Category Archives: Smith & Wesson

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.-

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.

Three-Part Plan

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007
 

At the age of seven it became apparent that I was destined for a lifelong love affair with firearms.  There would be other even greater loves in my life, but my interest in guns has never faltered and remains a dominant force these many decades later.  For almost that entire time, my focus has been on recreational rather  than tactical uses of guns.  Unfortunately, the world is not as safe or friendly a place as it used to be.  As a younger man. I kept a loaded handgun in the house, but unless there was some kind of civil disturbance or unrest underway, I rarely risked breaking the law by carrying a handgun in my vehicle.  Today, many citizens believe quick access to a self-defense firearm is nothing more than good, common sense.

In the mid-’80s, Florida enacted the greatest piece of firearms legislation since the Second Amendment. That state made it crystal clear that no one could deny an honest citizen the right to carry a concealed weapon. Many states followed Florida’s lead with similar laws, including those recognizing concealed-carry permits from other states. The majority of states now have “shall issue” laws, while others that have not passed such legislation still have provisions for their citizens to be granted concealed-carry permits.
It may come as a surprise to many shooters to know that in California it is still possible to obtain a concealed-carry permit, depending on where you live in the state. This apparent contradiction of California’s anti-gun law reputation exists because permit approval is left to the discretion of the applicant’s senior local law enforcement official. If you live in Los Angeles or San Francisco, don’t bother applying. Those bastions of personal security and welfare simply don’t grant permits to average citizens. But in many communities and counties, permits are issued to citizens who have presented a viable reason to carry, attended mandatory training and passed the required tests. It’s not as good as a “shall issue” environment, but it’s far better than a “won’t issue” state.
Fortunately, I live in a California county whose sheriff ran for office promising to make concealed-carry permits available to us common folk, and to date he has kept that promise. I’ve submitted an application for a concealed-carry permit, and in the process have encountered the kind of dilemma a gun writer dreams of. California allows a maximum of three guns to be listed on the permit, and the bearer of it is prohibited from carrying any gun not listed. For years I have avoided the classic “if I could only have one gun” dialog. But if I were allowed to choose three guns, maybe I could get through the exercise and generate only a minimal amount of hate mail.
Wilson Combat CQB

Proven design and a record of superb stopping power gives the Wilson Combat CQB in .45 ACP high credentials as a primary concealed-carry pistol. A slightly shorter 4-inch barrel makes it easier to carry than the standard 5-inch barrel of a full-size 1911.

 
Concealed Considerations
An immediate thought was to pick the “best” gun and follow that up by choosing two almost identical guns for backup. This would ensure I always had the optimum gun available regardless of possible downtime for such mundane things as repairs or modifications to the primary firearm. There would be no retraining on handling procedures when switching guns, and I could use the same accessory gear no matter what gun I carried. I mulled this strategy over for some time because it made a great deal of sense and offered a solution with the utmost simplicity. It also defined the type of firearm I would carry, because if there would only be one kind of gun, it would be the one with which I am most familiar and proficient. That meant I would have three 1911s in various configurations and sizes, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. But ultimately I discarded this approach, thinking that since this would be a concealed-carry gun. there would be situations and dress codes that might suggest a different firearm in order to maximize concealment and carrying comfort.
This change in approach made it easier to choose the type of gun that would be number two on the license. With some kind of 1911 as number one. the second choice would be a pocket pistol of the utmost simplicity. It could be carried anywhere on my person for a reasonable period of time without fear of discharge and would function with absolute reliability simply by pulling the trigger and if there was a failure to fire, another pull of the trigger would be all that was required. You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about a small-frame revolver, with only the model and caliber to be determined.
My thoughts on the third gun didn’t start to gel until I took one of the training classes that California mandates in order to obtain the permit. My instructor was Bill Murphy, an active-duty California police officer and head of the SureFire Institute’s low-light training program. He did not tell the students what gun they should carry, but he strongly advised our alternate guns function the same way as the primary firearm with which we trained. Murphy’s key message was that during moments of stress we do not rise to new levels of performance, rather we revert to our basic training. If you trained with a Glock or Springfield Armory XD. for example, and had to deal with an emergency using a gun with an external safety, you would probably forget to deactivate the safety and try to fire just by pulling the trigger, because that was how you had trained. Such an error, however short lived, could prove fatal. It became clear my third gun would have to be a 1911. but probably tailored to different circumstances than my primary.
 
Number 1 Gun
More than a year ago. I wrote an article on Wilson Combat’s CQB entitled “The Perfect IDPA Pistol” (November 2005) in which I stated the CQB would make an excellent concealed-carry handgun. The CQB became my pick for the first and primary handgun on my concealed-carry permit, and while no man ever needs to defend his choice of a Wilson Combat pistol for his self-defense gun. I will review some of my thinking during the original evaluation.
This pistol was absolutely reliable, first shot, every shot, regardless of the ammo I used. Its barrel is 4 inches long, and it’s 5.4 inches high, making it easier to hide than a full-size 1911. However, since the gun is steel it is not unpleasant to shoot serious self-defense loads.
The CQB has excellent, fixed Combat Pyramid sights with tritium inserts, and all sharp edges have been rounded and smoothed. Its trigger is a crisp and repeatable 4 1/2 pounds. Though the colors are not particularly important, the Armor-Tuff finish does protect the OD green frame and black slide from corrosion. The feed ramp is polished, the barrel is throated, the frontstrap and flat main spring housing are checkered, and the magazine well is beveled. There is a high-ride beavertail grip safety and an extended tactical ejector.
Wilson offers two magazine sizes, a feature I particularly like. The standard seven-round magazine fits almost flush, while the eight-round spare magazine extends slightly below the grip frame. This allows concealed carry of the gun with eight rounds (seven in the magazine and one up the spout), and provides eight more in each tucked-away backup magazine.
While shooting three Black Hills .45 ACP jacketed hollow point loads (185, 200 and 230 grains), the lighter bullets printed dead-on at 25 yards and the 230-grain slugs hit about an inch left. I’d call that street-ready.
 
Backup Made Better
Smith and Wesson Model 442 and Model 340PD

Smith & Wesson's Model 442 (right) weighs just 3 ounces more than the company's Model 340PD and is nearly half the price of the top-tier .357 Magnum. The author plowed that savings into an XS Big Dot front sight, along with some refinements and an action job from Cylinder 8 Slide.

Nothing is as inherently reliable as a revolver, and while I normally prefer the large-frame magnums, concealed carry dictates something smaller. Since this was to be the go-in-any-pocket gun. and therefore would not be supported by a belt or other type of body harness, lightweight was the order of the day. Smith & Wesson makes some very light snub-nose revolvers, and then it makes some insanely light snub-nose revolvers. I say “insanely light” because when you touch off a full-house .357 Magnum in an 12-ounce scandium-frame revolver, you’ll start thinking only an insane person would do such a thing. In a moment of stress you might not immediately notice how painful the recoil is. but you will during practice sessions. Even if you minimize your practice. California requires that permit holders shoot 75 rounds through each handgun listed on the permit. I’m a big believer in handgun practice, so selecting the revolver and caliber required some serious thought.

Since this was a pocket gun. I wanted a hammerless model. The Smith & Wesson website shows two interesting candidates. One is the top-of-the-line Model 340PD. a scandium-frame .357 Magnum weighing 12 ounces. The other is the Model 442, an aluminum-frame .38 Special weighing 15 ounces. That’s not much difference in weight, but you can feel it when holding the gun in your hand or in your pocket. I’m not sure if the extra few ounces would make a difference in firing .357 Magnum loads, since the slightly heavier gun is rated for .38 +P. not .357. The real noticeable difference is in the price, with the scandium .357 retailing for several hundred dollars more than the aluminum .38. I made a decision and sent the Model 442 off to Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide to work his magic.
The fixed sights on a snub-nose revolver are rudimentary at best. Even with the red insert in the front blade of the Model 340PD. I could barely see the sights in daylight. I couldn”t see anything in low light. The first change Laughridge made was to install an XS Sight Systems Big Dot Tritium front sight on the Model 442. Given the minimal space at the rear of the topstrap and shallow trough that was the rear sight. Laughridge rounded out the channel so the Big Dot nestled nicely into the enlarged half-moon notch. Without my shooting glasses nothing was clearly in focus, but I could see the large white ball in daylight and the glowing tritium in darkness. I wasn’t ready to take the little gun squirrel hunting, but I was definitely a force to be reckoned with even in low-light conditions.
Laughridge added some other nice touches that should prove useful, such as chamfering the rear edges of the cylinder’s chambers, polishing the trigger and tuning the action. My first thought in looking at the finished Model 442 was the vertical face of the front sight would be prone to catch the tight edge of the front trouser pocket during the draw. While true, I think this is a non-issue since it only happens in small pockets on tight pants like jeans, and when the pocket is that small and tight. I have trouble getting the gun and my hand in and out of the pocket. With more realistic clothing it is fine, and besides, ramped front sight blades frequently have serrations that can snag clothing as well. Eliminating the front sight would alleviate the problem, but in a situation warranting the use of a concealable firearm. 1 want to see something at the front end of that barrel.
 
Smith and Wessson Model 442 in .38 Special

When wearing a holster just isn't practical. Smith & Wesson's Model 442 in .38 Special is an effective alternative to going unarmed. Its simple operation and reliability, combined with the shrouded hammer and light weight, allow it to be carried unobtrusively in a coat or cargo pants pocket.

Last But Not Least
Picking the third gun was even more difficult than the second. I decided it would be another semi-auto, and based upon Murphy’s Law (the good one learned in class), it would have to be a 1911. However. I wanted something a little smaller than the CQB for slightly-easier concealment and a little lighter for more comfort during prolonged carry. This meant I needed a pistol with a shorter barrel than the one on the Wilson and an alloy rather than steel frame.
I recently spent some time with a pair of little 1911s from Kimber and Springfield Armory and was very impressed with the offerings of both companies. In the March 2007 issue
I reviewed Kimber’s Aegis and Springfield Armory’s EMP, both in 9 mm. Ordinarily I would have selected a .45-caliber micro compact for my third concealed-carry gun. but those pistols opened my mind to the world of mini-nines. They are easier to shoot than a comparably sized .45. Since they’re 1911s, all the controls are the same. If I suffered some kind of injury that forced me to shoot with the weak hand, I would do much better with a 9 mm than a .45. Finally, if I found myself in a life-threatening situation, the outcome of which depended on one of the women in my family picking up my carry gun. I think our safety would be better served by a more manageable, less intimidating 9 mm.
Springfield Armory's EMP

Springfield Armory's Enhanced Micro Pistol (EMP) in 9 mm takes the final spot on the author's California concealed-carry permit. The ability to carry as many as 27 rounds of 9 mm ammunition should make him relatively comfortable when venturing into the urban wilderness.

For now. I plan to list the Springfield Armory EMP as the third gun on my permit. The differences between the EMP and Aegis are small, but the EMP does have an ambidextrous safety, making it easier to operate with the weak hand. Its magazine carries one more round than the Aegis (nine versus eight), and its frame is slightly shorter.
I’m familiar with the arguments regarding stopping power of the .45 versus that of 9 mm. which is why the .45-caliber CQB is my primary gun. Likewise, the .38 Special gives up something to the .357 Magnum, but as always, measuring or calculating stopping power requires a hit rather than just a very loud miss. Perhaps a heavier weight .357 Magnum snubbie might be better for the number two gun, allowing me to use .38 Special loads for practice while carrying magnum loads on the streets.
During the next year. I may change my mind about what guns I want on my concealed-carry permit, and the good news is that for a few bucks and a short qualification session using the new gun, firearms listed on an individual’s permit can be changed in California. What I am comfortable with is the XS sight on the front end of that little barrel. In fact I might put an XS sight on the third gun. and as long as I don’t change firearms, this would not require any modifications to my permit. As always, more low-light practice sessions are in order, particularly since cockroaches rarely come out to dine in bright light.
Smith and Wesson new subnose revolver
Another Option
 
S ince I started this project. Smith & Wesson introduced a new snub-nose revolver that has some of the custom touches Cylinder & Slide made to my Model 442. It’s the Model M&P 340, and at a weight halfway between my two prior options (13.3 ounces) it’s worth a look. Mean­while, if any of you aging warriors with dim­ming vision have a snub nose on which you might someday bet your life, you might want to give Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide a call.
 
Cylinder & Slide
245 East 4th Street Fremont, NE 68026 (402) 721-4277 www.cylinder-slide.com
 
 
Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Avenue Springfield, MA 01104 (413) 781-8300 www.smith-wesson.com
 
Springfield Armory
420 West Main Street Geneseo,1161254 (800) 680-6866 www.springfield-armory.com
 
Wilson Combat & Scattergun Technologies
2234 C.R. 719 Berryville, AR 72616 (800) 955-4856 www.wilsoncombat.com

Big Game Basics

 

Pulblished in “Shooting Illstrated” April 2007

O ne of the hazards associated with describing anything as “basic” is the preconceived notion that it implies marginal suitability or even sub­standard quality. Very few of us ask a real­tor to simply show us a basic house or tell a car salesman we want only a basic car. But many of the basic handguns on today’s market are exceptional products. Just look at the expensive custom guns you and your buddies own. Under all of those spe­cial touches there probably lies a Ruger or Smith & Wesson, or perhaps even a Freedom Arms revolver. Once we buy a gun, we tend to accessorize to suit our tastes or tailor the gun to more closely match our needs. Let’s establish some parameters and look at a few of the superb basic handguns avail­able today that are more than adequate for big-game hunting.

In its basic form right from the Ruger factory, the Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum is a solid handgun for big-game hunting. The author prefers the version with a 5’/2-ineh barrel, because it offers the best com­promise of velocity, portability and handling characteristics that moke accurate bullet placement easier.
Perhaps a good starting point is decid­ing which cartridges are suitable for big game. I know the .357 Magnum has taken big game, such as deer and feral hogs, and while I’ve used this caliber myself on both species, the animals’ deaths weren’t nearly as quick and humane as they should have been. In my opinion, big-game calibers start with the number “4,” and if neces­sary, I could spend the rest of my days happily hunting with the basic .41 and .44 Magnums. Using proper bullets, I’m not sure any animal could tell the difference between hits with the .41 Magnum versus the .44 Magnum. An advantage for the .44 is the incredible availability of ammuni­tion, even in small-town general stores and hunting locations overseas. The .44 is also available with heavier bullets, although these more specialized loads may not be found just anywhere. The .41 dishes out a tad less recoil, partly because it usually shoots lighter bullets and partly because there’s a bit more weight to the gun. Stan­dard bullets for the .41 Magnum are 210 grains, while the classic .44 Magnum load is 240 grains. With heavy, cast bullets, .41 Magnum loads feature slugs up around 265 grains and the .44 Magnum tops 300 grains. Stuffed with these heavyweights, both calibers provide great penetration.
To me, a basic big-game handgun has iron sights and is carried in a belt holster. I also believe a basic handgun is one I can effec­tively shoot offhand if necessary. I’ll take a rest whenever one is available, but I’m not passing up a reasonable standing shot if one is presented, and I can shoot iron sights much better offhand than any gun with a scope. My preference is for barrels from 4 3/4 to 6 inches in length, but I recognize one could make an argument for anything from 4 to 7 1/2 inches. I would have stipulated 5 to 6 inches, except the Ruger and Freedom Arms single actions have barrels that extend just to the end of the ejector housing. Per­haps my tighter tolerances are a function of advancing age, but it seems I can stretch my effective shooting range a bit using a 5-inch barrel rather than a 4-inch one. I’m certainly more comfortable with the sight picture offered by factory sights on a lon­ger barrel. On the upper end, a 6-inch barrel in a belt holster still makes it easy for me to take a seat while still-hunting without jamming the muzzle into the dirt. Access and comfort in a four-wheel drive, ATV or on a horse is greatly enhanced with a short holster, and as I get older, I spend more time letting something else do the walking.
Gun selection for the .41 Magnum is a bit more limited than for the .44 Magnum, which is not to say it is terribly restricted. Ruger offers the eternal Blackhawk in two barrel lengths. The short barrel touches my lower boundary of 4 3/4 inches, and while the other just misses my upper limit with its 61/2-inch tube, I’ll grant this gun a waiver. Both are six-shooters that represent excep­tional guns for the money and will still be running when your grandkids inherit them. For me, the short barrel packs more comfortably, while the extended sight radius of the longer barrel makes it easier to shoot. Velocity difference between the two barrel lengths shouldn’t be a concern, or you would be looking for a more special­ized hunting handgun.
Freedom Arms offers the .41 Magnum in two different frame sizes, and there are differences in the capabilities of the two guns. Both are single-action five-shoot­ers. The Model 83 in .41 Magnum has the same large frame and exacting tolerances as the company’s .454 Casull version, which means you can maximize the .41’s perfor­mance beyond other guns. Barrel lengths include both 4 3/4 and 6 inches, as well as shorter and longer tubes beyond my defi­nition of basic, The cylinder and frame of the Model 97 are not sized to accommodate long, heavy bullets, but the smaller gun is a joy to carry and is quite manageable with standard factory loads of 210-grain jacketed hollow points. While the Model 97 may lack the size of its big brother, manu­facturing tolerances are just as tight and ensure maximum accuracy.
Smith & Wesson offers some excellent double-action .41 Magnum revolvers that, although just outside my barrel-length parameters, may be perfect for you. There is a scandium framed 4-inch model that is as light as you’ll find in a .41 Magnum, and it’s called, oddly enough, the Model 357.

While the .44 Magnum (right) Is widely popular □mong handgunners pursuing big game, the .41 Magnum deserves credit for being an effec­tive cartridge as well. However, hunters traveling far from home should keep in mind that .44 Magnum ammunition is generally easier to find in local gunshops.

 The classic Model 57 has returned with a 4-inch barrel and blued finish. It’s the same size as the Model 357, but with its steel frame and classic adjustable sights, it’s more comfortable to shoot.

I would guess no hunting handgun is more common than the .44 Magnum, and the number of guns chambered for this caliber reflects its popularity. Freedom Arms doesn’t chamber the Model 97 in .44 Magnum, but it does offer the Model 83 in .44 Magnum with the same barrel lengths as the .41 Magnum. The Model 83 digests the heaviest factory loads with aplomb, and I’ve never seen a Freedom Arms revolver shoot loose from firing large quantities of full-power ammo. Ruger makes both single- and double-action revolvers in
.44 Magnum. The single actions are built on the Super Blackhawk frame, which is slightly larger than the Blackhawk and features the distinctive, flattened hammer spur. One of my favorites is the elegantly simple Super Blackhawk with 5 1/2-inch bar­rel, and if I ever get into that “one gun for survival” argument, this would be a candi­date. The incredibly strong, stainless steel Ruger Redhawk has been available over the years in a 5 1/2-inch barrel, and while the gun will digest any load, I have trouble managing the recoil with the small, wooden grip panels standard on the gun. Stepping up to Pachmayr rubber grips helps, but the overall grip becomes a bit large for my hand. But this revolver, and the new .44 Magnum Redhawk with a 4-inch barrel, are definitely worth considering.
Smith & Wesson continues its love affair with the .44 Magnum offering its N-frame revolvers in barrel lengths from 4 to 8 3/8inches. The 5- and 6-inch .44 Magnums meet all my criteria. In fact, the 5-inch Model 625 and Model 629 Classic would be my other candidates for the “one gun” argument. The 5-inch barrel offers a crisp, clean sight picture and superb bal­ance for offhand shooting. Their double-action triggers and, to a lesser degree, faster reloading capability may not be factors in hunting, but shooters who have mastered the double-action technique might prefer these guns. For the old-and-slow cadre of shooters like me, I’ll simply say their single-action trigger pulls can’t be beat for precision shooting.
I haven’t mentioned Taurus revolvers simply because I haven’t hunted with any of the company’s .41 or .44 Magnums, but I have hunted with a Raging Bull double-action revolver chambered in .480 Ruger and loved it. I’ve also shot two titanium Tracker revolvers in .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum, and have high praise for both. Their light weight, crisp, black sights, soft rubber grips and factory porting systems make them excellent candidates for a big-bore belt gun. However, I didn’t shoot them as well offhand as some of the other candi­dates, and that’s a big factor with me.
Finally, let me emphasize again how important it is to practice shooting off­hand. Besides the obvious fact that you may miss an opportunity trying to find a rest when one isn’t available, you will be pleased with the increased shooting skills and confidence that comes with your grow­ing ability to stand on your hind legs and shoot like a man.

Smith & Wesson’s Tactical Revolver

Published in Shooting Illustrated” January 2007 

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away— Texas in the mid-1960s—Skeeter Skelton wrote an article about pick­ing one handgun in the event the balloon went up and you had to head for the hills. It was one of those “food for thought” pieces written in Skeeter’s relaxed, story­telling style. He made some interesting comparisons between the guns and ammo available at that time and evaluated every­thing against a set of performance criteria oriented toward specific goals. The most important goal was long-term survival. He acknowledged that his final selection of a weapon was not a surprise, but rather could have been predicted from the outset. In the end, he chose his favorite revolver, the .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 27 with a 5-inch barrel.

I suspect if Skeeter went through that process today, he would pick the same gun with some 21st-century upgrades from Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center. The company’s custom contingent took the basic Model 27 design and injected some modern technology influenced by tacti­cal lessons learned during the last few decades. Thus the TRR8, perhaps the finest law enforcement revolver ever built.
Two features that Smith & Wesson did not change from Skeeter’s choice of 40 years ago are the caliber and barrel length. In the ongoing debate about the stopping power of various handgun calibers, the 125-grain jacketed hollow point fired from a .357 Magnum has been acknowledged as having a superior one-shot stop record. Key to that success has been a barrel long enough to generate sufficient velocities.
TRR8 Revolver from mioth & Wesson

It's based on a 5-inch Model 27, but the TRR8 revolver from Smith & Wesson's Performance Center features an array of modifications intended tor tactical duty. An eight-shot cylinder, Hogue rubber grips and removable accessory rails tailor the .357 Magnum wheelgun to serious operators.

There are other good reasons for putting a 5-inch barrel on the TRR8, such as having mounting rails with enough length to han­dle various optics, lights and lasers, but terminal ballistic performance is the foun­dation. If, like Skeeter, you think a 5-inch barrel is the perfect length for an N-frame .357 Smith & Wesson, I certainly won’t argue the point.  You’ll notice some striking differences between the original Model 27 and the TRR8, and all of them were carefully defined and designed. The TRR8 comes with Hogue rubber grips. Underneath the grips is a scandium alloy, round-butt frame that has been “converted” to a square butt by virtue of the Hogue grips. If you prefer round-butt grips, you can get a pair from Hogue that follow the contour of the gun. For me, the preference is based on the balance of the particular barrel length. Any Smith & Wesson N-frame barrel 5 inches or less in length feels best with round-butt Hogue grips. Regardless of shape, I like the softening effect of the Hogue grips on any Smith & Wesson generating moderate to heavy recoil, or on one that I’ll be firing in a reasonably rapid double-action mode.
At first glance, the TRR8’s cylinder may result in a double take. There are eight charge holes as opposed to the traditional six on the Model 27 of yore. If you think the cylinder walls look a bit thin, rest assured Smith & Wesson has run all kinds of analy­ses that show the stainless steel cylinder is more than adequate for the pressures generated. An interesting aspect of the cylinder’s design is the charge holes are canted inward almost like they’re pigeon-toed, which leaves more steel around the outside of the cartridge’s front end where the higher pressure points are located. The chamber cant is so slight it has no effect on the bullet’s passage from cylin­der to barrel, noted Tom Kelly, manager of Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center.
Tightly fitted to the barrel/cylinder gap, the forcing cone is more than adequate to handle the transition. Just above the front of the cylinder, located on the topstrap, is a J-shaped piece of hardened spring steel that deflects the flame produced by hot gases and prevents it from cutting the top-strap. While that little piece of steel seems out of place on a Performance Center gun, it does preserve the topstrap.
J-shaped plate

A J-shaped plate of hardened spring steel located above the cylinder gap prevents hot gases from cutting the topstrap. It may look odd, but it has proven to be effective in preserving the structural Integrity of scandium-frame guns.

There is one feature on the Model 27 that has bugged me forever, and it has been retained on the TRR8. The extension of the barrel’s forcing cone into the frame limits the length of ammunition you can use in the gun. The shooter must either use lighter bullet weights or bury heavier bullets deeper into the cartridge case, which reduces powder capacity. Skeeter had to use .38 Special cases to load the heavy cast bullets he liked.
The explanation from Kelly was right on target. “Extending the forcing cone into the frame reduces freebore and enhances accuracy,” he said. I started to mention the limits this places on achieving high velocities with heavier bullets but remem­bered the TRR8 is a tactical revolver, mean­ing it’s designed around the 125-grain jacketed-hollow-point ammunition that gave the .357 Magnum its reputation for one-shot stops.
Forward of the cylinder there are lots of changes, such as all kinds of flats rather than the traditional rounded surfaces. What you see, though, is not the barrel, but rather a titanium shroud that fits over the barrel. Beneath the shroud is a custom German rifle barrel with eight lands and grooves, and it is screwed into the frame. The shroud has a keyway access near the breech and is locked in place at the muzzle, resulting in a barrel that is free-floating on the sides and anchored at both ends. This is not a system that allows you to adjust the barrel/cylinder gap; it’s fixed at the factory. Since the shroud is perpendicular to the cylinder face, it ensures any hard­ware mounted on the rails is parallel with the bore axis.
Titanium barrel

The TRR8's titanium barrel shroud is drilled and tapped on its upper and lower flats to accept two accessory rails included with the gun. The top flat takes a Weaver-style rail for mounting optics, while a Picatlnny-style rail attaches beneath the barrel for the addi­tion of lights and lasers.

You’ll notice four screw holes on top of the barrel shroud and three on the bottom near the muzzle. The top holes accept a Weaver-style rail for mounting the optic of your choice, while the holes under­neath take a shorter, Picatinny-style rail for a light or laser. Bushnell’s Holosight fits nicely onto the upper rail without

disturbing the front and rear sights. The iron sights remain dialed in, but in order to use them you have to remove both the Holosight and the rail on which it is mounted. The lower rail has more flexibil­ity in that a weapon light can be quickly slid onto it for use in darkness and later removed so the revolver can be holstered with the rail still attached. The iron sights are outstanding and consist of a black, adjustable rear and Patridge front blade with a gold dot. In adequate light, the black front blade presents a crisp, clear sight picture with no interference from the gold bead. In dim light, the gold bead is highly visible and more than satisfac­tory for close-range, defensive shooting. I am more accustomed to shooting with iron sights simply because that’s what I mostly use on handguns, yet with all the hardware installed, the TRR8 felt completely man­ageable and comfortable on the range.
Smith & Wesson went one step further by installing a ball-and-detent lockup in the TRR8’s yoke. Although not a new idea, this lockup is exceptionally strong due to a slight change in its design. The ball is offset 30 degrees from the detent. As the gun wears over the course of a few thou­sand full-house loads, the ball goes deeper into the detent, locking things up even tighter. Finally, all metal parts on the gun, including the tactical rails, have a black, bead-blasted finish. Kelly compared this to an expensive custom paint job on a car. “It’s nearly indestructible,” he said.
What I really wanted to do with this gun was take it on a small-game safari in the Southwest after rabbits and javelina. But the timing wasn’t right, and that’s not the gun’s real mission, so I visited a local range where many IDPA, IPSC and cowboy matches are held. The range trips revealed some interesting things. Shooting double action at 50 feet with iron sights, I could easily keep all shots in the upper portion TQ-15 target. I ran something like eight cylinders full of different ammo through the new revolver and only drifted a couple of shots slightly wide when I increased the rate of fire beyond my pro­ficiency threshold. It didn’t matter if the light was on the rail or not; the gun was quite easy to handle. Three other semi-auto pistol aficionados worked the TRR8 and loved it. Two of them—range masters and match directors—both expressed an interest in buying the gun. Both of these guys have produced a lot of ooohs and aaahs over some of the revolvers I bring to their range, but neither has ever wanted to buy one. Is this perhaps the beginning of a mass return to wheelguns?
 
Fact is, the TRR8 was developed around real police department needs. There have been occasions where entry teams shoot­ing semi-autos around shields have expe­rienced slides locking back when they struck the shield during cycling. That doesn’t happen with revolvers. With eight rounds in the cylinder, we’re not giving up much to a single-stack semi-auto. The aver­age guy might lose some time on reloads, but with practice, some mighty fast cyl­inder charges can be accomplished with the moon clips that accompany the TRR8. Weighing 35 ounces, it’s 9 ounces lighter than an all-steel Model 27 and close to the weight of a steel self-loader.
The TRR8 is a Performance Center cata­log item, so it will remain available rather than being a limited-run firearm. I’m not rushing out to sell all my 1911s, but I’m very intrigued by Smith & Wesson’s tactical revolver. I think it would make a much bet­ter option than a semi-automatic for many shooters. Plus I can’t get that small-game safari out of my mind.