Shaken, Not Stirred

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2010

Walther PPK

The Walther PPK/S performs as good as it looks on the range and in personal-defense scenarios. The author chose to replace the factory front sight with one from XS Sight Systems, making the gun an excellent carry option—despite being larger than newer .380 ACPs.

Shaken, not stirred…

Sometimes it takes a little public relations boost for a product to achieve the recognition it deserves.

Case in point: the Walther PPK. Recog­nized by knowledgeable handgunners as a jewel of German engineering, it was a fictional English spy who made the little semi-automatic almost a household word. The compact pistol was a perfect choice for James Bond to carry beneath the impeccably tailored tuxedos and expen­sive suits he wore almost nightly in the great casinos of Europe.

While I’ve never owned an Aston Martin, I did recently acquire a Walther PPK/S during my search for the “shaken, not stirred” way of life. As it turns out, the PPK/S is a nifty concealed-carry gun.

My Walther is a stainless steel model distributed by Smith & Wesson. It’s a simple blowback action, like most semi-autos chambered for .380 ACP. Barrel length is 3 1/4 inches, about .6-inch shorter than the original PP barrel. The PPK/S is larger and heavier than more modern .380s with polymer frames and even shorter barrels—something you will appreciate when firing the gun.

A true single-action/double-action pistol, the little Walther can be fired when the hammer is cocked and the trigger is in the rearward position (single action), or when the hammer is down and the trigger is in the forward position (double action). As you would expect, its trigger pull is much lighter in single-action mode, which translates to better accuracy. Unlike many double-action semi-autos, the PPK/S is compact enough for shooters with medium-sized hands to get enough finger on the trigger to effect a controlled double-action pull.

The safety lever is mounted on the slide rather than the frame, and it is quite interesting. If engaged while the hammer is down, the safety prevents the hammer from being cocked and the trigger from being pulled. On the other hand, if engaged while the hammer is cocked, the safety rotates a block and drops the hammer safely against it while locking the trigger in the rear position. This safety is not as easy to operate as that of a 1911, but it is manageable.

Its magazine release is a frame-mounted button located just behind the trigger and below the slide. Both the magazine release and the safety are set up for right-handed shooters. The grips are plastic with molded checkering—nothing fancy or elaborate, but more than adequate to maintain your grip when firing the relatively mild .380 ACP cartridge.

The PPK/S is sold with two, seven-round magazines. One has a flat base for easier concealment, while the second has an extended finger rest for more comfortable shooting.

My first range session with the PPK/S was unusually fun but perhaps less than scientific. I had some time around hunting camp, so I set up a couple of pie plates at 10 yards and used several brands of .380 ammo. The focus was on verifying the little pistol could function under rapid-fire conditions with repeated kill-zone hits.

There were two malfunctions, specifi­cally failures to feed, and both occurred with the same Federal ammunition that seemed to be a touch longer than rounds from other manufacturers. The magazine and ejection port dimensions are rather tight, which probably explains the difficulties I encountered when trying to chamber rounds with a slightly greater overall length. The rest of the ammo I tested reliably transitioned from magazine to chamber 100 percent of the time. I also found loading the single-stack PPK/S magazines was more difficult than loading 1911 magazines.

Keeping all shots in the 10-inch plates was fairly easy when running at a rapid, but controlled rate of fire. The safety functioned flawlessly and magazines dropped clear of the gun when the release button was pushed.
Slapping loaded magazines into the gun demands a little care. The heel of my shooting hand protrudes well below the pistol and tended to block a new maga­zine from fully locking into place. It seemed easier to reload with the extended magazine than the flat-base model, but I still needed to rotate my shooting hand off the grip to ensure proper seating.
The PPK/S comes with conventional fixed sights: a small front blade and a rear notch. The front blade has a red dot in it while the rear sight has a red mark under the notch. In bright daylight, the sights worked fine, but things changed dramati­cally as light faded. I had trouble seeing either the sights or the red marks, and when I could see red, I couldn’t tell whether I was looking at the rear or front sight. This probably had more to do with my poor eyesight than the pistol.
Regardless, I needed to make a correction to ensure I could handle a defensive scenario in low-light condi­tions with the PPK/S. I shipped the gun to XS Sight Systems for the company’s Big Dot treatment. Three weeks later Marketing Vice President Dave Biggers brought the remodeled Walther to me at Gunsite with the new sight system installed.
With the Big Dot sights, the PPK/S proved to be an excellent defensive firearm for low-light scenarios. The big white front dot is visible (if not perfectly focused) to my naked eye so I can put it on the center mass of a close-range threat and feel confident of making hits. The small tritium bead in the center of the white dot is visible in even lower light.
Did I surrender some precision in longer-range shooting? Yes, although several of us demonstrated it is possible to put hits on a torso-sized target at ranges beyond 25 yards with the XS Big Dot. But keep in mind a defensive scenario suggests engaging targets at very close distances, and it is here where the XS sight excels.
I mentioned the PPK/S is considerably heavier than its modern, polymer counterparts. This means you will have to put a little more thought in how you choose to carry it. Galco’s Pro 436 holster fits the PPK/S beautifully. And with its rough-side-out finish, the holster holds its position inside the pocket perfectly when drawing the Walther or when just moving around.
Walther PPK

Timothy Dalton carried this Walther PPK in "Licence to Kill." It, and many other Hollywood guns, are on display at the National Firearms Museum through April 2011

Whether or not the PPK/S is too heavy for pocket carry is a personal decision. To me, the Walther’s minimum width suggests that an optimum carry tech­nique would be in an inside-the-waistband holster with the grip hidden by an overhanging shirt or other garment. Obviously, when venturing out in evening wear, one should feel obligated to continue the Bond tradition of using an under-the-armpit holster made of luxurious black leather. Since I don’t have a tuxedo, let me know how that works.-
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New Sizzle for Ruger Standbys

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” May 20New Ruger

When Federal announced the new .327 Fed. Mag.,

Ruger responded first with its SP101

The theory was to offer some serious power in a compact self-defense handgun for recoil-sensitive shooters. Having known a couple of folks who were recoil sensitive, yet were interested in a firearm for self-protection, the gun-and-caliber combination made sense to me.

A respected gun-writer friend sug­gested Ruger chamber the new round in a larger-frame revolver, particularly the Blackhawk. Having been so impressed with the .327 Fed. Mag.’s performance when it first came out, I thought this was a great idea, but I didn’t really expect to see it happen. To my delight, Ruger is offering the hot cartridge in both its single-action Blackhawk and its double-action GP100 revolvers. And I can see justifiable applications for both.

Ruger Cylinder

Ruger's GP100 chambered in .327 Fed. Mag. is a big, tough gun whether intended for home defense or outdoor use. The asymmetric look of a seven-shot revolver has been known to shock old-time gun writers, but that extra round is universally accepted as a good thing.

The new .327s are from Ruger’s stainless steel stable of revolvers. The GP100 has a 4-inch barrel, but one big surprise is its cylinder holds seven rounds. The extra round is made possible by the GPlOO’s frame being beefier than that of most mid-size revolvers.

 When it comes to self-defense, more rounds are better. For the millions of Americans who keep a gun for home defense, but don’t carry concealed, there is no need for a small revolver. Your nightstand doesn’t care what the gun weighs, and your practice sessions will be much more pleasant with a larger-frame gun. Self-defense isn’t about having fun, but enjoying training sessions is better than dreading them and will translate to greater proficiency with your gun.

The GP100 also comes with Hogue’s finger-groove rubber grips, which happen to fit my hand perfectly. Although the .327’s recoil doesn’t necessitate soft grips, I’d keep them because of the excellent ergonomics. If the gun doesn’t fit your hand as well as it does mine, you might have to look at different grips.

Not much is simpler than a basic double-action revolver. No manual of arms is required for presentation or prepara­tion; simply aim and pull the trigger. If, for any reason, a round doesn’t go bang, pull the trigger again. Speaking of just pulling the trigger, I was more than happy with the smooth, double-action trigger on the GP100. In a defensive scenario, shooting double action is simple and effective.

Admittedly, a revolver is slower to reload than a semi-auto, but when fully loaded, the GP100 gives you seven opportunities to solve the problem. And how many of us with semi-automatics in our nightstands put a spare magazine in a pocket when we pick up our gun in response to a bump in the darkness? Please don’t tell me you wear a spare magazine carrier to bed. I’m not saying we should surrender our semi-autos for a wheel gun in .327 Fed. Mag. However, I am saying there’s a self-defense role for the GP100 in many homes.

Given my boyhood love affair with a Ruger Single Six, it was the Blackhawk in .327 that really got my attention. For this offering, Ruger chose stainless steel and a 5 1/2inch barrel. If sales warrant, we’ll probably see it in blue and with other barrel lengths in the future.

Ruger Blackhawk

Prepare for a shock when you see the eight chambers in the Blackhawk cylinder. Other than the increased capacity, the rest of the gun is classic Blackhawk with wood grips and adjustable black sights. If you were a kid west of Rhode Island, your first centerfire handgun was probably a Ruger Blackhawk. And if you’re old enough, to this day you know that with a centerfire Blackhawk revolver within reach, you will not be someone’s prey.

I found the .327 Fed. Mag.’s performance very impressive, particularly in normal-length barrels. Federal’s 85-grain Hydra-Shoks generated right at 1,600 fps from the Blackhawk’s 5 1/2-inch barrel and just more than 1,580 fps in the GPlOO’s 4-inch barrel. At 25 yards with my wrists on a rest, groups ran slightly over 2 inches from the Blackhawk and a little more than 3 inches in the GP100. Black Hills 85-grain .32 H&R Mag. gave 1,158 fps in the Blackhawk and 990 fps in the GP100. Groups were just a little more than 2 inches in the Blackhawk and just less than 2 inches in the GP. I had only one box of Federal 100-grain jacketed soft points and wanted them for a javelina hunt, so I just tested them in the Blackhawk. Results were velocities around 1,530 fps and groups around 1 1/2 inches.

 One of my favorite hunting pastimes is chasing rabbits with handguns, and the new .327 Blackhawk looks like a perfect small-game gun (with self-defense capabilities included) for bumming about Arizona’s high country and game-rich deserts. It would also make an excellent trail gun.

 I should comment about the sights on the revolvers. Both have black front blades and black, adjustable rear sights. The only difference is the GP100 has a white line around the rear-sight notch. It’s easier to see the rear sight in dim light or against a dark target, but it’s not the rear sight at which you should be looking. For daylight hunting, I find plain black sights seem to work best. For defensive shooting, particularly up close, it’s the front sight that needs to be seen, not the rear. Both guns should be fine as equipped for hunting, unless the angle of the sun is such that the white outline catches the glare and washes out your sight picture. But that’s just my opinion, and if your vision is better than mine, you might have a different preference.

 

It will be interesting to see how the .327 Fed. Mag. fares in the marketplace. The cartridge doesn’t really do anything the .32-20 Win. or .30 Carbine won’t do in a medium- to large-size handgun. But, the .327 is a more compact cartridge and will work in a small-frame revolver. It’s also available with a greater variety of high-performance ammo than either the .32-20 Win. or .30 Carbine and will prove easier to reload than the tapered .32-20 Win. case or rimless .30 Carbine. In any case, several gun manufacturers and a large ammunition company are sinking some resources into the new caliber. The rest is up to us shooters.

 

 
 

 

 

Wilson Combat Spec-Ops 9

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” May 2010

Polymer Twist

                                                                                                                            Photos by Loyd Hill

In a life full of changes, it’s nice to know one company’s innovation shows, year after year.

Enter the Wilson Combat Spec-Ops 9

Some things are pretty safe bets. Taxes must be paid by April 15. birthdays come once a year, and Wilson Combat turns out good pistols. There are some exceptions. Congress might pass a law exempting themselves from having to pay taxes. If you were born on Feb. 29. your birthday only comes around once every four years. On the other hand. I’ve yet to be dis­appointed in a new Wilson pistol, and that includes the company’s latest offering—the Spec-Ops 9.

The Spec-Ops 9 is aimed directly at the concealed-carry market with two predominant characteristics driving the design: light weight and increased capacity. Light weight in today’s semi-automatic pistol market means a polymer frame, while increased capacity dictates double-stack maga­zines. In a sense, those thicker maga­zines do not result in guns conducive to the “concealed” part of concealed carry because the grip frame must be wider than guns using single-stack magazines. Wilson’s approach to this problem is a polymer frame with stainless steel rails molded in place. The result is minimum bulk and weight (29.6 ounces empty. 7 ounces heavier fully loaded) with plenty of structural strength. The Spec-Ops magazine not only holds 16 rounds— satisfying the increased-capacity promise—but loading the magazine to full capacity without a special tool was easier for me than any other double-stack pistol I’ve tried. My thumb was most appreciative.

The slide is carbon steel with a 472-inch barrel, which to me is a good compromise length. You get almost as good a sight radius as with a 5-inch barrel (6.2 inches), while the balance point doesn’t move too far forward as is the tendency with polymer-framed guns equipped with longer barrels. There are serrations at the rear of the slide to facilitate cock­ing, but none near the muzzle. However, about an inch from the muzzle there is a small but noticeable reduction in slide width, creating a distinct shoulder I found to be very helpful in performing chamber checks, both visual and tactile. As always when grasping the slide near the front end. be careful that no part of your hand extends in front of the muzzle.

Hammer

Wilson's skeletonized hammer not only adds to the modern aesthetics of the gun, its reduced mass also helps ensure a crisp trigger pull.

Sights are of the 3-dot tritium vari­ety, making them highly visible in low-light conditions. On a recent trip where the Spec-Ops 9 became my nightstand gun, the glowing sights made it easy to find in the dark. These are Wilson’s new Tactical Combat Sights and are considerably less bulky than the sights on my Wilson CQB 1911, the primary gun on my California concealed-carry permit. The front sight blade is almost the same width and height as on my CQB, but instead of being fit into a laterally cut dovetail slot, it slides into the front of a longitudinally cut dovetail slot. The rear sight is considerably smaller than on my CQB and is screwed into a recessed cut in the slide rather than slid into a dovetail. One similar fea­ture on both rear sights is the concave rear surfaces to eliminate any possible glare or light reflections. Nice touch. The Spec-Ops hammer is Wilson’s new ultra-light, compact design and resembles a commander-style ham­mer with the top and bottom “pinched” together. The Spec-Ops fea­tures a single, hand-fitted lug barrel.

Trigger

The Spec-Ops 9 features Wilson's custom-machined, aluminum three-hole trigger, which is adjustable for overtravel.

The polymer frame has Wilson’s distinctive starburst grips, a feature I fell in love with while evaluating an earlier gun. Both frontstraps and backstraps have checkering molded into the polymer. The grip safety is the compact-carry design, which closely resembles the grip safety on my CQB except that the beavertail doesn’t sweep as high on the new 9 mm. Wilson’s extended tactical model thumb safety is slightly smaller and shorter than that on my CQB. but is easily, naturally and reli­ably operated by my thumb in the act of presenting the gun. I would describe it as being as small as it can be. and no bigger than it needs to be—a great combination on a gun intended for concealed carry.
The magazine release is slightly larger in surface area than the one on my CQB. but it doesn’t protrude as far from the frame. My fingers are rela­tively short, so I have to shift my grip to hit the release on single-stack 1911s as well as the Spec-Ops 9. Recog­nizing that as a strictly personal limi­tation, the Spec-Ops magazines released cleanly and dropped from the gun on every touch, whether or not there were rounds in the maga­zine. Likewise, those inserted quickly and cleanly into the gun due largely to the flared mag well molded into the grip frame.
Double Stack Magazine

The distinctive look of the gun comes from the shape of the trigger guard with its sharp corner, as opposed to the more common rounded guard on steel and alloy guns. It seems almost a throwback to some of the designs of yesteryear, but it may simply be an easier shape to mold.  I had no problem shooting the gun since my grip doesn’t involve the front of the trigger guard, but a couple of custom 1911 holsters would not allow the 9 mm full entry due primarily. I think, to the bulkier trig­ger guard. Fortunately, one of my favorite factory holsters is Galco’s Avenger, and it eagerly accepted the Spec-Ops 9 like an old friend.

Molded Rails

To provide maximum concealability with minimal bulk, the Spec-Ops 9 contains molded-in stainless steel rails

Internally, the Spec-Ops 9 has the features we’ve come to expect from Wilson Combat. Its barrel has a pol­ished feed ramp, and the polished extractor is precisely fitted. The gun has an extended ejector, the Wilson custom three-hole trigger, an extra-power firing pin spring and a heavy-duty recoil spring. There are actually five holes in the trigger, but only the three large holes are there to reduce weight. Two tiny holes allow mounting of the trigger bow to the trigger.
There was no pretense of being gentle or babying the gun when I got the Spec-Ops 9 out for a shooting session.  I had a mixture of ammo, including some various-weight cast-bullet handloads that have been in my garage for more than 20 years. I literally jammed a mixture of factory ammo and hand-loads with jacketed and cast bullets indiscriminately into the magazines and started blazing away. Targets were paper plates at 10 yards, and every load with every weight, style and shape of bullet chambered, fired and stayed in those plates, even when I hit the throttle. The gun gob­bled up everything I fed it. When I concentrated. I could feel the vari­ance in recoil between the different loads. Slowing down. I thought I could detect a slight difference in point of impact between the various loads, even at 10 yards, but the disparity was insignificant. The 147-grain jacketed hollow points went exactly where the sights pointed, while the 115-grain jacketed hollow points hit perhaps 1/2 inch lower.
Sight picture with Wilson’s new Tactical Combat sights was crisp and clearly in focus thanks in no small part to the “old guy cheater lens” in my DeCot shooting glasses. The paper plates are another way of cheating by ensuring a clean white background in front of your sights, thus enhancing your sight picture. And since the plates are round, they tend to provide a natural assist in pulling your groups toward the center. Just as the eye nat­urally centers an aperture or peep sight, the eye wants to find the center of the round plate. Having said all that, there was no discreet aiming point on the plates that might help a shooter produce smaller groups.
Sights

Wilson's new Tactical Combat sights complement the Spec-Ops 9 in its concealed-carry mission. The svelte profile mini­mizes the chances of the gun getting hung up during the draw, and the longitudinally cut dovetails enhance the practicality and aesthetics.

Even shooting off hand. I felt the gun could live up to the Wilson claim of 1 1/2 inch groups at 25 yards (I actu­ally saw one of the Wilson technicians do this test a few years back). But more importantly for a carry pistol, the Spec-Ops 9 put every single shot into the kill zone at fighting distances, even when I pushed things beyond my reliable speed and regardless of ammo selection.

Given my hand size and short fin­gers. I would prefer a slightly shorter trigger on the Spec-Ops 9. The wider grip frame stretched my hand just enough—more than a standard 1911 — that I had trouble putting the pad of my finger on the trigger. As you know, changing your grip plays havoc with shot-to-shot recovery times, and despite the 9 mm’s low recoil, I found myself readjusting my grip more than once in the course of emptying a 16-round magazine. Admittedly. I’m notoriously sloppy about proper shot-to-shot recovery, and I get even more careless when shooting mild-mannered 9 mms. But. besides emphasizing my need to work on this deficiency, it stresses the importance of having a gun that fits your hand. For you. the Spec-Ops 9 may be a per­fect fit. or as many small-handed shooters (including me) have found, one of Wilson’s narrower frame guns might better suit your needs.
All that said, the new Spec-Ops 9 is a gun I would find quite comfortable to carry exactly as it comes from Wilson, except I would purchase a couple of extra magazines. With two spare magazines and one in the gun. you’re hitting the streets only one round short of a full box of ammo—all of it ready to rock with only two lightning-fast reloads. That’s a lot of defensive fire­power per ounce carried. At a retail price of $1,995, the Spec-Ops 9 is delivered with two magazines and a Wilson carry bag. t’s not cheap, but good life insurance rarely is.
Disassembly

Disassembly of the gun should come naturally to those familar with a 1911. No busing is necessary thanks to a flange on the reversed recoil plug.

Speciifications
Magazine Well

Despite the gun's thin waistline, the magazine well on the Spec-Ops 9 is flared to aid in ultra-fast reloads.Unlike most custom 1911s which contain full-length guid rods, the Spec-Ops 9 utilizes a standard recoil spring guid complete with a Wilson Shok-Buff.

Recoil Spring

Unlike most custom 1911s which contain full-length guid rods, the Spec-Ops 9 utilizes a standard recoil spring guid complete with a Wilson Shok-Buff.

New Life for the .32

Shooting Illustrated

As published in “Shooting Illustrated” January 2009

Freedom Arms Model 97 and Ruger SP101
The Freedom Arms Model 97 and Ruger SP101 illustrate the .327 Fed. Mag.’s versatility for both field and self-defense applications. Look for revolvers chambered in the new cartridge from Charter Arms and Taurus soon.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a surprise to me that the .32 H & R Mag. hasn’t been discontinued

Two of the big manufacturers have stopped producing revolvers chambered for this nifty little round, and to my knowledge, only Federal and Black Hills still turn out ammo. Although I refer to it as a “nifty little round,” I would be hard-pressed justifying continued production to any major gun or ammo manufacturer based on the feedback I’ve received over the last few years.

Suffice it to say I was stunned when Federal introduced the .327 Fed. Mag. and Ruger began chambering its SP101 for this hot new miniature magnum. But I recover quickly when there’s an opportunity to try a new handgun round.

I received two revolvers for testing the cartridge. The newest gun was Ruger’s all steel, six-shot, double-action SP101 with a 3 1/16-inch barrel. It’s Ruger’s small-frame gun, but it’s a beefy little guy weighing 28 ounces with a triple-locking system to hold the cylinder securely in place and in proper alignment. It also has a heavy under-barrel lug that tapers upward just before reaching the muzzle. Rubber grips with plastic panels featuring horizontal cuts improve the shooter’s ability to control the gun when firing Federal’s high-stepping .327 jacketed hollow points.

Contrary to most of the material I’ve read over the years, I’ve always rated the trigger pull on Ruger’s double-action revolvers as being quite good. Perhaps it’s a bit heavier than some other models, but the pull weight is consistent and smooth throughout the firing process. When firing a double-action revolver in a high-stress, self-defense situ­ation, consistently smooth and heavy is bet­ter than light and erratic.

The other gun was Freedom Arms’ single-action, stainless steel, small-frame Model 97. This downsized Freedom revolver was introduced in 1997, and when cham­bered in .32 caliber was available with two cylinders, each with a capacity of six rounds. One cylinder fired the .32 H&R Mag. and the other handled the vintage .32-20 Win. When the new .327 Fed. Mag. cartridge appeared, company president Bob Baker simply cham­bered an additional six-shot cylinder that can be swapped with the other two because all three cartridges shoot the same diameter bullet. (Don’t bother trying to fire the new round in one of the other Freedom Arms cyl­inders because it won’t chamber.)

When the .32 H&R Mag. was introduced a few years back, it was viewed as a minimum-recoil, self-defense round for small revolvers. Keep in mind small revolvers were, and still are, a favorite self-defense handgun for many Americans. It’s a simple rationale: For those of us who don’t consider ourselves “operators,” the small revolver is easy to carry in a pocket, simple to use and incred­ibly reliable.

In fact, at a recent lunch with a mix of retired and active-duty cops, and gunwrit-ers, a quick tally revealed every man present was carrying a .38 Spl. J-frame Smith & Wesson in his pocket. Everyone admitted this would not be his first choice of hard­ware if he knew a fight was coming, but on that warm, August day in southern California, it was the first choice of carry when leaving home in the morning. All of these guys had either been police trainers or been through extensive self-defense training, and yet they chose the .38 Spl. rather than the .357 Mag. The idea of the .32 H&R Mag. was to offer a credible self-defense cartridge in a small revolver to smaller statured. less experienced person­nel. The .327 Fed. Mag. takes that rationale to the next level, and in terms of perfor­mance, the next level is a huge step up.

The Ruger SP101 shot about an inch to the left at 15 yards. Looking at the white-outlined rear sight mounted in the revolver’s topstrap, it was indeed a bit left. Since the sight can be adjusted for windage, moving the point of impact slightly right was not a problem. Elevation with the 85-grain jacketed-hollow-point ammo was perfect. The rear sight notch is generously wide, leaving ample light on both sides of the black, ramped front-sight blade. A sight pic­ture is easily and quickly acquired as long as there is adequate light. Firing double action offhand at a reasonably slow pace, six-shot groups at 15 yards ranged from 2 to 3 inches without too much concentration on my part.

While the .32 H&R Mag. loads were much milder than the .327 Fed. Mag. ammo, recoil was quite manageable with both car­tridges, and I had no trouble switching from the shorter .32 H&R Mag. to the longer .327 Fed. Mag. There was no need to scrub out the cylinder after shooting the shorter cases. It might be different if one were using heavily lubricated lead bullets, but with the self-defense oriented jacketed hollow points, the two cartridges were totally interchangeable in the SP101.

Bullets

The power offered by the .327 Fed. Mag. (second from right) is comparable to that of the .32-20 Win. and .30 Carbine, (both on left) outclassing the .32 H&R Mag. (right).

I was astounded when I chronographed both cartridges. I had expected an increase in velocities, but not nearly the 50 percent I measured. The 3-inch Ruger went from 968 fps with the .32 H&R Mag. to 1,400 fps with the .327 Fed. Mag. That’s a 45-percent increase in velocity shooting an 85-grain bullet from a case that’s only 1/8 inch longer. In the longer-barreled Freedom Arms Model 97, the increase was 48 percent, from 1,000 fps to 1,480 fps. No matter how you calculate energy, we’re talking about a giant improvement in performance.

Admittedly, it’s terminal bullet perfor­mance that really determines the success or failure of a small-caliber self-defense round, and I did not conduct any tests of this nature. However, I know manufactur­ers have achieved excellent results in controlling bullet construction to produce a specific effect in various target media at specified velocities.

When I called Tim Brandt at Federal, he confirmed the company has done such tests with the .327 Fed. Mag., which uses an 85-grain jacketed hollow point that is different from the bullet loaded in the .32 H&R Mag. to accommodate the higher velocity of the new cartridge. Brandt cau­tioned handloaders against trying to achieve .327 Fed. Mag. performance using bullets designed for the .32 H&R Mag. Next year, Speer will have .32-caliber Gold Dot bullets designed specifically for the .327 Fed. Mag. available for handloaders.

Meanwhile, the bare gelatin penetration tests conducted by Federal with the .327 Fed. Mag. and 85-grain bullets fired from a 3-inch barrel yielded an average pen­etration of 12.75 inches and a final diameter of .520 inch. The velocities that produced these results were right around 1,300 fps, and the retained weight of recovered bullets ran from 84 to 84.6 grains. From the same barrel length, 100-grain soft points expanded to about .55 inch, and penetrated the gelatin an average of 16.75 inches. Velocities for the heavier 100-grain bullets actually averaged about 40 fps more than the 85-grain hollow points. This is impres­sive performance for a “small bore” in a short barrel.

There is a penalty associated with the enhanced velocity of a high-performance round in short barreled handguns, as we learned when .357 Magnums were first fired in small revolvers and when Ruger introduced the .30 Carbine in its Blackhawk. They’re noisy! Be absolutely sure you are wearing adequate ear protection when fir­ing this round. And as usual, firing any round inside an enclosed space makes things worse.

One thing you might consider, particu­larly if you’ve already suffered extensive hearing loss, is to put on a pair of good elec­tronic ear muffs if you’re awakened at night and think there may be an intruder in the house. I recognize there may not be time to do this, particularly if you don’t have hear­ing protection immediately available, but there are advantages. Keep in mind that electronic hearing protection functions like a hearing aid, in that it also amplifies small sounds (like an intruder might make), which you might not otherwise hear. And if you have to fire your gun, whatever the caliber, you may be overpowered by the resulting acoustic assault on your senses. If follow-up action is necessary, you’ll be much more capable of performing if you’re not trying to recover from the overwhelming shock of your first round. If you prefer in-the-ear protection, fine, but I find it’s much easier and quicker to slip on a pair of earmuffs and switch them on.

So far the two revolvers I tested are the only ones available in .327 Fed. Mag., but I’m told Taurus and Charter Arms will both have compact double-action revolvers chambered for the round in the near future, possibly by the time you read this. I don’t know whether anyone will be making a lighter-weight, alloy-frame .327 Fed. Mag. While such a gun would be preferable for carry, the steel guns are great candidates for home defense for anyone who’s recoil sensitive. Personally, I’d love an opportunity to take the Freedom Arms .327 Fed. Mag. on a small-game hunt, but then I say that about most handguns. Meanwhile, I’m not surrendering the .45 on my nightstand, but my daughter, who has kept an older .32 H&R Mag. revolver by her bedside for the last several years, probably will be looking for an upgrade. It’s nice to have choices.

 

 

 

 

 

Double Strike

Shooting Illustrated

As published in “Shooting Illustrated, January 2009Double Strike

 

It’s tough for an old dog to wax eloquent about a new polymer-frame handgun. I grew up with guns made of blued steel, later accepting stainless versions because I had become slothful and lazy about cleaning hardware after a day’s shooting or a few days in a hunting camp.  It look me longer to accept lighter-weight handguns made of aluminum and other exotic materials, but at least they were made of metal.

I still struggle with the polymer-gun concept simply because the gun doesn’t Feel the way a gun should Feel, and because it doesn’t seem intuitively right for a gun to

flex when fired. All that said, I became a “born again” believer in lightweight handguns when I obtained my CCW permit and began venturing out while trying to keep a handgun hidden some­where under my clothing or in a trouser pocket. And one of the more affordablc materials that can be used to achieve weight reduc­tion is polymer.

Magazine

The pistol comes with two, 12-round magazines and a handy loading tool, which makes prerange preparations more pleasant.

At first glance, Taurus’ new PT845 doesn’t look much different than other polymer-frame handguns on the market. It’s chambered in .45 ACP and has a double-stack magazine with a capacity of 12 rounds. For those of you who don’t enjoy loading wide-body magazines, be aware that the Taurus box contains a magazine-loading tool along with two magazines. The magazines have two witness holes with the numbers 6 and 12 in their right side to indicate how many rounds you have loaded. The magazines have extended bumpers that provide a finger rest to facilitate slapping loaded magazines into the gun and protect the magazine when it hits the ground during a speed reload. Other items delivered with the gun include two additional, different size backstraps that allow you to change the shape and feel of the grip, a nylon bore brush for those of you with a cleaning fetish and the Taurus key set for operating the internal safety lock.

Interchangeable backstraps allow PT845 users to find the best fit for their hand size. The pistol comes complete with three different sized options, making the pistol tailorable, right out of the box.

The frame is made of a hard polymer: there’s nothing soft or squishy about the feel of the 845 grips, unlike those on some of Taurus’ revolvers that are designed to absorb recoil. There are ridges running laterally around the grip that provide some surface roughness for grip control, plus there are vertical cuts in the ridges at the front and rear of the grip frame for additional roughness. Polymer-frame .45s do tend to jump around a bit. and these measures did help in controlling the gun during strings of rapid fire.

What really got my attention on the frame was the ambidextrous set of controls that accommodated righties and lefties equally well. The safety lever, decocking lever, slide-release lever and magazine-release buttons were in exactly the same position on each side of the gun and were mirror images of each other in terms of how they functioned. I could operate the slide release latch and the safety lever without changing my grip position. It required a slight rotation of either hand to hit the magazine-release button, but the movement was minimal. I wasn’t nearly as smooth running the controls with my left hand as with my right, but that’s to be expected.

Integral rail

A major advantage of the polymer framed pistol is the ease with which an integral rail can be molded into the gun's body. The Pt845 has such a rail, which makes mounting a laser or a light a snap, quite leterally.

There is a Picattiny accessory rail on the front of the frame for mounting your flashlight. Given the number of gunfights that take place in low-light conditions, this is an excellent feature on any defensive handgun. A disassembly latch protrudes from the frame on both sides, and both ends must be depressed to remove the slide from the frame. A bit of dexterity is required, but since I mastered it in less than 10 seconds, I consider the 845 an easy gun to take down.

steel slide

Serrations in the steel slide offer positive purchase when clearing malfunctions or performing a chamber check. The safety lever also functions a a decocking device.

The slide is steel and has serrations both front and rear to facilitate manual operation in the event of a malfunction or chamber check. In the upper edge of the external extractor is a thin piece of metal that functions as a loaded chamber indicator. Normally, this piece lies flush with the extractor and slide, but when a cartridge is in the chamber and the rim under the extractor, the indicator protrudes slightly out from the surface of the slide. In bright light, you may be able to see the strip of red that appears, and if you have the sensitive fingers of a safecracker, you might feel the slightly protruding indicator. In dim light. I could not see the red, nor did a tactile check assure me of the gun’s condition. The good news is that the slide serrations and overall ergonomics make a manual chamber check of the 845 a simple and quick task.

Sights

Novak sights provide a great benefit to shooters. They are easy to see and offer quick target acquisition, even in high-pressure situations. Both sights are dovetailed into the slide for windage adjustment and the rear offers elevation changes as well. They are the author's favorite feature on the PT845.

The 845’s sights are Novaks, and they are superb. In fact, they are my favorite feature on the 845. being easy to see and seemingly quicker to acquire than any other sights I’ve used lately.

The ratio of rear sight width to from sight width is such that lots of light shows on both sides of the blade. Both front and rear sights are mounted in large dovetail slots with setscrews that allow adjustment for windage. They were dialed in perfectly with Black Hills 230-grain jacketed hollow points when I received the gun. and when I switched to the lighter-weight frangible Remington and TTI ammunition, there was no noticeable change in point of impact between the 7 to 15 yard ranges at which I did my testing.

 Unlike the Taurus OSS, on which the Model 845 was modeled, the 845 has an external hammer. Unlike the 1911, the 845 can be fired double action with the hammer down in addition to allowing single-action firing with the hammer back. And while the 845 has an external, manually operated safety, it also has an internal firing pin block that won’t allow the gun to fire unless the trigger is in the rearmost position.

Trigger

The PT845's trigger had a single-action pull weight that averaged 3 3/4 pounds. In double-action mode, the pull weight was a few ounces shy of 10 pounds.

 At first this sounds like it might be a more complicated arrangement than you would want on a defensive pistol, but take a second look before decid­ing. With a round in the chamber, you can fire the gun with the hammer cocked or down as long as the safety lever is not in the up position. Push the safety down with the thumb of your shooting hand, just like a 1911, and a short pull of the trigger fires the weapon. Push the safety lever too far down and the hammer falls harm­lessly to the double-action firing posi­tion, which then requires a long pull on the trigger to fire the weapon. When the slide cycles after a shot, the hammer returns to the cocked posi­tion, which puts the gun back in sin­gle-action (short trigger pull) firing mode. If you have issues carrying cocked and locked, you can carry hammer down with the manual safety on or off.

Taurus 845

The Taurus 845 has the same "Strike Two" capa­bility as found on the company's 24/7 lineup. Should a primer fail to detonate, the trigger resets to the double-action mode and the shooter has a second chance to fire the round.

The Taurus 845 has the same “Strike Two” capability as found on the com­pany’s 24/7 lineup. Should a primer fail to detonate, the trigger resets to the double-action mode and the shooter has a second chance to fire.

 

One other feature I like is the ham­mer’s shape; I can thumb the hammer back with the shooting hand much more easily than I can perform the same function on a 1911. It’s not as natural as on a single-action revolver, but a much smoother maneuver than any other semi-auto pistol I can recall. This feature may mean more to me than it would to you because I had some difficulty in firing the 845 dou­ble-action from the hammer-down position—more on that later.

The initial range trip was more fun than expected simply because I had the Taurus magazine loading tool. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but it did start the day right. There was only one problem with the hardware, and I might have been the cause. One of the two furnished magazines failed to drop clear of the mag well when the release button was pushed. It dropped about half way and stopped, whereas the other magazine fell clear. It was easy to strip the stuck magazine clear of the pistol with the reloading hand, which is not a bad exercise to practice since Murphy’s Law says this will only ever happen at the worst possible time. Since the other magazine worked perfectly, it was obvious something was wrong with that specific maga­zine, an occurrence not uncommon to any semi-auto pistol and easily fixed by acquiring additional magazines. In fact, all trainers will tell you to sort magazines and only carry those known to work perfectly.

Once the shooting started, there was only one smoke-stack malfunc­tion where an empty case failed to clear the ejection port and was trapped between the closing slide and edge of the barrel hood. The shooter was a friend who was shooting left-handed, admitted to having hurt his wrist recently and suspected he had been less than aggressive in his shooting stance. Everything else went perfectly. We started with two boxes of Black Hills 230-grain jacketed hollow points before switching to frangible rounds.

PT845

Minimum group size at extended range is not the objective of a defensive handgun, so our shooting was done at ranges from 7 to 15 yards. Nevertheless, at 15 yards groups were easily held to 2 inches shooting relatively slowly and stayed around 4 to 6 inches when I hit the accelerator. Running the gun single action was easy, and that’s how the 845 is made to operate after the first shot-fired with the hammer back and a short trigger pull.

It’s difficult to design a gun with ergonomics that fit everyone. When the gun is required to operate in sev­eral different ways. i.e. single and dou­ble action, it’s impossible. Double-action pull will be noticeably heavier (and lon­ger) because more functions are being performed by the same action.

When executing the long double-action trigger pull of the PT845, my trigger finger tends to slide to the bottom of the trigger away from the trigger’s pivot point where I get more leverage, thus making the trigger easier to pull. Unfortunately the bottom of the trigger guard slopes up as it joins the grip frame so my trigger finger drags along the inside of the trigger guard. This added resistance makes the trigger pull incredibly heavy and rather uncomfortable.

I think the reason for that upward sweep of the trigger guard is to allow for a higher grip on the frame, which helps control recoil. This may not be a problem for you. but for me to operate the gun in all its intended running modes, a redesigned trigger guard shape (including eliminating the hook at the front) would be helpful.

Other than that. I was quite pleased with the 845’s ergonomics and operat­ing characteristics. It naturally pointed exactly where I looked, and even when firing the first shot double-action, all shots hit center mass or within a head-sized target at 15 yards. Even without the magazine in place, my hand fit comfortably on the grip frame, which meant I would have no problem shooting the pistol with the magazine removed. Still. I think the magazine extensions are a good idea for several reasons. First, they do facilitate a speed reload. Second, they help in rapidly removing a magazine that might fail to drop clear of the gun. And third, they are forgiving if your initial grab for the gun fails to achieve a perfect grip.

Overall. I think Taurus has done a good job on the new Model 845.1 can’t bring myself to say I think any polymer semi-auto is beautiful, but the top half of the 845 is cool, and the bottom half is functional. At the company’s suggested MSRP of $623. the gun has the makings of a winner.

 

 

 

Subtle Improvement

Shooting Illustrated 

 

 

 

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” August 2009

Bill Wilson Carry Pistol

 

Bill Wilson is no stranger to the shooting world. His CQB pistol graced the cover of Shooting Illustrated’s November 2005 issue and was the subject of a full length feature entitled “The Perfect IDPA Pistol.”

Given IDPA’s emphasis on designing match scenarios that might duplicate potential real life street encounters, it was not surprising that much of my evaluation focused on CCW requirements in addition to match rules. Upon completion of the article, I purchased the CQB from Wilson, and it became the number one gun on my CCW permit. Until now, I did not expect to find an all-steel 1911 that I would prefer for street carry.

 Wilson Combat recently created the Bill Wilson Carry Gun, and as you might expect when one is introducing the next generation of a great handgun, the new carry pistol is not vastly different from the successful CQB. That said the minor changes are truly worthwhile and quickly appreciated. Overall dimensions remain the same; a slide shortened from a standard 1911 to accommodate a 4.1 inch barrel, and a frame reduced in height to 5.25 inches overall (with the 7 shot magazine installed.) Like the CQB, the new model handles both the 7-round magazine (recommended for concealed carry) and slightly extended 8-round magazines that are easily concealed in spare carriers without revealing any unusual lumps or bulges. Internal configuration, cuts and polishing is essentially the same on both guns which accounts for the superb accuracy and reliability of a Wilson 1911.

Wilson

The first 15 rounds through the Wilson were a mix of bullet styles and weights. Functioning was perfect and, at the group at 15 yards offhand, indicate that whatever ammo is fed to the new gun, it will reliably handle any threats to its owners life and well being.

 Most noticeable and having the greatest impact on my shooting the new gun is the modified Ed Brown bobtail on the shorter grip frame. Normally this rounding of the base is only done on full-size 1911. On the smaller frame, the curvature is not as severe, but the change is dramatic in terms of comfort during firing, and the more magazines fired in a range session, the more you’ll appreciate the increased comfort. Because of the bobtail treatment, the base had to be modified slightly making the gun feel a bit smaller, but shot-to-shot recovery didn’t seem to be compromised. The rounded edge of the back strap is fully checkered just as it is on the CQB, but there is no longer a distinct edge to create abrasions on your palm. A couple of years ago when I first acquired the CQB, I spent some time at Thunder Ranch and ended up applying bandages on the second day and changing guns on the third day. In a recent trip to Gunsite with the Carry Gun I was able to comfortably complete the week long class without having to apply any patches to my palm. For me, the bobtail is much more important on a downsized 1911 because the sharp edge of the backstrap doesn’t extend below the palm swell, but rather is driven into the meaty part of the hand by the recoil of each round. Given that steel is harder than flesh, can you say “Ouch!”

 The other “comfort” revision is the G10 grips. These feature radial lines instead of checkering with the edges of each line slightly rounded. Tactile control is still excellent, but long term abrasion in an extended class is reduced. Call me a sissy if you like, but I like those grips. The single thumb safety lever, set up for right handed shooters, is smaller on the new carry gun. I think it’s a good idea if you can reduce the size of a component on a CCW weapon without compromising performance, and over the 5 day-class, I did not notice any difficulties in operation when presenting the gun from concealed carry. The slide stop pin has also been shortened with the frame countersunk on the right side. This change does two things. One, it will allow the use of Crimson Trace grips with no interference from a protruding pin. Second, you may need to modify your disassembly technique slightly when you clean the gun. There are also serrations on top of the new gun’s slide for the purpose of reducing glare. Firing both the old CQB and the new pistol in the bright Arizona sunlight I did not notice any difference in glare from either gun, but most of our outdoor shooting was during morning hours with the sun behind us. Still, I would rate this as a worth while addition on a carry gun.

 The new gun has several relief cuts that strike me as being well thought out and useful. The front half inch or so of the slide has been reduced in width. It may not save much weight, but depending on how you execute a press check, you might find the new configuration helpful in grasping the slide with the support hand. There’s also a relief cut in the front strap just behind the trigger guard. Perhaps it let’s you get your hand in higher and tighter into the grip, but it’s so small that I really couldn’t notice a functional difference between the two guns either when holding or firing. The final relief cut is in the left grip panel behind the mag release button, and this did have some tangible benefits. I’ve never been able to drop a magazine on a 1911 without shifting my shooting hand grip simply because I don’t have particularly long fingers/thumbs. With Wilson’s new carry gun, I still have to rotate a bit, but it’s noticeably less movement than is required on the CQB, much more comfortable to execute, and much quicker to recover. This is the kind of change whose value will depend on your individual dimensions and operating technique for an evaluation, but even with only a partial improvement, I like the change.

 The last change noticed was the “U” shaped notch in the fixed rear sight. I believe the purpose of this is to make sight acquisition a bit faster in a life-threatening situation. Perhaps it did, but I couldn’t tell. In fact, the entire time on the line I didn’t notice the difference. Sight pictures on both guns are extremely similar simply because you don’t see the bottom of the notch where it’s rounded. Neither could I detect any difference in the amount of light visible on both sides of the front blade, even when shooting slowly. The only thing that struck me as slightly different was that the first 15 shots fired offhand with three different Black Hills loadings at 15 yards seemed to have more of a lateral spread than usual. I know Wilson pistols shoot one-hole groups in the hands of testers at the factory shooting from a rest, and while I didn’t expect exactly the same results, I felt the vertical spread (about 1 ½ inches) was more representative than the horizontal spread of something like 2 ½ inches. As stated, when I got into the class, both worked superbly. For the record, I was wearing corrective lenses and I’m quite new to “U” notch rear sights.

 I can’t fault the Wilson’s reliability. By being abusive, I was able to cause malfunctions, but it was only by breaking all the rules. After firing 2 to 3 boxes of ammo (without first cleaning the gun,) I put the gun away dirty and un-oiled for two weeks before going to Gunsite. Again without cleaning or lubricating, I shot the gun for two days of class. When the gun failed to go into battery, some oil cured the problem until late in the third day when the same failures reoccurred. Additional lubrication continued to cure the problem but for shorter periods of time. As the instructions state, clean the gun and it will (and did) work flawlessly. The only “failure” not attributed to my atrocious behavior was on the third day when the “Wilson” escutcheon in the left grip panel fell off. A call to John May in Arkansas revealed that this was one of those occasions where the least expensive adhesive worked the best and the expensive glue failed. Problem fixed forever.

 I’ve succumbed to the Siren calls again. No, I’m not buying a new carry gun because my existing CQB is tied to my CCW permit by serial number, and changing things like this is California would be a nightmare. But I am having my CQB remodeled to the new Wilson Carry Gun. It’s that good.

 

Ruger’s New Light, Compact Revolver

Magazine CoverPublished in “Shooting Illustrated” September 2009

Ruger Revolver

Photos by Lloyd Hill

When polymer was introduced in guns, it was a revolutionary change.  Now Ruger’s found it a home on wheelguns — in the all new LCR.

In this fast paced age of self-loading pistols and high capacity magazines, it seems I’m not the only one who believes there is a place for the compact, light-weight revolver. Rather than reviewing all the rationale for this deep-seated opinion that I have presented over the years, I’ll simply state one overwhelmingly simple argument: Ruger just went into production on exactly this type of handgun.

The company calls it the LCR, and the small revolver is an interesting blend of features and materials from the world of handguns that I don’t recall seeing on a snub-nosed “pocket pistol” before. First, the grip frame, which Ruger literature refers to as the fire control system housing, is made of a modern polymer. More accurately it’s a long-fiber, glass-filled polymer that the press release says helps reduce recoil. I suspect the slightly oversized rubber Hogue grips contribute equally to the reduction in felt recoil, but the end result that all of the +P ammo tested was quite comfortable to shoot over the course of several cylinders. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The frame is made of 7000 series aluminum forging, as are parts of aircraft, and has a black, hard coating developed by Ruger. The aluminum provides rigid support for the barrel and cylinder and lighter overall weight for comfort in concealed carry, while the special coating contributes protection from the elements and handling abuse. The cylinder is made of 400 series stainless steel to contain the pressures of 38 Special +P loads, features a target grey finish, and has an unusual configuration. The rear third of the cylinder that houses the locking latch cuts is full diameter while the front two thirds has long, sweeping flutes like the Colt Model 1862 Police black powder pistol. Despite being separated by a century and a half in time, both guns are 5 shot revolvers. Perhaps irrelevant, but really cool!

The trigger

The author found the trigger pull extremely smooth, thanks to Ruger's "friction-reducing cam fire control system."

Want some more high tech, super modern material in your snubbie? The LCR has some titanium components in the cylinder’s front latching system and what Ruger refers to as an “optimized spring tension” design and an “enhanced lockup geometry.” All three of these should contribute to an extended life digesting +P ammo with minimal wear of gun parts. The trigger pull on the little revolver is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen on an unmodified factory snub nose. Ruger credits this to a “friction-reducing cam fire control system that results in a non-sticking, smooth trigger pull” on the DAO trigger. I would simply say the trigger is superb!

I mentioned the Hogue rubber grips that seemed larger than on other short barrel revolvers I’ve tried. Although only long enough to allow gripping by the two middle fingers on the shooting hand, they seem slightly wider and softer than normal thus helping reduce felt recoil generated in the 13.5 ounce revolver. In fact, the grips may be a bit too large for someone with very small hands. No problem. The grip frame of the new Ruger is a narrow “stump” that allows grips of any shape since there is no fixed front or back strap. The rubber (or other material) grips may be any shape you prefer because they are attached to the frame by one screw located in the bottom of the frame’s stump. Another clever design feature, particularly in a small gun like the LCR.

The Ruger’s sights are almost typical for a snub nose revolver in that they consist of a fixed front ramp and square notch rear. The “almost” is because the ramp front

Front Site

The front sight is serrated at its back to reduce glare and can be replaced with aftermarket versions. The U-notch rear sight is cut into the aluminum frame, but to minimize the chances of deformation it's pro­tected by a polymer shell.

 sight is replaceable held in place by a pin. Want to try something else, go for it. There’s no need to try welding something on the aluminum frame surrounding the steel barrel. Also, the rear notch width is cut into the aluminum frame, not the polymer grip frame. The aluminum edges of the rear notch are protected by the polymer frame, so they won’t be subject to deformation by any bumps or drops. Both front and rear blade and notch are wide giving ample visibility and a good sight picture in bright light. In daylight, against a lightly colored target, sight picture was easily acquired and crystal clear. Under dwindling light, or against a dark target, you might consider other options. The large X-S dot sight system is highly visible and quite popular on guns meant for self-defense. Additionally, I believe Ruger is offering guns with the Crimson Trace laser grips, or you can simply contact Laser Grips to order a set of these grips after acquiring your LCR. Suggested retail for standard LCR is $525, whereas the laser grips take the gun’s price to $792.

I made two trips to Gunsite while working with the new Ruger. The LCR I used was the standard model with factory sights. I actually ran the little gun through part of the Close Quarters Pistol class, a new event that deals with the real world possibilities of people who want to do you harm and are willing to do anything to insure you’re unable to shoot them. (More on this class in a later issue.) Besides me, a number of shooters had a chance to try the little revolver using various loads from Hornady’s new 110 grain FTX Critical Defense 38 Special +P ammo up through 158 grain lead bullet handloads. Absolutely no one had the slightest problem with felt recoil. Everyone who had fired revolvers before were impressed with the trigger pull. A couple of shooters who had never fired anything except semi-autos were surprised at the length (but not particularly the weight) of the double action trigger pull. My impromptu test group included one senior Gunsite Range Master who is a retired police officer and has carried a two-inch revolver most of his adult life. Shooting outdoors on the square ranges in daylight, all shooters felt the sights were fine. Head shots at typical self defense ranges out to 10 yards were easily made. Beyond 10 yards, individual shooting skills became a major factor. I followed friend and fellow scribe Rich Grassi as he took the LCR through Gunsite’s Scrambler, a course where one engaged steel targets from Pepper popper size up through The Incredible Hulk, and fromRear Site ranges of 50 to 80 yards. Out of 8 targets engaged, only one escaped serious harm from a cylinder full of ammo, and most were hit on either the first or second shot. This is not something any shooter could do, but then it’s not something just any 2” revolver could do either. In the mano a mano drill which involves whacking two steel round plates, performing a reload, and then knocking down a split popper, Rich did not win based on the clock, but neither did he leave any targets standing, and he had to go back for a second hit on one of the plates before it fell.

I didn’t have any belt holsters for a 2” revolver, but I did have 3 pocket holsters since that is my preferred CCW technique. The leather Mitch Rosen that is form fitted for my Model 442 would not accommodate the Ruger, but the rigid Safariland and collapsible Uncle Mikes both fit. I used the rigid Safariland because being able to re-holster smoothly and efficiently (meaning with one hand and without looking) is a part of the Gunsite methodology. Even starting with my shooting hand in the pocket, I wasn’t making desired times for putting rounds on target. But I did go through the drills a few times and my targets were pretty good even if my speed wasn’t. Finally the instructors allowed me to start the drills with gun in hand in the low guard position under the supposition that I had been alert enough to read the scenario and get prepared. I got a lot faster after that and, except for the reloads, I was no longer the “cog in the wheel” that held up the class.

Reloads are worth a comment since they are perhaps the biggest weakness in using a revolver for self defense. While it would be nice to drape a pair of Pancho Villa style cartridge bandoliers over your shoulders, consider that this might suggest to others that you are carrying a firearm, thus defeating the “concealed” portion of your CCW agreement. On the other hand, finding loose cartridges in your pockets and loading them one at a time makes for a long period of vulnerability in a gunfight. I tried two “speed” techniques at Gunsite both of which worked pretty well. The HKS speedloaders have been around for quite a while including models for 5-shot revolvers. These lock 5 rounds in a circle, and when all five rounds are partially inserted into the cylinder, a quick rotation on the knob allows all 5 to drop fully into their respective chambers. You’ll gain speed on the actual reload with a little practice, and finding the speedloader in your pocket is much faster and easier than finding 5 individual rounds. I also tried the Tuff QuickStrips, a rubber strip that holds 6 cartridges in line. When you’ve dumped the empties from your 38, insert 1 or 2 cartridges at a time partially into the cylinder and then peel the strip away from the rims allowing both rounds to drop into their respective chambers. Repeat until all chambers are loaded. This isn’t as fast a reload as the HKS, but the flat strips hold all the cartridges needed for a reload, carry flatter in your pockets than the round HKS, and can be found as fast as the HKS speedloader. The speed strips also allow you to “top off” the gun by reloading a single round or two as opposed to running the gun dry to replace all 5 rounds. Having an extra round in the strip could prove useful and takes up no real additional space in your pocket. Both QuickStrips and HKS speedloaders are good systems. Selection of one over the other may be based more upon how bulky your clothing is rather than a slight increase in reloading speed.

At first glance the LCR may appear a bit odd due to things like the joining line between the polymer grip housing and the aluminum frame, and the different cylinder shape and finish. Not to worry. I’m almost certain you’ll warm to the gun’s appearance over time. But to speed up the love process, take the LCR out for a shooting session. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with the Ruger concept of rugged guns at good guy prices, I’m certain romance will blossom quickly.

Ruger’s 50-Year Commemorative Super Blackhawk

Magazine CoverPublished “Shooting Illustrated” July 2009

For those who have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with handguns, there lingers the memory of “the one that got away.”

 

Super Blackhawk

Despite its elegance and beauty, the Commemorative Super Blackhawk is as ready, willing and able to accompany its new owner to the game fields as the origianl version was 50 years ago.

For those of us who have enjoyed a life-long love affair with handguns, there lingers the memory of “the one that got away.” We are haunted by that brief lapse in judgment where we allowed a treasure to slip from our grasp because we were lured by the siren call of a new love not yet owned. For most of us, there is probably more than just one of these lost loves, but there is always that one unforgettable handgun we can’t quite erase from our memories. For me, that handgun was an early Ruger Super Blackhawk 44 Magnum with the new 7 ½ inch barrel and that incredibly beautiful blue finish that made me wince slightly every time I slid the gun in and out of its leather holster. I had purchased the gun used in one of those early package deals (with 44 rounds left in the original box of ammo,) and apparently the original owner had installed a set of stag horn grips before even firing the gun. It was a spectacular handgun and the pride of my possessions! Alas, within a year of acquiring it I was leaving the armed forces and moving west with a wife, two little girls, and no job. When a friend of mine offered $35 over retail for it, I did what all responsible young fathers do in that situation; I took the money and prayed for a future solution.

Fast forward four decades, and I am delighted to report that someone at Ruger has responded. While you might initially think they’re delinquent in waiting this long, that’s not so. Since their response comes in the form of a 50-year Commemorative of the Super Blackhawk, obviously this handgun could not be released before the year 2009. In the intervening years, Ruger has filled my life with a number of irresistible offerings, so it’s not like I had nothing to enjoy during those intervening years. But lets’ take a closer look at this return to yesteryear.

Closeup of SBH grip and barrel

Beautifully grained rosewood grips and gold bands around the cylinder.

When I first saw the Commemorative, (I think it was in Ruger’s booth at the Dallas Safari Club in January,) it was the brightly polished blue finish that immediately caught my eye. I couldn’t remember seeing a production Ruger that looked like this since that original SBH escaped my clutches long ago. Except for the glossy steel finish on the sides of the hammer and the less reflective blue/black coloration of the rear sight, this luxurious blue finish covers the entire external surface of the gun. It’s as spectacular as my first one! The next two eye-catchers (and I’m not sure which one was noticed first,) are the gold bands around the cylinder and the smooth, beautifully grained rosewood grips. The gold bands are quite narrow, perhaps 1/16 inch wide, making them tastefully subdued but distinctly noticeable. (My apologies if I sound like a wine taster. I’m not, but this gun does generate some serious emotion.) The rosewood grips (with Ruger logo of course,) are elegantly simple and compliment the deep blue finish nicely. My initial thoughts were to possibly replace them with staghorn simply to recover the look of my lost Super Blackhawk, but the more I looked at the current grips, the less interested I became in changing anything. As a treasure, this gun stands on its own.

The last visual impact came from the gold lettering on the top of the Ruger barrel. In large letters that ran from just behind the front

Engraved Barrell

Gold lettering on top of the barrel.

 sight base to the front of the frame’s top strap it said simply, “50TH ANNIVERARY SUPER BLACKHAWK – 2009.” I know that many of us have criticized Ruger over years past for the biblically long legal liability warning printed in small letters on all their modern guns about reading their instruction manual and washing your hands before meals. But before you work yourself up unnecessarily, consider this. The message here is extremely significant, and it’s delivered in gold. This is the 44 Magnum we’re talking about, and Ruger is acknowledging with the gold-filled date on the barrel that their luxury entry into the 44 Magnum market occurred 3 years after their competition and Ruger’s initial modification of their smaller frame flattop. I mean even the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments weren’t inlaid with gold! Sorry if I went a bit too far there, but as I said, this is a gun that generates emotion.

One might think that I would be reluctant to shoot this handgun, in which case, one would be incredibly wrong. I could not wait to venture a field with this recreation from my lost youth, (or young manhood,) and the instant I received a call from Doug Roth at Camp 5 Outfitters, it was Go Time! If you don’t know Camp 5, located near Paso Robles, California, you’re missing out on some great potential hunting adventures. Doug offers guided hunts on several species including deer, elk and turkey during their relatively short seasons in the spring/fall. Even better, he offers wild boar hunts year round, because California has no closed season on pigs. Good eating, good fun, great outing, and best of all, Doug can get handgunners in close on wild boar. With his fearless Jack Russel Terrier hunting companion Moose, few pigs fatally hit are ever lost. Hey, I’d spend two days at Camp 5 just to watch Moose work his magic. But in this case, I had both Moose and a recreation of a lost love with me, and while the three of us hadn’t hunted together before, I had hunted with both Moose and other 44 Magnums. It seemed like an unbeatable threesome.

The hunt location made it unnecessary to test numerous loads in search of the Commemorative’s favorite dish. Camp 5 is located in a portion of California where lead-free ammunition has been dictated for hunting. I had a couple boxes of Corbon and Federal 44 Mag ammo loaded with 225 grain Barnes bullets. Considering the lighter weight bullets reminded me of the only reservation I’d ever had about the square shape of the original Super Blackhawk’s trigger guard. That square back edge sometimes rapped my knuckle when firing full power loads with the heavier bullet weights. Admittedly that was more of an issue when shooting silhouettes with a one-hand grip from the creedmore position, and while it was not a crippling event, it was irritating in 40- or 80-round matches. Happily, using a solid two-handed grip, my knuckle remained untouched when firing the 225 grain loads in the new gun.

It required about 5 rounds to dial in the Ruger shooting from the rock-solid shooting bench/table that Doug has built near the Camp 5 guest cabin. Then, dropping to the ground in front of the bench and resting my back against a brace with my arms across my knees in my absolutely favorite field shooting position, a couple of confirmation shots ended up touching each other in the bottom of the small orange aiming point stuck on the 25-yard target. With a bit of a swagger, I left the range for two marvelous days of pig hunting.

While wind direction changes and fading light terminated some of our stalks, Doug was able to get the other hunters inside 25 yards on more than one occasion. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that on my stalk, I stretched my range beyond what was prudent considering I was hunting with a new gun and ammunition combination that I had fired less than 10 times. We followed the blood trail for perhaps 300 yards up a steep hill and through some heavy cover until it ended before giving it up with approaching darkness. Although a bit ashamed, I’m not discouraged. I miss just like everyone else, and on this occasion, it was clearly due to “pilot error.” I know the Commemorative Super Blackhawk and I will hunt together again albeit with some additional range time together between now and then. I was foolish enough to surrender this gun once; it won’t happen again.

 

Arma Lite’s AR-24

Shooting IllustratedPublished “Shooting Illustrated” July 2007

AR-24 Pistol

ArmaLite enters the pistol market with a pair of high-caparity 9 mm semi-autos manufactured by the Turkish firm Sarsilmaz. The full-size AR-24 takes a 15-round magazine and has a 4.67-inch barrel, while the compact AR-24K holds 13 rounds in its shortened grip frame and features a 3.89-inch barrel.

The thought of reviewing another wide-body 9 mm pistol will nor­mally evoke a yawn from most gun writers. Getting a look at ArmaLite’s new AR-24 pistols, however, was different for two reasons. First, the guns are offered by ArmaLite, creator of the AR-15 rifle. Second, I had heard good things about the quality firearms coming from Turkey but had yet to get a close look at any of them. The AR-24 pistols are manufactured by Sarsilmaz, and please do not ask me how to pronounce that. Sarsilmaz has been in the gun business for more than 100 years, making numerous fire­arms for the Turkish military.

The AR-24 is a steel, locked-breech 9 mm semi-auto basically derived from the CZ-75 pistol. It utilizes double-stack magazines and can be fired both single and double action. If the gun is carried in the ham­mer-down position, the first shot is fired double action with all subsequent shots being single action. It can also be carried cocked-and-locked, in which case all shots, including the first, are fired single action. The thumb safety is located on the left side of the slide and locks the trigger in both hammer-down and cocked-and-locked mode. When the right hand grasps the gun in the normal shooting position, the thumb safety can be reached, if not eas­ily operated, by the thumb. Hand size and finger length largely determine how easily the AR-24 controls can be manipulated. I had to move my hand in order to reach and release the slide-stop lever as well.
checkering on grips

Checkering on the backstrap of the AR-24 enhances grip; vertical serrations perform that role on the AR-24K. Though the compact's grip frame is abbreviated, the pistol fills the hand nicety thanks to the extended bumper on the magazine.

There are two models in ArmaLite’s pis­tol line, the full-size AR-24 and the com­pact AR-24K. The finish on both guns is quite good, and if I sound surprised, it’s only because I was expecting something more like that on a military firearm. Both are black, which I think is cool looking and appropriate for a commercial pistol with a military history. All flat surfaces are smooth, and the pistols’ parts are nicely fitted with no ugly joints or mismatched edges. The backstrap and frontstrap of the AR-24 are checkered, while those of the AR-24K have vertical serrations approxi­mately 1.2 inches long. Grips on the full-size gun are rubber, while early produc­tion versions of the compact feature ones made from wood. ArmaLite now offers the AR-24K with rubber grips, which are avail­able at no charge to replace the original wood grips. Admittedly the 9 mm’s recoil isn’t difficult to manage, but the checker­ing on the grips does enhance the shooter’s hold, particularly when hands get sweaty.

Each pistol employs the white-dot sight system with the front blade dovetailed into the slide. Loosening the vertical screw in the front sight base allows the blade to be drifted left or right for windage adjust­ments. The dovetail cuts in the slide are rather elegant with the edges gently curved to engulf the base of the blade. Rear sights are also dovetail-mounted and are available on both pistols in fixed or fully adjustable configurations. The appearance of the sight systems and quality of installation are impressive, particularly the adjustable rear sight. Both guns utilize a modified Commander-style hammer, one of only two features on the guns the appearance of which I don’t like. It just seems coarse com­pared to the pistols’ overall high quality.
The backstrap on each pistol has a large beavertail that overhangs the web of the shooting hand. I can’t imagine anyone suf­fering slide bite unless the shooter has the physical characteristics of a Sasquatch. The guns also have guide rods and exter­nal extractors, and while these are not my favorite features on a semi-auto, I can’t criticize them since the pistols cycled flaw­lessly with all ammo fired. At the rear of the slide on both models there are vertical grasping serrations that run for approxi­mately 1 inch and assist the shooter when racking the slide. For those familiar with a 1911 or any semi-auto with a slide of uni­form width that fits outside the frame’s rails, racking the AR-24’s slide may feel a bit awkward because it’s thinner and presents an uneven gripping surface. But the AR-24 is a 9 mm handgun with a 9 mm spring, so it doesn’t take a vise-like grip to do the job. On the plus side, the rails run the entire length of the slide as opposed to the partial-length rails on a 1911. The AR-24 slide is supported no matter what its position on the frame.
Although the length of the AR-24K frame is the same as that of the full-size gun, the slide and barrel are shorter. The height of the grip frame is distinctly shorter on the compact, but an extended magazine lip makes the
full length frame rails

Based on the CZ-75 platform, the AR-24 pistols are designed so their slides fit inside full-length frame rails. Front sight blades are solidly mounted in dovetail slots and have vertical screws that allow them to be adjusted for windage.

frontstrap feel about the same and helps control the gun. There is no mag­azine extension to mate with the compact’s backstrap, however, which makes it feel much shorter than the one on the stan­dard AR-24.

Magazine capacity is 15 rounds for the AR-24 and 13 rounds for the AR-24K. The task of loading most double-stack maga­zines ranges from difficult to downright unpleasant, and these were no exception. A red, plastic follower in every magazine eliminates the chance of mistaking an empty for a loaded one. The magazines performed admirably in both pistols and contributed to the guns’ perfect function with a variety of ammo. Large magazine release buttons were easy to operate. Ejec­tion of empty magazines was positive every time the button was pressed, and maga­zines dropped smoothly from the frame.
The only real knock I can put on the AR-24 goes back to the basic design of the CZ-75. In double-action firing mode, it’s a long reach to the trigger—almost 3 inches from the backstrap. Shooters with small- to medium-size hands usually either can’t get enough finger on the trigger to properly fire the first shot or they cheat by rotating their shooting hand around to the right. While this hand shift works in terms of making the gun go bang, it misaligns the pistol and pushes shots wide of the target. Subsequent shots in single-action mode either feel very awkward or necessitate reacquiring a proper shooting grip. I think the design of the trigger guard contributes to some of the trigger-pull difficulty. The back of the trigger guard has a very short radius, making it severely rounded. In order to clear the guard when it is pulled to the rear, the trigger has to duplicate that shape. Its curvature forces the trigger fin­ger up toward the pivot point, where you lose the mechanical advantage you would get from a longer lever arm. The double-action trigger pull for my sample AR-24 was 11 pounds, 4 ounces, with the single-action pull being 5 pounds, 11 ounces. The AR-24K registered a lighter 10 pounds, 11 ounces in double-action mode and 5 pounds, 1 ounce with single-action firing. That’s quite man­ageable for a defensive handgun if you can reach the trigger with your hand in the proper shooting position.
I tested the pistols’ accuracy at an indoor range, shooting offhand at 50 feet. The lighting wasn’t as good as outdoors, but much better than most real-life, self-defense shooting scenarios. Neither the white dots nor the black rear notch were particularly clear. It was not precise, slow-fire shooting, nor was it Steel Chal­lenge warp speed. When the sights were somewhere in the bullseye area, I mashed the trigger. Despite the AR-24K’s smoother trigger pull, I got better groups from the standard-size gun. The smallest five-shot group for the AR-24 was l 1/4 inches with Black Hills 115-grain jacketed-hollow-point +P ammo. The largest group from the full-size pistol was 2 5/8  inches with Black Hills 124-grain jacketed-hollow-point +P, the same ammo that produced the AR-24K’s smallest group of 1 3/4 inches. Gold Dot 115-and 124-grain jacketed-hollow-point loads gave l 5/8 inches and 1 3/4 inches respectively in the AR-24. These were the only groups less than 2 inches, but again I wasn’t in my Olympic shooting mode. Perhaps a more representative indicator was a string of 10 shots of five different loads in the AR-24. Seven of these were nicely centered in the bullseye and spanned less than 1 1/2 inches, while the three remaining shots went left and opened the group to 3 1/4 inches. That’s way better than combat accuracy from a gun I had never shot before this outing.
Except for the long reach to the trigger and its shape, I liked the ergonomics of the pistols. The grip frames are nicely rounded with no irritating edges and fill the hand quite comfortably. With the magazine exten­sion, the compact is almost as comfortable as the standard model except for the shorter backstrap. In fact, the difference in weight between the AR-24 and AR-24K is less than 2 ounces with the full-size gun slightly more than 1/2 inch longer. One of the rangemasters at the Prado Olympic Shooting Range preferred the AR-24K, while my preference was for the standard-size pistol. Despite having hands smaller than mine, he also seemed quite able to operate the AR-24, but then he has considerably more IDPA match experience than I do. Obviously, 15-round magazines make the full-size pistol more useful. I’m not comfortable trying to carry any wide-body autoloader concealed, but given the AR-24’s tough steel construction and 100-percent reliability along with its excellent ergonomics, I think it would make a great self-defense gun where concealment isn’t an issue. It might be even better in .45 caliber.

Portable .44 Magnums

 

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007

Buffalo Bore

Buffalo Bore's 340-grain +P+ . 44 Magnum loads have an overall cartridge length of 1.752 inches, but they pose no problem for the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan's cylinder. The Hogue Tamer Monogrip completely surrounds the grip frame in soft rubber, which makes shooting even these powerhouse loads in the 2 1/2-inch snubbie bearable.

In the shooting world, “magnum” means a cartridge or firearm larger than nor­mal in size, performance or both. When Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Magnum in the mid-’50s, the company housed the cartridge in its existing N-frame revolver. While the round’s performance exceeded that of existing handgun cartridges, the gun’s size was neither unmanageable nor intimidating—until you fired it for the first time. Ruger’s original .44 Magnum was a bulked-up Flattop single-action revolver. The frame size was slightly larger than we were accustomed to, but the grip remained rather small. This seemed like a good idea—again until you touched off your first full-power round.

Over the years, Smith & Wesson made some internal and external changes in its .44 Magnum handguns but has continued to chamber the cartridge in the double-action N-frame revolver. Shortly after its introduction, Ruger dropped the Flattop .44 Magnum (until its reintroduction as a commemorative edition in 2005) and began producing some larger-framed .44 Magnum revolvers, in both single- and double-action versions. We were offered two single actions, the Super Blackhawk and the Bis-ley, and two double actions, the Redhawk and Super Redhawk.
The frame sizes on these Rugers were larger than on the original Flattop, and barrel lengths were either longer or compa­rable to earlier guns. The idea was to make the new revolvers more durable to handle a continuous diet of full-house magnum loads, and to make them more controllable and comfortable when fired by less-experi­enced handgunners. An additional benefit was the increased cylinder length allowed the use of heavier, longer bullets for large, dangerous game.
There’s been a slight reversal of the trend lately. Downsized options are now available for those who want a big-bore handgun for self-defense rather than hunting. Ruger is offering both its Redhawk and Super Red­hawk with shorter barrels that make them easier to carry. This is not an attempt to produce a .44 Magnum that would compete with handguns designed for concealed carry, although both guns, particularly the stubby Super Redhawk Alaskan, can be easily covered by a jacket should the user venture from wilderness to civilization. And the .44 Magnum is certainly an ade­quate, if slightly overpowered, cartridge for self-defense. Ruger’s real target audi­ence is the backpacker or woods wanderer who might venture into country inhabited by predators larger and tougher than man, and who understand that dialing 911 is a useless gesture.
Some similarities between the Redhawk and Super Redhawk are apparent. Their cylinders are the same, but the Super Redhawk’s frame extends 1 3/4 inches far­ther forward than the Redhawk’s. The breech end of the Super Redhawk’s barrel has a couple extra inches of frame wrapped around it, which makes it look much beef­ier when viewed from the business end. Both guns have adjustable rear sights with a white outline surrounding the notch. Front sights are black, ramped blades, but the Super Redhawk’s is all black, while the Redhawk’s has a red insert. The Redhawk’s front blade is pinned through the integral barrel rib, but the Super Redhawk’s blade is silver-soldered into a slot in the top of the frame. Normally the Redhawk is equipped with either a 5 1/2 or 7 1/2 inch barrel, and the Super Redhawk features a 7 1/2 or 9-inch barrel. The new Redhawk has a 4-inch barrel, while the Super Redhawk’s barrel has been cut to 27; inches, or flush with the front edge of the extended frame. I’ve always thought the standard Super Red­hawk looked ugly with its barrel sticking out of the stretched frame, but the snub-nose Alaskan is built like a small Abrams tank and is almost as impressive.
Comparison of Barrels

The muzzle of the Alaskan (left) is flush with the front of the distinctive, extended frame that characterizes the Super Redhawk. Despite the short barrel, alt that metal in the frame gives the little thumper a weight of 41 ounces.

Grips are considerably different on the two guns, mainly because their grip frames are not the same. The Redhawk grip frame looks like we expect a grip frame to look—the frontstrap and backstrap deter­mine the final size and shape of the han­dle. In contrast, the Super Redhawk has an undersized “stub” handle that allows the use of whatever size and shape grip you like. Hogue finger-groove grips are on both guns, but the grips on the Alaskan surround the back of the grip frame and provide a cushioning effect between gun and hand when fired. There is also a softer piece of blue rubber inside the top of the grip that cushions the web of the shoot­ing hand from the classic “thump of the hump” administered by the recoil of heavy loads in a double-action revolver. The Red­hawk’s grips expose the steel backstrap but generously fill the space between frontstrap and trigger guard. They also extend below the grip frame providing a comfortable resting place for the last fin­ger of the shooting hand. I didn’t find the felt recoil of either gun objectionable, but the Super Redhawk was more comfortable when hot loads with bullets weighing 300 grains or more were fired. If you have very large hands, you might prefer the larger grips of the Redhawk.
Shooting the compact .44 Magnums from Ruger was fun, but I need to be clear about limitations. For me, a 4-inch barrel is about the minimum length I can hunt with using an iron-sighted belt gun, and I prefer 5 or even 6 inches. Besides the issue of sight radius, my eyes just aren’t what they used to be. Given that, I would be comfort­able hunting with the 4-inch Redhawk at ranges up to about 50 yards, but only if I’m wearing some sort of shooting glasses with corrective lenses. It’s much easier for me to hunt with a scoped pistol, and in fact that’s now mandatory for me during the low-light conditions of early morning or late afternoon.
Ruger .44 Magnum

The packing ability of a 4-inch barrel meets the versatility of the .44 Magnum in Ruger's latest addition to the Redhawk family. With a beefy frame and an elongated cylinder, the revolver can handle a variety of ammunition for hunting or defending against large and dangerous game, including Buffalo Bore's 340-grain cast +P+ stomper and Cor-Bon's 225-grain DPX load.

However, I became infatuated with the short-barreled Alaskan. I liked almost everything about it, including its smaller grips, minimal felt recoil, handy length and remarkably smooth double-action trigger. And while I would rate it as an excellent defensive big-bore revolver, I wouldn’t take it hunting as my primary handgun. Firing at a 40-yard target, I could not keep all my shots in the black. I could pretty well keep them on the paper, within a 9-inch circle, shooting offhand, but I felt I was just barely on the ragged edge of acceptable marksmanship. Restricting my effective hunting range to less than 40 yards isn’t something I would want to do. That said, the Alaskan would be my first choice for a carry gun if I were fishing or just hiking through bear country, like maybe Alaska. The .44 Magnum with heavier bullets is a major defensive load against big critters, and I felt absolutely confident in my abil­ity to use the little Super Redhawk at close range with no concern for the recoil gener­ated by the more powerful loads. Carried on the belt in a lightweight nylon holster, this stainless steel powerhouse would be the perfect companion for an extended foray in fair weather or foul.
I would, however, make one modifica­tion to the Alaskan. With .44-caliber bul­lets ranging from 240 to 300-plus grains, I used up much of the rear sight’s eleva­tion adjustment capability at the 40-yard range. When the gun was on, the rear sight assembly rode quite high in its notch in the topstrap. There was no danger of the elevation adjustment screw popping out of the sight assembly since there were at least another three revolutions avail­able before the threads disengaged. When the screw was that far out, though, the tension applied to the assembly by the two coil springs was not consistent, and the sight moved so easily that it did not seem like precise adjustments were either achievable or maintainable. It’s not that big a deal considering the ranges at which the gun would most likely be used, plus a fix is incredibly simple. I would have a competent smithy file a little off the top of the front blade so the rear sight doesn’t have to be dramatically elevated to prop­erly sight-in the gun.
Fact is, both revolvers would make excellent trail guns. The Redhawk’s extra 1 1/2 inches of barrel gave me some addi­tional range, while the Alaskan’s shorter barrel and smaller grips made it more com­fortable and portable. With both Rugers chambered in .44 Magnum, the odds are you can find ammo almost anywhere. You may still have to let Brother Bruin have your salmon, but with either of these guns on your hip, your retreat will be much more orderly and confident.