Monthly Archives: August 2020

The H&R Model 732: Basic, Cheap & Good

In 1871 Frank Wesson joined Gilbert Harrington in establishing a firearms manufacturing company, Wesson & Harrington. In 1874 Gilbert bought Frank out, and Harrington and Richardson was established. They made their fame in the 19th C. by producing an extensive line of top-break revolvers. These guns were not of the highest quality, but they were inexpensive and generally good, serviceable weapons.

By the dawn of the 20th C. they had expanded into shotguns, and then into semi-automatic pistols and solid-frame revolvers. In the post-WW2 period they became best known for their single-shot shotguns, single shot rifles and solid-frame revolvers. All of these weapons were basic, inexpensive and robust, and put meat on the table in many a rural home.

The most popular variant of the Model 732 was the snub-nosed Sidekick. It had a smaller, round-butt grip frame and a tough-style, non-adjustable rear sight.

In the latter half of the 20th C. their solid-frame revolvers in .22LR, .22 Magnum and .32 S&W Long were the quintessential ‘Truck’ or ‘Tackle-box’ gun. Good enough to do the job, cheap enough you didn’t so much mind if you lost them. Double-action triggers were rather famously heavy, but for casual use and plinking most people thumb-cocked them anyway, so that wasn’t much of an issue for most people..

The economically-priced .32s were a popular choice for self defense among the financially challenged, though I knew at least one police officer that carried a Sidekick as a back-up. .32 S&W Long is a mild-shooting and very accurate round, and the longer-barreled .32s were sometimes used as an entry-level target pistols, for small game hunting or, of course, home defense.

These guns have yet to get any real interest from collectors and remain affordable to this day, with decent examples available from $120-$200. I’ve wanted one for some time, but there was always a higher priority. When one came across the counter at McCallen Defense Chris knew just who to call, and in fact he made me a very nice deal on it. When I went in to pick it up I brought a box of target wadcutters to try it out at the attached indoor range. We’ll get to that shortly.

My ‘new’ Model 732 Guardian

The Guardian has a 4″ Barrel, a rear sight that is adjustable for windage, a solid frame with a swing-out cylinder and a square butt with black plastic grips. There is no removable side-plate; all the internals are inserted into the frame through the hammer-slot or from underneath after the trigger guard is removed. The gun may be fired either single or double action. The small lever at the back of the trigger guard is actually the single-action trigger; when the gun is fully cocked the trigger rests against the lever, and pulling the trigger rotates the lever to release the hammer from the full-cocked position. Earlier guns (like this one) are equipped with a rebounding hammer. When the trigger is released the hammer is held back about 0.10″, preventing it from striking the firing pin if the gun is dropped. Later models were equipped with a transfer-bar safety. The cylinder is opened by pulling the cylinder pin forward, and once the cylinder has swung out this also serves to push out the ejector star. The back of the cylinder is relieved to accommodate the cartridge rims.

The cylinder swings out to the left in the usual fashion, and as the picture shows the cylinder is recessed to cover the cartridge rims.

The left side of the barrel is marked ‘Model 732′ and ’32 S&W,’ though the gun is actually chambered in .32 S&W Long. The left side of the frame is marked simple ‘H&R INC. U.S.A.’ The serial number is located at the bottom of the grip-frame.

The grip provides a secure two-finger grip; I have large hands and my pinky finger does not fit on the grip, but it’s actually comfortable. The sights are square and give a good sight picture. The trigger pull is heavy, but decently smooth and breaks cleanly. The single action trigger is decently crisp and clean, though again it is not light.

These were a low-priced gun, and the finish reflects that. They are not without flaws, either; the plastic seat for the mainspring is prone to breakage. They are readily available and fairly simple to replace. I haven’t checked this one yet; if it has the plastic seat I will probably fabricate a new one from aluminum, after which the gun will certainly outlast me by a significant margin.

If abused they can go out of time, and internal springs can break. They are not hard to disassemble, but reassembly is a right pain in the posterior. Ask me how I know… then duck.

The rear sight may be adjusted for windage by two tiny screws mounted in the frame. Loosen the screw in the direction that you wish the sight to move and tighten the opposite screw until the desired point of impact is attained. There is no provision for adjusting for elevation.

This gun is in remarkably good condition, with only a small amount of rust pitting on the bottom of the grip frame. Other than that it could be showroom new; the cylinder is unlined and there is no holster wear. Quite remarkable, given that this particular gun was manufactured in 1965!

This gun is in remarkable condition; without examining it very closely you would think the gun was brand-new, not 55 years old!

Shooting the Model 732

As I stated above I went straight to the indoor range at Champion Arms (which shares a building with McCallen Tactical) to try the gun out. I had some 90gr. HBWCs loaded over 2.5gr. of Unique, a fairly typical target load, which gets around 780 fps. from this gun’s 4″ barrel. Recoil was very mild, and the gun was quite pleasant to fire. While the double-action trigger is heavy it was smooth enough to make it easy to shoot good groups at seven yards.

The gun was shooting slightly high at seven yards, but it was easy to produce double-action groups like this at that distance. The gun was shooting a little high, but not high enough to create a problem.

I rolled a target out to 25 yards and, mindful that the gun was shooting high at seven yards, used a 6-o’clock hold, essentially setting the paper on top of the front sight. The results were gratifying- firing single-action, standing/unsupported produced a 1.9″ group (measured edge-to-edge.)

Yes, there are only four holes. A flyer? No… for some reason (possibly related to me being a doofus) I loaded an empty case in the fifth chamber. In fairness they do look just like the loaded wadcutters. I mean, if you’re a doofus.

This is a straight-shooting little gun, capable of very respectable accuracy. Overall I’m quite delighted with it; it’s a solid, honest little revolver, and never mind if the finish and looks are a bit rough. It does what it needs to do, and does it well. I expect this gun to get a lot of range time, and might well put some bunnies in the bag as well.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 August 2020

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The Davis D32: It’s Not the Worst Gun Ever Made

…but if you can’t find a Clerke First it will do. OK, that’s a bit unfair. The D32 is not what you’d call good, but it’s not dreadful either.

The Davis D32 derringer. It was not only cheap, it was… well, it was cheap.

In the 1960s a lot of folks were getting very concerned that cheap firearms were available to the ‘wrong sort of people.’ Criminals? No. Poor people? Nope- it was even worse than that. Black people were getting them. Something had to be done, so they pretended criminals liked these small, inexpensive guns. They didn’t of course; criminals preferred full-sized, more intimidating handguns.

So, with the entirely spurious claim that they were trying to prevent crime, politicians and the NRA pushed through the Gun Control Act of 1968, which, among other things, forbade the importation of small, inexpensive European pistols. Weirdly, since criminals weren’t enamored of these guns, this aspect of the bill did nothing to prevent crime. It did, however, make it more expensive and thus harder for the ‘wrong people’ to arm themselves.

George Jennings, a machinist and engineer, saw an opportunity. In 1970 he formed Raven Arms and made the P-25. This was a .25 ACP semi-auto made largely out of injection-molded zinc-alloy, with the barrel and critical components made of steel. It was simple, it worked and it was very, very inexpensive.

Stay with me here, this is relevant.

In time George’s children formed their own companies, making similarly inexpensive arms. One was Jennings, and the other was Davis. Jennings started with a small .22 semi-auto that was mechanically identical to the Raven (though it was cosmetically different,) and Davis started with a line of derringers in .22lr, .22 magnum, .25 ACP and .32 ACP. Davis was in operation from 1982 to 1999, and eventually produced semi-autos (again based on the Raven) in calibers up to .380 ACP. They weren’t very durable in the long term, but they were cheap and they worked.

I bought a Davis D32 in 1985 or so for the princely sum of $40, and it was a constant companion while I was on duty, riding in my right front pants pocket. It was a back-up to my back-up; less a lest resort than a ‘Hail Mary.’ When I cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger it went ‘bang,’ and for a contact-distance weapon that was sufficient. Of course the point of aim and the point of impact weren’t never but similar (to paraphrase one of my favorite movies,) but I learned to work with it.

The gun went away at some long-ago point, and I spared them little thought until recently… we’ll get back to that. When a buddy offered me an H&R 732 revolver, and offered to throw in this D32 as a sweetener, I was happy to take him up on it.

So, What is This Marvel of Engineering?

The D32 is essentially a smaller version of Remington’s iconic over-and-under derringer. Mostly. Sort of. Like the Raven P25 the barrels and frame are injection-molded Zamac (a zinc alloy) with steel barrel-liners and internals.

To load the gun you must pull the hammer back to the half-cock notch. Then you rotate the lever on the right side of the frame 180 degrees forward, which allows the barrels to tip up and gives access to the chambers. Once the chambers are loaded you cannot lower the hammer or it will press the firing pin against the primer. If you wish to lower the hammer you will need to set the safety. If the hammer is down on the safety, you cannot disengage the safety without at least half-cocking the hammer.

Like the Remington it is based on, the barrels tip up to load and unload. There is a sliding extractor to help remove expended cartridges.

Like it’s distant forebear, the D32 is single-action. Cocking the hammer fires one chamber, and repeating this fires the other. Pretty simple. Open the mechanism, slide the extractor out to get the shells started then pluck them from the chambers and you’re ready to reload. The cross-bolt safety blocks the hammer from striking the firing pin, and you cannot drop the hammer from half-cock by pulling the trigger. If loaded the gun should be carried on half-cock with the safety engaged for maximum… well, safety.

You would probably be perfectly safe with the hammer set to the half-cock notch, but I’m not sure I’d chance it. When drawing mine I would disengage the safety with my thumb, then shift to the hammer and cock the weapon, aim (with more optimism than confidence ) and fire.

Shooting the Wee Beasty

Down at Champion Arms I bought a silhouette target and ran it out to three yards, aimed and fired. The trigger isn’t great, but I have shot some very expensive derringers that were worse. Likewise the sights are surprisingly usable. Even more surprising the sights actually bear some resemblance to where the bullets hit.

At three yards, one barrel actually hits point-of-aim! Amazing!

One barrel shot to point of aim, the other about four inches higher, but both are centered. I was actually quite pleased with this; my previous D32 were not well centered. In what I can only describe as a fit of optimism I taped the holes and ran the target out to seven yards, with a significantly less happy result.

All of the bullets hit quite high, with several of them landing just above the target.

OK, let’s call three yards ‘maximum effective range.’ In fairness that’s what the gun was designed for- table-top distances, and it will do the job. Honestly for a gun with a 2″ sight radius and a less than awesome trigger I have to say it does alright.

I don’t actually think the gun is inherently inaccurate, mind you. Both barrels put the bullets in pretty much the same place every time; the spread is due entirely to the operator at this range. Sure, each barrel groups in a different place… but the problems here are the operator and the fact that it’s not an easy gun to wring accuracy out of.

After twenty rounds I was ready to move on, and it was less due to the gun than to the fact that I shoved a Craftsman work-bench into my van last night. I had other guns to shoot, and my back was registering it’s displeasure already.

So, My New EDC?

Not hardly. It’s a fun little trip down memory lane, but it’s about as big and heavy as my Seecamp LWS32, which holds three times as many cartridges and delivers them with significantly greater ease, speed and accuracy… and even that isn’t my primary EDC. Not to mention that while this gun works it’s not all that well-made, and doesn’t offer up much in the way of aesthetics to attract interest.

That’s not to say I don’t have plans for this gun… which mostly involve taking it apart and copying the mechanism to make an over-and-under derringer from scratch. Maybe chambered in .251 TCR…

Anyway, I’ve always considered a derringer of this type to be a fairly dubious proposition for self-defense, but they’re fun and carry a sense of history. Sometimes that’s all a gun needs.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 28 August 2020

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How Obsolete Are They? The .25 ACP

At the turn of the 20th Century people really liked small defensive pistols, and people always like the ‘latest thing.’ The latest thing in pistols was the semi-automatic or self-loading pistol, and John Moses Browning knew an opportunity when he saw it; there would definitely be a market for a tiny pistol.

A small gun needs a small cartridge, and the smallest available was the .22 Rimfire, but this was problematic for a variety of reasons; the rim made stacking them in a magazine a challenge, they weren’t completely reliable and the soft lead bullets did not lend themselves well to semi-automatic pistols. Eventually most of these issues were resolved, but there at the beginning Browning went a different way; he designed a new cartridge.

.25 ACP next to .22 Long Rifle.

.25 Caliber was as small as he could make it and still use a standard small pistol primer. He made the bullet 50gr. to match the sectional density of the 40gr. .22, and gave it a copper jacket to better survive cycling in a semi-auto pistol. Reducing the size of the rim made them easier to stack in a magazine but still allowed the cartridge to headspace properly, and the groove in front of it allowed the extractor to grab the case. It was loaded to mimic the performance of the .22 Long Rifle from a short barrel, which it does quite well. The new cartridge was called 6.35mm Browning, or in America the .25 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP.)

Browning designed a tiny pistol around this new cartridge, and it was introduced by Fabrique National of Belgium as the Model 1905, and by Colt in America as the Model 1908 Pocket.

Colt Model 1908 Pocket, the first .25 ACP sold in America.

While the cartridge is certainly marginal as a self-defense round the small size and ease of concealment made these guns very popular, and other manufacturers quickly followed suit. Interestingly their efforts were not restricted to micro-pocket pistols. While the Mauser Model 1910 is certainly a petite gun, it is nowhere near as small as the Colt, and at one time the Walther PPK was offered in this chambering. Before WW1 Belgian manufacturers even offered small Velo-Dog style revolvers in this cartridge.

The Mauser Model 1910- small, but not a micro-gun.
A tiny Velo-Dog revolver in .25 ACP, made by A.Francotte between 1912-1914

Some Rapid Fire competition pistols were produced in .25 Auto, and after WW2 the Lerker company in Italy even produced a machine-pistol. The tiny cartridge allowed twenty rounds to be carried in a standard-size pistol grip, and the diminutive cartridge produced so little recoil that the gun was reasonably controllable in full-auto fire. These guns attracted little interest, and only 150 or so were made.

The Lerker .25 ACP machine pistol- an idea whose time has never come…

The European gun-making community produced a plethora of micro-pistols chambered for this cartridge, often of wildly varying quality. Such guns remained popular for many decades, and many police officers carried one as a back-up to their service revolver. The .25 ACP reigned as king of the vest-pocket guns until the 1960’s. It’s heyday ended with the Gun Control Act of 1968 which, under the mistaken belief that criminals preferred small, concealable guns to large intimidating ones, banned the import of these tiny pistols. As the US was far and away the biggest market for these guns this had major ramifications for manufacturers, some of whom folded.

Some manufacturer’s like Colt continued to import these guns as ‘kits,’ which when assembled in the US were still quite legal. Others began producing guns in the US, most of which were inexpensive and not of high quality. The Raven P25 for example, retailed for around $40 in the 1980s, and was made largely from cast zinc alloy. Similarly constructed guns were made by Davis, Jennings and a host of others, and these simple, cheaply-made guns account for nearly all domestic production in this caliber today.

In the end the cartridge was relegated to irrelevance not by it’s lack of power, but by misguided legislation. That being said, by the 1970s it was not well-regarded by the ‘gun community.’ Colonel Jeff Cooper, one of the founders of modern ‘combat pistol’ competition and theory, is often quoted as saying, “Carry a 25 if it makes you feel good, but do not ever load it. If you load it you may shoot it. If you shoot it you may hit somebody, and if you hit somebody, and he finds out about it, he may be very angry with you.”

I suppose even Colonel Cooper could say stupid stuff. A lot of people have been killed by a .25 ACP, but there are many anecdotes about .25 ACP failing to stop people. Recent study of actual shootings show that it works surprisingly often- far more often, in fact, than it fails. A lot of this can be attributed to the FIBS effect; ‘F*ck, I’ve Been Shot!’ In point of fact nobody likes to take a bullet, any bullet, and often it triggers a flight response. As a civilian having an attacker run away amounts to ‘stopping’ them. They have ceased to be an immediate threat of death or grave bodily harm, and that’s the goal.

Still, there are few that would argue that a cartridge designed to replicate the performance of .22 LR (from a short barrel) is a potent man-stopper. With good shot placement it can work, but it is far from a good choice if there is any reasonable option. These days .25 Auto pistols are generally purchased as a curiosity, or in the case of the cheap cast-alloy guns, by people that simply cannot afford something better.

Today the role formerly filled by micro-pistols chambered in .25 ACP is most often filled by tiny single-action revolvers offered by North American Arms, mostly in .22 LR or .22 Magnum; they’re the gun you carry when you can’t carry a gun, or as a backup or even as a backup to a backup. Testing has not shown these to be notably more effective, and while they are more available than quality .25 Automatic pistols they are more difficult to shoot well or rapidly.

OK, So How Bad Is It?

It depends on your perspective. As a defensive round? Pretty bad. Compared to .22 LR out of similar guns? There’s not much to choose between them. For an objective standard we’ll turn to gel tests, which were conducted firing through four layers of denim into Clear Ballistics gel. Most loads were not chronographed as the batteries were run down and it needed recharging (oops.)

Fiocchi 50 gr. FMC-RN– 10-1/2″ of penetration. Bullet tumbled and wound up base-first.

Sellior & Bellot 50gr. FMC-RN– 11″ of penetration, Bullet tumbled and wound up base-first.

Fair to say that if more shots were tested these two rounds would likely come out about even in penetration.

There are a number of 35gr hollow-point loads also on the market, and I have seen this test performed with them. They tend not to expand and penetrate slightly less. There was a load I tested in the mouse-gun test that did better-   a 58gr. hard-cast flat point over 1.1gr. of Red Dot with a CCI 300 small pistol primer. The gave a velocity of 646 fps., 54 ft./lbs of energy and 12-1/2″ of penetration. This load also tumbled and ended base-first. Yes, I actually re-load .25 ACP. I would also like to note that the power of this round could be increased and remain within safe limits.

These results pretty much mimic .22 LR from the tiny NAA revolvers, and aren’t significantly worse than .22 Magnum from these guns.

Gel does not tell the whole story, of course; there are accounts for all of these tiny calibers being deflected by a skull or ribs, or even deflected around the rib-cage while remaining under the skin. There have been cases of spectacular failures of these rounds, and cases where someone took a single hit and dropped like a pole-axed steer. At this power level odd things happen, and bullet performance can be whimsical. Shot placement, of course, is always crucial, and with small, low-powered rounds it is even more so.

In the end it’s the same as any of these genuinely tiny guns; it’s better than harsh words, certainly, but it’s not a good choice if a better option is practical and available.

Is it Obsolete?

Again, it depends. Sometimes, for some people, circumstances dictate that a tiny gun may be their only option. They are also very easy and convenient to carry, so it’s more likely to be available if you need it. That there is still a market for tiny guns- NAA makes both their small revolvers and super-compact semi-autos, and people are buying them. I view these as the gun of last resort, to be used when conditions are such that a larger gun is simply not available. I tend to have my Seecamp LWS32 on my person at all times, simply because it’s so easy; it’s the gun I carry when I am not carrying a gun.

The NAA Pug .22 Magnum- a modern replacement for the .25 Auto, somewhat smaller, but more difficult to shoot well and impossible to rapid-fire.

There is still a thriving business done in micro-guns, so it seems they do still have a mission. If you accept the mission, you accept the caliber. While high-quality modern .25s are a bit thin on the ground they are out there, as well as a plethora of older guns from the like of Colt, Beretta and FN, and inexpensive but functional guns are still abundant as well. Ammunition is still in production and widely available, and ammunition companies are still engaged in trying to develop more effective loads for them.

Another facet is in custom guns. During the last shortage of .22 LR some people had revolvers converted to fire .25 ACP as a re-loadable alternative to rimfire cartridges, and unsurprisingly it works quite well in that role.

So, while it is accurate to say that .25 ACP is in it’s twilight years, I don’t think we can really say that it’s obsolete. Whatever our opinion of the effectiveness of these guns, people keep buying them. Fair to say it won’t be vanishing into obscurity any time soon.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 August 2020

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