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Special HANDGUNS I HAVE KNOWN
AND THE LONG ROAD TRAVELED WITH THEM ... PACO
Over a shooterís life time, many guns come and go in his hands...some traded, some kept, and some lost ....some cried over, and some forgotten.
Handgunning started early in my life...I guess I was fortunate. But the road wasnít all roses and no curves. I lost some of the finest guns I ever owned to a car fire when I was in Texas in the early 1960s...they were in the trunk. That was in my early twenties....in my late forties a collection of over 150 rifles and 100 handguns were taken from us....a Tredway Safe six feet long, four feet high, and three Ĺ feet across, filled with the treasure of a lifetime...
But there are plenty of good solid memories also....some time later I will write about the rifles....but this time itís the handguns.
Folks are always curious about the first time for anything in a personís life. The first handgun I held was after I spent some time with small 22 LR rifles. So I knew how to shoot. Rifles in those days only had iron sights or peep sights...scopes were pretty much unseen. Especially on 22 LR single shots like I had. I had a grandfather that lived in the northern part of New York State. I would live with him and my grandmother during the summers....they had a small farm in the middle of nowhere so shooting was a natural event. And in those years game meat was an important part of the yearly groceries, and boys were expected to hunt small game, rabbits and squirrels were in profusion.
I remember it better than yesterday. I was around nine, the OlíMan (grandfather) and I were in one of his fields. He had handed me a 1911 45acp. It was heavy, it was pure military and it was loaded with hard ball...he had taken it home with him when he left the military in the early teens of the century. He gave me instructions on how to hold, and aim, and fire. I was too excited and held it too close, locked wrists but loose elbows...with the first shot the gun came back and whacked me in the face. The OlíMan laughed. I got hot, and thru tears and heat I emptied the rest of the clip into a water barrel 20 or 30 yards away. It was used for the livestock....water poured out of holes everywhere....he stopped laughing.....but never said a word about the old wooden barrel.
Instead he slipped the most beautiful revolver a boy ever saw out of his pocket. It was a small four inch barreled S&W in 32-20...a hand ejector model. It was silver plated and had real ivory stocks. I remember it was smooth and cool to the touch. I learned that you could actually hit things at long range, using handguns...with that S&W. Remember in the forties handguns were not used to hunt with or shoot at long distances.
The OlíMan let me carry the little gun around the farm, and taught me to reload the shells with black powder. I loved the reloading, but the black powder I disposed of quickly...I smuggled a pound of Bullseye into the barnís tack room, and used a 22 LR shell soldered to a nail as a scoop. Actually as I remember, it was a fairly stout load in those days...a little over 4 grains, under a 100 grains or so of flat nose bullets. I made the cast bullets from a little bronze mold that heated up so fast you had to keep dipping the handles in water to cool them. I remember squirrels with that load came right off branches, where it wasnít always that way with 22LRs.
Hardware stores in those days would sell a kid ammo , and powder, and other needs. Not like our undisciplined society today, that has to pass laws to protect us, from children. Children who have parents that know little of discipline themselves, let alone passing it on to the children.
I guess I was getting around 800 fps with the load. I sat in a field one day and shot at an old porcelain pot out about 80 yards...knowing that it was impossible to hit anything at that range with a handgun..everybody said so. Handguns were for close protection and small game. Iíll never forget when the sound of that first strike came back, I was amazed...and the long range handgunner was born. The odyssey now going on over much more than half a century in years........................
There was a Colt 45 SA that went to Africa with me in the late 1950s, when I was a young man...it also had a 44 special barrel and cylinder, I used both calibers over there. And then there is the Keith gun. I was to be shipped from Africa to a strange sounding place in South East Asia....because we did much of our spook work and training of military of other countries in plain clothes. The military in their wisdom figured the 45 acp 1911 we carried spelled military. So they took them back and issued 38 specials...I donít know if you know anything about military 38 special ammo, but to be kind Iíll just say Iíd rather carry a big stick. A letter to Elmer Keith...and a cry for help...brought a S&W mod.28 in 357 magnum. How that gun got to me is a story in itself....some day Iíll share it with you. I used the powder from the military 45 ACP ball ammo, and had a Keith 173 grain mold...
I did two TDY tours in Southeast Asia...and had occasion to use the magnum several times. Once firing thru a boiler plated idiot with a sword that came screaming into our A-Camp one night. The 173 grain hard cast bullets...punched right thru the old iron plate, leaving some good sized holes exiting his body. Which amazed all the Vietnamese G.I.s when they gathered around to gawk at the dead V.C. I remember one youngster asking..."Gowd Lt. what you got in that gun...?"
My smartassed answer was something along the lines of..."I load it with Big Momma ammo...." Big Momma was the slang for the Browning Machine gun...50 caliber BMG ammo. My remark relieved a lot of the stress of the attack. And the moment. I still have that old gun, and it is one of the prize possessions, I have been able to hold on to....It was Eisenhowerís war in those late days of the 1950s...
In the mid 1960's after I returned to New York City, civilian life, school and Law Enforcement. For the next 33 years handguns would be tools of my career...they would save my life and the lives of others, there also would great amounts of experimentation, they would be used to hunt with....long before that became popular. Also competition shooting, woods loafing, handling, using and shooting handguns of all types and kinds....hundreds and hundreds of handguns. Among other law enforcement work, being a training officer in small arms, my interest was more than just fun, hunting, work, etc.....I was always fascinated with design, strength or the lack of it, function and usefulness of gun and caliber.
One of my ancillary duties as a Federal Agent was Chief Firearms Officer in the Southwest for our agency. We would seize handguns (or anything else) used in the commission of a crime. Fed/regulations stated I had to destroy the guns...but did not say how......so I had a good deal of opportunities to test guns to destruction. To find out just how strong they are, when and how they let go, what kind of damage occurs when they do.....I have also had a few scatter when I didnít plan it....it certainly gets your attention. But I have learned a lot about handgun strength...how the pressures from fast powders will blow a gun with less pressure than slow powder...the erosion of ball powders...what expansion ratio means in the real world....and so much more.
When in Texas I bought a 32-20 Colt single action (1961) 7 Ĺ inch barrel. My gunny friends thought I was an idiot for paying so much for ĎAn Old Sixguní. But I took a lot of game with that old gun. I handloaded it warm...the Colt was designed for the 45 Colt cartridge...the skinny little 32-20s took little steel out of the chambers, allowing much higher pressures....it was flat shooting and deadly on small, medium game and the small Texas deer I took with it. When I realized the damage turtles do to ducks, I became a terror to the turtle populations. The 32-20 would do them right, fast and deadly. I used Keithís load of 10 to 12 grains of 2400 under the 115 gr. Lyman cast bullet.
It was in Virginia in 1970 that I became the owner of my first look-a-like Colt SA. It was chambered for the 45 Colt round. We lived at the time in the back country, in the wilds and wooded paradise of the state. On the way home from the gun store with my prize, I spied a vulture on a tree branch looking down into some heavy brush. I had no idea where the gun sights were set, but figured with the few rounds of factory ammo the store clerk gave me with my purchase (price by the way was $87.50), I hoped the gun was set for standard ammo.
I lined up on the big ugly bird and fired. He spread his wings and hopped down into the brush. Then suddenly he was back on the branch. I held a little steadier and fired again. Again he jumped into the brush below him but didnít come back up. Imagine my surprise when I went over there and found not one...but two dead vultures. The first falling into the brush pushed the second up to the same branch and into the same dose the first got. They had been eating a rabbit.
And if you believe vultures only eat animals after they are dead, I have a small bridge in Iraq outside of Basra, I would like to sell you..
44 magnums has been in and out of my life. A model 29 S&W that was custom rebuilt by Larry Kelly of Mag-Na-Port fame in the late 1970s save my life one dark and deadly night on a bayou bridge in Louisiana. Kelly had cut the barrel to three plus inches, round butted the grips to the K-Frame round butt size and fitted it with neoprene grips of the times...slicked and tuned and timed and of course mag-na-ported. When it was fired at night it was like the electric company lighting the night. Iíve used the big 44 hunting, and shooting and in Law Enforcement. But I have never been in love with it.....Iíve always tended to the 45 Colt. And when Ruger put itís single action out in 45 Colt...that became my main hunting gun. And with many Rugers in this caliber later, I still have not changed my mind. Of course itís just personal choice on my part. Many find the big 44 perfect for them, and thatís great. One Ruger 45 Colt was special, I had it rebuilt here in Tucson....I had a piece of original 1 in 18 twist H.Pope barrel and had about five and Ĺ inches put on the Ruger, also put a steel Super Blackhawk grip frame on it...and a whole reworking of the action etc....it was the finest 45 SA, I have ever had.... It went with the Tredway safe... I truly mourn few guns, but that one I do...
I now have a beautiful S&W mod. 29 in the old nickel finish, friend John Taffin practically gave it to me. It has my favorite barrel length for S&Ws 5 inches. And it is superbly accurate with 20 grains of 2400 under Keithís 250 gr Lyman cast bullet. This is the cast bullet from my 1950/60s 4 gang mold, and is the original shape Keith designed... my brew of lead alloy goes near 260 grains from it.
For years my main load in the Colt look-a-likes for the 45, was 18+ grains of Herc 2400 under the Keith 260 grain cast bullet. I took wild boar, feral pigs, black bear, deer, feral dogs, and much, much more, with that load. I ran into the darndest situation in Richmond Virginia while packing that first 45 Colt clone in the early 1970s. Three idiots decided to hold up the bank I was in one day. Three shots from my 45 single action later, hold up was over, surrender was at the top of their list...and I had killed their car. Thinking back I never felt under gunned...and I never worried about reloading speed and all that stuff you read about. I knew the power of that load, and my ability and accuracy.
When I started using Ruger 45 SAs...I stayed with the Keith bullet but went to 22 grains of Herc 2400 under it. That is a heavy load, and I know itís safe only in my guns. But it hasnít been all single actions and revolvers...Iíve been addicted to the 45 acp auto like forever....
My grandfather's 1911 may have been the first one I fired, but it certainly wasn't the last. All thru the military, even after they took the 45acp/1911a1 series off the line, there were plenty of them around to work with. Then in law enforcement my first senior partner, when I became a detective on the streets of New York City, told me to turn in the issue 38 S&W mod. 10, and buy myself a 45 auto. Which I quickly did. But I did keep a 38 Colt Officers Model for a back up. Today no matter where I am, or what I'm packing, there is a 45 acp close by. The latest is a John Daly 1911a1 with all the bells and whistles. For the price they are hard to beat. I am not enamored with the safeties on both sides of this model...I think it fattens the profile unnecessarily. Itís an ingenious solution to a problem that doesn't exist for me.
I feel the same way about double/single action autos. I can see double action only autos, for law enforcement...but I can't get used to the trigger shift in the double/single designs. I like the 1911 format as it was originally designed. When a person is trained correctly, having the gun in a constantly cocked condition is as safe as a so called hammerless autos. Just because you can't see the hammer on many of those, doesn't mean there is no hammer, or that they are not cocked, there is and they are...
I guess I'm just a traditionalist...I don't need de-cockers, double action only, and all the other so called solutions to accidental discharges. The truth is...it is all just a way to get around the lawyers that try to sue law enforcement agencies and gun companies. Training is always best. Departments that cut costs, by cutting back on qualification time and ammo amounts allotted to their officers, are asking for law suits and officers that are going to get hurt....
I had a little .380 Walther...neat gun...terrible cartridge. It was the model the 1968 Gun Control Act stopped from coming into the country. Shot a very large white Shepard mix feral dog into the top of his shoulder at almost point blank range...88 grain Super-Vel hollow point spread out on the shoulder knuckle and stopped. He ran away. That was in 1971. Two weeks or so later I caught him on a country road eating a friendís little lap dog. This time I hit him in the head with a 173 grain Keith 357 slug over 15 grains of 2400 out of a custom five inch Python. The bullet went completely thru taking off the far side of the skull...
I had traded the Walther in on the Python, one of my better trades. It was a custom Python, a six inch that had been cut back to five inches so it was easy to carry in a car. The original owner had bulged the last inch of the barrel so I had it circumcised, got it cheap made a better gun out of it. It had a two lb trigger pull in single action and down around 4 Ĺ lbs in double action. It was a treat to shoot. You can do magic on Python actions...and a five inch barrel is just nice.
Sheriff Jim Wilson, a fine friend who's opinion I respect when it comes to things in Law Enforcement and guns.....he and I both don't have much regard for the 9 mms for on duty law enforcement officers. I have had some really accurate guns in the caliber, but power wise I gave up on the 38s specials, no matter what they are called. The only exception is in civilian home defense...with the right bullet, to stop it's propensity for over penetration in a house or apartment, the 9mm is a good cartridge.
Personally, I like the little 32 H&R magnum cartridge loaded warm in the small frame 38 special size handguns for home defense for people who have problems handling handguns. I had two Ruger 101s in 32 mag...one has been rechambered to 32-20 and the other is still 32 Magnum. My wife has the 32-20...and the other was a present to a good friend that has wrist problems. Both easily get 1200 fps with a special Keith 125 grain cast bullet. Good solid across the room, home protection. Though I still think a 12 gage is the best of all worlds. It's just that older or infirmed people have special needs and the 32 mag meets them very well. With low noise and little recoil, itís like a 38 wadcutter with more power.
I have had so many 22 L.R. autos and revolvers I could never keep count. But the best by far was a 22 Colt Match Woodsman with a five inch barrel. It was the most accurate 22 auto I ever owned. I had fired multi-thousands of rounds thru it and knew the gun like we had a symbiotic relationship....I actually got very lucky and killed a crow on the wing at about 30 yards, just taking off with a whole group of others. Right in front of the Governor of Virginia in the 1970s with that gun. I never told him of course I was aiming at the bird in front of the one I hit. He was a hunter and like to hunt crows with a shotgun. We were hunting together and he challenged me, and I got real lucky. Todayís Ruger 22 LR auto series is tops. I have had many and have never found an inaccurate one....I have always had to work at finding the right ammo for each gun...but once found, and a little trigger work, they were and are excellent. I have one in my shooting box now that is tricked out for rapid fire falling plate work.
The 22 mag rimfire in an autoloader or revolver has always fascinated me. From the day I wound up cleaning up a barn yard full of wild dogs with a S&W mod. 48 in the early 1970s till now...I just love the little round. I have a four and a half inch barreled AUTOMAG 22 RF mag that is accurate, deadly and powerful for itís size. Some turkey pulled a knife on me during an off duty arrest one day, I fired a warning shot into his knee cap with it and CCI High Vel RF Mag ammo. Big bad gang member laid on the floor holding his leg, and crying for his mommy....My under cover agents in the late 1960s and early 1970s used to carry the H&R two shot 22 mag as a backup...it was excellent. I was in an undercover situation one night in the mid 1960s when Fed/Drug Abuse Control was done by the Bureau of Narcotics in the Department of Treasury... long before BNDD and DEA... Iíve been thru the whole alphabet soap of drug agencies.
It was like 3 A.M. on 1st Avenue in New York City... Me and the drug Perp are doing the deal standing on the sidewalk... my backup team in a car 50 yards away supposedly watching out for my rear end. I gave the signal when the deal went down and nothing happened. No car screaming forward with lights and siren to jump out and make the arrest... I gave the signal again... again nothing. I fired one 22 RF Mag round from the little short barreled H&R into the air.... now screaming car etc.... The idiots were talking sports not watching thru the night glasses. But my so called partner did say that when the shot went off it was like Con-Ed (electric company) lighting the night.
Of all calibers the 45 is my first choice...45 acp/45 colt/454, they are all under my skin.
The 357 loaded correctly comes next. Charles 'Skeeter' Skelton said it best, when he wrote that it wasn't his first choice in calibers...but if he could only have one gun, it would be chambered in 357.
It is the most versatile of calibers, plenty powerful, fairly flat shooting, with the right bullet and load, it is very deadly for law enforcement and personal protection. In cool hands it will take medium game in a pinch. I have one of the first Ruger 357 SAs in stainless steel to hit the market. Members of my staff in Virginia back in the early 1970s gave it to me. I lengthened the chambers an eighth of an inch and use cut down 357 maxi brass in it. I get close to 1750 fps with 173 cast Keith bullet. And yes it is loud!
I now have a Ruger Bisley in 357 with an unflutted cylinder that is roll scrolled re-chambered in 356 Reeder, the gun is all tricked out and sweet. Reeder did his magic on it.. It is a fine piece of work. The 356 Reeder cartridge is the 41 mag cartridge necked down to 357 and holds around 19 grains of 2400 under a 173 grain Keith cast slug. The second cylinder is in standard .357, that Reeder fitted to the gun so I could also use .357 magnum ammo. It is one fine piece of machinery. Accurate to a fault, stronger then it appears, comfortable to shoot long runs of test ammo in it... and deadly on game animals. Even on very heavy, strong boned feral hogs. Last page in my book Lever & Handguns.. Kelly Brost is pictured with the very large hog he took with a four inch S&W .357 N-Frame. So much for the lack of killing power with a .357 revolver.
I guess when I boil it down to what gun do I grab most when going out the door, itís the 45 acp or the 7 shot S&W 357 Mountain Gun. I have hung up my law enforcement star. Time to let younger and wiser men keep the peace..but those two guns in retirement continue to serve me well, till the Lord calls me home anyway. I wonder which guns I'll take with me when He does call...
**The guns I have known are a deep thread running thru my life. It started with a father that was a hunter and a grandfather that was a shooter. In my single years with 22 RF rifles and then on to a cut down Winchester in 25-35...which I used to take my first deer. And at the ripe old age of 9 the OlíMan (grandfather) started me off with a 45/1911 as I said, which rapped me in the face the first time I fired it.. And a S&W hand ejector 4" barreled 32-20.
At 16 I had my first sixgun. A Colt S/A in 45 Colt and a second barrel and cylinder for 44 special. Had to leave it in upstate New York...because even in the early 1950s New York City, where I was born and raised, had the toughest gun laws in the country. But when I went into the military and was shipped to Africa the Colt S/A went with me as I said that was in the late 1950s. I was a I.O. (Intell Officer) in the military....was assigned to train the military forces of African countries like Rhodesia...I trained their training personnel, in the use of the small arms the U.S. was giving them. From the 38 Special up thru the 105 Recoilless Rifle. The Recoilless was mounted on jeeps and the aiming system was a 50 cal. Browning Machine Gun. You would walk the 50 BMG rounds into the target and then fire the 105....I loved the Big Momma (50 BMG)....Iíve always wanted a bolt action in the caliber, but they have always been out of my reach, being very pricey....after Africa and two TDY tours in South East Asia it was home to Texas in 1961.
I spent a year in the great state...Horses, Guns, and Texas Ladies...maybe not in that order, and after five years in Uncle Samís uniforms I discharged out and went back to New York...and back to collage. I went to night school and day school at the same time...drove a taxi cab...carried small 25 auto (Browning) in my pocket...my life was more important then New Yorkís anti-gun Sullivan Law..in four years I was able to graduate with a Masters of Science where the students taking a regular schedule came out with Bachelorís degrees. I was a policeman for a awhile....then I was recruited into the old Bureau of Narcotics under the Treasury Dept. As Federal Agents..G-Men in those days of the mid 1960s we were busy. I worked as an undercover Agent, buying drugs from the dealers in New Yorkís infamous Harlem area. I carried a 1911/ 45 Colt ACP with ball ammo, with the noses ground flat, and a heavy loaded 38 special Colt as a back up. My load in the 38 spc. was enough Unique to push the 158 grain round nose, we pulled from the issued ammo, to reach around 1100 fps. I know from experience that the 45 ACP ball ammo is plenty deadly...it hits like a ball-peen hammer in full swing, with the added asset of going all the way thru....
When I got home from overseas I realized how valuable the Keith gun was to me so it went into storage..never to be used in anger again...The Treasure Departmentís Bureau of Narcotics became BNDD, and I was transferred from New York to Baltimore Md into the new FDA Bureau of Drug Abuse Control, BNDDís sister agency. I can remember driving down to my new assignment listening to the car radio...the 1967/8 war between the Arabs and Israel had exploded that morning....
At my Baltimore assignment I ran enforcement cases in Maryland and Washington D.C. I was asked to do a deep undercover operation in Richmond, Va. I was in Richmond for 4 months working that exercise...I was constantly told there just wasnít that many drug dealers in that city....after 12 weeks I had made cases on 66 people...the city staggered under the news when the round up of all those top dealers occurred. And I was transferred over and permanently assigned to the "new" Richmond office for BNDD (Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs which absorbed FDAís Bureau and the Bureau of Narcotics out of Treasury, and went under the Dept. of Justice..It later became DEA) as the enforcement chief. During this time I carried a 38 Super 5" Colt auto and the 45 Colt auto.
I was teaching also at the Un. Of Virginia and I wrote a white paper on how to get the state up and running in enforcement against drugs...adding in things like good medical facilities for drug abusers..using the state dept. of health and dept. of mental health...and education plans on how to turn our children from drugs at a young age and changing Virginiaís old drug laws. The Attn General of Va. got a hold of the paper...he gave it to the new Governor...the first Republican Governor in 89 years elected in Va. They used it in drafting a bill that sailed thru the Legislature..in Feb of 1970 the Governor asked me to take over the new agency and build it from the ground up.
I told him I would stay 3 years and return to finish my career in Federal Service. I stayed five years...when I left the state of Va. the Va. Division of Drug Abuse Control had over 400 people working enforcement, health, education and many other areas. Virginiaís drug problem when I left was third from the bottom in drug abuse increase of all the states...When I started it was third from the top in drug abuse growth...during my time as Director (commissioner rank in Va....Colonel) my fire arms policy was simple. Any handgun that would give over or close to 500 ft.lbs of muzzle energy with commercial ammo and the officer could qualify with it, the gun passed inspected and Agent certified, and then could be carried. For some calibers like the 45 ACP we had a commercial reloader load to a safe pressure 500 M.E. load. Also for the 357 and 180 grain slugs...there were none at the time on the market. I began to carry a 41 magnum S&W...customized with three inch barrel, round butt and slicked up hammer and trigger system.
I returned to Federal Service and DEA in 1975...caught up with policies and procedures of the new DEA in Washington D.C. headquarters (known to us as Disneyland East). And after a year at my request transferred to the Southwest....I ran an enforcement team made up of local and state police, federal agents from Customs, Border Patrol, IRS (criminal investigators not auditors) and an assistant U.S. Attorney. Together we ripped into class one dealers in southern AZ, Nevada, New Mexico and old Mexico....at this point I was carrying the S&W mod. 29/44 magnum cut down like my 41 mag in Virginia had been. I also studied and worked on becoming one of DEAís experts on RICO Law. Thatís the federal government laws on racketeering. It also brought tragedy to me and my career.
On a special assignment in the south eastern part of the U.S. while working on an international cartel of marijuana smugglers there was a assassination attempt on my life. My cut down 44 mag saved my life but I was partially disabled...and after over twenty years in Federal service and another half decade in state and local enforcement...at the tender age of 47 my career in official law enforcement was over. They told me I would never walk more then a few hundred yards again without having to sit and rest.
It took me 3 years...but at the age of 51 I was walking 7 miles a day....I then met a strange character in Oracle Az that was the pastor of a church and a hunting and shooting nut like me...we became fast friends. He influenced my life so much, I am now a pastor of my church....he is of course our own Jim Taylor, my fast and life time friend. I met Jim thru another gun nut character named John Taffin... My brother in the Spirit, John and I were writing for J.D.Jones bimonthly SIXGUNNER...I was also writing for FOULING SHOT the CBAís bimonthly....John was writing for the Silhouette Assnís bimonthly also.
I started designing gun tools and testing everything I could get my hands on...I wrote a book on leveraction rifles, watched my daughters grow up as strong, honest women, with a sense of integrity, my wife of 38 years and I are still on our honeymoon. I ran security for a major corporation in Tucson for 10 years before I became a Pastor......I still carry a handgun everyday of my life...like my old Guru Elmer Keith so eloquently said once...."I would forget my pants in the morning, before I would my handgun..."
I cry for my nation...for the leaders we donít have, except for President Bush...for the courts that are out to change the Constitution, for the freedoms I fought for over four plus decades in war and our on our nationís streets...freedoms we are now seeing quickly disappearing....
A number of friends I have and had, wrote for, or now still write for the national gun press. And at one time or another they have all been convinced that they should write about the guns they liked most....or missed most....or wanted most....or some such. John Taffin, Jim Wilson, Skeeter Skeelton, Jim Taylor, J.D. Jones, and others....but of course Wilson took it to new heights. He once had his readers write him and tell him the guns they liked best, and then he published that. Way to go Jim, another article you didnít have to write....
And Iím sure my readers that go to SIXGUNNER.com, LEVERGUNS.com, and GUNBLAST.com would be just as disinterested , in my likes, as their readers are in theirs....and so I figured to bore you with mine.
As I said above, I have been around guns of all kinds for well over half a century....not that it gives me any more expertise than any one else. But I have also lived with, and by the gun, since my teen years. A war, several years in Africa, three decades in very difficult Law Enforcement positions in homicide and narcotics, a driving mind for ballistics internal and external, arms of all types, engagements in very extreme disagreements with armed antisocial types, reading about, studying about, and experiential learning...all add up to having a store house of useful information. Also unfortunately it adds up to opinions, fixed ideas, and sometimes stupidity...but when I go down the those roads you can be just like the wise old cow...eat the grass and spit out the sticks......
As I mentioned after Southeast Asia and Africa, I returned to the U.S. and spent a time in Texas. From prime hunting country in Africa, to excellent hunting in Texas...but the animals in Texas were smaller and a heck of a lot less dangerous, at least the four legged ones. Now I was young and no one told me you couldnít kill deer with a Colt S.A. 32-20. All the ranchers I got to know, used Winchesters, most in model Ď92 design and 32-20 caliber or 94s in 30-30. And they collected lots of deer. It never dawned on me, you couldnít kill deer with a handgun in 32-20 caliber. So all those Texas white tails I harvested with that sixgun should have never died...and maybe none of those Javelina, coyotes, pests and varmints either.
My load in then as I mentioned above, was Elmer Keithís load written up in his 1935 book SIXGUN CARTRIDGES and LOADS. On page 145 he states his best long range loads were in four calibers and the 32-20 is one of them. Keith states the 32-20 is light for big deer but explains how he killed a number of them with this caliber in handguns. I surely agree now, the 32-20 is light even hand loaded, for deer. But if I needed the meat today, the way I did then, and had only a 32-20, and a fat little doe jumped out in front of me. I have no doubt I would put her down just as quickly and humanly as I did in those long gone days in Texas.
About five years ago I came into possession of a Ruger SA that was from a special run for Buckeye, by Ruger, in 32-20 and with an extra 32 Magnum cylinder...the extra cylinder was quickly reamed to 30 carbine. They are both incredible calibers for small game hunting. I also have a 30 carbine Ruger SA. It is a three screw, with an extremely low number that shoots rings around my target autos, any time I want to show the skeptics. Top it off with a S&W L-Frame that was chambered in 32 Magnum, that was reamed out to 32-20. And I have one of the few modern S&W revolvers now chambered for that round.
Since the K and L-Frame Smithís are chambered in the 357 mag class...and the 32-20 takes even less steel from the chambers...this handgun takes just under 357 mag pressures without a hiccup! And itís more than just a fun gun...as two, several hundred pound felons, found out one night when I tried to arrest them and they decided they were not going....wrong again. The 32-20 put in the right place works real well...on all varmints, two or four legged. Handloaded it is well beyond the 38 special. And I have carried 1911 type autos in law enforcement for decades. They were always premier performers.
Also in the early 1970s I had a Colt 38 Super, all steel, five inch slide that was refitted with a Bar-Sto barrel and customed out by an old Air Force shooting team armorer. It shot clover leaf groups. With a heavy spring it gave the same ballistics as the old Remington 125 grain 357 revolver load from a four inch revolver. That load was always a deadly efficient law enforcement round.
But I have always preferred the 45 auto round in the 1911 autos. For awhile I carried a Colt Combat Commander (thatís the all steel version) another custom rebuilt auto, during my street Narc activities, as a second gun in a SOB type holster....during those times when we knew there was going to be a challenging raid or arrest in the offering.
My main carry gun was of course, my famous and somewhat infamous, S&W mod.29 44 magnum...cut to three inch barrel, and Mag-N-Ported, with the grip cut to the Mod. 19 round butt. I carried it in an upside down shoulder holster...it was fast to get into action, extremely powerful...and for me put the stories I hear about muzzle flash blinding you at night, and recoil making the second shot take too long, and a lot of other stuff I read...just that for me B.S. and untried magazine material.
I never had any of those problems....I fired it in several night time situations without the dreaded "blindness" from muzzle flash....it saved my life in a car one terrible night when I fired it twice...with no recoil slowness problems or blindness. The two individuals that could testify to that directly, unfortunately for them, are too busy reaping their reward for misspent lives in another world, to answer any questions.
Not that the baby beast didnít give off a horrible roar and a good deal of muzzle flash. It did! But the flash was always too short in time, to blind. And the muzzle blast I found, was great because it scared the hell out of my adversaries. My ammo was Winchesterís famous commercial loading that had a gilded lead Keith type 240 grain bullet doing about 1100 fps from the short barrel. Like a big fist with a 640 lb punch!
I have always loved 44s and 45s. Two of my favorites are the 44 special and the 45 Colt. As I said, the first handgun that I owned.. was not a .22 or even a .38/357. But an old 45 Colt SA. As a young teen not letting anyone know, and a burning desire to be among the 44 Associates not just read about them in the 1950s gunzines, I was able to get a 45 Colt SA. I quickly purchased a 44 special cylinder and barrel from Christyís (I think thatís the spelling, itís been near 50 years). I kept both barrels and cylinders. Using tong tools, mono lead, and reclaimed military 45 auto powder....I was able to load some stiff loads, in both calibers in Africa. I learned what handguns could really do...as to distance and killing power.
Jim Taylor once told me you canít trust a handgunner that doesnít own at least one single action big bore handgun. Nicely put, if you donít have one, you need to experience the raw power of a large caliber revolver...until then you have missed an important part of handgunning. A .454 Freedom Arms Revolver, a Ruger Super 454, or the Raging Bull in 454, loaded to 50,000 plus pounds of pressure under the right bullet. Or the Linebaugh 475 and 500 will and has taken the largest beasts on this planet. Even a Ruger Blackhawk in 45 Colt loaded to 30,000 psi with 250 to 300 grain slugs is a good start.... and any game animal in the lower 48 States will fall to itís power.
Friend Lynn Thompson, an extremely talented handgun hunter has taken the worldís number 1 handgun record Rhino in the world with a F.A. 454....the animal is huge. He also has taken record elephants and other large game with a handgun. Many others also have hunted the largest game in the world with handguns.....revolvers....single actions of great strength. The 454, 475, and 50 caliber big bores are such that nothing that walks or swims can not be safely hunted with them.
My 454 Freedom Arms revolver is special. In the early 1980s Holt Bodinson and I did a great deal of tests on the then new 454s. A revolver that is still to this day one of the finest examples of craftsmanship in a commercial revolver. Todayís Freedom Arms handguns are just as good or even better than the ten plus guns Holt and I tested for months back in the 80s. The best of that test group was a four and 3/4 inch fix sight revolver that shot heavy loads...(340 grain SSK cast bullet over 27 grains of 2400 powder/1600 plus fps) into less than 3/4s inches at 25 yards all day. Or until my wrist gave out.
My revolver has had so many cast loads through it, no one believes the count. Yet the gun looks almost new. I have the stainless finish polished once in a while, the throat ring (a special tungsten ring Freedom put in the barrel thatís replaceable) has been replaced once, the ejector rod has been reset twice....but the timing, the tightness, the trigger release, everything is still sharp and crisp. 99% of all loads out of this fine gun have been cast bullets. You couldnít dry fire some guns this many times without them breaking something, yet I have put tens of thousands of heavy loads thru this one with minor maintenance. Except the ejector rod coming off after about the first 50,000 rounds, it has been flawless. Freedom Arms fixed it without cost. It is by far the finest of all the hunting handguns I have ever owned.
After I retired in the mid 80s, I carried a 45 Colt chambered SA Cattleman. Many of my friends were some what concerned that some of the social misfits I sent on to Federal and State graduate corrections training, might after graduation come visit with hostile intent. Personally I doubt they would...but friends felt the single action of the gun was too slow or some such. But I have been there with three misfits and a single action once, and it performed wonderfully.
I carried the Cattleman for almost ten years....I have now replaced it with a 44 special also of Italian decent. I think the Look-A-Like Colts are just as good for shooting, hunting and fun as the original Colt SAs. Mayhaps better because of the value of the originals. You can get a Look-A-Like for a reasonable price, and enjoy it....where as the Colt is so expensive I always worry over allowing one to get into less then pristine cosmetic condition.
So the Colts can sit and go up in value while I still enjoy shooting basically the same type gun. My 44 Special load is Keithís real hunting load, not the one he always recommended. In several places in his 1950s book SIXGUNS, he mentions shooting a deer (while he was fishing), with a 44 special four inch S&W revolver. His load that day was 20 grains of 2400...under his Keith cast bullet naturally. I find that load warm in Colt look-a-like S.A.s so I use about 18 grains and the same cast bullet, perfect for my 44 Special SA.
Not wanting to lead you astray, I carry small bore handguns often. Iím addicted to the 22 magnum. I have the 22 RF magnum Automag autoloader. A six inch and a four and a half inch. They are flat, small, easy to carry, hold ten rounds....and with the right ammo, are deadly inside across the room ranges. The damage the little 22 mag bullet does has to be seen, to be understood. Thatís why I would carry one as a defense gun. I like RWS ammo for defense....itís expensive...but Iím worth it.
Many folks I know are collectors only they treasure guns. Certain ones they own, anyway. And thatís fine, there is a little collector in all of us...in some more than a little. Itís not a bad way to go, considering how much some guns appreciate over the years. A Colt single action bought new in 1970, for $125 would today be worth more than 10 times that amount. But I have never really felt that way about too many of my guns....rifles or handguns. Except the 44 S&W Mag that saved me, but was unfortunately lost. I think a good deal for my 454 Freedom Arms SA, and of course the Keith gun is a real treasure, locked in a bank safety box.
As I said earlier I wrote to Elmer Keith. Looking for some load that wouldnít blow the damn 38 up...but still do a reasonable job of keeping my hide in tact. Keith went me one better. I was sent a the now famous Keith gun, a 5 inch N-Frame S&W 357l...cut back from a six inch, done by S&W.
I have written of the two times I had to use that revolver over there. Both times the 173 grain Keith bullets did the job. Finding a 357 in the late 1950s wasnít an easy job...affording one was even less possible, but as Elmer told me years later...lawmen and soldiers always held a special place in his heart. The gun is now and has been for a long time, retired. I take it out once in a while and fire wadcutters through it...clean it...and place it back into the special place of honor it holds. It holds memories, of wartime friends long gone, of an old man who was kind and concerned about a young man he didnít really know. And of a young man, who grew up somehow star crossed, and always needed the handguns he carried. Was it that he carried them so he needed them...or was he just lucky that he learned young how to use them, and they were then always there when needed them. Either way they allowed him to grow much older..... ?
I guess I have had a copy of, shot, and tested, just about every handgun available, at one time or another. If I wrote of them all, it would be a small book. And I just might do that some day. But my personal feelings, to fit my needs and wants now, the perfect handgun has not been designed or built, or even thought of yet. So I guess Iíll just have to keep looking, trying, testing, shooting....wait till my lovely wife hears this, sheíll just love it!