Two things to test today- two new .45 Colt loads, and the Helwan .380 conversion. The .45 loads in question are for when I am using this gun as a sidearm for hunting. Both use a 270gr. Kieth bullet, but one load uses 8.0gr. of Unique and should get about 825fps out of this gun. The other is a +P load with 9.0gr. of Unique, probably pushing the bullet out at 900+fps. Both loads use CCI300 large pistol primers.
I started out with the 9.0 gr. loads at seven yards. They definitely have some recoil, but easily manageable in this gun. The problem was I could not get a good tight group with them. OK, moving on…
The 8.0gr. load is, make no mistake, a stout load. It was notably easier on the hand, and groups were acceptable. My instinct to not adjust the sights until I tried this load were justified; as you can see unlike the 200gr. loads this one does not shoot low. Now if I can stop pulling them to the right…
OK, time to test the Helwan .380 conversion. This was the first range outing for this gun and I was curious to see how it would go. I had fifty rounds of mixed .380 ammo; some 96gr. FMCRN from PPU, and some handloads with a Montana Gold 90gr BPRNL over 2.0gr. of Red Dot with a CCI500 small pistol primer. So, how did it perform?
I loaded the first magazine and dropped the slide using the slide-stop and- stovepipe. Not good. OK, cleared and reloaded and this time pulled the slide to release it. Fed like a champ. This proved to be the rule- if you release the slide with the slide stop it stovepipes. OK then. I ran a target out to 7 yards, took a deep breath and fired. The gun functioned flawlessly with both types of ammo. I loaded five rounds at a time for a bit, then started loading it with the full seven rounds it will take. Never a bobble. I was ecstatic.
Truth be told I was far more interested in the gun functioning than in shooting to the gun’s accuracy potential. Also, as you can see, the gun is shooting low. There’s no room for shortening the front sight, so a taller rear sight is in this gun’s immediate future. There is one other small problem- it’s crunching about half the brass.
Not certain what is causing this, but both my handloads and the PPU ammo are pretty wimpy stuff; maybe that’s the problem. Also there is a till some slight ballooning of the brass, but no worse than I have seen from some other guns.
So, 9mm converted to .380, and the lighter of two .45 Colt loads worked the best. Just today, in these cases, less is more.
When we left Part 1 the Helwan was basically stock except for the magazine and the lock being disabled, and was more or less functional. It would still feed 9x19mm from a stock magazine, and the .380 rounds were headspacing off of the extractor in the oversized chamber. The chamber was causing the brass to ‘balloon’ noticably. Not good.
First things first- getting a proper chamber that headspaces off the cartridge lip as it should. I put the barrel in the vice, mounted a .442″ drill bit in the headstock and bored out the chamber. Next I cut a piece of .356″ barrel liner slightly over-length. NOTE- I bought this rifled barrel liner from Numerich Arms, and both guns I lined with it will keyhole bullets at 7 yards– it sucks as barrel liner but is pretty good for lining chambers. The outside diameter is .440″ so it fit snugly in the bored-out chamber. I slathered it with solder flux, pressed it in and silver-soldered the liner in place. After that I cut the extractor notch and re-ground the feed ramp. I then reamed the chamber so the ammo would headspace on the cartridge lip.
To decrease the ‘stock’ appearance of the gun and just because I liked the look I cut 1/4″ of the end of the barrel so it was flush with the slide and lightly re-crowned it.
I test-fired the gun, and the results were inconsistent. I kept having to tweak the feed lips on the magazine, Eventually I reached the conclusion that the magazine was so crappy that the feed lips got deformed every time the gun was fired. Fortunately I had bought two magazines, and the second was stainless, and a good deal stouter that the first. It was also slightly shorter, so I replaced the base plate with an aluminum spacer to make up the difference in length.
this pretty much did for the issues, and I was able to modify the follower\ so that it actuates the slide lock- the gun now locks back after the last round in the magazine is fired.
That being done I decided to modify the plastic grips. Yes, I’ll be making wood handles for it eventually, but I wanted to experiment with the shape a bit. I also domed the grip-screws and re-blued them. They are more comfortable now, and it’s much easier to remove the safety.
Lastly I ground off the writing on the slide and flat-ground both sides at the front. I then used the turbo carver and a tiny carbide bur to engrave .380 ACP on the slide, then re-blued it as well. The engraving doesn’t look too bad; it actually looks better IRL than it does in the photo.
So, this is the basic form of the gun. Eventually it will get wood grips and a modified front sight, but that’s about it.Here’s where we’re at as of this evening-
In the early 1950s Egypt ordered modified Beretta M1951 Brigadier pistols for their military and police. They liked them, but didn’t like the modifications that they themselves had specified. MAADI, Egypts largest gun manufacturer, then licensed the rights to produce the M1951, bought equipment and tooling from Beretta and produced them as the Helwan. A few decades back Interarms started importing these guns. They called them the Helwan Brigadier.
These guns were not well-finished like their Beretta counterparts, but they were cheap and for the most part worked well enough for while. MAADI, unfortunately, did not do a good job heat-treating the locking blocks that the gun depends on, and these wore rather quickly, unless you fired +P ammunition, in which case they wore out right now. Before long these parts became difficult, then impossible to find. Locking blocks for the Beretta-made 1951s were out of production, and soon they were almost as hard to find as the MAADI parts.
When my Helwan packed it in one only very occasionally saw a Beretta barrel w/locking block for sale- generally for more than you would pay for a Helwan. I had a Beretta m1951 by this point, and saw no purpose in spending money on the Helwan. It spent several years doing duty as a paperweight after donating it’s magazines to my Beretta. I occasionally considered fabricating a new locking block in my shop, but it just seemed like more effort than the gun was worth. This last week it occurred to me- what if the gun didn’t need a locking block? Dead simple top grind the locking lugs off the block, rendering the gun a blow-back.
Of course you’d have to be a madman to fire 9x19mm out of this gun as a blow-back pistol, and if you did you might just eat the slide. But what about .380 ACP? It could work. Of course nobody really needs a full-sized service pistol in .380, but it’s better than a full-sized service pistol paperweight. Besides, Linda always enjoyed shooting the Helwan, and as a range pistol who really cares about the caliber? I’m set up to reload .380, and it’s even cheaper to reload than 9mm. Besides, it would be interesting.
First things first- grind off the locking lugs from the locking piece, and grind down the pin in the breech that normally pushes the lock up to disengage it. reassembled the pistol and it hand-cycled fine.
I experimented to see if it would chamber a .380 round from the stock magazine. It would, and further it would hand-cycle rounds into the chamber and eject them. But would they cycle the gun? Yes, they will. But the feed lips of the stock magazine are so far back the round actually leaves the magazine before it enters the chamber, which seems fine when you are hand-cycling the gun, but at the full cycling speed of the gun it either stovepipes the round it’s trying to chamber or throws it right out of the gun with the empty cartridge. Yeah, that’s not going to work…
I tossed around several schemes of varying practicality before arriving at a simple idea- use a .380 magazine mounted in a chassis that mimics the original magazine. This had the added advantage that I wouldn’t need to cannibalize a perfectly good magazine for my Beretta.
I swung by Ben’s Loans and pawed through their Box-o’-Random-magazines and found one that had the same angle as the Helwan magazine. I forked over $8 and was ready to get started.
OK, I cut the mag-release notch on the wrong side- an oops, but easy to fix. Next up was turning my aluminum faux magazine into something useful.
I had to modify the follower and tweak the feed lips, but soon the gun would hand-cycle cartridges reliably. Time for the real test. I loaded five rounds into the magazine and fired into the bullet trap. It cycled, but the second round stove-piped. I tweaked the feed lips some more and tried again. This time it worked, but I needed to give the slide a little assist to get the next round chambered. The last three rounds worked fine.
Two more five-round magazines also worked, so it’s basically running, though I am not satisfied yet- there are still two things I want to fix.
1) I want to make a new follower that will activate the slide hold-open on the last round. This is pretty easy- it’s just cutting and bending a flat piece of metal.
2) I want to do something about the chamber. Since 9mm is not straight-walled the rounds are a bit loose, which is hard on the brass. Also, the rounds are headspacing on the extractor- which is not a good way to do things and will probably prove unreliable in the long run. Worst of all if you stick a factory magazine in, the gun will still chamber 9x19mm, which would probably damage the gun and might be quite dangerous.
Most likely I will bore out and sleeve the chamber, them ream it for .380ACP. This will solve all the issues (and probably create some new ones, but I’ll deal with that as it goes.) The I may do something to address the cosmetics and make the gun more distinct. I’ll also mark the gun for .380 ACP
Anyway, the gun is functioning relatively well, so part one is complete.
‘Bring enough gun to the fight.’ You’ll hear this a lot in self-defense circles. The question is what is ‘enough’ gun? Here’s the rub- nobody knows. Every instance of self-defense is unique. A tiny .22 Derringer might be enough, or a Glock 17 with three spare mags might not be enough. The only thing we can know in for certain in advance is that no gun will never be enough gun.
A gun you don’t have with you when you need it is useless. A small, easy to conceal gun is more likely to be with you. The problem is that small guns, while more concealable, can be harder to deploy and shoot accurately. Small guns are often chosen by people getting their first gun for self-defense because they are easier to hide and less intimidating to them- but they may be exactly the opposite of what they need.
Practice is essential, and small guns are often not much fun to practice with, especially for a novice. They are harder to shoot accurately, which can make them frustrating and less satisfying to shoot. Depending on the type and caliber the recoil can be punishing as well, which can teach the new shooter to flinch. It’s easy to give up. Despite being harder to conceal a new shooter might be better served by a medium-frame gun, such as a Glock 19 or a K-Frame revolver. Something with mild recoil and decent sights. After they become proficient with that they can move to a more compact gun with a similar or the same mechanism.
More advanced shooters will have less problem with small guns, and some (like me) will relish the challenge of shooting them quickly and accurately. Even a very small gun can surprise you- there’s nothing inherently less accurate about a gun with a short barrel. The short sight radius can make it hard to wring ultimate accuracy from them, but if you learn the fundamentals well enough- sight picture and trigger control- they can be very accurate indeed, and at much longer distances than most people suspect. At any rate a small gun may be better suited to more experienced shooters, a medium or even full-sized gun better for a novice.
Some people feel quite adequately armed with a snub-nosed .38. Some feel better with a high-capacity 9mm. Neither one is necessarily wrong. Given the chaotic and unpredictable nature of an armed self-defense incident either or both could be right or wrong. So how can you have the best odds of having enough gun when you need it?
Bring enough brain to the fight.
People think of Situational Awareness in terms of being observant of the world around them, and while that’s part of it there’s more to consider.
*Be aware of your limitations. You need to have a realistic appraisal of your gun-handling and shooting skills. If you can’t reliably put hits on the target at fifteen yards then you probably shouldn’t try in a shooting incident if you have any choice. Better to put your energy into avoiding being shot and wait for your chance. Likewise if you know you cannot deploy your weapon quickly, if at all possible you should wait for- or engineer- an opportunity where you will have enough time. The point is to have a realistic appreciation of what you can and cannot do, and include those limitations in your planning or response to a lethal confrontation.
Of course it would be helpful to do a lot of practice so you know what those limitations are- and can start to improve on them.
*Be aware of the limitations of your weapon. You need to have a realistic appreciation of the capabilities of your weapon. If you are packing a short-barrel .32 you probably shouldn’t be trying to shoot through windshields or barricades. If you are packing a .22 your are going to need to make those hits count, and realize it may take multiple hits; even a head-shot with a tiny caliber is not a guaranteed stop. If you are carrying a gun with slow follow-up shots engaging multiple targets could be problematic. Take these things into account and plan to act around them as needed.
*Be aware of your purpose. If you carry a firearm for self-defense be aware of the ultimate goal, which is to go home to the people that love you when it’s over. Everything else is a bonus or a distraction. You are not the police; it is not your job to apprehend the bad guy. You are not Batman; it is not your job to punish the bad guy. It is not even your job to protect innocent lives if you cannot do so without an unreasonable risk to your own. It’s called self defense for a reason. Yes, circumstances may arise where you feel it is worth risking your life to save an innocent or innocents; I’m going to give us all the benefit of the doubt and assume we are all decent human beings here. Just bear in mind there are people you love and who love you, people that depend on you. That needs to be balanced against the risks of intervening.
In addition you need to be mentally prepared. To some people this means having a plan for any possible contingency up to and including encountering multiple trained assailants with automatic weapons and body armor. (This plan at least ought to be simple- if you can’t run away you’re going to die. This ain’t a tv show.) You should give some thought to the sorts of encounters you are most likely to have based on where you live, what you do and where you go during the course of the day, and plan how to respond to or even avoid those. This is not fantasizing (or shouldn’t be!) When thinking about these instances you’re not planning for glorious victory; you’re planning how best to insure you go home to your loved ones. With that goal in mind shooting is not the first or necessarily the only option. It is the last resort; be aware, be mindful and maybe things will never get to that point.
No firearm fits every need or every situation. there is no ‘one-size-fits-all.’ People have different levels of skill, different physiques and have to deal with different climates, which can constrain the ability to conceal a full-size weapon. Conditions and circumstances may mean we need to carry different guns at different times or in different venues. But no matter what gun you are carrying you always have the ability to observe and think, to plan and react.
A gun is not a solution; it is simply a tool that increases your options. You need to use your most effective asset- your brain- to chose the correct options and make the most of them.
Usually when I do a range report I go through gun by gun, but I am going to depart from that format tonight. Tonight I did some drills, and it was very informative. I’m going to list the drills by range instead of the order I did them.
Drill Number 1: 3-5-2: Three yards, Five shots, 2 seconds
This drill was done without using the sights- strictly point-shooting. This was done first with a two-handed grip, then strong hand, then weak hand.
Just for giggles I fired a 3-5-3 from the Weaver Modified stance using the sights .
3 yard Point-Shooting
Obviously a single-action wasn’t going to do the 5-3-2 drill- not in my hands anyway. I just tried to see what would happen. No sights, gun brought half-way to eye-level.
The gun is a Hawes Western Marshal .45 (made by J.P.Sauer & Sohn) customized into a Sheriff’s Model with a 3-1/2″ barrel. This was not with a ‘cowboy load;’ a 200gr HG68 LSWC over 9.0gr. of Unique. This is a +P load. I’d have shot more, but I had very limited ammo.
7-5-4: Seven Yards, Five Shots, 4 seconds
This drill is done using the sights, first in a Weaver Modified stance, then strong hand, then weak hand.
I have been saying that I intended to shoot more at longer distances. These targets were shot double-action, standing unsupported.
Just targets I shot, no particular drill involved.
So, a very satisfactory– and useful– evening at the range. The drills were interesting, and showed a few useful things- like I need more weak-hand practice, especially with the little S&W. The more I shoot the Colt Detective Special the more it impresses me. More and more I am tempted to upgrade this to a carry gun; I am very confident in what I can do with it, and with a suitable load… this could be a thing.
Since I am planning to carry the Sheriff’s Special as a trail gun I’ll be buying and loading what I intend to use on the trail- 255gr. Kieth bullets over a +P charge. I’ll see how those work out before I decide to mess with the sights.
Special Thanks to LiberalGunOwners.org for the targets used tonight! I try to keep this blog apolitical, and in these times we need to put aside our differences and focus on what we have in common- a belief in and support for the 2nd Amendment!
Big-Bore snubbies are stupid. That’s right, you heard me. Stupid. They are inefficient, heavy, bulky and do not do justice to the cartridges they are chambered for. A snub-nosed .44 Magnum like the one pictured above loses more than 50% of it’s muzzle energy compared to a gun with a six-inch barrel. Take a typical 240gr. JHP in a commercial load; from a six-inch gun it has 1015ft/lbs. of energy. From the gun above? 475ft/lbs. Mind you 475ft/lbs from a handgun ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at- but to get that you are going to have a massive muzzle-blast, trauma-inducing recoil and a long recovery time between shoots.
And lets talk packaging- yes, that’s a ‘compact’ gun… that doesn’t mean it isn’t big and fat. Much harder to conceal than, say, a Glock 17. ‘Yes, but POWER!’ I hear you cry. OK, let’s look at that. The gun pictured above holds six shots at 475ft/lbs for a total of 2850 total. Not bad at all. So a Glock 19 carries 15 rounds at- with a typical modern defensive load- 402 ft/lbs. each, for a total of 6030ft/lbs. Umm… yeah. Not much comparison, is there? So, heavy, fat, short of power both shot-for-shot and overall total. Yep, there’s no doubt. Big-bore snubbies are stupid.
Of course I absolutely adore them.
I’m not alone in that by any means. People have been making large-caliber, short-barrel revolvers for almost as long as they have been making metallic cartridges. Webley’s first cartridge revolver had a short-ish barrel and fired the .577 Trantor cartridge. Their first big market success with a revolver was a short-barreled .442- the Royal Irish Constabulary. This was followed by their British Bulldog revolvers in .442 Webley and .450 Adams, and these were so popular they were widely copied in Belgium, Spain and the United States.
Short-barreled large caliber revolvers were made all over- witness my previous post about Sheriff’s Models. Even if the manufacturer didn’t offer a short-barrel option there was always someone around who was happy to lop the barrel off to a more concealable length. In more modern times Charter Arms offered the Bulldog in .44 Special (and still do,) and other makers have followed suit with five-shot medium-frame revolvers also chambered for that cartridge.
Too often these guns simply do not make ballistic sense. The large, powerful cartridges they fire turn most of their power into muzzle-blast. The Charter Arms Bulldog originally came with a three-inch barrel. A typical modern defensive load fired from a six-inch barrel makes 525ft/lbs of energy. The same load from the 3″ gun makes 328ft/lbs. That’s not awful by any means; It’s certainly better than a .38 Special in the same size range- though the .38 will give you an extra round.
The real problem is that you aren’t trading recoil and bulk for extra stopping power, which has always been the argument for guns like these. In real-life shootings no caliber has distinguished itself as being noticeably better at stopping an attacker- there have been a few that stand out as worse (.22,.25 & .32) but that’s about it. This is because past a certain point where you hit someone is far more important than what you hit them with. We beat that dead horse recently enough that we don’t need to do it again here.
So why do we love them? Some people love them because the are convinced they are more effective than the options. Some people, sadly, love them because it makes them feel manly. Sorry, dude, if you need a gun to make you feel manly you’re doing it wrong. Some people like them because they are fun. Guess what? ‘It’s fun’ is all the justification you need.
Me? I love the look of a short gun with a ridiculously big hole in the end. It’s kind of hilarious. I love the meaty thump of the recoil. I like the balanced aesthetics of a short-barreled revolver.
I got my first big-bore snubby in the 1980s- an Astra Jovino Terminator .44 Magnum. I thought it was stupid gun then, but I bought it because the price was ridiculously good and knew I could turn it for twice what I paid for it. It was a very nicely made gun with an excellent trigger pull. Of course I had to shoot it before I flipped it… and it was awesome. With .44 Special loads it was sweet as could be, and even shooting magnums it wasn’t all that bad. I fell in love; I was a little embarrassed to own it, but I just didn’t want to let it go. I sold it when my first wife and I moved to NYC, and I still wish I’d kept it.
Mind you, these guns aren’t useless by any means; it’s not like a .44 Special snubby will work less well than a .38. And there are actual applications where they will do the job better- like if you are dealing with a dangerous animal. If you can fire a 250gr. hard-cast bullet at 1000fps. you can drop any animal that walks the North American continent, and no Glock19 in the world is gonna do that. A Ruger Alaskan, on the other hand, will do that without even flinching.
For walking the woods, whether camping, hunting, working or whatever, a compact gun in a potent caliber is a valuable companion. Yes, it’s heavy and bulky- but it’s a lot less heavy and bulky than a rifle or shotgun, and if you do your part it can and will save your life.
As for self defense if we were all ruled entirely by the numbers we’d either carry a Glock 19 or a Glock 43, depending on our concealment needs. But the real world doesn’t work that way. I know a fellow that cut his teeth on single-actions, and he’s carried them on the trail, hunting etc. his whole life. Shoots ’em like they are hard-wired into his hind-brain too. He’s got a busy life; maybe for him a Sheriff’s Model in .45 Colt makes more sense than learning his way around the latest ‘plastic-fantastic.’
I know another fellow who got a Charter Arms Bulldog the day he turned twenty-one, and it’s been his hiking/trail/EDC ever since. I can’t honestly say he’d be better off with something more modern. There’s something to be said for a man that does it all with one gun.
So yeah, strictly speaking large-caliber snubbies may not be the most efficient choice in the world, but if it works for you then rock it with pride. And if you happen across a Jovino Terminator at a good price drop a brother a line…
Few handguns are as instantly recognizable as the 1873 Single Action Army- The legendary Peacemaker. These were first seen at the US Army trials in 1872 with a 7-1/2″ barrel and chambered in the still-popular .45 Colt cartridge. The Army wound up adopting the guns and the cartridge. There’s a whole story about .45 Caliber ammunition used by the army in the 19th C., but that’s another topic.
The 1873 was introduced to, and quickly found favor with, the American public. By 1875 Colt offered three standard barrel lengths, the original 7-1/2″, a 5-1/2″ and the 4-5/8″, which has been, overall, the most popular barrel length ever since. The factory would, however, provide a barrel of any length for the sum of $1/inch on a custom basis.
In 1882 Colt shipped the first of the ‘ejectorless’ 1873s as a non-custom gun. These had a 2-1/2″ barrel and, as the name suggests, no ejector and the ejector housing on the frame ground off. the term ‘Sherrif’s Model’ was not used by Colt at this time; showing admirable imagination, Colt referred to them as ‘Ejectorless’ Models.
These were available in any barrel length, but 3, 4, 5″ barrels were more or less standard, and eventually the 3″ length established itself as the most popular. In the ‘first generation’ of SAA production some 1400 or so were known to be produced by the Colt factory- out of 376,000 total guns that’s a drop in the bucket. It is not known how many more were provided by the factory on a custom basis. Other guns were modified after-market by local gunsmiths and even some retailers.
The guns were known variously as ‘Sheriff’s Models,’ ‘Shopkeepers’ or ‘House Guns’ by the public, but Colt did not officially adopt the term Sheriff’s Model until well after World War Two, referring to 3″ guns by this name and 4″ guns as Shopkeepers. These models have come and gone over the years, and in the most part have been marketed to collectors.
20th Century Colt, a 3rd generation SAA marked as a Sheriff’s Model
Since I have a thing for snubbies I’ve always had a hankering for one of these guns, but both the originals and modern versions have been too expensive for me. Since I’ve taken up gunsmithing as a hobby I have been on the lookout for a suitable donor gun to do my own conversion. When a Hawes Western Marshal .45 presented itself to me for the princely sum of $275 (including a spare cylinder in .45 ACP) I snapped it up.
I’ve dealt with this gun in detail in a previous blog, so suffice it to say these are good quality revolvers built on a beefed up frame, the same one they used for their .44 Magnum guns. While I wouldn’t say one should shoot ‘Ruger-only’ hot-loads through them, I feel no hesitation to feed it stout, even +P, loads.
I kept the gun stock, but after I procured a rather nice Armi San Marcos 1873 I succumbed to temptation and converted it. I cut the barrel to 3-1/2″, re-crowned it and ground off the ejector housing. I bored out the .45 ACP cylinder for .45 Colt because I liked the look, and was pretty pleased with the results.
Testing the gun I found it could use a taller front-sight, and the bored-out chambers needed honing; a couple of them were quite sticky. I got distracted by other projects, but a few weeks ago I revisited this gun and really enjoyed it. I replaced the front sight and, while the gun was built as a fun project and range-toy, began to appreciate that it might actually have a useful role.
Typically when hunting I carry a long-barreled, large-frame revolver as a side-arm. These aren’t intended particularly for handgun-hunting, more for occasions when I have to go into thick brush and as a ‘just in case’ weapon. The thing is these long-barreled guns are heavy and occasionally awkward, and I am unlikely to encounter a dangerous animal that would require a .44 Magnum to put paid to them. Most likely the worst I might encounter is a Black Bear, and most of those run 200lbs. or less. OK, there could be a two-legged predator, but a large-bore revolver certainly won’t work less well on them that it would a large animal. It seemed that my Sheriff’s Model might just fit the bill.
Shorter, lighter and less awkward than a full-sized gun when sitting etc., and in a good holster it would certainly be quicker to get into action than a 7-1/2″ barreled gun. Loaded with a hard-cast 250gr. Kieth bullet stoked to around 1000fps. it would do handsomely for my uses. True, it can only safely carry five shots (it does not have a transfer bar or similar safety) but it’s difficult for me to imagine any plausible scenario where I would need more than that.
Still… it would be nice if the gun didn’t require a separate rod or some such to eject the empties for reloading. An online buddy suggested what he had down- cut a scallop at the edge of each chamber so that the cartridges can be flicked out with a fingernail. It might not have been the best idea in the days of balloon-head cartridges stuffed to overflowing with black powder, but a modern casing is solid brass where the rim would be exposed, and it worked for my friend well enough. I had the spare cylinder for the gun, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ The modifications were quickly accomplished with a carbide burr and a sanding drum in a Dremel-style flex-shaft tool, and it seemed to work out rather well.
The question in my mind was whether the sort of stout loads I intended to use would extract easily enough, so I came up with some pretty strong loads to see. I didn’t have any 250gr. bullets on hand, so I used some 200gr. HG68 SWCs over 9.0gr of Unique and brought the gun along on my next range trip. I was also interested in how well I would handle the recoil from these loads in the short gun. Pretty well as it turned out; I was able to fire one round per second at seven yards with reasonable accuracy–
The fat grips of this gun made the recoil quite bearable; not at all unpleasant, in fact. I’m shooting a hair low, but I want to test it with the heavy-bullet loads before I go adjusting anything. I’d like to get it set up for a six-o’clock hold at twenty-five yards with those loads.
To my relief the shells were easy to extract with a fingernail. I still need to purchase and load the heavy bullets and test them, but I am quite confident that there won’t be any problems.
It seems that I have my new hunting companion. I’ll be needing to make a holster before the season gets underway.
Good day of shooting at Champion Arms in Kent Washington! Trying out new loads in .38 Special and .38 S&W, and brought some .32 S&W Long along because it has been too long since I shot the Detective Special.
The story begins with the Astra Police .38. I’ve covered this in a previous blog so I won’t go into too much, but it’s a large-frame double-action revolver, somewhere around the size of a S&W L-Frame. They have a quick-release cylinder and you could get .38 Special or .357 Magnum cylinders. FN sold a very slightly modified version as the Barracuda with a .38/.357 cylinder and a 9mm cylinder, the only revolver FN has officially offered.
This gun has an excellent trigger, light, very smooth with no stacking. This is especially nice as the previous owner bobbed the hammer, so it is effectively double-action only. The sights are fixed but reasonably good. I enjoyed shooting this gun so much I ran through an entire box of ammo before I realized it.
The customized factory grips are very comfortable and easy on the hand, even with peppy loads. The first group was shot with 158gr. LSWCs over 4.3gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer. The 25-yard group was shot with 125gr. Montana Gold Brass-Plated Hollow-points over 5.3gr. of Unique with a CCI500 Primer.
Interesting thing with the Montana Gold hollow-points- the ammo loaded with them were mostly a very tight fit in the chambers, and some could not even be chambered at all. I have since heard that others have had this problem as well; apparently the procedure is to run them through a resizing die after seating the bullets. Live and learn, eh?
Moving on to the Fitz Special (no not a real one) I remembered that it shoots quite low. Naturally I only remember this at the range, not in my workshop where I could do something about it…
I didn’t spend a lot of time with the Fitz this time out- I was running out of ammo and I had dug out an old favorite- The Shopkeeper, a custom Cimarron Richards Mason Conversion belly gun. This is a seriously sweet-shooting gun. Light mainspring, super-crisp mechanism, good trigger. At one time this was my absolute favorite revolver, and it’s a near-run thing even now.
The photo on the left is a couple of cylinders fired at a rate of 1 shot/second. Yes, there are only nine holes- one bullet failed to ignite despite a heavy dimple in the primer. I’ve had reason to be unhappy with my latest brick of CCI500 Small Pistol Primers- this has happened rather a lot. The photo on the right was aimed at the center of the target, and I screwed up my site alignment- but at least I did it consistently…
OK, firing this gun at a 25 yard target is ridiculous. This of course has never stopped me… I taped up the second target shown above and ran it all the way out.
That was pretty much the end of the .38 Special ammo- at least the ammo that would fit in a chamber… So. on the the next caliber- .38 S&W.
I brought two S&W .38 Double Action Safety Hammerless (4th Model) revolvers- The Steampunk Snubby and a very similar gun I put together for my wife… who decided she didn’t like shooting it. Linda’s has a nickel finish, has period Mother of Pearl grips and an aluminum grip adapter I made for it. The Steampunk Snubby is blued and has custom Desert Ironwood grips. This gun is one I carry around the shop, and out-and about when I need to be particularly discreet.
I haven’t shot Linda’s gun much, so I was curious to see how it would do. the trigger is not light, but it’s very, very smooth.
I was testing a new load this week. My standard load is a .361″ 150gr. SWC over 2.5gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer. Since my bore slugged at .361 this is perfect. These bullets are a finite resource however; they came from an estate sale, and Pinto’s has been trickling them out for some time but they are about used up. I needed to find another bullet and load that would work, so I decided to experiment with a .357″ lead bullet, a 158gr. LSWC. I loaded these over 2.7gr. of Unique.
They worked a treat- accurate and no signs of key-holing. They do have notably more snap to them that my usual load, and I would not recommend them for some of the lower quality top-breaks; there is some likelihood a steady diet of these loads might cause them to shoot loose in short order.
I spent a good bit of time with this gun, firing strong and weak hand as well as my usual grip. The gun performed flawlessly, as expected, and as always was a pleasure to shoot.
Last but not least I trotted out my Colt Detective Special chambered in .32 New Police. Yeah, that’s just what they called .32 S&W long so that they wouldn’t have to mark ‘S&W’ on their gun. This gun was made in 1949 and fitted with a factory hammer shroud, period after-market Franzite fake stag grips and a Tyler T-grip. The hot set-up in 1953 I am sure.
This gun has the best double-action trigger of any of my guns, and damn near the best I’ve ever experienced. It is in fact the gun that bumped The Storekeeper out of it’s number 1 slot as my favorite. The load used today was a 96gr. LRNFP over 2.5gr. of Red Dot with a CCI500 Primer. I did something a bit different today; I fired a rapid-fire group at 7 yards, taped it up and ran the target out to 10 yards, taped it, 15 yards, taped it, rinse and repeat for 20 and 25 yards. The results were interesting, and go a long way towards explaining why I love this gun! All groups were shot rapid-fire to see what would happen:
I haven’t practiced a huge amount with this gun, but that is going to change. I really, really like shooting this old Colt, and I cannot help but think that with more practice I could improve on these results. After this I fired up the rest of the rounds I had on hand, and then tried an experiment. I had a box of Fiocchi .32 ACP on hand, and I tried them in the Colt. Since this is a semi-rimmed cartridge there was no problem shooting them in a revolver, and they worked just fine and ejected cleanly and easily. The seemed slightly less powerful than my handloads and accuracy was what I expect from this gun.
Both targets were shot rapid-fire at seven yards with .32 ACP ball ammo. The left target was shot weak hand, the right shot strong-hand. Interestingly, since the gun has a short-stroke ejector the .32 ACP rounds were actually easier to eject that the .32 S&W Lo– uh, excuse me, .32 Colt New Police empties were.
I really, really like this gun. In my last post i mentioned that .22, .25 and .32 had about three times the failure rate of larger calibers in stopping an attacker with head and torso hits. Despite that I would not hesitate to bet my life on this gun, particularly if it were loaded with some of the stout Buffalo Bore SWCs. I am quite confident that I could put the rounds where they need to go if it should come to that.
So, a really great day at the range. I wish I had loaded more of the LSWCs in .38 Special; I had my S&W M1905 M&P along, and it would not chamber the 125gr. loads at all, so it didn’t get fired at all. Still, I can’t complain- it was a great way to start out the weekend!
Handgun stopping power arguments rage throughout the gun community, most often 9mm vs. .45, but we’ve all seen about every conceivable variation over the years. Evan Marshall tried to study this back in the 1980’s by studying real-life shootings. His study was flawed by only examining the percentage of incidents where only a single shot was involved. Still, we began to see a trend even then- statistically there didn’t seem to be a nickel’s worth of difference between service calibers.
Then a few years ago the FBI announced that they were going back to the 9mm, because their thirty years of studying the topic indicated no significant difference in stopping power between service calibers, therefore they will go with the caliber that offers the most shots in the magazine, the lowest recoil impulse and the greatest ease of training for a wide variety of personnel. It probably didn’t hurt that it’s also the cheapest of the options- a fact which many in the gun community seized on as the real reason, to the extend of accusing the FBI of being so eager to save a buck that they were putting the lives of their agents in danger.
Recently Greg Ellifritz published the results of his study of 1700 real-world shootings. What he discovered was informative, because he looked at the data in a different, and I think more relevant way. First we need to get some terms straight- what do we mean by ‘stopping power?’ In this case it means the attacker immediately ceased all hostile action– not one more shot fired, not one more blow thrown. If they were running they must have fallen within five feet and not undertaken any further hostile action.
We’re not really worried about lethality here; in a defensive shooting the overriding concern is that the attacker instantly stop doing whatever it was that made it necessary to shoot them. So the first relevant statistic he uncovered was the percentage of times a given handgun caliber produced a stop with a single hit anywhere on the body. This worked out to be about 35% of shootings– regardless of caliber. Pretty much every caliber fell within a 5% range, which does not represent a statistically significant difference between calibers.
These are examples of a ‘Soft Stop’ or ‘Psychological Stop.’ It happens because people don’t like being shot. Their brain, either consciously or unconsciously, says, “Nope, we’re done.”
The next relevant statistic was how many times a single hit to the head or torso caused a ‘Stop.’ This could be a Soft or Hard stop- the data doesn’t differentiate. Single hits from handguns to the head or torso produced a stop, either ‘Soft’ or ‘Hard’ an average of 2/3 of the time. This was regardless of caliber or whether hollow-points or ball ammunition was used. Some calibers were at the low end of this range, some at the high end, but none of them fell outside the standard margin for error. In other words no single handgun caliber stood out as significantly more likely to produce a stop with a single hit to the torso or head than any other caliber.
This is pretty counter-intuitive; I mean, seriously, a .22 handgun is as effective as a .357 Magnum? It seems unlikely. That’s when we get to the next category- failure rates.
Ellifritz’s data indicates that most calibers fail to stop with one or more hits to the head or torso about 15% of the time- except for .22, .25ACP and .32ACP. These three calibers result in three times as many failures to stop as the other handgun calibers studied. That’s far outside the range of statistical error. Essentially what his data indicates is that .380, .38 Special, 9mm, .45ACP. .357 Magnum etc. all work about as well in real-life shootings. .22, .25 and .32 work significantly less often.
This data is hemmed about in caveats of course. .22 and .44 Magnum had relatively small sample sizes, semi-autos might be less likely to produce single-hit stops because their high rate of fire might mean that additional shots were fired after the subject was stopped by the first shot etc. Nonetheless the basic data appears sound, and moreover is in agreement with my own, less scientifically rigorous observations spanning several decades, and even more or less in agreement with the FBI’s extensive studies.
So we should all be carrying .380s? No. Other factors enter into it- barrier penetration, heavy clothing’s effect on penetration, concealment requirements etc. If you expect to encounter dangerous large animals this might affect your choice; large, fast heavy bullets pretty conclusively do work better on large animals, and they won’t work less well on human attackers. Also these are pretty raw figures; their are other factors that are not taken into account. A hit with a .22 to the cerebral spine will almost certainly stop someone. A hit with a .44 Magnum to an extremity might not. Yes, just like in real estate it’s location, location, location.
The conventional wisdom since the 1970 has been to put multiple hits center-mass. It’s good advice- it’s the part of the body that moves least, it’s the biggest target and the heart, aorta, and spine are all there. Multiple hits in that area will be more likely to disrupt some or all of these structures, which is likely to stop the attacker sooner rather than later. This is true with any caliber bullet, but it is significantly more likely to work with calibers .380 or larger.
So what should you carry? Any gun, in any caliber, that you can rapidly and reliably put hits on target with that meets your needs for carry and concealment. If circumstances allow carry a weapon .380 caliber or larger– provided you can rapidly and reliably put hits on target. If high penetration is a requirement carry a 9mm, .357 Magnum, a 10mm or other gun known to have high penetration– provided you can rapidly and reliably put hits on target. If dangerous animals are in the equation something that fires a large, heavy bullet at a decent velocity– provided… well, you know. If you want to stack the odds the smart money says to carry modern defensive hollow-points, and there’s no way that more shots is a bad thing.
I have two guns that I carry regularly. If more discretion is required I carry a custom S&W .38 Safety Hammerless in .38 S&W. It holds five shots comparable in power to a .380. It’s loaded with lead semi-wadcutters. If enough clothes are being worn to conceal it properly I carry a Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45 that holds seven rounds. It’s loaded with modern hollow-points.
Two very different guns with very different ammunition– so what’s the common thread? I can rapid-fire both guns with a high degree of accuracy at defensive ranges, I enjoy shooting them, and they are easy to carry. Objectively there are better choices; guns that are lighter and hold more rounds, but these two work for me. That’s what really matters in the end- that you are comfortable with the weapon, have it with you when you need it and can employ it effectively.
I spent some quality time after my last range trip to rectify a few of the faults from last time, and to make the final repair on the Webley RIC.
The Webley is supposed to have a flat spring in a slot in the cylinder-pin. Without it the cylinder rotates too freely; you’d fire two shots and the weight of the three loaded rounds would cause the cylinder to rotate backwards when you start to pull the trigger, and you wind up re-striking the cartridge you’ve already fired. The original was missing and a replacement was unobtainable, so I fabricated a new one and tried it out.
It worked a treat. The gun is a tiny bit fussy about ammunition, but overall it functioned fine and shot well. I fired it at seven yards and then at five yards, with pretty decent results:
The load used was a 200gr HG68 SWC over 4.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer. The only issue was occasional failures to ignite on the first strike; the firing pin strikes off-center and CCI primers tend to be a bit hard. I’m going to try Winchester or Remington primers next time.
Next up was the ASM New Dakota SAA. I’d already shortened the sight once and it wasn’t quite enough, so I shortened it a bit more. Now it’s shooting a touch high, though honestly that might be an aiming error on my part. It is shooting a bit to the left, and I may shave the sight a bit to bring the POI on-center.
The J.P.Sauer & Sohn custom Sheriff was shooting massively high, so I removed the front sight and replaced it with a taller sight that I made. this solved the problem with shooting high- it now shoots a little low, but that’s OK; it’s a lot easier to make a sight shorter than it is to make it taller. I also corrected the slight cant of the sight that was causing it to shoot to the left.
I’m liking this gun quite a bit- it’s accurate, easy to pack and, since it’s built on a .44 Magnum frame it’ll handle a stout load just fine. This gun may well wind up in contention for my sidearm for hunting.
The load used for both of the .45 Colts was a 200gr. HG68 SWC over 8.0gr. of Unique with a CCI primer.
I also brought The Dandy along as it was also shooting low last time. I ground the front sight a bit and wanted to try it out. It’s now shooting to point of aim. This a very pleasant gun to shoot; comfortable in the hand, nice trigger, mild recoil and good accuracy.
I’m going to look into honing the chambers; they were a bit sticky occasionally, and without an ejector it’s important the spent rounds come out easily.
Last up I put a few rounds through the Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master. Always a pleasure-
I did have a problem with the blued Detonics factory magazine; the follower has gone a bit out of whack and it would only fit five rounds. I’ll have it apart and take a look later.