SI Vault
Martin Kane
October 20, 1958
Anyone can shoot like a TV Western hero after a one-hour lesson, and here's how
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October 20, 1958

Shooting By Instinct

Anyone can shoot like a TV Western hero after a one-hour lesson, and here's how

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Some odd specimens of tremble-fingered man can put 10 bullets into less than a one-inch circle at 100 yards. That is a wonderful feat, even though such marksmen use a heavy barrel, a telescopic sight and a bench rest. It brings together in excruciating perfection the precise matching of ammo to rifle and ammo and rifle to shooter.

It is the calculus of shooting but it is not a romantic sport. It is quite unrelated to hunting, for instance, or to shooting in self-defense. It is not romantic because it has so little to do with the basic purpose of shooting, which is to kill.

Romantic shooting is offhand shooting and has deep roots in our folklore, all the way back to Daniel Boone and Wild Bill Hickok and beyond, men whose skills are legendary and unproved. They used inferior weapons by today's standards and, by today's standards, they did not know a dime's worth about ballistics. But the stories say that whenever they pulled a trigger they performed magic.

The will to believe these stories is so great that they are cherished in our hearts, if not in our heads, and so, all the way from William S. (for Shakespeare) Hart to Wyatt Earp's TV incarnation, every one of us has, from childhood on, been entertained by the essential premise of the Western story: that such magic is possible. It is an artistic convention, like the one-minute commercial.

The astounding truth is that anyone can perform similar feats of offhand shooting, feats that would pop the pristine eye of Davy Crockett.

In the hurly-burly of Pete Rademacher's wonderful assault on the heavyweight boxing title a year ago I could make only passing mention (SI, Aug. 19, '57) of one Lucky McDaniel, a member of Rademacher's Youth Unlimited organization. (They call it Unlimited Enterprises now because a pre-existing Youth Unlimited Foundation objected to the similarity of names.)

The title fight so overshadowed Lucky's ability to teach shooting that I had only a few paragraphs to report how he taught me, in little more than an hour, to shoot with such marvelous accuracy that soon I was hitting crawling beetles and tossed pennies with a BB gun, with scarcely ever a miss. The first time I ever wore a pistol I was able to draw it and hit a pine cone in the road, at a distance of some 20 feet, six times out of six, shooting from the hip.

After Rademacher failed to go into orbit against Floyd Patterson I visited Lucky again, this time at Sea Island, Georgia, where he was giving lessons to guests of The Cloister. The idea was to study his teaching method and try to explain it.

The most lucid explanation of the method is Lucky's own. He calls it "instinct" shooting. That is all there is to it. You look at something, you shoot and you hit it.

Ordinary offhand shooting with rifle or even with pistol is an attempt to approximate the conditions of bench-rest shooting. You take careful aim. You breathe according to plan. You watch the front sight drift back and forth across the target. You find it impossible to control the wavering sight but you hope you can discover a rhythm that will permit you to let off the bullet at the correct instant. You try, therefore, to time the wavering of the sight, the beating of your heart, the extraordinary turbulence of your softest breathing. When you think you have all these in rhythm you do not pull the trigger. You squeeze it, ever so gently, making sure that you are holding your breath. You try to time the squeeze so that the bullet will let off between beats of your mounting pulse. If you are a demi-semi-waver off in all this delicate timing you miss the 10-ring. Offhand shooting can be the most exasperating of the sporting arts.

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