Past Masters Of The Double-Action Sixgun

Walter Walsh & Jack Weaver

By John Taffin

There is no doubt we are living in the age of the semi-automatic pistol. However, this was not always the case and during the last century, especially from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, the double action sixgun was definitely The King.

Many men raised the use of the double action to both a high art and science. Let’s remember these men for their contributions as we go back to a time when six shots were the norm. All of these men are now gone. As a kid never did I ever imagine I would actually know many of these sixgunners.

Walter Walsh

Col. Walter Walsh is a true American hero. Born in 1907, Walsh would be one of the FBI agents during the turbulent 1930’s. During this time he personally captured Doc Barker, son of the infamous Ma Barker and also the Al Brady gang, being wounded in the process. He also found time to take part in the National Matches shooting both rifle and pistol. While serving with the FBI, Walsh’s favored sidearm was Smith & Wesson’s .357 Magnum. He also carried this gun with him as a Marine in WWII, however, he used another favorite handgun, his personal 1911 Government Model .45, to take out a Japanese sniper at 90 yards.

I first encountered Col. Walsh by reading about him in a book by Lucian Cary in the 1950’s. I was drawn to a photo of Walsh firing an S&W identified as a .38-44 Heavy Duty. I still have that picture, however, later Col. Walsh would tell me the picture was labeled wrong and it was actually a .357 Magnum. I would not meet Col. Walsh personally until he was a nominee for the Outstanding American Handgunner Award. It was my pleasure to write Bill Jordan’s speech acknowledging Col. Walsh as the recipient of the coveted bronze trophy.

Bill Jordan also told me a wonderful story about Col. Walsh. During the national matches a man came up to the easily recognizable 6-foot, 6-inch tall Jordan and asked him if he could point out Walter Walsh. Jordan said: “That’s him on the firing line right now.” “That little guy?” responded the inquirer, looking at Col. Walsh at not much over 5-feet tall. Jordan said to him: “When he is through shooting go over and look in his eyes.” The man did this and returned with: “I see exactly what you mean.”

Col. Walter Walsh was 92 years old when I first met him, still stood ramrod straight as we would expect a Marine to stand, and could still see quite well without the aid of glasses. He was also still very active serving as a shooting coach in the Olympics. One of my prized possessions is an autographed picture from him with the two of us together.

At the time he won the Outstanding American Handgunner Award, renowned pistolsmith Jimmy Clark had made arrangements to present him with a new customized Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. When it was shipped to him he had just recently purchased a firearm, and so was caught under the 1-gun-a-month fiasco. Col. Walter Walsh, FBI agent, World War II hero, Olympic coach, and 92-year-old gentleman was deemed so dangerous to society by his state of residency he had to wait the required 30 days before he could receive his new sixgun.

Walter is gone now but he made it past the age of 100. Recently they renamed a building wing for him on the Marine base and in the building are a number of pictures of Walter Walsh. I was humbled to find one of those pictures is of Walter and I as I presented him with the Outstanding American Handgunner Foundation Bronze in 1997. When I wrote an article about Walter, I was contacted by a regular reader who is a dentist and Walter Walsh’s daughter happens to be one of his patients. He showed her the article and I received a nice letter from her. I felt very special.

John Taffin presented Col. Walter Walsh with the Outstanding American Handgunner Awards
Foundation bronze. This picture now hangs in the special Walter Walsh wing on a Marine base.

Jack Weaver

Looking through gun books from the 1930’s and earlier, it is not too difficult to find pictures of men shooting sixguns with two hands. In fact, there are several pictures in the 1930 book Shooting by John Henry FitzGerald illustrating this. So all this points up to the fact Jack Weaver did not invent 2-handed shooting, however, he did successfully modify it into the modern version known as the Weaver Stance.

Jack Weaver was part of the group from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in California experimenting with truly practical combat shooting. Shooters included not only Weaver but also Jeff Cooper, Elden Carl, Ray Chapman, and the very young Thell Reed. It wasn’t long before Jack Weaver, using a K-38 and a 2-handed hold, was whipping up on them pretty well. It did not take the rest of them very long to adapt the Weaver Stance to whichever firearm they were shooting.

Jeff Cooper speaking of truly practical shooting said, “Under normal circumstances the pistol is fired two-handed. The two-handhold is not the crutch of the duffer, as some traditionalists claim; it is rather the technique of the master. I shot for 20 years in the conventional fashion with one hand, until I found that while one hand is satisfyingly accurate, it is not strong enough for the control of heavy loads in quick shifts between targets—at least not in serious competition.”

Then Cooper goes on to define the Weaver Stance: “If only one method of shooting is to be learned, it should be the Weaver Stance, invented by Jack Weaver, of Lancaster, California. It is basically a two-handed standing position, but not the fully erect, straight-armed position of the target range. The big difference is that the Weaver Stance is fast, while the other is deliberate. Jack had to defeat his share of quick-draw artists to prove it, but prove it he did. Tests have now shown that a master can keep all the shots on the international target at 25m, starting with the weapon holstered and safe, and including reaction time, in one second per shot. At three full seconds, which is the regular time allotted to Olympic competitors starting with the pistol ready in the hand, he can keep all the shots in the 9-ring. The Weaver Stance may be used with deliberation, but is essentially a position for fast shooting.

“To assume the Weaver Stance, stand square to the target, with the left foot leading just a little. The right arm is nearly straight, the left arm bent a little more as the left shoulder leads, and the head is sometimes bent slightly into the line of sight depending on the shooter’s build. On shifting targets, the body is pivoted from the waist without disturbing the fixed relationship of arms and shoulders. This position is accurate, fast, and extremely versatile. It is the best position to use in about 80 percent of the situations in which a pistol is necessary.”

While virtually all the other Combat Masters were using the .45 ACP 1911 Government Model, even Thell Reed switched from his Colt Single Action .45 to the more “modern” .45 Government Model, Jack Weaver stayed a dedicated double action sixgunner using a standard .38 Special K-38 with a 6-inch barrel and drawn from a solidly built holster.

There are all kind of variations using 2-handed shooting with most of us adapting to what fits us the best. Whatever it is, we can thank Jack Weaver for making 2-handed shooting popular and practical.

Walter Walsh’s .357 was one of the first to have the Baughman ramp front sight. Originally, he had two
identical Registered Magnums, but sold the left-hand gun to a fellow FBI agent prior to WWII. Walsh had
his S&W Registered Magnum .357 tuned and modified for his use. Note the left grip panel has been relieved
at the top for Walter’s thumb. Photo: Elizabeth Kitchens Walter.

Walter Walsh’s Registered Magnum

My old friend Greg Kitchens now owns Walter’s S&W Registered Magnum and shared a few pictures of it. He adds the following:

“The S&W Registered Magnum is one of two revolvers sent to the FBI for Special Agent Walter Walsh in 1936. They had 4-inch barrels and the new Baughman Ramp Front Sights. This particular gun is the third gun to leave the factory with the Baughman Ramp.

“Walter Walsh had his favorite gunsmith slick up the actions identically and bob the hammers. Pachmayr grip adapters were added (this one is a replacement I added recently). The SA pull is light, less than 3 pounds. This gun, intended as his right-hand weapon, had its left upper grip panel relieved for his thumb while the left-hand gun was the mirror image in this respect. According to Walsh’s son, his father was completely ambidextrous. He sold the right-hand gun to another FBI Agent in 1938 and kept his left-hand gun close-by the rest of his long and admirable life. It now resides with the Walsh family where it is clearly appreciated.

“In the gun battle with the murderous Brady gang that spilled out onto the streets of Bangor Maine, Walsh had his RM in his left hand and a .45 in his right. When a gang member started the fight by firing his Colt Hammerless at Walsh, his first .32 caliber bullet grazed the 1911 and Walsh’s corresponding thumb. The RM came up and provided the final punctuation in the gentleman’s rap sheet.”—Greg Kitchens

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