The first range trip for the Taurus is finished, and I have to say it went well. I took several loads ranging from mild to +P. The loads used were:
125gr TCL over 5Gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer (mild load) These were very low recoil and easy to shoot.
125gr JHP over 5.3gr. Unique with a CCI500 primer (Maximum SAAMI load) Comfortable to shoot.
146gr HJSWCHP over 4.5gr. of Unique with Federal SPP (No data- may be +P) I’ve liked Speer’s Half-Jacketed Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point since the ’80s in .357 Magnum loads. Had a few of them lying around so I thought I’d try them. Surprisingly comfortable to shoot.
158gr. LSWC over 4.5gr. Unique with federal SPP (+P load) These loads produced conspicuously more recoil than any of the others. It wasn’t too bad, but I wouldn’t want to shoot more than a few cylinders of them.
160gr. HJSWC over 4.0gr. Unique with Federal SPP Comfortable to shoot.
At seven yards all loads shot More or less to PoA using a six-o’clock hold. As you’d expect the +P loads had markedly more recoil, but were still manageable. I shot mostly at 7 yards; this is the distance I use most for defensive shooting training, and I am well acquainted with what I can do with a short-barrel revolver at this range. All shooting was done double-action. While it is possible to cock this gun and fire single-action I don’t recommend it and don’t intend to do it. Here are the relevant results-
Despite the unconventional grip it wasn’t hard to shoot this gun. As you may have seen in the video in my previous post about this gun the ergonomics of the handle force me into a very high grip, which aids a great deal in control. It didn’t take me long to get dialed in with this gun, and I have no doubt I’ll improve with practice.
I did try the 146gr. Speer bullets at 25 yards, and we will draw the curtains of charity over the results. The shots were mostly on the paper, but that’s about the best that can be said. I expect that too will improve with practice. I’m happy with the results so far; enough so that I feel comfortable carrying his piece for self-defense.
That being the case I made my typical pocket-holster- a simple piece of leather folded over rough-out, glued and riveted together and finished with Carnuaba wax. Ugly but functional.
So far this little experiment seems to be working out nicely. I’ll be pocket-carrying this piece, practicing deploying it etc. and see how it works out. It’s possible that it will be necessary- or at least desirable- to tweak this design a bit here or there. I’ll keep you posted.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 October 2018
P.S.- This thing needs a name. Linda has already expressed her intent to beat me with it if I name it Mini-Taur, so that’s out…
*Yes, I know a Taurus M85 and a Rossi M68 are not really J-Frames, but they are the same size. Additionally one of them is derived from the S&W and the other is a direct copy.
For many years custom gunsmiths have produced trimmed-down J-Frames for deep-cover concealed carry. Then a while back (2014) Taurus introduced a gun called the 85-VTA, or Model 85 View. This was a Model 85 smoothed out and minimized for concealed carry, and as a special added feature the side-plate was Lexan so you could see the internals.
This gun is seriously light. Like 9-1/2 ounces light. Between that and the tiny grip most commentators have said that it is quite unpleasant to shoot; one thick-fingered individual was actually bleeding after ten shots. It is also difficult to maintain a consistent grip with two hands; the reviewers I watched all had to resettle their grip between shots, and this is death on rapid, accurate fire.
I don’t mean to insult this gun- except for that stupid see-through side-plate; I’ll happily insult that. This is a gun with a purpose- to be the smallest, lightest, easiest to conceal gun of its type. They work well and can even achieve reasonable accuracy. The tiny grip and short sight radius don’t make this easy, mind you, and the very unpleasant recoil doesn’t encourage mastering it. That means that for all but the most dedicated users this will be a point-blank ‘Get off me!’ gun. Fair enough- that’s what it was made to be and it does that job well.
The very short ejector rod works surprisingly well- until you get a sticky case. But, given the gun’s mission, fast reloads take a back-seat to conceal-ability, and that’s not an unreasonable trade off. As a deep-cover gun or back-up it fits the bill admirably, but as a general carry gun it is compromised in a number of ways. Personally I’m not happy with those compromises; I want a carry-gun that retains the capability of getting hits out to 25 yards, is easy and pleasant to practice with, but still as concealable as is reasonably possible.
This led me to wonder- how small can a gun like this get without being compromised? At least not more than a typical example of a J-Frame sized gun? I needed to establish my criteria for this project. First- sights as good as a typical factory gun. Second- a grip that, while significantly more concealable than a factory grip, does not brutalize you when you fire it. Third- a more effective ejector. Fourth- a steel frame. This one seems to run counter to mission, but I believe you need a carry gun that is not actively unpleasant to shoot so that you will actually feel motivated to practice with it. But given the mission of a deep-concealment gun it ought to be reasonably light, leading to… Fifth- a target weight between 15-20 ounces.
I had an old Rossi M68 (a part-for part clone of a S&W Model 60) and set to work. I got it to an interesting configuration that met my goals, but that gun had a hard life, and failure after failure led me to eventually retire it and put the project on the back-burner. Then this week a Taurus Model 85 came my way, completely stock with the original-style wood grips.
This is a good, inexpensive work-horse of a gun, and made a fine starting point for resuming this project. Experience with the Rossi had taught me what I wanted, and I set about it.
A hammer-spur on a revolver like this is definitely a no-no, so I bobbed the hammer with a cut-off wheel and files, then polished the result. I have to confess I didn’t remove the hammer to do this, I simply masked off the gun to keep the nasty little metal bits from getting into the works. I polished up the result and moved on.
I made note of the maximum travel of the mainspring guide-rod, and cut the grip-frame just below this. (Note- S&W and Rossi guns have the serial number on the bottom of the grip-frame- cutting this entirely off is a Federal crime! There are work-arounds to do this legally but they are a major pain in the ass.)
With the frame shortened I cleaned up the welds, re-profiled and refinished the frame.
By this point the project had me in it’s teeth and I forgot to take more in-progress photos. Oops… Next I shortened the barrel by 1/2″ using my metal-cutting bandsaw and my belt-grinder. I re-crowned the barrel and re-contoured the bottom corner of the barrel-shroud, then polished it and re-blued it. During the cutting, grinding and polishing operations I had cleaning patches stuffed in the bore to keep the nasty stuff out. Afterwards I cleaned the barrel in the usual fashion to remove any residue.
To finish things off I relieved the trigger-guard at the front on the right side to make access to the trigger a bit faster and more comfortable, then took the corners off the cylinder release and polished it. I refinished everything and was ready to move on to the grips.
These are important- I had a frame sized similarly to the M85 View, but these are notably uncomfortable. I wanted something as concealable but significantly more comfortable, consistent with the mission of making a gun that was not obnoxious to practice with. I had made a pair of custom Zebrawood handles for the Rossi, and these were easily adapted to the Taurus. These grips were carefully shaped for the mission and are very flat.
So- the gun was basically finished, and excepting the extra 1/4″ of barrel it’s as small as the M85 View. More than double the weight at 19.2 ounces unloaded, but I am a big guy and that doesn’t bother me.
The grip has a single finger-groove, but it is actually a two-finger grip; the ring-finger actually wraps around the grip from underneath. It’s surprisingly secure and comfortable. But how is it to shoot?
Today I ran five rounds of ‘warm’ 173gr. LSWCs, and ten rounds of 125gr.JHPs loaded to maximum SAAMI standard pressure (but not +P. ) So how did that go? Unfortunately the video of the 173gr loads did not work out, but you can see the 125gr. loads-
There is more muzzle-flip than it would appear in the video, but at 30 frames per second it shows up poorly. The gun was quite civilized to shoot with both loads, so much so that I expect even occasional +P loads would not be too abusive. I wasn’t particularly focused on accuracy, but even so all rounds hit in a fist-sized group at five yards.
So it seems I have created what I set out to- a very compact J-frame sized revolver that does what I want it to do. Now I am going to live with it for a while and see how well it does the job. I’ll be doing a more extensive test on my next range trip, and will report further on this gun then.
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!