When Service Sidearms Had Cylinders
By Tank Hoover
Significant dates are forever etched in our brains. September 23, 1985 is one of mine. On this day I entered Maryland’s Montgomery County Police Academy as a new recruit.
Our instructors were police officers themselves. Ten-year veterans seemed like ancient, savvy, old-timers to a bunch of raw recruits like us. After the basics of grip, stance, sight alignment, trigger pull and follow-through were discussed, we were assigned a shooting booth of our own with a box of cartridges.
Our issue gun was a 4″ Ruger Service-Six chambered in .38 Special. When the first commands were given to load and holster, the hair on the back of my neck tingled from excitement and nerves.
Shooting BB guns since age five and progressing to a .22 rifle and several centerfire rifles, I was familiar with the concepts. I knew about sight picture and had a pretty educated trigger-finger, so I applied these skills to the revolver.
Double — The Only Action
We were told to only shoot double action because we were going be cops, right? That’s how cops shoot! We shot thousands of rounds of ammo during the week of firearms training.
I don’t remember the brand we shot, but it was dirty and it leaded up barrels fiercely. I was introduced to the Lewis lead-remover to unclog those lead-filled grooves causing my bullets to keyhole.
Each shooting session left our guns and hands black with soot. I’ll never forget the smell of burnt powder, oil and Hoppes No. 9 as we scrubbed our guns. We were told under no circumstances to clip any springs or work on our duty guns to give them a better trigger or a slicker action. Also, any ivory, stag or “flashy” replacement stocks were prohibited. As time went by, I began to understand the “why” of all these “rules.” It was during this time I fell in love with revolvers and double-action shooting.
Mid-’80s flashback: Tank’s old Ruger Service-Six, Pachmayr grips, kubaton key-chain, motorman belt buckle, speedloaders,
speed strips, Winchester +P 158-gr. SWCHP ammo and an old pancake holster with speedloader carriers.
Shut Up And Shoot
Ruger Service-Six’s have fixed sights. Your point of impact is what you get! My gun had a tendency to shoot 2″ left at 25 yards with the ammo we shot. I brought this to the attention of a grizzled range instructor. He simply stared at me like I was a fool and grunted, “Aim a little right, you’ll be alright” and walked away.
The code back then was “a good shot didn’t complain, he just shot!” Any gripes from other candidates and the answer was always the same, “Just shoot it! You’ll get used to it!” I guess this is where I get my “out of the box” philosophy from. Just shoot the gun. You’ll get used to it.
We shot the standard PPC course for qualification. A 70 percent or better average for three courses of fire on the B-27 target was needed to graduate.
We carried 6 rounds in the gun and a pair of speedloaders for a total of 18 rounds back then. I can still hear the range master’s muffled voice over the intercom through my earmuffs, “This first course of fire is 12 shots in 20 seconds … watch your targets!” Like coiled springs ready to explode, we waited for the bladed target frames to turn.
Shooting 12 shots in a revolver entailed firing your first six, putting your revolver in your weak hand, dumping the brass, grabbing your speedloader, lining up six bullet noses to six chambers, releasing them, closing your cylinder, returning your gun to your strong hand, re-establishing your grip and firing your final six rounds.
It’s a complex symphony of both gross and fine motor skills. Sheer repetition made us masters at it. The total course of fire was 60 rounds, consisting of kneeling, prone, left- and right-hand barricade positions, all from 7, 15 and 25 yards.
Vintage ID: Whatever happened to the baby-faced rookie?
Afterward our instructors came up with a more practical course of fire for qualification. We started shooting on the move, taking advantage of cover and concealment, doing “hot” tactical reloads and real-life scenarios. The training was better and got us thinking, “What if?”
So there you have it, the memories, history and recollections of just one retired cop. I’m sure there are others out there, full of stories — and maybe other stuff — about the good old days. These days for me it’s “just shoot it,” have some fun and plan for the unexpected.