Monthly Archives: October 2018

Range Report- the Custom Taurus M85


The first range trip for the Taurus is finished, and I have to say it went well. I took several loads ranging from mild to +P.  The loads used were:

125gr TCL over 5Gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer (mild load) These were very  low recoil and easy to shoot.

125gr JHP over 5.3gr. Unique with a CCI500 primer (Maximum SAAMI load) Comfortable to shoot.

146gr HJSWCHP over 4.5gr. of Unique with Federal SPP (No data- may be +P) I’ve liked Speer’s Half-Jacketed Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point since the ’80s in .357 Magnum loads. Had a few of them lying around so I thought I’d try them. Surprisingly comfortable to shoot.

158gr. LSWC over 4.5gr. Unique with federal SPP (+P load) These loads produced conspicuously more recoil than any of the others. It wasn’t too bad, but I wouldn’t want to shoot more than a few cylinders of them.

160gr. HJSWC over 4.0gr. Unique with Federal SPP   Comfortable to shoot.

At seven yards all loads shot More or less to PoA using a six-o’clock hold. As you’d expect the +P loads had markedly more recoil, but were still manageable. I shot mostly at 7 yards; this is the distance I use most for defensive shooting training, and I am well acquainted with what I can do with a short-barrel revolver at this range. All shooting was done double-action. While it is possible to cock this gun and fire single-action I don’t recommend it and don’t intend to do it. Here are the relevant results-

From left to right- all targets fired at 7 yards. The first target was two cylinders, five shots in five seconds each.  The middle target (after about twenty-five more rounds) is two cylinders rapid-fired. The final target was the last fired for the day and was rapid-fire.

Despite the unconventional grip it wasn’t hard to shoot this gun. As you may have seen in the video in my previous post about this gun the ergonomics of the handle force me into a very high grip, which aids a great deal in control. It didn’t take me long to get dialed in with this gun, and I have no doubt I’ll improve with practice.

I did try the 146gr. Speer bullets at 25 yards, and we will draw the curtains of charity over the results. The shots were mostly on the paper, but that’s about the best that can be said. I expect that too will improve with practice. I’m happy with the results so far; enough so that I feel comfortable carrying his piece for self-defense.

That being the case I made my typical pocket-holster- a simple piece of leather folded over rough-out, glued and riveted together and finished with Carnuaba wax. Ugly but functional.

So far this little experiment seems to be working out nicely. I’ll be pocket-carrying this piece, practicing deploying it etc. and see how it works out. It’s possible that it will be necessary- or at least desirable- to tweak this design a bit here or there. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Halloween!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 October 2018

P.S.- This thing needs a name. Linda has already expressed her intent to beat me with it if I name it Mini-Taur, so that’s out…

The J-Frame*- How Small Can It Get?

*Yes, I know a Taurus M85 and a Rossi M68 are not really J-Frames, but they are the same size. Additionally one of them is derived from the S&W and the other is a direct copy.

For many years custom gunsmiths have produced trimmed-down J-Frames for deep-cover concealed carry.  Then a while back (2014) Taurus introduced a gun called the 85-VTA, or Model 85 View. This was a Model 85 smoothed out and minimized for concealed carry, and as a special added feature the side-plate was Lexan so you could see the internals.

This gun is seriously light. Like 9-1/2 ounces light.  Between that and the tiny grip most commentators have said that it is quite unpleasant to shoot; one thick-fingered individual was actually bleeding after ten shots. It is also difficult to maintain a consistent grip with two hands; the reviewers I watched all had to resettle their grip between shots, and this is death on rapid, accurate fire.

I don’t mean to insult this gun- except for that stupid see-through side-plate; I’ll happily insult that. This is a gun with a purpose- to be the smallest, lightest, easiest to conceal gun of its type.  They work well and can even achieve reasonable accuracy. The tiny grip and short sight radius don’t make this easy, mind you, and the very unpleasant recoil doesn’t encourage mastering it. That means that for all but the most dedicated users this will be a point-blank ‘Get off me!’ gun. Fair enough- that’s what it was made to be and it does that job well.

The very short ejector rod works surprisingly well- until you get a sticky case. But, given the gun’s mission, fast reloads take a back-seat to conceal-ability, and that’s not an unreasonable trade off. As a deep-cover gun or back-up it fits the bill admirably, but as a general carry gun it is compromised in a number of ways.  Personally I’m not happy with those compromises; I want a carry-gun that retains the capability of getting hits out to 25 yards, is easy and pleasant to practice with, but still as concealable as is reasonably possible.

This led me to wonder- how small can a gun like this get without being compromised? At least not more than a typical example of a J-Frame sized gun? I needed to establish my criteria for this project. First- sights as good as a typical factory gun. Second- a grip that, while significantly more concealable than a factory grip, does not brutalize you when you fire it.  Third- a more effective ejector. Fourth- a steel frame. This one seems to run counter to mission, but I believe you need a carry gun that is not actively unpleasant to shoot so that you will actually feel motivated to practice with it. But given the mission of a deep-concealment gun it ought to be reasonably light, leading to… Fifth- a target weight between 15-20 ounces.

I had an old Rossi M68 (a part-for part clone of a S&W Model 60) and set to work. I got it to an interesting configuration that met my goals, but that gun had a hard life, and failure after failure led me to eventually retire it and put the project on the back-burner. Then this week a Taurus Model 85 came my way, completely stock with the original-style wood grips.

This is a good, inexpensive work-horse of a gun, and made a fine starting point for resuming this project. Experience with the Rossi had taught me what I wanted, and I set about it.

A hammer-spur on a revolver like this is definitely a no-no, so I bobbed the hammer with a cut-off wheel and files, then polished the result. I have to confess I didn’t remove the hammer to do this, I simply masked off the gun to keep the nasty little metal bits from getting into the works. I polished up the result and moved on.

I made note of the maximum travel of the mainspring guide-rod, and cut the grip-frame just below this. (Note- S&W and Rossi guns have the serial number on the bottom of the grip-frame- cutting this entirely off is a Federal crime! There are work-arounds to do this legally but they are a major pain in the ass.)


The cut grip-frame and a piece of spring-steel that will become the new bottom of the frame.

Ready to weld, with all the bits held securely in place my my big-ass magnet.

Here’s the back of the frame gas-welded…

…and the front.

With the frame shortened I cleaned up the welds, re-profiled and refinished the frame.

The grip-frame size is now comparable to the M85 View.

By this point the project had me in it’s teeth and I forgot to take more in-progress photos. Oops… Next I shortened the barrel by 1/2″ using my metal-cutting bandsaw and my belt-grinder. I re-crowned the barrel and re-contoured the bottom corner of the barrel-shroud, then polished it and re-blued it. During the cutting, grinding and polishing operations I had cleaning patches stuffed in the bore to keep the nasty stuff out. Afterwards I cleaned the barrel in the usual fashion to remove any residue.

To finish things off I relieved the trigger-guard at the front on the right side to make access to the trigger a bit faster and more comfortable, then took the corners off the cylinder release and polished it. I refinished everything and was ready to move on to the grips.

These are important- I had a frame sized similarly to the M85 View, but these are notably uncomfortable. I wanted something as concealable but significantly more comfortable, consistent with the mission of making a gun that was not obnoxious to practice with.  I had made a pair of custom Zebrawood handles for the Rossi, and these were easily adapted to the Taurus.  These grips were carefully shaped for the mission and are very flat.

A bit hard to see, but the handles are very low-profile.

So- the gun was basically finished, and excepting the extra 1/4″ of barrel it’s as small as the M85 View. More than double the weight at 19.2 ounces unloaded, but I am a big guy and that doesn’t bother me.

In this picture you can see the cut-way trigger guard, which makes it faster to transition from a safe trigger-finger position to a firing position.

The grip has a single finger-groove, but it is actually a two-finger grip; the ring-finger actually wraps around the grip from underneath. It’s surprisingly secure and comfortable. But how is it to shoot?

Today I ran five rounds of ‘warm’ 173gr. LSWCs, and ten rounds of 125gr.JHPs loaded to maximum SAAMI standard pressure (but not +P. ) So how did that go? Unfortunately the video of the 173gr loads did not work out, but you can see the 125gr. loads-

Shooting the gun!

There is more muzzle-flip than it would appear in the video, but at 30 frames per second it shows up poorly. The gun was quite civilized to shoot with both loads, so much so that I expect even occasional +P loads would not be too abusive.  I wasn’t particularly focused on accuracy, but even so all rounds hit in a fist-sized group at five yards.

So it seems I have created what I set out to- a very compact J-frame sized revolver that does what I want it to do.  Now I am going to live with it for a while and see how well it does the job. I’ll be doing a more extensive test on my next range trip, and will report further on this gun then.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 28 October 2018



Range Report for 16 October 2018- Less is More!

Custom Hawe’s Western Marshall .45 Sheriff’s Model

Two things to test today- two new .45 Colt loads, and the Helwan .380 conversion. The .45 loads in question are for when I am using this gun as a sidearm for hunting. Both use a 270gr. Kieth bullet, but one load uses 8.0gr. of Unique and should get about 825fps out of this gun. The other is a +P load with 9.0gr. of Unique, probably pushing the bullet out at 900+fps.  Both loads use CCI300 large pistol primers.

I started out with the 9.0 gr. loads at seven yards. They definitely have some recoil, but easily manageable in this gun. The problem was I could not get a good tight group with them. OK, moving on…

The 8.0gr. load is, make no mistake, a stout load. It was notably easier on the hand, and groups were acceptable. My instinct to not adjust the sights until I tried this load were justified; as you can see unlike the 200gr. loads this one does not shoot low.  Now if I can stop pulling them to the right…

OK, time to test the Helwan .380 conversion. This was the first range outing for this gun and I was curious to see how it would go. I had fifty rounds of mixed .380 ammo; some 96gr. FMCRN from PPU, and some handloads with a Montana Gold 90gr BPRNL over 2.0gr. of Red Dot with a CCI500 small pistol primer. So, how did it perform?

I loaded the first magazine and dropped the slide using the slide-stop and- stovepipe. Not good. OK, cleared and reloaded and this time pulled the slide to release it. Fed like a champ. This proved to be the rule- if you release the slide with the slide stop it stovepipes. OK then. I ran a target out to 7 yards, took a deep breath and fired. The gun functioned flawlessly with both types of ammo. I loaded five rounds at a time for a bit, then started loading it with the full seven rounds it will take. Never a bobble. I was ecstatic.

Truth be told I was far more interested in the gun functioning than in shooting to the gun’s accuracy potential. Also, as you can see, the gun is shooting low.  There’s no room for shortening the front sight, so a taller rear sight is in this gun’s immediate future. There is one other small problem- it’s crunching about half the brass.

Not certain what is causing this, but both my handloads and the PPU ammo are pretty wimpy stuff; maybe that’s the problem. Also there is a till some slight ballooning of the brass, but no worse than I have seen from some other guns.

So, 9mm converted to .380, and the lighter of two .45 Colt loads worked the best. Just today, in these cases, less is more.


Michael Tinker Pearce, 16 October 2018