Nine: Precision Pistol


Thursday Morning, Day 11 – Wuhan, China

Class had become very casual. Spence was pleased.

Students were asking questions without hesitation and they were talking, in Cantonese, about what they were learning. With more than 200 in the class, he was extremely pleased with their enthusiasm even if it sometimes meant he had to sit and wait while they talked something out in their own language.

When it was almost time to resume after the lunch break, students were milling about the room in several groups talking and texting. One of them asked if he had any pictures from home.

“Yes, I do. Would you like to see them?”

The larger than expected and enthusiastic responses of “Yes,” and “Yes, please” and “Very much” surprised him but he understood the University had invited him to come to China and teach not just for the technical subject but also to share his viewpoints and interests, to literally expose the students to someone from a very different culture.

Showing some pictures of his home and family would fit perfectly into that ideal.

Spence had almost all his personal photographs on the computer. It only took him a couple of seconds to browse to those directories and put pictures up on the classroom projector from his early career days including some of him before his now constant mustache and goatee. He showed them his wife and their kids, mentioned in passing that they were now divorced before moving on to images of his grandchildren at birthday parties and Christmas at his wife’s home, some of his more modest house in Surprise Arizona, and several from the different cities he’d visited in his business travels.

Flipping through the folders, he wasn’t paying much attention to his desktop being up on the projector and when he clicked into the folder with the pictures of his handgun collection, he just kept going, thinking it not very interesting.

A voice interrupted him, “Excuse me. You have guns?”

“Uhm, yes, I do.” Not sure if this was a safe subject to discuss, he was a little hesitant to go into detail.

A different voice asked, “How many guns do you have?”

He’d worked hard to get the students relaxed, to saying what was on their minds. He didn’t want to  risk quashing their frank questions. And while he didn’t want to offend Wuhan University or make himself undesirable to the People’s Republic of China, these college students were his priority and they wanted to know.

Spence told himself, I can share a view that may generate a lot of discussion, even debate, and that’s always good in helping young minds expand.

He took the plunge.

“I shoot two handgun sports. One is called Bullseye or Precision Pistol. It’s been around over a hundred years. I’ve been to the national championship in Ohio a couple of times along with several hundred, almost a thousand, other shooters.

“The other pistol sport is newer. We call it ‘International Pistol’ and it’s what is fired in the Summer Olympics.

“Generally speaking, both are about shooting accurately, about hitting the center of the target.

“There are some other pistol sports that are more concerned with speed. I think of them as ‘action’ sports. They’re a lot of fun, too. They emphasize shooting fast and while accuracy is still important, it’s not the main concern. I’ve tried them but prefer the precision sports of Bullseye and International.

“I don’t shoot or own any rifles or shotguns, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just that precision handguns are comparatively expensive and I only have so many dollars. Also, it takes a lot of practice, and I do mean a lot, to get good and I only have so many hours to practice. So I focus on those two sports and skip the rest.”

Spence put up a slide of one of his handguns.

“This is a Smith and Wesson Model 41. This one has what’s called a ‘red dot sight’ — that’s the black tube on top. You look through it and see a red dot where the bullet is going to hit. This handgun is one of the few that is accurate enough for Bullseye just as it comes from the manufacturer. It costs about $900 US,” Spence did the math in his head, “about 6,000 Yuan.”

There were several exclamations in the class.

“In Bullseye, we shoot what’s called Slow Fire at 50 yards, that’s a little less than 50 meters. You’re allowed ten minutes to shoot ten shots. Each shot is worth a maximum of 10 points. On a good day, I’ll shoot an 85. Maybe 90 on a really good day. The best shooters, however, will shoot in the upper 90s with the occasional clean — that’s 100 point — target.

“We also shoot what’s called Timed and also Rapid Fire. These are both fired at 25 yards. Five rounds in either 20 or 10 seconds. We do that twice for a total of ten shots and then score the targets. Just like before, a perfect shot is worth 10 points. My scores are usually in the mid 90s but I have cleaned a couple of targets. The best shooters, on the other hand, will clean almost all of these targets

“That’s all with the 22.

Spence changed to a picture of his 1911 wad gun.

“This is a 1911 — that’s the year it was introduced and it’s what US troops carried in both World Wars, in the Korean conflict, …” he paused as he realized that China had aided North Korea and feared he might be stepping on toes. But gazing around the classroom, everyone just seemed to be waiting for him to go on.

“It shoots 45 caliber — that’s a bullet 0.45” diameter, about 1 centimeter.

“As with the previous handgun, this one also has a red dot sight on top.

“I shoot this particular gun in the centerfire and also in the 45 caliber competition where we shoot those same three events of Slow, Timed and Rapid Fire. Many competitors shoot the same gun in both centerfire and again in 45. We do this for two reasons. First, a precision Bullseye handgun is expensive, almost always well over $1000. And because you have to learn how to shoot each gun since they’re all a little different, you have to figure out each one’s quirks if you want to be really good. That means a lot of time practicing at the range, and a lot of ammunition.

“My 1911 started as an off-the-shelf model for about $350, that’s a little over 2000 Yuan, but it was immediately worked over by a Bullseye gunsmith. There are less than a dozen or so really good ones and they’re all in the United States. All together, I’ve put about $1500 into this gun, nearly 10,000 Yuan. I often use a bullseye gunsmith in North Carolina and, if I do my part, he’s made this gun accurate enough to put all shots within a 1.5” circle at 50 yards.

“That’s assuming I’m perfect, which I’m not.

“The best Bullseye gunsmith in the world is a skinny little Japanese gentleman living in Hawaii. But I think he’s retired now. I was told that if you wanted him to make a brand new 1911 for you, he was so backed up with requests that you might have to wait a couple of years before it would be ready.

“I don’t have a Masaki but I did get to shoot one. It belonged to a friend who is an eye doctor in San Francisco. He loaned it to me at the Sunnyvale California club for a Wednesday evening competition. It was a joy to shoot but I’m afraid I fell very short of doing it justice. The gun was much, much better than me.”

Raising an arm to be noticed, Alex asked, “What about the International shooting, how is that different?”

Spence flipped through a couple of slides.

“This is my Baikal TOZ-35M free pistol. It’s made in Russia and, up until a couple of decades ago, it was one of the very best you could get anywhere in the world. It shoots a single round of 22 caliber long rifle ammo at a target 50 meters away. The very best shooters — those in the Summer Olympics, that’s why it’s called ‘International’ — will put sixty rounds in a space this big.” Spence held up his hands as if holding a grapefruit.

Spence realized everyone was not only back from break but they were all glued to the projector’s screen.

Alex kept the subject going, “What else do you shoot?”

Switching slides, Spence continued.

“This is a Morini 22CM. It’s Italian. It shoots five rounds, once each time you pull — or I should say, press the trigger. We shoot events with this at 25 yard targets and the events are very much like the Slow, Timed and Rapid Fire events from Bullseye.

“You shoot this gun at twenty-five meters?” Alex asked.

Spence walked to the back of the classroom before turning and raising his right arm, forefinger extended as if he were going to shoot the projection screen.

“About this far,” he said.

“The better shooters will clean — 100 points — almost all of these targets. Really, I’m just learning.”

“We also shoot centerfire in International but you’re limited to 38 caliber or less,” he said, walking back to the front and switching to a picture of a revolver.

“This is my Smith & Wesson Model 14 revolver. I love shooting it but get my worst scores. I’m still figuring it out. It shoots a 38 caliber bullet— that’s 0.38” in diameter. We shoot a precision fire and also a rapid fire event which is better described by its old name, dueling fire.”

Spence walked to the back of the room again.

“In dueling fire, it’s just like when two people used to face off to shoot each other to settle an argument. In our case, of course, we’re shooting at a target, not another person.

“Imagine,” he went on, “that the screen at the front of the classroom is my target.

“First, I plant my feet like this,” he said as he turned to stand and face the windows on the left side of the classroom.

“Notice how my shoulders are actually in-line with the target? That’s important for the recoil. I then turn my head and raise my shooting arm to face the target.”

Spence turned his face until his chin was directly over his right shoulder as he extended that arm toward the front of the room.

“This is called a 90 degree stance because your arm is aimed 90 degrees from where your body is facing. The Russian Olympic coaches teach their shooters this stance and while it is a little bit of a strain on my neck, I use it because the recoil from each shot goes straight up my arm and into the trunk of my body where there’s lots of mass to absorb the shock.”

Spence patted his rounded belly and most students smiled or laughed.

“That way the recoil is very small and, most importantly, the gun barely rises from the aim point. Recovery and aiming for the next shot is almost immediate.

“In dueling fire, the target starts on its edge and you can’t see the center. You must have your arm down at a 45 degree angle.”

Spence lowered his shooting arm as if aiming at a spot on the floor five feet in front of him.

“When the target turns and faces, you have three seconds to raise your arm, aim and fire before it edges again.”

Leaning slightly forward, he mimicked raising his arm, aimed and held it there for about two seconds, said “Bang!” and then put his arm back down to the 45 degree position.

“The target stays edged for seven seconds and then you do it again. We do two sets of five for a total of ten shots before scoring. As before, each shot is worth a maximum of ten points so with ten shots, a perfect target would be 100 points. I do pretty good in dueling fire. I average in the middle 90s.

Spence went to the front of the room and put up another slide.

“This is my newest baby for the International events. It’s a Feinwerkbau P11 Piccolo, from Germany, an air pistol. The silver cylinder is an air tank and it uses compressed air to shoot a tiny 17 caliber lead pellet, maybe 3 millimeters in diameter, at a target 10 meters away. The ten ring in that target is only about 1 centimeter in diameter and you really have to concentrate on holding the sights steady while slowly moving the trigger straight back until it fires.

“But my favorite event across all the shooting sports, is Olympic Rapid Fire.”

Spence backed the slides up to the Morini again.

“This event is so difficult I laughed out loud the first time I tried.

“You load five rounds — you can use any 22 caliber automatic as long as it has iron sights— you can’t use a red dot in the International events. When the targets turn, you have eight seconds to shoot at five different targets sitting side by side spaced one meter apart. That’s one shot per target, five shots total. We do that twice for a total of ten shots again.”

Walking to the middle of the room, he raised his arm up toward the front of the class again but then twisted slightly to the right and dropped his arm down to the 45 degree angle. “When the targets face, I start with the right-most target. Starting from the same low ready position as in dueling fire, you come up, aim, shoot, twist to the second target, aim and shoot, twist to the third target and so on.”

Spence mimicked shooting one round into each of five targets.

“Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

“Eight seconds for five shots.”

Spence grinned, “Then, they speed it up. Six seconds.”

He mimicked five shots again, twisting and shooting a little faster.

Grinning even bigger, he continued, “And then finally, you have to do it all in four seconds. That’s when I started laughing because the first time I tried, I couldn’t get to the last target in time.”

“You see, it takes me almost a full second to bring my arm up to just aim at the first target.”

He snapped his arm up as if aiming at the first target.

“By the time I’m ready to begin shooting, there are only three seconds left!”

Spence turned and pointed to the clock at the back of the room with its twitching second hand.

“To get the rhythm I need, I look at my wrist watch, at the second hand, and start by getting its pulse.”

Every time the clock’s second hand advanced, Spence said, “Bump.”




“I want that once-a-second rhythm. Then I double it — two pulses a second.

“Bump, bump.”

“Bump, bump.”

“Bump, bump.”

“That’s when the shots have to go, pretty close to two shots per second.

“Remember, I’ve used up one second raising my arm and aiming. That leaves three seconds for five shots. If I can shoot every half second, I’ll finish with about a half second left over — that’s just enough time to correct a very small error in the middle of the string, but only a very small one, and only once. This is when handling that recoil with a minimum of muzzle flip becomes so important.”

Spence turned to face the front of the room and mimicked raising, aiming, firing and turning for the next target through a five round string at the four second rate.

“Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.”

As he walked to the front of the room, Alex asked, “What about when you’re not at the range, when you’re just walking around shopping or riding the bus? Do you carry your gun all the time?”

Spence nodded, “For the most part, yes I do.”

He flipped through a couple of slides until he found the picture of his carry pistol.

“This is a Smith and Wesson, M and P Shield 40. This is what I carry with me when I’m out in public. As I’m sure you’ve heard, there are places in the United States that can be very dangerous. While I wish this wasn’t the case, I am responsible for my life. So I need to be able to protect myself.”

Robin who’d sat quietly through the whole discussion finally spoke up, “I don’t think I’d like seeing people around me in the store wearing guns. I’d leave.”

“I agree,” said Spence. “I feel the same way. So, I carry my defensive gun inside my pocket or in a holster under a jacket. That’s called concealed carry. In some states, you need a special permit to do that.”

Spence took out his wallet and handed his Arizona Concealed Weapons Permit to Robin. Several students leaned forward to look. Spence waved his hand to indicate they could pass it around.

“Many states including Arizona where I live don’t actually require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. But I think it’s a good idea to get one just the same. To qualify for the permit, you have to take a class that tells you about the laws and then you have to pass a test. You also have to show you can actually shoot a handgun safely. It’s kind of like getting a license to drive a car. You have to prove you know the laws and that you can operate it safely.

“It’s part of being a responsible gun owner,” he finished.

Alex raised his hand but asked without waiting, “You said you carried a gun most of the time. When don’t you do that?”

“Well, you’re not allowed to carry a gun into a Police station or a public school. So I leave it at home or in the car. And if I have Jury Duty, then I can’t take it with me there, either. And some stores put up signs that say ‘No Guns Allowed’ so you’re not supposed to carry there but, to be honest, I usually ignore those. We call stores like that ‘Victim disarmament zones’.”

Spence paused to see if they would understand.

After a moment, a couple of students laughed. Those that got it translated the subtleties into Cantonese and shared it around the classroom. Pretty soon, everyone was laughing or smiling, even Robin.

Alex smiled and said as if he’d caught Spence with his hand in the cookie jar, “So, you admit you break the law?”

“Yes,” Spence answered without embarrassment. “I am responsible for my life so, yes, I sometimes make that choice. As I said, I am responsible for my life. And when I’m around family or friends, if they are in danger, I would also act to protect them.

“And I pray I will never have to.”

Spence’s words were translated and discussed in Cantonese, this time in more subdued tones than before. He sat down to let them discuss it fully.

As the discussion started to die out, Spence looked at the clock and realized the gun discussion had used up almost an entire hour.

Putting the lecture material up on the projector again, he rose and said, “I guess we should get back to embedded computers now.”


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2 thoughts on “Nine: Precision Pistol

  1. I’m a retired police officer, shot mostly PPC type matches and now shoot .22 cal BE,
    you mention “clean the target” some may not understand what this means..

    • I’ve added a clarification, thank you Don.

      In a future chapter, another key Bullseye expression comes up but I can’t decide if it should be spelled “Tenex” like we say it, or written “10-X” as it really is.

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