Belly Guns- Concealed Carry in the Old West

I’m not sure where the term ‘Belly Gun’ came from, but it was a slang term for a hide-out gun in the Old West. Some have suggested that it meant the guns were intended to be used when you were ‘belly to belly,’ but the fact that these guns were often equipped with reasonable-length barrels and sights casts doubt on this notion. Initially at least this seems to have indicated a use for a gun rather than a type. After the Civil War the term seems more and more to have referred to short-barrelled firearms, and by the 20th C. it seems to have been firmly fixed as referring to a snub-nose revolver.

In point of fact any hideout piece meant to be employed with stealth and surprise was termed a ‘Belly gun,’ and many of them were not revolvers. I’ve seen reference to a Hammond Bulldog, a single-shot pistol chambered in .44 Henry Rimfire, as a person’s ‘Belly Gun.’ Certainly in modern terms though, this term is now applied almost exclusively to revolvers.

There have actually been revolvers intended for concealed carry for about as long as there have been practical revolvers. The original Colt Patterson was a .28 caliber revolver, and was quite svelte enough to be carried concealed. Being underpowered, fussy and rather fragile it was not a commercial success.

After Colonel Walker’s commision for 1000 Walker Colt horse pistols, the first new commercial endeavor Colt undertook was the .31 Caliber ‘Baby Dragoon,’ a small .31 caliber revolver intended from the outset as a concealed self-defense pistol. This was followed immediately by the 1849 .31 Pocket Model, which incorporated mechanical improvements and a loading lever, and the ‘Wells Fargo,’ an 1849 with a short barrel and no loading lever. The 1940/Wells Fargo line became the best-selling Colt percussion revolvers, with over 300,000 produced between 1849-1873.

Colt’s popular .31 Pocket revolvers. Top is the 1848, middle is the 1849 Pocket Model and bottom is the Wells Fargo.

Smith & Wesson jumped into the game in 1857 with their Model #1 revolver, chambered in .22 Rimfire (which we now call .22 Short) and shortly thereafter with a .32 Rimfire. These were not short-barrelled guns as such, but they were quite svelte and easily concealed under the clothing of the time.

S&W Model #1
S&W #2 Army in .32 Rimfire

Both the Colt and S&W concealable factory revolvers of this era were rather anemic, and some people wanted something with a bit more punch. This led to chopping the barrels off of Colt Navy .36 caliber revolvers. Early Mormons were notorious for this, and they came to be referred to as ‘Avenging Angels’ or ‘Mormon Avengers.’ When the 1869 Army .44 was introduced this treatment was applied to them as well. Judging from the numbers of surviving examples this appears to have been widely done, but not necessarily common.

Colt ‘Avenging Angels.’ Top: 1851 Navy, middle gun is based on an Army revolver, and the bottom gun is based on a Pocket Police .36

Remington cast it’s hat in the ring in 1857 with several percussion revolvers, including Remington-Beals single-action models and Remington-Rider double-action percussion revolvers ranging in caliber from .31-.44. These included several pocket models, which were available in .31 and .36 caliber, and all of the early Rider revolvers were intended as pocket-guns. The did introduce a variant of the 1858 using the Rider double-action mechanism in 1863 that was a belt pistol.

Top: Remington-Beals pocket model Bottom: Remington-Rider Double-Action pocket models. The top one has been converted to fire metallic cartridges.

After the Civil War metallic cartridges began to supplant percussion guns. S&Ws monopoly on the bored-through cylinder expired and others, including Colt began to introduce pistols and revolvers that used metallic cartridges. Initially these were conversions of percussion revolvers, but in 1871 Colt introduced their first solid-frame, purpose-built cartridge revolvers, the House Pistol and Cloverleaf (so named due to it’s four-shot cylinder) chambered in .41 Rimfire.

Colt Cloverleafs in .41 Rimfire

By 1885 a bewildering variety of small cartridge revolvers were being marketed, all intended to serve the concealed carry market. All the big-name makers offered pocket revolvers, and ‘British Bulldog’ revolvers were imported both from Britain and Belgium. In the US Forehand & Wadsworth made their fortune on their domestically-produced ‘British Bulldogs.’ Colt did market their 1873 in an ejectorless model, which were available with very short barrels, but it was increasingly rare to see cut-down versions of full-sized belt revolvers.

Any and all of these might have been used as, and referred to, as Belly Guns. Of course just covering these would be the subject of a book- or more likely multiple books!

In the early 21st Century Cowboy Action Shooting competition has sparked a renewed interest in the ‘Belly Gun,’ but since of all the vast majority of period revolvers only Colts and Remingtons are normally available as reproductions they are based entirely on cut-down versions of those guns. As long-time readers will know I make a good few of these myself, usually in the form of cartridge-conversion guns.

Pietta 1851 Navy, converted to .45 Schofield and styled in the fashion of an ‘Avenging Angel’ 
Bulldog Revolvers and a Webley RIC in .450 Adams (top left) Top Right: A British Lion revolver in .450 Adams. Middle-Right: A Forehand & Wadsworth ‘British Bulldog in .38 S&W Bottom-Left: A Belgian bulldog in .32 S&W. Belly Guns, one and all.
The Belly Gun that never was- ‘Bulldogged’ Remington 1858s. The top gun is a six-shooter in .44 Colt, the bottom gun is a five-shooter in .45 Colt.  These conversions have become somewhat popular in recent years.

Another ‘Belly Gun,’ this one based on an 1860 Army, with a ‘long cylinder’ conversion to .38 S&W

So the western Belly Gun is alive and well in the modern era, but with scads of more practical options it’s all for fun now. I’m fine with that; I enjoy my modern guns and amenities. But every so often it’s nice to take a step back…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 January 2019


Uncle Hosea’s Little Darling

H.C.Lombard pistol with a modern quarter for size comparison.

In 1860-1861 Hosea C. Lombard manufactured these elegant little pistols and ammunition in a second-floor factory in Springfield. Unfortunately the factory burned down in 1861, and he never resumed production. It’s estimated that during this time fewer than 1,000 guns were produced.

He did continue to live at a boarding-house in Springfield, until his militia unit was called up to move to Washington, DC. early in the civil war. He took ill during the war and had to be sent home, but recovered in time. After the war he met his landlady’s sister, and they married. He subsequently spent time as a fireman and worked at Smith & Wesson before eventually becoming a famous lawman.

What does all of this have to do with me? His landlady was my several times great grandmother, and marrying her sister made him my several-times great uncle. There’s a lot more to this story- when is there not?- but those are tales for another time. All of which brings us to this little pistol. A knowledgeable collector friend came across it, and knowing of my connection to Lombard, gifted it to me. This left me speechless, and very, very grateful.

So, let’s talk about this pistol. As far as I have been able to find out it has no model number or name; it appears to be the only model they produced. It’s a tiny thing; though made of brass and steel is weighs only eight ounces. The length of the barrel is 3-1/2″, the overall length is 6-1/2″ and excepting the grip it is only 1/2″ thick. The grip appears to be Rosewood, the barrel is steel (or iron) and the receiver/frame are brass.

The gun is chambered for .22 Rimfire, which we now call .22 Short. This cartridge used a 29-grain heel-base lead bullet over 4-grains of Black Powder. It was quite an anemic cartridge by modern standards, but having been introduced by S&W only three or so years before this pistol was made it was state-of-the-art at the time.

The gun is a simple single-action design, with a safety notch to prevent the hammer from riding the rim of the cartridge, which would make it possible for the gun to fire if dropped. To operate the gun you pull the hammer back until it engages this notch, then press the button on the bottom of the frame just ahead of the trigger.

This allows the barrel to be swung to either side to open, allowing a cartridge to be placed in or removed from the chamber. There is no extractor or ejector of any kind; fingernails or the edge of a knife had to do. Note the slot on the breech face- this is to allow clearance for the case rim, and may have been intended as a safety measure should the case-head blow out. An unlikely event, but it was still early days for rimfire ammunition.

The barrel is rifled, with four lands and grooves with what appears to be a 1 in 24″ twist rate.

There is a brass front sight and the rear sight is a groove on the hammer-spur, so it is only usable when the gun is cocked; which of course is the only time you need it.

The top of the barrel is engraved, ‘HC Lombard & Co. Springfield, Mass. The barrel appear to have a lacquered finish and the brass frame has a lovely, uniform patina. While there is slight side to side movement in the barrel, overall the tolerances are very tight and the finish if very high-quality. The Rosewood grips have darkened with age but have a lovely grain and figure. The serial number 657 is stamped under the right-side grip panel.

The case shown is not original to the gun, and it’s prevenance will remain a mystery. I doubt that it is contemporary to the gun, but anything is possible.

The introduction of the .22 Rimfire cartridge opened the door to very small guns that were not necessarily miniatures or ‘toys.’ While the bullet from a .22 Short is quite capable of killing a human being the shot would need to be placed most carefully. That being the case guns of this sort tended to be a last-ditch weapon; most likely to be used at near-contact distance. A weapon such as this one might have been carried in a discreet pocket-holster or boot-top, either as a back-up to a larger gun or as ‘a gun to carry when you aren’t carrying a gun.’

Another potential use for this pistol would be as a parlor-gun shooting Flobert BB-Caps. These were short cartridges loaded with a lead ball and no gun powder; they relied on the primer to propel the ball. These are relatively quiet and comparable in power to a pellet rifle, and firing at a target over a simple bullet-trap was a popular after-dinner activity at fashionable parties. One imagines that making wagers was very much a part of this…

So, what are my plans for this delightful little pistol? I’m in the process of procuring some BB or CB Caps; the gun is in excellent mechanical condition and I cannot imagine that such low-powered ammunition could possibly hurt it.

I also plan to copy the pattern of this gun, but rather than a reproduction mine will be an approximation. There is no evidence that this gun has ever been further apart than having the grip removed, and I am certainly not going to dismantle it. I will focus on the appearance, dimensions and apparent mechanical details like the lock-button. The insides? It’s a simple mechanism; I’ll wing it.

I will also take liberties with the materials- modern brass, and some small changes to accommodate this softer metal like a steel plate inset on the breech-face. I’ll also chamber it in .22 LR for convenience. Anyway that is for a future blog post…

This is a wonderful gift that I will treasure always, and I fully intend to pass it, and it’s Tinker-made companion, down to my heirs one day.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 5 January 2019

.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

Rust Blue for Dummies (like me)

As much as I like Van’s Instant Blue it has it’s limitations, and depending on the steel results can be quite variable. It is and will remain my go-to cold blue, but I wanted something a little more professional. Rust blue seemed to be an option that fits my circumstances, and after researching the subject I decided to try Mark Lee Express Blue #1. This is a product that claims to produce a good finish in ‘as little as an hour.’ 

I bought the small bottle (4oz.) from Track of the Wolf.  Including shipping it ran about $17. Service was prompt and the package arrived in a couple of days.

‘Thumper,’ an Armi San Marcos Walker reproduction converted to fire metallic cartridges. The finish in the photo is an ‘antiqued’ treatment.

I had selected ‘Thumper,’ my ASM/Walker cartridge conversion for my first victi… uh… attempt. I completely disassembled the gun and began surface prep. The barrel, cylinder and frame needed to be done. I used 320-grit sandpaper to completely remove all trace of bluing from these parts, using small scraps of wood as sanding blocks where needed to avoid rounding off lines that I wished to remain crisp. The instructions recommended 320-400 grit for this; any finer and the solution might have trouble ‘biting’ into the steel. This entire process took about an hour; it’s a pretty simple gun…

Next I soaked all the parts in acetone as the first stage of de-greasing them. From the time they went into the acetone until the time it was finished I never touched it with bare hands again. I used standard surgical gloves from there on out, and went through several pairs. After the acetone bath I moved from the shop to the kitchen, where I scrubbed all of the parts with warm water and ‘Barkeeper’s Helper’ powdered cleanser. After that I rinsed them thoroughly and dried them.

The instructions recommend heating the parts to 150-200 degrees with a propane torch or other means. For my ‘other means’ I used our toaster oven. I allowed the parts to heat up, then removed them and applied the bluing solution. The directions specify putting a small amount of the bluing solution in a glass or plastic dish and working from that.  This is presumably to prevent contamination of the product in the bottle. I used cotton balls to apply it. 

It’s important not to overdo the application; whatever you are using as a swab should be damp rather than wet. I applied a thin coating to each piece and, with the parts heated to 200 degrees, they dried quickly. I treated each part and then replaced it back in the toaster oven. After three applications I immersed them in boiling water for five minutes. I used tap water for this, but tap water varies and you might want to use distilled water.

At the end of five minutes the parts came out and I patted them dry. They had turned dark gray. I removed the surface residue with de-greased OOOO steel wool. After only one treatment the finish was darker than I had originally used for this gun. I repeated this cycle two more times- three applications, allowing the parts to dry between applications, then boiling and scouring with steel wool before the next applications. After three cycles of treatment I was satisfied with the result, and per the instructions provided with the bluing solution I immersed the parts in a mix of baking soda in water for 30 minutes. Finally I thoroughly oiled the parts and re-assembled the gun.

Thumper after rust-bluing.

The case-hardened frame did not take as dark a color as the barrel and cylinder, but overall I am quite happy with the result. The total time invested in refinishing this gun, including disassembly, surface prep and re-assembly, was about four hours.

I subsequently treated the cylinders of two of my cartridge conversions with very good results, then did a full refinish of a S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector that I have been rehabilitating, and the results were excellent.

Pietta 1858 Remington reproduction, customized and converted to .450 Adams
Armi San Marcos Remington reproduction, customized and converted to .44 Colt (original)
S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector with custom target grips.

It would seem the key to attaining a good result with this product is simply following the given directions scrupulously, and avoiding touching the parts bare-handed after de-greasing. 

Bluing the two guns and the two cylinders used up the entire 4oz. bottle, and there is already another, larger bottle on the way. I can give it no higher recommendation.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 November 2018

Bulldog Round-up

Right around the end of the Civil War Webley introduced a series of solid-frame double action revolvers in large calibers. These were adopted for the Royal Irish Constabulary, causing the model to be officially named the RIC. A short-handled variant for pocket-carry was also introduced, known as a ‘Bulldog.’ These became very popular, and were widely copied in Belgium, Spain and the United States. In the American west of the 19th C. these guns were widely carried by people as a concealed-carry weapon or ‘belly gun,’ to the extent that at least one author has dubbed them, ‘the gun that really won the west.’

While Webley only applied the name ‘Bulldog’ to guns of forty-caliber or larger, guns made in other places were often called ‘British Bulldogs’ regardless of caliber. In Belgium small caliber guns with folding triggers were referred to as ‘Puppies,’ though to the best of my knowledge none were actually marked as such. So here are my Bulldogs, starting with…

The Puppy

I found this gun on Gunbroker being sold for $50 as a parts gun. While it is proudly labelled ‘British Bulldog’ it is most likely Belgian-made. When it arrived I was surprised to find it was pretty much all there, and promptly assembled it into a functional gun. The hammer-spur had been crudely removed, so I smoothed that out first of all.

The gun was chambered in .320 revolver/.32 Colt, which is pretty nearly unobtainium these days. After carefully measuring the cylinder I bored it out to chamber .32 S&W, which I already reload and which has similar operating pressure to .32 Colt.

It’s missing the small part that causes the hammer to rebound to a safe position, so it can only safely have five of the six chambers loaded. I also needed to fabricate a replacement for the trigger-return spring almost immediately, but that was actually pretty easy.

Despite having a surprisingly smooth double-action trigger this was not an easy gun to shoot. Not only are the sights nearly useless, but locating my hand on the grip and preventing it from shifting under recoil was difficult. Something over thirty years ago I saw a gun in the case in a pawn-shop that had a feature that seemed designed to counter those problems, and since there was an extra screw-hole in the front of the grip frame I reproduced that feature for this gun-

I don’t know if this feature was original to the gun I saw it on or was added by the owner, but I haven’t seen so much as a picture of  a gun so equipped on the Internet. It tremendously improves the gun’s shoot-ability without compromising conceal-ability.

You might notice that the sight is located surprisingly far from the muzzle. I am told that this may have been due to import restrictions on barrel length in some countries, and the sight was located so that the barrel could be cut short after import. I don’t know if this is true, but it makes sense.

Forehand & Wadsworth British Bulldog .38

Forehand and Wadsworth produced their British Bulldog models in America from 1880-1890. These were available as a five-shot in .442 Webley, a six-shot in .38 S&W and a seven-shot in .32 S&W. These revolvers were very popular as concealed-carry ‘belly gun’ or as a back-up to a full-sized revolver.

This .38 caliber example was purchased at a Washington Arms Collector’s show for rather too much money… It turned out that the cylinder pin was inextricably stuck in the gun, and it needed to be bored out to remove it. I very carefully did this after sourcing another from Numerich Arms. The trigger-return spring broke while I was sorting the gun and I had to fabricate a replacement.

The gun does not lock up particularly tightly, but it is shoot-able- though the useless sights make accuracy beyond a few yards a dubious proposition. The double action trigger is, again, surprisingly good. However because of relative lack of accuracy I don’t shoot this gun very often

The British Lion

This is a somewhat enigmatic gun; no one knows who made them for starters. This one has Birmingham proof and inspection marks, but that does not indicate British manufacture, merely that it was imported for sale in Britain. I suspect this was after Webley trademarked the name ‘Bulldog’ in 1878, that being the reason the gun is marked ‘British Lion.’ There is reason to suspect these guns were made in Belgium but this is not certain.

This gun is chambered in .450 Adams. While the ergonomics of the handle can best be described as odd, once you are used to that it is an excellent shooter. The sights- a blade front and a reasonably deep V-notch at the rear- are decently usable at five to seven yards. The gun is quite stout and well-made, giving up little if anything in quality to the Webley Bulldogs.

This was my first big-bore bulldogs, sold to me by a fellow on a Cowboy Action shooting board for a very reasonable price.

The Webley Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary

OK, this is not technically a bulldog, but the previous model of this gun was the ancestor of all Bulldogs, so it’s close enough in my book!

This was the second model of the famous RIC, incorporating numerous improvements over the original model. It is almost certainly the gun used by Dr.Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

 This one is also chambered in .450 Adams. This cartridge was originally loaded with a 225gr. bullet over a charge of 13gr. of FFFFg black powder. Starting in the late 1880s it was loaded with smokeless powder and remained in use as a ‘2nd standard’ cartridge for .455 and .476 caliber revolvers until at least the end of WW1.

The grip of this gun is surprisingly comfortable and the double-action pull is excellent. The timing took a little work, but now the cylinder locks up very tightly. The sights are quite decent with a brass blade in front and a deep v-notch rear sight. Recoil is easily managed, the gun is reasonably accurate and it’s a real pleasure to shoot! I have to reload my own ammunition of course, but that’s no great hardship. 

In Conclusion…

Bulldog revolvers are fun and interesting to collect and shoot; most were not fired much in their working life and are often in quite good condition as a result. Belgian-made Bulldogs and Forehand & Wadsworth revolvers can often be found in usable condition for a few hundred dollars. Webleys command a premium (as they should) and are usually found between $800-$1500.

The usual caveats apply, of course: Have the gun looked over by a competent gunsmith to determine whether it is safe to fire, and exercise great caution when determining the loads you will use. The safest bet is, of course, when in doubt don’t.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 November 2018