Monthly Archives: September 2018

Big-Bore Snubbies. Seriously?

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Astra Jovino Terminator .44 Magnum

Big-Bore snubbies are stupid. That’s right, you heard me. Stupid.  They are inefficient, heavy, bulky and do not do justice to the cartridges they are chambered for. A snub-nosed .44 Magnum like the one pictured above loses more than 50% of it’s muzzle energy compared to a gun with a six-inch barrel.  Take a typical 240gr. JHP in a commercial load; from a six-inch gun it has 1015ft/lbs. of energy. From the gun above? 475ft/lbs.  Mind you 475ft/lbs from a handgun ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at- but to get that you are going to have a massive muzzle-blast, trauma-inducing recoil and a long recovery time between shoots.

And lets talk packaging- yes, that’s a ‘compact’ gun… that doesn’t mean it isn’t big and fat.  Much harder to conceal than, say, a Glock 17.  ‘Yes, but POWER!’ I hear you cry. OK, let’s look at that. The gun pictured above holds six shots at 475ft/lbs for a total of 2850 total. Not bad at all. So a Glock 19 carries 15 rounds at- with a typical modern defensive load- 402 ft/lbs. each, for a total of 6030ft/lbs. Umm… yeah. Not much comparison, is there? So, heavy, fat, short of power both shot-for-shot and overall total. Yep, there’s no doubt. Big-bore snubbies are stupid.

Of course I absolutely adore them.

I’m not alone in that by any means. People have been making large-caliber, short-barrel revolvers for almost as long as they have been making metallic cartridges. Webley’s first cartridge revolver had a short-ish barrel and fired the .577 Trantor cartridge. Their first big market success with a revolver was a short-barreled .442- the Royal Irish Constabulary. This was followed by their British Bulldog revolvers in .442 Webley and .450 Adams, and these were so popular they were widely copied in Belgium, Spain and the United States.

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Webley RIC (top) and British Lion bulldog revolver, both in .450 Adams

Short-barreled large caliber revolvers were made all over- witness my previous post about Sheriff’s Models.  Even if the manufacturer didn’t offer a short-barrel option there was always someone around who was happy to lop the barrel off to a more concealable length. In more modern times Charter Arms offered the Bulldog in .44 Special (and still do,) and other makers have followed suit with five-shot medium-frame revolvers also chambered for that cartridge.

Too often these guns simply do not make ballistic sense. The large, powerful cartridges they fire turn most of their power into muzzle-blast.  The Charter Arms Bulldog originally came with a three-inch barrel. A typical modern defensive load fired from a six-inch barrel makes 525ft/lbs of energy. The same load from the 3″ gun makes 328ft/lbs. That’s not awful by any means; It’s certainly better than a .38 Special in the same size range- though the .38 will give you an extra round.

The real problem is that you aren’t trading recoil and bulk for extra stopping power, which has always been the argument for guns like these. In real-life shootings no caliber has distinguished itself as being noticeably better at stopping an attacker- there have been a few that stand out as worse (.22,.25 & .32) but that’s about it. This is because past a certain point where you hit someone is far more important than what you hit them with. We beat that dead horse recently enough that we don’t need to do it again here.

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Charter arms ‘Boomer’ .44 Special

So why do we love them? Some people love them because the are convinced they are more effective than the options. Some people, sadly, love them because it makes them feel manly. Sorry, dude, if you need a gun to make you feel manly you’re doing it wrong. Some people like them because they are fun.  Guess what? ‘It’s fun’ is all the justification you need.

Me? I love the look of a short gun with a ridiculously big hole in the end. It’s kind of hilarious. I love the meaty thump of the recoil.  I like the balanced aesthetics of a short-barreled revolver.

I got my first big-bore snubby in the 1980s- an Astra Jovino Terminator .44 Magnum. I thought it was stupid gun then, but I bought it because the price was ridiculously good and knew I could turn it for twice what I paid for it. It was a very nicely made gun with an excellent trigger pull. Of course I had to shoot it before I flipped it… and it was awesome. With .44 Special loads it was sweet as could be, and even shooting magnums it wasn’t all that bad. I fell in love; I was a little embarrassed to own it, but I just didn’t want to let it go. I sold it when my first wife and I moved to NYC, and I still wish I’d kept it.

Mind you, these guns aren’t useless by any means; it’s not like a .44 Special snubby will work less well than a .38.  And there are actual applications where they will do the job better- like if you are dealing with a dangerous animal. If you can fire a 250gr. hard-cast bullet at 1000fps. you can drop any animal that walks the North American continent, and no Glock19 in the world is gonna do that. A Ruger Alaskan, on the other hand, will do that without even flinching.

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Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull

For walking the woods, whether camping, hunting, working or whatever, a compact gun in a potent caliber is a valuable companion.  Yes, it’s heavy and bulky- but it’s a lot less heavy and bulky than a rifle or shotgun, and if you do your part it can and will save your life.

As for self defense if we were all ruled entirely by the numbers we’d either carry a Glock 19 or a Glock 43, depending on our concealment needs. But the real world doesn’t work that way. I know a fellow that cut his teeth on single-actions, and he’s carried them on the trail, hunting etc. his whole life. Shoots ’em like they are hard-wired into his hind-brain too. He’s got a busy life; maybe for him a Sheriff’s Model in .45 Colt makes more sense than learning his way around the latest ‘plastic-fantastic.’

I know another fellow who got a Charter Arms Bulldog the day he turned twenty-one, and it’s been his hiking/trail/EDC ever since. I can’t honestly say he’d be better off with something more modern. There’s something to be said for a man that does it all with one gun.

So yeah, strictly speaking large-caliber snubbies may not be the most efficient choice in the world, but if it works for you then rock it with pride.  And if you happen across a Jovino Terminator at a good price drop a brother a line…

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 September 2018

 

 

 

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‘Sheriff’s Model’ Single-Actions, a New Hunting Companion and a Simple Modification

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Original ‘Ejectorless’ 1873 Colt

Few handguns are as instantly recognizable as the 1873 Single Action Army- The legendary Peacemaker. These were first seen at the US Army trials in 1872 with a 7-1/2″ barrel and chambered in the still-popular .45 Colt cartridge.  The Army wound up adopting the guns and the cartridge. There’s a whole story about .45 Caliber ammunition used by the army in the 19th C., but that’s another topic.

The 1873 was introduced to, and quickly found favor with, the American public. By 1875 Colt offered three standard barrel lengths, the original 7-1/2″, a 5-1/2″ and the 4-5/8″, which has been, overall, the most popular barrel length ever since.  The factory would, however, provide a barrel of any length for the sum of $1/inch on a custom basis.

In 1882 Colt shipped the first of the ‘ejectorless’ 1873s as a non-custom gun. These had a 2-1/2″ barrel and, as the name suggests, no ejector and the ejector housing on the frame ground off.  the term ‘Sherrif’s Model’ was not used by Colt at this time; showing admirable imagination, Colt referred to them as ‘Ejectorless’ Models.

These were available in any barrel length, but 3, 4, 5″ barrels were more or less standard, and eventually the 3″ length established itself as the most popular.  In the ‘first generation’ of SAA production some 1400 or so were known to be produced by the Colt factory- out of 376,000 total guns that’s a drop in the bucket. It is not known how many more were provided by the factory on a custom basis. Other guns were modified after-market by local gunsmiths and even some retailers.

The guns were known variously as ‘Sheriff’s Models,’ ‘Shopkeepers’ or ‘House Guns’ by the public, but Colt did not officially adopt the term Sheriff’s Model until well after World War Two, referring to 3″ guns by this name and 4″ guns as Shopkeepers.  These models have come and gone over the years, and in the most part have been marketed to collectors.

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20th Century Colt, a 3rd generation SAA marked as a Sheriff’s Model

Since I have a thing for snubbies I’ve always had a hankering for one of these guns, but both the originals and modern versions have been too expensive for me. Since I’ve taken up gunsmithing as a hobby I have been on the lookout for a suitable donor gun to do my own conversion. When a Hawes Western Marshal .45 presented itself to me for the princely sum of $275 (including a spare cylinder in .45 ACP) I snapped it up.

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Hawes Western Marshal .45 by J.P.Sauer & Sohn (Who later became Sig Sauer)

I’ve dealt with this gun in detail in a previous blog, so suffice it to say these are good quality revolvers built on a beefed up frame, the same one they used for their .44 Magnum guns.  While I wouldn’t say one should shoot ‘Ruger-only’ hot-loads through them, I feel no hesitation to feed it stout, even +P, loads.

I kept the gun stock, but after I procured a rather nice Armi San Marcos 1873 I succumbed to temptation and converted it. I cut the barrel to 3-1/2″, re-crowned it and ground off the ejector housing. I bored out the .45 ACP cylinder for .45 Colt because I liked the look, and was pretty pleased with the results.

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Testing the gun I found it could use a taller front-sight, and the bored-out chambers needed honing; a couple of them were quite sticky.  I got distracted by other projects, but a few weeks ago I revisited this gun and really enjoyed it. I replaced the front sight and, while the gun was built as a fun project and range-toy, began to appreciate that it might actually have a useful role.

Typically when hunting I carry a long-barreled, large-frame revolver as a side-arm. These aren’t intended particularly for handgun-hunting, more for occasions when I have to go into thick brush and as a ‘just in case’ weapon.  The thing is these long-barreled guns are heavy and occasionally awkward, and I am unlikely to encounter a dangerous animal that would require a .44 Magnum to put paid to them. Most likely the worst I might encounter is a Black Bear, and most of those run 200lbs. or less. OK, there could be a two-legged predator, but a large-bore revolver certainly won’t work less well on them that it would a large animal. It seemed that my Sheriff’s Model might just fit the bill.

Shorter, lighter and less awkward than a full-sized gun when sitting etc., and in a good holster it would certainly be quicker to get into action than a 7-1/2″ barreled gun. Loaded with a hard-cast 250gr. Kieth bullet stoked to around 1000fps.  it would do handsomely for my uses. True, it can only safely carry five shots (it does not have a transfer bar or similar safety) but it’s difficult for me to imagine any plausible scenario where I would need more than that.

Still… it would be nice if the gun didn’t require a separate rod or some such to eject the empties for reloading. An online buddy suggested what he had down- cut a scallop at the edge of each chamber so that the cartridges can be flicked out with a fingernail. It might not have been the best idea in the days of balloon-head cartridges stuffed to overflowing with black powder, but a modern casing is solid brass where the rim would be exposed, and it worked for my friend well enough. I had the spare cylinder for the gun, so I thought, ‘Why not?’  The modifications were quickly accomplished with a carbide burr and a sanding drum in a Dremel-style flex-shaft tool, and it seemed to work out rather well.

The question in my mind was whether the sort of stout loads I intended to use would extract easily enough, so I came up with some pretty strong loads to see. I didn’t have any 250gr. bullets on hand, so I used some 200gr. HG68 SWCs over 9.0gr of Unique and brought the gun along on my next range trip.  I was also interested in how well I would handle the recoil from these loads in the short gun. Pretty well as it turned out; I was able to fire one round per second at seven yards with reasonable accuracy–

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Two cylinders full- ten rounds- at seven yards at 1 shot/second

The fat grips of this gun made the recoil quite bearable; not at all unpleasant, in fact. I’m shooting a hair low, but I want to test it with the heavy-bullet loads before I go adjusting anything. I’d like to get it set up for a six-o’clock hold at twenty-five yards with those loads.

To my relief the shells were easy to extract with a fingernail. I still need to purchase and load the heavy bullets and test them, but I am quite confident that there won’t be any problems.

It seems that I have my new hunting companion.  I’ll be needing to make a holster before the season gets underway.

Michael Tinker Pearce  16 September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Range Report- 7Sept.2018-They all Begin with ‘3’

Good day of shooting at Champion Arms in Kent Washington!  Trying out new loads in .38 Special and .38 S&W, and brought some .32 S&W Long along because it has been too long since I shot the Detective Special.

The story begins with the Astra Police .38.  I’ve covered this in a previous blog so I won’t go into too much, but it’s a large-frame double-action revolver, somewhere around the size of a S&W L-Frame. They have a quick-release cylinder and you could get .38 Special or .357 Magnum cylinders. FN sold a very slightly modified version as the Barracuda with a .38/.357 cylinder and a 9mm cylinder, the only revolver FN has officially offered.

This gun has an excellent trigger, light, very smooth with no stacking. This is especially nice as the previous owner bobbed the hammer, so it is effectively double-action only. The sights are fixed but reasonably good. I enjoyed shooting this gun so much I ran through an entire box of ammo before I realized it.

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My first group of the day, 7 yards rapid-fire.

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This was shot standing unsupported at 25 yards. As you can see from the taped holes this was my third go, and I decided it just wasn’t going to get better.

The customized factory grips are very comfortable and easy on the hand, even with peppy loads. The first group was shot with 158gr. LSWCs over 4.3gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer.  The 25-yard group was shot with 125gr. Montana Gold Brass-Plated Hollow-points over 5.3gr. of Unique with a CCI500 Primer.

Interesting thing with the Montana Gold hollow-points- the ammo loaded with them were mostly a very tight fit in the chambers, and some could not even be chambered at all. I have since heard that others have had this problem as well; apparently the procedure is to run them through a resizing die after seating the bullets. Live and learn, eh?

Moving on to the Fitz Special (no not a real one) I remembered that it shoots quite low. Naturally I only remember this at the range, not in my workshop where I could do something about it…

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Rapid-fire at seven yards. Yep, still shoots low.

I didn’t spend a lot of time with the Fitz this time out- I was running out of ammo and I had dug out an old favorite- The Shopkeeper, a custom Cimarron Richards Mason Conversion belly gun. This is a seriously sweet-shooting gun. Light mainspring, super-crisp mechanism, good trigger. At one time this was my absolute favorite revolver, and it’s a near-run thing even now.

The photo on the left is a couple of cylinders fired at a rate of 1 shot/second. Yes, there are only nine holes- one bullet failed to ignite despite a heavy dimple in the primer. I’ve had reason to be unhappy with my latest brick of CCI500 Small Pistol Primers- this has happened rather a lot.  The photo on the right was aimed at the center of the target, and I screwed up my site alignment- but at least I did it consistently…

OK, firing this gun at a 25 yard target is ridiculous. This of course has never stopped me… I taped up the second target shown above and ran it all the way out.

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OK, given the gun I don’t find this disgraceful. Five shots at 25 yards

That was pretty much the end of the .38 Special ammo- at least the ammo that would fit in a chamber… So. on the the next caliber- .38 S&W.

I brought two S&W .38 Double Action Safety Hammerless (4th Model) revolvers- The Steampunk Snubby and a very similar gun I put together for my wife… who decided she didn’t like shooting it. Linda’s has a nickel finish, has period Mother of Pearl grips and an aluminum grip adapter I made for it. The Steampunk Snubby is blued and has custom Desert Ironwood grips. This gun is one I carry around the shop, and out-and about when I need to be particularly discreet.

I haven’t shot Linda’s gun much, so I was curious to see how it would do. the trigger is not light, but it’s very, very smooth.

 

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Shoots a bit high- the taped-over group was fired at the center of the target, this group was aimed at the lower edge of the paper.  7 Yards, rapid-fire.

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First group of the day with this gun, fired at seven yards. I’m afraid I bent the range rules a bit- this is five shots in about 2-1/2 seconds. Well, the gentlemen running the range let it pass, so no harm no foul.

I was testing a new load this week. My standard load is a .361″ 150gr. SWC over 2.5gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer.  Since my bore slugged at .361 this is perfect. These bullets are a finite resource however; they came from an estate sale, and Pinto’s has been trickling them out for some time but they are about used up.  I needed to find another bullet and load that would work, so I decided to experiment with a .357″ lead bullet, a 158gr. LSWC. I loaded these over 2.7gr. of Unique.

They worked a treat- accurate and no signs of key-holing. They do have notably more snap to them that my usual load, and I would not recommend them for some of the lower quality top-breaks; there is some likelihood a steady diet of these loads might cause them to shoot loose in short order.

I spent a good bit of time with this gun, firing strong and weak hand as well as my usual grip. The gun performed flawlessly, as expected, and as always was a pleasure to shoot.

Last but not least I trotted out my Colt Detective Special chambered in .32 New Police. Yeah, that’s just what they called .32 S&W long so that they wouldn’t have to mark ‘S&W’ on their gun. This gun was made in 1949 and fitted with a factory hammer shroud,  period after-market Franzite fake stag grips and a Tyler T-grip. The hot set-up in 1953 I am sure.

This gun has the best double-action trigger of any of my guns, and damn near the best I’ve ever experienced. It is in fact the gun that bumped The Storekeeper out of it’s number 1 slot as my favorite. The load used today was a 96gr. LRNFP over 2.5gr. of Red Dot with a CCI500 Primer. I did something a bit different today; I fired a rapid-fire group at 7 yards, taped it up and ran the target out to 10 yards, taped it, 15 yards, taped it, rinse and repeat for 20 and 25 yards. The results were interesting, and go a long way towards explaining why I love this gun! All groups were shot rapid-fire to see what would happen:

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Once again breaking the speed limit, this target was fired at 7 yards.

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10 yards

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15 yards

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20 yards

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25 yards. Don’t know where the other two went, but I suspect I pulled one to the left and the other low.

I haven’t practiced a huge amount with this gun, but that is going to change. I really, really like shooting this old Colt, and I cannot help but think that with more practice I could improve on these results. After this I fired up the rest of the rounds I had on hand, and then tried an experiment. I had a box of Fiocchi .32 ACP on hand, and I tried them in the Colt. Since this is a semi-rimmed cartridge there was no problem shooting them in a revolver, and they worked just fine and ejected cleanly and easily. The seemed slightly less powerful than my handloads and accuracy was what I expect from this gun.

 

Both targets were shot rapid-fire at seven yards with .32 ACP ball ammo. The left target was shot weak hand, the right shot strong-hand. Interestingly, since the gun has a short-stroke ejector the .32 ACP rounds were actually easier to eject that the .32 S&W Lo– uh, excuse me, .32 Colt New Police empties were.

I really, really like this gun. In my last post i mentioned that .22, .25 and .32 had about three times the failure rate of larger calibers in stopping an attacker with head and torso hits. Despite that I would not hesitate to bet my life on this gun, particularly if it were loaded with some of the stout Buffalo Bore SWCs. I am quite confident that I could put the rounds where they need to go if it should come to that.

So, a really great day at the range.  I wish I had loaded more of the LSWCs in .38 Special; I had my S&W M1905 M&P along, and it would not chamber the 125gr. loads at all, so it didn’t get fired at all.  Still, I can’t complain- it was a great way to start out the weekend!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 September 2018