Reminiscing the other day, someone asked me when I started shooting handguns, and that is a fairly simple answer. My Dad never liked handguns. When we were growing up, we were shotgunners. Shotguns for everything. Squirrels, rabbits, ducks and geese. Buckshot for deer. Dad was a shotgunner, and I was too. My first paying job, at 12 years old, I was a trap boy at the old McBride Rod and Gun Club at England Air Force Base. Every Saturday, the Air Force had skeet intramurals, and they needed trap boys to keep the skeet-throwers full. I managed to get a job at the skeet range. Hanging out in the club house, they had a room in the back where the handgun instructors reloaded for the .38 Specials that the Air Force used as crew handguns on the aircraft. Those instuctors used big gang molds, made by Saeco, to cast wadcutters. They wouldn't let me help, but I remember big kegs of Bullseye pistol powder.
In the early '70s I determined to become an Army officer, and after college and ROTC, I got orders to Fort Knox for Armor training. We had to qualify with the Army's 1911. So, in early April of 1976 I found myself in a classroom, undergoing classroom training on the Arny's 1911A1 pistol. We went through the disassembly, cleaning, operation and malfunction drills in the classroom setting. The next morning we went to the arms room, drew pistols and headed to the range. I was 22 years old. When we got off the bus at the range, we got a quick safety briefing, then lined up to get magazines and lane assignments. I remember being surprised that the pistol they issued me was made by Ithaca, a shotgun company from upstate New York. It rattled when I shook it, but I figured that the Army knew what they were doing, so I dropped it in the holster and got on the bus that was waiting outside.
The range itself was a pop-up range, with electrically operated targets. The targets were plastic, either head silhouette or half-torso silhouette at varying ranges from 10 yards to 50 yards. When my firing order came up, I stepped to the lane and waited for the command. "Shooters, watch your lane." As I recall, a 50-yard target, a half-silhouette came up. I lifted the pistol, found the front sight, and pressed the trigger. Bang, and the target fell over. I was considerably amazed, but didn't have time to think about it A five-yard head silhouette popped up and I tagged it too. I settled into the rhythm of the range, and before I realized it, I was done. Forty rounds for forty targets and I had cleaned the course. The Army had given us seven, seven-round magazines for the course, and I had ammo left. Amazing. Maybe this handgunning stuff wasn't so hard after all.
I had a lot to learn about handgunning. But, the Army didn't give me much training. For the next three years I never drew another pistol, and got off active duty in 1979. I went to work in a plant that killed chickens. Lots of chickens, and there wasn't much use for a budding pistolero in that line of work.
In 1980 I decided I had killed enough chickens, somewhat over 2.5 million by my calculations. I applied for and got a job as a parole officer with the State of Louisiana. Back in those days, police officers didn't go to an academy, all the training was OJT, and the first inkling I got that I was a cop was when my supervisor told me to go buy a handgun. Colt, Smith and Wesson, or Ruger, in .38 Special or .357 magnum. We were going to qualify next week, so get something to shoot.
I went to a pawn shop and looked a the available choices. I hadn't drawn a paycheck yet, so money was tight, and they had a used Ruger Security Six, with the 2.5 inch barrel. I made a deal for $150.00 and bought a pancake holster for $15.00. I was set. At Wal-Mart, I picked up a box of .38 target wadcutters to practice with over the weekend.
We lived in the country, with farmland around us, so early Saturday morning, I strapped on my holster, loaded the wadcutters in the Ruger and decided to take a walk. Walking along a turn-row about 100 yards from the house, I was considerably surprised to see a large swamp rabbit come out of the soybeans. He stopped in the turn-row about 35 yards away, sat up on his haunches, and looked at me, probably trying to decide if I was a threat. I unholstered the Ruger, thumbed the hammer, took a fine bead, and let one of those wadcutters fly. He fell over on his back, kicked once and was done.
I walked to the rabbit and looked closely. The wadcutter had struck him in the chest, went through-and through, coming out his back. That was my first experience with flat-nosed bullets in a handgun and I was pleased at how cleanly it killed the rabbit and how little meat damage was done. That rabbit ended up in the pot later that week. I was also amazed at how easily the Ruger was to shoot.
I thought I had this handgunning thing down pat. I had a lot to learn.
More about this later.