Tell me more! Shoot low

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Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Rifled musket rounds have a curved trajectory. At 100 yards, for instance, if one aimed at the belt buckle the ball would pass over the head of the targeted man. Add to this a lot of smoke and the tendency was to shoot too high. There's also problems if shooting up or down hill but that's a somewhat different beast. So, it made sense to advise to shoot low so as to try and avoid missing altogether. A hit in the leg is better than no hit.
John Winn has it exactly! (he usually does!). Those old muskets and large bored rifles had a very high arc trajectory. Most fights happened at fairly short yardages. Muskets were zeroed at the muzzle and...let's say 150 or 200 yards. Aiming at a man's mid section at 50 or 100 yards would usually send the ball over his head. I'm using these numbers to describe the phenomenon--the exact yardages will probably be different. But we have expert vintage weapon shooters here who can give you precise yardages.

In any event, the soldiers that went hunting for Bill Anderson's guerrillas after the Centralia, Missouri massacre, discovered this phenomenon to their own horror. Anderson's men sat astride horse on top of a hill. The soldiers dismounted, lined up, and fired one volley. They never had time to reload. The mounted bushwhackers were on top of them in less than a minute, rapidly firing with their revolvers. They annihilated the soldiers who came out hunting them.
 

John Winn

Captain
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
John Winn has it exactly! (he usually does!). Those old muskets and large bored rifles had a very high arc trajectory. Most fights happened at fairly short yardages. Muskets were zeroed at the muzzle and...let's say 150 or 200 yards. Aiming at a man's mid section at 50 or 100 yards would usually send the ball over his head. I'm using these numbers to describe the phenomenon--the exact yardages will probably be different. But we have expert vintage weapon shooters here who can give you precise yardages.

In any event, the soldiers that went hunting for Bill Anderson's guerrillas after the Centralia, Missouri massacre, discovered this phenomenon to their own horror. Anderson's men sat astride horse on top of a hill. The soldiers dismounted, lined up, and fired one volley. They never had time to reload. The mounted bushwhackers were on top of them in less than a minute, rapidly firing with their revolvers. They annihilated the soldiers who came out hunting them.
Why, thank you sir. Others might disagree ... but who cares about them :D
 
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Nov 1, 2018
All of my Civil War era revolvers (Colts, Remington) shoot high, even at the 75 yards that they were supposedly sighted in at. I won't comment on my Enfield until I can fire properly sized Minie's.
 

poorjack

Corporal
Joined
Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
The technique is called Point Blank, that is, the sight setting where you can aim at a fixed point of a target and still hit either above or below a certain amount out to a fixed distance. Couple that with the well known trajectory of the musket and you have the concept of "aiming low". Shots going low on purpose are known now as "grazing fire" and low shots that ricochet up can still wound or kill. On a battlefield, that's what counts, taking an enemy soldier out of the fight. Many wonder why the guns of the period are set up to hit about 18in high. Examine the trajectory tables laid out in earlier posts and the reason starts to become crystal clear. The military at the time wasn't interesting in bullseye but in hits on enemy soldiers. In modern times, we like to aim at a specific point and hit it and with a modern, fairly flat shooting arm, that's pretty easy to accomplish.
 
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My goodness, was that a cow barn or a horse barn they were supposed to hit at 75 yards?
I can't imagine why they would set the sights for 75 yards on a revolver. No modern military handgun is set for that (probably sighted for 20-30 yards). PERHAPS the philosophy of the time was, due to the line style of fighting, which was probably at about 75-100 yards, they wanted the revolvers to contribute to the fight at that range, rather than just being used as a close quarters weapon. No military today, that I am aware of, is training their soldiers to engage the enemy at 75 yards with a pistol.

Re longarms, aiming for the belt makes sense from an ACW combat perspective. In the heat of battle, aiming is not precise, nor are you thinking about whether the enemy is at 60 yards or 85 yards. By aiming for center of mass, whether the shot is a bit high or low, you are more likely to hit the target.
 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
After WWII, one of the after action studies the Brits did involved pistols. They discovered that officers couldn’t hit a barn door from 20 yards. I know from personal experience that expertise with a pistol is a very fragile commodity. Jesse James had the right idea, never shoot anybody who isn’t unarmed or helpless.
 
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thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
The new manual was based on the theory that most U.S. soldiers were not experienced riflemen, and that few were even familiar with arms. The soldiers were first to be taught the nomenclature, disassembly, and reassembly of their weapons, so that they would become comfortable with their arms. Next, they completed an intensive series of aiming drills with their weapons, conducted both indoors and outdoors. As the soldiers mastered these concepts, they moved on to simulated firing using only percussion caps. This exercise involved snuffing out a lighted candle placed three feet from the muzzle of their weapon. If the soldier properly sighted the rifle and exercised proper trigger control and follow through, the muzzle blast from the percussion cap would extinguish the candle flame.
Thanks for the well written description of US practices.

What you describe is the exact same system used by the danish army from 1855 (if not earlier) including the exercise snuffing out a candle.

And it is really the same basic system in use in the army today... just with a few updates because of changing weapon technology.
(or at least where 10 years ago. but since it have worked for 150+ years, I do not think they changed it since I left the army)

My reenactment group doing that specific exercise.
lys.jpg


From a video...
He is properly a too close but the danish text is not clear if the distance is from the muzzle or the person.
We did it again at a later event and that time with a bigger distance.
 
Joined
Nov 1, 2018
In WW2, the US adopted the M1 Carbine in order to replace pistols. It was originally intended for support troops that weren't part of frontline combat units. But the darned thing was such a good little rifle, it ended up being a frontline combat weapon too. I bring this up to re-inforce the point that handguns are certainly not a 75 yard weapon (unless you are shooting at a lined up mass of men like in the ACW), nor are most soldiers adept at hitting targets with a handgun at ranges of 20+ yards.
 

Dave Hull

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jul 28, 2011
Location
Northern Virginia
After WWII, one of the after action studies the Brits did involved pistols. They discovered that officers couldn’t hit a barn door from 20 yards. I know from personal experience that expertise with a pistol is a very fragile commodity. Jesse James had the right idea, never shoot anybody who isn’t unarmed or helpless.
Fire Arms training with law enforcement told me everything I needed to know about 90% of folks armed with a side arm; anything over 7 yards they have a better chance hitting the target by throwing the weapon at the target. Pistol shooting is an entirely different skill set than rifle firing. I seem to recall something from the FBI database of fatal shootings about 3 feet, not sure if it was the average distance of fatal shootings. I do recall that something like 80% of all hand gun shoot out victims occurred under 6 feet (two yards.) A good bit of the older data came from the NYPD, dating back to the late 1850's.
 
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thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Fire Arms training with law enforcement told me everything I needed to know about 90% of folks armed with a side arm; anything over 7 yards they have a better chance hitting the target by throwing the weapon at the target.
I was a good shot with a rifle and generally hit what I was aiming at... but That is exactly what my sergeant and I concluded when it come to pistols.
I would be better of against the Taliban by removing the magazine and throwing the pistol at them... and then pick up a rock than trying to shot them with the pistol.
(I was not issued a pistol and we just had a bit of practice with them, so we at least knew how to load and fire it if needed)
 

zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
I understand all the arguments against the pistol and they are true with the "average" shooter. Sargent York finished earning the Medal of Honor with a pistol. During the Indian Wars the Calvary often fought at longer range with their Colts. Walker and Colt designed the Walker Colt to be effective at 75 yards, the range often used by the rangers.
 

John Winn

Captain
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Fire Arms training with law enforcement told me everything I needed to know about 90% of folks armed with a side arm; anything over 7 yards they have a better chance hitting the target by throwing the weapon at the target. Pistol shooting is an entirely different skill set than rifle firing. I seem to recall something from the FBI database of fatal shootings about 3 feet, not sure if it was the average distance of fatal shootings. I do recall that something like 80% of all hand gun shoot out victims occurred under 6 feet (two yards.) A good bit of the older data came from the NYPD, dating back to the late 1850's.
While not a LE vet I was at one time a certified NRA pistol instructor and also competed in three types of shoots. You're certainly correct that most people can't hit diddly beyond what is, essentially, across a small room. Add to that some adrenalin, the surprise of it all, and maybe bad lighting and some obstacles, and the hit rate is really small. Geez, speaking of New York, there's a lot of cases where their LE officers unloaded 15-round magazines and didn't hit anybody (now, that's a miracle). Even today they have all their side arms converted to 12 lb trigger pulls so as to reduce unwanted discharges. The point of that is these are trained people. The average handgun owner is usually (in my opinion) fooling themselves that they're going to actually be able to defend themselves effectively with a handgun. One needs to train regularly and not just shoot stationary targets from a fixed position. Pistols are definitely not a 75-yard weapon. At that range I'm just running away (also pretty good legal advice in a civilian context although I'm not an attorney).

Oh, and all those statistics show that most gunfights are over in one way or the other in three rounds or less and hits in an actual shootout (vs somebody just shooting into a crowd or on a city street and hitting a bystander) are typically less than twenty feet. The seven yard thing is more of a general rule for when somebody with a weapon is an immediate threat (i.e. it doesn't relate to distances of fatal shootings). That's because studies have proven that at that distance a person can rush you and hit or stab you before you can draw a holstered weapon, even when you know they're coming. It's also become somewhat of a legal standard for when one can claim self defense, say in the case of somebody with a knife (guns are a different thing but certainly if somebody was down at the end of the block you'd have some difficulty proving they were actually a threat).

Anyway, yeah, pistols are definitely a close up and personal sort of weapon that take a lot of practice.
 
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John Winn

Captain
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
The kill ratio of accidental woundings of family members & self inflicted pistol wounds vs criminals in the US is +/- 400 to 1 every year.
I can't say I agree with your statistics but we really can't debate such things here (and I'm not interested even if we could). I will give you that, in my opinion, most civilians are probably better off not having a hand gun for self defense as they are not likely to train effectively (or at all) and are fooling themselves that just having a gun is going to protect them from the bad guys.

On top of that, they're probably also not prepared for the likely moral and legal consequences of shooting somebody. Those can be really bad.

That said, in my case I'm happy to have mine but just look at it like I would a fire extinguisher; might save my butt and might not but I'd rather have the chance than not. But then we put in regular practice similar to how police train. Still, it's just an ace in the hole and I've been beat holding lots of ace high hands. Life's mostly unpredictable.
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I can't say I agree with your statistics but we really can't debate such things here (and I'm not interested even if we could). I will give you that, in my opinion, most civilians are probably better off not having a hand gun for self defense as they are not likely to train effectively (or at all) and are fooling themselves that just having a gun is going to protect them from the bad guys.

On top of that, they're probably also not prepared for the likely moral and legal consequences of shooting somebody. Those can be really bad.

That said, in my case I'm happy to have mine but just look at it like I would a fire extinguisher; might save my butt and might not but I'd rather have the chance than not. But then we put in regular practice similar to how police train. Still, it's just an ace in the hole and I've been beat holding lots of ace high hands. Life's mostly unpredictable.
Those are not my statistics. The NRA, Center for disease control, FBI, you name it all agree. I teach a safety class, so stay current on such things. The Insurance institute states that the chances of a white middle Class person being the victim of a gunshot are almost zero... unless there is a pistol in the house. 40 times more likely if it is unloaded... 400 times if it is loaded. These are crude figures, vary year to year. Child on child zero if no pistol... we all know the child on child gunshot tragedies when loaded pistols are kept in the house. These things are, sadly, not speculative. I keep no ammunition that is not locked up.
 
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Tin cup

Captain
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Location
Texas
This target was shot at 50 yards with my repro 1861 Armi, 5 shots. Shooting a Hodgdon 405 grain Target Minie with 38.8 grains of FFFg black powder. I have this load dead on at 100 yards. To hit the black dot at 50 yards, I have to aim lower.

Kevin Dally

Minie Target 001.jpg
 

John Winn

Captain
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Those are not my statistics. The NRA, Center for disease control, FBI, you name it all agree. I teach a safety class, so stay current on such things. The Insurance institute states that the chances of a white middle Class person being the victim of a gunshot are almost zero... unless there is a pistol in the house. 40 times more likely if it is unloaded... 400 times if it is loaded. These are crude figures, vary year to year. Child on child zero if no pistol... we all know the child on child gunshot tragedies when loaded pistols are kept in the house. These things are, sadly, not speculative. I keep no ammunition that is not locked up.
Fine; your life your rules.

There's only two of us in my house and no children have ever visited here in 26 years. My wife and I are as well trained as most police officers and I have 30 years experience. I was a serious competitor and a certified instructor. I've attended more than one combat academy. So, I'm more comfortable with a loaded weapon since a locked up one isn't going to be available in an emergency. Like I said, it's not a guarantee but it's better than nothing.

Chances are I'll never need a weapon of any kind but it's also true I'll probably not need my fire extinguisher or my car first aid trauma kit (and I was a volunteer firefighter and EMT back in the day). You just never know.

OK, that 's it. I've already got into this more than I promised myself I wouldn't. Live your life as you see fit.
 
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