Monthly Archives: January 2020

Slow Isn’t Fast…

…but it can get you to do it right, and right is fast.

Training is good. If you have the money and interest to take courses, well that’s great… if it’s good training. Because if or when you need to defend yourself, you will fight as you have trained. If you have trained well and had good training it will significantly increase your odds of surviving. If you’ve had bad training… well, you know the saying, ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’

It’s axiomatic that the gun you have is better than the gun you left at home… but no gun is going to help if you can’t do your part.

Unfortunately training is expensive, and it should be; this is serious stuff. A good instructor has spent a lot of time and energy to learn their skills and how to impart them to you. The fact that something is worth it, however, doesn’t mean you can afford it. The good news is that there are many things you can do to train yourself that don’t cost a fortune.

A lot of people don’t have access to a facility where they can practice defensive shooting. Many ranges have prohibitions against working from a holster, rapid fire etc. This needn’t handicap you entirely; there are still useful training methods you can employ. These methods are far from comprehensive and will not turn you into any kind of ace pistolero… but they will help.

First Things First

All sorts of people will tell you that being able to hit the target at the shooting range is very different from shooting in an actual confrontation, and they are correct. Being able to hit the target doesn’t mean you will be able to hit an attacker… but being unable to hit a target pretty much guarantees you won’t. The most elementary skill you will want for self defense is the ability to hit what you aim at, and every round you fire at the bullseye will work in your favor if the worst happens.

Whatever you carry, however you train, it all starts with accuracy.

Get it right, then get it fast.

In his 1403 treatise, ‘The Flower of Battle,’ Fiore advises us (paraphrasing) ‘Train slow; in the fight anger (stress and adrenaline) will give you speed.’ Essentially it’s more important to train to do it right, and let speed come to you when it’s needed. This actually works; I never practiced a ‘fast-draw’ in my competition days. Instead I focused on doing it right every single time, drawing slowly and raising the gun to eye-level to obtain a sight picture. I repeated this thousands of times, grinding it into my muscle-memory. Despite the fact that I didn’t train for the quick-draw when the buzzer went off to start a stage I got my gun out and into action plenty fast.

It’s a good drill, and you can do it anywhere you won’t scare someone. Unload the gun and put it in your carry holster. Have a small target set across the room. Verify that the gun is empty (or better yet loaded with a Snap Cap dummy round,) then grasp the handle and draw the gun, raise it to eye-level. Focus on moving the gun in the shortest path, without extra movement and have the muzzle slightly up so that the first part of the gun that enters your line of sight is the front sight. Center this in the rear sight notch as the gun come on target and squeeze the trigger while maintaining sight alignment.

Do this enough times- maybe several thousand repetitions- and you will be able to get a sight picture very quickly when drawing the gun, and at need you will draw quickly.

Shooting Drills

There are useful drills you can use even if your range is quite restrictive, and they should be used in conjunction with standard target shooting. Maybe you can’t work from the holster of rapid-fire, but these exercises will help. These names are what I call these drills; there might be other names for them but I don’t know them; I’m just some schmuck who does what he can, not as highly trained combat pistol expert. All of these drills are done slowly; after all, in training there’s no point in shooting faster than you can hit the target. The idea is to train to do it right every time. Note that these are all about basic shooting skill; you still need to consider tactics etc. in an actual fight. These drills are designed for a revolver, because that’s what I usually carry, but are easily adapted to a semi-auto.

7-3-2 (Seven yards, three positions, two shots each)

With a standard pistol target at seven yards, fire two shots holding the gun with both hands, then two shots from your strong hand, then two shots from your weak hand. Don’t shoot any faster than you can keep all six shots in the black. This will insure that you get enough practice in all three modes of firing.


Same as the drill above, but for each shot you start with the gun pointed downrange at waist level, then bring it to eye level, get a sight picture and fire a single shot, then lower the gun and do it again. This is simple training on acquiring a sight picture.

3-3-6 (three yards, three positions, six shots)

This is a point-shooting drill. I’m not a huge fan of point-shooting, but it is undeniably useful at very close range. With the target at three yards, keeping both eyes open, raise the gun to mid-chest level, point it at the target without using the sights and fire six shots. Watch where the bullets strike and walk them into the center of the target. Do this two-handed, with your strong hand and with your weak hand. Don’t try to rush it- be conscious of the feel of the gun and how it points naturally in your hand. look at the gun at first to be sure it’s pointed at the target. The goal is to consistently get all six shots in the black. If you haven’t tried this before, it’s harder than it sounds.

My first attempt, and I did it wrong. I was going for speed, and my left-handed shots were all over the place. Avoid the temptation to just ‘dump’ the cylinder. Takes your time, get it right.

3-2-1 (Three Shots, Two positions, One shot at a time)

After you’ve gotten good at the drill above it’s time to step it up. With the target at three yards, start with the gun in your strong hand, pointed downrange at waist level, with both eyes open. Raise the gun to mid-chest and fire a single shot at the target. Switch to the left hand and repeat. Keep switching hands until you have fired all six shots. Once again the goal is to land all shots in the black.

Results of my last 3-2-1 drill. Again, I did this wrong by pushing for speed; I have to wonder if I’d just slowed down a bit I might have gotten them all where they belong.

Of course you also need to practice reloads, clearing jams etc. Like the draw, though, these actions can be practiced nearly anywhere. Well, anywhere you won’t freak out bystanders… Anyway, a lot has been written on those subjects and we don’t need to rehash them here.

These simple drills will not turn you into the ultimate gunfighter, but they can be practiced by anyone in almost any shooting venue… and they might just help save your life.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 January, 2020

Shooting Antique Firearms: Recoil is The Enemy

Guns were made to be used. It doesn’t matter if they are brand new or more than a century old, and I buy antique guns to shoot them. There are a variety of reasons to do this; a sense of connection to history, the ability to buy a better quality gun without paying modern prices, curiosity to see what they can do, or even just because it’s fun. But these are not modern firearms with modern material science; they have limitations, and you ignore these at your peril.

I am nobody’s idea of an ‘expert.’ I don’t have access to high-tech scientific equipment. I’m not a material scientist, a chemist or any other relevant sort of ‘ist.’ This is not ‘The Received Gospel,’ it’s my opinion. It’s based on experience, research and observation… but at the end of the day it’s just an (arguably) informed opinion.

C96 Mauser ‘broomhandle,’ a WW1 Civilian Model. Chambered in 7.63 Mauser… but it will chamber 7.62 Tokarev… which will break this gun in short order.

I’ve been mucking around with firearms for a good few decades now, and for the last few years I’ve been shooting antiques a lot. I routinely ignore the advice against using smokeless powders in these guns, and it has never even once proven to be an issue.

Mind you, I’ve seen more than one antique broken, and I can say when I have seen this occur it has almost always been a gun that was in no condition to shoot to begin with, or it broke under circumstances that would have been equally lethal to a modern firearm. Plugged bores, double charges, wrong caliber ammunition… a gun doesn’t have to be a ancient to fall to these things!

Another thing to recall is that not all guns were created equal. In my recent ammo test my 3-1/4″ barreled H&R routinely fired the same loads at significantly lower velocities than my S&W… despite the S&W having 1/2 the barrel length! This was owing to sloppy tolerances on the H&R, which was an economy brand in the way-backs.

H&R .38 Safety Hammerless- beautifully refinished with lovely mother-of-pearl grips… but it was still a cheap gun, with specifications and tolerances that reflect that.

My Smith & Wesson .38 Safety Hammerless, for comparison is still tight and right after more than three-thousand rounds of comparatively ‘hot’ ammo. I doubt the H&R would be unscathed after two or three hundred rounds of the same ammo.

Some guns were set up for failure, notably surplussed Webley .455 revolvers. Most of these had the cylinders cut to take .45 ACP in moon clips, since .455 was not a popular caliber in America. Unfortunately while this ammo can be made to fit, commercial ammo is significantly overpowered for these guns, and quickly reduced most of them to loose, wobbly junk. Which brings us to the crux of this conversation…

Webley Mk.1 .445 cut for .45 ACP. Excellent revolver, but if you shoot factory .45 ACP in it it won’t be excellent for long.

We make much of the difference between the pressure of black powder rounds versus smokeless rounds, but in a sound antique gun this really isn’t what makes the difference. Pressure is not directly responsible for a fine antique double going off-face, or a revolver loosening up. It’s recoil that does it. The metallurgy of these old guns is not up to modern standards, and repeated hammering with high-recoil loads stretches and deforms the metal.

L.C.Smith damascus double- the barrel material isn’t the issue, it’s the condition of the bores that matters. In it’s day this was very nearly a top-of-the-line shotgun… but a steady diet of high-powered modern loads will put it off-face, necessitating expensive repairs, or worse, consigning it to wall-hanger status.

Yes, high-pressure loads are likely (but not guaranteed) to recoil harder. Heavy projectiles or shot loads will also accomplish this. Some ammunition, like .32 S&W or .38 S&W, are commercially loaded with this in mind. These loads are deliberately anemic to avoid breaking old and/or poor quality guns. You can safely shoot them in any sound gun chambered for these cartridges.

If you reload your own cartridges, black powder or black powder substitutes can be a good option. In the 19th century if you wanted to make a cartridge more powerful you made it hold more powder. Black Powder needs to fill all the empty space in the cartridge, and ideally it should be compressed. You can’t fit enough FFg in a cartridge to blow up the gun it was designed for, provided that gun is in sound, shootable condition.

Two options in .450 Adams- on the left a 210gr. bullet ( instead of the more typical 225gr. bullet) seated deep over a slightly reduced charge of BP. On the right is a 138 gr. round ball, seated deep. Even though the powder charge is significantly larger that the round on the left, the light projectile causes dramatically less recoil, and consequently less wear on the gun.

Reduced black powder loads can be obtained a number of ways; you can insert spacers to take up room, allowing you to use less powder without creating a dangerous air-space in the cartridge. You can use light-for caliber bullets seated more deeply in the case. You can even physically shorten the case so that it holds less powder. Any of these methods or combination of them can be used to produce reduced-recoil loads.

For shotguns RST produces a wide range of ammunition in a large variety of bores and lengths tailored to be used in antiques. They aren’t cheap, but they are excellent ammunition; extremely reliable and consistent. Despite the lower pressure and power of these loads they are so good that most users don’t feel they have given anything up compared to modern shells.

You can of course reload your own, and there are websites devoted to this; a little Google-fu could be well worth your time! RST tends to use light-for-caliber loads in their shells, and if you load your own you’d be well-advised to do the same. Look for light slugs, load 1/4-ounce less shot… your gun will last a lot longer.

Another thing to remember with antique shotguns is to use the correct length of ammunition; antique shells were often not quite the same length as modern shells. These days cartridges like 12-gauge have pretty much settled in to 2-3/4″, 3″ and 3-1/2″. In antique guns, however, the chambers can be 2″ or 2-1/2″. While it might not be disastrous to shoot modern 2-3/4″ shells in a 2-1/2″ gun, it could be… and it certainly won’t be good for the gun!

The most important factor, both for safety and to preserve your guns and insure you can enjoy them for years to come, is to know what you are doing. Educate yourself; there are vast resources online, including not merely blogs and forums, but also out-of print books that can be downloaded, often for free, in .pdf form. Sharpe’s 1937 ‘Complete Guide to Handloading’ is excellent; Google it. You’ll be glad you did!

If you are mindful, educated and careful antique guns can provide years or decades of great enjoyment and satisfaction. I recommend it highly… provided that you are prepared to do the footwork to do it sensibly and safely.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 January 2019

How Obsolete Are They? Chronograph Results

Last autumn I said that I would be testing several obsolete calibers with both factory and hand-loaded ammunition. This afternoon I went to Renton Fish & Game to start the process. Buckle up, this is a long one!

The test guns, from top to bottom: Webley Model 1883 RIC in .450 Adams, Colt Police Positive Special in .32-20, Iver Johnson .32 Safety Hammerless (1st Model) in .32 S&W, Smith & Wesson .38 Safety Hammerless (4th Model) in .38 S&W, and a Harrington & Richardson .38 Hammerless (2nd Model) in .38 S&W

This being the first trip the results are quite incomplete; I did not have original factory-style bullets to do black powder loads for .32 & .38 S&W for example, or suitable bullets to do proper handloads for .32 S&W, and will have to come back to those.

I’d like to thank Greg Ellifritz for providing much of the antique and commercial ammunition used in this test.

.38 S&W

I started out with .38 S&W. Introduced in 1877 for S&W’s compact top-break single-action revolver, this used a case very similar to .38 Colt Short. Instead of using the Colt’s heel-base .375 bullet, however, it used a .360-caliber bullet that fit inside the case. Initially this was loaded with round-nose lead bullets weighing 145-147 gr. over a charge of 12 grains of black powder. The British loaded this case with a 200gr. bullet for military use, and this works well enough in robust Webley and Enfield top-break revolvers, or in solid-frame revolvers, but it is too stout for American-made top-breaks designed for concealment.

Initially the cartridge was used primarily in concealable revolvers, but a number of service-sized revolvers were produced by or for the British.

.38 S&W is still commercially produced, almost entirely using round-nosed lead bullets at modest velocities to render them safe to shoot even in frail antiques. Buffalo Bore does make defensive loads, and Fiocchi still produces British military loads, but these are very much the exception, and their use should be limited to stronger, service-type revolvers.

I had a box of modern 145gr. round-nose lead Winchester factory loads, and two different hand-loads using a .357 125gr. truncated-cone lead bullet and a .361 150gr. semi-wadcutter. The test guns were my 1-5/8″ barreled S&W and my 3-1/4″ barreled H&R. I fired five rounds each of all three loads through both guns; the results are an average of those loads.

Winchester 145gr. (modern) factory ammunition

S&W- 1-5/8″ barrel: 535 fps. 92 ft./lbs SD: 39

H&R- 3-1/4″ barrel: 478 fps. 74 ft./lbs SD: 42

This modern factory ammunition is very under-powered, probably to make it safe to shoot in even the poorest-quality antique handguns.

125gr. TCL, 2.7gr. of Unique with a CCI 500 small pistol primer

S&W 1-5/8″ barrel: 621 fps. 107 ft./lbs SD: 21

H&R 3-1/4″ barrel: 566 fps. 89 ft./lbs SD: 11

This is a deliberately light load meant to be ‘top-break friendly,’ in the interest of being kind to antique guns of this type.

150gr. LSWC, 2.7gr. of Unique with a CCI 500 small pistol primer

S&W 1-5/8″ barrel: 672 fps. 150 ft./lbs SD: 14

I only had five of these with me, so I decided to shoot them out of the shorter gun as these are the loads I use when I carry this as a pocket-gun.

It’s interesting that the much shorter barrel on the S&W consistently produced significantly higher velocities than the longer barrel on the H&R; I can only presume that the tolerances on the S&W are significantly tighter.

.32 S&W

This cartridge was introduced as a center-fire replacement for .32 Rimfire in 1878 by the union Metallic Cartridge Company, and was widely used in small, concealable pistols. Typically such guns had barrels of 2-3″ in length, though longer-barreled examples were made.

Original loads used an 88gr. lead round-nose bullet over 9 grains of black powder (measured by volume, as was customary for black powder.) This supposedly yielded around 700 fps., but we do not know the length of barrel used to arrive at this figure. In the early 20th Century the cartridge was typically loaded with black powder long after the adoption of smokeless, but since World War 2 it has been loaded exclusively with smokeless. The round remained popular for purse and pocket guns long after most manufacturers had ceased to produce firearms chambered for it, and is still commercially available.

This cartridge was used in several notable assassinations in the early 20th century, including among the victims President William McKinley, who was shot twice in the abdomen and later succumbed to infection.

The cartridge has never been considered powerful enough for police service, but many a lawman might have kept one tucked away on their person as a last-ditch backup.

Two boxes of Remington factory loads- one modern and one from prior to WW2!

I had two different boxes of ammo for this caliber, both Remington and both loaded with 88gr. RNL bullets. The Iver Johnson test gun has the standard 3-1/4″ barrel, and like the .38s it’s double-action only.

Remington Kleanbore 88gr. LRN

615 fps. 74 ft./lbs SD: 14

Remington Target 88gr. LRN (modern)

611 fps. 73 ft./lbs SD: 17

Not a nickel’s worth of difference between these two loads.

.32-20 (.32 Winchester Center Fire)

Introduced in 1882 as a small game cartridge for Winchester rifles, it was shortly thereafter adopted as a revolver cartridge, and was briefly popular as a police service cartridge. Originally loaded with a 100grain flat-point lead bullet over 20 grains of black powder, it made the transition to smokeless powders at the end of the 19th. century. Many iconic revolvers, such as the Single Action Army and Police Positive Special from Colt, and the S&W Hand-Ejector, were produced and remained popular until World War 2. It’s popularity waned in the post-war years, and few if any commercial rifles and no commercial revolvers are produced for it today, though ammunition is still available.

While intended as a small game cartridge many a deer has been taken with it since its inception. These days commercial ammunition is typically loaded to modest levels of power in deference to the antique firearms it was made for.

The test gun is an early Colt Police Positive Special with a 4″ barrel.

I had four loads to test in this caliber, two antique loads of unknown origin, a smokeless handload and a black powder handload, both using a 96gr. LRNFP from Aardvark bullets.

100gr. copper-washed LRNFP (unknown if this is commercial or handloaded.)

779 fps. 135 ft./lbs SD: 23

115gr. LRNFP (unknown if this is commercial or handloaded.)

761 fps. 149 ft./lbs SD: 13

96gr. LRNFP, 3.7gr. of Unique with a CCI500 small pistol primer

744 fps. 118 ft./lbs SD: 35

This load is rather light, as you can see. I usually load this bullet over 4.0 gr. of Unique; I’ll be testing that load in the future.

96gr. LRNFP, 12.7gr. Hodgden Triple 7 FFFg (black powder substitute) with a CCI500 small pistol primer

837 fps. 149 ft./lbs SD: 12

This powder charge is measured by weight, not volume (as was more typical with Black powder.) Triple-7 yields slightly higher velocity than black powder, but cannot be compressed as much. On the balance this load is probably a fair approximation of the original load for this cartridge.

.450 Adams

This cartridge was the first centerfire cartridge adopted by the British military for their Beaumont-Adams cartridge-conversion revolvers, but it’s use spread rapidly to the Webley RIC revolver, the Webley Bulldog and to countless copies of the Bulldog made in Belgium. While the British military replaced it in service in 1880, it remained a widely used revolver cartridge into the early 20th century. In fact it was in use as a ‘second standard’ cartridge for the British until at least the end of WW1, as it could be fired in .476 and .455 revolvers.

It has been known as .450 Adams, .450 Boxer, .450 Corto, .450 Colt, .45 Webley and maybe even a couple others I have missed. It is out of commercial production, though Fiocchi occasionally does a small run of .450 Corto.

Webley RIC revolver with a 2-1/2″ barrel used as the test gun.

It’s original loading was with a 225gr. RNL bullet over 13gr. of black powder, yielding a muzzle velocity of 725-750fps. from the long-barreled Adams revolvers.

I am using Hodgden Triple-7 FFFg black powder substitute in my loads. This typically generates slightly higher velocities than black powder, but modern cartridges hold rather less powder than the original ‘balloon-head’ cases used for this cartridge, so I think it makes for a fair approximation. I was unable to obtain 225gr. bullets in time for this test, but I will be reproducing the original load and testing it at a later date. I had two loads available for this test.

138gr. .451 lead ball, 10gr. of Triple-7 FFFg and a CCI550 large pistol primer

628 fps. 121 ft./lbs SD: 16

This was made as an ‘antique-friendly’ light target load. It proved accurate at 7 yards, and ought to be gently on old guns.

210gr. copper-washed LSWC, 7.5gr. of Triple-7 FFFg and a CCI 550 large pistol primer

551 fps. 142 ft./lbs SD: 9

In the near future I will be developing more smokeless loads for this cartridge.

So what does it all mean?

This test is meant primarily as a baseline for comparison purposes in future tests. Eventually as finances allow I’ll be testing these rounds in an equivalent of FBI-standard ballistic gel tests, both to see what they were capable of, and to see what they can be safely made to do now.

I’ll also be testing .32 S&W Long, but I wasn’t prepared for that today. It’s going to be a bit catch-as-can as I work this in around my ‘day job’ and finances, but I’ll keep you updated as I go along.

As usual, all loading data contained in this post is used at your own risk. Load data should be approached cautiously, especially when it heralds from a dubious source such as the internet!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 January 2020