Don Knotts, of the Andy Griffith TV show, always played the same character. A skinny, scared man trying to look not so skinny and not so scared. Just like his character Barnie Fife with his one bullet in his shirt pocket, he made several movies where he was basically the same. The ghost and Mr. Chicken, The reluctant astronaut and The shakiest gun in the west were basically the same character. In ‘The Shakiest gun in the West’, there are several scenes where his character is holding a gun, and you would swear that if he shot the gun, the safest place to be would be right in front of Don Knotts. Imagine being so nervous, that if you shot the gun, it would ricochet off a rock, then a lamp, off the beak of an eagle, down to the empty whiskey bottle, across to the wagon wheel and into your own foot.

Now, I have been shooting a gun since the age of 5, properly supervised. I goto the local range so much, I am known by all the employees by my first name. I have put thousands of rounds downrange and killed plenty of paper targets. To say that I know how to shoot a gun might be an under statement. I have shot in a police simulator, competed against a S.W.A.T. officer in a ‘Hogans Ally’ type simulator firing a live handgun (and beat the SWAT officer by the way), and routinely fire at NRA standard targets at 25 and 50 feet firing a broad range of firearms from .22 to .357 magnum to .45 ACP and have shot the center out of many a targets. Let me create the proper scenario for you…

First, you must create the proper sight picture. On a Bomar style adjustable sight, you place the front sight in between the rear sights at the same level, perfectly centered so that the front sight has the same distance from the left and right side of the rear sight. Perfectly level so the front sight is not higher or lower than the rear sight. Once you have the proper sight picture, while focusing on the front sight, you align the sight picture to the target. Imagine a coffee can, where the bottom is painted black. Now put the coffee can on its side at shoulder level 75 feet downrange. Now, hold the handgun with one hand, creating your sight picture perfectly below the (slightly blurred) black dot down range so that the black circle is perfectly centered on the front sight. Now gently pull back on the trigger so as not to pull the front of the gun to the left or right as you pull back on the trigger. Dont forget to control your breathing and be accutely aware of your heart beat. You want to take a deep breath, let it out, repeat, then on the third breath, while exhaling, time the shot between heart beats and, one last thing, the shot should be a suprise meaning you should not know the exact moment the gun fires so as not to flinch (a natural reaction to firing a gun). Do this 10 times. Oh, did I forget to mention that the average gun, without some kind of red dot sight system will be approx. 40 ounces empty? Add 5 rounds of ammo (10 if shooting the non timed string of the tournemant) and hold that straight out with one hand while performing all that which was mentioned above.

Does that all sound simple? Now, there is a difference between simple and easy. The above is simple, but not easy. I went to my first NRA style tournement recently and felt like Don Knotts in ‘The shakiest gun in the west’. When I saw my targets, I thought to myself ‘there are only 9 holes in this target. Where did the tenth one go?’. Like in golf where you sacrifice a ball at every water hazard to the ‘golf gods’?

There is one more factor which I did not mention above. Nervousness. The body, when under stress, goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode which releases (dumps) adrenaline into your blood stream. This is an autonomic responce which increases the heart rate and hightens all of your senses so your body can respond to the situation. Adding that much adrenaline to your system distorts your sense of time and reduces you fine motor skills. The front of my gun looked like Don Knotts trying to aim his gun while nervous. The target was in no danger from my bullets as I fired. Now remember, I have been shooting for a long time and was conditioned to know how my gun would fire.

Now, my father is the one mostly responsible for teaching me all this. I know what he will say when he reads this ( after a chuckle of course). Practice so that your bodies response to the adrenaline dump can be controlled and minimalised. You will never eliminate it, but you can prepare for it and practise. Practice, practice, practice then practice some more. But when the range master yells the ‘fire’ command, do you think you could remember all that? Thats what I thought.

One thought on “The shakiest gun in the west

  1. So many expressions I don’t. Understand, but I get the drift of where you were headed.
    Having served in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard your father would be the best teacher you could have had. And it sounds like you listened and it paid off.
    Back in my day, you know dinasores walked around (ok my spelling isn’t great) , my teacher (Grandpa and Momma) took me out in the woods, with lots of bullets , showed me how to use his rifle, gave me the bullets and told me to have fun and come back to the house when the ammo ran out.
    I didn’t shoot paper oh no, I shot tobacco cans tied up on tree limbs. Put a lot of holes in those old Prince Albert cans.


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