Why did people only use one hand when firing pistols up until the 20th century.


I’m pretty sure it’s not just Hollywood, I’ve seen old drawings and paintings of people in battle or duels and they always only use one hand to aim and fire pistols, even after multishot revolvers and pistols are developed.

Why? It’s not like using two hands only became more supportive and stable after 1910.

In: 557

This was answered 4 years ago on this thread in r/history


Basically switching to two hands allows for speed gains when shooting multiple times at targets.

Single hand is fine for shooting slowly at a single target, but is not as efficient at shooting at different targets.

Ooh I know this one 😛 Smoothbore pistols were notoriously inaccurate. Using two hands would ensure better aiming accuracy, but it wouldn’t matter much if the bullet flies off the true aim anyway. Duelists found it better to stand side-on to the target, reducing their own target cross-section and improving their chances of survival. This is likewise why the old style of firing rifles survived so long. Nowadays it’s discouraged to fire long guns “chicken-wing” style, rather than keeping your elbow down and squaring up to the target, especially presuming you’re wearing a ballistic vest.

As for why gunmen continued to shoot one-handed after accurate guns came about, at least as far as revolvers go, you can’t put your second hand high up on the frame because flames come out of the cylinder and would burn you. This is where the “teacup” grip came from, with the second hand supporting the shooting hand. I don’t think it was considerably more effective than shooting one-handed though, especially in a close-range fight.

Now with magazine-fed pistols, we have the option of an effective two-handed grip.

1. Guns back then were just weaker. Before cartridged bullets were invented in the late 19th century, you had to physically pack the gunpowder and very spherical bullet yourself, and there just wasn’t as much room for gunpowder as there is now.

2. Back then, duels were seen as a high-class activity. The upper classes – those who engaged in duels – valued physical strength and stoicism. Being able to shoot a gun with just one hand meant you were stronger than if you needed two hands. “But then you might miss your shot!” yes, because…

3. The goal of a duel usually wasn’t to kill your opponent. You’d expect duels to have a fatality rate of 50%, but very often those engaging in duels would intentionally miss their pistol shot so that their opponent didn’t die. Duels didn’t happen because you are so angry at the other person that you just might kill them if given the chance, duels happened so that you could prove your honor. This is even more blatant in the case of sword duels. Since the rules of a duel are just whatever you and your opponent agree on, sword duels often had the rule of “first to draw blood wins”. This meant you never tried to kill your opponent, just lightly strike their flesh with your blade.

It’s likely because using two hands wasn’t considered necessary for accuracy with early pistols, and one-handed shooting was sufficient for most situations.

Among other things mentioned, maybe to keep the flintlock mechanism as far away from one face as possible.