Monthly Archives: February 2020

Beer… For Range Days?!

This time we’re departing from the gun world into a topic that does not directly relate, but one near and dear to many of our hearts.

Beer and social gatherings go together like ham and cheese, peanut butter and chocolate… you get the drift. But alcohol and guns? A world of NO. Which is a shame in some ways; there are few common experiences more satisfying than an ice-cold IPA or Lager on a blistering summer afternoon. But when the guns are out the beer isn’t. Period.

Sure, there are non/low alcohol beers (traditionally know n as ‘small beers) like Sharp’s and O’Douls, but they are barely palatable. Caliber from Guinness is better but it’s still not great, and since they’ve ‘improved’ the flavor I’ve pretty much stopped bothering. Until recently you were pretty much out of luck finding a genuinely good beer with 0.5% alocohol or less. Now, however, craft brewing has come to NA beers, and I am one happy camper.

Traditionally the way that Near beer has been made has been to make beer and boil off the alcohol. This massacres the complex flavors and and subtle tones that beer-lovers treasure. Guinness discovered that they could circumvent this by reducing the pressure, and thus the boiling temperature, so that these subtleties were not entirely lost. Craft brewers have taken to employing this method (with varying degrees of success) and produced some pretty decent brews. Others have utilized strains of yeast that produce very little alcohol, and by not distilling the beer it retains the full range and character of a true beer.

At Christmas one of my kids brought over a selection of NA craft brews. I learned to drink beer in Europe, and loved a good stout. I liked a Bud or Miller OK, but my true love was European beers. Unfortunately the craft brew revolution occurred after I quit drinking. He’d been listening to me lament this fact for years, and took it upon himself to find a solution, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t. Let me share what we discovered, then and since.

Bravus Brewing Amber Ale

Bright yet full-bodied, roasty maltiness with a hint of sour and brown-sugar sweetness. It has a distinctive, pleasant aroma that is characteristic of Bravus, possibly a result of the strain of yeast they use. A friend who is quite the beerficianado, pronounced that he would drink it in preference to many of the craft-brew ambers he likes.

Bravus Brewing Oatmeal Stout

A very satisfying stout, bursting with chocolate and hints of coffee and smoke, with a smooth, carmelly mouth feel. This is a damn good stout, and never mind the lack of alcohol.

Surreal Brewing 17 Mile Porter

This is a strong, tasty Porter. Up front is chocolate and roasted malt, with smoke and a hint of coffee in the background. Pleasantly light carbonation completes the experience. A little watery in the finish, but I really, really like this one.

Partake IPA

This is the least of the beers I am reviewing, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It has some hoppy bitterness to it, but lacks the maltiness you expect in an IPA. It’s also rather watery. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, and having only ten calories to a can it has an argument in it’s favor. Overall I’d say it’s very drinkable, but only about 90% of where it would ideally be. Still, if presented with an ice-cold can on a hot summer day I’d be happy enough.


People’s tastes vary, and I can only recommend based on what I like. But if you like beer these are worth trying. One peculiarity I have discovered with the stout and porter; these beers are usually served at room temperature, but these NA brews really shine when cold. Another thing to note- these beers are all pretty low calorie, usually 50-100 calories; that’s less than a can of soda.

Guns and alcohol absolutely do not mix… but maybe guns and beer can now. I’m looking to exploring this world more, and of you folks are interested I’ll report my findings.

ADDENDA: From the response I have received on social media I did not make myself clear. This applies to the social events surrounding a range day; you should not drink anything while actually on the range, unless your favorite drink recipe includes particulate lead. This would be for times when you might legitimately be drinking soft drinks or hot beverages.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 24 Feburay 2020

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U.S.Arms Abilene

Years back I got out of .44 Magnums. I didn’t reload, I wasn’t hunting and commercial ammo had gotten too bloody expensive to shoot them for pleasure. Times change though- I’ve taken up reloading and am hunting again. The property I hunt has a lot of brush and heavy cover- typical shots are 7-20 yards and you almost never get a shot over fifty yards. A handgun seemed a natural choice for the conditions, so I decided it was time to get another .44 Magnum.

A couple of years ago I went looking. The budget was, as always, limited so I expected a long search for something cheap enough but suitable. Nope- first time I walked into Pinto’s there it was- a US Arms Abilene .44 Magnum with a 7-1/2″ ported bull-barrel. It’s in remarkably good condition- the finish looks like it’s made out of black glass, there is no end-play and the cylinder locks up super-tight. The cylinder gap is .002 inches, and when you cock it the clicks are super-sharp and almost musical. Moreover these guns were popular with silhouette shooters for their accuracy and durability. $375? Shut up and take my money!

In the 70’s and 80’s long range silhouette shooting was the big game. In 1972 Sig Himmelmann founded United States Arms and designed the Abilene revolver.  United Sporting Arms and United States Arms were originally one company, but in 1977 the company split, with United sporting arms producing the Seville, and United States Arms producing the Abilene. Unfortunately U.S.Arms did not prosper, and in 1980 Mossberg’s AIG division bought them out. They continued producing the Abilene from parts on hand, and people immediately began noticing quality-control issues. Production stopped when the parts on hand ran out, and the Abilene faded into the past. Though mostly forgotten now, in their day these were a top-quality premium revolver. Now they go cheap because nobody remembers what they are. On the one hand that’s a shame, because these really are superb revolvers. On the other hand it meant I could afford one, so it’s not all bad.

I’d been thinking I’d shorten whatever I got to 4-5/8″ for packability, but I think I’m going to leave this one alone. Despite the bull-barrel it hangs very nicely in the hand. I tried it out at the range and using Sellier & Bellot 240gr. JSPs I was able to shoot a 2-5/8″ off-hand group at 25 yards with one flyer-

Unfortunately I had issues with the Sellier & Bellot ammo- I had a misfire about once per cylinder. The primer strikes looked good, they just didn’t go off until I re-struck them. I tested the gun with primed brass and it got 100% ignition. I’m a little surprised; S&B ammo has been my go-to cheap ammo for years. I suppose anyone can have a bad day, even ammo manufacturers. I said cheap ammo, but this stuff is expensive- after tax it was going to be $40 for a box of suitable ammo. Thor and I (yes, that’s his real name) poked around the store and came up with a set of used RCBS steel dies, a can of case-lube and 100 bullets for total of $55. What the heck, I was going to buy dies anyway.

The bullets are 260 grain HC-LSWCs at about 15 Brinell hardness. This is about right I think; Hard enough to retain weight well but not so hard it acts like FMJ. I loaded this on top of 9.3gr. of Unique with a CCI Large Pistol primer. This ought to get 1175-1200 fps. for around 800ft./lbs. of energy. More than adequate for local Blacktails.

Works a treat- recoil is not trivial but not bad at all; like a stout .357 magnum in a medium-frame revolver.

The gun isn’t perfect- the grips are very fat. This handles recoil well but isn’t all that comfortable in my hand. I narrowed them at the front and center but left the back fat for recoil management. I also refinished the grips with British Tan leather dye and a hand-rubbed wax finish. Much more comfortable. I made a holster for it- nothing fancy, but functional. It’s been hunting with me a couple of times, but no luck yet. Next month I’ll be east of the mountains hunting coyotes, and the Abilene will be coming along.

I really love this gun; great shooter, very good looking and it practically oozes quality. And for the price? Very happy indeed!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 February 2020

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The Taurus Model 415 .41 Magnum- A Long Awaited Meeting

The Taurus Model 415 .41 magnum

Around the turn of the millenium I encountered a most curious creature at my local gun shop; a compact, 5-shot stainless revolver chambered in .41 Magnum. I’m a sucker for a big-bore snubby, and it’s not overstating things to say it was lust at first sight. This was the Taurus Model 415, and I wanted it bad. I did not get it. Finances were tight, the ammo was bloody expensive and… well life and all that.

Flash-forward to early 2020. I walked into McCallen Defense and there, in the case, was a pristine Model 415 at a rather stunningly good price. This was even more stunning when Chris informed me that the gun came with ammunition, new brass and carbide reloading dies! A short ‘shut up and take my money’ later it was all over but waiting for the background check.

I picked up the gun today. Since it came with ammo and Champion Arms indoor range is on the premises, I decided that a little ‘getting acquainted’ session was in order.

The 415 shown with my Smith & Wesson. It’s really not that much bigger.

The Caliber

.41 Magnum is, to all but hardcore wheelgun fans, a somewhat obscure cartridge these days, so perhaps a bit of history is in order. In the early 1960s several of the big names in handgun circles, namely Elmer Kieth and Bill Jordan, felt that a better police cartridge was needed. Hollow points were not readily available or in use at the time, and they felt that .357 Magnum was not as effective as a service cartridge should be, but that .44 Magnums were large and heavy, and the cartridge was a bit much for the average cop. Mind you, I have not uncovered much in the way of confirmation of their belief that .357 magnum was in any way insufficient , but that’s not really relevant.

These gentlemen, reportedly with some assistance from the renowned gun-detonator Skeeter Skelton, approached Remington with the idea of a .41 caliber cartridge, which could have a ‘mild’ law enforcement load that would propel a 200gr. LSWC at 900 fps., or a more powerful load pushing a 210gr. bullet around 1400 fps.

Remington, perhaps a bit magnum-happy at the time, produced the cartridge, but with a significantly more powerful ‘police’ load. S&W came on board, but rather than the intermediate sized weapon the boys had envisioned, simply chambered their N-frame revolver in the new cartridge. It was a perfect storm of bad implementation of a worthy idea; a cartridge with excessive recoil compare to .38 Special and .357 magnum revolvers but lacking the power of a .44 Magnum, chambered in a gun that was actually slightly heavier than a .44 magnum built on the same frame.

A few agencies adopted this new cartridge, but overall the reception was lukewarm. If Ruger hadn’t promptly chambered their popular Blackhawk revolver in this cartridge and introduced it to sportsmen, the .41 Magnum might have become just another footnote in firearms history. Thompson Center added it to their line of Contender barrels, handloaders explored and expanded the round’s potential. The cartridge was quite capable of taking any North American game, and some favored it because of it’s lighter recoil and flatter trajectory compared to .44 Magnum.

As a result the cartridge has survived, though it has never attained anything resembling the popularity of either .357 or .44 Magnum. As of this writing Smith & Wesson, Charter Arms, and Taurus all offer revolvers in .41 Magnum.

The Gun

Taurus Ribber grips- odd, but effective.

Enter the Taurus Model 415. Produced from 1999-2003, it features a drop-forged stainless-steel frame, a 2-1/2″ barrel with a full under-lug and six circular ports in the barrel, flanking the front sight, to assist in managing the gun’s not insubstantial recoil. It is fitted with a Taurus Gripper neoprene grip, which looks a bit odd but is secure and comfortable in the hand, and also helps the shooter to cope with recoil. The gun weighs 30.4 ounces according to my scale, and while Taurus made a Titanium-framed version for masochists, you really wouldn’t want it much lighter than it is. In size it’s a bit larger than a S&W K-frame, but not so much so that it doesn’t fit in my K-frame holster.

The stainless gun is a ‘frosted’ matte silver color, and the fit and finish is very good. The fixed sights are clear and sharp, but the front sight might benefit from a colored surface; I’ll attend to that presently. The double-action trigger is not heavy, quite smooth but not exceptional. The single action has a tiny bit of creep, but I didn’t even notice it until I really looked for it.

The ammunition that came with the gun was Winchester’s 175gr. Silver-tip hollow-point. If my math is close it should be leaving this short barrel in the neighborhood of 900fps., yielding about 315 ft.lbs. of energy. More on that later.

So what’s it like to shoot a short-barreled, medium-frame .41 Magnum? Well, with this ammo it’s a lot like shooting a short-barreled, medium frame .357 Magnum. OK, I won’t kid you; it’s a hoot. There is a definite rush, for me at least. The jets of flame shooting up next to the sight were quite visible in the indoor range and a bit disconcerting on the first shot, but after that I ignored them. Recoil is substantial, but if you are used to shooting powerful revolvers it’s quite manageable. The neoprene Gripper grips do a good job of keeping things from becoming uncomfortable.

The ported barrel does not reduce recoil, but it does get the gun back on-target quicker.

Let’s talk about that recoil for a moment, and the ported barrel. Ports do not reduce recoil. If you propel a bullet of x-weight at y-velocity it produces z-recoil, and ports do not change that. What ports do do is to bring the muzzle back on target faster, and on this gun that seemed to work well. I shot a couple cylinders at a brisk pace, then did a full-on rapid-fire string. It was slightly brutal, and while there was no timer in use I think I put five rounds of 41 Magnum on target in roughly the time it takes me to put six .38 Specials downrange.

The gun shoots a little high and right for me, but that could be me as easily as the gun. We’ll see what happens with more practice. I did run a target out to 25 yards, and careful double action shooting produced… well, let us draw the curtains of charity over the group that resulted, and hope that will improve with practice. I’m really pretty sure it was me, not the gun. It usually is…

Double-action, standing unsupported at seven yards. A bit high and right, but that could be me as easily as the gun; these were the first five rounds I put through it.
Rapid-fire at seven yards. Basically I aimed the first shot and dumped the cylinder as fast as I could. Silly thing to do, really, but it was FUN! I don’t actually know how fast I shot, but the range-masters were giggling over it when I came out; one of them was apparently startled when I cut loose. It was reported he exclaimed, ‘What the *expletive deleted* is he shooting?!’

Make no mistake, this is not a gun for everyone, but it is a gun for me. I only had a few cylinders full to shoot today, but I had an absolute, uh… blast.

But… why?!

When I try to be a sensible adult and apply my years of study and experience, big bore snubbies really don’t make a lot of sense. Oh, I totally adore them, don’t get me wrong. For a companion gun when tromping our local wilderness it arguably has a place; with the right load it will handle anything of the four-legged variety that I am likely to run into, and it’s compact packaging and double-action are an argument in it’s favor in that role.

How about as an EDC? OK, let’s look at that. My 3″ K-frame .38 has a loaded weight that is just shy of two pounds, the Taurus has a loaded weight about 2 ounces heavier. Not much to choose between them there. The Taurus’s grip is noticeably larger, but not too big to accommodate, particularly at this time of year when I normally wear a coat.

The 415 is a fair bit more powerful; the .38 +P HST Micros in my .38 make about 204 ft./lbs. compared to the 315 ft./lbs from the .41. But I am a disciple of The Holy Church of Hit Location, and am unconvinced that five rounds of .41 Magnum will serve me better than six rounds of .38 Special. OK, it’s not that likely they’ll serve me worse, either, but that isn’t an argument for switching.

There is one argument, though- if I am going to use this gun as a sidearm for wilderness excursions I want to be as familiar and comfortable with it as possible. Besides, it already fits my holster… Five-Star Firearms makes an excellent billet-aluminum speed loader for this gun, and as I write this there are two on order, so when those arrive and I’ve had a bit of practice with them I’ll start packing this gun.

When you want something for a long time and finally get it, there’s always a little fear that it will not be all you had hoped. In this case it is, and I’m delighted that I was able to finally pick one up.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 15 February, 2020

ADDENDA: OK, as Jim Downey has pointed out, my math is NOT correct. I suffered a rush of excrement to the brain and failed to take the length of the cylinder into account as part of the ‘barrel’ for test purposes. Oops.

The revised energy figures are complicated by the muzzle-gap and porting, but my energy figures for both the .41 Magnum Silvertip and the .38 +P HST Micro are about 30-35% low, meaning the Silvertips are likely closer to 400 ft./lbs and the HST is getting more like 275 ft./lbs. I’ll need to chronograph these loads to produce a more exact figure.

Good catch, Jim, and thank you!

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