Monthly Archives: March 2018

Push the Envelope- You Might Be Surprised.

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Custom S&W .38 Double Action Safety Hammerless (4th Model)

Lately my pistol shooting has largely been focused on shooting rapidly at 7 yards. OK, fair enough; most of the pistols I shoot are oriented towards self-defense and that’s a quite reasonable range. Pretty often I am testing a new gun or a gun I have modified, and I can be pretty sure of at least putting rounds on the paper at seven yards, no matter how badly I have messed the gun up.

I’ve picked up a couple of hunting revolvers since last fall, and naturally I tried them at 25 yards.   Results were not tragically bad, but not as good as I would want them either. I pretty much shrugged it off; after all, there’s plenty of time before next fall, right?

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25 yards single-action- not bad, or unexpected with a 6″ barrel and adjustable sights

Maybe I mis-remember how I shot decades ago but I had a general feeling that I had slipped with age. Happens to the best of us, right? The fact is that my skills have not deteriorated; I’ve just gotten sloppy… and lazy.

The other night I was at the range, and the gun that I was testing- the .38 S&W cartridge conversion- had ejected it’s firing-pin relatively early in the proceedings. Since I still had a bunch of ammo I started shooting the S&W top-break. I shot rapid-fire groups, strong-hand and weak hand and I was getting bored. I ran the target out to ten yards, then fifteen and was still getting good hits.

Of course the idea of shooting a century-old, double-action only gun with a 1-1/2″ barrel at twenty-five yards was ludicrous, so naturally I had to do that. I fired a string of five shots rather casually and reeled it in to look- three hits on the paper… interesting. I ran it back out and tried it again. Four more hits. Now I was wondering just exactly what I could do if I really tried… I ran out a fresh target and this time I really focused- front-sight, breathing, staging the double-action trigger… the results were surprising. Standing unsupported at twenty-five yards I shot a 4-3/8″ group, with a score of 45 out of fifty possible!

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What this shows me is that I need to stop underestimating myself, stop being lazy and start pushing the limits; I already know what I can do shooting rapid-fire at seven yards. I’d pretty much forgotten what I could do at a distance. Time to see what I can do at longer range- and there’s no reason not to go beyond 25 yards, either.

OK, maybe I’ll use a more suitable gun…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 March 2018

 

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The Astra Police- An Obscure Gem!

I recently picked up and Astra Police .38 from DJ’s for $220, and Linda liked it so well she immediately ordered one off of Gunbroker. I’ve actually already talked about these guns in range reports, but I thought they deserved their own post with all the info in one place.
The top gun is mine, and the previous owner bobbed the hammer and crudely turned the handle into a round-butt to fit a set of Pachymer grips he had on-hand. To do this he had to drill a new screw-hole and used a nut and bolt to hold them in place, so… yeah, no.  The gunbroker guns typically come with a slightly -damaged stock grip and an ill-fitting Hogue Monogrip. I snagged the stock grip because it was a great improvement over the misfit Pachymer.
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These are an interesting gun. They are a roughly L-frame size, came standard with a 3″ barrel and fixed sights. Both of ours are police trade-ins from Policia Municipal Vitorio in Spain, thus the ‘PMV’ stamped on the side of the frame. They are a whole other level of quality than most people associate with Spanish guns, and possess some unique features.
The first of these is the large screw just ahead of the trigger-guard- this is actually a button that allows the cylinder and crane to be removed. This is a plus for cleaning, but it was also to enable one to switch calibers from .38 Special to .357 Magnum or 9mm. These guns were sold by FN as the ‘Barracuda’ in either 9mm or .357.
Another interesting feature unique to Astra revolvers if the user-adjustable trigger-pull. There is a round device in the grip-frame that has different depth holes in it for the base of the mainspring; quite clever really. You simply pop it out sideways, rotate it a 1/4-turn and pop it back in for a different trigger-pull.
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The guns also have quality features like recessed chambers, a pinned front sight etc. For myself I cleaned up the hack-job on the grip frame and modified the stock grips to fit and to suit my hand, then refinished the wood. I like the feel of it much better now.
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I took the gun out for it’s first real range-trip the other day, firing a mix of 158gr., 173gr. and 125gr. bullets. All shot to point of aim at seven yards. I only fired the 125gr. at twenty-five yards, and they shot a little high at that range. At it’s lightest setting the double-action trigger pull is very smooth and not at all heavy, but is curiously easy to stage when desired. The weight of this gun easily soaks up the recoil, even of the heavy loads and the reworked grip was comfortable and secure.
Here’s a seven-yard rapid-fire target-
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This target was shot double-action standing/unsupported at twenty-five yards-
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Doubtless this will improve with practice.
Very happy with our purchase of these guns. Being trade-ins they are not in perfect condition, showing moderate holster-wear and typically some damage to the stock grips. But for what these are going for- typically $259 on Gun Broker- they are well worth it. These are high-quality revolvers and are easily robust enough for a steady diet of +P ammunition.
I originally got mine intending to convert it to .41 Special, but now I am not so sure; I really like the gun the way it is. Linda’s will remain a .38 Special regardless, and will be getting a custom grip to suit her hand as soon as I can get around to it.

Range Report for 27 March 2018

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Two guns and two new loads to test today.  Trying out a .356″ 125-grain RNL bullet in both .38 S&W and .38 Special, and testing the Astra Police .38 and the 1860 Army .38 S&W conversion.

First up was the Lyman’s 1860 Army that I converted to .38 S&W. Normally .38 S&W shoots a .361″ bullet, but I thought I’d try it with the .356″ bullet since the barrel-liner I used was a 9mm/.357 liner. This required a bit of adjustment in my reloading technique, but worked out alright. After researching the load I settled on 3.0Gr. of Unique with a CCI Small Pistol Primer.

Firing the gun was pleasant enough; it’s no lightweight after all. I’d not call this test a success though; rounds were key-holing regularly at seven yards; I suspect the barrel-liner became distorted when I was installing it. I’ll need to drill it out, ream and reline it. Ignition was also inconsistent with the newly modified firing-pin. I’ll make a new firing pin, install and test it. So, a bit more work on this one is needed.

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7 Yards, rapid-fire.

Next I tried the new load in the S&W .38 Safety Hammerless. It’s surprisingly peppy from the 1-1/2″ barrel, and recoil is snappier than my standard load in this gun and the report is quite a bit sharper. It shoots dead to point of aim at 7 yards. I think this load is fine in a good-quality solid-frame revolver but a bit hot for a top-break; excessive use would probably accelerate wear to an unacceptable degree. I think I might look into seeing if I can find a 125gr. LSWC; loaded over a lesser quantity of powder it could be a useful load for this gun.

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The original owner modified this gun by bobbing the hammer and rounding the grip-frame. I modified a set of factory wood grips to fit 

Last but not least was the Astra Police .38.  These were trade-ins from a Spanish police department. It’s an L-frame size gun that was available in .38 and .357. They were also sold as the FN Barracuda min .357 and 9mm.  Cylinders can be switched in seconds using a button-release just ahead of the trigger-guard on the right side of the frame.  Another innovative feature is the user-adjustable trigger pull- the mainspring terminates in a round section with four different holes, each of which provides a different trigger-pull.

This was the first serious outing for this gun, and a test of the newly modified grips.  The load used was the same 125gr. RNL used in the .38 S&W load, only this time on top of 5gr. of Unique. This was a very pleasant load to shoot in the heavy Astra revolver and shot to point of aim at 7 yards.

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Seven Yards, rapid-fire

The trigger is light and smooth, yet surprisingly easy to stage for precision work. I shot a standing-unsupported double-action group at 25 yards- the gun shot high but the group was not tragically bad, as you can see below-

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Likely this will improve with practice.  These guns come with a square-butt frame- this one had been crudely reshaped into a round butt to fit the Pachymer grips that came with the gun. I refined that work, polished and re-blued the frame then cut the grips to fit. I removed the checkering on the sides of the grip and rounded them quite a bit. I relieved the left-side grip for using a speedloader. After sanding them to 600-grit I refinished them with Minwax Red Cedar finish and then Minwax high-gloss clear.

The result feels good in my hand and provides a good grip. Pretty good looking too. I actually bought this gun with the intention of converting it to .41 Special, but honestly? I like it a lot as-is.  It might just stay a .38.

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The front sight is pinned in place, and a better front-sight would be a plus. I’ll look into my options, but I think a high-visibility front-sight is in this gun’s future.  Linda liked mine so well she bought one of her own off of Gunbroker. Hers still has the square butt and the hammer-spur is intact. I’ll be making a set of custom grips for her gun; maybe very similar to the grips on my gun.

Good afternoon at the range. I just wish I’d had more .38 Special to shoot.

*This .38 S&W load should only be used in good-quality solid-frame guns. Using this in S&W top-breaks will accelerate wear significantly, and in lesser-quality guns it might actually cause damage to the gun.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 March 2018