.45 x 5: Range Report for 30 December 2018

From left to right: .450 Adams, .45 ACP, .45 Cowboy Special, .44 Colt & .45 Colt

Forty-five day at the range today! Two experimental loads for .450 Adams, two for .44 Colt, with the rest being old standards. I also had the new Remington .44 conversion on-hand for it’s maiden voyage.

From left to right: ‘The Dandy’ in .450 Adams, ‘The Pug’ in .45 Colt, ‘Nameless’ in .44 Colt, the Remington ‘Bisley’ conversion in .44 Colt, the Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45 ACP and an Armi San Marcos ‘New Dakota’ in .45 Colt

Starting with .450 Adams, I had picked up some .451 soft lead balls, usually used for percussion revolvers. I loaded some as round ball and swaged some into hollow-base round-nose lead.

Soft-lead round-ball swaged into hollow-base RNL. Finished weight is 132gr.

No real goal to this; sometimes I just like to experiment. I suppose if the round ball worked out it might make a nice source for cheap range ammo, but really I just wanted to see what would happen. For test purposes I used ‘The Dandy,’ a Pietta Remington 1858 with a bespoke cylinder chambered for .450. Both rounds were accurate enough, but the ball rounds- loaded by simply pushing the ball in over a charge of 4.3 gr. of Trail Boss- were super anemic; they shot very low even at seven yards and went off with a pop rather than a bang. I suppose if I actually properly crimped the balls in place it might make a difference, and a different powder might yield better results. I may continue to mess around with these.

Round-ball loads in .450 Adams- nope, at least not with this powder/charge weight. Hitting very low, even at seven yards.

The 132gr Hollow-base RNL did a bit better, but were still conspicuously underpowered. In a penetration test one of these bullets penetrated about 1/2″ in a kiln-dried Douglas Fir 2×6. Still, for punching paper they are OK, but honestly swaging them is a bit too much work for the payoff.

I started with a 6-o’clock hold and moved to a center-hold. Accuracy was acceptable at seven yards, but the low-volume report and complete lack of recoil make these less than satisfying to shoot.

For contrast I also had my standard .450 Adams load- a 200gr LRNFP over 4.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 Large Pistol Primer. These were, as always, fun to shoot and accurate, with just enough bang and recoil to let you know you’ve shot a ‘real gun.’

The 200gr LRNFP bullet over 4.0gr. of Unique. Shoots to point-of-aim at seven yards and is quite accurate.

I put quite a few rounds of this load downrange; this gun/cartridge combo is very pleasant to shoot. I filled in the black on several targets before I felt the need to move on…

.44 Colt- which as I have said here before is actually a .45- was next because there is a new gun! Over the holidays I picked up a Euroarms 1858 and converted it to fire .44 Colt. I also modified the grip-frame to mimic the shape of a Colt Bisley, lowered the hammer-spur and made a set of custom Curly Maple grips. The gun is not quite ‘ready for prime time’ but I did want to test-fire it.

To this end I loaded up a box of my standard .44 Colt load, which uses a .451 caliber 200gr. heel-base RNL bullet over 6.5gr. of Trail Boss powder. I also loaded some .430 200gr. hollow-base wadcutters. My hope was that the skirt would expand enough to engage the rifling and stabilize the bullets. We’ll just get that one out of the way right now- 20% of them key-holed at seven yards. Unacceptable.

The new gun performed nicely however-

Fired at seven yards with a center-hold; the gun shoots quite close to POA, so I will not be changing out the front sight

With the new grip-shape the gun hangs very nicely in the hand, and recoil is mild. The trigger on this gun is quite nice, with little take-up or over-travel. When the gun is completely dialed in and finished I’ll start working at longer ranges. For now I am quite pleased with how it is coming out.

I also fired ‘Nameless’ a fair bit. This snub-nosed .44 Colt has notably more recoil than the long-barrelled gun, as you would expect. It also experienced a number of light strikes; CCI have a rep for being hard primers, so next time I will try a different brand and see how that works out. If need be I can make adjustments to the gun, but I prefer not to.

Nameless consistently shoots a bit high at seven yards, but not so much that I feel it is necessary to replace the front sight with a taller one.

The grip-shape on Nameless is an experiment in making one of these guns more concealable; they are small and flat so they will ‘hide’ better. Not that I intend to CC this pistol, but the reason someone in the 19th century might have made such a gun is as a hide-out, so it seems appropriate. It works well with .44 Colt, but I have to say I am not at all sure I’d want to fire a more powerful cartridge out of it.

I loaded a box of .45 Cowboy Special for ‘The Pug,’ my original Pietta Remington conversion that uses a .45 Colt Kirst Gated Conversion. These use my standard go-to .45 range bullet- a 200gr. LRNFP- loaded over 5.3gr. of Unique. The question comes up occasionally, ‘Why not just use .45 Schofield?’ It’s a fair question- ballistics are basically pretty much the same. The answer is that I have a lot of .45 Colt brass, and by shortening it to .45 ACP’s overall length I can use a .45 Colt shell-holder with .45 ACP dies without changing the settings on the dies, and I already have those.

Yes, I can shoot .45 Colt out of this gun, and have often. But I have started loading hunting loads for .45 Colt, and by sticking to .45CS for my conversions I avoid the possibility of accidentally slipping an overpowered load into them.

I shot the first seven-yard group at the lower edge of the target, then switched to a center-hold when it was obvious these loads were shooting to POA. A few fliers, but not too shabby overall.

I love this gun; accurate, mild recoil and it just feels good in the hand. There’s also sentimental value, since this was my first cartridge conversion.

The Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45 is also a pure pleasure to shoot. I find it almost ridiculously easy to shoot this gun well. This target was seven-yard rapid-fire. Not bad; a couple of fliers but I’ll keep working on it.

This target was right and left handed rapid fire at seven yards. I definitely need more practice, specifically with my left hand!

I also fired the ASM New Dakota. Its good looking, nicely made and is my favorite barrel length for a Single Action Army. It shoots well too, but somehow it’s just… not interesting. To me, at least. All I know is that it gets passed by a lot when I am picking guns for a range-trip. I suspect I will either have to find something interesting to do with it or sell it.

So, the last range trip of 2018- overall a pretty good way to wind up the year!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 December 2018

The Mercury Automatic Pistol

I happened across this little pistol- where else?- at Pinto’s Guns in Renton, WA. It was obviously a well-made gun, but I had never heard of it before. I was intrigued.

The gun is a straight blowback, striker-fired single-action semi-auto that is almost entirely conventional in details and operation. It is all-steel construction with a rather nice blued finish and black plastic grips. It came with two seven-round magazines and instructions in the original box.
These guns were manufactured by L.Robar & Company in Liege, Belgium. It is the .22 LR. Version of their “New Model Mélior,” which was renamed the ‘Mercury’ for the sale in the United States after 1945. These were imported to the United States by Tradewinds, Inc. of Tacoma, Washington. They were available finished in Blue, Nickel and reportedly there were even engraved models. After the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted these guns could no longer be imported.

I’ve only ever seen two of these weapons; this one and one that was offered for sale last year, which was finished in Blue with wooden grips. There is little available about them online; numbers produced etc. The serial number is not necessarily meaningful; it is stamped rather haphazardly into the frame and slide, and was almost certainly applied by Tradewinds rather than Robar.

While many of the features of this little gun are common, this is unusual- with the recoil spring around the very short barrel it is exposed in the ejection port. To make this less problematic there is a split sleeve fitted over it that partially covers it.

Field-stripping the gun reveals that, while much of the mechanism is ordinary there are some significant departures. You start by removing the magazine. The recoil spring is held in place by a screwed-in bushing in the front of the slide, for example. This is not an arrangement that inspires confidence; it’s all too easy to picture it unscrewing while you are firing the gun and spewing its guts downrange. In practice it works fine though. It didn’t budge even during a protracted range-session.

Once the recoil-spring is removed you simply pull the slide all the way to the rear and lift the back end, whereupon it shoots the firing-pin spring and retainer across the room. If you are smarter than me you cup your hand over the back of the slide so that the retainer slams painfully into your palm, but at least you don’t have to track the bloody thing down… Anyway, once you accomplish this the gun is field-stripped for cleaning.

There are not a whole lot of parts, but God help you if you lose them- spares are practically unobtainium. Except magazines- those turn up now and then.

There are some quite clever bits; the firing-pin spring is also the sear-spring. Instead of a heel-release to drop the magazine there is a Beretta-style button-release located on the left grip panel. Like a lot of Belgian guns it’s a liberal mix of features cribbed from all over and a bit of native innovation. The safety is another interesting feature; when in the ‘off’ position it is spring-assisted; start it moving and it snaps to the ‘fire’ position all on it’s own. I’m a bit ambivalent about this- on the one hand it makes it very easy to ready the gun to fire; on the other hand it seems a bit like an accident waiting to happen.

The slide does not lock back after firing the last round in the magazine, but it is possible to manually lock the slide to the rear using the safety. Honestly I am not sure why you would, but it’s an option.

I am relatively certain that this gun was carried a bit but had never been fired. A couple of reasons for this; one is that the patterns of wear and the lack thereof. There’s also the absolute lack of carbon or soot in any part of the gun’s interior. But most telling to me- it doesn’t work.

Here’s a size comparison with the S&W Escort. The Mercury is significantly smaller, although it is by no means the most compact pocket-auto made. It’s magazine also holds seven rounds compared to the Escort’s five rounds.

Both magazines took some fiddling to get a round to chamber, and experienced nearly constant failures to feed, and when it didn’t fail to feed it failed to go into battery. Occasionally it would fail to eject. I considered that this might be attributed to using fifty-year old Sears-brand ammo, but when I tried a box of CCI Mini-Mags (the gold standard for .22 Semi-autos) it was actually worse.

When it did go bang accuracy was quite acceptable for a pocket auto with micro-scopic sights. I had no difficulty putting rounds on-target at 3-7 yards; the gun points very naturally.

Working on the theory that the gun might need breaking-in I kept shooting, and it got better. A bit better. After a while it would chamber the first round out of the magazine pretty reliably, and it was possible to sometimes fire 2-3 rounds in a row. That was as good as it got, so I dug out the pliers and began to adjust the feed lips on the magazines. It took a bit of experimentation, but by the end of it one of the magazines was functioning quite well; I could fire all seven rounds without a bobble most of the time. The second magazine still had some small issues, which I eventually traced to the front-seam of the magazine, which was opening slightly near the top. I’ll solder that soon and try it again. In the end I put about 170-175 rounds through it.

Fired at 3 yards
Fired at 5 yards.

I fired the bulk of the shots at seven yards while I fiddled with the gun; basically the target looked enough like the 5-yard target (only with more holes) so I didn’t bother photographing it.

I’m pretty sure that I will get this gun to be pretty reliable in time, which is good; it’s kind of fun to shoot these little ‘mouse-guns’ and I have plenty of .22LR on hand to run through.

I expect that painting the front sight with bright-red enamel will make it quite a bit easier to shoot accurately, and I will likely replace the plastic grips with some nice exotic hardwood. Anyway it is an interesting gun, and I’m having fun with it- which is the point after all.

Merry Christmas! I hope that your holiday season is filled with joy and togetherness.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 December 2018

Range Report 18 December 2018- The Gang’s All Here

We got an invite to meet Pat Hillyer and Courtney Miller at Champion Arms for a bit of shooting this afternoon. Linda was all for it- any opportunity to shoot her Sig 238 Legion is OK with her!

Linda is getting nicely dialed in on the 238 Legion. The custom Desert Ironwood grips were a second Christmas present from me.

Linda happily put another couple boxes of ammo through her new love while I played with some of Pat and Courtney’s toys, including Pat’s Kel-Tec sub 2000. This is an interesting and economical pistol-caliber carbine, and this was my first chance to shoot one. The gun functioned perfectly and was quite easy to manage. I fired off a magazine at ten yards, and did several double-taps. For the most part things stayed nice and tight.

Kel-Tec Sub 2000, ten yards

Recoil was, as you’d expect, minimal. It was easy to shoot accurately at the short range I was firing at and experienced no malfunctions. For all that I found the gun quite unpleasant to shoot. The recoil spring is in the stock (a la AR15) and some weird harmonic made it sting my cheek- surprisingly painfully. I think if I were to shoot one of these regularly I would need some kind of pad on the stock.

I also got to shoot Courtney’s 10mm Glock. This is the first time I’ve really shot a pistol with an optic sight. It was a bit odd, but I’m sure that I would get used to it. This was also the first time I fired a Glock 10mm, and despite firing loads that Courtney described as ‘hot’ it was easily the most pleasant-to-shoot 10mm I’ve fired yet. It was comparable to shooting standard loads in a 1911 .45 as far as perceived recoil went.

First time using an optic on a pistol. Interesting.

My hits were consistently low at 7 yards, but that could as easily be me as the gun. I actually liked it quite a bit!

Both Pat and Courtney tried the Taurus M85 Sub-Compact Custom, and there reactions were similar- they went from ‘How on Earth does this work’ to ‘Holy crap- this really works!’

Taurus M85 SCC (Sub-Compact Custom) .38 Special

The ammo of the day was 158gr. handloads on top of a book-maximum charge of Unique. Neither of the gentlemen had any difficulty controlling the gun or firing it accurately.

Courtney Miller firing the m85 SCC

Pat Hillyer firing the m85 SCC

Both of them were surprised at the gun’s performance. After shooting it the first time Pat asked, “Would you sell this?” He was kidding. Mostly. I also did some shooting with this little revolver and performance was quite good- but not so good I figured I needed pictures of the target.

We also all shot the S&W 61-2 .22 pocket-gun. Everyone enjoyed it- Pat informs me that he has looked one up on Gunbroker and intends to buy it! Linda’s comment was, “It’s not as fun as my Sig…” When I came back from a break she was shooting it some more, so you be the judge. It’s really easy to run through a box of ammo in this little gun, and I did. Between the bunch of us we went through two boxes in total.

The upper target was shot with Linda’s P238, the lower was shot ‘at a brisk pace’ with the little S&W

Just for giggles I ran a target out to twenty-five yards and blazed away. When I reeled it in I found I only hit three of the five shots. ‘That will not do,’ I told myself. I taped up the holes and ran the target back out and fired more carefully. The results were much more satisfactory this time:

Not bad. Not bad at all!

We did experience two stoppages in a hundred rounds- in both cases an empty stove-piped on ejection. Given that the gun is over 45 years old and the ammo is probably 50+ years old I think I can forgive that. I like this little pistol!

I also did some shooting with the Astra Police .38, which has a new set of grips. As usual it’s fine double action trigger and recoil-absorbing mass made it very pleasant to shoot, and the new grip works just as it should. Unfortunately we’d all had so much fun shooting the Taurus that I didn’t have as much .38 Special left as I would have liked to shoot this gun.

Rapid-fire at seven yards. This is a really sweet-shooting gun!

On a less happy note I am not sold on the Federal #100 Small Pistol Primer. Last week I loaded a batch of .380 using a tried-and-true load, but I substituted the Federal primers for my usual CCI500 primers. This load (with the CCI primers) had functioned just fine in our .380s the week before. With the Federal primers neither gun would cycle- this was using the same bullets, the same lot of powder loaded into the same cases. The only difference was the primer. Not good… but the plot thickens.

S&W Double-Action Safety Hammerless (4th Model)

At the end of the session I pulled out my S&W top-break, again using a load that functioned well using CCI primers. Loaded with the Federal primers only one shot in five achieved proper ignition. The other four would give a dispirited ‘Thump’ and sling the bullet gently downrange. I still had some of the CCI-primed loads on-hand and fired them for comparison. Every shot banged as it should. With the only variable being the primer I can only conclude that the Federal primers were not performing well.

Something to bear in mind is that both of these loads use a very small quantity of powder, and the Federal primers simply doesn’t seem to be up to the task of getting good, uniform ignition with these small charges. I also fired 100 rounds of .38 Special loaded with Federal Primers and they worked just fine, as did the .357 Magnum rounds using them. Obviously I’m going to have to restrict use of these primers to loads with a large volume of powder, and use CCI for the rest.

It was a good afternoon at the range overall- it was great to see Pat and Courtney, and we all got to shoot some different guns.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 December 2018

The S&W Model 61-2 Escort- a Good Little Gun that Wasn’t Good Enough

S&W Model 61-2 .22 Pistol

The Gun Control Act of 1968 effectively prohibited the importation of most sub-compact ‘pocket pistols,’ leaving a void in the market that Smith & Wesson was quick to try to fill. They announced the Model 61 Escort in 1969, but they did not become available until 1970. They were produced until 1973, with a total production across four variants of around 65,000 guns.

The design was based on the Pieper Bayard, a small Belgian .380 ACP gun produced in 1908, with the recoil spring and slide mounted above the barrel. The slide had an under-slung breech block to engage with the barrel, and the design was a simple blow-back gun with a concealed hammer.

Two different finishes were available- a nickel-plated gun with white plastic grips meant to resemble Mother of Pearl, and a blued gun with plastic grips meant to resemble wood.

The first three variants had a die-cast aluminum frame. In the first two the barrel was pressed into the frame. In the third variant the barrel was mounted in the frame with a bushing, which led to greater accuracy in the placement of the barrel.  This improved both accuracy and- more importantly- reliability. Early guns had issues with malfunctions, and many guns were returned to the factory for warranty service, eroding the meager profits from these guns.

While the early guns had issues the bulk of production was -2 and -3 guns, which did not have these issues. The gun received a boost in publicity when it was featured in the movie ‘Taxi Driver.’ While somewhat oddly proportioned they were attractive enough, had surprisingly decent sights, a good trigger and were easy to maintain. So why were these guns not a success? There were a number of reasons.

The Model 61, while classified as a sub-compact, was not nearly as small of most of the guns it was competing with.  Shown with a Colt Junior for size comparison.

For one thing it isn’t that small; it’s noticeably larger than most of its direct competitors. It also had a five-shot magazine, where most guns in its class had 7-8 round magazines. Another problem was that it was a relatively expensive gun; it was very well constructed but that came at a price.  It also took long enough to get to market that competition was heating up. Colt and FIE had ‘on-shored’ production of their sub-compact offerings, and Raven had started manufacturing its MP25. Other companies were beginning to step up as well- and every one of them cost less and held more shots than the Model 61. Despite rectifying most of the Model 61s shortcomings the gun never gained any traction in the market, and in 1973 production shut down permanently.  

I purchased this gun from Pinto’s Guns for $130. This is quite a bit less than these guns typically go for; it was discounted because of the condition of it’s finish. The gun is mechanically sound however, and I’ve always found these little guns interesting.  As mentioned it is a straight blow-back with an internal hammer. The safety, located just behind the trigger on the left, allows the gun to be carried ‘cocked and locked.’ At the top rear of the left grip there is a tiny stud that protrudes slightly when the hammer is cocked, which is very easy to feel without looking at the gun.

Disassembly is dead simple- press in the stud at the front of the slide (actually the recoil-spring guide rod,) lift the front sight out. This releases the guide-rod and recoil spring- which will shoot out of the gun and across the room if you don’t control it. Then the slide may be drawn to the rear and lifted off, and the gun is field-stripped.

The Model 61-2, Field-stripped.

Naturally I was eager to test-fire the gun, so after setting up and decorating the Christmas tree and stringing some lights I headed for Champion Arms in Renton, Wa.

I inherited several ‘bricks’ of vintage .22LR from my Uncle Jim. I thought this would be perfect for test-firing as it is contemporary to the gun.

While I have some Winchester and CCI ammo on-hand I chose to take some vintage Sears-brand ammo that was produced around the same time as the gun. Seemed fair as it’s the sort of ammo the gun might have been loaded with when new. In fifty rounds I had one failure-to-fire; the primer struck true and crushed the rim adequately but the round simply didn’t ignite. Hey, this stuff is fifty years old- I can make allowances. 

So how is it to shoot? In a word- it’s fun. The sights are very good for a pocket-pistol, the trigger isn’t heavy, has short travel and breaks clean. The trigger reset is very short. The low bore-axis means your sights come back on target quickly, the safety is well-located and easy to use.  On top of that it’s ridiculously easy to shoot well.

I started at five yards, unsure what to expect, but the gun shoots to point-of-aim. Initially I was more interested in whether the gun functioned so I was firing rather quickly, so I was delighted to see all of the bullets had landed in the black.


Five yards, fired with no particular care for accuracy- impressive for a pocket-pistol!

Heartened by the results I backed the target up to seven yards and tried to fire at a 1-shot/second rate. At Champion Arms you can rapid-fire- if you are a member and have been checked out by the staff. If not the request that you restrict yourself to one shot per second, and I generally comply. Mostly. Sort of…

Seven yards at more-or-less one shot per second. The trigger on this little gun is so nice I may have slipped in a couple of double-taps…

I backed it up to ten yards…

I kept shooting quickly, and at ten yards things started opening up a bit.

After shooting at ten yards I threw caution to the winds and rolled the target out to the maximum range, twenty-five yards. I fired carefully at this distance, and the results were impressive for a gun of this type.

For most guns this would not be an extraordinary group at twenty-five yards… but for an old pocket-pistol? It’s almost ridiculous!

I’m certain I can improve on this with practice. I’ll get that practice, too- this gun is a ball to shoot, and it’s going to be a regular on range trips for the foreseeable future.

Curiously these guns have not attracted the attention of collectors, and with the pitting and bubbling nickel this one would be unlikely to be seen as ‘collectible’ in any event. I’ll likely strip and polish the aluminum frame and strip the slide then rust-blue it. The grips I’ll replace with some custom exotic hardwood grips.

As their name indicates these were designed as a self-defense pistol, so the question is, ‘Will I carry it?’ Nope. As much as I like this gun it’s too big for a six-shot .22, and I’m not that interested in finding a second magazine for it. I might drop it in my pocket when checking the mail or going out to my workshop, but I’m afraid it’s really not suited to it’s original purpose. But as an interesting and fun range gun? That it will do, and very nicely too.

Prices on guns in good cosmetic condition are running $200-$400. If you fancy one I think you’ll find it’s worth it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 16 December 2018

I Want a New Drug… The Sig-Sauer P238 Legion

My wife of over twenty years has a new love now. Am I jealous? Nah… after putting up with me for all these years she’s entitled to take her fun where she can get it. Besides, it’s a gun.

We are in the habit of picking out our Christmas gifts together and putting them on layaway. This year her gift was a Microsoft Surface, and we paid off the layaway this week… only to discover it was not up to her needs. We returned it for store credit at Ben’s Loans in Renton WA. This is actually a pawn shop, and one of our favorite gun stores. Hmmm… store credit at a gun store… what to do… what to do?

The P238 Legion, new-in-box with all the fixin’s

Linda does not shoot nearly as much as I do, but she has a good eye for guns– and bargains. The store had happened across an exceptional deal on a Sig Sauer P238 Legion, and were willing to pass those savings on to Linda. Despite the deal she was a little hesitant; Linda has an unhappy history with sub-compact .380s. She has a dodgey wrist and snappy recoil is painful to her, and tiny .380s are notoriously snappy. After consulting the internet via her phone for reviews she was reassured; they all agreed that the gun was unusually pleasant to shoot for a gun its size and caliber. She was also reassured by the fact that we could certainly sell it for more than we would be paying for it if she didn’t like it.

We snagged a couple boxes of .380 from the store and another of my reloads at the house and headed for Champion Arms gun range. I fired the gun first, grinned at my wife and said, “You are going to love this.” She did. It is not snappy; not at all. Moreover she was able to start getting hits immediately, and it only got better.

Let’s talk a little bit about the P238. It looks a lot like a miniature 1911, and it is a bit like one. It’s a single-action semi-auto of largely conventional Browning-style operation. Disassembly is pretty standard- line up the notch in the slide, pop the slide-stop out and it all comes apart. There is a full-length steel guide-rod with a non-captured recoil spring and a cammed tilting barrel. The single-action mechanism insures a consistent, short trigger-pull and makes the preferred carry method Condition 1- cocked-and-locked. Unlike the safety on a 1911, however, the Sig’s safety can be applied when  the slide is locked open, meaning you can chamber a round with the safety on- a useful feature, I think.  Like a 1911 the Sig has a seven-shot magazine.

The gun is 5.5″ long, 3.9″ tall and 1.1″ thick. It weighs in at 15 oz. empty- about the same as an alloy-frame J-frame revolver, but in a more concealable package.

The P238 Legion comes standard with three magazines

So what does the Legion package add to this? Quite a lot, actually. Starting with the trivial it has a Cerekote finish called ‘Legion Gray’ and a Legion badge on the grips. Legion Gray is an attractive finish in a medium gray with, to my eyes at least, a greenish tinge. Add aggressively textured G10 grip-panels, checkering on the front-strap, trigger-guard and mainspring housing.  It also has front cocking serrations on the slide, an ambidextrous safety,  a metal magazine funnel for easier loading under stress, high visibility day/night sights and an aluminum trigger to replace the standard model’s polymer trigger. All of this adds an almost $200 premium to the standard gun’s price.

So, how is it to shoot? In a word– excellent. Recoil is soft, the sights are highly visible, the grip comfortable. It’s an easy gun to shoot well, and Linda found it very easy to put rounds on target at standard defensive distances.

Linda’s first target

The large, green-dot front sight lends itself to speed more than precision, appropriate enough on a self-defense firearm, but precision can be achieved.  

This little gun is a ball to shoot. The trigger is excellent, the sights are easy to use and the grip is quite comfortable for such a small gun. I rode the safety with my thumb, just like I do with a 1911, and the gun never bit or caused any discomfort. Recoil is mild and follow-up shots come fast and accurate. It’s addictive; Linda put more than a hundred rounds through it quite happily, and the next day she asked if I could reload some more .380…

We did experience one malfunction, a failure to eject. This happened with one of my reloads, so I’m inclined to chalk it up to the ammunition. We’ll run a few hundred more rounds through it to insure that it is reliable– believe me, that will be no hardship!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 December 2018


Range Report for 1 December 2018- Something Old, Something New…

Webley Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary in .450 Adams

Tonight I had a gun to test, ammo to test and a new gun to fire for the first time. Well, new after a fashion…

Starting this off with the Webley RIC. I’ve been gradually sorting minor issues with this gun, and it was time for a final test. .450 Adams cartridge is not really commercially available so I have been trying various loads for it. It has shown a marked preference for hollow-base bullets; my go-to utility bullet (Aardvark Enterprise’s 200gr. TRNL Cowboy bullet) tends to key-hole from this gun.  I set up a swage-block and punch to make them into 200gr. hollow-base semi-wadcutters.

Cute little suckers, aren’t they?

I loaded these over 3.5gr. of Unique with a CCI300 Large Pistol primer. This was a deliberately light load, but it turned out to be too light. These might have been coming out at well under 400fps. Better to be too careful in these cases, of course. The good news is the bullets appeared to fly true- as near as I could tell. They tore the paper rather than punching proper holes, but examination of the target did not show evidence of Key-holed rounds as near as I could tell.

I am delighted to report that the gun functioned flawlessly throughout.

I suspect that the tendency to hit to the right is an artifact of my shooting, not the gun or ammunition.

 Moving on to the Remington conversion revolver chamber in .44 Colt, I was trying out a load with the .451 heel-base round-nose bullet. These were loaded over 5.5gr. of Unique with a CCI300 Large Pistol primer.

Armi San Marcos Remington reproduction converted to a ‘Bulldog’ and chambered in .44 Colt (original)

These turned out to be extremely inconsistent- the crimp is not holding the bullets well at all. What seemed to occur on several occasions was that the powder did not ignite properly; it was as if the primer was blowing the bullet into the forcing cone before the powder really got going, resulting in a very large flash from the cylinder-gap and an anemic ‘thump’ rather than a bang. The bullets all went downrange, but at highly variable velocities- many of them quite slowly.  Accuracy was within acceptable limits– however.  Normally I load these bullets with 6.5gr of Unique, and in the future I’ll be using that load with these bullets.

The two strikes on the white were both basically squibs. This target was shot at seven yards.

I think I am going to pursue my experiments with hollow-base .430″ wadcutters; while I need to tweak the design of the bullet slightly they are, on the whole, consistent in ignition and velocity even with the smaller powder charge.

Last but not least was a new acquisition in the form of an early Christmas present from Linda- a mint 3: S&W 31-1. Despite having been made in 1970 this gun appears new- possibly even un-fired!

‘Like New’ is no exaggeration on this gun- the checkering on the grips is actually uncomfortably sharp, and there are no signs of wear on the finish except for a faint drag-mark on the cylinder. Not bad for a 48 year old gun!
Stock S&W grips have never really suited my hand, so I cobbled up this target grip in Curly Maple

The load I was using was a 96gr. TRN bullet (from Aadrdvark Enterprises) over 3.8gr. of Unique with a Federal Small Pistol primer. This is a stout load- I recommend that it only be used in modern firearms in good condition! I do not, for example, fire them out of my I-Frame .32 Hand Ejector.

My first results at seven yards were un-inspiring; groups were decent overall but there were far to many fliers. This was all me, of course. I realized that I have been spoiled by the very nicely worn-in trigger on the S&W .32 Hand Ejector and the superb trigger on the .32 Colt New Police Detective Special. Buckling down on my fundamentals I focused down and was able to shoot this seven-yard target-

Ten rounds, double-action/standing unsupported at a 1-shot/second cadence. That’ll do.

The gun does consistently shoot a little low, but I can live with that. Next time I’ll load some target loads and see about pushing the distance out. The new grip was very comfortable to use; not too surprising since I tailored it to fit my hand!

A fun and informative evening all told. I am very pleased with the Webley’s performance and the new S&W. I’m looking forward to shooting them more on the future- especially that little .32!

Size comparison between the 31-1 and the 1903 .32 Hand Ejector. The I-frame 1903 makes the J-frame 31-1 look positively beefy!

Addenda: I will need to modify the left-hand grip panel; the inside casing hangs up on the grip on ejection. That’s a simple fix at least.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 1 December 2018