‘A J-Frame doesn’t need sights… PERIOD’

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‘A J-Frame doesn’t need sights… PERIOD’

This was a statement by a person on one of the gun forums I frequent, and it is absolutely true as far as it goes. A gun- any gun- is an inanimate object; it doesn’t need anything.

I, on the other hand, am not an inanimate object. I’m a human being with individual strengths and frailties, and a few decades of experience to back that up. I do need things, or at least want them. One of the things I want is to never draw a weapon in anger again, but you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and I think we all know which hand will fill up faster. I can be vigilant, I can be careful, I can do everything I reasonably can to avoid needing a gun and it might still happen. If it does I want to be as certain as possible that the bullets go where I want them to. The best way to accomplish that is to aim, and to do that I need sights.

Seven yard rapid fire targets, one with sights and one without. 

 On the average a civilian defensive shooting takes place at 3-5 feet, and no- I probably don’t need sights for that. But if the action occurs at any greater range I want them. There are a number of reasons for this. Police used to be taught to ‘point-shoot.’ Great theory- unfortunately in practice it meant 3 out of 4 bullets missed the target in actual gunfights. When they began teaching cops to use the ‘flash-sight-picture’ this jumped immediately to 2 out of 3 bullets hitting the target- in actual gunfights. Not in training, not in theory, but when it mattered.

I also have a significant amount of experience, and every bit of it tells me the bullets are much, much more likely to go where I intend if I aim. Yeah, I keep harping about that- because it matters. Stopping an attacker depends on  breaking something they can’t live without. That means the bullets have to hit those things. In the right-hand target above, with the bullseye representing the heart, every shot would have missed. Sure, the attacker might have stopped- but I don’t prefer to bet my life on ‘might.’ I much prefer the target on the left- even using .32 S&W Long with semi-wadcutters instead of .38 Special hollow-points.

Handguns- all handguns- are not good at stopping a determined attacker.  The only way it works is to take out the central circulatory system- the heart and aorta- or the central nervous system. Yes, a bullet has to penetrate deep enough to hit vital structures, and a larger permanent wound cavity is better than a smaller one, but none of those things matter if you don’t hit the things you meed to hit. You probably don’t need sights at an arms length, but anything longer than that? Learn to aim quickly. You can, with practice, get a sight picture as fast as you can point the gun.

In my opinion any gun that is not a last-ditch, point-blank SHTF gun needs decent sights- and I’d prefer that even those have them, because you won’t get to dictate the circumstances under which you need it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 December 2017

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Test Firing/Range Report 23 Dec. 2017

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Some time ago we picked up an old 4″ Rossi M68 figuring that I would customize it as a range pistol for Linda. Before I could really get it properly sorted she got another Kahr E9 which she loves desperately. The Rossi has become my ‘bench gun,’ the gun that I experiment and try new things on.  I’ve learned a lot of useful and potentially useful things, which is good because it is a part-for-part clone of a S&W J-frame. Hey, if I’m going to wreck a gun experimenting I’d rather it be a cheap one!

Went through a couple of custom grips, shortened the barrel to 2-1/4″ and re-crowned it, worked on the springs and mechanism etc.  Recently I decided to see how small one could make a J-frame without compromising function or shootability. I modified the grip-frame and cut down the existing grips. It was definitely easier to hide, but it became unreliable as the firing-pin bushing became worn. The easiest way to replace this was with the barrel removed. I fabricated a new bushing and staked it in, then got to looking at the gun and thought ‘If that barrel were shorter it would be even more concealable…”

Since the barrel was already out of the gun I ground off the front sight, chucked it up in the lather and turned down the back of the barrel and extended the threads. I measured it and cut the forcing cone to length. I then measured and cut the ejector to length and carefully filed the forcing cone until the cylinder would close comfortably. I used a tapered reamer to re-cut the forcing cone and installed and pinned the barrel and I was in business. I still hadn’t mounted a new front sight but I wanted to test the gun with live ammunition, so it was off the Champion Arms indoor gun range. Of course there was no point in taking just one gun, but we’ll get back to that.

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So how did it work? Pretty well for a gun with no sights. No rounds keyholed or otherwise misbehaved. Recoil was quite mild with target wadcutters and easily managed. I didn’t see any point in trying for accuracy; basically I ran a target out to five yards, pointed the gun and blazed away. Two cylinders full produced this- proof of why sights are necessary!

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As I said, no point in taking just one gun… I ran a box of ammo through the Colt Frontier Scout, but results were less than spectacular- I had real trouble seeing the sights. Very nice gun to shoot regardless.

I also took along the Egyptian Contract Beretta M1951. I’d function-tested it but never really wrung it out. A couple of boxes of reloads changed that, and the gun continues to function flawlessly. The only stoppage was when I didn’t seat the magazine properly and it dropped just far enough to prevent the next round from feeding. Seven-yard targets shot at the 1-shot-per-second rate (or maybe just a bit faster…) allowed by the range rules produced results pretty consistently like this-

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Pleasant to shoot and reliable- but I very much want to paint the front sight red.

Finally I trotted out The Shopkeeper. I recently became re-acquainted with how much I enjoy shooting this gun and happily burned through a box of ammo. Results were pretty much what I have come to expect-

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Five shots in five seconds at seven yards. I’m Okay with this! This gun genuinely works for me- well enough that I wouldn’t feel completely stupid carrying it, though the reload sucks…

Anyway a nice way to enter the holidays and a pleasant afternoon.

Michael Tinker Pearce,  23 December 2017

Range Report 19 December 2017

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Took a good cross-section of pistols to the range today, calibers ranging from .32ACP to .44 Magnum.  Four of the guns were over a century old, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they work!

Starting with the Colt 1903 .32 ACP- This gun was manufactured in 1912 and I bought it used in the early ’90s.  About 25 years ago I gave it to my ex and she’s had it ever since. Recently she’s developed a preference for revolvers and thought that I might like this gun back. Yes please! I gave it a quick cleaning, dug up some .32 ACP and threw it in the range bag.

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I fired 28 rounds of mixed 25-year-old hollow-points and Fiochi ball ammo.  The gun seemed accurate enough, though because a peculiarity of the lighting on my lane I literally could not see the front sight. The gun functioned flawlessly though and the trigger pull is light and reasonably crisp, making the gun very pleasant to shoot.

I fire the Abilene next and it’s obvious I need a) new glasses and b) a lot more practice. Twenty-five yard standing/unsupported groups were running as big as five inches- not acceptable for a hunting revolver! Moving the target in to fifteen yards improved the groups significantly but I still wasn’t pleased.

Moving on to the Steampunk Snubbies- a pair of customized S&W .38 DA Safety Hammerless revolvers- I was trying out a new load with .361 150gr SWCs over 2.7gr. of Unique. Good, accurate load- a little peppier than I expected but alright. I really enjoy the trigger-pull on these guns; long but super-smooth. Both of these groups were shot at a 1-second per shot cadence at seven yards.

The sights on these guns are tiny, but they are so close together they are basically on the same focal plane and between that, the modified grips and excellent trigger-pulls I find them very easy to shoot accurately at close range.

I didn’t have a lot of .45 Colt ammunition for The Pug and The Outlaw, but they were fun to shoot.  The newly-enameled front-sight of The Pug was nice and visible and helped a lot in getting a good sight-picture.

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The S&W .32 Hand-ejector and Detective Special in .32 S&W Long were both shooting better than I was today; while I had no difficulty keeping the rounds on target I didn’t seem to be capable of grouping well with either gun at 7 yards. With the Colt I actually got better when I stopped trying to be careful and fired quickly.

I ended the session with The Shopkeeper .38 Special. This gun has fantastic handling and an excellent trigger- but the sights are not the best. I had a good quantity of .38 Special on hand and I put more than a full box. It had been a while since I shot this gun a lot at one time and I was quickly reminded why this is one of my absolute favorite guns. Fired one-handed or two, it’s all good!  I ended up rapid-firing three cylinders at seven yards with very satisfactory results.

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So how do you rapid-fire a single-action? Catch the hammer in recoil and cock the gun as you bring it back on-target and fire immediately when the gun is leveled. Three shots in two seconds is quite attainable.

The fellow in the lane next to me was quite taken with the Shopkeeper and really enjoyed shooting it. In return he let me run a magazine through his CZ75 Tactical Sport. This is a fantastic gun- long-slide single-action competition version of the CZ75 and includes features like an add-on shelf on the left side of the dust-cover to facilitate a thumb’s-forward grip. The high-visibility fiber-optic front sight was easy to pick up. The trigger was superb- the gun is amazing and every bit what I would expect for it’s $1800 MSRP. Hell, compared to high-end 1911s it’s a bargain at that price. If I could figure out how to scrounge up a couple grand I would be totally happy to spend it on one of these!

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A day of mixed results- I really do need new prescription glasses- but a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

Michael Tinker Pearce,  19 December 2017

Gunfighting- a Few Simple Thoughts.

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Rule #1 concerning gunfights is this- be somewhere else when they happen. OK, now that we’ve established that, what do you do if  you are forced to violate Rule #1?

There are a lot of people with a lot of theories about gunfighting. I’m not one of them; I understand that as an armed civilian there is no set-piece rule-book. Circumstances are highly individual and things happen very, very fast. You can learn all kinds of things and discover the fight is over before you remember even one of them.  You are better off learning very few things, but learning them bone-deep.

We know a few things about gunfighting these days. One if them is that you will fight as you train. If you train bad habits when the excrement hits the rotary impeller you will do bad things. People make much of the whole stress/adrenaline thing, and to a point they are correct to. But if you have trained actions to second nature when the stress and adrenaline hit you will do those things, and you will do them exactly as you have trained to do them.

A gunfight is chaotic and unpredictable, and it’s not going to happen on your terms. Seriously, if you think there will be a gunfight leave. Rule #1, remember?  OK, it’s going to happen unexpectedly with tons of random variables. Lighting, number of attackers, presence of innocents… there are simply too many things to ever develop a set plan for how to survive and win a gunfight. So you need to control what you can- yourself.

Practice to hit what you aim at, with both hands and either hand. Do it until you can do it consistently, then do it some more. No, a target on a range is not the same as a moving, living person- but putting bullets where you want them is always the same.  Odds are in a civilian self-defense shooting you will not need to reload. Practice it anyway, until you can do it blindfolded and one-handed. Then practice it some more.

If your weapon of choice is a semi-automatic practice clearing jams. Over and over; you’re training muscle-memory, burning in new neural paths. It takes hundreds or thousands of repetitions to get this hard-wired. If your weapon of choice is a revolver think about what to do if it jams. It’s pretty unlikely, but if it happens you now have a very sophisticated rock. It’s better to have a rock and a plan than to just have a rock.

Practice your draw- and practice it from the holster you carry in wearing the clothes you conceal it under. Practice drawing the gun and getting a sight picture. Do it over and over until you are sick of it, then do it some more. Then practice drawing with your weak-hand. Then practice while standing, sitting and lying flat on your back or on your face. Always be able to draw your weapon in any reasonable position you might find yourself in- and do it over and over and over until it is an automatic thing.

Here’s the thing about all this practice- it’s more important to do it right than it is to do it fast. In training don’t hurry. As Fiore said at the dawn of the 15th C., ”Train slow. In the fight anger will give you speed.’  It was true then and it’s true now- as long as you have trained to do it right adrenaline will take care of the speed in the actual event.

You also need to practice basic firearms safety- don’t point the gun at anything you aren’t willing to shoot. Don’t touch the trigger unless you want the gun to go bang. Know what your backstop is. You know theses things, and they apply just as much in a gunfight as they do on the range.

Once you have the basics down you are ready for the ‘advanced course.’ Here it is in a nutshell-

“If you aren’t shooting, moving or hiding you are probably doing it wrong.”

Pretty simple. ‘But Tinker!’ I hear you cry, ‘What about reloading? What about situational awareness? What about…’ etc. Fine, you need to reload? Hide. Nowhere to hide? Move. Need to look around? Do it while hiding or, if you must, while moving.  Let’s make this clear- by ‘hide’ I mean behind something that will stop bullets. Don’t stand there like an idiot while people with guns are trying to kill you. Move behind cover and hide. What about shooting? Don’t worry about it- if you’ve trained properly the shooting bit will take care of itself.

Example- bad guy with gun. Do you stand there like it’s 12-noon and try to out-draw him?  No- get something that will stop bullets between you while you draw your weapon. Move-hide-shoot. Yep, you might find yourself in a situation where you have no choice- but if you have no choice maybe all that training will give you a chance.

Train the basics. Keep it simple. Trust your training. Move/hide/shoot.

So that’s my advice, and you can take it for what it’s worth. Maybe it will help keep you alive, but I hope none of us ever need to find out.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 December 2017

Big and Slow Does the Job…

… unless it doesn’t.
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I recently watched ‘Godless’ on Netflix, and in some ways it was quite realistic. Some people were shot and dropped immediately. Others that were shot ran and hid. Some were shot and shot back.
 
Thinking about this it squares with a lot of accounts I have read of ‘western’ gunfights. One of the Daltons took twelve hits from .44 and .45 caliber guns and assorted buckshot. He rescued his brother and rode away- and survived. There are all sorts of accounts of people surviving serious wounds from these weapons. Shots hitting within the pelvic girdle (gut-shots) were nearly always fatal eventually, but other torso hits? Maybe, maybe not.
 
It is common knowledge in gun circles that in the Philippines the US Army went back to the .45 because their .38s weren’t working well at stopping fanatic warriors on drugs. The new .45s did not arrive in numbers before the end of the conflict so it’s difficult to assess their effect- but of those that did make it there are no reports that they were more effective.
Evan Marshall recounts a tale of an off-duty police officer out for an evening with his wife and they were accosted by a knife-wielding thug. The officer drew his .45 and put five 230-grain ball rounds into the man. The mugger promptly stabbed his wife and ran. He was arrested 3 hours later when he walked into an emergency room under his own power.
 
A British officer summed things up nicely, speaking in defense of the .38/200 when he said, “The .38 is an excellent man-stopper; shoot them through the skull and they drop in their tracks!” Yes, it’s kind of darkly humorous, but it touches on a fundamental truth. If a bullet doesn’t hit something important it probably won’t stop someone who is sufficiently determined. 
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Big and slow is not automatically a recipe for handgun stopping power. Neither is small and fast. For that matter big and fast isn’t either. Your best chance with a handgun- any handgun- is to hit something they can’t live without. Even a heart-shot is not a guaranteed stop. Yes, they are going to die- but they may not die fast enough to keep them from killing you. No matter what sort of handgun you use the only guaranteed instant stop is a bullet that hits the brain or cervical spine- very difficult targets in the heat of a gun fight..
“But a bigger bullet makes a bigger hole, right?” It may- but human tissue is remarkably elastic. Coroners have said that, in most cases, with a torso hit they cannot tell the caliber until they recover the bullet. Modern hollow-points do tend to leave larger permanent wound cavities regardless of caliber, and are highly recommended for self-defense. Mind you, you still need a good hit or hits to stop an attacker. The tried and true method- regardless of caliber- is to rapidly put multiple hits center-mass. There’s a lot of important stuff there, so you’re likely to hit something that matters.
This is not to say that big, slow bullets don’t work- just don’t rely on the bullet to do your job for you. As long as you can put your shots where they need to go carry whatever works for you.
By the way- I recommend ‘Godless’ on Netflix; it’s a good show. Not only is the story good, but the attention to period details is above average. Among other things it’s not All Peacemakers all the Time; I spotted a number of Remingtons, Colt cartridge conversions, S&W top-breaks and even a Melwin & Hulbert. Rifles are mostly scattered between various Winchesters and Henry’s, but there are a few interesting pieces thrown into the mix as well.
Michael Tinker Pearce  14 December 17