One spring day in 1948, George Chambliss, a Winter Haven, Florida real estate broker, citrus grower, ardent hunter, and former smallbore rifle shooter, was cleaning up the gun room and came upon a spare box of .22 cartridges. Picking up the ammunition and a single-shot pistol, he led his redhaired daughter, Lucy, outside, showed her the operation of the gun, and watched her shoot up, the .22's.
Formerly, Lucy had accompanied her father to the local rifle range and fired the rifle with him, and had also fired it in NRA postal matches for junior shooters. But she had never fired a pistol until her father gave her a single-shot model to 'shoot up' the spare .22's.
In the six years since Lucy's first taste of pistol shooting, she has won some one hundred medals, 30 small trophies, eight pieces of silver, nine women's championships; and the only position ever won by a woman on a United States International Postal Pistol Team.
Practice did it
Lucy did not become a top-flight pistol shooter via the overnight route. A Colt Match Target Woodsman .22 automatic soon followed the single-shot and she began slow-fire shooting at 15 yards. "At first I couldn't even keep them-on the backstop," she recalls. But she kept on practicing at 15 yards until she could keep ten shots in the black. Then she started moving back, five yards at a time. When her shots failed to stay in the black of the longer ranges, she moved closer to the target to regain her confidence.
By September 1948 Lucy's slow-fire scores had reached the acceptable stage and she entered her first pistol match, the Florida State Pistol Championships at St. Petersburg. Being unclassified, she had to enter as an Expert. That match got Lucy two things: her first experience at shooting the timed and rapid-fire stages, and classification as a Marksman. The red-head was on her way.
Lucy went back to the practice range and soon was winning places in the local meets. Then, in 1950 at Jacksonville, she scored her first major triumph -- the Women's Southeastern Regional Pistol Championship. She repeated that feat in 1951 and 1953. Amid the rapidly growing collection of medals and trophies came the Florida State Women's Championship in 1951 and 1953 and the National Mid-Winter Pistol Matches Women's Championship four years in a row, 1951 through 1954.
In the process of winning pistol matches Lucy's classification went to Master.
The big one, the National Championship, has eluded her so far. Last year she was second, winning the .22 and combined .22-.38 aggregates, but losing out with the .45.
Without doubt Lucy's best competitive achievement to date has been to win a berth on a United States International Postal Pistol Team. The 1953 team was selected from the top competitors in the slow-fire aggregate at Camp Perry.
Lucy's first ten shots were good for a 94. During the second ten-shot string the competitor next to her fired on her target and she elected to re-fire the entire string. Ignoring the 'jitters' that plague most shooters in such a situation, she fired another 94, good for ninth place in that event and a spot on the coveted team. Just to prove it was no fluke, and that she had a right to be on the team, she fired another 188 to help the U. S. defeat Canada and Britian.
The results of practice and experience. Lucy is
holding her favorite trophy, symbolic of the 1952
National Mid-Winter Women's Pistol Championship
Lucy's formula for winning pistol shooting is good equipment backed up with lots of practice and experience. In the Chambliss pistol kit you will find a Colt Match Target Woodsman .22 automatic with one of the few Berdon smoothbore barrels in existence. This barrel is a smoothbore from the chamber to the recoil reducing vents and is rifled from there to the muzzle, about one inch. It is extremely accurate. There is a Colt Officer's Model .38 revolver with heavy barrel and short action for the center-fire events. A Colt Government Model .45 automatic completes her ensemble of guns. A 20-power prismatic spotting scope is included as a necessary piece of equipment.
All Lucy's guns have been worked over for greater accuracy by A. E. Berdon, gunsmith of Lakeland, Florida.
Lucy takes a firm, but not overly tight, grip on her guns. Her automatics have thumb-rest grips but she feels the .38 revolver is better without it. Like many another pistol shooter, she has built up thumb-rests with Plastic Wood. When she gets these grips feeling just right, she has custom grips made.
Does own handloading
Taught to reload by her father, Lucy now
loads her own match ammunition
When Lucy started shooting the center-fire guns, her father acquainted her with the intricacies of handloading so she might get more practice and greater accuracy. At first she loaded her own ammunition only for her practicing, using factory loads for match shooting. Now she knows it isn't a paying proposition to practice with one kind of 'gun fodder' and go into a match with something entirely different. She now shoots her center-fire matches, big and little alike, with the stuff she turns out herself. And it is paying off.
Two afternoons and two evenings a week find Lucy in the loading shed, except when big matches, requiring more than the usual amount of ammunition, call for oveertime. For .38 slow-fire she loads 2.8 grains of Bullseye powder behind a 145-grain Hensley and Gibbs #73 wadcutter bullet sized to .358 inch. For 25 yards she loads 2.2 grains of Bullseye and the same bullet. The .45 is fed a diet of 3.3 grains of Bullseye pushing the Hensley and Gibbs #68 semi-wadcutter bullet to 50 yards and the same bullet goes to 25 yards in front of 3.0 grains of Bullseye. Light loads they are, but accurate and consistent. Excessive recoil doesn't produce winning aggregates, and standard loads are excessive for most women. Lucy is no exception in this regard.
The Chambliss pistol range. It is here that
Lucy learned to shoot and now practices regularly
Lucy believes in getting lots of practice and match experience. She is fortunate in having a one-target range within a few feet of her front door. Six days a week she fires on this range. Each day she uses a different gun and fires 20 rounds each of slow, timed, and rapid-fire. There is a pistol match in west central Florida almost every Sunday and you can find Lucy on the firing line of one of them at least three Sundays a month. But, whether the upcoming shoot is local or national, Lucy's practice sessions remain constant.
All of the Chambliss guns are equipped with adjustable sights, but she never reaches for the screwdriver until a five-shot group shows that a change in setting is called for. Incidentally, she likes the six o'clock hold, with the bullseye sitting on top of the front sight.
Lucy does not drink or smoke. Her eyesight is not perfect, and sometimes she wears corrective lenses while shooting.
She uses earplugs to keep the noise of the other guns from causing her to flinch. "I can flinch as big as anyone on the line," Lucy says.
Lucy's stance is very orthodox, her feet comfortably but not far apart, left hand in pocket and body approximately forty-five degrees to the target. Her present firing position is the result of coaching she has been getting from former Army Pistol Team Coach Col. Perry Swindler, now a resident of nearby Lakeland. Lucy believes Col. Swindler's help has been of great value to her shooting recently.
Every shooter has a favorite gun, and Lucy's is the .22. Her favorite course of fire is slow-fire. "I can concentrate on each shot in slow-fire and try to make it good," she says.
Finds .45 a problem
Lucy thinks the .45 is the hardest gun to understand: "One day I think I can shoot it and the next day I find that my theory is all wrong."
Lucy's advice to those getting into pistol shooting is to get started right. "There's no economy in cheap equipment," she advises. "Get a good gun with a heavy barrel and adjustable sights and have a good gunsmith 'smooth up' the trigger pull."
Of course, for a beginner, Lucy is speaking of a .22. She advises the heavy barrel models right from the start because they shoot better and you have to develop muscles to hold a pistol anyway. She further advises joining a club so you will have someone to shoot with and help you out. Stay on the short ranges until your shots go where they are aimed. And don't be afraid to shoot in all the matches you can. "You can never reach the top trying to stay at the bottom," comments Lucy. Get the .38 after the .22 has been mastered, and then on to the .45.
That's the explanation of Lucy's winning ways, except she got the .45 for her second gun. "I'm determined to learn to shoot it," she says of the .45. And no doubt she will.
Note: Lucy Chambliss wrote "The Feminine Approach to Guns" in the August 1968 American Rifleman; and continued to win USA/World championships in pistol shooting in the 1970's.