SI Vault
David Mamet
November 04, 1985
Marksmanship appeals to two basic aspects of our American character: the love of skill and the desire to hear things go boom.
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November 04, 1985

A Playwright 'plinker' Finds Joy In The Practice Of Shooting Pistols

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I looked forward to the International Rapid Fire Course: simple timed fire at 25 yards. "Here," I thought, "my backyard training is about to pay off." But I made the same mistake as the FBI. In my backyard, I was training for an event which I was good at, but at which I wasn't going to be tested. My showing was wretched.

I assembled my gear and watched a state trooper fire the assault course. He moved not at all slowly, but with complete determination. He placed his shots right around the bull's-eye ring, and two inches apart. He reloaded at the right time. He was obviously a man who had trained as if his life depended on it, as, in his case, it does.

Driving back from the match, I was a bit chagrined—not because I did badly, but because I was silly enough to think that I would do well. The essence of Police Pistol Competition is to shoot well under pressure, and if I wanted to develop skill then I would have to train at that. This thought brought me back to marksmanship as a stoical discipline.

It is easier to teach a woman to shoot a handgun than it is to teach a man. A woman has fewer preconceptions and less at stake and is more willing to follow the first principles of marksmanship: If you look at the front sight, you hit the target; if you look at the target, you waste your shot.

One of the most respected figures in handgunning is Bill Jordan, ex-Marine marksman, ex-border patrolman, marksmanship demonstrator, gun writer.

Someone asked Jordan about the training of police officers: Isn't it impossible to know, they asked, what a man will do under pressure? Jordan replied that, far from impossible, it was the easiest thing in the world: "A man will do what he's trained to do."

This, to me, is the beauty of marksmanship: that it tests under great pressure those skills and principles we have developed in moments of calm.

It is possible to quickly go native and start upgrading your equipment: your leather, your reloaders, your pistol, your ammunition. Generally, though, the gun always shoots better than you do, and you're left with the basic first principles: 1) front sight, 2) squeeze, 3) practice. Follow those principles, and the shot goes where you want it. The gun does go boom, and that's nice; but better than that is the feeling of having done something right.

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