My first experience with a handgun came courtesy of the United States Navy. I was a midshipman on summer cruise in the Mediterranean aboard an underway replenishment ship. It’s a big ship and the ‘range’ was off the fantail on the helicopter flight deck. The ship was steaming at 20 knots and the Med was choppier than you’d figure. The swells moved the ship around plenty. Targets were man sized silhouettes suspended along a bungy line. So they bounced quite a bit. About as much as you’d bounce if you were running in place, so that added a bit of realism, I guess. It made them hard to hit. The rest of the military had the Beretta 9mm issued at this point,
but a supply ship was lucky to have riot shotguns, M1A’s and WWII vintage Colt M1911 .45 ACPs. The Master at Arms set up the people at the firing line, showing them how to load a magazine, how to release the slide so it will chamber a round, how to eject the magazine when you were out, and how that grip safety had to squeezed to disengage it and allow you to fire. If you shook the pistol it rattled a bit, the parts were so loose and worn. Then we had at it with a pile of clips. They’d watch from behind to be sure you weren’t doing anything stupid and to offer tips to help you out. It was probably a half dozen clips we went through. After some fits and starts with the grip safety I was up and running. The recoil wasn’t as bad as I was led to believe, and I started hitting paper, despite having a moving flight deck underfoot and a moving target bouncing around. The splashes in the water in our wake were spectacular. Somewhere in the middle of my clips I hit three in a row inside the center aiming point. It was very satisfying seeing daylight coming out of that black 3 inch circle over the heart of that target. They never told us our scores and even let us fire a couple more clips after we were “done.” At the end of the cruise they told me I had qualified, just not marksman or expert or anything. Thus is pistol qualification done in some parts of the US Navy in 1990. If more of my shots had been like those magic 3-in-row shots I would have been upset to only qualify and not get a little M or E to add to my ribbon, but they didn’t and I was satisfied.
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