering, and how he should do a lot more shooting and try several more guns before settling on another one.

And; “rebound”. I love that. Of course it’s what we call “recoil” in the gun business, but he used his own term. That’s another example of understanding the concepts and not just mimicking the noises that come from someone’s else’s oral cavity. Understanding comes first. The standard terminology can be learned later.]

“The apple cider was WONDERFUL. I had a bit of a cold and I started drinking it. I am ok now. Cool stuff. You have brought the art of cider to a new level. I think the stuff is very good for you.”

[That’s fresh apple juice, in case you had your doubts, frozen fresh off the press in October. We made hundreds of gallons of the stuff this year]

“Yeah, so I most likely will be looking to get set up with Lewiston [Pistol Club]——Can you and I go out to the Lenville range? Are you a member of this group? I would prefer doing this together as I know your experience would keep us safe. Also having a comrade to do this is more fun.

Again, thanks for making this possible for me. I just want to see if I can hit the center of a target. There really is no other reason for doing this.”

[He’s been repeatedly insistent on “just wanting to put holes in paper plates” and suchlike – a common sort of nervous behavior from a new shooter – they want to make it crystal clear, as if there were any doubt, that they aren’t interested in killing people – it’s a societal tic, an artifact of leftist agitprop – he’ll get over such nervousness right quick, I believe, and without my commentary on the matter]

“…Thanks my friend,

(name withheld to protect him from oppressive, leftist agitators)”

It was gratifying to see how enthusiastic he was after his first time out. He seemed especially entertained by shooting small bottles of water. The benefits of the reactive target shines through again.

His first gun is a rather compact 380 Auto, a Walther PK. It would not have occurred to me to recommend it as a first gun, but being a locked breech action it is pretty docile in the hands, the slide is easy to manipulate (though the thumb safety/hammer block, being on the back of the slide, is impossible for me to reach from a firing grip and I found myself operating it with the support hand), controls are fully ambidextrous, the take-down procedure is simple (though it calls for the use of a key, which is stupid – otherwise it’s the same take-down latch as the Czech Vz. 52, which is great), and he handles it well. Also like the Vz. 52 it has no slide lock/release lever, so the “full ambi” feature there is, you always yank the slide back to chamber the first round after a reload. Some people do that anyway. The draw-back to that feature is that there is no way to lock the slide back unless there’s an empty mag in the well. On the ’52 you can still access the slide lock bar because it’s exposed along the left side of the frame (even though it has no thumb tab), and push it up as you draw back the slide. Minor gripes.

All new shooters tend to want to let the slide forward gently when chambering the first round in an auto pistol, rather than letting it slam forward. Knowing that, I demonstrated “letting it fly” several times during “ground school” instruction. No one picks up on that concept right away (my fault for not driving the point home?), and sure enough, in live fire there were a couple of times he had to ride the slide forward anyway. The PK definitely doesn’t want that, and it said so by not reaching full lock-up and thus giving him a “click” when he wanted a “bang”. That was his first and only malfunction, and I knew immediately what had happened. He got the point after that.

I did have to save him two or three times from a potentially nasty case of “slide bite”, even after having previously shown him the scar on my support hand thumb from twenty years ago. “Stop! Look at your support hand thumb…. Thumbs forward… Front sight…”

Yeah; as an instructor you watch the shooter and the gun, not the shooter’s target. So no one bled, he learned a lot, and we both had fun.

It was a good day.

I have no photographs for you, but you get the picture.

9 thoughts on “‘Twas a fine day

  1. Love it. I took a Law professor from UI out to introduce him to shooting last fall. I don’t think I’m as good as an instructor as you, but he had fun and didn’t get hurt and keeps threatening to write a paper about the second amendment. Maybe someday, they will all have tried it and liked it! 🙂

  2. Lyle, excellent job at intro to shooting. With your permission, I’ll also steal your student’s “know what is beyond your shooting space” phrasing as well.

    Off topic, but since you carry a G20, have you had any issues with magazines self-releasing? I have a pair of G20s and occasionally they both will self-drop a mag (all are Glock factory mags, both 20s are as-delivered, with the exception of sights, no mods or parts changes); it might be the holster dragging on the edge of the mag release (Galco SSII rig; I keep cutting the edge of the holster back to improve clearance) or simply a too-short mag release that gets bumped during carry. A phone call to the Wizards in Smyrna, but was repeatedly assured “it can’t be the gun, they’re all perfect.” Yeah, sure.

    • Norm; you don’t need my permission it use the words. Feel free.

      I can’t claim to be a gunsmith. Neither of my G20s has ever spontaneously dropped a magazine without my operator error. Also there have been several iterations of Glock mags, and while they are all backward compatible they are not all alike.

      I’d want to see exactly the situation in which the problem occurs. You don’t say whether the problem only occurs when drawing from the holster, or at other times.

      One thing that comes to my mind, assuming it’s not totally the holster’s fault, is the wicked follower spring tension with a full 15 rounds in the mag. As a full mag is inserted under a closed slide, you have to overcome that brutal follower spring tension to get the mag latched into the gun. Likewise if you release a full mag from the gun with the slide forward; the plastic latch surfaces get some brutal force on them in that scenario.

      I’ve seen lots of people fail to get a full magazine latched completely into the gun under a closed slide. It can take a LOT of force. They’ll then bring the gun up, make a shot, and the mag drops onto the ground. I’ve done it myself. That can happen regardless of the pistol or it’s condition, because it’s operator error.

      For that reason I keep my spare mags down-loaded by one round (makes for much easier “tactical reloads”), and when I release a “full” magazine I always push the mag into the gun first to relieve some of that brutal pressure from the latch as I operate the latch.

      Maybe that has nothing to do with your problem. Just my observations.

      Remove and take a look at the condition of the mag catch in the gun, and also take a good look at the condition of the catch surfaces on your mags. Make sure there’s no lint or other gunk in the gun interfering with the operation of the mag catch. That’s all anyone could do.

      Again; I’ve seen people try over and over, and still fail to get a full magazine latched properly into the gun with the slide forward. In that case, lock the slide back first, then insert the magazine, and don’t try to do a 15 + 1 load.

      So what I’ve done here is engage in speculation. Observation is the only thing that can diagnose the problem.

      • Thanks, Lyle. I’ve been studying the mag and latch thing for a while now and I don’t see anything obvious; the latching indentation in the magazine seems a bit shallow, but I’ve compared every 20 magazine I have (all factory Glock) and they’re the same. It happens with both 20s, and with any of the 6 carry magazines I’ve tried. All 6, however, have 2-round extenders and they’re full-17 rounds. There does seem to be a noticeably different amount of latching pressure required for 17 rounds versus 16, so I’ll take one round out and see if anything changes. I’ve added the same brand of 2-round extenders to 6 of my G17 mags and never had a problem with them, so I’m suspicious of the solidity of the latch-up with the 20.

        • Other than some early failures to get a mag properly seated in the frame, neither of my 20s have had that problem. Don’t know what to say; remove the mag catches and springs from the frames, inspect the catches, and make sure there’s no foreign matter in the latch and spring space? Replace the mag catches?

          • Unload and lock the slides on your G17 and a G20. Using a flashlight, compare how the catches look in comparison from top and bottom. Also, is the spring force the same?

            Those mag catch parts are probably not the same for those two Glocks. Factory Glock small parts are normally cheap. Buy replacements. Get an electronic caliper ($20) from Horror Fright, and compare measurements between the new and old parts. If the new parts don’t rectify the problem, it may be a bad frame. As Lyle notes, clean before assembly, especially the frame slot.

            As a lefty, I have installed an aftermarket extended button latch. I found that several of my holsters needed trimming in this area, both plastic types and leather. (the higher button accentuates clearance problems) I find this to be a common problem for left-handed holsters of all brands and all handguns.
            Left side holsters have a much higher design or manufacturing failure rate than identical right side ones. Handmade or production line, doesn’t seem to matter.

  3. Bring that man to Boomershoot next year! Park him behind a scoped rifle and even if he’s ringing steel at 400 yards, the grin of satisfaction is worth it. A lot of people are in awe they just hit a target at four football fields away.

    Then you do it at 900 yards…

    And then throw in explosives to really drive the results home!

  4. Well done sir!

    I will say Walther and Sig 232s always end up leaving bloody parallel lines on my shooting hand. Pretty firearms but not suited for my mitts. James Bond must have slimmer hands.

  5. “There are “new shooters”, many of whom, long ago, had their fathers show them how to shoot a 22 or such, and then haven’t touched a gun for 20 years.”

    This is what my father did with all my sisters and step-sisters. The older two used my single-shot bolt action rifle. Single digit ages. More than just a few shots, with actual instruction involved. Only one outing, IIRC.

    Many years later, each of those two related stories of embarrassing their boyfriends and their buddies by outshooting all of them during a casual target shoot in their late teens/early 20’s. Neither one remembered that Dad had taught them.

    This dovetails with the findings that activities/skills learned as children cause the brain to hardwire the necessary pathways. I’ve observed the same sort of results in motorcycle racers. Those who learned to ride them as children have skill levels that seem to elevate them above those who took it up at a later age.

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