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

Pocket Protectors

 

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007

Pocketprotectors

Pocket handguns are not a new concept. Even in the cap-and-ball era there were small revolvers designated as pocket pistols. Looking at these guns, two things are immediately obvious: First, fast reloads were not an option, and second, pockets were apparently much larger in those days. Many of these pistols were simply single shots with no pretense of offering any follow-up capability for the user.

During the latter half of the 19th century, when self-contained cartridges were replacing caps and balls. Smith & Wesson and other manufacturers made some very small revolvers that were the forerunners of today”s snub-nose revolvers. As we rolled into the 20th century, several companies such as Colt, and I believe Savage, offered some compact semi­automatic pistols for those choosing not to announce they carried a handgun. But the epitome of old-time pocket pistols for most Americans was the two-shot derringer with over-and-under barrels. Hollywood made these hideout guns famous in numerous Westerns, and even today, cowboy action shoots frequently feature a special event for them. If you’re willing to settle for just two shots to resolve hostilities, the old-style derringer with its flat outline and compact size offers advantages unsurpassed by many of today’s concealed-carry handguns. However, besides being limited to two shots, these derringers are single-action pistols requiring the shooter to manually cock the hammer each time before firing. They not only lack firepower, they are much slower into action than double-action revolvers.
In the 1930s, many people utilized 2-inch-barreled revolvers. Colts and Smith & Wessons filled the hands of cops, bootleggers and private eyes on the movie screens. Initially, the short barrel was the only real attempt to downsize these revolvers for hideout duty, with nothing being done to reduce frame size and further facilitate pocket carry. Both companies had six-shot revolvers with external hammers, and while the cops were sometimes shown with holsters, I don’t ever recall seeing a bad guy draw a short revolver from leather. While longer barreled revolvers were occasionally carried tucked in the waistband, snubbies emerged from a pocket or were sometimes fired from within. At that time, the nylon pocket holster had not yet been invented, and while a few really clever guys might have utilized a couple pieces of leather inside the pocket to protect their clothes and facilitate getting the gun into action, I doubt this was the case since clothes then were made of heavier material like wool, and fashions seemed to dictate a more casual look.
J-Frame Revolver

Smith & Wesson reduced both capacity—five rounds instead of six—and frame size in its J-frame revolvers. Although more concealable, heavy loads are also more difficult to control.

Smith & Wesson’s J-frame revolver reduced both frame size and capacity, giving the savvy shooter a smaller pocket pistol that carried five rounds instead of six. The smaller grip frame further helped conceal the pistol but at the expense of making the gun more difficult to control when shooting the standard 158-grain .38 Special police loads of that era. Subsequent development of more sophisticated self-defense ammunition helped alleviate this problem, but at the time the downsized frame was a decision that proved to be brilliant over the next several decades. With a couple additional refinements, the five-shot J-frame-size revolver is the pocket pistol of choice for millions today, doing double-duty as the primary self-defense gun in many homes.

One of the other favorite handguns during the early 20th century was the Colt 1911. You couldn’t classify it as a pocket pistol, but its flat profile made it more comfortable to carry tucked into a waistband or belt than a revolver. Colt picked up on this market and began producing the Commander. With a slightly shorter barrel and an alloy frame, it was lighter in weight and less bulky than its all-steel big brother, and knowledgeable gunnies capitalized on its virtues. Some cursed the Commander, claiming its alloy frame wouldn’t take the abuse of continuous full-power loads. Perhaps someone destroyed a Commander in prolonged firing under a controlled and monitored test program, but I don’t remember reading about it. Several clever gunsmiths recognized the advantages of customized 1911s and began chopping them to make them more concealable. Ultimately, manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, and the result is an array of incredibly compact and durable 1911s with 3-inch barrels and lightweight frames made of exotic metals.
Late in the 20th century, a couple of major developments occurred in the handgun world that would bring about a new class of pocket pistols. One was the semi-auto that accepted double-stack magazines, and the other was the use of lightweight polymer frames. Beretta‘s winning of the U.S. military handgun contract cemented the high-capacity pistol’s place in the market, while Glock revolutionized handgun design with high-tech materials. Other companies started manufacturing both wide-body and synthetic-frame pistols, and many produced downsized guns intended for the pocket. While some of these have been quite successful in terms of sales, none are as well suited for pocket carry as the compact revolver, at least in this old dog’s opinion. With that thought, let’s start by looking at the revolver pocket pistols available on today’s market.
 
Spinning Wheels
 
Smith & Wesson has long been the master of the small revolvers, and its current offerings have never been better. The top of the company’s line is superb. I’m talking about its scandium wheelguns that reduce weight to 12 ounces while still providing the power of .357 Magnum loads. In my mind. Smith & Wesson’s quintessential pocket pistol is the Model 340PD, a 12-ounce masterpiece with a 2-inch barrel and an internal hammer. With no hammer to cock, it can only be fired double-action, which is the proper technique with a close-quarters, self-defense revolver. It can be fired from within a jacket pocket with minimal chance of malfunctioning. This technique is not recommended, nor is it suitable for achieving pinpoint accuracy, but for hostile encounters occurring at touchy-feely distances, it’s something that could save your life. If you draw the revolver before firing—the recommended technique— the hammerless design minimizes the possibility of snagging the pistol on pocket edges or linings. A compromise between hammerless guns, or rather those with internal hammers, and guns with external hammers are Smith & Wesson’s Model 638 (an alloy-frame .38 Special +P) and Model 649 (a steel-frame .357 Magnum), both of which have a small, rounded portion of the hammer protruding through a slot in the top of the frame. The company calls this the “Bodyguard” frame, and it minimizes the possibility of snagging the hammer during the draw, but still allows the revolver to be cocked single-action to make a precise shot.
Example guns
The downside of scandium revolvers is their cost, which is nearly double that of a similar alloy-frame gun and saves only 3 ounces in weight (12 ounces versus 15 ounces). Stepping up to a comparable pistol in steel takes the weight from 15 ounces to 23 ounces but does reduce felt recoil. Smith & Wesson’s Model 60 has been around for decades and was. in fact, the company’s first stainless steel pistol. The version available today can handle full-power .357 Magnum loads, and housed in a pocket holster that masks telltale bulges, the 2-inch workhorse is still an outstanding pocket pistol. When shooting full-house .357 Magnums, none of these small revolvers offer a pleasant experience, but practice ammo can be tailored to your tolerance for any of these. In addition, some of the .38 Special self-defense loads on the market are designed for settling serious social disputes.
Taurus has stepped into the pocket pistol void created when Colt ceased production of its double-action revolvers. Like Smith & Wesson, Taurus offers a variety of pocket pistols in both steel and alloy so the weight of a gun with a 2-inch barrel ranges from just under 16 ounces to 25 ounces. While the majority of the company’s sales in this style of revolver are .38 Special and .357 Magnum, it also makes a pocket pistol in .32 H&R Magnum. The latter handgun with its 2-inch barrel weighs less than 20 ounces and holds six rounds. Although the .32 H&R Magnum is considered by many to be too small for self-defense, it is not to be trifled with and it offers a degree of parity to those with the kinds of injuries or infirmities that prevent them from mastering the .38 or .357. On the upper end of power. Taurus offers a 2’/2-inch-barreled Model 415 chambered for .41 Magnum in its Tracker series of revolvers. This big boy holds five shots and weighs 30 ounces. It tends to exceed available dimensions of the pockets on most street clothes, but if you have a bulky jacket and can carry the weight, go for it. Amongst learned pistoleros. a .41 Magnum round, even modestly loaded, provokes very little debate on stopping power. A couple of other interesting Taurus options include factory porting and some soft grip materials to tame recoil. Nowhere on my list of things to do is there an entry for tiring a ported revolver from inside my pocket, but porting is certainly an appreciated accessory during range sessions. For those who prefer to compromise with a shrouded hammer design. Taurus makes the Model 651 and Model 851.
Charter Arms, which has been in and out of the market, is back with a couple of unique ideas. It now makes a left-handed revolver—chambered in .38 Special +P—called the Undercover Southpaw. This mirror-image gun holds five rounds, has a 2-inch barrel and weighs 12 ounces. It has an all-aluminum, one-piece frame with a three-point cylinder lockup system. Righties need not panic. The revolver can be fired with either hand, but the cylinder-release latch is on the right side of the frame. The cylinder swings out on the right side so a left-handed shooter can hold onto the gun with his shooting hand while reloading with his support hand. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, unless you’re left-handed.
Example guns
Demonstrating a rather clever bit of marketing nomenclature. Charter Arms has named its snub-nose .32 H&R Magnum the Undercoverette. It has a regular hammer and 2-inch barrel, holds five shots and weighs 19 ounces. An Off Duty model, while competing in weight with the Smith & Wesson scandium revolvers at 12 ounces, will handle .38 Special +P but not .357 Magnum. And Charter Arms would not be Charter Arms without its trademark Bulldog revolver. This is a very serious self-defense handgun that holds five rounds of .44 Special, has a 2/.-inch barrel and weighs 22 ounces. There are a variety of excellent hollow-point loads for the .44 Special today, making the Bulldog rival the 1911 in everything except round capacity and reloading speed. Welcome back Charter Arms.
 
Secretive Semis
 
That brings us to the semi-automatic handguns. Over the last five years. Shooting Illustrated has done a number of articles on 1911s, including some on the ultra-compact .45 and 9 mm pistols. Considering the incredible popularity of the 1911, one would have to consider the small versions as pocket pistol candidates. But as much as I love these guns. I would not select one as my first choice for pocket carry. Having a cocked-and-locked 1911 with its short trigger pull loose in my pocket, particularly a trouser pocket, would make me very nervous. Even a pocket holster doesn’t seem to offer enough constraint given the typical body movements one generates in a normal day. In fact, the thought of any semi-auto with a short trigger pull in my pocket gives me chills. That said, there are some 1 would consider for pocket carry.
Last June. I  reviewed in my “Handguns” column a couple of polymer-frame pistols from Kahr and was particularly impressed with the CW9. I’ve always liked the steel-frame Kahr pistols, but they are rather heavy for the pocket. The polymer CW9. however, weighs less than 16 ounces, putting it in the class of alloy-frame revolvers. Even lighter and more suited for pocket carry is the company’s PM9 with a 3-inch barrel and an overall length of 5.3 inches. That’s more than an inch shorter than Smith & Wesson’s 340PD. The PM9’s standard magazine that sits flush with the bottom of the grip frame holds six rounds of 9 mm and keeps the height of the semi-auto to just 4 inches, but the gun also comes with a seven-round extended magazine for those having a little more room in their pockets and the need for someplace to rest their pinky during firing.
Width is an important factor to consider when you are looking for a pistol to carry in your pocket, and with a slide that is a slim .9 inch wide, the PM9 rides nicely in its hiding place without being bulky. The PM9’s steel slide has several near-vertical serrations that facilitate manual slide operation, but the edges are relatively smooth to minimize the possibility of snagging the gun while drawing it from the pocket. Like the rest of the pistols in the Kahr lineup, the PM9 is double action only and utilizes the locked-breech design with an internal striker and no external safety. It keeps the pistol streamlined and makes it fast to fire—just pull the trigger—but there is no second-strike capability. If your first round fails to fire, you’ll have to manually rack the slide to cock the action. Molded, rather aggressive checkering on the frontstrap and backstrap along with stippling on the grip sides help hold the pistol still in the pocket while offering good control during firing, but since these surfaces are covered by the shooting hand during the draw, there is little resistance when removing the gun. The PM9 is a potent little pistol that will fit comfortably in almost any pocket.
Kel-Tec P32

The Kel-Tec P-32's small size makes it an ideal candidate for pocket carry. Although some consider its .32 ACP chambering less than ideal for self defense, the little powerhouse holds seven rounds and weighs just 6.6 ounces.

Kel-Tec makes some interesting and very economical handguns that offer great potential as pocket pistols. Featuring a steel slide and barrel, an aluminum frame and polymer grips, the locked-breech. double-action-only PF-9 weighs slightly less than 13 ounces, is chambered for 9 mm and has a magazine capacity of seven rounds. Kel-Tec’s P-l 1 is made like the PF-9. but weighs 14 ounces and holds 10 rounds of 9 mm. Both have 3.1-inch barrels. The PF-9 is less than 1 ounce heavier than the scandium-frame Smith & Wesson and the P-l 1 weighs an ounce less than the alloy-frame Smiths. If you have tiny pockets. Kel-Tec makesan 8.3-ounce pistol that holds six rounds of .380 ACP and a 6.6-ounce pistol that holds seven rounds of .32 ACP. While neither of these calibers are near the top of the list of self-defense handgun cartridges, the P-3AT and P-32 housing them are certainly in the proper size range for a pocket pistol and may offer as much power as some shooters can handle. If concealment is one of your primary goals. Kel-Tec deserves a good look before making your decision.

Taurus has a line of semi-autos called the Millennium Pro that bears consideration. Available chamberings go from .32 ACP up to .45 ACP with all the in-between cartridges you would expect. Weight doesn’t vary much with the .380 ACP hitting the scales at less than 19 ounces, and the .45 ACP at 22 ounces. Capacity of all guns is high due to their double-stack magazines, but you pay for the firepower in increased size that may take the guns beyond pocket dimensions.
At least one candidate in the guns I have mentioned should fill your need for a pocket pistol. I apologize if I’ve missed any of your favorite handguns, and if you find your solution somewhere else, my feelings won’t be hurt. The important things are to stay safe and to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and the means to do it can fit right in your pocket. 

Para Enters the GAP

Shooting IllustratedPublished in “Shooting Illustrated”, May 2007

It’s a simple formula: If you want to increase the number of rounds carried in a pistol, you must increase the size of the magazine. Unless you have a pistol like a Broomhandle Mauser, you’ll also have to increase the size of the grip frame that houses the magazine. Shrinking the size of the ammunition allows a reduction in grip size, but that normally requires a reduction in bullet diameter, and many of us adhere to the principle that big bullets stop hos­tile behavior faster than smaller ones. To be more specific, you can’t make .45-caliber pistols smaller than those in 9 mm or .40 caliber, given the same frame size and bar­rel length. If your hands are too small to control a high-capacity .45, you’ll have to settle for a handgun of lesser caliber.

Gun and Magazine

A .45-caliber hole in the muzzle of the Para-Ordnance CCO GAP belies its shortened grip frame. Chambered in .45 GAP, the pistol comfortably puts big-bore firepower into smaller hands.

Bullets

Though the .45 GAP case is about .1 inch shorter than that of the .45 ACP, the stubby cartridge gives up little in ballistic perfor­mance. The muzzle velocity of the Federal Low Recoil 185-grain Hydra-Shok .45 GAP load (left) is listed as 1,090 feet per second, while the cartridge pushes a Winchester WinClean 230-grain brass-enclosed-base bullet to 875 feet per second.

About four years ago, Glock bent the rules when it introduced a .45-caliber pistol with a smaller grip size. Glock simply shortened the .45 ACP case by about .1 inch, and the result was a cartridge that could still shoot standard .45-caliber bullets weighing from 185 to 230 grains but fit in grip frames originally designed for a 9 mm. The new cartridge was called the .45 GAP, which stands for Glock Automatic Pistol. Federal developed and produced the first ammuni­tion for the new cartridge, and Winchester started manufacturing loads the next year. For marketing purposes as much as any­thing else—and so no one could say the .45 GAP was inferior to the .45 ACP—both ammo companies worked hard to duplicate the old cartridge’s ballistics in the shorter case and pretty much succeeded. Since the laws of physics do not allow for any free lunches, there is an enhanced recoil impulse to get this performance from the smaller case, but it’s not enough to bother anyone accustomed to shooting the .45 ACP. The resulting Glock 37 did have a smaller grip, which in turn offered more control to shooters with smaller hands.

Para-Ordnance apparently believes the cartridge will sell, or at least that it has enough merit that a Para pistol chambered in .45 GAP will sell. The company’s initial model strikes me as being an excellent can­didate for the stumpy .45 for a couple of rea­sons. First, it is built on Para’s Light Double Action (LDA) platform. Without dwelling on all the LDA features, it is a double-action-only 1911 that requires just a slightly longer reach from the backstrap to the trigger than do standard-size 1911s. Because of that, folks with small- to medium-sized hands or short fingers should realize even greater benefits from the shortened grip frame of the .45 GAP pistol. The LDA trigger needs a lon­ger pull than a single-action 1911, but not nearly as long as a double-action revolver. Additionally, stock Para LDAs have a much smoother and lighter pull than out-of-the-box double-action revolvers, so with the shortened grip frame and proper trigger reset, follow-up shots should be greatly facilitated for shooters with tiny paws.
Para offers the .45 GAP in its Compan­ion Carry Option (CCO). It’s an all-steel gun with a single-stack magazine that holds seven rounds. With one in the pipe, that’s eight rounds of full-power, .45-caliber ammo in a downsized pistol.
The barrel is 3 1/2  inches long. A three-dot sight system consists of a semi-fixed rear and a blade front dovetailed into the slide. A screw in the top of the rear sight can be loosened to provide windage adjustment. The CCO GAP has the flush hammer typi­cal of Para LDA pistols, but it also features a bobbed beavertail safety, which is a big advantage in a gun that may be carried inside clothing. Two other very appropriate features are the grooves on the frontstrap and the bumper pads on the two magazines furnished with the pistol. The frontstrap grooves are like shallow half moons that help control the gun in rapid fire but, when held lightly, still permit the shooter to change his grip. Para calls these Grip-tor grasping grooves. The Griptor grooves, a checkered backstrap and the slight grip extension provided by the bumper pads combine to enhance the shooter’s grip of the gun and make recoil quite manageable.
Almost all testing with the CCO GAP was done with Winchester’s 230-grain full-metal-jacket loads. That’s partly because it was most of the .45 GAP ammo I had available, but also because I thought a 230-grain bullet would provide more of an apples-to-apples comparison with .45 ACP performance and controllability. I did fire a few rounds of Federal’s 185-grain jack­eted hollow points to check reliability of the gun. In truth, if I were carrying a .45 GAP for self-protection, it would be loaded with 185-grain jacketed hollow points for maximum performance. Reli­ability with both loads was 100 percent, but before saddling up with jacketed hol­low points for the streets, I would spend more time with this ammo for familiarity and total confidence.
I managed some range time with Barry Dueck, a former Marine and nationally ranked IPSC multi-gun shooter. Prior to our day on the range, he hadn’t spent much time with Para’s LDA pistols. A seri­ous competitor, his first test was to run the gun against the clock. Specifically, he checked split times of the CCO GAP versus a single-action 1911 he uses in competi­tion. The splits ran about .02 second slower for the LDA than for the standard 1911 during the first couple of runs. As he warmed up, split times on both guns came down, although the difference between the two guns still remained about the same.
None of Dueck’s shots wandered outside a 4-inch-diameter circle in the middle of his target. He concluded that with addi­tional range time, he could compete with an LDA, and he did not notice any adverse effects associated with the reduced grip size and slightly higher recoil impulse of the .45 GAP cartridge. More importantly, with absolutely no prompting on my part, he said that the smaller frame LDA gun in an honest .45 caliber would be outstanding for inside-the-waistband carry.
gun in hand

The CCO GAP is a double-action-only pistol, but the LDA mechanism keeps the distance from the backstrap to the trigger nearly as short as that of a single-action 1911. Shooters don't need big mitts to easily reach the trigger.

I also put the CCO GAP in the hands of for­mer Navy gunner Alena Gomez. This young lady is a fan of the 1911 and owns a couple ranging in size from a scandium-frame Smith & Wesson to a long-slide Springfield in .460 Rowland. She enjoys shooting them and has no trouble controlling the full-size 1911s, even in a rapid-fire string. Gomez stands a towering 5-foot-nothing and has extremely small hands. The idea was to see whether she could comfortably reach the LDA’s controls. She was completely taken with Para’s LDA trigger and felt very much in control of the pistol.

I should note that both Dueck and Gomez went through their drills starting with the Para already in hand. As a high-level competitor, I would expect Dueck to suffer a slight loss in speed learning to draw a gun with a different grip-to-trigger configuration, even though it’s still a 1911. I’d also expect him to overcome that dif­ference very quickly. I doubt Gomez, as a recreational shooter and someone who is in the process of obtaining a concealed carry permit, would have any more problems mastering a Para LDA carried concealed versus a standard 1911.
It’s still not clear whether the .45 GAP will survive in today’s competitive market. Its closest rival, the .45 ACP, is the most successful defensive cartridge in history, at least with regard to long-term survivability. Are there enough people with tiny hands concerned about self-defense to make the cartridge a commercial success? Would they prefer a small-frame LDA pistol to other can­didates? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but Para-Ordnance has created a dandy pistol to address these issues. Any­one who fails to try the CCO GAP may miss a potential favorite self-defense handgun.
Para-Ordnance
980 Tapscott Road
Scarborough, Ontario, Canada M1X1C3
                 (416) 297-7855   (416) 297-7855             (416) 297-7855   (416) 297-7855

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.

Compact Nines

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” March 2007

It’s become trendy in recent years to trash any defensive handgun with a  bore diameter less than .4 inch. Slogans abound, but one of my favorites is, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.”
It would be interesting to find a genu­ine ghost whisperer to interview a few of the people on the receiving end of a prop­erly placed 9 mm. I’d be very surprised if any of those folks would categorize it as a mouse gun.
Admittedly, discussions of defensive handguns and calibers usually focus on their ability to produce one-shot stops. The argument for a defensive handgun with a bore diameter of at least .4 inch stems from the basic premise that big bores are more effective stoppers than small ones. With­out debating this premise, which ignores the excellent one-shot stop record of the .357 Magnum, it only holds true if the defender is able to properly place his or her shots. I would suggest that a miss with a .45-caliber handgun has less chance of stopping an assailant than a torso hit with a 9 mm.

In many cases, a criminal has been stopped by the mere presence of a hand­gun with no shots being fired. I’m not sure whether these occasions involved big- or small-bore handguns, but I do believe a potential victim’s demonstrated confidence when holding a handgun has a big influ­ence on an aggressor’s decision whether to stop or press the attack.

The confidence level of most citizens relates directly to their proficiency. Since 9 mm handguns are usually mastered more quickly than big bores, particularly when training and practice sessions are minimal, confidence begins to show earlier. This is especially true for a person of small stature or with small hands.
Early attempts to popularize the 9 mm for self-defense focused on large handguns with high-capacity magazines—an approach driven by the police market and its use of external-carry pistols. When Florida opened up its concealed-carry policies and started a nationwide trend, smaller guns began receiv­ing more attention. But the double-stack frames of the high-capacity nines, while read­ily available, weren’t the optimum approach.
 
A few companies offered some slimmer, single-stack guns, but these candidates didn’t possess the inherently desirable characteristics of the classic 1911. Now two major American companies, Kimber and Springfield, are making downsized 1911s in 9 mm, and while both guns are distinctly 1911, there are some noteworthy differences. Unlike many of the new hand­guns I have the opportunity to evaluate, both guns had some run time in the hands of a professional trainer and a couple of new shooters.

Above: The EMP magazines had base pads and held one more round than the Aegis II, but the Aegis II had checkering on the frontstrap. While features varied, reliability of both was flawless, and shooters may have a difficult time choosing one over the other

We’ll look at Springfield’s EMP first. EMP stands for Enhanced Micro Pistol, which is a bit of an understatement when you look at the major changes Springfield has made to its regular micro pistols. While the EMPs sport a 3-inch barrel like the company’s .45 ACP Micro model, its slide has been shortened, which required shortening a number of other components like the firing pin, firing pin spring and extractor.
Knowing they were onto a good thing, Springfield’s engineers shortened and nar­rowed the frame—the single most impor­tant component in the interface between shooter and handgun. This required short­ening the trigger bow, the end result being what Springfield refers to as a short-action 1911. While this was a substantial re-engi­neering effort, it made excellent sense when building a gun around a cartridge smaller than the .45 ACP.
Springfield had already successfully built a 1911 around the .45 GAP cartridge, which simplified the 9 mm project. The difference in frame sizes between the EMP and a standard 1911 is obvious when looking at the base of the frames with the magazines removed.
Springfield spared no expense in opti­mizing the EMP for concealed carry. All the sharp edges were radiused and fixed sights with tritium inserts have been dovetailed into the stainless steel slide. The frame is a blackened, anodized alloy with a beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safe­ties. Thin, cocobolo grips are checkered and have the attractive Springfield logo. The magazine holds nine rounds and has a small bumper pad extension providing plenty of room for the pinky finger on the shooting hand, even for those with larger paws. Overall it’s an extremely handsome, practical concealed-carry pistol.

Springfield includes a molded holster and magazine carrier with every EMP. That makes the package ready to go as a concealed-carry pistol, right off the shelf.

Kimber took a slightly different approach, perhaps because it had not downsized a 1911 frame for the .45 GAP. Rather than changing the basic frame and slide dimen­sions, the company took a 3-inch barrel/ slide and shorter frame, like those used on its Ultra Carry models, and installed the minimum-size components that would still make a fully reliable gun.
The result is Kimber’s 9 mm Aegis II, a two-tone gun like the EMP but with some slightly different touches. First, the Aegis II has reversed colors, a blackened stainless steel slide and an anodized alu­minum-alloy frame with a brushed finish. Unlike the EMP’s rounded hammer, the Aegis II has a bobbed hammer that does not extend beyond the back of the slide in the down position.
While both guns have serrations on their backstraps, only the Aegis II has a check­ered frontstrap for better grip control. At the rear of the slide, there are four, wide vertical cuts on the Aegis II and nine thin serrations slanted rearward on the EMP. The Aegis II has a single thumb safety for right-handed shooters and has been de­horned for concealed-carry market.
I’ve always liked the extra purchase provided by checkering on the frontstrap of 1911s, but given the minimum recoil of the 9 mm, it would not be a necessity for me on either of these guns. I also like the wider slide serrations on the Aegis II but can’t personally justify a need for a bobbed hammer. I believe in having ambidextrous safeties for “just in case” scenarios, but I wouldn’t get into any serious arguments regarding their necessity on a concealed-carry pistol.
The wood grips on the Aegis II are remarkably thin, and when combined with the slightly longer grip frame, they feel a bit narrower and slightly longer than those on the EMP. The bases of the Kimber magazines have been drilled for bumper pads, although they are not provided, so the magazines fit flush with the bottom of the frame. With the 9 mm’s minimal recoil, the lack of a definitive home for the pinky finger does not pose a control problem. The Aegis II magazine holds eight rounds.

The difference in frame sizes may not be great, but the grip frame circumference of the Springfield EMP (left) has been shortened. On the other hand, the Aegis II has slightly thinner grip panels, allowing both pistols to handle and feel very similar.

Like the compact .45 ACPs, the mini 9 mms utilize double recoil springs and a guide rod. For someone as clumsy as I am, disassembling and cleaning these guns is akin to learning to juggle sharp objects, but these features are regarded as neces­sary on compact 1911s, and I am getting more proficient.The reliability summary for both guns is simple: no failures in either gun with any ammo. I was helping a friend who had invited some family and friends for a day at the range. Attendees included a mother and two sons who had never fired hand­guns before. In loading one of the compact nines, the oldest boy did not release the slide but rather eased it forward, resulting in the slide not going fully into battery. A light push on the back of the slide resolved the problem, and when the correct load­ing technique was demonstrated, it never happened again. This was the only problem encountered during any of the range ses­sions with both guns. Interestingly, the hand sizes of the mother and sons varied from small on the youngest boy to medium on the mother to rather large on the teen­ager. All were quite comfortable shooting the small-frame nines, and while their com­bined experience was quite limited, their shooting was much better than I expected and their verbal inputs were honest and reflected no personal agendas.

As a Gunsite instructor, II Ling New spends i | a lot of time on the range. Although she usually uses full-size, double-stack handguns In her classes, she found the 9 mm Springfield EMP to her liking.

At the other end of the expertise spec­trum was Gunsite Academy instructor II Ling New. At something over 5 feet tall, New does not have large hands, and while she regularly utilizes full-size, double-stack pistols in her classes, she liked both compact nines and the enhanced controlla­bility the smaller caliber provided in rapid fire. She preferred the smoother, shallow slide serrations of the EMP. Recognizing the enhanced control offered by the check­ering on the frontstrap of the Kimber, she felt it was more than needed on the lower recoiling 9 mm, particularly in an extended practice or training scenario.

I did get some personal time with the compacts and was quite impressed. The usual snappy recoil of mini .45s is absent with the nines, and recovery time is much improved. Ammo fired included lots of Black Hills full metal jacket along with some Winchester and Federal jacketed hol­low points.
Perhaps the best summary I can give is to say that I rate these guns so highly both have become candidates for the final gun on my concealed-carry license when it’s issued. Deciding which one will require more range time with both guns before making such an important decision. But that’s another story.

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.

The Bodacious .454

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” February 2007

W hen the .454 Casull was intro­duced in 1983, it instantly won the title for most powerful revolver cartridge. With operating pres­sures a good 50 percent higher than the magnums on the market, it generated energy levels not previously seen in wheel-guns and became the caliber for hunting really big game with handguns.

Above: Polishing and jeweling dress up the Ruger Super Redhawk customized by Mog-na-port's Ken Kelly, but "Bodacious" is still a serious hunting handgun. A tuned action and trigger, along with a Mag-na-brake and Weigand scope base, are modifications that complement the power of the revolver's .454 Casull chambering.

The cartridge was housed in the new, sin­gle-action Freedom Arms Model 83 revolver that had been specially designed and built with a five-shot cylinder and extremely close manufacturing tolerances to contain the 60,000-plus pounds per square inch pressure. I recall some early articles on Dick Casull, the .454’s inventor, stating he was trying to achieve a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet per second with .45-caliber bul­lets fired from a 77;-inch barrel.

The Ruger Super Redhawk's cylinder can hold six rounds ot .454 Casull, and a transfer bar lets hunters safely carry a round beneath the double-action's hammer. To make practice sessions a little easier on the hand, the revolver will also fire .45 Colt ammunition.

Using some exotic triplex loads—three different powders carefully stacked in the case—Mr. Casull did achieve his tar­get velocity, but the hazards and liabili­ties associated with triplex loads far out­weighed the extra feet per second gained, and commercial ammo makers went to more conventional loads featuring heavy doses of slow-burning powders. Even with the less-exotic loads, the cartridge still pro­duced some sizzling velocities with lighter-weight bullets, making it not only suitable for big game, but a prime candidate for long-range handgun hunting of medium-sized game. This is a long-winded way of explaining my selection of the .454 for an antelope hunt.
The hunt was scheduled with Hunter Ross of Desert Safaris and held on several ranches located near Fort Davis, TX. I had just received a Ruger .454 Super Redhawk customized by Ken Kelly, of Mag-na-port fame, and knowing that Hornady makes a high-velocity .454 round with a 240-grain jacketed hollow point, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to test the gun and lightweight bullets on a long-range, medium-game hunt. Given the lack of preparation time with the gun and ammo, my definition of long range for this hunt was 100 yards or less.
The Super Redhawk originally arrived with a standard 7’7/-inch barrel and integral scallops in the topstrap for mounting the factory-furnished rings. For those who may not know it, the .454 Casull generates lots of energy on both ends of the gun. It kicks big-time. Most of my other big-bore handguns wear muzzle brakes or feature porting systems installed by Mag-na-port to help manage the recoil. As I get older and heal more slowly, I see no reason to discontinue this policy. Besides, last year at the White Oak Plantation Handgun Hunt in Alabama, I got a look Kelly’s latest Super Redhawk creation, and fell in love with both the gun and the name he had given it—”Boda­cious.” Like earlier Mag-na-port handgun names, “Predator” and “Stalker,” it was a perfect choice.
Kelly shortened the Super Red Hawk’s barrel to 5 3/4  inches, gave the muzzle an inverted crown and installed an oversized muzzle brake he calls a Mag-na-brake.  Compared to some of the slender brakes he uses on single-action revolvers, this one seemed quite bulky, but somehow it was right for this rather massive handgun. He also added two custom pinstripe bands on the Mag-na-brake and another two bands on the cylinder. I rarely give Kelly instruc­tions regarding the decorative touches on his guns, rather letting him express himself and surprise me. You, of course, can decide what goes on your gun. Other barrel-related work included removing the lengthy Ruger liability warning, something many Ruger buyers would like to see done at the factory.

Ports In the Mag-no-brake direct gases away from the shooter while alleviating the .454 Casull's Infamous recoil. The ports ore angled forward so gases travel to the front, and they form a twist pattern opposite to the Mag-na-brake s threading to ensure It stays tight on the muzzle.

Rather than use the factory rings, Kelly installed a Weigand scope base, mount­ing it into the existing scallop cuts in the topstrap. This Weaver-style base does two things: First it raises the height of the scope, providing more room for the thumb when cocking the revolver, and second, it allows more flexibility in mounting the scope either closer to the muzzle or more toward the shooter.
To say Kelly performed a trigger job would be inadequate. He completely tuned the action, polished and jeweled the hammer and trigger, and applied his glass-bead, velvet-hone finish. The result was a super-slick, double-action magnum revolver. Finally, he added his standard Mag-na-port custom logo and the brand new title, “Bodacious.”
I debated changing the factory Ruger grips since they are rather thin and can focus the .454’s punishing recoil into the web of the hand on a non-ported gun. But the factory stocks with rubber around the edges fit me pretty well, permitting an easier reach to, and good control of, the trigger with my rather short fingers.  Combined with Kelly’s Mag-na-brake, the grips did their part in softening the .454’s felt recoil. The last touch was installing scope rings and a 2X Nikon handgun scope. Much as I like iron-sighted handguns, antelope and wide-open spaces were on my agenda, and I wanted an optic to take full advantage of the .454’s flat trajectory.
There was time for one trip to the range before the hunt, so I did some homework and “hit the books” as we used to say in school. Specifically, I dug out Volume 2 of Hornady’s Handbook of Cartridge Reloading and opened it to the handgun bullet bal­listics tables that give distances in yards. Since the chronograph showed the 240-grain Hornady .454’s produced a muzzle velocity of 1,709 feet per second, I looked at the tables for the 240-grain XTP bullet traveling at 1,700 feet per second. With a 100-yard zero, the bullet would strike 1 1/2 inches high at 50 yards, 1.3 inches high at 75 yards, and 6 1/2 inches low at 150 yards. This seemed perfect given my self-imposed limit of 100 yards with the 2X scope. My concern was that on previous antelope hunts, some of my range estimations had been grossly inaccurate. Admittedly, I would have a Nikon rangefinder, but there was no assurance I would have access to it or time to use it when the time came to shoot.
Given the kill zone on an antelope is about 8 inches in diameter, I wanted to be less than 4 inches high at mid-range and less than 4 inches low out past 100 yards. Checking the tables for the performance of my load, a zero of 150 yards showed the bullet would be a bit less than 4 inches high at 50 yards and about 4 1/2 inches high at 75 and 100 yards. Since these numbers could result in a hit above my arbitrary 8-inch circle, I compromised and sighted in Bodacious roughly 3 inches high at 100 yards. I thought this should keep me in the kill zone all the way out to 150 yards, just in case I really screwed up range esti­mation. Shooting off a sandbag, the load produced 3-shot groups that measured 2 1/2 to3 1/2 inches at 100 yards. I was ready.
On the hunt though, I made a mistake. I was riding in the Yamaha Rhino with another outdoor writer who had taken a nice buck earlier and was now prepared to do the range-finding honors for me. When our guide, Troy Calaway, spotted another nice buck and the other writer announced quietly the Nikon showed we were within 87 yards of the animal, it was time to shoot. The buck was slightly quartering away from me, and thinking the shot would be no more than 3 inches high, I held the crosshair slightly low in the body and fired. The buck dropped in its tracks, an unusual event for an animal like antelope, which can cover many miles of prairie even when severely wounded. We learned shortly the shot was several inches high and, luckily for me, broke the buck’s back. The cross­hair had been exactly where I wanted it when the hammer fell, and I didn’t imme­diately realize why the impact point had been so high. Thinking back to the range, I realized the problem. On the range, I had been shooting with Bodacious buried solidly into a sandbag, while my shot at the antelope, like most hunting scenarios, involved nothing more than my forearms resting across an available surface. Even with the Mag-na-brake’s taming influence, the .454’s recoil caused the barrel to rise more than it had when resting solidly on a sandbag and range bench.
One might say that given my rookie mis­take. Bodacious and the Hornady ammo performed above and beyond the call of duty. Certainly the results were more than I deserved, but then I’ve become accustomed to outstanding performance from Ken Kel­ly’s Rugers and Hornady’s handgun hunting ammunition loaded with XTP bullets.

The Green Effect

As published in “Shooting Illustrated  December 2008
Hunting in California’s condor recovery range is limited to lead-free bullets. Fortunately, handgun hunters have “green” alternatives readily available.

 

No one said it signaled the end of the world; they said it would be worse. Since I’m not much of a duck hunter, I didn’t get emotionally involved, but my recollection is that both hunters and non-hunters had the same ultimate objective; they wanted a healthy population of ducks. Despite the controversy, duck populations are as healthy as ever and duck hunting continues to thrive.

 

Today in California, some similar legislation has been passed, and emotional arguments much like those heard during the lead shot ban are raging across the state. Simply stated, in the California condor corridor, all ammunition used for hunting must be lead free. For those who aren’t familiar with the California condor, the bird feeds on the carcasses of dead animals, and many of the birds are allegedly dying of lead poisoning caused by ingesting lead bullets or cores located in the gut piles of animals killed by hunters. Since central California has many wild pigs that are hunted year round, the cause of these deaths has been blamed on the bullets contained in their remains. This same section of California is also highly populated with ground squirrels, and these little creatures draw a great deal of attention each year from citizens wielding rimfire rifles and pistols. Since shooting ground squirrels requires a California hunting license, the ban of ammunition containing lead also applies to the pursuit of these rodents. I have no wish to get into a debate on the merits of this ban, but having spent some wonderful days hunting various ranches in this area, I was curious to see if this signaled the “end of the world” in terms of hunting central California. Besides, it doesn’t take much of an excuse for me to schedule a visit to Don Geivet, vice president of Operations at the incredible Tejon Ranch—a haven for big-game animals of all kinds that’s located at the south end of the Condor corridor. The ranch is also the first location where the lead ban was put into effect. I was also interested in the impact this legislation would have on handgun hunting.

Some of my handgun-hunting buddies believe there is no substitute for a heavy, hard-cast, big-bore, lead bullet when hunting tough and potentially dangerous big game. While you might not think of pigs being dangerous or big, the really large boars can grow to a few hundred pounds and carry an extremely thick layer of gristle plate around their shoulders and rib cage. Fragile, fast-expanding, smaller-bore handgun ammunition is not the right medicine for these guys. And while most pigs will try to run away, there’s the occasional animal that will come at you, particularly if it’s wounded. I’ve only had it happen once, and unfortunately for the boar, the two of us were carrying Freedom Arms .454s with full-house loads. It slid to its death a mere 6 to 10 feet in front of us—a breathtaking sight! But at something less than 200 pounds of body weight, it, like most pigs taken by hunters, did not require a heavy, solid slug to put it down. On the other hand, anything with minimal authority probably would have resulted in some cuts and slashes on either me or my partner. Something tough and lead-free is required. The answer is not only simple, it’s been around for quite some time.

Barnes manufactures solid-copper bullets for pistol calibers from .357 Mag. up through the mighty .500 S&W Mag., and while I would not personally use a .357 Mag. to hunt wild boar, I’d be happy with any of the other magnum calibers, beginning with the .41 Mag., stoked with Barnes X bullets. Each X bullet is made with some slots cut in the nose of the bullet. Upon impacting an animal, the nose of the bullet peels back in six petals along these cuts. Each bullet is designed to peel back at specific velocities, depending on the caliber. Most of my handgun hunting with Barnes bullets has been with the .44 Mag., and the two bullets available in this caliber are designed to open at a minimum velocity of 1,050 fps. Final expanded diameter of the bullet depends on how fast it is traveling when it enters the animal. The petals on either the 200- or 225-grain .44 Mag. bullet entering an animal at 1,300 fps will peel back nearly parallel to the bullet’s body, resulting in greater penetration than the same bullet would have at 1,050 fps. At either velocity, the wound cavity is larger (sometimes quite massive) near the bullet’s entry point than further along the path of penetration. It takes a tough, extremely well made bullet to perform with this kind of consistency.

Non-handloaders fear not! Barnes bullets are available in loaded ammunition from both Cor-Bon and Federal. Federal handgun-hunting ammo with Barnes bullets range from the .357 Mag. to .500 S&W Mag., with one load offered in each caliber. Cor-Bon’s smallest caliber is the .44 Mag., but there are multiple loads in several of the calibers including a +P hunting load for the .45 Colt. Cor-Bon’s ammo generates 1,200 fps muzzle velocity with the .45 Colt +P and ranges up to 1,825 fps with the .460 S&W Mag. Federal’s trajectory tables show that when all calibers are sighted in for 25 yards, the smallest bullet drop at 100 yards is 2 inches for the .460 while the 225-grain .44 Mag. round drops just under 7 inches. Last year in Australia, I shot four pigs (three boars and one sovi) using the 225-grain .44 Mag. load in a Smith & Wesson Model 629 with an 8V»-inch barrel. All pigs were inside 60 yards, and all but one dropped in its tracks. As you would expect, the one failure was the result of poor shot placement. A follow-up shot did finish the job. Big-bore, big-boar handgun hunters need have no concerns complying with the new regulations while hunting the Condor corridor.

I was really more concerned with having acceptable ammo for the corridor’s squirrel population. As it turned out, this problem has been half solved in a sense because CCI is making .22 Mag. lead-free (or Green) ammunition. I have two revolvers chambered for .22 Mag. and took both up to Tejon. They did an admirable job nailing several ground squirrels, even though it was late in

the season and the critters were quite spooky. In my experience, the .22 Mag. seems to be a more decisive killer than the .22 LR, and that’s the good news. The bad news is .22 Mag. ammo is more expensive than .22 LR, but then the cost of ammunition has increased dramatically in the last year. As the deep-thinking philosophers say, “It is what it is,” and it’s still a cheaper solution than centerfire ammo.

As of now, I know of no plans to make green .22 LR ammunition. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s not in the works yet. I think .22 Mag. has always been a bit of a specialty niche product, just as hunting in those areas within the Condor corridor is a specialty niche market.

I’ve avoided getting into the condor issue, but there are a couple of things that puzzle me. First, did the studies show lead bullets in the carcasses of small rodents contributed to any condor deaths? If not, why is lead-free rimfire ammo being mandated? Secondly, if the issue is lead in gut piles resulting from hunting, why is there a ban on lead ammo for target shooting on the various ranches affected? On Tejon, no lead ammo is allowed on the ranch, period. The only rationale I can think of is a total ban is easier to enforce than a partial ban. I suspect the government bodies involved have dictated this policy, and I heard from more than one source that the implementation of the lead-free policies were handled more like a Mafia-style offer than a civilized dialog between two parties interested in wildlife conservation. The good news is big-game and small-game hunting are alive and well at the Tejon and other ranches throughout California. You might have to buy a new pistol, but you have legally compliant choices available in both factory and hand-loaded ammunition. And getting to buy a new handgun is always good news.

Special thanks to friend and fellow handgun hunter Brian Pearce for his introduction to the Handgun Section of the new “Barnes Reloading Manual Number 4.” If you plan to reload with Barnes bullets, get the Barnes manual and read the entire handgun section including Pearce’s introduction. Load data cannot be interchanged between all-copper Barnes bullets and traditional jacketed lead-core bullets of the same weight.’!?

Worthy of The Title

1title

Unfortunately for us taxpayers, there’s no news about tycoons and politicians downsizing their ambition, but a couple of years ago, the shooters and handgun hunters who run Freedom Arms donned their downsize thinking caps, and the end result may be the best 357 Mag. revolver ever. It’s designated the Model 97, and while it’s downsized to about 90 percent of the big Freedom Arms revolvers, the cylinder on the new gun holds six rounds instead of five.

1model97

 

Freedom fanatics need not panic; downsizing the gun’s dimensions has not affected quality. Existing manufac­turing techniques and processes like line-boring, close tolerance fit, and meticulous hand-finishing are all being applied to the new gun.

Barrel-cylinder gaps are still set .003″ and trigger pulls at 3 lbs. Like its big brothers, sight options on the Model 97 still include the fixed sight (notch in topstrap and silver front blade), and the same style adjustable sights with black front ramp and blued rear sight scaled down to fit the small­er channel cut in the topstrap. The adjustable sights on the Model 97 are like those on the large Field Grade guns rather than the Premier Grades (i.e., a clamping screw must be loos­ened to adjust for windage).

Little Big Gun

Barrel lengths are either 5 ½” or 7 ½”, both with either fixed or adjustable sights. The rear notch on the fixed sight version is square rather than a “U” or a “V.” The stainless front sight is also square, but not as wide as the black blade on the adjustable sight­ed gun.

Interestingly, while the fixed sights are more difficult to see (at least for older eyes), and less precise than the adjustable sights, the stainless front blade is more visible in dim light condi­tions. Sight picture with the adjustable sighted Model 97 was indistinguishable from that of the big frame guns.

Ergonomics, balance and handling characteristics are superb on the smaller gun. It rivals the original Colts (and imported clones), while offering a slightly longer grip for proper posi­tioning of the little finger of the shoot­ing hand as opposed to having the pinkie pushed under the gun butt.

At the same time, the Model 97 doesn’t have the overly large “club” feel of a full size Bisley grip. It’s the right-sized grip to handle the recoil of full .357 Mag. ammo, or even some­thing heavier like a .41 Mag. or what­ever caliber Freedom next offers in this gun.

In short, the grip is “right” for the gun because it will allow the shooter to handle any level of recoil suitable for this size revolver. This may not be of much interest to cowboy shooters who will hold velocities to something under 800 fps, but it’s important to handgun hunters, and in the adjustable sighted version, this is one dandy hunting gun.

 Semi-Serious Informal Shooting

I acquired an adjustable sighted gun with a 5’/2″ barrel because I envi­sioned spending some relaxed “trail time.” along with doing a bit of semi-serious hunting, and 5″ to 6″ barrels are my preference for these kinds of endeavors. As long as I can see iron sights, (and my vision is still OK in daylight hours), unscoped belt guns are my number one passion in hand­gun hunting.

Despite preferences, the little gun was equipped with a scope for sighting in and a trip to the YO Ranch involving both a hunt and a handgun hunting-style match. The petite Model 97 was fitted with the smallest handgun scope on the market, Leupold’s 2x EER pistol scope, and a modified T’SOB scope base from SSK. SSK will be making scope bases properly sized for the new gun soon.

1gun

The 2x was entirely suitable for my purposes, and anything bigger tends to overwhelm the gun, both aesthetically and in terms of handling characteristics. However, the balance of the small­er frame gun with the 7.5″ barrel is also excellent, and the longer barrel offers a couple of advantages to the handgun hunter. You will eke out a bit more velocity from the extra 2″ of bar­rel, and the gun’s longer overall dimen­sion encourages, or at least allows, the use of a larger scope, perhaps a vari­able power. Your choice.

 Too Good For His Own Good

Prior to the hunt I put a few hun­dred rounds of cowboy ammo through the gun. Cowboy action shooters like smoke; so factory ammo for cowboy shooters produces smoke along with lots of cruddy residue. This is not a problem for the gun functionally, but over time, it makes the gun filthy. Not dirty, filthy!

This is the one occasion where the tight tolerances and stainless steel of Freedom Arms’ guns may not be fully appreciated. To avoid problems, just clean and lubricate periodically, espe­cially the cylinder pin, to insure the cylinder rotates freely. Also, clean the barrel after shooting lots of lead cow­boy ammo before you start popping jacketed bullets down range

I failed to do so before sighting in and the first 20 or so rounds of factory jacketed ammo produced depressingly large groups at the 50 yard range. When the barrel had finally been scraped clean, things settled in, and the little gun started turning in 1″ to 2″ groups with the 2x scope, depending on what ammo was being consumed.

After putting nine different factory loads through the gun over sandbags. I had what I wanted: a variety of suit­able factory loads, up through a 180 grain deep-penetrating bullet, for hunt­ing small to medium-large game.

1accuracytabel

The accuracy of Freedom Arms revolvers is not surprising, nor is it a mystery. The precise alignment of each chamber with the barrel results from the Wyoming factory’s line-boring manufacturing technique, allowing bar­rel forcing cones of only three degrees to be used on Freedom revolvers.

Typical forcing cones on mass-pro­duced revolvers are much higher to compensate for misalignment of cham­bers and barrels that result from loos­er manufacturing tolerances. Use of a higher power scope might have pro­duced even better accuracy, but as stat­ed, my search was for a compact hunt­ing handgun.

 Whacking Everything In Sight

The trip to the YO Ranch could hardly have been more successful. With the Leupold scope in place and using Winchester’s new 180 gr. Partition Gold ammunition, I collected a Sika buck at about 70 yards and went through the handgun hunting match successfully, whacking almost all the targets I saw. 

While my performance at the match was less than stellar, it was vision failure on my part in locating tar­gets, and nothing that could be blamed on the Model 97. The Nosier partition bullet performed perfectly on the Sika, giving every indication that the gun, when matched with appropriate heavy­weight bullets, can be used satisfacto­rily on larger game animals.

One other major caveat is required, and it’s not about a shortcoming in the Model 97, but rather a recalibration of the handloader’s mindset when work­ing with a Freedom Arms revolver. The Model 97’s cylinder is smaller than those on the large frame wheel-guns, but it has six chambers instead of its big brother’s five. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that since there is less metal around each cham­ber, our pressure vessel will not handle the same pressure levels that we rou­tinely deal with when loading the five-shot revolvers.

If you have handloads for your five-shot Freedom Arms .357 that generate in excess of 50,000 psi, do not shoot these in your Model 97! You now have a normal size .357 that was built to deal with normal .357 ammunition. Follow the load limits contained in your load­ing manuals for regular .357s, which is somewhere in the 30,000 psi range.

Besides abhorring a vacuum, nature isn’t terribly fond of anyone who doubles the recommended pres­sure levels in revolver cylinders. Stick with standard .357 loads for the Model 97, and make sure you can tell the dif­ference between the standard stuff and your Cape buffalo .357 loads.

My personal trick is to use brass-colored rifle primers in the high pres­sure loads and silver-colored, magnum small pistol primers for normal loads. Do what works best for you, but be sure it enables proper identification of ammo when separated from its box.

 What More Do You Need?

To my way of thinking, no hunting handgun is ready to go afield without a holster, or at least a reasonable carry technique. I threw in the “carry tech­nique” because some single shot hand­gun hunters like to use a sling. That works for the longer barrel, scoped single shots, and even long barrel scoped revolvers, but not for the beau­tiful little Model 97.

Sans scope, the small frame gun is perfect for a belt holster, preferably one with minimal bulk. I used a suede-lined Bianchi lawman for the 5.5″ bar­rel for a strong side carry. The only drawback is that the lawman and the Model 97 aren’t compatible in barrel length, but the 6.5″ holster worked well and shouldn’t be too difficult to shorten.

For a cross draw, perhaps best for belt carry of a 7.5″ revolver, you might try the Bianchi Cyclone. This rig can be worn either cross draw or strong side simply by sliding your belt through a different slot on the holster.

For the scoped Model 97, or any other scoped gun, market offerings for the handgun hunter are bleak. There are rigs available, but they seem to be saddle scabbards altered for people carry. They are incredibly bulky and rigid, and they either severely restrict physical movement or flop loosely with any change of body posture or position.

The only answer I’ve found, and it’s a dandy, is a nylon shoulder rig designed by handgun hunter Phil Briggs and now manufactured by JoAnne Conn in Montana. She’s a handgun hunter that stopped by the Wyoming factory in the summer of ’96 to shoot the handmade prototype guns and give some “female feedback” to Freedom president Bob Baker.

1bobbaker

The holsters, or pouches, are avail­able in two size holsters. The small one comfortably accommodated the Model 97 with the 2x Leupold pistol scope, but will handle scoped revolvers with up to 7.5″ barrels or scoped single shots with barrels up to 10″. The longer barrel holster handles up to a 10.5″ revolver or 15″ single shot.

Once the straps are adjusted to fit the owner, the rig can be carried com­fortably all day and hides easily under an outer jacket or rain poncho for pro­tection from the elements. I never encountered any inclement weather at the YO Ranch, but the scoped revolver rode in the nylon shoulder holster for three days in total comfort.

Freedom Arms did a great job in their downsizing effort. The end result is an outstanding combination of trail gun, hunting handgun, and cowboy “hogleg.” Although the hue and cry has already started about what would be the best next caliber for the Model 97, the .357 Magnum now being offered is arguably the best general purpose handgun caliber ever devised.

Skeeter Skelton once wrote an arti­cle about the one gun-caliber dilemma. He selected the .357 Mag., and while he chose a different manufacturer’s gun, it would be interesting to see what his selection might have been if the Model 97 had been available. Freedom’s new .357 certainly is a can­didate for the one-gun man or woman.

Published:  GUNS – September 1998

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97 HHI Handgun Hunting Competition

Blackie Sleeva’s unique walk­through “hunting competition” took place in September at the YO Ranch in the beautiful hill country of Texas. Sleeva is a past cham­pion of the Buck Masters competition, another hunting oriented match, who conceived the idea of a Handgun Hunters International (HHI) competition.

shooter12

The match consists of a 150 yard “woods walk” to find and shoot animal targets scattered anywhere from 25 to 165 yards away. The hunter can take no more than two steps from the trail and may uti­lize any safe shooting position, including natural rests. Only one shot per target is allowed, and Blackie accompanies each hunter to observe and score.

Sound simple? There are 62 total tar­gets available to the shooter and a time limit of 30 minutes in which to take them all. Targets include black metal silhou­ettes that must be knocked over to score one point, realistic animal targets that must be hit in the kill zone to score three points, and a running deer worth six points if hit in the kill zone or three points if hit anywhere else. It seemed appropriate to introduce a touch of the Mad Hatter by including two white rab­bits with the 60 other animals.

Absolutely no one located all 62 tar­gets, and all targets were visible from somewhere on the trail. In some cases, one animal was located behind another, so if you failed to see the first animal, or missed your shot, you never got a chance at the second hidden critter.

I don’t consider myself a neophyte in the woods, but I never saw 19 of the tar­gets, and many of those were the higher value animals with three point kill zones. I was pleased with my shooting on the 43 I did find, but good shooting wasn’t enough to put me anywhere near contention. Two of the metal targets I hit failed to fall despite well placed hits from a .357 Magnum. Other shooters lost targets that turned, but failed to hit the ground.

It was an incredibly challenging course, while being one of the most fun matches in which I’ve ever participated.

Randy Smith of Pennsylvania won the match. Everyone who shot the course had a great time. My advice to would-be com­petitors is to bring your Visa card and leave your ego at home.

ShariandBlackie

Pulling off an affair like the HHI gath­ering takes considerable resources and a tremendous amount of work, made possi­ble by the incredible efforts of the Sleeva family. Blackie had all the targets built in Ohio and personally transported them to Texas in a rental truck arriving several days before the participants. He and his entire family worked on site for a full week, installing targets, taking every competitor through the course, and finally tearing everything down for storage.

Blackie and his wife Rosetta didn’t get a chance to hunt until the Sunday every­one else was leaving. When I asked him why he busted his chops like this, he just quietly mumbled a few words about giv­ing something back to a great sport like handgunning.

For info on the ’98 HHI hunt and match, you can reach Blackie Sleeva at (614) 968-4263 after 6:00 p.m. His address is 71501 Orchard Road. Flashing, OH 43977. But don’t let any grass grow before contacting him. There’s a limit as to how many can be accommo­dated at the YO, and it doesn’t look like any previous participants plan to drop out. Certainly not me!

Published:  American Handgunner – March/April 1998

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