Confessions of a Mule Deer Newb- Part 2

One of the twins at Twin Lakes Recreation center on BLM land. Gorgeous and, according to a fisherman camping there, full of bass and perch. Photo by Jake Jacobson

We got an early start on the second day and headed for the rough country north of Odessa. We had a few fits and starts trying to find the area Jake was seeking, and as we drove past a sideroad a group of five deer were crossing. I saw the leading couple, both does, but Jake spotted a couple of bucks as they moved off.

“I think one of those is a four-point,” he said. We stopped and Jake broke out the binoculars while I got my rifle and loaded it. I walked out after them and they stopped a hundred, maybe a hundred-twenty five yards out. I cranked the scope to max and looked them over. There were two bucks and I located the one with the largest antlers- still not large, mind you- and took aim. It would have been easy to drop him, but I just wasn’t sure he had the required three points. When they are small like this those damn big ears of theirs get in the way.

These were none of them particularly large deer; maybe 200-250lbs. In the end I lowered the rifle and watched them. The big one turned and gave me a better angle and I looked him over through the scope again, and about the time I decided he wasn’t a three-point I heard Jake calling, “Don’t shoot!” I lowered the rifle as he approached and we agreed that he might not be legal. We watched, not without regret, as they moved off. In the distance they joined another herd, so there were about twenty of them as they moved out of sight. Back in the truck, then, and we moved along.

Some does from the first day, about two-hundred yards out. An easy shot… but not legal. Photo by Jake Jacobson

We found ourselves at the gates of the Twin lakes Recreation Center on BLM land and went in to have a look. Lots of rugged, arid prairie or perhaps desert, no deer. We stopped at one of the lakes to avail ourselves of the outhouse, chatted with a fisherman who was camping on the edge of a lake and couple other hunters before moving on. Plenty of vehicle accessible trails, but rough going.

We stopped at one point and looked over a pair of forelegs from a muley, cut off at the knees and left. The meat was still fresh at the joints, so likely it had been taken earlier that morning. Leaving Twin Lakes we headed northwest and found the BLM land we had been looking for. Perfect deer country, but by then it was late for the morning hunt, so after exploring a bit we headed back to Soap Lake to pick up our overnight gear and head home. Good timing- we weren’t on the road long after lunch before a storm blew in and things were pretty nasty across the pass and into Seattle.

More deer we couldn’t legally shoot. I may actually make a real effort to get a doe tag next year; we saw more deer on this trip than I have in the last ten years west of the mountains. Photo by Jake Jacobson

So, no mule deer for me this year, but the Blacktail season is still on west of the mountains, so I’ll try much luck on those. If I don’t get one of those there’s Whitetail out towards Spokane next month… We’ll just have to see what happens.

I learned a lot on this trip, not just the general method for hunting Muleys in that area- because I am sure it’s different in other places- but about what to take and how to equip for the hunt.

Since it might well have been freezing I took my winter boots. I found that while these were more than warm enough and are great for tromping through the snow they suck on rough ground. They just don’t have the flexibility to work well in the rough. Next time I’ll wear combat boots and insulated socks.

I also had decided against taking my .44 Magnum revolver, but having seen deer at less than twenty yards I think that was a mistake. If you get down into the sage it is perfectly possible to encounter deer at very close range, and if I am in better condition next year (and that’s the plan) it’s likely I’ll be getting into the brush.

I had a handgun but it was a EDC piece, and completely unsuited to taking an animal this size. Jake was carrying a four-inch .357 with heavy game loads in a chest holster, which would have done well enough. Myself I would be more comfortable with a .41 or .44 Magnum; I think a 4-5/8″ single action would be an excellent compromise between packability and game-getting power, so I’ll be on the lookout. I am not going to shorten the Abilene; with the long barrel and an optic it has it’s own place in my hunting arsenal, so it’s going to stay just as it is.

A sidearm like this Ruger in .41 or .44 Magnum would be just about an ideal sidearm for this country. Loaded with a heavy Keith bullet it ought to be up to the task.

A handgun has another advantage; it’s illegal to have your rifle loaded in the vehicle, but a holstered handgun can be loaded. If you have a concealed-carry permit there’s not much anyone can say about it, and it could be genuinely useful.

Layers are good. I was OK in a long-sleeve T-shirt with a flannel shirt and my hunting vest, but I had a couple more layers with me to add on at need. Of course this is a pretty good general rule for the Pacific Northwest; the weathermen are better than they used to be, but they still have a way to go before you can trust them without a ‘just-in-case’ plan.

A 4×4 vehicle, as I mentioned last time, is non-negotiable. So is having a hunting partner. Also while it is sometimes fun to camp out an RV or hotel room is real nice to return to at the end of a long day. Camping in autumn in eastern Washington is not a casual affair; weather can be beautiful or hellish, and can flip from one to the other with surprising speed.

I have an invite to accompany Jake again next year, and I am damn sure going to take him up on it. We had a great time and saw some awesome scenery, and with a little luck next time we’ll find something to shoot.


Confessions of a Mule Deer Newb- Part 1

My first trip east of the mountains for Mule Deer was a great success- but we didn’t get a deer. Yeah, I’d have liked to, but this trip was about learning the ropes, and that mission was accomplished with flying colors; I learned a lot. Mind you, if we’d had doe tags, (or been willing to bend the rules a wee bit) we’d both have brought home deer. Don’t consider it a failure of hunting; consider it a triumph of ethics.

Most people who aren’t from here think of Washington as lush and green, with a hilly, forested landscape and fields stretching from salt-water to the mountains, and it is that… west of the Cascade Mountains. But that’s only half the state, and half the story. East of them everything changes. Eastern Washington ranges from arid prairie to outright desert. About one-third of America’s wheat is grown here, a fact which even many Washington residents are unaware.

Coming over the mountains you cross the Columbia Gorge, by some reckoning the largest canyon in the continental US. Depending on your route you might see nothing but what appears to be gently rolling hills covered in wheat fields, only occasionally traversing areas of table-lands, buttes and canyons. But get off the highway and onto the backroads and the story changes. Once you get out among those hills it quickly becomes apparent; this place is seriously tore up.

Nestled between those gently rolling hills are ravines, gullies and canyons choked with sagebrush, where the terrain ranges from ‘Wow, this is rough,’ to ‘Oh, hell no!’

Some time around the end of the Ice Age an ice dam ruptured and spilled a volume of water roughly the size of Lake Michigan across the landscape that would someday be the central part of eastern Washington, and absolutely shredded the landscape. Time has softened much of the damage in the ages since, but the raw scars of nature’s fury still persist. These are the Channeled Scablands, and this is where you hunt mule deer.

Beautiful country, but this is not a soft and gentle land.

I’m 57 years old, sixty pounds overweight and not in particularly good condition, so I viewed the prospect of this hunt with as much trepidation as excitement. Legal Mule Deer weigh around 300 lbs. or more. If you shoot one, even gutted and quartered you’ll be humping 170-200 lbs. of meat and bone back to the truck. Yes, the truck- you’re going to need one, and it had better be four-wheel drive. We’ll get back to that later.

You are also going to need a hunting partner. It’s not safe to hunt alone here; cell reception is dodgy at best, and like I said, this place is tore up. In addition to uneven or rough terrain you are contending with sagebrush, jagged basalt ranging from rocks to boulders, badger holes that can be stepped in… at least by hunting season the rattlesnakes have hibernated. Probably. The disaster-factor is just too high to be worth the risks. You turn an ankle or, worse yet, bust a leg and you’re screwed without someone to help or get help. Plus unless you are Superman you will need help humping that meat out. If you think the ground is tricky, imagine trying it with 90 lbs. of deer in your pack.

Sure, you might shoot your deer on decent ground; the deer often come out to graze on the tender shoots of Winter Wheat that are coming up this time of year. But you’d best come prepared to get down into that bad land, because that’s where the deer go between meals.

So, it seems the common way to hunt them is to drive the backroads in your 4×4 and look for deer. Depending on where you are these roads can be pretty decent or stray well into ‘are you sure that’s a road?’ territory. They can also change from one to the other in the middle. Jake and I were in his Toyota Tundra, and we never actually had to engage four-wheel drive. But if Mother Nature had dropped so much as a mild shower on us we would have needed it.

Lovely and inviting…
…Until you get close and find the sagebrush and boulder-choked gully between the hills.

That’s a distinct possibility; the weather at this time of year is… let’s call it whimsical. When Jake was there just three days before it was freezing. When we were there it was in the fifties and sunny much of the time, but as we were heading home it went from ‘partially cloudy’ to full-on thunderstorm in about an hour.

Oh, and if you shoot a deer at a good distance, keep a sharp lookout when you come up on it. There are coyotes and mountain lions about, and they have been known to dispute the ownership of a carcass on occasion. If coyotes are inclined to make an issue of it most folks just shoot ’em. A cougar, though… that’s a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish. You don’t want to shoot them if you can avoid it. Likely a warning shot will drive them off, but if you have to shoot one it’s going to be a hassle. Not to mention it just seems like a damn shame to shoot such a magnificent creature.

OK, this really isn’t the terrifying ordeal I might be implying. Most of it is proper old-man hunting. You sit in your comfy seat and sip coffee while you creep along, keeping your eyes peeled and binoculars handy. If you spot a deer you stop, scope it out and see if it’s legal to shoot. Currently that means a three-point or more. You are going to see a hell of a lot more spikes, does and yearlings than you are three-pointers, but don’t despair. If there’s a bunch of does there will be a buck nearby. The trick is whether or not he’ll present himself.

We headed out from our quarters in Soap Lake around dawn and headed north-west of town. It being a weekday we didn’t see many other hunters out, which was good news and bad. On the one hand there were fewer folk trying to shoot the few legal deer. On the other hand there was no one stirring them up and getting them moving. A moving deer is hugely easier to spot than a stationary one.

The first hour we saw one lone doe ambling along the edge of a field, far out of range. My rule of thumb (if I don’t have a doe tag, which I have never had the luck to obtain) is one doe is just a lone doe. You see two or more does and there’s a buck nearby. We found a spot where we had cell reception, so Jake pulled off to get his bearings. I stepped out to stretch my legs and have a cigarette (yeah yeah, I know…) and something told me I should step up on the scrub-covered hillock beside the road. When I did two does stood up less than twenty yards out and started to lope away.

“We got does!” I hollered back to Jake, and he came over pronto. By the time the they were forty yards away they were joined by two spike-bucks, and they all trotted up the ravine- but any one of them could just as easily have been a three-point or more. Had that been the case I could have simply stepped the legal distance off the road (100 feet) and easily taken any of them. If I had had my rifle… oops. We watched them for a bit until they were out of sight, got back in the truck and moved on.

A few miles further on we spotted another doe at the edge of the sagebrush about two-hundred yards out. We stopped and Jake grabbed the binoculars, and shortly announced “They’re does, and there’s two of them.” By then I’d snagged my rifle and was looking them over through the scope. “Three of them, actually,” I said.

One of them was standing facing me, and if she’d been a legal buck it would have been child’s play to drop her. I found that curiously heartening. Finally they moved off through the sagebrush, and picked up some friends along the way; when they cleared the brush on the far side there were eight of them, though none of them appeared to be three-points or better. They moved off across the open hillside until they were out of sight, and we got in the truck to see if we could find a cross-road that would put us ahead of them. We couldn’t, and as it was then coming onto eleven AM we called it a morning.

We grabbed some lunch and rested up, then headed out for the evening hunt. We checked back where we’d seen the small herd, but had no luck despite Jake crossing the field and prowling along the edge of the sagebrush while I watched for movement from a distance. With dark coming on we called it a day. Even driving back to town is a hazard; we damn near hit two yearlings in different spots on the way back! We had a good dinner and passed a pleasant evening chatting and watching The Ranch on Netflix.

Next time I’ll tell you about day two of the hunt, and some of the lessons learned. I’ll also have some of Jake’s pictures by then, and they’ll be way better than mine; he had a proper camera and is a photographer.

Jake, who knows his way around the country and a camera!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 October 2019

I Hear the Siren-Song of Eastern-Washington Muleys…

I took a twenty-year hiatus from hunting, and since I have returned to it I’ve been going for black-tails at a friends property, which we refer to as ‘The Happy Hunting Grounds.’ Since one seldom even sees a deer beyond fifty yards there my home-grown 7.35mm Carcano carbine‘s iron sights have been just fine. I actually sold my scoped .30-06 because it really didn’t seem like I’d need it. Oops… but more on that later.

My beloved home-made M38 Carcano Carbine

This year I had a hankerin’ to try something different; Eastern Washington Mule Deer. I figured to take my Abilene .44 magnum, mount an optic and try my luck. I picked up a Bushnell TRS-25 red dot and planned to mount a rail on the gun. Likely with the right load and a little practice I’d be good-to-go out to 75-100 yards.

US Arms Abilene .44 magnum- an underappreciated classic!

…or not. My buddy Jake offered to drag my sorry ass along on his hunt in Eastern Washington, where shots of 100-300 yards happen. Too long for me with a handgun, and I’ve always figured the Carcano to be a 100-yard gun, given my aging eyes and the iron sights. I bemoaned selling the .30-06 to Linda, and she shrugged and said, “So buy a scoped rifle. Pinto’s will have something…”

Is it any wonder I love this woman beyond reason?

Pinto’s did, of course, have something. I was spoiled for choice, in fact. I don’t know if this holds true across the country, but on the used market here a scoped rifle sells for about the same price as one without a scope mounted. Even restricting myself to a scoped rifle in one of a few specific calibers I had a number of options. The one I finally bought was a Remington Model 660 in .243 Winchester. It has a TruGlo scope mounted and a sling. The scope isn’t the best out there, but it’s serviceable, and the sling is a bonus; saved me the time and modest expense of purchasing and mounting one. Another bonus is that the plastic trigger-guard has been replaced by an aluminum unit, which is quite a bit more robust.

Remington Model 660, chambered in .243 Winchester

The Model 660 was an improved version of the Model 600 carbine; among other changes the sight rib was eliminated and the barrel lengthened by two inches. Over 45,000 of these carbines were made from 1968-1971, after which it was replaced by the Model 600 Mohawk.

I felt that as old, fat and out of shape as I am the handy 6.5 lb. rifle was just about ideal, and the modest recoil and flat trajectory of the .243 Winchester was suited to the task. I got three boxes of PPU 100gr. Spitzer bullets (so I’d have plenty to practice) and headed for Renton Fish and Game Club to try her out.

I got a zeroing target and set it out at 100 yards, though I figured the odds of the rifle already being sighted in to be high. Just for giggles I decided to shoot the first three-shot string standing/unsupported. This produced a 2″ group very slightly high/left. Not shabby at all! Recoil was moderate, the action very smooth and the trigger light, with a nice clean break.

Okay, time to shoot from a rest and see what she’ll really do. I set out the rest with a couple of sandbags and fired my three-shot string, then moved to the spotting scope to check the results. Huh… a 2″ group. Better knuckle down and try harder… Rinse and Repeat, checked the spotting scope and saw another 2″ group. Huh again…

Hmmm… I broke out the range’s Steady Rest, mounted the rifle and fired another string. 2″ group. OK then, good enough.

After much discussion with other firearms boffins I figure this is simply the limit of what this rifle can do with that cartridge. PPU is OK ammo, but it’s no one’s idea of a premium round. For this season it’s good enough; after hunting season I’ll work up some handloads and see what happens.

So, Wednesday morning at zero-dark-hundred Jake and I will hop in Moby Truck and head for the Channelled Scablands, a region of gullies and badlands in Eastern Washington cut into the desert by a massive super-flood during the last ice age. With any luck we’ll bring home some venison. Either way I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Channelled Scablands of Eastern Washington. This looks like… uh… fun.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 November 2019

Thoughts on a New-Wave Concealed Carry Revolver

This is not a review of the Standard Arms S333 Thunderstruck; I haven’t so much as seen one in person. Yes, I’ll be talking about this, uh, let’s call it innovative little gun, but this is mostly about a different concept for the role, and why Tinker Should Not Be Left Unsupervised.

The Standard Manufacturing s333 Thunderstruck. It’s actually even weirder than it looks.

Aside from the ‘coming soon to a science fiction movie near you’ looks this gun is odd, innovative and maybe even a little bit cool. It’s designed around the old civilian self-defense saw, ‘Three seconds, three shots, three yards,’ thus the name. This is a very focussed self-defense piece. It’s designed to put four, not three, rounds on target very quickly at three yards. It does this by being weirder than it looks in the picture above.

Yep. It’s a double barrel revolver. Two shots of .22 Magnum per trigger pull.

It’s double-barrelled, and fires two rounds of .22 Magnum per trigger pull. No, it is not a ‘machine gun’ according to the BATFmen, so don’t even go there. Yes, it doesn’t have a proper trigger-guard, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem because of the design. You cannot easily pull the trigger by accident because of the Glock-style trigger safety on the upper part of the trigger, and the exceptionally heavy double-action only trigger pull. Some reviewers have estimated that pull at 16+ lbs., but with two fingers on the trigger everyone seems to be finding it manageable. Smooth even. The gun even seems to be reasonably accurate at three yards and not hopeless at five, but that’s about the practical limit.

A lot of innovative thinking went into this gun. It’s not just ‘out of the box,’ I’m not sure Standard Manufacturing’s engineers were aware there was a box. And Standard Manufacturing has been around the block a time or two; Google them and you’ll see what I mean.

At an MSRP of $369 this gun is in the right ballpark for a small defensive revolver. You can find more information here-

Having never seen one in person or handled one several things occur to me. First is that Standard Manufacturing has been around for a while, and they make some genuinely premium-quality products. You can question the concept, but the quality is liable to be first-rate.

The second thing that occurs is that it appears to be about the size of a J-frame .38. Yes, it fires eight shots instead of five- but it’s effectively a four-shot. Pull the trigger four times and it’s empty. Not sure I’m keen on that, but it isn’t a deal-breaker. Also if I am carrying a .22 I’d like it to be significantly smaller than a J-frame.

Are two shots of .22 Magnum more effective than a Federal 130gr. HST Micro? I don’t know. I doubt that they are notably less effective as long as the shooter does their part.

The last concern may be spurious and entirely personal. I can quickly and reliably put hits on target as far away as twenty-five yards with a DOA J-Frame. By all accounts that’s not going to happen with the S333. I know, the likelihood I would ever need to shoot a target more than five yards away in a self-defense scenario are infinitesimal. It’s probably silly, but I like the idea that at need I could.

I have to admit, the novelty and reasonable price are tempting. I like oddball guns. But I am pretty sure after the novelty wore off I’d be right back to my usual carry guns, so I might as well save myself some money.

I buggered up my back the other day fixing the fence, so I have been on my arse all day today. I’m not good at that, and I got to thinking about compact-carry revolvers. I don’t know if the S333 is a ‘better mousetrap,’ but there might be one out there. After I got bored enough I grabbed some paper and a pencil and started sketching. Here’s what I came up with:

This is what happens when I am bored and unsupervised…

I’ll spare you all the pages of messy pencil sketches. The concept here is a last-ditch or back-up revolver. I designed it around .22 Magnum, but it could chamber .22LR just as easily. There’s room for .32 ACP but I am not sure that the mechanism is robust enough. In size it’s between an NAA micro-revolver like the Pug and a J-frame S&W. It’s DAO and has a 1-3/8″ barrel, though that would be the easiest thing to change. It has an Ergo-style sub-compact grip, but again that would be easy to change.

It uses a sliding trigger, and three of the five moving parts on the gun are part of that trigger-unit. The sliding bar actuates the top-hinged concealed hammer, and fires the round. The barrel is located at 6-o’clock like a Chiappa Rhino. This is less for recoil-management- it’s a .22- and more because it allows the use of the simple, compact mechanism.

To load you pull the latch located in front of the cylinder forward and tip the barrel and cylinder up. As conceived there is no ejector; the philosophy of use doesn’t demand the ability to reload in a hurry. Fitting an auto-ejector is possible, but it would increase the expense of making it by a lot.

For sights I’d put a fiber-optic front and a U-notch rear. The sights are deliberately close together; having both sights in the same focal-plane makes up for the short sight radius in my experience.

Does such a gun fill a legitimate nitch? Sure. Does it fill it better than guns that are already on the market? Doubtful. Was I less bored this afternoon? Absolutely.

Some of you are probably wondering if I am planning on making one. Nope. While the design presents no novel challenges to a good machinist (I’m not) with a modern, fully-equipped shop (which I don’t have) it’s beyond what I can produce in my knife-making shop. It was, and it remains, a way to pass the tedious hours of forced inactivity. A mental exercise if you will.

On the other hand if you know someone with the resources and a burning desire to build a novel gun of dubious utility that does too little and costs too much, by all means send them my way!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 September 2019

.251 TCR Progress

For those that haven’t seen this yet .251 TCR (Tinker Centerfire Rimmed) is a wildcat I have been playing around with for a while. The concept is a centerfire round for revolvers that can be loaded in a power range from .22 CB Short all the way to .22 Magnum power levels. A 35gr. Speer Gold Dot loaded to 1000-1100 fps would make an excellent small-game bullet, and loaded to 950 fps or so might offer enough penetration for self-defense use. 50gr. FMC would have it’s uses too, especially when a less destructive bullet was desirable for small animals. If I’ve done my math correctly 1100 fps should be doable with a 50gr. bullet, even from a short barrel. Load a .25 caliber Airgun pellet over a primer and you might have a nice indoor target/vermin shooter.

.251 TCR (top) shown with a .38 Special cartridge for comparison.

Sometime back an online pal sent me some .22 Hornet brass to convert, which resulted in a handful of cartridges like the one pictured above (with a .38 Special cartridge for size comparison.)  Only problem is there’s no gun to shoot them out of. The eventual gun I want to use is a centerfire Single-Six, but initially I planned on re-barrelling one of my home-made single-shots for testing. Somehow this never happened, and budget issues being what they are the project stalled for a while.

Then I did a trade, and as part of that the gent threw in a replica Colt 1849 Pocket.

I considered a cartridge conversion to .22, but I’ve been there and done that. I also thought of a .32 S&W, but I was dubious about the chamber-wall thickness. The it occurred to me- chamber it for .25 Auto, get it all working, and when I can afford some gear to help reload .251 TCR bore the chambers out for that!  That way I could have a test-gun much cheaper than a Single Six.  Obviously the .31 caliber cylinder wasn’t going to work, and I really wanted something a bit stouter than whatever mild steel the original was made from. I turned a new cylinder from half-hard 4140, set it up and timed it as a five-shooter (this is a really small gun!)

This cylinder isn’t bored out yet, and obviously there is no breech-ring. To line-bore it I need a barrel. I considered making a .251 barrel liner for the gun’s existing .312 bore, but had concerns about rifling it. It needs to be an undersized smooth-bore initially so I can line-bore the cylinder, and then needs rifling. Trying to press a rifling-button through a lined bore seemed extra problematic; I could easily see shoving the liner out, or any number of other potential disasters. I finally decided to go a different route. I cut the existing barrel at the lug, Then bored out the remaining barrel to .430.

I grabbed some more 4140 and bored it through at 15/64″, then turned it down to size with a .430 stection to pass through the barrel-block. This was ultra-snug, so I slathered it with Red Loctite and press-fit it. Now I have a whole new barrel, and much less concern about rifling it.

This is the same length as the original barrel (3″.)  Now I hit a small snag; the 15/64″ drill is too short to bore the cylinder through the barrel. Oops… OK, a new 6″ Cobalt bit will be arriving Monday courtesy of Amazon. In the meantime I’m going to rig up a two-piece fixture from brass to clamp the cylinder and frame in the drill-press, and if I have the right stock on hand I’ll see about making a chamber-reamer for when the cylinder is bored through. To keep things simple I’ll probably do a hammer-mounted firing-pin. 

There is another issue- the trigger guard is really, really small. I’m considering cutting it away and making a spur-trigger, like a Pocket Remington. With the current trigger geometry it really shouldn’t be too difficult.  A little bress, a little silver solder and Bob’s Your Uncle (he isn’t really… we just tell people that to avoid awkward questions…) 

So progress is being made. One thing that has been suggested is that 5.7x28mm might be a better parent-case for this round than .22 Hornet. I’ll need to look into that. At this rate I might be shooting this before you know it!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 21 September 2019

Nightmare Stabbing Scenario

This is an excellent and thought-provoking article from Greg Ellifritz at Tactical Response Training.

Yes, the video he is discussing is an older one that has made the rounds already. That does not change the quality of the article of the thoughtful questions and responses.

I’m largely in agreement with Greg’s responses. One of the most shocking things in the video, to me, is the fellow on the bicycle that just stares at the victim until she collapses… then apparently leaves.

Encountering this sort of scenario is hugely more likely that an Active Shooter situation. I don’t need to know how you might react to such a scenario… but you do. Think about it.

Got Shorty.

Recently I’ve been weeding out my collection, passing along guns I don’t shoot. I have actually managed- only just, mind you- to part with more guns than I have acquired… Among the guns I didn’t shoot was my EMF New Dakota .45 Colt, made by Armi San Marco.

EMF New Dakota .45

It’s a nice enough gun, but somehow when I am hauling the .45s to the range it always gets edged out by something else. So, part with it… or maybe do something a bit more interesting?

Digressing a little I used to have a Cimarron Thunderer 3.5″ barrelled .45 Colt. I liked it a lot, but the short ejector stroke was occasionally irksome. The price you pay for an 1873 with a 3.5″ barrel… but I got to wondering, does it need to be? I got to measuring things and thought, ‘Maybe not…’

I had an ejector housing from another gun and experimented. As you can see in the photo below the housing protrudes a good 1/2 on the muzzle end to accommodate the mounting screw that attaches it to the barrel. It also has quite a bit of space on the end that meets up with the frame.

Standard 1873 Ejector rod housing… longer than it needs to be.

If I could figure out a different way to attach the housing to the barrel and trimmed it from each end I would be in business. I cut the muzzle-end back to just short of the extractor groove. I cut the frame end almost to the end of the opening at the back for removing the rod, then relieved the end to fit into the frame. I shortened the ejector rod to match, and shortened the ejector spring as much as I dared. Good enough- but how to attach is to the barrel?

I superglued the shortened housing into position, wrapped it and the barrel in thick leather to protect it and clamped it in place with vice grips. Then I drilled a small hole through the housing and into the barrel, being very careful not to drill into the bore. I used a slightly larger bit to enlarge the hole on the bottom of the housing, then used a #3 Coarse tap to thread the inner wall of the housing right into the barrel. I then shortened a #3 Coarse screw to about 3/16″, and gripping it in pliers used a fine cutting wheel to cut a slot into one end to make a threaded stud.

Using a very small screwdriver I inserted the stud into the hole in the housing and screwed it in as far as it would go. Since the threads run continuously through the housing into the barrel this secured it nicely. Since the stud does not protrude into the housing the ejector runs right over it, so no length of throw is given up.

The recessed threaded stud secures the housing, and the ejector passes right over it, allowing maximum length of travel (throw) for the ejector rod.

I put it all together and discovered I hadn’t gained much after all… the ejector paddle was now hitting the cylinder pin, which restricted it’s rearward travel. I studied on it for a few minutes, and using a 1/4″ sanding drum in the Dremel I relieved the inside of the paddle enough that it would pass over the cylinder pin. Problem solved. I still couldn’t get the paddle all of the way to the frame because of the ejector spring, but I was short the stock throw length by less than .100″. Good enough!

Relieving the inside of the ejector paddle so it can pass over the cylinder-pin. Photo was taken after the barrel was shortened and crowned and the new front sight installed.

Photo shows the ejector paddle passing over the cylinder-pin.
This shows the ejector at full extension- damn near as long as on the stock gun!

The more astute among you have no doubt noticed the gun now sports a birdshead grip. I replaced the original trigger-guard/front strap of the grip with a slightly shorter one from an 1851 reproduction. My buddy Marc had provided me with a steel back-strap that he had forged straight with the intention of making it into a birdshead frame. I bent it into the desired shape, drilled it for a screw to attach it to the front-strap and modified the stock grips to the proper shape.

I finished the steel by polishing and heat-bluing it somewhat irregularly, then giving it a couple coats of lacquer. I think the result is quite attractive, and a nice change from simple blue steel.

Heat-blued bach-strap. The photo does not do it justice!

In keeping with the ‘concealed carry’ motif I was working towards I heated and lowered the hammer-spur to a position approximating a Bisley, then shortened it so it would be less likely to snag. I aggressively checkered it for positive cocking. The checkering came out rather badly, but it does the job.

Last was the front sight. Carefully establishing the center-line of the top of the barrel, I used a cut-off wheel in the Dremel to make a slot for the sight. I cut a strip of bronze the right width, rounded the bottom to match the groove and super-glued it in place.

Oh, stop screaming! The superglue is just to hold it while I stake it in place. Which I did once the glue had cured. Then I trimmed the strip to the height I wanted and shaped it. It’s my practice when doing this to err on the side of too tall; if the point of impact is too low it’s a lot easier to remove material than it would be to add it if it shot too high! If it still shoots too high… well, I’m screwed, and there will be nothing for it but to replace the sight. Fortunately I’m pretty good at guesstimating these things.

I like a bronze front sight; it shows up well in a broad variety of lighting conditions; I suppose it’s almost a signature of my modified guns at this point. I think it looks good, too. At this point the gun is finished except for touch-ips and a new grip. I love the way it handles, like the looks and adore the near-full length ejector stroke.

Did I say that the front sight was the last thing? It really should have been and almost was… As I was admiring it and working the action the cylinder suddenly refused to turn and I could not cock the piece. Bugger- the lock had broken.

This had just happened on another Armi San Marco gun not two weeks ago, and I was pretty annoyed. I’d ordered a new part for that gun from Numerich Arms, and when it arrived it had required extensive fitting. I looked up the part for this gun, and it was $35 including shipping… after which I had no assurance that it would not also need extensive fitting.

Bugger that for a game of soldiers! I grabbed a scrap of 5160 spring-steel, bored the correct-size hole in that and used it to line up the original part. I superglued the part in place on the steel (you may be noticing a theme here…) and traced the outline with a scribe and headed for the bandsaw. Between that, the Dremel and some files I shortly had a pretty good copy of the original part. I fired up the torch and oil-hardened it, then cleaned it up and gave it a spring-temper. In less than an hour I had the new part installed, and it worked a treat. Being hardened and tempered 5160 I’ll wager it won’t break any time soon!

Top- the new part- you cannot see it in the photo but the other arm of the lock is broken off at the hole on the original. The crud on the original is the residue from the superglue.

Next I’ll be looking for some suitable exotic hardwood or- God willing- antler to make a new set of grips. Tomorrow after I finish the week’s work I’ll hit the reloading bench so I can take Shorty out to the range over the weekend.

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Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 September 2019


Yep, this was legal. yep, he was within his rights. Yep, this person and people like him are just as dangerous to our rights as anti-gun voters.

In Alexandris, Virginia this fine fellow showed up at a local farmers market to assert his 2nd Amendment rights and make a display of his stance, his patriotism and his tricked out AR15. As a result he frightened people into calling the police and apparently drove off some potential customers from the honest merchants trying to make a living. The police of course, could do nothing because the man wasn’t breaking any laws.

Actions such as this are counter-productive. They do not persuade anyone that they should become ‘pro-gun.’ Very likely they have the opposite effect, scaring uninformed citizens into calling for legislation against such actions, and against private ownership of such weapons. In today’s political climate and given the spate of recent spree-shootings this man’s actions are a bad idea, arguably a very bad idea. It’s likely to produce exactly the sort of reaction among non-gun people that it is purportedly trying to prevent.

I’m a gun guy, am pretty well informed and have a background that would allow me to assess the potential threat here accurately. But most of the folks at that market didn’t have that ability- all they see is a man who, incongruously, is carrying exactly the sort of weapon the press has told them is used in spree-shootings, and doing so for no apparent reason.

In the 1960s the Black Panthers took to carrying long-guns to events to encourage people, specifically law enforcement, to behave themselves. They were alaso making a point that they, too, had rights under the 2nd Amendment and would exercise those rights in their own defense and the defense of their family, friends and neighbors. The result? The Gun Control Act of 1968, which was supported by the NRA by the way. In the current political climate this person and people like him are only adding fuel to the fire started by spree shooters, and are likely to form a part of inspiring the next major, nation-wide gun control law or laws. For which we will blame Liberals and Democrats instead of spree-shooters and people like this.

I have no problem with someone wearing a pistol in public. I think open-carry in such a venue is a tactical error, but to each his own. I myself open carry when hunting or other outdoor activities, and think nothing of walking into a rural store wearing a pistol in such circumstances. Typically the people present also think nothing of it. But in urban and suburban venues like my own neighborhood I carry concealed. The reasons that I do so are for the advantage of surprise and to avoid unnecessarily alarming my neighbors and the general public. To the majority of these folks the sight of a firearm, openly carried, is a signal that there is danger present. It would be nice to live in a place where this was not so, where the sight of an armed citizen was reassuring, but I do not live in that place, and neither does the person in this photo.

You may look at the photo above and see a patriot standing up for his rights and ours. The overwhelming majority of people present at that event saw a person they didn’t know carrying a dangerous weapon that they have been taught to associate with spree-skillers. Understandably this made them afraid or at least uncomfortable, and neither of these reactions are liable to persuade them to support our 2nd Amendment rights.

Personally I look at the photo and see a thoughtless attention whore trying to ‘scare the straights.’ The most likely result is that he will scare them straight into the ballot box to vote away our rights. As such this person is not my friend, ally or comrade in the struggle; he is an active threat to my rights.

Our 2nd Amendment rights are under an exceptionally high level of threat right now, and we are very likely to lose some of our rights. When we do I will blame this person and persons like him before I blame Democrats, ‘sheeple’ etc., because he should know better. Adults are supposed to assess the likely effects of their actions and work towards their desired outcome. Actions like this are counter to our interests and should not, in my opinion, be undertaken. The mere fact that we can do a thing does not mean that we must, or even should, do that thing.

If I see a person like this in such a venue I will approach them, present myself as a gun owner and proponent of 2nd Amendment rights and politely, respectfully, explain why I think their actions are counterproductive. I feel that as a responsible gun owner, 2nd Amendment supporter and adult it is my responsibility to do so. I do not anticipate a positive reaction, but I feel I should at least try. I hope that each of you will consider doing the same.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 september 2019

Something Old, Something New…

…that’s also old. Like 135 years old!

Took a trip to Champion Arms indoor shooting range this afternoon. I realized it had been roughly forever since I had taken my 1911 to the range. This was given to me many years ago by a dear friend, who has since passed away. I’ve kept it in exactly the condition it was when he gave it to me- baby-puke green Teflon finish and all. Thinking about it I realized why, despite my love of the 1911, it had been so long. I hate the GI sights, and the checkering on the safety is actively painful.

OK, both things are fixable. I used a cutoff wheel in a Dremel to cut a narrow slot length-wise in the front sight, then filled it with yellow nail polish. I took needle files to the rear sight and enlarged it and squared the opening. Much better. I put a 1/4″ sanding drum in the Dremel next and took down the checkering and sharp edges on the safety. No more pain.

Big improvement to the GI sights.

Shooting was, um, interesting. I couldn’t shoot a precise group at seven yards to save my life. I realized I was jerking the trigger, anticipating recoil and probably several other rookie mistakes. I took a deep breath, said ‘Screw it,’ and just started blazing away rapidfire. OK, not going to win any awards, but once I relaxed groups were consistent and not unreasonable for rapid-fire. Oh, and it was fun. I can knuckle down and try for precision next time.

Seven yard rapidfire groups,

I’ve been making more brass for .44-55 Walker and had fifteen rounds with me. Thumper worked a treat but I only got to fire one cylinder. Newly formed brass always sticks in Thumper’s chambers after firing, and knowing this, I made sure to have a 1/4″ brass rod to take with me to the range… which I forgot at home. Well, it was fun for the one cylinder I got to shoot. Now when I clean the gun tonight I’ll meed to retrieve the brass rod to drive the cartridges out.

I only got six shots, but they were pretty good shots…

After the Action Shooting International match in May I made some minor changes to the Detonics Combat Master Mk.1. It had the original three-dot sights, which I have never preferred; I find it difficult to achieve any real precision with them. I filled in the dot on the front sight and painted it with orange nail polish. I also improved the grip by contact-cementing a piece of 120-grit emery-cloth to the front-strap of the grip.

Sic gloria transit the three dot sights. The big orange square worked excellently. I ignored the dots on the rear sight.

Precision has ceased to be a problem. Firing standing/unsupported using a modified Weaver grip I put five rounds into a single hole. Quite satisfying.

I’d say the modification to the front sight has been effective…

Last but not least was the newly acquired, and newly modified, S&W .38 Single Action 2nd Model. An online friend has one that he snubbed the barrel on, added ivory grips and re-blued. I’ve admired it for some time, and when another internet pal found one in a local shop at an excellent price the game was afoot! By it’s serial number this gun was most likely made in 1884-85, but mechanically it is excellent, with a very crisp action.

So far I have made a set of antler grips for it, snubbed the barrel at 1-5/8″ to match my .38 Safety Hammerless and made and mounted a new front sight. It’s a little hard getting used to the spur-trigger, but accuracy is quite respectable at seven yards. The gun seems to point very well in my hand, so I tried point-shooting a 3-yard target, basically blazing away without aiming. Three of the five shots were clustered in the center of the paper, with the other two several inches away in random directions. I think with practice that will improve.

My first target with the .38 Single Action. Aside from the one flyer it’s not bad.
A second target at seven yards. Quite reasonable, I think.

Once I got past the oddness of the spur-trigger I really enjoyed shooting this little gun. Next week some supplies should arrive so that I can strip the nickel and rust-blue it. I think this is likely to become a favorite!

The loads used today were:

.44-55 Walker: 200gr Heel-base LSWC over 55 grains (by volume) of FFFG Triple-7 powder with a Federal #150 Large Pistol Primer

.45 ACP: 200gr. LRNFP over 5.6gr. of Unique with a Federal #150 large Pistol Primer.

.38 S&W: 125gr. LSWC over 2.5gr. of Unique with a Federal #100 Small Pistol Primer.

As always you use this reloading data entirely at your own risk.

I’d been a bit out of sorts all day, but leaving the range I was in much better humor. I’ve had a pleasant dinner, and will now more on to cleaning the guns. A good shooting session can be wonderfully therapeutic!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 09 September 2019

I Always Value New Experiences…

…but I could have lived without this one!

I traded a fella for an Iver Johnson Viking .38 recently. These were a top-break in .38 S&W, and look like a near-copy of Harrington & Richardson’s Defender. Like the H&R these are manually ejecting via a rod under the barrel. They were made from 1963-1974 as an inexpensive self-defense pistol. They have a rep for being very stout little guns.

Not my specific gun, but identical.

This one arrived with some blemishes on the frame, holster wear and a genuinely pretty nice double-action trigger-pull. The ergonomics are neither great nor tragically bad, and I was eager to give it a whirl. I finally got it to the range today, and on the third shot pieces followed the bullet downrange.

Honestly it wasn’t even scary; it happened so fast I was like, “Well, that happened. Crap.”

Revolver cylinders tend to blow up and sideways when they go, and since I was on an indoor range with dividers between the firing positions neither I nor anyone else was injured.

Upon reflection I am afraid I cannot recommend this particular revolver.

My first thought on seeing a cylinder like this is ‘overpowered handload,’ and indeed that was my first thought here. Anyone can make a mistake, but I am an extremely meticulous handloader. I calibrate the powder scale before each loading session, and visually verify the powder charge in each case before seating the bullet. No, it could not have been a double-charge; a double-load won’t even fit in the case, and I would have noticed the powder overflowing…

The load used was a 125gr. .361 caliber lead SWC over 2.7gr. of Unique. This is far, far under the maximum recommended load for a top-break. Actually 2.7gr of Unique under a 148gr. lead bullet is not over the maximum for a top-break revolver. I fired this identical load in two other revolvers today without a problem, and in the past have fired it from an Iver Johnson revolver made in the 1880s, so the load itself is not at fault. The specific cartridge might have somehow been overloaded, and while I doubt it it’s possible.

There might be another answer- the steel of the inner chamber wall shows a dark area. This is caused by carbon precipitation when the steel cracks in heat-treat. This most often happens when the steel is overheated during the process, which produces a characteristic pattern of large grain-growth.

In this photo you can see the grain-structure of the steel along the fracture lines, and (though it didn’t show well in the photo) a dark area in the inner cylinder wall indicative of carbon precipitation in a crack formed in heat-treatment.

OK, that’s definitely some large grain growth, and this indicates a very weak structure. Look at the image below- the top is the cylinder wall in close-up. On the bottom is the edge of a broken piece of properly heat-treated steel. There is a pretty major difference!

That is some seriously ugly steel in the top picture. Yes, these pictures are to scale!

Also when a cylinder blows it tends to only take out the chamber being fired and one of both of the adjacent chambers. But if there was a pre-existing crack in the inner cylinder-wall it would explain why the cylinder cracked relatively neatly in half.

Regardless of whether the individual cartridge was over-powered, I think the real culprit is a very bad heat-treat and micro-cracks in the cylinder; this gun was a time-bomb from the moment it left the factory, and I just drew the short straw.

So what now? Well, what is not going to happen is me blaming my buddy for sending me a bad gun. No way he could have known about this. Hell, it might have blown up on him as easily as me. I can replace the broken latch with a part from Numerich arms, but unfortunately they are out of .38 cylinders, so if I decide to repair this I’ll make my own… out of properly heat-treated 4140 steel!

I got this gun because I thought it would be interesting… well, it surely has been that! Though not, perhaps, in the way I had hoped… You win some, you lose some. If or when I get around to repairing this gun I’ll keep you posted.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 August 2019

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