Chief’s Special, Now With More Special!

I needed a round-butt J-frame to use as a model/fitting gun for making grips, but was not eager to spring for a new or even good used gun. I mean, it didn’t need to be good for my purposes. I trundled over to Pinto’s Guns in Renton to see what I could find, because you never know with them.

I explained what I needed to Chris, and he disappeared into the back, returning a moment later with a cardboard box. Inside was a fully stripped Chief’s Special that had received some sort of coating like Ceracote. “I think it’s all here,” he said. We quickly agreed on a (very nice) price and it was all over but the paperwork. The ‘box-o-bits’ was mine.

Gun, Interrupted..

Naturally on arriving home the first thing was to assemble it. Not necessary for Grip-making purposes, but definitely needed for Tinker purposes. All the important bits were there, but some of the springs were missing. I got online and in minutes they were on order from Numerich Arms. Shipping cost more than the springs.

The gun also came with a set of ‘oops-I-bought-the-wrong-gun’ shrouded grips, sans grip-screw, of course. They have been re-homed, and I hope their new owner enjoys them.

Naturally I didn’t need the gun to work for grip-making, so I started right in. Made a few different patterns, and in the fullness of time the springs arrived. I installed them and now I had a functional J-frame on the cheap. Consulting folks on the S&W forums it appears my gun was made in 1954 or 55; no model numbers or serial number behind the crane and it has a flat latch.

It had its issues; the edges of the trigger were too sharp and the tip too square, so it could be uncomfortable if I didn’t pull the trigger juuuust right. There was a bit of this and that that wasn’t to my satisfaction too. I’d been hitting it pretty hard in the shop the last couple of weeks, and with a medical appointment this afternoon I decided to play a bit in the morning.

Polished and smooth as, uh, a really smooth thing.

First issue was the sharp trigger. I detail-stripped the gun and took a 600-grit sanding drum to it to round the end and smooth off the sharp edges. Then it was over to the buffing wheel to make it shiny. Mission accomplished.

Next was the hammer spur. I don’t shoot snubbies single–action, and if it isn’t hammerless or shrouded the hammer spur goes. I gotta’ say, the case-hardening on these S&W hammers is hard. I smoother the truncated hammer with the belt-sander, followed by the 600-grit sanding drum and finally polished on the buffer. An artful application of Birchwood Casey Perma-Blue and Brownell’s Ox-Pho and it actually matches the case-hardening pretty well.

Achievement Unlocked: Hello Bob! Also painted the front sight with bright orange enamel.

Back to a sanding drum to re-shape the front of the trigger-guard. This allows faster access to the trigger when my strong-hand trigger-finger is in the ‘safe’ position on the frame.

I refinished the trigger-guard with ox-pho blue, and it was time to address the grips. I’d found some very pretty Goncalo Alves wood the other week, and I’d made a nice set that fits my hand to a T. Easy to grip, and the gun indexes very naturally as it’s brought on target.

Since I actually carry and use revolvers I make sure my hand-made grips will accommodate a speed-loader, in this case the classic HKS 36.

With the modifications complete I cleaned, lubed and re-assembled the gun. It fired a cylinder full of CCI small-pistol primers without a problem, so next it’s off to the range and see what I can do with her there.

This gun was rode hard in it’s previous life; there is some pitting here and there visible through the coating and a lot of wear on the inscriptions. Nothing against that; this gun was made to be used. The trigger I would classify as ‘nice’ rather than great; on the heavy side but very smooth with little stacking. We’ll see what’s what at the range, and if it proves out there this might well become a carry gun.

Hmmm… need to put together a holster or two…

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 23 July 2021.

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The Difference Between Can and Should

Last Saturday a man was shot and killed near Silver Lake. This is a small lake with a swimming area and parks, and I spent a lot of time there when I was younger; swimming, picnicking; the sorts of things one does at a recreational area.

A gun is not a solution; it’s the tool you resort to when all other options have been exhausted. It is the LAST resort, not a hammer for every nail.

It was a typical summertime weekend afternoon at the park. Suddenly a man walking his dog started screaming obscenities, deployed a metal baton and began chasing people, including a grandmother with her grandchild. He is not reported to have actually struck anyone, but the situation had potential to end badly. It did.

A bystander intervened verbally, and the man with the baton pepper-sprayed him and struck him repeatedly with the baton. Another man also attempted to intervene, and at some point deployed a concealed handgun and shot the suspect twice. The suspect was transported to a nearby hospital and subsequently died. The shooter was detained and questioned, but no charges have been filed. It appears that the authorities are inclined to view this as a justifiable homicide.

In Washington state rules regarding the use of lethal force in self-defense are that the person employing force must have a reasonable belief that they or another innocent party are in imminent danger of death or grave bodily harm. Someone shouting that they are going to kill you is not enough, unless they have a demonstrated capacity to carry out that threat at that time. This would be demonstrated by that person by brandishing or using a weapon.

By this standard the authorities appear to be inclined at this time to view this as a justifiable shooting, and no charges have been filed. But there’s a difference between ‘justifiable’ and ‘necessary’ that needs to be examined here.

First things first. I was not there. I did not witness the incident, and we do not have all of the facts available to the witnesses, the shooter, the police or courts. Let’s take a look at what we do know.

The weapon deployed by the suspect is considered a ‘Less Lethal’ weapon. This is a weapon that while capable of producing a lethal injury it is not intended to do so. Police batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets and TASERs all fall into this category. Simply striking someone with this weapon is unlikely to produce ‘death or grave bodily harm.’ The suspect also used pepper spray, another ‘Less Lethal’ weapon.

Second, the suspect was obviously deranged and violent, but did not necessarily represent an immediate threat of death or grave bodily harm to either the shooter or the man he had pepper-sprayed. He had deployed a potentially lethal weapon, but had not yet used it in a manner likely to inflict death or grave bodily harm but the potential for both was undeniably present.

Based on the information available to us this appears to be a legally justified shooting. But the question that comes up in my mind is was it necessary? The use of lethal force is the court of last resort, to be employed only when it is the least bad solution to the problem. Looking at the information we have the shooting was justified, but may not have been the least bad response.

We do not, cannot know what was in the mind of the armed citizen that shot the suspect, or what combination of thoughts, experience and immediate circumstances led him to resort to deadly force, but put yourself in the situation for a moment and think about it. Is there something else that could have been done? Might it have been better to use a lesser degree of force? Would it have been better to observe the situation without direct intervention, but be ready if it became necessary?

My inclination, based on the facts available to us is that I would not have resorted to lethal force. I would have stood ready to intervene if necessary, and that intervention might have been an unarmed response. But I’m a large, well trained and physically-capable man. I also have a good understanding of the weapons employed by the suspect. That’s not true of everyone; we are each individuals and need to make decisions based on our own unique circumstances, which will inevitably result in different outcomes. In some cases these factors may result in a sub-optimal outcome, but it might be the best that could reasonably be hoped for.

If you carry a weapon for self-defense you need to be aware of and consider all of the options in a situation. It is immensely helpful to consider situations like this in detail and be aware of those options before you find yourself having to respond. It can literally be the difference between life and death, and not just yours.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 July 2021

Underwood Xtreme Defender Follow-up

I recently tested Underwood Xtreme Defender 9mm ammunition provided by Ballistics By The Inch, a website dedicated to testing ammunition. The results were intriguing. In gel tests penetration was good and the permanent wound cavity showed significant disruption of ’tissue’ along the length of the track. Very promising on ‘on paper,’ but I and others have had questions about how it would perform in the real world of bone, gristle and other body structures.

Underwood Xtreme Defender ammunition used a monolithic copper/light-for-caliber round configured to both penetrate and disrupt tissue with hydraulic forces.

During discussions of my tests we all agreed that some sort of real-world test was needed before passing judgement on these bullets. As it happens I have a friend in Texas, which is suffering under a veritable plague of feral pigs. In addition to wreaking havoc on crops these creatures represent a legitimate threat to human beings, even to the point of attacking, killing and eating them. Mike regularly has to kill these creatures, and agreed to test the Xtreme Defender on them should appropriate circumstances occur. BBTI sent him some ammunition for the test, and we didn’t have to wait long for a report.

The pig was shot and crippled with a rifle, then finished with the 9mm ammunition. Mike is indication the wound from the pistol bullet with his knife.

“Was able to pop a moderate sized wounded sow last night with a Defender. She had been knocked down and got up to flee when we walked up on her. IMO this is a good and valid test, as adrenaline and the urge to flee is about as high as possible. The bullet cleanly broke a rib and penetrated about 6-8 inches. The wound track showed considerable tissue disruption for the full depth of penetration. At the hit, she went down and stopped all attempts to do anything. She just breathed a few breaths and was dead.”

‘That’s not enough penetration!’ I hear you cry. Isn’t it? The FBI standard is 12-19″ of penetration in ordinance gel after passing through four layers of 16 oz. denim, but the thing to remember is that this doesn’t represent penetration in an actual human body; it is a comparative tool only. The reason for the depth specification is because real bodies contain bone and other variable-density structures that can reduce the bullet’s penetration. The 12-19″ standard takes this into account; in absolute terms a bullet needs much less penetration than that in a body do cripple vital structures.

I’ve read several accounts of wounds left in medium game animals by 9mm 115gr. JHPs, and this performance appears comparable to those accounts. I’m usually skeptical about light-for-caliber high velocity bullets for self defense, and both testing and real-world results seem to bear that out. But these bullet’s differ in both design and wounding mechanism compared to conventional bullets, and it seems to work. They are also immune to ‘loading up’ with fabric etc. as can sometimes happen with hollow-point bullets.

That being said there is no such thing as a ‘magic bullet.’ The only way to produce a ‘hard stop’ with a handgun is to break things the baddie can’t function without, and these don’t change that fact. You still need to do your part by getting the rounds on target, and to hit things that matter like the central nervous system and circulatory system. No bullet will do the work for you. With that caveat I have to say I continue to be intrigued by these bullets, and I strongly suspect that they will do the job as well as conventional hollow-point ammunition.

The only way we will know how these perform in self-defense shootings is if enough of those happen that we have a large pool of evidence, a circumstance that I honestly hope never occurs. Comparative tests are likely to be the best measure we’re going to get, and in our tests and others these bullets seem to perform comparably to other defensive ammunition in this caliber, with some potential advantages.

In my testing they have been accurate, they are low recoil and work reliably in my weapon. The low-mass of the projectile means it will have poor penetration of household obstacles like walls and appliances. With that in mind I would be confident in loading them in my ‘night-stand’ gun for self-defense.

More testing is in the offing, and I’ll follow up as more information becomes available.

Take care and stay safe- and Happy Independance Day!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 July 2021