Range Report, 22 April 2018

Linda realized that with her most recent purchase she now had a couple of guns she had yet to fire, so we packed up and went off to Champion Arms this afternoon- but things really started earlier this week.

I had been missing having a .22 rifle for some time, in part with the intent of teaching the wife to shoot long-guns, so Linda and I had gone to Pinto’s to look things over. I found a very nice Montogmery Ward’s Westernfield Model 37. These are bolt-action repeaters made for Ward’s in the mid-1930s.  While I was looking that over Linda became enamored of a Winchester Model 270 Deluxe pump-action rifle.  Since the two rifles were, respectively, $90 & $100 we purchased them both.

Also along for the ride was Linda’s Colt Jr. 25 auto. We loaded it up with some Fiocchi ball and tried it out. She found it quite fun and, as she said repeatedly, adorable.  I tried it also, and it’s a very pleasant little gun to shoot, and not at all difficult to produce reasonable groups at short range.

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Linda’s 5-yard group with the Colt Jr.- not bad at all!
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My group at 7 yards- I like this little gun!

Next Linda gave her Astra Police a go. She found it quite enjoyable to shoot but with heavier loads my grips (which were mounted on the gun so she can try them out) were rubbing the ball of her thumb uncomfortably.  We’ll try the Hogue Monogrip that came with the gun, and after we see how she likes that I’ll make a custom grip for her. She’s looking forward to practicing with this gun more.

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Linda’s 7-yard double-action groups

Linda also shot her Taurus TCP .380. This little gun is double-action only, firing from a locked breech. It is very light and flat as befits a gun made for concealed carry, and has been absolutely reliable. She likes the trigger and is accurate enough with it, but finds it a bit brutal.  Not that it matters much on a purely defensive pistol, but she might replace it with something more pleasant to shoot.

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Reliable, accurate- but a bit brutal

Next she wanted to try her new rifle. She’d never fired a long-gun before but wanted to learn.  The Winchester Model 270 was a modestly-priced slide-action rifle made from the mid-1960’s to mid-1970s. The Deluxe Model has a machine-turned finish on the bolt and impressed checkering on the stock.

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No one online seems to have any idea why these weapons weren’t more popular- they are light, handy, attractive and reliable and seemed to have been priced competitively. Linda had a little issue with getting her glasses to work with the sights but she quickly got the hang of it.

The group on the left is her first-ever group with a rifle, shot at 5 yards. The middle picture was shot at 10 yards, and the picture on the right was shot at 15 yards. All groups were fired standing-unsupported. She loved shooting the new rifle but tired quickly. ‘Different group of muscles,’ she said. I pointed out that when we went to an outdoor range she could shoot from a bench-rest. ‘But won’t I be shooting unsupported in the field- shouldn’t I practice that way?’  She’s right of course, but I assured her that both kinds of practice were useful.  She is now really glad she bought this rifle as she had an absolute ball shooting it. I think we can count Linda among the converts to rifle-shooting!

I wanted to try Linda out on the .32 New Police Detective Special, and we rapidly discovered I had not brought target loads, but rather my defensive loads which are rather stout. Oops… While she found them unpleasant to shoot she did produce a rather nice group at 7 yards. I shot two groups myself, one at shorter range and one at twenty-five yards. Nothing to be ashamed of in either case.

 

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Rapid-fire at 7 yards- not bad at all!
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Double-Action, standing-unsupported at 25 yards- dammit, there always has to be a flyer! The tape covers the 7-yard group I shot with the Colt Jr. .25

Linda also tried out the Sheriff’s Model .45- she was accurate and the recoil was manageable, but she simply doesn’t care for single actions. I, on the other hand, care for them very much, thank you! I only had about twenty rounds with us, and after peppering a ten yard target I reeled it out to twenty-five yards. Not one of my better efforts, frankly-

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Not an entirely disgraceful group for a 3″ barrel at 25 yards- except for a pesky flyer that missed the paper entirely. Bugger.

Which brings us, last but not least, to the Westernfield Model 37.  Word is that it is was made by Mossberg based on their Model 30, which makes very little sense as this was a single-shot with a different bolt.  Regardless it is a simple and entirely conventional bolt-action with a removable 5-shot magazine.  It has no manual safety of any kind; apparently one was simply not supposed to pull the trigger unless one intended to fire the weapon. Novel concept, that.  The weapon is relatively light. It has simple sights, the rear of which is range-adjustable for close, medium and long range. The trigger-pull is excellent and the wood of the stock is surprisingly pretty, although the blonde finish does not show this to it’s best advantage. I may refinish the stock; we’ll see.

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Age has not affected this rifles ability, or the joy of shooting it. There’s something very pleasant about a nice bolt-action .22; I’m not sure exactly what it is.  It might be that they are very simple and purposeful- and the bolt action encourages a relaxed pace. Whatever, I very much enjoyed this old rifle.  Firing standing-unsupported I cannot say I was laser-accurate. I shot targets at ten, fifteen and twenty-five yards (the maximum range available at Champion Arms.)

The target on the left was shot at twenty-five yards, the right shot at ten yards. Obviously I need a lot of practice.  I’ll need to spend a lot more time on the range… Uh, darn?  I think this is what I refer to as ‘a tragedy of a limited scope.’

Altogether it was a great afternoon at the range, made all the better for Linda joining me. As for her, she had a great time, and thinks her new rifle may well become her favorite thing to shoot!  She’s now talking about heading to the skeet range to try out her Remington 20-gauge auto… It looks rather like a membership to a range or two is in the near future…

Micheal Tinker Pearce, 22 April 2018

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Custom Sheriff’s Model

I’ve always liked the look of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army- I mean, who doesn’t?  One variant that I always found particularly fetching was the Sheriff’s Model.

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Typically this model is associated with a shorter than usual barrel length of 3″, but in reality the defining characteristic is the lack of an ejector.  ‘Sheriff’s Model’ is actually a name applied to these guns by collector’s; Colt originally offered them as ‘Ejectorless’ models. I’ve seen originals with barrel-lengths up to 5-1/2″ and in fact you could order them with any length of barrel. In the 19th Century the most common lengths were 3″ and 4″.

Being a man of limited means the chances of my getting my hands on a factory Sheriff’s Model, either original or new, is nil.  If I ever wanted a gun of this type I was going to need to make it myself from a less expensive reproduction. Enter the Hawe’s Firearms Western Marshal .45, made by J.P.Sauer & Sohn of West Germany.

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Shoots a bit low- typical for these sorts of guns

J.P.Sauer & Sohn were the first European company to produce replicas of the 1873, and they were imported by several companies under different trade-names. These guns were much less expensive than Colts, so they were often used in television Westerns of the 1950’s and 60’s instead of actual ‘Peacemakers.’  They differ from Colt’s in a number of respects; they are rather larger and stouter, which since they were offered in calibers up to .44 Magnum they pretty much had to be. They also used a frame-mounted rebounding firing pin instead of the Colt’s hammer-mounted unit. Like the Colt the hammer must be placed over an empty cylinder for safe carry, or else dropping the gun risks an unintentional discharge. The profile of the front of the frame below the barrel is also different, and the grip-frame is alloy rather than iron or steel. These guns were not as well finished as a Colt, of course, and came with a plain dark finish.

I encountered one of these guns at Pinto’s last year in quite good condition, and it seemed like the perfect candidate for a Sheriff’s Model conversion. It was well-made, locked up tight and had an excellent action and trigger. It also had a spare, un-fluted cylinder chambered for .45 ACP. The finish was nothing to write home about- the sides of the frame were wavy and the ‘bluing’ there looked distinctly paint-like- but for the princely sum of $275 I was willing to forgive a lot.

Of course I had to take the gun out and shoot it, and it was a nice gun. Since I didn’t have a full-size gun in .45 Colt I decided not to cut the gun down.  This didn’t mean I was going to leave it unmolested, mind you! I thought I would take care of some of the cosmetics and re-blue it. I flattened the sides of the frame and removed the finish from the grip-frame, which I thought improved things a good bit. Then I tried to blue the gun…

Nope. Not happening. None of the several bluing methods I had on hand had any effect. I even tried to see if I could make it rust. Nope. The gun is apparently stainless steel, or so close to it as to not matter. This explained why the finish looked like paint in some places- it more or less was. Bugger.

Well, nothing for it but to polish the entire gun, so I did- and wile I was at it I went ahead and re-contoured the front of the frame to more closely resemble a Colt. You can see the difference in the pictures below-

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The refinished gun was quite attractive, and it stayed in this state through the winter. Then a 4-5/8″ Armi San Marcos 1873 .45 was offered at a very good price and I couldn’t resist. This is my favorite barrel length on a Peacemaker so it has remained unmolested… but now the J.P Sauer & Sohn gun was redundant. Yeah, remember that Sheriff’s model I wanted to make?

First things first- I like the look of an un-fluted cylinder, and the .45 ACP cylinder that came with the gun was going unused, so I carefully reamed out the chambers to accept .45 Colt. This took some time, mostly because I needed to be very careful to accomplish this. When it was finally done I went ahead and made a ‘nail-nick’ at the edge of each chamber so that a fingernail or small tool can be inserted under the rim of the cartridge to facilitate removal of spent shells.

With that being done I removed the dark finish and polished the cylinder to match the rest of the gun.  Moving on to the barrel I removed the ejector, then used a small pipe-cutter to mark the cut. I sliced the barrel off on the band-saw, then used the mark from the pipe-cutter to true the barrel on the belt-grinder. I broke the edge of the barrel and crowned it with a conical burr in the drill-press.

Since the front sight was far too tall I sliced it off the cut-off barrel section rather than removing is properly then refaced the bottom. I established the center-line on the barrel, and using a cut-off wheel in the flex-shaft tool I cut a slot for the sight. I worked carefully to get a friction-fit, then silver-soldered the sight in place.  The front-sight is set well-back from the muzzle, as was typical for these guns. No- I don’t know why.

Polished everything up and gave the gun a good cleaning, and I’m delighted with the results-

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As you can see the J.P.S.&S. gun is a good bit beefier than the ASM Peacemaker

So, all finished? Not quite, actually. I left the ejector-rod housing in place because I had not yet decided whether or not to mount a shortened ejector. After contemplating the matter overnight though I have decided not to, so I ground away the ejector housing as was done on the first of the original guns. Colt later made a symmetrical frame that lacked this housing, but that’s not an option, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way.

After grinding away the ejector housing I found the cylinder-release screw on that side stuck out ludicrously far, so I shortened and re-blued it. Now we’re done!

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This will make it much easier to use a rod to eject empties, and it really does look better. I can’t wait to get this one to the range and try her out.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 April 2018

Push the Envelope- You Might Be Surprised.

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Custom S&W .38 Double Action Safety Hammerless (4th Model)

Lately my pistol shooting has largely been focused on shooting rapidly at 7 yards. OK, fair enough; most of the pistols I shoot are oriented towards self-defense and that’s a quite reasonable range. Pretty often I am testing a new gun or a gun I have modified, and I can be pretty sure of at least putting rounds on the paper at seven yards, no matter how badly I have messed the gun up.

I’ve picked up a couple of hunting revolvers since last fall, and naturally I tried them at 25 yards.   Results were not tragically bad, but not as good as I would want them either. I pretty much shrugged it off; after all, there’s plenty of time before next fall, right?

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25 yards single-action- not bad, or unexpected with a 6″ barrel and adjustable sights

Maybe I mis-remember how I shot decades ago but I had a general feeling that I had slipped with age. Happens to the best of us, right? The fact is that my skills have not deteriorated; I’ve just gotten sloppy… and lazy.

The other night I was at the range, and the gun that I was testing- the .38 S&W cartridge conversion- had ejected it’s firing-pin relatively early in the proceedings. Since I still had a bunch of ammo I started shooting the S&W top-break. I shot rapid-fire groups, strong-hand and weak hand and I was getting bored. I ran the target out to ten yards, then fifteen and was still getting good hits.

Of course the idea of shooting a century-old, double-action only gun with a 1-1/2″ barrel at twenty-five yards was ludicrous, so naturally I had to do that. I fired a string of five shots rather casually and reeled it in to look- three hits on the paper… interesting. I ran it back out and tried it again. Four more hits. Now I was wondering just exactly what I could do if I really tried… I ran out a fresh target and this time I really focused- front-sight, breathing, staging the double-action trigger… the results were surprising. Standing unsupported at twenty-five yards I shot a 4-3/8″ group, with a score of 45 out of fifty possible!

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What this shows me is that I need to stop underestimating myself, stop being lazy and start pushing the limits; I already know what I can do shooting rapid-fire at seven yards. I’d pretty much forgotten what I could do at a distance. Time to see what I can do at longer range- and there’s no reason not to go beyond 25 yards, either.

OK, maybe I’ll use a more suitable gun…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 March 2018

 

The Astra Police- An Obscure Gem!

I recently picked up and Astra Police .38 from DJ’s for $220, and Linda liked it so well she immediately ordered one off of Gunbroker. I’ve actually already talked about these guns in range reports, but I thought they deserved their own post with all the info in one place.
The top gun is mine, and the previous owner bobbed the hammer and crudely turned the handle into a round-butt to fit a set of Pachymer grips he had on-hand. To do this he had to drill a new screw-hole and used a nut and bolt to hold them in place, so… yeah, no.  The gunbroker guns typically come with a slightly -damaged stock grip and an ill-fitting Hogue Monogrip. I snagged the stock grip because it was a great improvement over the misfit Pachymer.
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These are an interesting gun. They are a roughly L-frame size, came standard with a 3″ barrel and fixed sights. Both of ours are police trade-ins from Policia Municipal Vitorio in Spain, thus the ‘PMV’ stamped on the side of the frame. They are a whole other level of quality than most people associate with Spanish guns, and possess some unique features.
The first of these is the large screw just ahead of the trigger-guard- this is actually a button that allows the cylinder and crane to be removed. This is a plus for cleaning, but it was also to enable one to switch calibers from .38 Special to .357 Magnum or 9mm. These guns were sold by FN as the ‘Barracuda’ in either 9mm or .357.
Another interesting feature unique to Astra revolvers if the user-adjustable trigger-pull. There is a round device in the grip-frame that has different depth holes in it for the base of the mainspring; quite clever really. You simply pop it out sideways, rotate it a 1/4-turn and pop it back in for a different trigger-pull.
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The guns also have quality features like recessed chambers, a pinned front sight etc. For myself I cleaned up the hack-job on the grip frame and modified the stock grips to fit and to suit my hand, then refinished the wood. I like the feel of it much better now.
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I took the gun out for it’s first real range-trip the other day, firing a mix of 158gr., 173gr. and 125gr. bullets. All shot to point of aim at seven yards. I only fired the 125gr. at twenty-five yards, and they shot a little high at that range. At it’s lightest setting the double-action trigger pull is very smooth and not at all heavy, but is curiously easy to stage when desired. The weight of this gun easily soaks up the recoil, even of the heavy loads and the reworked grip was comfortable and secure.
Here’s a seven-yard rapid-fire target-
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This target was shot double-action standing/unsupported at twenty-five yards-
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Doubtless this will improve with practice.
Very happy with our purchase of these guns. Being trade-ins they are not in perfect condition, showing moderate holster-wear and typically some damage to the stock grips. But for what these are going for- typically $259 on Gun Broker- they are well worth it. These are high-quality revolvers and are easily robust enough for a steady diet of +P ammunition.
I originally got mine intending to convert it to .41 Special, but now I am not so sure; I really like the gun the way it is. Linda’s will remain a .38 Special regardless, and will be getting a custom grip to suit her hand as soon as I can get around to it.

Range Report for 27 March 2018

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Two guns and two new loads to test today.  Trying out a .356″ 125-grain RNL bullet in both .38 S&W and .38 Special, and testing the Astra Police .38 and the 1860 Army .38 S&W conversion.

First up was the Lyman’s 1860 Army that I converted to .38 S&W. Normally .38 S&W shoots a .361″ bullet, but I thought I’d try it with the .356″ bullet since the barrel-liner I used was a 9mm/.357 liner. This required a bit of adjustment in my reloading technique, but worked out alright. After researching the load I settled on 3.0Gr. of Unique with a CCI Small Pistol Primer.

Firing the gun was pleasant enough; it’s no lightweight after all. I’d not call this test a success though; rounds were key-holing regularly at seven yards; I suspect the barrel-liner became distorted when I was installing it. I’ll need to drill it out, ream and reline it. Ignition was also inconsistent with the newly modified firing-pin. I’ll make a new firing pin, install and test it. So, a bit more work on this one is needed.

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7 Yards, rapid-fire.

Next I tried the new load in the S&W .38 Safety Hammerless. It’s surprisingly peppy from the 1-1/2″ barrel, and recoil is snappier than my standard load in this gun and the report is quite a bit sharper. It shoots dead to point of aim at 7 yards. I think this load is fine in a good-quality solid-frame revolver but a bit hot for a top-break; excessive use would probably accelerate wear to an unacceptable degree. I think I might look into seeing if I can find a 125gr. LSWC; loaded over a lesser quantity of powder it could be a useful load for this gun.

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The original owner modified this gun by bobbing the hammer and rounding the grip-frame. I modified a set of factory wood grips to fit 

Last but not least was the Astra Police .38.  These were trade-ins from a Spanish police department. It’s an L-frame size gun that was available in .38 and .357. They were also sold as the FN Barracuda min .357 and 9mm.  Cylinders can be switched in seconds using a button-release just ahead of the trigger-guard on the right side of the frame.  Another innovative feature is the user-adjustable trigger pull- the mainspring terminates in a round section with four different holes, each of which provides a different trigger-pull.

This was the first serious outing for this gun, and a test of the newly modified grips.  The load used was the same 125gr. RNL used in the .38 S&W load, only this time on top of 5gr. of Unique. This was a very pleasant load to shoot in the heavy Astra revolver and shot to point of aim at 7 yards.

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Seven Yards, rapid-fire

The trigger is light and smooth, yet surprisingly easy to stage for precision work. I shot a standing-unsupported double-action group at 25 yards- the gun shot high but the group was not tragically bad, as you can see below-

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Likely this will improve with practice.  These guns come with a square-butt frame- this one had been crudely reshaped into a round butt to fit the Pachymer grips that came with the gun. I refined that work, polished and re-blued the frame then cut the grips to fit. I removed the checkering on the sides of the grip and rounded them quite a bit. I relieved the left-side grip for using a speedloader. After sanding them to 600-grit I refinished them with Minwax Red Cedar finish and then Minwax high-gloss clear.

The result feels good in my hand and provides a good grip. Pretty good looking too. I actually bought this gun with the intention of converting it to .41 Special, but honestly? I like it a lot as-is.  It might just stay a .38.

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The front sight is pinned in place, and a better front-sight would be a plus. I’ll look into my options, but I think a high-visibility front-sight is in this gun’s future.  Linda liked mine so well she bought one of her own off of Gunbroker. Hers still has the square butt and the hammer-spur is intact. I’ll be making a set of custom grips for her gun; maybe very similar to the grips on my gun.

Good afternoon at the range. I just wish I’d had more .38 Special to shoot.

*This .38 S&W load should only be used in good-quality solid-frame guns. Using this in S&W top-breaks will accelerate wear significantly, and in lesser-quality guns it might actually cause damage to the gun.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 March 2018

 

Wadcutters for Self Defense?

The purpose of this post is not to convince you to carry wadcutters or not to; it’s simply to present information so that you are better equipped to make an informed decision.

A wadcutter is a cylindrical bullet designed to punch a clean hole in a paper target. The are typically loaded to a relatively low velocity and have very mild recoil. They were not designed as a self-defense load, but are often recommended as such. One has to wonder why,  given that they have modest muzzle energy and expand little or not at all in testing.  The answer is a mix of realism, misinformation and logic.

The objective of self-defense shooting is to stop the attacker as quickly as is reasonably possible. Handguns, on the whole, are pretty bad at this. I’ve mentioned this a time or two. The most important things in stopping a person are penetration- the bullet has to reach the important bits, hit location- the bullet has to hit the important bits, and last of all the permanent wound cavity.

People used to waste a lot of time worrying about the ‘best’ bullet/caliber to produce a ‘stop’ with a single torso hit.  But as one Marine put it, “Who shoots them once?!”  It has been pretty obvious right the way along that multiple accurate hits to center mass was a pretty reliable way of stopping an attacker. Doing this with a service-caliber weapon was a useful way of going about it, and it was a good idea to use a good hollow-point.  But the most important thing was to do it multiple times as quickly as it was possible to maintain accuracy.

A .357 Magnum round, shot for shot, is pretty damned effective. But from the sort of guns people carry for self defense the recoil is brutal and slows down recovery time between shots. Most people are better off with a .38 Special +P hollow-point. But there’re people for whom even that is problematic; weak wrists, previous injuries etc. can make a person sensitive to recoil. It is in these cases that wadcutters are most often recommended.

There is also a common belief that the hard corners of the bullets cut the flesh of the target better than a round-nose bullet. The problem is that when these bullets are fired in tests using demin over ballistic gel there is no indication that this is true. The fabric crushes the corners into a slightly rounded or bevelled profile, and the wound track is similar to round-nose lead.

But this doesn’t tell the whole story. A few decades back the Army tested .38 Special wadcutters against .38 Special round-nose lead ammo by firing both into ballistic gel and measuring it’s velocity before it hit and after it exited the block. Despite starting with 15% less muzzle-energy the wadcutters deposited 25% more energy into the block. It seems to indicate that as both rounds passed entirely through the block (which was meant to represent adequate penetration in human tissue) the wadcutter delivered more damage. But no one has ever established a concrete connection between energy delivery and stopping power, not matter how intuitive it seems. There is a connection between permanent wound cavity and stopping power, and neither bullet fares anywhere near a good hollow point in that department.

They’re just wadcutters, but I am pretty sure this would do…

It seems likely that a wadcutter is more effective than a round-nose bullet, but not as good as a hollow-point. So why would anyone choose the wadcutter over the hollow-point? Recoil and  cost. The mild recoil makes them more pleasant to shoot, and that makes people more likely to practice. They are also cheaper than defensive ammo, which means people can afford to shoot more of them- which also means more practice.  Most importantly the low recoil means recovery time is shorter and more rounds can be accurately put on target faster. Yes, shot for shot they are noticeably less effective- but who shoots them once?

 

It can easily be argued that three wadcutters, rapidly and accurately delivered to center-mass, will be more effective than one .357 Magnum delivered to the same area. It is undeniable that three .38 +P hollow points will also beat a single magnum. What it comes to is this- if a person cannot handle the recoil of a hollow-point load it might be reasonable for them to try wadcutters. They aren’t the only game in town, or necessarily the best, but they just might do.

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 March 2018

Range Report for 6 March 2018

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Astra .38 Special Police model

I had a couple of guns to test and several new guns to fire on the range today, so it was never not going to be interesting.

Linda and I recently procured a pair of Astra .38 Police model revolvers. These guns were made in 1985-86 and used by the Policia Municipal Vitorria in Spain. Some time back they switched to automatics and these guns are now being surplussed to the US. These guns are a heavy-framed .38 Special with a number of unique features- one of which is the crane and cylinder, which may be removed simply by pushing a button. The other is that the trigger-pull is user adjustable via a clever system that uses a wheel to provide four different settings for the mainspring.

These guns feature excellent double action trigger pulls, and they are easily solid enough to handle +P loads. Today was basically just test-firing them to make sure everything was in order. Both guns shot well and were quite comfortable, even with stout loads.

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‘Thumper,’ an ASM 1847 Colt Walker reproduction converted to fire cartridges

It was also time to finally give Thumper a good workout. This is a Walker repro converted to fire a proprietary cartridge, .44-50 Walker. Accuracy is good- I fired five shots at the target, and I guess they are all there; there certainly weren’t any other holes in the target. The gun recoils rather like a large-frame .357 Magnum- noticeable but not really unpleasant. It’s a pretty fun gun to shoot.

The brass used for this cartridge is made from shortened and expanded .303 British brass. The final shaping of the brass is done by fire-forming, and even though the previously used brass and the new brass bore identical loads the difference between them was obvious.  Previously-fired and reloaded brass was easy to eject after firing. Newly fire-formed cases had to be driven out with a cleaning rod. None of the brass showed signs of excessive pressure, and the theoretical maximum load is 13+gr. of Trail Boss- the current load is 10 grains. I may experiment with increasing the load, but I’d like to have more experience with this gun first

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The Dandy got a good workout as well- .44 Colt ammo is finally sorted and working properly.  I had thought the collet-crimp was the answer to my ammo issues with this caliber, but nope. It just doesn’t crimp hard enough for consistent results. The solution? Yep- glue the bullets in with blue Loctite and then crimp them. The combination works.

The load uses the same 200gr. LRNFP-HB bullet as the .44-50, this time over 6.5gr. of Trail Boss with a CCI300 primer. Just enough recoil to let you know you’ve shot something. I do need to adjust the front sight; the gun is shooting a bit low. That being said this gun is a pleasure to shoot.

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The Armi San Marcos .45 was a little disappointing, but only because it was shooting extremely low with the Winchester PDX1 225gr. JHP ammunition I was trying out. Like 6″ Low at 7 yards. The gun is consistent, easy to shoot and reliable but a conventional sight picture will have you plowing the dirt in front of the target at any real range. Fortunately it’s not a tough fix. I’ll shoot some of my regular ammo through it next time and see what kind of POI that produces.

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It was also the first time shooting the Taurus Model 608 .357 Magnum. This N-Frame 8-shooter has a 6″ compensated barrel. It’s a pussycat with Remington 158gr. SJHPs, and equally nice with my hand-loads using a 158gr TMJ-FP over 7.7gr. of Unique.  Recoil is less noticeable than the muzzle-blast, and a hundred rounds downrange didn’t leave my hand feeling even slightly abused.

I fired the three-shot group about standing unsupported/single action at 25 yards. I usually shoot a five-shot group, but after three I had no idea where I was hitting so I reeled the target in to look… except I didn’t. The trolley was stuck. They had to call a cease-fire to free it, and that was the end of shooting at 25 yards. Still, the 3 shots were sufficient to show there’s nothing wrong with the gun’s accuracy.  Yes, I know it’s not a S&W, but there’s not much to ask of this gun; it’s nicely finished, it has a nice action and trigger, it’s accurate and pleasant to shoot. I like it quite a bit.

Here’s an unpleasant surprise- the last cylinder of empties was sticky, and when I got them ejected I found this-

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Yeah, that was factory Remington ammunition. Not cool.

Lastly we come to the Fitz Special.  I fired this using two loads, a 158gr. TMJ-FP and a 173gr. LSWC over 4.0gr. of Unique. The Fitz is meant to be a close-range proposition but I started out at 7 yards and the results were alright-

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7 yards, modified Weaver stance, 10 rounds

Shooting a bit low, but not so bad that it isn’t easily compensated for.  I put rounds on a few targets and then decided to go old-school and shoot the gun as it was meant to be used. I ran a silhouette out to 3 yards and thrust the gun out one-handed and blazed away.  The result was quite satisfactory-

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5 rounds to 158gr. TMJFP

Feeling emboldened by my success I loaded up with the 173gr. LSWCs and had another go-

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5 rds. 173gr LSWC.  The bullet-hole below the grip is from the previous group.

I am really, really liking the Fitz! You need to mind that unprotected trigger, but I’d happily carry this gun.

Altogether it was a very satisfactory afternoon out.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 March 2018

It Fitz Me Just Fine

In the mid 1920s J.Henry Fitzgerald worked at the Colt factory. He modified a 4″ Police Positive for use as a concealment revolver and a legend was born. Several actually- the Detective Special was born out of his work, and the appearance of the S&W Chief’s Special was probably not a coincidence

What John Henry did was to cut the barrel to 2″ and remount the front sight, round the corners of the butt, bob the hammer spur and cut away the front of the trigger guard to ease access to the trigger while wearing heavy gloves.  In the years before World War 2 he applied this treatment to a pair of New Service .45s and he modified a number of guns for Colt’s customers.  These were popular guns with law enforcement officers and soldiers, and became quite well known to gun enthusiasts.

Since WW2 both Colt and S&W revolvers have been modified by other gunsmiths, and now any revolver with the trigger-guard cut away is called a ‘Fitz.’  The original guns are far outside my price range of course, but as my amateur gunsmithing progressed I thought it would be cool to do a Fitz.  I just could’t see doing this treatment on anything but a Colt, so for the last year or so I’ve had my eye out for a gun that possessed the right combination of mechanical function, trashed cosmetics and price, and I finally found it-

First

This is a Colt Army Special .38 made in 1924, and chambered in .38 Special. It had about 50% blue, a missing ejector finial, some light pitting and freckling. The front sight was damaged as well. When I first saw the gun there was dirt in the cylinder and bore. I mean actual dirt, like you would grow a plant in. Still, it locks up tight, there’s no end-play and the trigger was decent, so it seemed to fit the bill.

The first order of business was a thorough cleaning, then it was off with the side-plate to have a look. Um… Ew. More actual dirt and decades of accumulated crud.

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Not at all a pretty picture

All right, everybody out! I detail stripped the frame and cleaned the heck out of it. Not surprisingly this improved the trigger quite a lot. While things were apart I took the time to clean up and bob the hammer.

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Well, that’s better

I also cut the barrel at 1-3/4″. refaced and re-crowned it. I rounded the corners of the handle, mounted the grips and rounded everything nicely- the grip actually fits my hand better than the stock one did. It’s interesting to me because the D-Frame grips don’t fit me ideally without a T-grip adapter, but this somewhat larger frame works just fine.

I had studied the way the trigger-guard should be cut and frame modified, but making myself take the plunge and actually do it was harder than expected. I finally too a deep breath and applied the bandsaw, then ground the leading edge under the trigger and contoured the frame under the crane.

I used a cut-off wheel to make a slot in the top of the barrel, then mounted and silver soldered the original front sight in place. It was far too tall of course, so I shortened it by cutting a ramp at the back, as Fitz himself often did to adjust the POI on these guns. I carefully ground the cylinder to remove the worst of the corrosion and polished the barrel and sight a bit, then applied Van’s Instant Blue.  After that was done I touched up the bluing here and there, particularly on the frame of the gun. At that point the gun was basically finished.

I’m really happy with the way it has come out. I loaded up some Fitz-appropriate loads for it- 173gr. LSWCs- that I’ll try out at the range over the next couple of days. If I load this for defensive use I’ll use the Buffalo Bore  158gr. LSWCHPs formulated for short barrels. This gun is actually quite stout; I doubt it would have any difficulty handling +P loads, but I don’t really see any need to go there.

I’m a little mixed about using this gun as a carry piece. I know these were designed for that purpose, and a fair number of people did use them for exactly that for many years. I have a bit of trouble wrapping my head around the missing trigger-guard. but extending the trigger-finger along the side of the frame it does allow excellent access to the trigger. The real concern is holstering the gun- this needs to be done carefully so as not to catch the trigger. I suspect I can get used to it.

Even though I am fully aware that I finished this gun yesterday just holding it feels like a connection to a bygone era, to history. That of course is why we bother with old and old-fashioned guns- that sense of connection and tradition. I can easily picture slipping this into an overcoat pocket- and I may well do exactly that.

Now where can I get me a nice fedora…?

Michael Tinker Peacre,  4 March 2018

Criminalization of Assault Weapons and Limitations on Federal Powers.

AR15

Honest, this is the last post on this topic for a while. This was originally posted on Facebook and I was asked to place it here so it could more easily be shared. This post addresses something I didn’t mention in the previous post on this subject, where I stipulated a buy-back would be necessary. This buy-back would need to be voluntary. Read on…

During prohibition criminal gangs employed submachine-guns to murder each other, hosing down innocents and targets alike. This created a public outcry against these and other weapons commonly used mainly by criminals.

But these weapons were legally purchased by citizens in good faith- the government was not legally allowed to make them illegal retroactively and simply take them. Our founding fathers came from a long history of the governments of Europe using de-legalization as a method of stealing from citizens, and they were determined not to have that happen in their new country.

So the government heavily regulated these weapons. Purchasing them would require special checks and licensing, and a hefty transfer fee when they were sold or traded ($200.) The weapons that were already in private hands were also licensed, ‘grandfathered in,’ and no other registration was possible unless or until the weapons were transferred.

This actually seems to have worked. There were other forces in operation; believe it or not gangster leaders were sensitive to public opinion, and the indiscriminate killings undermined their attempts to portray themselves as some sort of twisted Robin Hood sticking it to ‘the man.’ Regardless these weapons were used dramatically less in crimes. Score one for regulation.

But there were very few of these weapons in civilian hands- most estimates I’ve seen say something under 2,000 total. Auto Ordinance, maker of the ‘Tommy Gun’ was constantly on the financial ropes, barely scraping along from meager contract to meager contract right up until WW2. Most people did not want or see any need for owning their very own automatic weapon, and those that did could go through the difficult and expensive procedure of becoming a collector. Relatively few people bothered.

This is not England or Australia- it is still not legal for the government to outlaw and criminalize legally-purchased property retroactively. We might want to ban assault rifles, but the simple fact is the limits of the government’s powers are such that the best they could do is make further sales of new weapons illegal, or at least subject to the same sorts of restrictions as automatic weapons. Existing owners would be required to license their weapons- at no cost to themselves- but would be free to keep them indefinitely, or until they chose to sell them to a properly-licensed purchaser. This will leave somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000,000 or more of these weapons ‘on the street’ and potentially available to spree killers.

Maybe regulating these weapons will help; one hopes. But it will not remove these weapons from society- we’d better be looking for more permanent solutions, ones that address the root causes of so many young people deciding to become spree-killers.

If you want to empower the Federal government to criminalize possession of legal property purchased in good faith and seize it, it will require a some very, very serious work- like a Constitutional Convention. But think carefully- do you REALLY want the government to have that power? Do you trust them to restrict it’s use to the interests of the public good?

Addendum: Individual states are allowed to enact legislation to restrict these weapons of course, but they face the same limitations as the Federal Government. California recently tried to criminalize possession of any magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds, and the courts told them that they could not do so, as these were previously legal property, and they could not simply criminalize possession.

I neither publicly advocate nor oppose strictly regulating high capacity semi-automatic rifles and/or handguns. This post is for informational purposes. Forgive me, but I have spent enough time arguing about this issue in other venues; I am disabling comments on this post. (OK, WordPress is smarter than I am; I cannot figure out how to disable comments for a single post. Please refrain from commenting- any and all comments will be deleted regardless of whether or not they agree with me.)

Michael Tinker Pearce, 24 Feb. 2018

School Shootings and Banning Assault Rifles

AR15

I try to avoid politics here, but sometimes I can’t.  Any mass-murder spree is horrific and tragic, and school shootings are particularly awful. We are the only nation in the developed world that regularly experiences these tragedies. Semi-automatic military-style rifles (commonly and incorrectly called ‘Assault Rifles’ in modern parlance) are used in almost half of these mass-killing sprees.

We have a problem in this country, and it’s not guns. We have created a toxic culture that spawns spree-killers. We need to address that fundamental truth. It’s not going to be easy, pleasant or fun but it has to be done or the killing will not stop. We cannot simply dismiss this as a ‘mental health’ issue; this is inaccurate and unnecessarily stigmatizes the mentally ill.  Most school shooters have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Oh, don’t get me wrong- they are not ‘right in the head.’ But generally speaking they are neither clinically nor legally insane.

No, they do not share commonalities like Satanism, Heavy Metal music, Goth Culture or violent video games.  Mental-health professionals actually maintain that playing violent video games provides an outlet for aggressive impulses and may actually help prevent violent outbreaks. Nothing so simple.

I am not a mental health professional or a sociologist; but you don’t need to be a pilot to recognize that a plane has crashed.  I don’t know the answers here- but I know that we need to ask the right questions before we’ll have a chance of finding out.

The simple and easy response here is to blame something, anything- to do something.  Anything. In this case to ban ‘assault rifles.’ If this were possible it would prevent mass shooters from using them. It won’t stop them from killing people; the most common mass-shooting weapon is actually a handgun, so I imagine they’ll use those. They are at least as easy to get as semi-automatic rifles.  Banning those is problematic; in Heller Vs. DC the Supreme Court ruled that individual Americans had the right to possess arms for ‘lawful self defense’ and that handguns could not be banned as a class because they were ’eminently suited to that purpose.’  Limit the weapons available, limit the number of bullets they can hold… the ideas go on and on. But banning tools is like slapping a band-aid on a sucking chest wound- beyond giving the illusion that you have done something it’s not going to help the root cause.

Not to mention that in places where people have trouble getting guns- or where the would be at too great a risk of being shot- people use bombs. ‘It’s a lot harder to make a bomb than it is to get an assault rifle’ is the standard argument. Hogwash.  I could root through my kitchen cupboards and come up with a bomb in less than thirty minutes- and anyone with internet access could do the same.  Google is a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands…

Did you notice that I said ‘If this were possible’ regarding banning assault rifles?  Because I am not sure it can be done with any level of effectiveness. The previous ‘assault rifle ban’ had the primary effect of making these weapons more expensive. It did not take them off the streets and it didn’t keep people from obtaining them.  Proponents of the ban point out the decrease in homicides, but in fact they were decreasing before, during and after the ban at about the same rate. The ban had no chance of being effective because it didn’t do what it said- it did not ban these weapons, merely made them tougher to import and more expensive to buy.

To have even a chance of being effective a ban would need to take away the guns that are already out there, and the logistics of that are nightmarish because we don’t know how many there are or who has them. At a (very) conservative estimate there are over 8,000,000 AR15-based rifles out there, then there are all the millions of AK-based rifles and other platforms that are in private hands… I’m going to go with tens of millions of guns that fit the current definition of an ‘assault rifle.’ That’s the legal ones, which are the only ones that you can get rid of by legislation. Legal property, legally purchased by American citizens. Can you spot the problem with confiscating them?

Yep. It’s unconstitutional- it violates some of those pesky civil rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  OK, so buy them back at fair market value. Oh, and hire people to accept them and dispose of them properly- and maybe some more police to make sure they don’t just turn around and sell them on the black market. If we can spend billions to subsidize profitable businesses and military adventures overseas surely we can spend a paltry few billion to save our children.  Of course there is precious little interest in saving, caring for or educating our children under the current regime…  OK, that was a cheap shot. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.

OK, we have established a pool of money to buy back the guns. How do we find them, who is going to do it, and what do we do if people aren’t inclined to volunteer them? Go door to door and forcibly search houses without a warrant or probable cause?  We’re going to need more police. A lot more police. Maybe we should encourage children to rat out their parents? Pay rewards for people to turn in friends and family members? Yeah, that’s totally the precedent we need in this society.  That won’t piss people off enough to cause acts of violence and rebellion.

Oh, and since those police will be looking for people with assault rifles they are going to need military grade body armor, flash grenades and what? Say it with me now… assault rifles. Not a fan of ‘militarized’ police? Tough- because that’s what it will take.

‘But law abiding citizens will turn them in!’ Yep, some will- but some will consider keeping them an act of civil disobedience; we have a long and storied history of this in America. You’re going to have to track those people down, take their guns, arrest them and put them in jail. People will get shot. Some of them will be formerly law-abiding citizens responding to what they perceive as an injustice and government overreach. Some of them will be cops. Everyone that dies will be someone’s child, someone’s parent, sibling or spouse. It’s going to be a mess.  But in the end we will get most of them.

Congratulations- but we’ll still be living in a toxic society that breeds spree killers- and we cannot ban household chemicals, fertilizer, fuel,  laundry detergent, pressure cookers, plumbing pipe, trucks and cars, machetes (which have been used as a weapon of mass-destruction in Africa,) and all the hundreds of other items that can be used to kill a lot of people in a hurry… but we will have the militarized police to try, and we’ll have to do something with all those militarized cops…

Yeah, this will end well.

Maybe it would be simpler to find ways to keep people from wanting to kill a bunch of people in a hurry… like studying and dealing with the real causes of the problem.

Let me add this disclaimer- when it comes to this sort of rifle I can take ’em or leave ’em. I’m not a crusader for them, I don’t love them and haven’t made a hobby- let alone a lifestyle- of them. My main concern with banning them is that it will give too many people the illusion that they have done something useful to address the problem without actually accomplishing anything useful.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 19 Feb. 2018