… and I should warn you, it might get a little long and boring.
It’s about firearms, specifically mine, or (especially in the beginning) those which have been mine, but are mine no longer. I’m attempting to give a little perspective, here, especially since so many people who haven’t grown up with firearms around find that they don’t understand those who have. They fear firearms, and “hate” them, though how one can hate something which is not a living thing is a little beyond me. I try to reserve such emotions for objects with some degree of consciousness and volition. One might as well hate hammers, or tweezers.
Ah, well … chacun à son goût, as they say.
The first firearm to come into the family was found by my father as he was inspecting the crawl-space under a house we were renting in Los Angeles … the year was 1948, and the revolver was placed up on the joist-braces. He glanced up and saw it. No further information was (or is) available; presumably it was placed up there by someone who had reason not to leave it lying about in plain sight. Here it is; I still have it:
It’s a late-19th century Harrington & Richardson five-shot revolver in .38 S&W. There were thousands of these produced in the 19th and early 20th centuries, by H&R and several other manufacturers, and they are not at all rare. They are somewhat dangerous to shoot; age and modern ammunition are not kind to them.
This next was given to me by my uncle, when I was 16 years old … it was a wonderful little rifle for a boy, and accounted for many holes in tin cans in its time.
It is a Stevens Visible Loading Repeater, in caliber .22 LR (Long Rifle). It is still in working order, but I am in the process of relining the barrel, which has been pretty well destroyed by the chlorate priming of the early .22 cartridges. Everyone (including the Military) made a big thing about the corrosive properties of smokeless powder (Well, they had the old Black Powder as an example, and Black Powder definitely is corrosive, at least in the presence of humidity; its ash is highly hygroscopic, and the moisture attacks the steel.) The bit they missed was that the ash is not corrosive, but the hotter, chlorate primers, required to ignite it, were very corrosive. This little rifle was made in 1907.
And then I became that much-anticipated age of 21. I was an ADULT! I was at last free to actually purchase a firearm of my own choosing, which I did, and this was it:
It is a Model 10 Smith & Wesson Military and Police Revolver with a 2-inch barrel, in caliber .38 Special. It wasn’t the best choice in the world, but I didn’t know much then, and I could afford it. It was too big for my hand, and difficult to holster. It was even harder to shoot … the heavy double-action trigger pull was really tough for me, and I soon became discouraged. I sold it, and bought this:
It is a Smith & Wesson Model 36 “Chief’s Special” five-shot revolver with a 3-inch barrel, which had to be specially ordered, in .38 Special caliber. The slight reductions in proportion and size made it MUCH easier for me to shoot well, and the extra inch of barrel made it holster much better. It is a fine revolver for someone with small hands (me, among others), and I had it for some years. I was learning.
Along the way, I traded something else (I can’t remember what; I think it was a drawing) I had for this interesting little pistol:
It’s a Spanish-made semi-auto pistol, based on the 1911 design of John Browning for the US Army. It is smaller, being made for the little .32 ACP cartridge, and there are a few slight design changes, mainly the elimination of the grip safety. I was fascinated with it, because, being basically the 1911 design, it could be completely disassembled without the use of tools, except you needed a screwdriver to get the grips off. I would disassemble it and reassemble it over and over … it really held my interest. It was completely the opposite of the revolver … double action revolvers are quite difficult to assemble and disassemble without losing springs and little parts, and are tightly fitted, so there is a good chance of marring the finish.
Then, suddenly, as it were, a nationally advertised dealer in Alexandria, Virginia, got in a shipment of Lugers from South America, and has there ever been anyone who has seen these German Army pistols who hasn’t wanted one? I ordered one quick, I tell you.
Well, this is what it looked like after I rebarreled it; the original 4-inch barrel was shot out (those lovely chlorate primers, again), and I had Adolph down at Abercrombie & Fitch put on a 5-inch barrel, so as to keep it from being taken as an original. It shot very well, and was a very interesting pistol, indeed. All matching numbers, it locked up tight, and if you could point it properly with those awful sights (they were very fine; almost impossible to see), and could get a smooth let-off with that beast of a trigger (I once described the Luger trigger as “a study in lost motion”, and most firearms engineers agree with me), it would hit what you were aiming at. It was probably the best auto pistol design before the US 1911. I kept it for quite a long while, only selling it when I needed money for a wedding.
But for any practical use, it was … well, not very good.
I knew by now what I wanted, though it went to my heart to trade the Chief’s Special for it; I wanted a Colt Government Model; I wanted a 1911!
and there it is. Well, not really; I no longer have that pistol; this is a picture off the ‘Net. The Colt Government Model is the Model 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol, made for the civilian market. It is polished and blued, rather than Parkerised, and it has the Colt markings on it. Government-issued pistols might be made by any of several different contract manufacturers, and the Parkerised finish is a sort of dull grey-green. All 1911-pattern pistols are “sloppy” in the way the parts fit together, so pinpoint accuracy is not something that you’re going to get, but that sloppiness has an important purpose: no matter what kind of dust, dirt, sand or mud gets on them or in them, they will go “BANG!”, and that’s what it’s all about, at least to the soldier who needs it, and needs it NOW, not after he cleans it and reassembles it. I happily carried mine everywhere for many years. Parenthetically, here, you must understand that I lived in a University neighbourhood in Chicago, and such neighbourhoods are notoriously crime-ridden. The campus police and the lads I knew on the regular Chicago force all said to me “Don’t go out without your gun!”, because they didn’t want to have to pick me up off the sidewalk. They also knew that I was not an impetuous person, not likely to put anyone else on the sidewalk, save at dire need. I was always fairly skilled at diverting hostility, anyway.
And here I am … back at the keyboard again, after roughly three weeks of intermittent hospital stay … in and out, then back in, you know. Some long-awaited surgery, and “old-men’s problems”, nothing terribly important, but vexatious in the extreme, and too many separate factors to expect anything to go smoothly on its own. I seem to be OK now, though weak as a fish, and as rubber-legged as Ray Bolger.
The next item on the list called itself to my attention largely because one of my fraternity brothers was the son of a local farmer, and we used to do a good deal of “pest” shooting around the farm and barn … mice, ground squirrels and the occasional prairie dog fell to our marksmanship. We’d also shoot an occasional pigeon out of the silo, to keep the barn cats well-fed and happy (keeping the barn cats happy was probably more important in the direction of “pest control” than any of our efforts. They are extremely efficient predators, and left to their own devices, cause very little trouble, and account for really vast numbers of rodents.) It must be pointed out, incidentally, that the “pests” were either going to be controlled by us, or they were going to control us … they breed VERY quickly, and as far as they were concerned, the farm was a free-lunch counter. This was not exactly the situation which was ideal, for our purposes. And, with the semi-spoilt barrel of the little Stevens rifle in mind, I bought this … it was cheap and the Marlin manufacturer had (and has) an excellent reputation, especially for their really excellent barrels … You’ll notice the ’60s styling, not the sort of thing one normally thinks of in regard to rifles, and the receiver (peep) sights, for which I’ve always had a fondness.
It’s a .22, of course, and shoots very well indeed, though the action and barrel should be rebedded in the stock.
Well, then, I started to hanker for something a little more unusual …
And THIS was IT: a Model 1962 Tingle Rifle, calibre .44 percussion … a muzzle-loader! And I must say that I’ve never since lost my love for these old-fashioned firearms. They’re graceful and well-appointed, and usually very accurate. The point being, I suppose, that if you’ve only got one shot, you’d damned well better make it count.
When properly and consistently loaded with a well-fitting ball and patch, the right powder charge, and carefully shot, this piece of nostalgia would out-perform many more-modern rifles.
The next addition was a nice double-barrelled shotgun, Italian in origin, in 20 gauge. It was beautiful little piece, but it did not fit me well; I soon got tired of the little thing beating me up, and I sold it:
Nowadays, there are more varieties of fitting-pads, adapters, and cheekpieces available, and I doubtless would still have it …. ah, well … sic transit, and all that.
I had never had a .22 pistol that I thought much of, because the front and rear sights were never mounted on the same piece of metal, so they moved in relation to each other, and the potential inaccuracy always put me off. Smith & Wesson had a couple of .22 pistols that had the sights mounted on the same piece of metal, but they were really expensive. And then came the Browning series of target pistols, at a reasonable price. I bought the middle-grade one, and became a “fan”:
It shot amazingly well, and it fit my hand so perfectly that I just got used to wasting two magazines full of .22s before I had to remind myself that I had better hang on to the damned thing, in a proper grip, or I wasn’t going to hit much with it. It was, however, a magnificent little pistol, and could easily out-perform me, even on my best days.
And then came the Single-actions:
This first is a revolver made by Ruger, with (notice) TWO cylinders. The first was chambered for the regular .22LR, and shot nicely, but the second was chambered for the .22 WMR (Winchester Remington Magnum), a rather longish .22 cartridge, intended to be more powerful … I rather suppose it was, but the early manufacture of the cartridge was most undependable in the spinning of the priming compound out into the rim of the cartridge … at least 50% of the time, the cartridge would have to be rotated and tried again. It was a pretty little revolver, but who needs a revolver that fires 50% of the time, or less? I got rid of it.
The next single action was this Ruger Blackhawk, in .357 Magnum caliber … the .357 is basically the old S&W .38 Special, with a little more cartridge length for a bigger powder charge. It’s a useful, medium-powered cartridge, quite easy to shoot well.
Well, the die was cast, I suppose … I began to investigate the types of Black Powder revolvers available, and I managed to get one of these … a reproduction of the Remington New Model Army, Model 1858, .44 calibre percussion. It’s basically a muzzle-loader, with six chambers to be loaded:
These things, primitive as they seem, are phenomenally accurate, and extremely easy to shoot. The crowd of redneck “Good ol’ Boys” that I hang around with, took to them like ducks to water. As an aside, it’s good to remember that wars were fought with these (and worse) things, and if they were ineffective, they’d not have been used, so “primitive” is a strictly relative term.
This next is rather a companion piece to the revolver; it is a repro of the Remington Model 1863 rifled musket (Yes, that’s an accurate term, the musket barrel was rifled, to make the hollow-based projectile [the invention of the French Capt. Miníe] spin in flight, and thus remain more accurate.) It did dreadful execution on the battlefields of the American Civil War, since it loaded rapidly, and was quite accurate (out to 300 yards), especially for its day. That .58 (.58 inch = ~14.7 mm.) slug hits like a wall, and is terribly destructive. It’s a pretty rifle, with its colours of the various metals. It is frequently called the “Zouave” rifle, from the units equipped with it; many of them were “Zouave” units, being uniformed and outfitted in the manner of the French/Algerian “Zouave” units, with short open black jackets, red voluminous trousers, sashes, fezzes, and all manner of exotica. Hey! Don’t look at ME! I wasn’t responsible for such insane uniforms!
Troops equipped with these .58 calibre rifled muskets, the “Zouave” or other designs, in the course of long battles, would cut down intervening trees with their concentrated fire. I believe “The Battle of the Wilderness” was one such, but I’m not sure, and I’m not about to go and look it up. Lots of folk use them today for deer hunting.
Then came “Col.” (so far as I know, no military unit ever conferred this title upon him.) Samuel Colt, with his famous “six-shooter”. Yes, the Remington was a better design, and fired at least as many shots without reloading, but Colt was a superb showman and self-promoter, and Eliphalet Remington was not. This particular example is the “Navy” (i.e., .36 calibre) Colt, favoured not only by the US Navy, but by many famous shooters:
It was my first purchase after I decided to get back into shooting, after my heart bypass … I’ve never been unhappy with it, and it shoots beautifully. It’s really the beginning of my preference for single-actions, since I found that I can shoot better with them. And, well … it’s also known as “the most beautiful revolver ever made.” I don’t know about that, but it’s sure better-looking than a Glock.
And then, my dear old Tingle M1962 having vanished into the abyss of time, I went looking for a rifle … and this is the one I found:
It’s called “The Great Plains Rifle”, and is made in Italy for the Lyman Corporation, and is as authentic a version of the mid-19th-century Plains Rifle as can be found today, aside from building one oneself (yes, people do that, and do magnificent jobs of it, too), or ordering exactly what one wants from a master gunsmith. It is made in .54 percussion … flintlock versions are available, but cost more, and are much more difficult to manage. (Flintlocks are real bears to keep tuned and regulated properly.)
The next item on my list was a .22 pistol … I almost feel that it ought to be a law that EVERYONE have a .22 pistol, unless they have some handicap which prevents them from shooting it and being safe with it. The .22 pistol is probably the firearm responsible for more just plain FUN, and it should be experienced by everyone capable of doing so safely.
This one is the Ruger Mark II, and each magazine holds 10 shots. It should be treated carefully, and with great respect, but if so treated, it is not only capable of providing lots of fun, it can also fill the pot with small game, if food is a problem in the wild country. Yes, you’re supposed to pack your food in, but sometimes things can happen. When I got it, it had a trigger pull that only a dentist could love, so I had the local ‘smith put the Volquartsen trigger in it, and my score went up by 20 points.
Now, I admit, here, that I was a bit of a sucker for this next one; it is a Browning 1885 High Wall, a “Buffalo Gun”, a repro of those made during the great extermination of the bison herds in the American West after the Civil War. It is capable of tremendous long-range accuracy, easily killing buffalo at ranges of 1,000 yards when carefully loaded. They were made in many calibres and cartridges from .40-65 to .50-140, the second figure, after the dash, indicates the grain weight of Black Powder in the cartridge behind the bullet. Anyone interested in the care, feeding, and use of these rifles should see the film Quigley Down Under, starring Tom Selleck. This one is in .45-70, the old military cartridge of the Indian Wars. They are hard to find, but worth all the trouble you spend on them when they begin knocking those steel buffalo targets down at 1,000 yards. A word of warning: anyone contemplating shooting a full competition course with one of these old beauties would be wise to wear a recoil-absorbing shoulder pad.
And then I found an old, worn-out 1911A1 auto pistol that the local gun store wanted really bad, for some reason … probably for parts … it left me sitting in the catbird’s seat, I tell you, because I got this for it:
It’s a Ruger Vaquero, Bisley style, in .45 Colt. I didn’t care for the Bisley grip, and put that brass birdshead grip on it, myself. With a little tinkering, it shoots as well as any single-action I’ve ever had, and you just wait until I start loading it up with real Black Powder loads! (Can you guess that I love powder smoke? It’s a lovely, charcoal-y smell, unfortunately with a strong component of H2S [rotten eggs]. Battle scenes used to get so smoky in the Black Powder days that action would have to be suspended.)
This one’s a little sad … it was my daughter’s, before she died. She bought it so she could “go shooting with Dad”, and she was beginning to catch onto the loading and aiming of it, too. But damn-all, I’d rather have her back. The “powers that be” wouldn’t do any swaps, though. It’s a fluted-cylinder Colt M1860, in .44 calibre percussion, fully nickel-plated, except for those brass-plated bits. It shoots beautifully, too.
And here we come to the last of the present collection. It’s a Winchester Model ’94 lever-action carbine … like you see in all the cowboy movies. It’s chambered in .30-30, and is really fun to shoot. I’m planning on putting some Indian “medicine” signs on it: brass tackheads, horsehair tassels and such. It’ll be fun to look at, then, too.
Take care, folks, and I hope I haven’t bored you all to death. And if you’re really bored, blame Antonietta … she’s the one who asked.