Peter Brookes: Precision pistol proves to be a pleasure

Peter Brookes

It was somewhat like putting a Maserati GranTurismo Convertible in the hands of a student driver.

Yes, that was pretty much me when Mark Budgeon, the air and sport pistol coach at the Arlington-Fairfax chapter of the Izaak Walton League, handed me a Pardini .22-caliber sport pistol recently.

Like the flashy Maserati, the pistol is a pricey Italian job.

Budgeon had invited me to try “Olympic-style” sport pistol shooting, another discipline that he‘s added to his junior air pistol program – which, by way, has a slew of young shooters punching bullseyes in national competitions like the Junior Olympics. (See http://afc-iwla-sillsairrange.org for more information on these programs.)

While Olympic air pistol is shot at a distance of 10 meters from the target with a 7-grain lead pellet traveling at some 650 feet per second (fps), sport pistol is shot at 25 meters from the target with a .22-caliber, 40-grain rimfire round at about 1,080 fps.

In both disciplines, shooters stand, use one hand and are limited to using the pistol’s iron sights.

A sport pistol match consists of two so-called stages”: the “precision” andrapid fire” stages. In each, 30 shots are taken for a total of 60 in a match. The shooter is also allowed five “sighter” shots before each stage to adjust the pistol’s accuracy.

According to Coach Budgeon, a sport pistol match goes something like this:

During the precision stage, shooters are told to ‘load.‘ They then have one minute to load five cartridges into a single magazine. Upon being given the start command, they’ve five minutes to send five shots down range. After five minutes, the shooters are ordered to stop and unload.’ The competitors are then given a one-minute break before repeating the process for a total of 30 rounds.

During the rapid-fire stage, shooters are instructed to load.’ At the command ‘attention,’ they must move to a ‘ready position, where the shooter’s arm can’t be more than 45degrees from the (down) vertical.

At the tone (or a green light), the shooters then have three seconds to take one shot and return to the ready position before a tone sounds (or a red light). After a pause of seven seconds, the shooters do it again for five more shots, and so on until 30 rounds are expended. A failure to shoot a round within three seconds will be scored as a miss.

That’s a lot to remember the first couple of times on the firing line, but it’s quickly mastered.

The match that Budgeon set up was a hybrid in comparison to the Olympic sport. For instance, we’d be shooting at 25 yards rather than 25 meters, among a few other differences. To keep sport pistol purists happy, that’s why I called it “Olympic-style” sport pistol previously.

Regardless of the technicalities, the shooting was great fun, especially the rapid fire stage. The time constraint gets you through the vexing challenge of fighting the pistol into that “perfect” shooting position. It also reduces the chance of passing out from holding your breath while trying to limit your movement around the bullseye.

You shooters know what I’m talking about.

The rapid fire stage is a deliberative lift of the pistol to the center mass of the target, followed by the squeezing of the trigger and returning of the pistol to the ready position. Up-shoot-down. No time for turning blue from not breathing – or turning red from regretting your last shot.

You just move on to the next shot – and save worrying about your score ’til the end.

Of course, you don’t need a mint Maserati to shoot in these matches, a beat-up pickup truck pistol will do, too. While the looks and balance of the expensive European pistol is awfully attractive, any .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol will do the job.

Of course, in a lot of shooting sports – beyond the quality of the pistol, rifle, shotgun and or ammo – the skills the shooter brings to the line clearly have an awful lot to do with the final score. In fact, in sport pistol, a perfect score is 600.

That’s a lot of bullseyes.

With that perfect match in mind, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t share my final score from this match with you. It seems to me that when you have a chance to drive a Maserati, sometimes it’s just OK to relax and enjoy the ride and not get hung up on your driving skills – if you know what I mean.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Washington, D.C., foreign policy wonk who escapes to the great outdoors and his Fort Valley cabin as often as he can. Email: Brookesoutdoors@gmail.com.