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;
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.