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So in a different time and a galaxy far away, I was a kid, and my grandfather, a renowned fisherman up and down the Tennessee River, was trying his best to pass those genes on to me. We'd spent all morning casting for bass in a Mississippi lake--an activity which, to me, was only slightly more interesting that watching latex paint dry--when my grandfather declared that it was "too hot" to continue. As we were hiking back to the car, he pointed out a two or three pound bass lying up in the shallows.

"He's getting ready to go deeper," my grandfather said. "We can't catch him today, but we can try again tomorrow."

I think he was getting ready to tell me more fishing lore when I rocked back the hammer on the old flat-top .357 Ruger and blasted the bass out of the water. My grandfather never even flinched.

"Much as it pains me to say this," he said, shaking his head (probably to make the ringing stop) as I picked up the thoroughly dead fish, "you are never going to be a fisherman..." He kept shaking his head. "...You and them damn pistols."

Well, he was right. The closest I ever got to landing the Big One was by the pound at the local fish market. But "them damn pistols," that's a whole other story. Somehow, I never managed to outgrow 'em. Handguns have played, and continue to play, an important role in my life.

I've shot bullseye, silhouette, IPSC practical, PPC, steel, even airgun competitions. I carry, and have carried for years, a handgun for personal protection. Along with Clyde Bower, I helped create the first "carry concealed" course in Florida, one of the first states to adopt a "shall issue" CCW law. I conceived and created FRONT SIGHT, the journal of the United States Practical Shooting Association. With twice national champion John Shaw, I wrote the first textbook on practical shooting--You Can't Miss. I worked with gunsmith Bill Wilson on his first book on the combat .45 auto. Along the way, I've been lucky enough to hang out with master shooters of all persuasions, pester world-class pistolsmiths ("There should be a federal law against you touching a Dremel tool," one gunsmith told me as recently as last month), worked and shot national and international competitions and lobbed literally hundreds of thousands of rounds downrange, from .144 pellets to .45/70 Hand Cannons (give me another couple of months, and I'll be able to rationalize a .50 AE Desert Eagle).

Over the coming months in, I want to introduce you to the people that make handgunning so much fun for me. We're going to range far and wide, from fast draw as practiced in the heyday of Hollywood westerns to the very cutting edge of carrying a handgun for self-defense. We'll be shooting cowboy single action revolvers, ultramodified IPSC "race" guns, the most accurate .22s in the world and the newest developments in carry pistols.

Perhaps more importantly, I want to bring you the information you need to be a better shooter.

Over the years, I've developed a "basic training" regimen for practice. For me, like everyone else, the necessities of making a living and sustaining a family life have a way of cutting into my leisure time activities. Access to range facilities (here in "wide-open" Colorado I actually have to travel much further to a range than I did in crowded Florida or even New York City!), declining finances, improving relationships, lousy weather--all have a way of putting pressure on practice time. When the pressure's on, I want my practice time to be as efficient as possible.

I like to take two or three guns to the range, which serves a couple of purposes. First, most handguns operate differently, and I like to constantly keep reminding myself how each different type works. This is especially important for competition shooters, who may put tens of thousands of rounds through a single gun or type of gun. A quick example--in the early days of IPSC, I shot a single-stack Colt Series 80 Government Model , built by Bill Wilson. For one large regional match, however, I wanted more bullets, and since I had a high-capacity 9mm Browning High-Power, I decided to go that route. I spent a month working exclusively with the Browning and felt good with the added capacity. One of the longest stages in the match involved moving through a "house," two shots on each "hostile" target. I'd been doing well, and the pressure was on. The buzzer went off, and I smoked through the house. I was feeling pretty good, in fact, until the range officer asked me how many rounds a High-Power held.

"Thirteen," I said. "And one in the chamber."

"So why," she asked, "did you reload after every seven rounds?"

Doom on Michael--my brain had become hard-wired for the Colt's smaller capacity.

Multiple guns also keep practice sessions from becoming a chore. I know that, ideally, you'll find a buddy to come along, or you can blackmail a spousal unit. But I also know that few things in life are ideal, and my spousal unit has agreed not to ask me to any more of those awful period piece three-hour costume movies staring Daniel Day Lewis if I don't whine for her to go to the range with me. When you're alone, practice can turn into a chore, which is very bad for your practice.

I usually bring a .22 of some sort, a centerfire revolver or semiauto and "something different." Something different might be a gun I haven't fired in a while, a test gun or someone else's pride and joy that's just visiting.

I start my practices shooting groups with my .22, usually at a 50-foot bullseye target or 2-inch target dots. Groups are the fundamental building blocks of handgun shooting. The target distance depends on how much I've been shooting, my mood, whether the range is indoors or outdoors, etc. Suffice to say that unless it's a dedicated bullseye practice, I don't exceed 15 yards. I like to shoot five groups of 10 shots, and I try to make everything in the world go away except my front sight.

Then I change to the centerfire and go to a standard IPSC silhouette (or half-size police pistol silhouette). Starting at seven yards, I'll shoot a group to make sure the gun is there, then progress to one-shot draws. If I can't come from the leather, as in most indoor ranges, I'll lower the gun to the table top between shots. I work with a shot timer, and you should, too. The timer adds pressure, pressure makes you focus and focus makes you a better shooter. My time is from Competition Electronics, whose products I've used for more than 10 years.

I'll progress to double taps (I refuse to call them the politically correct term, accelerated pairs), then stick a few of target dots on the IPSC target. I'll do a few drills putting one or two shots onto a designated number of target dots. Again, target distance here is a variable. I like for practices to be positive experiences--a friend of mine used to set up practice sessions that were 'way over the edge, then beat himself up for being such a lousy shot. No point to it.

Then I rack up another IPSC silhouette and bring out the third gun. The gun dictates the drill. If it's my aging Model 29 .44 magnum, I'll shoot some longer stuff, maybe prone. If the gun is a .380 carry piece, I'll focus on close-in speed drills.

Well, that's a quick breakdown of an average practice session. I'm usually at the range for less than an hour, with a round count of 100-150. It doesn't take forever, and it won't bankrupt you.

The most important thing to remember is that handgunning is supposed to be fun. Hey, this ought to be a given, right? Not exactly. The simple, sad fact is that many more people own handguns than shoot them, and the ones who do shoot them tend to stick to their narrow niches. This column is about chipping away at those niches.

And I'm interested in your opinion--that's what the Web is all about. E-mail me direct at and tell me what subjects you'd like to talk about. And good shooting!


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