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Thread: How Proficient Were The Shooters Of Yesteryear

  1. #1
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    How Proficient Were The Shooters Of Yesteryear

    A book I was reading made the statement (paraphrased), "in a time when most men were good shots, Capt. Frank Hamer was an exceptional shot." Capt. Hamer was no doubt an excellent marksman (among other things) as attested to the fact that he was involved in approximately 2,453 gunfights during his career but he died at 71 of something other than lead poisoning. I was more focused on the author's earlier statement about the the general proficiency of marksmen in the 19th Century U.S. Was marksmanship generally better back then or is this more Old West myth?

    I'd have to think that if you were a settler on the frontier in the 19th century being proficient with a firearm was a matter of life-or-death. But how much practice could you get? Powder and lead was expensive and likely difficult to find most of the time. Even more so with the introduction of cartridges. If you did have access to ammo and the money to afford it, you had the pleasure of dealing with black powder and it's ability to start to gum up revolver and rifle actions after just a few shots. And the sights on most firearms, particularly revolvers, were not great by our standards today. I would imagine that the average participant on any of the common gun forums today practices shooting significantly more (in quantity at least) than anyone from the 19th century frontier solely due to economics.

    There are many accounts of marksmanship exploits among civilian, law enforcement, and the U.S. military of the 19th century. I have read fewer accounts of firearms training but this could just be my selection of reading (I am certainly open to suggestions if you have any). I recall that Capt. Hayes would have the Rangers practice hitting a fence post at a gallop on horse back with their Colt Patersons. The book I was reading this anecdote stated that this type of practice was unusual. There was another book that talked about the Plains Indians typically not being afraid of the U.S. Cavalry soldiers because of their poor marksmanship. I believe the author stated that the Army didn't practice shooting very often due to limited supplies and not wanting to waste ammunition.

    I was thinking here about "pure" firearm proficiency rather than just the ability to kill people due to, mindset, tactics, close range, familiarity with violence, the fact that everyone is drunk all the time, health/vision problems etc. I am also aware that this period is heavily romanticized, both then and now, and accurate accounts (of shootings and training) that are not embellished are mostly few and far between.

    But if Bat Masterson was transported to next week's local IDPA revolver match, a CAS or SASS meet, or metallic silhouette event would they impress the modern participants with their performance?

    If you gave Wild Bill a Glock 17 (or a brace of Glock 17s to make him feel more comfortable) and a couple months to practice would he be above average at a local shooting event?

    If you randomly selected a Private in the Frontier Battalion and a random pf.com revolver forum participant and ran a couple defensive drills with Colt SAAs who would come out ahead?

    Just something I have been curious about, certainly nothing important.
    It is your dissatisfaction with what IS that is the source of all of your unhappiness. Matthew Scudder

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    I think the NRA was initially founded in 1871 (at least in part) to promote marksmanship due to so many soldiers in the recent war between the states not being able to shoot well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tpr0811 View Post
    I think the NRA was initially founded in 1871 (at least in part) to promote marksmanship due to so many soldiers in the recent war between the states not being able to shoot well.
    True but I suspect Wild Bill wasn't a member
    It is your dissatisfaction with what IS that is the source of all of your unhappiness. Matthew Scudder

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    I agree!

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