Jelly Bryce’s Shooting Stance

Below is a photo of legendary Oklahoma City Lawman and FBI agent Jelly Bryce demonstrating his point shooting technique that appeared in this month’s American Rifleman.

Low, mobile, lethal target profile minimized, yet still comfortably able to observe. Notice even Jelly’s off hand is ready to grapple with, or even palm-heel an opponent who was too close. He must have run constant what-ifs, based on his extensive history of going at it as a cop, so when he acted, he was ready for anything. And it is all in a perfectly creased, well tailored suit.

I find Jelly fascinating, because he is a gunslinger who developed the skill of a master of martial arts in gunslinging, and he did it the same way you master martial arts – he practiced a ridiculous amount.

Reportedly Jelly spent up to eight hours a day practicing his draw and fire. He got in front of a mirror, and drilled using a specific technique. He drew, moved one step lateral to his focus of engagement, and dropped into a crouch.

Drilling needs to be done to be appreciated. I knew a striker who was quite impressive, but he had trouble keeping students because he was a driller. Young bucks want to feel they are learning, so they sought out instructors who were always teaching something new and letting them try it out, and eschewed his classes of simply drilling on basic combinations endlessly.

But drilling is its own magic. It is one thing to be taught a combination of strikes. It is another to see it employed effectively, and then drill on that for an hour a day for a year, until the entire suite of muscle contractions is one fluid explosion of neural activity in the brain, and the muscles perform every contraction combined as if it is one simple movement. You start the combination and it is over before you can think it through. It becomes almost a feeling of what happened, rather than a visualization of what you must do.

Jelly drilled. Pause… Decide, draw, step, drop to crouch, fire until empty, all in one movement. Pause… Decide, draw, step, drop, fire. Pause… Decide, draw-step-drop-fire. Pause… DrawStepDropFire. Pause… Decide-Kill. Pause… Kill. Pause… He’s dead. Pause… Dead.

After an hour, you will know what to practice. After six months of an hour a day, the entire process is burned into your mind and your muscles. It happens. Or more accurately, you decide and it happened. Add in accurate shooting, and you are a lethal machine.

I’m sure Jelly varied his training as well, stepping to different sides, stepping forward as he engaged to a side, spinning and stepping to the side to engage behind him, moving to cover that presented itself and so on. It was a skill that would serve him well:

One incident brought Jelly Bryce to the attention of recruiters from the FBI. On July 18, 1934 Jelly was on the hunt for a partner of Clyde Barrow named Harvey Pugh, who was a cop killer, as well as his two associates, J. Ray O’Donnell and Tom Walton. Jelly received information that the three were holed up at the Wren Hotel.

Jelly went to the hotel and made contact with Nora Bingaman, an elderly woman at the front desk. Her 28-year-old daughter, Merle Bolen was the owner of the hotel and Jelly asked to speak with Merle, hoping to confirm the tip. Bingaman led Jelly to Merle’s room and when Nora opened the door she looked startled and tried to hurriedly close the door.

Jelly, sensing something was amiss, blocked the door and opened it, spotting Ray O’Donnell in bed with a scantily dressed Merle Bolen. Ray had a Colt 1911 in each hand.

Bryce later described the action like this, “When I looked into the room there he was up on his elbows with a gun in both hands aimed right at me. He was lying on the near side of me and the woman was on the other side of him. I jumped to one side out of the line of fire, grabbed my gun and tore him up.”

Tore him up, he did. Jelly Bryce fired six times on the move. The first shot hit the bad man just under the chin. The next four hit him in the head and one round went into the mattress. The women and a Walton were taken immediately into custody unharmed. The cop killer Harvey Pugh was arrested a short time later, when he returned to the hotel to pick up his car.

Jelly survived that encounter because when he saw those two 45’s pointed at him, he didn’t need to think back to all the steps in his draw process. He didn’t need to remember anything, or try and figure out how to step forward as he drew to the side. He didn’t need to do anything more than trip his well-practiced draw, step, crouch, fire unified movement neurons in his brain, as he engaged. He pressed one brain button, and the entire sequence happened instantly. As Pugh’s brain, caught off guard by the jump, registered the move, recalculated, and then triggered movement to re-engage Bryce in his new position, Bryce was already loosing his fusillade, and ending the threat. He decided and it happened. Decide-Kill, without the pause. O’Donnell had every advantage and never stood a chance.

Decades later, even after he retired, and ceased his endless practice, they said Jelly was like an old Samurai who could still wield a Katana like he never set it down. His muscle memory never faded. He could still throw a coin in the air, draw his revolver, and shoot it in the air, hitting it right near the edge so when it came down it could be used as a watch-fob.

He is a good model of an Apocalypse-ready warrior, and good lesson in the power of drilling upon the skills which you may need to survive.

Tell everyone about r/K Theory, because you don’t want to be killed by a Jelly Bean like this

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6 Responses to Jelly Bryce’s Shooting Stance

  1. Pitcrew says:

    Man, do we need some Jelly Bryce’s right now.

  2. Jaded Jurist says:

    This is why I resent most indoor shooting ranges. You MUST train with a sidestep for every draw that’s not from behind cover, and you must be allowed to shoot as fast as you need to. Slow, tight groups on stationary targets do not a combat shooter make.

    IDPA, on the other hand, now that makes a man feel more in control of the situation.

    Shame most of us can’t train against each other using simunitions, or at least without great difficulty.

  3. mobiuswolf says:

    drill, drill, drill, you don’t even need ammo

  4. SteveRogers42 says:

    In his autobiography, G. Gordon Liddy devoted several pages to his experiences training with two old-time gunfighters from the Bryce era. They were from the same mold.

  5. SteveRogers42 says:

    It’s really striking how much more athletic and aggressive this stance is than either of the two pistolero stances being taught today. Neither the Weaver nor the isosceles stance afford the same type of flexible movement, and both lack the explicit mind-body connection captured in the old FBI stance. Bryce is in a posture indicating a willingness and readiness to kill, and this posture cannot help but reinforce the mind’s combative attitude toward whatever threat is approaching. His stance is very reminiscent of a freestyle wrestling posture, and it would be just as effective if Mr. Bryce had a knife instead of a pistol because it is a clear physical expression of his intention.

    • Funniest story to me was when he was first discovered. He showed up to a shooting competition at 19, on his way to college only to discover it was Law Enforcement only. One sergeant there said his team was one down, and if Jelly could shoot well on the spot, he could be deputized for the contest and join the team. Jelly asked him if he could draw first because he shot better that way. The Sergeant was like, WTF?, but said OK, as he wondered what kind of nut Jelly was.

      Jelly drew in flash and put all his shots in a half dollar, and that was the end of his college career. He went right on, and killed somebody before he even had a badge.

      That dude was real deal.

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