Haps Corner April 2015

Published 04/02/2015

Imponderable Questions…

For over a half of a century I have been involved in various shooting sports and from time to time I have come across things that seem imponderable.  By definition that means a question or situation that is either difficult or impossible to be assessed.


We are all familiar with some of the more obvious imponderable questions such as why, if the number two pencil is the most popular pencil of all, is it still number two? Or, can a parsley farmer who loses a law suit have his wages garnished?


Why does Superman stand tall, with chest puffed out, as bullets bounce off of him but he ducks when the same criminal throws his empty revolver it at him?


I married into a large Italian family which requires attendance at a great many celebratory feasts which means eating a great deal of southern Italian cuisine. Does that mean if I eat both the pasta and the antipasto I will leave the table hungry?


One of the first imponderable shooting questions to arise for me involved the Redfield sight. It seems that nearly 90% of the world’s population is right handed, the rest being southpaws, with about 5% of the whole being ambidextrous. Yet, the Redfield sight’s windage knob is on the left hand side.  This means that a right handed shooter has to break position to make a sight correction all the time remembering that counterclockwise moves the rear sight up and to the right. Modern sights, such as the Anschutz or Warner, are much more convenient and intuitive.  With the windage knob on the right they are easier to adjust and a clockwise turn moves the bullet’s impact down and to the left.


It turns out there is a good reason for this oddity.  In the early days of United States shooting it was a high power game and smallbore was, at best, a training tool.  Highpower has two rapid fire stages and a big hunk of sharp metal hanging over the right side, just aft of the bolt handle, was nothing more than a meat cleaver awaiting the arrival of the shooter’s thumb as he worked the bolt. Redfield wisely positioned the windage knob on the left side, to the consternation and confusion of generations of smallbore rifleman.


A second question is why do pistol shooters handicap themselves by shooting one handed? Certainly two handed grips have proven more stable. In recent years a two handed grip has been adopted in all forms of pistol competition except for National Rifle Association three gun and Civilian Marksmanship Program Excellence in Competition events.


It turns out there is a reason.  The pistol is a small compact easily handled firearm.  As such it is primarily a defensive firearm and was added as a back up to a cavalryman’s basic armament, a sword and a lanc, when firearms arrived on the scene. It is tough enough to control a charging half of a ton of wild eyed steed with both hands so a musket was out of the question.  There were exceptions: Union General Phil Kearney, who lost his arm during the Mexican War at the Battle of Churubusco-but recovered quickly to be the first US soldier into Mexico City, fought during the Civil War.  He led his troops into the Battle of Williamsburg aboard his charger, reins held in his clenched teeth, sword in hand, shouting, "I'm a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!" 


Just as foretop men aloft in the rigging during the days of sail was admonished, "One hand for yourself and one for the ship" so it was with the cavalryman, one hand for the horse and one for the pistol. As late as World War II the US Cavalry’s pistol qualification course of fire required that troopers shoot single handed from the back of a charging horse. And that is why we shoot pistol one handed today.


Finally, how can a service rifle be both too long and too short? Back in the days of wooden rifles and iron men the service rifle was the ’03, the M1 and the M14.  It was a big rifle and few women and children were able to handle its length, weight, and recoil. They were men’s rifles. Enter the M16. The rifle’s short length, light weight, and mild recoil make it ideal for the distaff side and kids.  However, the aging male population, with its hyperopia, used to a wooden rifle’s 26.75 to 28 inch sight radius, cannot clearly see the M16s front sight because of its short 19.7 inch sight radius. And that is how a service rifle can be both too long and too short.


One of the most enduring of imponderable questions was a solved by a fellow shooter, Emily Caruso. 


Emily, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing since she was a junior in Connecticut, was an All American at Norwich University before moving on to becoming a Resident Athlete the Olympic Training Center.  Among her many accomplishments are earning NRA Distinguished in position, the US International Distinguished Shooters Badge, national records, shooting not one-but two 400X400s in Air Rifle, national championships, numerous gold medals in international competition, two Olympic Teams, and successfully survived living with my daughter Sarah for two summers at Camp Perry.


One year Emily filled in for my ailing brother during the team prone match at Camp Perry. Shooting iron sights she beat all of us in both matches. During the break between the matches we retired to our lawn chairs to refresh ourselves with a small snack and a cool drink.


I couldn’t help but notice that Emily was munching her way through a bag of oddly shaped cookies.  Knowing Emily’s dietary habits I took a close look at the bag’s contents and learned that, yes, indeed, vegetarians can, and do, eat animal crackers.