How Obsolete Are They? More Results

Continuing the series of ballistics tests on old cartridges, this time testing .32 S&W Long, .38 Short Colt and more tests with .38 S&W. Some data from the previous post will be duplicated for comparison.

I’d like to note- the longest barrel used in these tests is 4″, and several are significantly shorter. Ammunition companies tend to fire their tests through special barrels, which are far longer than the sorts of guns these cartridges were generally used in. I’ve deliberately selected the kind of guns people actually carried to give a better picture of the ‘real world’ performance of these cartridges.

Of course before we get to it we need the standard disclaimer- use of the reloading data presented in this article is attempted at the user’s own risk; the author assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this data.

Today‘s test guns- S&W, Colt and , uh… Belgian.

.32 S&W Long/ .32 Colt New Police

The first newcomer to the test is .32 S&W Long. Introduced in 1896 for the new S&W Hand Ejector revolver, cartridges were originally loaded with black powder with a round-nose lead bullet. By the time the Model 1903 was produced the transition to smokeless powder was made. Colt adopted the cartridge, but used a flat-nose bullet and called it ‘Colt New Police.’

While it has fallen out of favor in the US, .32 S&W Long remains popular internationally, particularly for target shooting. Not surprising, as the cartridge has always had a reputation for exceptional accuracy.

Modern commercial loads are low-velocity and low-powered. While light hollow-point bullets are offered they do not expand at these low speeds.

S&W Model 1903 Hand Ejector (top) and a Colt Detective Special (bottom)

The test guns for this cartridge are a S&W Model 1903 Hand Ejector with a 4″ barrel, and a Colt Detective Special with a 2″ barrel.

98gr. LRN, Remington commercial ammunition

S&W- 4″ barrel- 694 fps. 105 ft/lbs SD: 18

Colt- 2″ barrel- 643 fps. 90 ft./lbs SD: 32

Definitely what I call a ‘lawsuit load,’ well under SAAMI pressure limits for this cartridge. Pretty much designed to punch holes in paper and not break really bad guns.

96 gr. LRNFP, 4.3gr. Unique, CCI500 primer

S&W- 4″ barrel- 1089 fps. 253 ft/lbs SD: 31

Colt 2″ barrel- 984 fps. 206 ft/lbs SD: 53

This load was taken from Sharpe’s 1937 ‘The Complete Book of Reloading,’ and does not exceed SAAMI pressure limits for this cartridge. Quite a difference from factory loads! Still, I would restrict the use of this load to good quality firearms in good condition… and fire them sparingly.

96gr. LRNFP, 4.0gr. Power Pistol, CCI500 Primer

S&W- 4″ barrel- 1148 fps. 281 ft/lbs SD: 41

Colt 2″ barrel- 1090 fps. 253 ft/lbs SD: 45

While I don’t have access to scientific pressure-measuring equipment, I think this is almost certainly a +P load, and would only use it sparingly in the strongest revolvers.

As you can see from the results above, particularly the Unique load from Sharpe’s book, there is a lot of un-tapped potential in this cartridge. At these velocities I think it very likely that a well-designed hollow-point would both expand and penetrate adequately, even from a 2″ barrel. When we get to the gel tests we shall see…

.38 Short Colt/ .380 Revolver

This cartridge was introduced at the dawn of the 1870s for .36 caliber Cap-and-ball revolvers that had been converted to fire metallic cartridges. It used a heel-base .375 bullet in a cartridge very similar to .38 S&W. It found some popularity in Europe for use in compact ‘bulldog’-style revolvers, and in that role remained in use into the early 20th Century. I understand that this ammunition is still in production from various makers, but no longer uses a heel-base bullet. Instead they use a hollow-base .358 bullet in the hopes that it will expand enough to engage the rifling. By all accounts this is not entirely effective.

At 11.3 oz., this tiny gun is quite a handful in .38 caliber. Recoiil tends to lick the muzzle up about .45 degrees, causing my finger to slip right off the trigger. I have to significantly shit my grip to recover between shots.

My test gun for this cartridge is a tiny, anonymous Belgian Bulldog with a folding trigger, most likely made in the 1880s or 1890s. The barrel is 2-1/8″ long. Despite having a hammer-spur the gun seems to be double-action only, though whether this is be defect or design I couldn’t say. One of these days I’ll have it entirely apart and see what’s what.

125gr. dry-lubed heel-base LRN, 10gr. Triple-7 (black powder substitute,) CCI500 primer

544 fps. 82 ft/lbs SD: 19

Not at all an impressive cartridge, but rather fun to shoot. Not going to push this one; this load is quite sufficient for recreational shooting, Cowboy Action shooting etc.

.38 S&W

We’ve already gone over the history of the .38 S&W, so we’ll not repeat that here. I will note that although they share a cartridge-case, I consider this to be, for practical purposes, a different cartridge than the British .38-200. Revolvers using the British cartridge will fire ordinary .38 S&W, but that is a one-way street. Firing .38-200 ammo through an American top-break revolver is liable to quickly put it out of order if it doesn’t break it outright. Webley and Enfield service revolvers are a great deal more robust than even the best of the American-made offerings, and should be treated with separately when it comes to reloading for them.

A pair of S&Ws for this test- a 4th Model .38 Safety Hammerless on the left, and a .38 Double-Action (2nd Model) on the right.

I’ve also changed out one of the test guns this time; in the last round the Harrington & Richardson turned out to be a ‘slow’ gun, consistently turning in lower velocities than the S&W, despite have a barrel twice as long. I’ve replaced the H&R with a S&W .38 Double Action (2nd model) made around 1884. This has produced the expected result, as you will see below.

We’ll start with re-listing the Winchester factory ammo for comparison.

Winchester 145gr. (modern) factory ammunition

S&W- 1-5/8″ barrel- 535 fps. 92 ft./lbs SD: 39

H&R- 3-1/4″ barrel- 478 fps. 74 ft./lbs SD: 42

Deeply unimpressive, and one of the reasons for this became plain when I pulled several of the bullets to try a different load under them. They are not .361″. They are not .357″. They average .352″! This was consistent across all fifteen bullets that I pulled, and may go a ways towards explaining the results of this first load-

Winchester 145gr RNL, 2.8gr. Unique, CCI500 primer

S&W 3-1/4″ barrel- 540 fps. 94 ft/lbs SD: 28

This performance is similar to the results for firing the factory ammo through the 1-5/8″ gun last time, and the bullets keyholed at 7 yards. I didn’t even bother to test them out of the shorter gun. Next…!

160gr. .361 LSWC, 2.7gr. Unique, CCI500 primer

S&W 3-1/4″ barrel- 754 fps. 202 ft./lbs SD: 24

S&W 1-5/8″ Barrel- 722 fps. 185 ft/lbs SD: 31

This load, while still considered safe for top-break revolvers, doubles the power of the factory load, and is my new defensive load for this caliber. I will restrict this to my S&Ws, though. They are of high enough quality to handle this load, but even they won’t be getting it as a steady diet; there’s simply no need to risk beating up an antique gun when practice and recreational shooting can be accomplished with milder loads.

That is very much a thing to bear in mind; a couple of these loads are pushing the boundaries, notably the two .32 S&W long handloads. It’s nice to know what the cartridge and gun can do, but unless you are employing the weapon for self-defense there is absolutely no reason to load to that level of power. If you are shooting for pleasure or even hunting small game, a factory-level load will do just fine… and be a heck of a lot less hard on your gun.

Next time we’ll be heading further down the black powder path, attempting to replicate the original loads for .32 S&W and .38 S&W. Gel tests will happen further down the road; setting up to do them is a not inconsequential expense, for me at least.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 19 January 2020

Slow Isn't Fast…

…but it can get you to do it right, and right is fast.

Training is good. If you have the money and interest to take courses, well that’s great… if it’s good training. Because if or when you need to defend yourself, you will fight as you have trained. If you have trained well and had good training it will significantly increase your odds of surviving. If you’ve had bad training… well, you know the saying, ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’

It’s axiomatic that the gun you have is better than the gun you left at home… but no gun is going to help if you can’t do your part.

Unfortunately training is expensive, and it should be; this is serious stuff. A good instructor has spent a lot of time and energy to learn their skills and how to impart them to you. The fact that something is worth it, however, doesn’t mean you can afford it. The good news is that there are many things you can do to train yourself that don’t cost a fortune.

A lot of people don’t have access to a facility where they can practice defensive shooting. Many ranges have prohibitions against working from a holster, rapid fire etc. This needn’t handicap you entirely; there are still useful training methods you can employ. These methods are far from comprehensive and will not turn you into any kind of ace pistolero… but they will help.

First Things First

All sorts of people will tell you that being able to hit the target at the shooting range is very different from shooting in an actual confrontation, and they are correct. Being able to hit the target doesn’t mean you will be able to hit an attacker… but being unable to hit a target pretty much guarantees you won’t. The most elementary skill you will want for self defense is the ability to hit what you aim at, and every round you fire at the bullseye will work in your favor if the worst happens.

Whatever you carry, however you train, it all starts with accuracy.

Get it right, then get it fast.

In his 1403 treatise, ‘The Flower of Battle,’ Fiore advises us (paraphrasing) ‘Train slow; in the fight anger (stress and adrenaline) will give you speed.’ Essentially it’s more important to train to do it right, and let speed come to you when it’s needed. This actually works; I never practiced a ‘fast-draw’ in my competition days. Instead I focused on doing it right every single time, drawing slowly and raising the gun to eye-level to obtain a sight picture. I repeated this thousands of times, grinding it into my muscle-memory. Despite the fact that I didn’t train for the quick-draw when the buzzer went off to start a stage I got my gun out and into action plenty fast.

It’s a good drill, and you can do it anywhere you won’t scare someone. Unload the gun and put it in your carry holster. Have a small target set across the room. Verify that the gun is empty (or better yet loaded with a Snap Cap dummy round,) then grasp the handle and draw the gun, raise it to eye-level. Focus on moving the gun in the shortest path, without extra movement and have the muzzle slightly up so that the first part of the gun that enters your line of sight is the front sight. Center this in the rear sight notch as the gun come on target and squeeze the trigger while maintaining sight alignment.

Do this enough times- maybe several thousand repetitions- and you will be able to get a sight picture very quickly when drawing the gun, and at need you will draw quickly.

Shooting Drills

There are useful drills you can use even if your range is quite restrictive, and they should be used in conjunction with standard target shooting. Maybe you can’t work from the holster of rapid-fire, but these exercises will help. These names are what I call these drills; there might be other names for them but I don’t know them; I’m just some schmuck who does what he can, not as highly trained combat pistol expert. All of these drills are done slowly; after all, in training there’s no point in shooting faster than you can hit the target. The idea is to train to do it right every time. Note that these are all about basic shooting skill; you still need to consider tactics etc. in an actual fight. These drills are designed for a revolver, because that’s what I usually carry, but are easily adapted to a semi-auto.

7-3-2 (Seven yards, three positions, two shots each)

With a standard pistol target at seven yards, fire two shots holding the gun with both hands, then two shots from your strong hand, then two shots from your weak hand. Don’t shoot any faster than you can keep all six shots in the black. This will insure that you get enough practice in all three modes of firing.


Same as the drill above, but for each shot you start with the gun pointed downrange at waist level, then bring it to eye level, get a sight picture and fire a single shot, then lower the gun and do it again. This is simple training on acquiring a sight picture.

3-3-6 (three yards, three positions, six shots)

This is a point-shooting drill. I’m not a huge fan of point-shooting, but it is undeniably useful at very close range. With the target at three yards, keeping both eyes open, raise the gun to mid-chest level, point it at the target without using the sights and fire six shots. Watch where the bullets strike and walk them into the center of the target. Do this two-handed, with your strong hand and with your weak hand. Don’t try to rush it- be conscious of the feel of the gun and how it points naturally in your hand. look at the gun at first to be sure it’s pointed at the target. The goal is to consistently get all six shots in the black. If you haven’t tried this before, it’s harder than it sounds.

My first attempt, and I did it wrong. I was going for speed, and my left-handed shots were all over the place. Avoid the temptation to just ‘dump’ the cylinder. Takes your time, get it right.

3-2-1 (Three Shots, Two positions, One shot at a time)

After you’ve gotten good at the drill above it’s time to step it up. With the target at three yards, start with the gun in your strong hand, pointed downrange at waist level, with both eyes open. Raise the gun to mid-chest and fire a single shot at the target. Switch to the left hand and repeat. Keep switching hands until you have fired all six shots. Once again the goal is to land all shots in the black.

Results of my last 3-2-1 drill. Again, I did this wrong by pushing for speed; I have to wonder if I’d just slowed down a bit I might have gotten them all where they belong.

Of course you also need to practice reloads, clearing jams etc. Like the draw, though, these actions can be practiced nearly anywhere. Well, anywhere you won’t freak out bystanders… Anyway, a lot has been written on those subjects and we don’t need to rehash them here.

These simple drills will not turn you into the ultimate gunfighter, but they can be practiced by anyone in almost any shooting venue… and they might just help save your life.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 January, 2020

Shooting Antique Firearms: Recoil is The Enemy

Guns were made to be used. It doesn’t matter if they are brand new or more than a century old, and I buy antique guns to shoot them. There are a variety of reasons to do this; a sense of connection to history, the ability to buy a better quality gun without paying modern prices, curiosity to see what they can do, or even just because it’s fun. But these are not modern firearms with modern material science; they have limitations, and you ignore these at your peril.

I am nobody’s idea of an ‘expert.’ I don’t have access to high-tech scientific equipment. I’m not a material scientist, a chemist or any other relevant sort of ‘ist.’ This is not ‘The Received Gospel,’ it’s my opinion. It’s based on experience, research and observation… but at the end of the day it’s just an (arguably) informed opinion.

C96 Mauser ‘broomhandle,’ a WW1 Civilian Model. Chambered in 7.63 Mauser… but it will chamber 7.62 Tokarev… which will break this gun in short order.

I’ve been mucking around with firearms for a good few decades now, and for the last few years I’ve been shooting antiques a lot. I routinely ignore the advice against using smokeless powders in these guns, and it has never even once proven to be an issue.

Mind you, I’ve seen more than one antique broken, and I can say when I have seen this occur it has almost always been a gun that was in no condition to shoot to begin with, or it broke under circumstances that would have been equally lethal to a modern firearm. Plugged bores, double charges, wrong caliber ammunition… a gun doesn’t have to be a ancient to fall to these things!

Another thing to recall is that not all guns were created equal. In my recent ammo test my 3-1/4″ barreled H&R routinely fired the same loads at significantly lower velocities than my S&W… despite the S&W having 1/2 the barrel length! This was owing to sloppy tolerances on the H&R, which was an economy brand in the way-backs.

H&R .38 Safety Hammerless- beautifully refinished with lovely mother-of-pearl grips… but it was still a cheap gun, with specifications and tolerances that reflect that.

My Smith & Wesson .38 Safety Hammerless, for comparison is still tight and right after more than three-thousand rounds of comparatively ‘hot’ ammo. I doubt the H&R would be unscathed after two or three hundred rounds of the same ammo.

Some guns were set up for failure, notably surplussed Webley .455 revolvers. Most of these had the cylinders cut to take .45 ACP in moon clips, since .455 was not a popular caliber in America. Unfortunately while this ammo can be made to fit, commercial ammo is significantly overpowered for these guns, and quickly reduced most of them to loose, wobbly junk. Which brings us to the crux of this conversation…

Webley Mk.1 .445 cut for .45 ACP. Excellent revolver, but if you shoot factory .45 ACP in it it won’t be excellent for long.

We make much of the difference between the pressure of black powder rounds versus smokeless rounds, but in a sound antique gun this really isn’t what makes the difference. Pressure is not directly responsible for a fine antique double going off-face, or a revolver loosening up. It’s recoil that does it. The metallurgy of these old guns is not up to modern standards, and repeated hammering with high-recoil loads stretches and deforms the metal.

L.C.Smith damascus double- the barrel material isn’t the issue, it’s the condition of the bores that matters. In it’s day this was very nearly a top-of-the-line shotgun… but a steady diet of high-powered modern loads will put it off-face, necessitating expensive repairs, or worse, consigning it to wall-hanger status.

Yes, high-pressure loads are likely (but not guaranteed) to recoil harder. Heavy projectiles or shot loads will also accomplish this. Some ammunition, like .32 S&W or .38 S&W, are commercially loaded with this in mind. These loads are deliberately anemic to avoid breaking old and/or poor quality guns. You can safely shoot them in any sound gun chambered for these cartridges.

If you reload your own cartridges, black powder or black powder substitutes can be a good option. In the 19th century if you wanted to make a cartridge more powerful you made it hold more powder. Black Powder needs to fill all the empty space in the cartridge, and ideally it should be compressed. You can’t fit enough FFg in a cartridge to blow up the gun it was designed for, provided that gun is in sound, shootable condition.

Two options in .450 Adams- on the left a 210gr. bullet ( instead of the more typical 225gr. bullet) seated deep over a slightly reduced charge of BP. On the right is a 138 gr. round ball, seated deep. Even though the powder charge is significantly larger that the round on the left, the light projectile causes dramatically less recoil, and consequently less wear on the gun.

Reduced black powder loads can be obtained a number of ways; you can insert spacers to take up room, allowing you to use less powder without creating a dangerous air-space in the cartridge. You can use light-for caliber bullets seated more deeply in the case. You can even physically shorten the case so that it holds less powder. Any of these methods or combination of them can be used to produce reduced-recoil loads.

For shotguns RST produces a wide range of ammunition in a large variety of bores and lengths tailored to be used in antiques. They aren’t cheap, but they are excellent ammunition; extremely reliable and consistent. Despite the lower pressure and power of these loads they are so good that most users don’t feel they have given anything up compared to modern shells.

You can of course reload your own, and there are websites devoted to this; a little Google-fu could be well worth your time! RST tends to use light-for-caliber loads in their shells, and if you load your own you’d be well-advised to do the same. Look for light slugs, load 1/4-ounce less shot… your gun will last a lot longer.

Another thing to remember with antique shotguns is to use the correct length of ammunition; antique shells were often not quite the same length as modern shells. These days cartridges like 12-gauge have pretty much settled in to 2-3/4″, 3″ and 3-1/2″. In antique guns, however, the chambers can be 2″ or 2-1/2″. While it might not be disastrous to shoot modern 2-3/4″ shells in a 2-1/2″ gun, it could be… and it certainly won’t be good for the gun!

The most important factor, both for safety and to preserve your guns and insure you can enjoy them for years to come, is to know what you are doing. Educate yourself; there are vast resources online, including not merely blogs and forums, but also out-of print books that can be downloaded, often for free, in .pdf form. Sharpe’s 1937 ‘Complete Guide to Handloading’ is excellent; Google it. You’ll be glad you did!

If you are mindful, educated and careful antique guns can provide years or decades of great enjoyment and satisfaction. I recommend it highly… provided that you are prepared to do the footwork to do it sensibly and safely.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 January 2019

How Obsolete Are They? Chronograph Results

Last autumn I said that I would be testing several obsolete calibers with both factory and hand-loaded ammunition. This afternoon I went to Renton Fish & Game to start the process. Buckle up, this is a long one!

The test guns, from top to bottom: Webley Model 1883 RIC in .450 Adams, Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20, Iver Johnson .32 Safety Hammerless (1st Model) in .32 S&W, Smith & Wesson .38 Safety Hammerless (4th Model) in .38 S&W, and a Harrington & Richardson .38 Hammerless (2nd Model) in .38 S&W

This being the first trip the results are quite incomplete; I did not have original factory-style bullets to do black powder loads for .32 & .38 S&W for example, or suitable bullets to do proper handloads for .32 S&W, and will have to come back to those.

I’d like to thank Greg Ellifritz for providing much of the antique and commercial ammunition used in this test.

.38 S&W

I started out with .38 S&W. Introduced in 1877 for S&W’s compact top-break single-action revolver, this used a case very similar to .38 Colt Short. Instead of using the Colt’s heel-base .375 bullet, however, it used a .360-caliber bullet that fit inside the case. Initially this was loaded with round-nose lead bullets weighing 145-147 gr. over a charge of 12 grains of black powder. The British loaded this case with a 200gr. bullet for military use, and this works well enough in robust Webley and Enfield top-break revolvers, or in solid-frame revolvers, but it is too stout for American-made top-breaks designed for concealment.

Initially the cartridge was used primarily in concealable revolvers, but a number of service-sized revolvers were produced by or for the British.

.38 S&W is still commercially produced, almost entirely using round-nosed lead bullets at modest velocities to render them safe to shoot even in frail antiques. Buffalo Bore does make defensive loads, and Fiocchi still produces British military loads, but these are very much the exception, and their use should be limited to stronger, service-type revolvers.

I had a box of modern 145gr. round-nose lead Winchester factory loads, and two different hand-loads using a .357 125gr. truncated-cone lead bullet and a .361 150gr. semi-wadcutter. The test guns were my 1-5/8″ barreled S&W and my 3-1/4″ barreled H&R. I fired five rounds each of all three loads through both guns; the results are an average of those loads.

Winchester 145gr. (modern) factory ammunition

S&W- 1-5/8″ barrel: 535 fps. 92 ft./lbs SD: 39

H&R- 3-1/4″ barrel: 478 fps. 74 ft./lbs SD: 42

This modern factory ammunition is very under-powered, probably to make it safe to shoot in even the poorest-quality antique handguns.

125gr. TCL, 2.7gr. of Unique with a CCI 500 small pistol primer

S&W 1-5/8″ barrel: 621 fps. 107 ft./lbs SD: 21

H&R 3-1/4″ barrel: 566 fps. 89 ft./lbs SD: 11

This is a deliberately light load meant to be ‘top-break friendly,’ in the interest of being kind to antique guns of this type.

150gr. LSWC, 2.7gr. of Unique with a CCI 500 small pistol primer

S&W 1-5/8″ barrel: 672 fps. 150 ft./lbs SD: 14

I only had five of these with me, so I decided to shoot them out of the shorter gun as these are the loads I use when I carry this as a pocket-gun.

It’s interesting that the much shorter barrel on the S&W consistently produced significantly higher velocities than the longer barrel on the H&R; I can only presume that the tolerances on the S&W are significantly tighter.

.32 S&W

This cartridge was introduced as a center-fire replacement for .32 Rimfire in 1878 by the union Metallic Cartridge Company, and was widely used in small, concealable pistols. Typically such guns had barrels of 2-3″ in length, though longer-barreled examples were made.

Original loads used an 88gr. lead round-nose bullet over 9 grains of black powder (measured by volume, as was customary for black powder.) This supposedly yielded around 700 fps., but we do not know the length of barrel used to arrive at this figure. In the early 20th Century the cartridge was typically loaded with black powder long after the adoption of smokeless, but since World War 2 it has been loaded exclusively with smokeless. The round remained popular for purse and pocket guns long after most manufacturers had ceased to produce firearms chambered for it, and is still commercially available.

This cartridge was used in several notable assassinations in the early 20th century, including among the victims President William McKinley, who was shot twice in the abdomen and later succumbed to infection.

The cartridge has never been considered powerful enough for police service, but many a lawman might have kept one tucked away on their person as a last-ditch backup.

Two boxes of Remington factory loads- one modern and one from prior to WW2!

I had two different boxes of ammo for this caliber, both Remington and both loaded with 88gr. RNL bullets. The Iver Johnson test gun has the standard 3-1/4″ barrel, and like the .38s it’s double-action only.

Remington Kleanbore 88gr. LRN

615 fps. 74 ft./lbs SD: 14

Remington Target 88gr. LRN (modern)

611 fps. 73 ft./lbs SD: 17

Not a nickel’s worth of difference between these two loads.

.32-20 (.32 Winchester Center Fire)

Introduced in 1882 as a small game cartridge for Winchester rifles, it was shortly thereafter adopted as a revolver cartridge, and was briefly popular as a police service cartridge. Originally loaded with a 100grain flat-point lead bullet over 20 grains of black powder, it made the transition to smokeless powders at the end of the 19th. century. Many iconic revolvers, such as the Single Action Army and Police Positive Special from Colt, and the S&W Hand-Ejector, were produced and remained popular until World War 2. It’s popularity waned in the post-war years, and few if any commercial rifles and no commercial revolvers are produced for it today, though ammunition is still available.

While intended as a small game cartridge many a deer has been taken with it since its inception. These days commercial ammunition is typically loaded to modest levels of power in deference to the antique firearms it was made for.

The test gun is an early Colt Police Positive Special with a 4″ barrel.

I had four loads to test in this caliber, two antique loads of unknown origin, a smokeless handload and a black powder handload, both using a 96gr. LRNFP from Aardvark bullets.

100gr. copper-washed LRNFP (unknown if this is commercial or handloaded.)

779 fps. 135 ft./lbs SD: 23

115gr. LRNFP (unknown if this is commercial or handloaded.)

761 fps. 149 ft./lbs SD: 13

96gr. LRNFP, 3.7gr. of Unique with a CCI500 small pistol primer

744 fps. 118 ft./lbs SD: 35

This load is rather light, as you can see. I usually load this bullet over 4.0 gr. of Unique; I’ll be testing that load in the future.

96gr. LRNFP, 12.7gr. Hodgden Triple 7 FFFg (black powder substitute) with a CCI500 small pistol primer

837 fps. 149 ft./lbs SD: 12

This powder charge is measured by weight, not volume (as was more typical with Black powder.) Triple-7 yields slightly higher velocity than black powder, but cannot be compressed as much. On the balance this load is probably a fair approximation of the original load for this cartridge.

.450 Adams

This cartridge was the first centerfire cartridge adopted by the British military for their Beaumont-Adams cartridge-conversion revolvers, but it’s use spread rapidly to the Webley RIC revolver, the Webley Bulldog and to countless copies of the Bulldog made in Belgium. While the British military replaced it in service in 1880, it remained a widely used revolver cartridge into the early 20th century. In fact it was in use as a ‘second standard’ cartridge for the British until at least the end of WW1, as it could be fired in .476 and .455 revolvers.

It has been known as .450 Adams, .450 Boxer, .450 Corto, .450 Colt, .45 Webley and maybe even a couple others I have missed. It is out of commercial production, though Fiocchi occasionally does a small run of .450 Corto.

Webley RIC revolver with a 2-1/2″ barrel used as the test gun.

It’s original loading was with a 225gr. RNL bullet over 13gr. of black powder, yielding a muzzle velocity of 725-750fps. from the long-barreled Adams revolvers.

I am using Hodgden Triple-7 FFFg black powder substitute in my loads. This typically generates slightly higher velocities than black powder, but modern cartridges hold rather less powder than the original ‘balloon-head’ cases used for this cartridge, so I think it makes for a fair approximation. I was unable to obtain 225gr. bullets in time for this test, but I will be reproducing the original load and testing it at a later date. I had two loads available for this test.

138gr. .451 lead ball, 10gr. of Triple-7 FFFg and a CCI550 large pistol primer

628 fps. 121 ft./lbs SD: 16

This was made as an ‘antique-friendly’ light target load. It proved accurate at 7 yards, and ought to be gently on old guns.

210gr. copper-washed LSWC, 7.5gr. of Triple-7 FFFg and a CCI 550 large pistol primer

551 fps. 142 ft./lbs SD: 9

In the near future I will be developing more smokeless loads for this cartridge.

So what does it all mean?

This test is meant primarily as a baseline for comparison purposes in future tests. Eventually as finances allow I’ll be testing these rounds in an equivalent of FBI-standard ballistic gel tests, both to see what they were capable of, and to see what they can be safely made to do now.

I’ll also be testing .32 S&W Long, but I wasn’t prepared for that today. It’s going to be a bit catch-as-can as I work this in around my ‘day job’ and finances, but I’ll keep you updated as I go along.

As usual, all loading data contained in this post is used at your own risk. Load data should be approached cautiously, especially when it heralds from a dubious source such as the internet!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 January 2020

Range Report for 3 January, 2020: Trials and Errors

Another early evening trip to Champion Arms shooting range in Kent, WA. A bit of test shooting, some practice and drills. A good time overall, but not without issues…

Issue number one, I used the bullseye targets they print on-site, and I don’t know if they’ve changed the paper they’re using, but this time they were tearable. No, that’s not a typo; the targets had a marked tendency to tear when the bullets hit them. A pretty minor quibble; if the problem persists I’ll mention it to them.

Southern Comfort, my Frankengun .38 Sort Colt cartridge conversion, had an issue with punching holes in the primers. I replaced the firing pin and that fixed that. So of course now there’s an issue with the hand spring; the gun has decided to only rotate the cylinder if I point the muzzle up. Bugger. The good news it it has turned out to be surprisingly accurate!

Yes, there really are five bullet holes there, but you have to look very, very close. Target was shot at seven yards. You can see what I mean about the target tearing.

Next up was the Colt Detective Special .32. I did some drills at seven yards and noticed a couple of keyholed hits. Not a good thing… and it got worse. I ran the target out a bit further and accuracy was out the window, and practically every bullet that didn’t keyhole exhibited yawing. These bullets don’t normally do this, but the most recent box has shown this tendency. I’ve contacted the manufacturer.

Drilling with the Detective Special. This is what I call the 7-3-2 drill. At seven yards fire two rounds using a two-hand grip, switch to strong-hand and fire two more, then switch the gun to the left hand and fire the last two shots. Note that several of the bullets have keyholed.
Adding a bit more range and things quickly go to hell. Accuracy is right out the window and more bullets are keyholing than not. Very disappointing!

The Old Dog- a Model 1902 .38 Special- was in fine form, and liking the mid-range 125gr. loads.

More of the 7-3-2 drill. I really like this old gun. I should mention that the point of the 7-3-2 drill isn’t speed- though that comes eventually- but to insure you are competent in all three modes. Don’t shoot this drill any faster than you can get hits; build the muscle memory right!

I tried something different this evening too- the Panic Shot drill. It’s simple- target at three yards, gun in a single-hand grip pointed downward. Point the gun (without raising it to eye level) and get a shot off as fast as you can, alternating strong and weak hand. If you have a partner have them signal you when to fire. It can be very revealing.

Yeah… need some work on this one!

Aside from the minor issue with Southern Comfort’s hand-spring and the keyholing bullets it was an enjoyable and productive session. I’ll get the hand-spring fixed, dead easy really, and get some different .32 bullets.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 3 January 2020

Oh, and Happy New Year!

.251 TCR Addenda

.251 TCR is about to be listed on, and this prompted me to take a closer look at loaded case dimensions. The case diameter is actually .272, not .275; the chamber is reamed to .275 however. The case does not taper, as you can see in the cutaway.

A word about AmmoGuide- they’ve been around for a long time in internet terms, and it shows; their website is archaic. It can take some effort to navigate, and you need to make sure JAVA is active in your browser. That being said, it is a treasure-trove of cartridge and loading data, the like of which I have never seen on the internet. This is a must for anyone into reloading, and for folks shooting wildcats, antique or obscure cartridges it is a gold mine! Well worth the modest yearly subscription.

Of course you can add cartridges (like the .251 TCR.) if you don’t see them, and you can add load data of your own for the cartridges listed. I highly recommend giving it a look.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 December 2019

.38 S&W- A Little Experiment

.38 S&W normally takes a bullet in the .359-.362 diameter range. My S&W slugged at .361″, and lately I’ve been using swaged 125gr./.361 wadcutters with great success… but not everyone can swage their own bullets, so yesterday I tried an experiment.

My ‘high-tech’ set-up for swaging 125gr. lead .357 bullets into .361 LSWCs.

I loaded 50rds. of Aardvark’s 125gr. TCL ‘cowboy’ bullets. In my experience ‘cowboy’ bullets tend to be rather soft so they’ll splatter nicely on steel instead of ricocheting. I wanted to see if they would ‘bump up’ to bore diameter and stabilize properly over a modest load.

I used 2.7gr of Unique, a CCI 500 small pistol primer and a fairly serious crimp. At the range the results were just right; the load shot to point of aim and the targets showed no sign of yawing or key-holing, even all the way out at 25 yards. Recoil was mildly snappy but not unpleasant.

.38 S&W loaded with Aardvark’s 125gr./.357 TCL bullet.

Guns vary; what works in one may not in another. But given the lack of bullets in .361, and that when you find them they are almost always 145-148gr LRNs, it might be worth trying a 125gr./.357 ‘cowboy’ or soft-cast bullet in your gun. Could make life just a little easier, and the lower recoil of the light bullet might help prolong the life of your antique revolver.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 December 2019

Test Day at the Pistol Range

Custom Taurus Falcon .38, target is rapidfire and double-taps at seven yards.

Some days you go to the range for fun. Some days you go to the range because you just have to shoot something, and paper is the safest alternative. Some days, well, you got stuff you need to test. Loads, tweaks to a gun, function testing a new gun. I had to do these things today, so it was off to Champion Arms in Kent, Washington.

Lots of things to test; my Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20 shoots consistently low with every load I have tried, and I cautiously trimmed the front sight a wee bit to try to bring the groups up to point of aim. The custom Taurus Falcon .38 was shooting low and right. I shortened the front sight a bit and did a little… uh… impact therapy to see if I could get things centered up better.

My vintage Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20. Moose-antler grips spruce things up a little, and the Tyler T-grip helps my big meathooks hang on properly.
I shortened the front sight a bit and painted it orange for better visibility, and widened the rear sight aperture.

I also had two new guns to test. Well, sort of new. ‘Southern Comfort,’ my brass-framed 1851 Navy ‘Avenging Angel-style’ cartridge conversion, had the arbor pull out of the frame at some point. The previous owner had thoughtfully glued it back in. I discovered it the first time I test fired it, when half the gun followed the bullet downrange. OK, I thought, That’s not right…

I’d happened across a brass frame somewhere or other and decided to replace it the bad one… then I decided to change the barrel to a .375 barrel to shoot .38 Short Colt. Of course I needed a new cylinder and breechplate for that. By the time I was done the only parts left from the original gun were the custom grip-frame, grips and trigger-guard, so it’s basically kinda’ a new gun.

The other new gun is an anonymous reproduction of a Colt 1849 ‘Wells Fargo’ .31 that was thrown in as a sweetener on a deal earlier this year. I’d already re-done a .31 Colt reproduction into a .22, so I considered making this one a .32 S&W. But then it occurred to me that it would be a bit more unique to do it up as a .251 TCR (if you don’t know what that is you can read about it here.)

Long story short I re-barreled it, turned a new 5-shot cylinder from 4140, made a breech ring with a rebounding firing pin and changed it over to a sheathed spur-trigger. The last bit I did because I could barely fit my fat finger in the trigger-guard.

Colt Wells Fargo repro converted to .251 TCR. It’s small- that’s only a 3-1/3″ barrel. Lovely handling on this little gun!

I also had some new .251 TCR loads to test using Red Dot powder, which I felt might be a good match for this cartridge.

So, How’d it Go?

Starting with the Police Positive Special .32-20. Good grouping, and the modified sights were a great improvement… but it’s still shooting a bit low. For those interested the load used was an Aardvark Bullets 95gr. RNFP over 3.7gr. of Unique with a Federal #100 small pistol primer. I haven’t chronographed this load, but it ought to be making somewhere around 900fps. It’s definitely got some pop to it; it seems like a pretty nice load for this old gun.

Next was the Taurus Falcon .38. Shot to point of aim at seven yards, good groups. trying out some rapid-fire and double taps produced an acceptable result, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’ll need to work with this gun some more. The load used was an Aardvark Bullets 125gr. TCL bullet over 3.9gr. of Red Dot with a Federal #100 primer. This is a peppy load, but seems well within standard pressure limits.

Southern Comfort had a small issue; while it shot well the firing pin is a wee bit long and sharp, and punched holes in the primers of all five test shots. That being the case I put the gun up for the day. I’ll rectify this soon. On the plus side the action is unusually sweet, and it easily shot ‘minute-of-bad-guy’ at seven yards.

The load used was a Buffalo Bullets dry-lubed .375 LRN over 10gr. of triple Seven ( a black powder substitute.) The bullets were converted to a heel-base, and loaded into .38 S&W brass, which is virtually identical to .38 Colt Short brass. I don’t know what kind of velocity these are making, but it ain’t fast. I need to chronograph a few and see what’s what.

.38 Colt Short- not a powerhouse!

Firing-pin issues seemed to be the problem of the day; the Wells Fargo shot well… for one cylinder. Then it called it for today by ejecting it’s firing pin; apparently it was secure enough for test-firing primers, but actual cartridges? Not so much. Since it was the first time firing the gun I was more concerned with function than accuracy, but it seemed to put the bullets where I pointed it and functioned perfectly. I will need to hone the chambers; they were a bit sticky.

The load used in this gun was a mid-range load, a Rimrock Bullets hard-cast 55gr. LRNFP over 1.5gr of Red Dot with a Federal #100 primer. This is roughly a .22 LR equivalent load. but I wanted to take it easy on the gun the first time out.

I got the Uberti test-gun out for the other new load- the Rimrock 55gr. over 2.0gr of Red Dot. This proved quite accurate; it’s a good load, but I think the power can be cranked up; I’m pretty sure these hard-cast pills can take a good bit more velocity. I need to chronograph the load, but I suspect it’s doing 1000-1050 fps.

Altogether a pretty decent day of testing; everything basically worked. The things that didn’t are all easy fixes.

NOTE: Load data included in this article should be used with caution, and any use of this data is done at the readers own risk.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 December 2019

Elsie Rides Again, Part 1…

L.C. Smith hammerless 12-gauge, grade No.0

Perusing the Shelves at Pinto’s Guns I came across an L.C. Smith 12-gauge double. It looked pretty bad; it had been liberally slathered with shellac at some point- metalwork, wood, everything, presumably to protect it as a wall-hanger. The bores were obviously somewhat pitted- hard to tell about the right-hand barrel; couldn’t see past the spiderwebs and lint. No, I’m not kidding. The fore-end was broken and the nut had been crudely replaced. It was, in a word, ugly.

On the other hand it locked up like a bank vault, and when I rang the barrels it was like a church bell (this indicates that the barrels are still solidly joined.) The triggers were fantastic, and everything was there and worked as it should. I thought if nothing else it might serve as a donor-gun for a double-rifle project I’ve had in mind. It was also dirt cheap- which didn’t stop me from negotiating a bit. We quickly arrived at a satisfactory price, and we walked out with the shotgun.

No, that’s not lighting. It’s the shellac which has yellowed with age.

L.C. Smith started in the gun trade making the Baker Triple-barrel gun in around 1881, and moved into double-barrel hammer shotguns shortly thereafter. These were fine shotguns; in 1884 prices ranged from $55-$300, which was a hell of a lot of money in those days. They began to make hammerless guns a few years later, which ranged from $80-$450! In 1888 L.C.Smith sold the company to Hunter Arms and went into the typewriter business.

Hunter Arms produced the L.C.Smith shotguns until 1945, when they were bought out by Marlin. The brand survived until 1971- a pretty long and illustrious history for an American brand.

The particular gun I bought is the second lowest grade they produced the year it was made- a Grade No.0., which was listed at $48. For perspective that was significantly more than the average monthly income, which was around $39. In modern terms, adjusted for the current average monthly wage, this would make it the equivalent of a shotgun costing several thousand dollars. These were not by any means an average sportsman’s gun!

The broken fore-stock. This damage is mirrored on the other side. You can see the beautiful damascus pattern through the shellac.

Arriving home I cleaned the barrels- bad, but not too bad; minor pitting pretty much down the length of the barrels. I checked into some tools and consulted a friend in the trade, and it seems likely the bores can be honed into a decent condition; there is more than ample metal remaining. In an emergency I’d have no real qualms about firing it; though I frankly can’t imagine an emergency that would require me to.

Ugly, gloopy shellac. Yuck!

Wait, Tinker… did you say fire it? But it’s damascus! Have you got a death-wish?

OK, we’ve covered this. People in Europe think we’re nuts not to shoot our damascus guns; they do it all the time. Hell, the big proof houses regularly proof damascus guns, and there are folks right here in the U.S. that perform this service privately. Not to mention hundreds of aficionados that hunt and even shoot sporting clays with them. One fellow I am acquainted with puts several thousand rounds a year through his doing this.

Mind you, this is an antique shotgun and needs to be treated as such; you should not fire such a gun without having it looked at by a qualified gunsmith. Also using relatively mild loads is advisable to prolong it’s working life, but within those limitations there’s no reason not to shoot it, and I fully intend to. ‘Nuff said.

Not at all a bad-looking piece of wood despite the shellac. English Walnut, according to the catalog.

My friend in the trade advised me that alcohol would remove the shellac, but I found acetone worked better. I spent a couple of hours this afternoon with rags, 0000 steel wool and a toothbrush and removed it all. Underneath was, well, a pretty decent old shotgun.

From the wear on the checkering, both here and on the fore-stock, this gun had a long working life!
With the shellac removed this is some very pretty wood.
Now that it’s cleaned up the pattern of the damascus really pops.

I’m planning to replace the fore-stock and hone the bores, but what, if anything, will I do on top of that? I don’t know. Certainly I’ll have the side-plates off and clean out the action as needed, and likely I’ll remove the trigger-guard to facilitate cleaning up around the triggers. I could go with straight conservation, light restoration or go whole-hog. Whatever I do eventually, I’ve already started with conservation. Likely I will fully refinish the stock to match the new fore-end, but I have no firm plans past that.

However far I take it, I’m very much looking forward to the process, and the results!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 December 2019

Have I Mentioned Recently That I’m an Idiot?

OK, the other day I did a little rant about cartridges not being the caliber they claim to be. It’s true; many aren’t. So why do I feel like an idiot (aside from the obvious?) Because the reason for that rant… well, it wasn’t valid.

My dial caliper, used for measuring things in thousandths of an inch, is getting pretty long in the tooth, so I was using the crappy electronic caliper that I don’t normally use. Why don’t I use it? Because it’s a piece of crap and won’t hold a zero. This is not because it’s made in China; it’s because I’m a cheap bastard and bought a crappy tool.

This crappy tool told me that the bullets were actually .245″, not .25 caliber. Worse, it did so consistently enough that I believed it. So today when my new, proper, non-electronic caliper arrived I went back and measured things and lo and behold! My bullets were magically .250-.251 again.


So I am sitting here tucking into a heaping helping of crow, and the clever swage-block I made the other day based on the crappy tool is just a wee bit, what, too small you think? No! They are too large!

It’s a really crappy tool.

So I managed to swage a mess of bullets I can’t use, including some jacketed bullets. So why, you may ask, am I swaging jacketed bullets? Why, to make these of course…

50gr. Wadcutter Hollow-points

Launched at about 1050fps. these could be very interesting… To make them I simply push a 50gr. FMC into the swaging die with the open end up, insert a punch with a projection on the face to make the hollow-point and hammer away. Works a treat.

I’m imagining seven of these loaded in an airweight J-frame… could be some real potential for a light-recoiling defensive pistol…

I’ll soon be testing two new loads, one using a 65gr. LSWC and another using the H&N 31gr Hollow-points. We’ll see how those work out.

OK, this blog is not going to turn into ‘Tinker Talks .251 TCR.’ I’ll keep you updated, but I’ll be resuming the usual chaotic mix next time out.

By the way, don’t look for the other article. I’ve edited it into this post so that I am not spreading bad information. Anyway, this plate of crow isn’t going to eat itself…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 November 2019