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SHOOTING YOUR PISTOLS
By Ed Wosika -
Hint to the on-line reader:after you click on a link to go to a table or figure, you may want to print it for easy reference. Then, to return here, click on the X
The legendary Elmer Keith developed a revolutionary long range sighting system for his revolvers. Elmer's system, from what I've been able to piece together, involved the use of horizontal reference lines placed at even intervals down the rear of the front sight. The intended target was kept at the top of the front sight, but the top of the rear sight notch was held centered and even with one of the reference lines spaced down the rear of the front sight. The lower the reference line with which the rear sight was aligned, the more inclination the revolver had, so the greater the distance at which the bullet would strike the point of aim.
As it turns out, this method provides the shooter with the ability to hit reliably with most magnum type revolvers at ranges of up to at least 600 yards. The requirements are simple: a good load, and a properly line marked front sight of adequate height (ideally at least). The preference for a high front sight limits the utility of the system on most semi auto pistols however, even a pistol with a short front sight can benefit from this approach as almost all pistol front sights can have a single reference line, giving a 200+ yard sighting system. Most adjustable sighted revolvers and iron sighted break action/falling block single shot pistols have enough front sight height for very long range shooting.
In spite of the brilliance of his method, few people adopted it because Elmer was so far ahead of his time that few shooters, I feel, could seriously consider the use of a revolver at ranges greater than 25 - 50 yards. However, we now live in a time when the shooting public’s mind is much more open regarding "long range" handgunning. Elmer helped to bring about and popularize the powerful revolver chamberings that made serious long range sixgunning possible.
This is a system for Shootists — individuals who strive for all the excellence they can wring from handgun performance. Elmer was a Shootist if there ever was one. If your magnum revolver is not set up with Elmer's sighting system, then you've been missing out on half of his magic — the part that lets the Shootist strike reliably and repeatedly at a distance.
In spite of its being so far ahead of its time, Elmer's sighting method has three principle faults, all of which are easily circumvented. This is not to criticize his invention but rather to honor it by continuing its evolution.
First, at sight settings for more than 200 yards, it is extremely difficult to maintain precise sight alignment because the top of the front sight is too far away from the reference line being used. The human eye simply cannot simultaneously maintain a useful view of two widely separated portions of the front sight. You get the top of the front sight aligned right with the target, then shift down to check the rear sight's alignment with the chosen reference line only to find that it is all screwed up. By the time you get the rear sight realigned, the top of the front sight is no longer on target!
Second, the elevation adjustments are a bit coarse. For example, on a revolver with a 7 1/2" barrel, a spacing of 1/10" between front sight reference lines gives a 26" point-of-aim rise at 100 yards with each successively-lower line. That's a 10.8 foot point-of-impact rise at 500 yards! It would be better to have a system that provided changes in around 1-foot increments at 100 yards, but with Elmer's system that would mean a too-close spacing of lines on the front sight to be of any practical use.
Third, I feel the method should be standardized so that all handguns so equipped will give similar point-of-impact changes at 100 yards, regardless of their barrel length. In that way, the user can switch easily from one handgun to another and, for loadings of similar muzzle velocity and sight-in distance, can apply similar sight pictures at similar ranges.
WHY ELMER'S SYSTEM, AS MODIFIED, WILL APPEAL TO SIXGUN SHOOTERS
Although powerful, magnum revolvers propel their bullets rather slowly, as compared to bullets fired from most rifles. This causes an extreme limitation on the effective range of revolvers because their more-pronounced bullet-drop makes it necessary to rely heavily upon "Kentucky elevation". As modified, Elmer's system now provides the magnum sixgun shooter with the following advantages:
(1) For the first shot at any distance, the Shootist chooses from a suite of eleven "principal sight positions" providing up to ten feet of elevation (at the 100 yard reference distance) in one foot increments. In spite of these relatively small elevation increments, the reference lines on the front sight are spaced far enough apart for ease of use.
(2) On subsequent shots at the same distance, the perceived strike point can be fine-tuned up or down in 2-inch increments (at the 100-yard reference distance).
(3) The maximum vertical distance on the front sight between target and reference line is 1/8", a small enough area to permit all aspects of sight/target alignment to be viewed simultaneously.
(4) A 100-yard reference distance forms the basis for comparing all sight elevation changes. One foot of strike-point elevation at 100 yards is the same as elevating it two feet at 200 yards, three feet at 300 yards, four feet at 400 yards, etc. This makes it easy to figure elevation adjustments.
(5) The Shootist sights-in at a distance of his/her choice. After that, all sight positions are instantly available, requiring no further mechanical sight adjustments. For most magnum revolvers, the maximum sightable range exceeds 600 yards.
(6) The system provides approximately the same increments of elevation at 100 yards for all handguns, regardless of chambering or sight radius (i.e., distance between front and rear sights).
LOOKING "THROUGH" THE SIGHTS
This adaptation of Elmer’s system relies upon the ability of the eyes to look "through" an object that partially covers one eye. This is most easily visualized by gazing WITH BOTH EYES OPEN at a distant object then raising a finger in front of the sighting eye so as to block out the object on one side only. The sighting eye sees the finger and sees the rest of the scene around the finger. However, the off-eye sees "around" the finger.
The mind combines the views of both eyes so the finger appears translucent and the object on the far side can be seen quite clearly. You seem to see "through" the front sight in the same manner; thereby permitting the target to be moved down from the top of the front sight to a position that permits it to be easily viewed at the same time as the rear-to-front sight alignment.
When aiming a handgun with both eyes open, two images of the sights will be in view. Briefly close your left (non-aiming) eye and you'll see that the sights closest to the center of the body are the ones the aiming eye is using. Given a little practice, this method of viewing the sights is second nature, and you will only notice the inboard image of the sights. Here’s a hint: it is easiest for the eyes to remain mutually registered if the head is relatively vertical (not tilted to one side much).
BIG CLICKS AND Little Clicks
The revised Keith method provides a coarse sight adjustment, called a "Big Click" and a fine sight adjustment, called a "Little Click". A Big Click gives three feet of elevation at the 100 yard reference distance, whereas a Little Click provides about 1/3 of a Big Click.
A Big Click is achieved by lowering the top of the rear sight even with the next lower reference line on the front sight and then centering the target on that reference line (see Figure 1), looking at the target "through" the front sight. Therefore, A “BIG CLICK POSITION” IS A SIGHT PICTURE IN WHICH THE TARGET, THE FRONT SIGHT REFERENCE LINE, AND THE TOP OF THE REAR SIGHT ARE ALL ON THE SAME HORIZONTAL LINE. Moving from one Big Click position to the next gives a three-foot change at the 100 yard reference distance, or six feet at 200 yards, or 15 feet at 500 yards. With three Big Clicks of elevation, you are holding nine feet high at 100 yards or 45 feet high at 500 yards. That's why ya call'em BIIIG CLICKS!!
A Little Click is achieved by holding a Big Click sight position and then pivoting the shooting arm up or down until the position of the target is raised or lowered by one front sight reference line (see Figure 2). This will change the point of impact by roughly one foot, or 1/3 of a Big Click, at the 100 yard reference distance. (Actual elevation varies from 10 to 16 inches at 100 yards, depending upon barrel length.)3b, and 3c show all the sight settings for a front sight having three reference lines.
A Simple Code for Remembering Sight Settings.
In use, you first choose the Big Click setting that most closely corresponds to the elevation required to reach your target. If that provides the ideal degree of elevation then shoot, but if not quite right then first add/subtract 1.0 Little Clicks to obtain the correct degree of elevation for your intended shooting distance. A simple code makes sight settings easy to remember: Code = (# of Big Clicks) + or - (# of Little Clicks).
Therefore, a setting of 2-1.0 would mean placing the top of the rear sight two reference lines below the top of the front sight and holding the target centered one reference line above the top of the rear sight (see sight setting 2-1.0 in Figure 3). This code makes sight settings easy to remember and to visualize.
The Table uses this code to identify the various sighting options shown in Figure 3 and describes the 100-yard elevation change that each sighting picture gives with various barrel lengths. The table is set up for revolvers and is based on an assumption that a revolver's sight radius is 2" longer than its barrel. Therefore, if you want to find the 100-yard strike-point elevation increments for another type of handgun, pick the column for a revolver barrel length that is 2" shorter than your handgun's sight radius.
From the Table, able you can see that with short barrels (less than 7") a Little Click is too small an adjustment to approximate 1/3 of a Big Click; therefore, with shorter barrels, it is best to move up or down from a Big Click position by 1.5 Little Clicks (e.g., use sight position 2+1.5 rather than 2+1.0). This 1.5 Little Click adjustment still covers less than 1/8" of the front sight because the front sight reference lines are closer together with shorter barrels. Therefore, short-barreled revolvers would use sight pictures of: 0+0.0, 0+1.5, 1-1.5, 1+0.0, 1+1.5, 2-1.5, 2+0.0, 2+1.5, etc., whereas revolvers with barrels 7" or longer would instead use: 0+0.0, 0+1.0, 1-1.0, 1+0.0, 1+1.0, 2-1.0, 2+0.0, 2+1.0, etc.
Typical Sight Settings at Various Ranges. Although this may seem a bit complicated, at first, there are really not that many sight positions with which to become acquainted. With a bit of field testing, choosing the correct sight position is easy. The easiest way to get a handle on it is to memorize the sight settings needed on your handgun for 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 yards. Most other sight settings will then fall between these.
Using the foregoing site-setting-code, let's look at a typical heavy-bullet magnum revolver load and determine what sight setting would be needed out to 500 yards. A mild-mannered 300 grain 1200 fps load from a 44-Magnum, if sighted to hit dead-on at 100 yards with a 0+0.0 sight setting, will strike 33" low at 200 yards (with that sight setting), 110" low at 300 yards, 240" low at 400 yards, and 430" low at 500 yards. Let's convert each of these drop figures to their required 100-yard sight rise by dividing each drop figure by the number of hundreds of yards it represents and then picking a sight setting code from the Table that gives that amount of elevation at the 100 yard reference distance:
To shoot at 200 yards — aim 16" (= 33"/2) high at 100 yards. Therefore, the Table tells us to use a sight setting of 0+1.0, for longish barrels, or 0+1.5, for short barrels;
To strike at 300 yards — aim 37" (= 110"/3) high at 100 yards. Therefore, use a sight setting of 1+0.0 (same for shorties);
To pummel ‘em at 400 yards — aim 60" (= 240"/4) high at 100 yards. Therefore, use a sight setting of 2-1.0 (shorties need 2-1.5); and
To hammerize at 500 yards — aim 86" (= 430"/5) high at 100 yards; therefore, use a sight setting of 2+1.0 (shorties need 2+1.5).
Your loads will differ somewhat from these general figures, but will be close. In any case, it's pretty easy to see that most revolvers have enough front sight to reach awaaaay out there.
Splitting Hairs So You Can Split Hares. With a bit of practice, you'll be able to instinctively choose a principal sight position from Figure 3a, 3b, or 3c that is very close to ideal for your load in your handgun at the range of the chosen target. However, it will often occur that the closest of these sight settings hits a bit too high or low. In cases where a series of shots is possible at the same (or similar distance) target, such as in varmint hunting or plinking, it is important to be able to make very small adjustments in the strike point elevation.
The “principal sight positions”, as shown in Figure 3, are actually portions of a continuous range of available sight positions. The eye can resolve changes of target position on the front sight as small as 0.2 Little Clicks, thereby permitting very small corrections of the long range strike point. For example, Figure 4 illustrates the spectrum of “intermediate sight positions” available between the 0+0.0 and 0+1.0 principal sight positions. Each little shift of 0.2 Little Clicks changes the 100-yard impact by between 1.5" (short barrels) and 2.5" (long barrels). These intermediate sight positions provide an extremely fine sight adjustment in light of the fact that most revolvers typically shoot groups with two to three times this spread. Such micro-adjustments can be made with most of the principal sight positions.
Let's say you are using a principal sight setting of 0+1.0 for a target that is around 200 yards away, but the first bullet strikes a bit high. In that case, an intermediate sight setting of 0+0.8 will likely do the job (see Figure 4). If not, then try 0+0.6, 0+0.4 or 0+0.2. One of those positions will plunk'em right in there! Likewise, if a principal sight setting of 3-1.0 is shooting a bit low, raise the strike-point by trying a 3-0.8 or 3-0.6 intermediate sight position.
Although these fine adjustments are handy in some instances, they are too fine to estimate on an initial shot. Therefore, I suggest relying upon the principal sight positions shown in Figure 3 for the first shot at any distant target, using these 0.2 Little Click adjustments only for fine-tuning an observed long range strike point.
No Moving Parts. What is really amazing about this sighting method is that, once sighted in, no further sight movement is necessary to provide a complete range of settings in roughly 2" increments up to a maximum of 10 feet of elevation at 100 yards. Just choose the elevation desired and shoot! Try that with a scope or with normal iron sights. Yes, standard sights can be adjusted, but you'll have to sight them in for each new distance and will thereby lose your original setting. With Elmer's revised system, all viable sight settings are at your fingertips instantly at all times. Your sights may have moving parts, but you won't need to use them after the initial sight-in! This greatly increases the usefulness and adaptability of your hogleg to conditions typically encountered in the field — one shot at 25 yards, the next at 350, the next at 180.
THE EXPERIENCE OF WHAMMING TARGETS AT LONG RANGE WITH AN IRON-SIGHTED HANDGUN
Remember the first time that you fired a magnum-power handgun? Impressive stuff! Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to channel that now-familiar power into precise, repeatable hits way out to ranges so long that the bullet takes several seconds to get there. Fun? You could say so!
During the first session of field testing this system, friend Stu Harvey and I were zapping ground squirrels in the California Coast Ranges. I was shooting my 10" Dan Wesson .445 Super Mag from the offhand and seated positions while Stu was shooting a custom 17 caliber rifle from a rest. His 25 grain pill left the muzzle at around 3800 fps but had some trouble with the 20 mph cross-wind. My 410 grain LBT 431-410-LFN cast bullet left the muzzle at 1150 fps and didn't seem to be too concerned with the wind for shots under 200 yards. Of course, Stu made several times more hits than I did, but I got three strikes on those little scamperers at 175, 200, and 250 yards. Let me tell you that those three squirrels were HAMMERED! and I'll wager that I got even more of a kick taking them than Stu did with his eight squirrels.
Later that day, I tried some shots at a little white spot 600 yards away on a hillside. I needed to hold two front sights off to the right, for the wind, with a sight position of 3-1.0 (that's eight feet high at 100 yards, or 48 feet high at 600 yards). Almost all the shots that had a good sight picture and a consistent hold when the shot went off struck what later proved to be within one to three feet of the mark, looking like near dead-on hits to the unaided eye at that distance. The big, flat-nosed pills took around 3-4 seconds to impact, but they still struck with considerable authority! This load shoots 5-6 inch groups at 100 yards, so with a perfect hold could theoretically give a 600 yard group three feet across. Theoretically, that's close enough to get dirt on a ground squirrel (= 1/2 point!) at least every second or third shot, particularly with the 410 gr "pit-diggers" my DW .445 Super Mag shoots.
Handguns are always fun to shoot, but adding the distance dimension really puts some pizzazz into the deal. In addition, it will make you one heck of a lot better shot when hunting season rolls around. The nice thing is that you can do it with the pistols and revolvers you already have. All they need is a slight sight modification. Getting that much fun for that little cost is a rare deal nowadays.
THE FIRST STEP IS TO SELECT A BULLET AND WORK UP A LOAD
You can enjoy extremely long range revolver shooting with any truly accurate load, using either jacketed or cast bullets (CBs). However, the method works best with heavy-for-the-caliber bullets because they carry better, deliver better energy (and especially better momentum) at extreme ranges, not to mention that they also fly a bit flatter at the longer ranges. It is useless to try an inaccurate load because the long range really magnifies the spread. However, it is even worse to shoot a load that gives good short range accuracy but suffers from non-uniform muzzle velocity, as this causes extreme vertical stringing at long range. Uniformity in accuracy and velocity is the key!
If you don't already have a preferred load, a good place to start is with a heavy-for-the-caliber CB: 200+ grains in 357 magnum; 270+ grains in 41 magnum; 300+ grains in 44 magnum and .45 Colt (Rugers), 350+ grains in 445 Super Mag; or 330+ grains for 454 Casull. Load a Hanned Visco-Chec (V-Chec) under each CB because these decrease extreme spread and, thereby, contribute greatly to long range accuracy. [V-Checs are 0.060-thick low-density polyethylene disks with a diameter slightly larger than the bullet — they seal against excess e gas leakage.] In addition, V-Checs often give improved accuracy at short range as well, especially with closed-breach actions (bolt, Contender, etc.). They are easy, quick, and cheap to make with Hanned's dies: 2000+ per hour at around $1.50 per thousand! [Note: as of late 2000, the redesigned V-Chec die set and Noze-First Top Punch (see below) are in prototype.]
Above the speed of sound (1050 fps), pistol bullets slow down like they are wearing parachutes, but below this speed they carry their speed rather well, generally losing only around 100 fps per hundred yards. You don't care about short range with this method; therefore, for revolvers, let me suggest that you develop a load that gives between 1050 fps and 1250 fps with the heaviest bullet you can keep in the case. This approach will provide the biggest punch at the greatest distance.
To be effective at a goodly distance, the load's accuracy should not exceed 1.5" at 25 yards, and the standard deviation of the velocity should not exceed 15 fps. The group size portion of this requirement is most easily achieved by using CBs cast from hard-wheelweight alloy that have been hardened by dropping the CBs into cold water right from the HOT mold. These hard-CBs should be sized to have a slip-fit into the revolver’s throat cylinders. Accuracy is helped out by using a Hanned Noze-First Top Punch to size the bullets with the lubrisizer's grease pressure off, followed by lubing the CBs in the same-size or slightly larger sizing die. This process assures coaxial sizing that is not otherwise possible with most lubrisizers.
The low velocity spread was fairly easy to achieve in my revolvers by using: V-Checs; Winchester pistol primers, which have lots of hot-burning powdered aluminum for a long, even ignition; and a nearly 100% loading density of Accurate Arms #1680 powder, which works splendidly with heavy bullets in magnum pistol cartridges.
Now Zero The Load At 100 Yards, Or Any Other Appropriate Distance. Pick your favorite accurate load and sight in at your chosen distance. Sometimes it is not possible to sight in to hit dead on at your usual sight-in distance with a heavy-bullet load. It is better to know this early so that the front sight blade can be replaced by a taller one before going to the trouble of putting the sight reference lines on the front sight.
The Table Applies Regardless of the Sighting-In Distance! For example, let's say that you are using a 22LR revolver and want to pot ground squirrels with it at 25 to 200+ yards. In that case, mark your front-sight reference bar separation and rear-sight notch depth according to the Table, the same as you would if it were a .44 Magnum. Let’s say that you choose to sight it to hit the point of aim at 75 yards. The 100-yard elevation change figures still apply because THE TABLE TELLS YOU HOW MUCH HIGHER YOU WILL HIT AT 100 YARDS THAN YOU WOULD HAVE HIT AT 100 YARDS WITH A 0+0.0 SIGHT SETTING.
Let's say, for example, that your 71/2" barreled 22LR revolver hits around 11" low at 100 yards when sighted dead-on at 75 yards. The Table tells you that a sight setting of 0+1.0 will increase your 100-yard strike elevation by 11". Because your 22LR hits 11" low at 100 yards, the 0+1.0 sight setting will put it dead-on at that range. Simple!
The freedom to sight in at the most appropriate distance for your piece maximizes the flexibility of the sighting system. It is possible, for instance, to take prairie dogs at 200+ yards with your iron-sighted 22LR pistol and still not hit too high above a 0+0.0 sight setting at short range. However, you could just as easily sight it to hit dead-on at 25 yards… you’d just use different sight settings to hit the mark at long distance.
The simple thing about sighting-in at 100 yards at first, for magnum revolvers, is that the Table’s values then give a direct elevation reading above the point of aim at 100 yards, and the midrange rise is still acceptable (around 8" at 50 yards). However, once you are used to the system, it is best to pick a sight-in distance (e.g., 25 yards) without reference to this convenience and then sight all of your big-bore Keith-sighted revolvers to that same distance. That way, you’ll “get a feel” for which sight setting will work, at a given distance. You’ll be glad to find that your other revolvers will also use that same sight setting at that distance. This uniformity helps you to get “in the groove.” More on that later.
SETTING UP THE FRONT AND REAR SIGHTS PROPERLY
Need A Higher Front Sight?
If you are shooting heavy-bullet loads and you can’t lower the rear sight far enough to shoot the load dead-on at your chosen sight-in distance, then you will need a higher front sight before going further. How much higher? For revolver barrels 6" or shorter (sight radius 8" or less) divide the number of inches that the load shoots too high at 100 yards by 280; for 61/2" to 11" revolver barrels (81/2" to 13" sight radius), divide by 210 instead. For example, if your 6"-barreled revolver's heavy-bullet load shoots 12" high at 100 yards with the rear sight all the way down, then you will need a front sight that is 12/280 = 0.043" higher than your present front sight.
This increase in sight height will not only put you on target but will also give you some sight adjustment to play with. With a fixed front sight, you will want to get the higher front sight and reference marks put on by pistolsmiths Ben Forkin or Hamilton Bowen, as described below. If your piece uses interchangeable front sights, then install a front sight high enough to enable the load to shoot dead-on at your sight-in distance.
Now let's talk about handguns with fixed rear sights. These require precise adjustments of the existing/replacement front sight if gross Kentucky windage/elevation is not to be used on each shot. First find your perfect heavy-CB load and record how high it shoots at 100 yards. Measure the sight radius (distance between front and rear sights). Let's say that your sight radius (SR) is 9.5" and your heavy-CB load shoots 33" high (HIGH) at 100 yards. In that case, your front sight needs to be higher by: (HIGH * SR / 3600) = 33" * 9.5 / 3600 = 0.087" higher. Any good pistolsmith can make this front-sight height adjustment for you.
If your front sight is driftable, then you can correct for windage error in the normal manner, but if your front and rear sight are fixed, then you will have to find how much to have it moved over when the pistolsmith installs the new blade. Use the above formula for this but substitute the lateral error (SIDE) for HIGH, so that if our sample pistol hit 15" to the right at 100 yards, you would need to move the front sight to the right by (SIDE * SR / 3600) = 15 * 9.5 / 3600 = 0.040" in order for the strike point to be in line with the point of aim. If such an adjustment is very small, for example 0.010", you can double the value (to 0.020" in this case) and file off that much from the side of the sight blade opposite to which your bullet strikes on (remove material from the left side in this example). This method results in a thinner front sight, so should only be used for minor adjustments. A pistolsmith will be able to get close, laterally, with a new sight (if you inform him of the problem), but you may have to file it in a bit. Once it is right, though, you've got it wired because your sights cannot get whacked offline easily like they can with adjustable sights.
Doing The Sight Work Yourself. Now to mark the front sight. If you have a few tools and a steady hand, you can do this yourself. Otherwise, have one of the pistolsmiths mentioned in the next subsection do the job for you. Use a fine pencil to mark the front sight in increments down from its peak, measuring along a line that is drawn straight down the side of the blade. The separation between the marks should be the same as indicated for your revolver barrel length in the Table. Now draw a line through each mark, extending it to the rear of the sight blade and parallel to the bore.
With your reference lines located on the rear of the sight blade, use a sharp-edged Swiss file to cut straight across the rear of the front sight at the indicated location for each line. Just file deep enough to get through the bluing. If your front sight has a plastic insert, either file the line in and then mark it with a fine-tipped permanent parker or replace the sight with an all-metal one before sighting-in your load. If your front sight is of aluminum you are done. If it is steel, then you should wax it well with past floor wax every once in a while to keep the reference lines free of rust.
Note that on most short shorter barrels and on some longer barrels you may have to deepen the rear sight notch a bit to achieve enough depth to be able to view the necessary 1.0+ (or 1.5+) Little Clicks below the top of the rear sight, and some longer barrels need a bit of notch deepening to even be able to see a bit more than 1.0 Little Clicks, or more than1.5, for short-barreled pieces (see bottom of the Table), when the piece is held at full arm extension. For example, the 0.075" depth of Ruger rear sight notches are too shallow for a 5" barrel, which needs a 0.082" notch depth.
To deepen the rear sight notch, first prepare a tool by grinding the teeth off the flats of an 8" mill bastard file until the file is thin enough to fit into the rear sight notch. Working freehand with a new 8" file and a home-workshop-type grinding wheel, it takes around 10 minutes of grinding both sides full length for the file to get thin enough to fit down to the rear sight notch. If it gets at all hot during grinding, cool the file in water. A file prepared in this manner is very safe to use on the notch because its smooth sides are self-guiding; the file can only remove material from the bottom of the notch. All you have to do is keep the file standing straight up out of the notch while filing and stop filing at the right depth.
While deepening the notch, help support the thin rear sight blade with needle-nose pliers and protect the forward portion of the sight assembly and frame with several thicknesses of newspaper (taped on). Keep the file running approximately parallel with the bore. Use the rear end of a pair of dial calipers to measure the depth of the rear sight notch at intervals and be sure to STOP when the prescribed depth is reached (see the Table). With the correct rear sight notch depth, you can use the bottom of the notch to indicate 1.5 Little Clicks of elevation on short barreled pistols (or 1.0 Little Click on longer tubes), as shown on the last sight picture in Figure 3. The entire job, including grinding the teeth off the file, should take no more than half an hour.
Getting It Done For You. Taking a file to your favorite pistol can be a bit traumatic. If you don't like the idea of doing this sort of work yourself, there are a couple of pros that can do it for you.
One is A. D. "Stoney" Miller, ION Gunsmith, Box 44 Jordan Valley, OR 97910. Mr. Miller replicates Elmer's original front sight. He can probably also give you what you want for use with this variation of Elmer's system if you tell him the reference line spacing on the front sight and the required rear sight notch depth (if that needs changing).
Ben Forkin [Forkin Arms, P.O. Box 444, 205 10th Ave SW, White Sulpher Springs, MT 59645, 406-547-2344] does beautiful work at a good price. He uses a gold-colored silver-solder to fill in thin sawn notches on the rear of the front sight. The re-blued sight is dark and the thin, horizontal gold lines stand right out.
For a truly Cadillac job adapted to the variation of Elmer's system presented in this book, contact Hamilton Bowen [P.O. Box 67, 3512 Old Lowes Ferry Rd., Louisville, TN 37777, 423-984-3583]. Hamilton's work includes precision gold-inlaid sight reference lines on a special new pinned-in front sight blade of the correct height for your load, as well as any necessary adjustments to the rear sight notch depth. If your piece has fixed sights, tell Hamilton how high and how far to which side your favored load shoots at 100 yards. While you are having him do the sight work, you may also opt for his superb trigger job, with over-travel stop.
With any of these gentlemen, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for information on their Elmer Keith pistol sight work.
APPLICATIONS TO HANDGUN HUNTING.
The thing that holds most magnum revolvers to 100 yards and under for large game hunting is that the fast-stepping ashcan-shaped bullets slow down so fast from 1300+ fps that they have little punch left at 100 yards. By comparison to the standard-weight bullets, heavy CBs work much better at the longer ranges, even though they start out slower! The use of use of a heavy-for-the-caliber CB at just over the speed of sound lets you deliver roughly the same energy at 150-200 yards that the fast/light bullet delivers at 100 yards. That translates to a bunch more penetration and whomp-power for the heavy CB, even though both loads produce roughly the same recoil pulse.
More importantly, in my opinion, momentum is a better gauge of handgun power than is energy. Energy works well with 2400 fps or faster rifle loads. However, at the relatively slow velocities attainable by most revolvers, HEAVY bullets typically perform well even when their energy figures say they shouldn't. The heavy bullet will take 250-350 yards for its momentum to fall to the momentum the little bullet has at 100 yards.
All that power is of little use for large game, however, if the bullet cannot be reliably delivered on-target. If you are using heavy-CB loads, the actual maximum usable range on large game is more likely to be limited by field accuracy considerations than by terminal ballistics. A good rule of thumb for hunting big game is to never shoot further than you can reliably hit the quick-kill-zone. That's a 10” diameter circle, for deer. This effective accuracy range will vary according to position.
Don't guess! Test yourself and then work at extending your effective accuracy range. Take out some 10" paper plates and try them in the field at various distances from various offhand and fieldrest positions. The maximum range for any shooting position on big game (e.g., offhand, from cross-sticks, sitting, etc.) is the distance at which you can place four out of five shots into a ten inch target. If you are like me, you'll find that your maximum effective accuracy range in the offhand is shorter than you had hoped but that, from cross-sticks, you can keep'em in there out to 200 yards.
Nevertheless, your magnum revolver has plenty of punch for coyotes, rock chucks, rabbits, and ground squirrels out to as you can see them, so long as the bullet used has a large-diameter flat point (meplat) for ensuring good shock even at low velocities. Avoid round-nosed bullets for hunting, as they tend to just slip through.
This sighting system is very good for the 22LR user, but it is important to use ammo that will reliably take the animals at which you will be shooting, even at the extended ranges this system makes possible. Twenty-two solids should never be used on game unless head-shots are taken, because they tend to just pencil-through, giving very little stopping power. That makes for an absurdly small target with a handgun. Hollowpoints, on the other hand, ruin a lot of meat on body shots and have a maximum effective range of around 100 yards. The real kicker is to shoot .22 Small Game Bullet (.22-SGB) ammo. This has a meplat that is large enough to induce shock in game the size of a ground squirrel all the way out to over 200 yards.
At ranges up to 50 yards, 22-SGB ammo will reliably transpuckerfy varmints weighing up to 40 pounds. At that close range, they mushroom much like jacketed rifle ammo does on large game and have much the same effect — an animal shot in the body is stopped quickly yet little meat is lost. For a while, CCI was putting out 22-SGBs as ready-mades for a spendy $2.50 per 50-round box, but a good alternative is to buy a 22-SGB tool from Hanned (costs around $30) and then make your own custom big-whump rimfire ammo. The ammo modification process takes only a few seconds per round and you can use the cheap solid-point ammo that comes on sale so frequently. If you make SGB ammo during TV commercials, you can quickly build up an awesome stash of SGBs without spending any extra time. The 22SGB tool is made to last several lifetimes, so it readily pays for itself by saving the big-buck cost of the ready-mades.
Knowing that you have the capability to reach out and hammer something with that magnum revolver at 500+ yards will take some getting used to, but once you get into it you'll stay hooked! You'll find yourself estimating the distance to a tempting target and thinking what sight picture you would use on it. With a bit of practice and verification you'll be right about both the distance and the sight picture more often than you would ever have believed. Then you'll fully appreciate the magnitude of Elmer's gift to us. What a great legacy from a grand Shootist!
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