Old Dogs, New Tricks.

I’ve got a couple of old revolvers that I like to carry concealed. I tend to do so less than I used to, but these are still working guns. One is a S&W Model 1902 .38 Special that shipped in 1909, and the other is a Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20 made in 1910. I modified both of these guns to suit their roles and made antler grips for them, supplemented by a Tyler T-grip on the Colt. These have served me well, but…

My middle finger on my right hand has gotten fat. I’m pushing 60 years old, and my body is going through changes (falling apart.) The grip of the Colt is no longer comfortable, and I can no longer easily get a proper grip on the S&W while drawing from the holster. Time for a change, and by change I mean new grips. I had some Maple sitting around and a bit of free time, so I went for it.

Top: S&W Model 1902 .38 Special. The Maple grips are stained and stippled for texture. Bottom: Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20. Grips are natural and lacquered.

Both issues are now solved; the Smith is easier to draw, the Colt is easier to hold. The S&W’s grip is a half-inch longer, but it doesn’t really cause issues with concealment. So how do they shoot (aside from ‘better than I do?’)

Range Time!

S&W M1902

This gun has a fantastic DA Trigger; that was one of the reasons I bought it, despite the horrible refinishing job etc. After I refinished and modified it it was an excellent shooter. The new grips are very carefully fitted to my hand, and the addition of the stippling makes them quite secure. It’s also now easy and intuitive to get a proper grip on the gun for the draw. I started with a rapid-fire group at seven yards with some standard-velocity 158gr. LRNFPs.

OK, that’s not bad. There’s a flyer of course because, well, me.

Next I tried seven-yard yard ‘Panic Fire.’ For this I use a two-hand grip and I pull the trigger as fast as I can. For this I am depending on muscle-memory of firing with the sights, but not actually using them. Two cylinders produced this-

Not awful by any means, but could use some work.

Switching to some hot 115gr. JHP loads I repeated the seven-yard rapid-fire exercise.

Comparable to the first group, but no flyer this time. The lower point of impact might be due to the lighter bullets and higher velocity, but this close? Could just as easily be me.

I did some more shooting, and after some 5-shot point-and-shoot drills at three yards, shooting with both strong and weak hand, I ran the target out to twenty-five yards and fired a five-shot double-action group. On the last shot I felt myself pull the shot off, and the flyer at the upper left was the result.

I’m not dismayed by shooting a four-inch group at 25 yards with this gun, but I need to work on this. The flyer on the upper left irks me.

I’m going to call the new grips a winner. I do hope the primer shortage eases up soon; I miss going to the range… and need more practice.

Colt Police Positive Special

When I got this gun it was time-worn but essentially fine… except for the grips. I used it for ballistic tests of .32-20, but after had no further need of it. Given the ongoing (futile) attempt to weed out my collection I felt I should either pass it along or re-purpose it. Being me I turned it into a snubby, with improvements to the trigger and a few other minor modifications.

For today’s excursion I’d loaded a box of 100gr LFPs over 4.5gr of Unique; this is a fairly snappy load from this gun, but isn’t really pushing the limits. Three 5-shot strings at seven yards told the tale.

I’m hitting low and a bit left. This cluster is five shots DA and ten shots rapid fire.

The rear sight notch is shallow and the front sight a bit wide so this could be an aiming error on my part. I’m going to figure out how to improve the sights. I moved from this to five shot point-and-shoot drill at three yards. Shots are fired about as rapidly as I can pull the trigger.

Strong-hand, not tragically bad.
Weak hand- again, not tragically bad, but I put one shot just off the bottom of the target.
Last I fired the gun in ‘close retention.’ The gun is held tight to the chest with the left-hand ready to interfere with the assailant (but out of the way of the muzzle!) This went much better.

So I need to work on the sights and my shooting, but really happy with the grips and the gun overall.

Conclusion

Both of these guns, though subject to refinishing and/or modification, are over 110 years old. When I got them both showed signs of being well-used in that time, and both still function as well as ever. While more advanced guns have taken their place in their original roles as ‘duty’ weapons, they retain usefulness as self-defense weapons suited to the needs of average people. There aren’t a lot of complex manufactured items that remain useful after more than a century!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 March 2021

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