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Wilson’s 92G – And Ultra Light Carry 1911

Brigadier Tactical.

In 1985 many shooters were shocked, apoplectic and dismayed or worse, to see the United States military put the beloved and almost mythical .45 ACP 1911 out to pasture, replacing it with a 9mm double-action/single-action high-capacity semi-auto pistol. It was the Italian firm of Beretta which won the contract and they agreed to build a new plant in the United States to produce the pistols required by the military.

Personally, I had blinders on when it came to the 9mm and I would not even consider it for several decades. However, I began to wake up about 30 years ago which is just about the time so many new choices arrived in the 9mm chambering. For many years I carried a 9mm in my waist belt. It felt comfortable, rode comfortable, and with the high quality 9mm ammunition chosen, I felt comfortable.

Even though I carried a 9mm quite often I totally ignored the new military pistol. In fact I managed to go nearly 30 years without ever shooting the new Beretta, let alone buying one. That changed a few weeks ago when my friend Denis purchased the latest military-style Beretta 9mm offered and I told him I thought it was time for me to pick up a Beretta. He just happened to have a Beretta 92 FS stainless steel he had purchased 20 years ago and was still new in the box. He offered it to me for an exceptionally good price and it did not stay new in the box very long. My oldest granddaughter helped me break it in and she enjoyed it immensely and shot it very well while wishing it would fit in her purse.

We had just finished breaking in the Beretta 92 FS when his Esteemed Editorship informed me he and Bill Wilson had put their heads together and I was to do an article on, would you believe, a Beretta 9mm from Wilson Combat. As one who has never believed in coincidence, it’s obvious to me this was all meant to be. In addition to the Wilson Combat Beretta, Esteemed Editorship asked Wilson to also send me a second gun for testing and evaluation so we could do a well-rounded article.

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Targets fired at 20 yards with the Wilson Combat Ultra Light
Carry 9mm showed great consistency from load to load.

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Targets fired at 20 yards with the Wilson Combat Brigadier
Tactical Beretta delivered repeated 3/4″ to 1″ groups.

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The most accurate load in the Wilson Combat Ultra
Light Carry 9mm was the Winchester 115-gr. FMJ.

Top-Quality Shop

Any of you who follow semi-automatic firearms could reel off a list of names of those custom builders who are at the apex of their craft. Any list would have Bill Wilson’s shop among the top.

Bill did not start out to be a gun maker, or a gunsmith for that matter, but actually was following his father in the watch business. It’s no coincidence Bill bought his first .45 semi-auto in 1970 and soon took part in IPSC-style practical pistol shooting in the mid-’70’s. He also soon found it very convenient to work on his own handguns, and then opened a 1-man shop in the back of his dad’s jewelry store. That 1-man shop has grown and is now one of the premier custom shops for 1911’s as well as just about anything which could be considered tactical.

I have shot several Wilson Combat pistols over the past 30 years since I first met Bill in the mid-1980’s. Two of my cherished pistols are a Wilson Combat Commander-sized .45 and a full-sized .38 Super. For this go round Bill sent me two 9mm’s, both of which notched a first in my shooting life. That is not easy to do when one considers I’ve been shooting, ouch it hurts to say this, nearly 70 years. The two 9mm semi-automatics from Wilson Combat are the Beretta 92G Brigadier Tactical and the Ultra Light Carry 1911.

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Wilson Combat Ultra Light Carry 9mm offers compact,
lightweight size with amazing accuracy.

92G Brigadier

The 92G Tactical has a barrel length of 4.7″, overall length of 8.25″, height of 5.5″ and a width of 1.3″. Magazine capacity is 15 rounds, with an empty weight of 36 ounces and a loaded weight topping out at 43 ounces. Those are the standard specs, and then Wilson’s shop performs their custom touches. The M9A1 frame has a 92A1 round triggerguard, the 92G Brigadier slide has been dehorned while the slide and frame have been hand fitted very tightly.

The front sight is a Trijicon tritium dovetailed style matched up with a solid black rear battlesight also fit in a dovetail. This rear sight notch is U-shaped to match up with the dot in the front sight. There is also a rail for attaching an accessory.

The Brigadier is fitted with a stainless steel barrel with recessed crown. The finish on the 4.7″ Elite II barrel is black, matched with the black finish on the slide. The oversized magazine release is steel as are the dual de-cocking levers and the trigger. This 9mm is also fitted with a Wilson Combat fluted steel guide rod. Grips are G10 “Dirty Olive” with the Wilson Combat Medallion.

The Brigadier is available only in 9mm and comes standard with three 15 round magazines of the later style made to be easy to operate in dusty/sandy conditions. The “first” experienced with this pistol is the fact it has the smoothest double action pull I’ve ever found on any pistol of this type. In fact it rivals a well-tuned double-action revolver. The double-action pull measures 9 pounds but is so incredibly smooth it seems even lighter. The single-action pull measures out at 31/2 pounds. Compare this to my standard Beretta 92 FS at 131/2 and 6 pounds respectively.

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Wilson Combat’s Brigadier Tactical Beretta 9mm had what John
called one of the best DA trigger pulls he’s ever felt!

The 1911 9mm

Okay so we can accept 9mm everything else, why not in a 1911? Five years ago I went looking for a 1911 chambered in 9mm and I found how difficult they were to find. However, I did find one, and today we see more and more manufacturers are offering 9mm 1911’s. Somebody must want them! This 1911 from Wilson Combat is their Ultra Light Carry 9mm. However, it’s a little different in it has been fitted with a lightweight aluminum frame. Some special touches include a fluted chamber, on the outside of course, bulletproof one-piece magazine well, full-size rounded butt, bulletproof thumb safety and armor tuff finish.

The grip safety is a beavertail with a memory bump. Sights are absolutely excellent with the rear sight being a low riding Wilson Combat set in a dovetail with a U-notch matched up with the front sight, which is a high visibility fiber optic green dot. It really showed up during the cloudy days while testing this pistol in February in the great Northwest.

Slide to frame fit is absolutely without play of any kind and the top of the slide is flattened off and grooved from the back of the front sight to the front of the rear sight to reduce glare. The excellent sights matched up with a 4 pound incredibly smooth trigger, work together to make this Wilson Combat 1911 the most accurate 9mm I have ever experienced. Without a doubt it’s also one of the most accurate 1911’s it has ever been my good fortune to shoot.
The Wilson Combat Tactical Carry 1911 comes with one extra magazine and a very handy compact zippered range bag with seven magazine pouches on one side and two large pouches for carrying equipment on the other side. A heavy-duty zipper gives access to the pistol itself stored in the center of the bag.

Wilson Combat also provides exceptionally high-quality holsters for their pistols and these two came with Lo-Profile holsters of the Pancake style with loops at the front and back edges of the holster well for accepting the pants belt. These are quite attractive, as well as durable, as they are made of heavy-duty black leather with shark trim covering the entire front of the 1911 holster and the top half of the Brigadier version. These holsters ride high and close to the body holding the pistols securely.

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Wilson Combat also offers custom holsters for the Ultra Light Carry
9mm and the Combat Brigadier Tactical Beretta (and other handgun models).

A Bit Of Testing

I was also handicapped by not being able to use my rock solid pistol perch on this particular test day, but rather had to rest my forearms on sandbags. In spite of this, both pistols performed exceptionally well, with 5-shot groups fired at 20 yards.

Twenty factory loads were fired in the Brigadier, with the Black Hills 115-gr. FMJ at 1,165 fps, and CCI Blazer 124-gr. JSP at 1,123 fps both shooting into 3/4″! CCI Blazer 115-gr. JHP, 1,181 fps; Hornady 115-gr. JRN, 1,153 fps; and Herter’s 115-gr. FMJ, 1,149 fps all gave 7/8″ groups. This is spectacular accuracy for any handgun!

Eighteen factory loads were used in testing the 1911 Ultra Light Tactical Carry, with tight groups being the norm. Six loads — American Eagle 115-gr. FMJ (1,244 fps), Black Hills 115-gr. FMJ (1,203 fps), Hornady 124-gr. XTP (1,184 fps), Independence 115-gr. JHP (1,246 fps), Sellier & Bellot 115-gr. FMJ (1,225 fps) and Speer Gold Dot 115-gr. JHP (1,203 fps) all grouped their five shots in 3/4″; six other loads came in at 1″ or less.

The most accurate load proved to be the Winchester 115-gr. FMJ clocking out at 1,218 fps, with five shots in a very tight 1/2″. Testing was accomplished in a cold February, and since I was recuperating from knee surgery I had not fired a gun on paper for four months. Plus it’s no secret I’m certainly not a young shooter anymore, but these Wilson guns made me look good.

So putting all this together says these are exceptionally fine Nines. Considering they came from Wilson Combat, this is definitely no surprise.

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By John Taffin

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The First Perfect Packin’ Pistol

Too many decades ago, I coined the phrase “Perfect Packin’ Pistol”. Over the years many dedicated sixgunners have taken up this phrase, often shortened to PPP, to indicate what may be the most useful handgun in one’s working collection.

Basically a Perfect Packin’ Pistol is a handgun — either sixgun or semi-auto — with an easy handling barrel length between 4″ to 51/2″ chambered in a cartridge capable of handling anything you may run into. It’s packable, portable and potent. It may be chambered in anything from .22 LR up to .500 Wyoming Express. While the former may work well in several parts of the country, the latter would certainly be most desirable in Alaska where you’d encounter something able to bite, claw or stomp.

Sam Colt gets the credit for coming up with the first workable PPP, a Paterson Colt 1836 revolver. It wasn’t a true sixgun, but rather a 5-shooter — it was quite fragile with its folding trigger, which came down when the hammer was cocked. It was a grand beginning.

In 1847, the first true sixgun arrived with the massive .44 Walker Colt. It was certainly powerful, however neither portable nor packable unless you traveled by horseback and used pommel holsters — the horse had to do the packin’ part. One year later, Colt started downsizing this sixgun with the 1st Model .44 Dragoon, which was then followed over the next two years by the 2nd and 3rd Models. They shaved about 8 ounces from the Walker’s weight and had barrels of 71/2″ instead of the Walker’s 9″ length. All of these were, and in replica form remain, excellent sixguns.

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John took these 1st and 2nd Generation .45 Colt Perfect Packin’ Pistols
out to the range and is confident they’d put down just about any threat in
the Lower 48.

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Colt introduced the 3rd Generation SAA in 1976 — over a
100 years after the first 1873 Peacemaker.

Cartridge-Firing Sixguns

In 1851, Sam Colt came real close to the concept of PPP with his .36 Navy, which was somewhat handicapped for easy carrying with its 71/2″ barrel. This beautifully balanced “little” sixgun was followed in 1860 with the .44 Army, which had more power but with an 8″ barrel. Both of these sixguns saw extensive service in the Civil War. Meanwhile over in Springfield, Mass., Smith & Wesson was taking a different path, namely a cartridge-firing revolver instead of the percussion/cap-and-ball method used by Colt. In 1869 the first cartridge-firing, big-bore sixgun arrived with the S&W .44 American. The stage was set for percussion pistols to be replaced by cartridge-firing sixguns, at least as soon as the S&W patent ran out.

After Colt passed, the decision-makers at Colt saw the great advantage of cartridge-firing sixguns — so the 1860 Army was converted to the .44 Colt cartridge using both the Richards and Richard/Mason Conversions. Later, the first Colt dedicated to cartridges, the 1871-72 Open-Top, arrived. It was just a matter of a few months until this Colt evolved into the 1873 Single Action Army. Those first “Peacemakers” had 71/2″ barrels, with most of the first .45 Colt sixguns going to the US Cavalry.

Same as the percussion pistols, the Colt SAA used black powder and most felt longer barrels were necessary to burn the black powder. Life is full of trade-offs and although the longer barrel may have been more efficient, it was definitely less convenient to carry. I did a lot of fast draw when I was younger with a 71/2″ Colt using a low-riding Arvo Ojala Hollywood fast draw holster — but such a rig is very impractical for every day, all day packing.

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The Colt New Frontier .44-40 is the consummate PPP thanks
to its 4¾” barrel and ivory grips.

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John had this Ruger .45 Blackhawk with buffalo bone grips customized
to look like the ivory-stocked .45 Colt New Frontier. How’s that
for an elegant pair?

Comforting?

You’ve heard before a handgun is supposed to be comforting, not comfortable. But if it isn’t reasonably comfortable, you won’t carry it. For realistic comfort the handgun needs to be packed high on the belt and one of the first to realize this was Tom Threepersons, who designed what still just may be the Perfect Packin’ Pistol Scabbard. Tom’s design came about more than 40 years after the Perfect Packin’ Pistol arrived. Until then, the Perfect Packin’ Pistol was somewhat handicapped by not having comparable leather to go along with it.

Threepersons made several changes to the widespread Mexican Loop-style holster in use at the time. He raised it high on the belt, removed the voluminous back flap, angled the holster with about a 20- to 30-degree backward slant, which later became known as the FBI Slant, and removed all excess leather. At the time, Tom was packing an example of one of the first PPP’s, namely the .45 Colt SAA with a 43/4″ barrel.

The first SAA’s, as mentioned above, had 71/2″ barrels. I still find this barrel length one of the best balanced for shooting and certainly one of the easiest to make hits. Many of these were cut back by the military to make them easier to handle and carry as they became the Artillery Model with a 51/2″ barrel. This first PPP came to be by cutting the barrel back even with the ejector rod, which gave it a barrel length of 43/4″. This soon became the choice of those who wanted an easy-to-carry sixgun that was as fast from leather.

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John’s rendition of the Tom Threepersons holster for his
engraved .38-40 and .44-40 PPP’s.

Bat Masterson Influence

Where did the first PPP come from? I remember reading a Bat Masterson letter to Colt, which used the letterhead of the Opera House Saloon in Dodge City, and it asked Colt to provide him a SAA with the barrel even with the end of the ejector rod. He also specified nickel-plating and gutta-percha “handles”.

Legend has it Bat Masterson was one of the recipients of the 12″-barreled .45 Colts given to Dodge City lawmen by Ned Buntline. I seem to remember reading somewhere Masterson cut his Buntline Special to a more usable barrel length. There’s no factory record of Buntline ordering such sixguns, however factory records aren’t always complete. But there are factory records of guns ordered by Bat Masterson.

From November 1879 to November 1885 Masterson ordered eight .45 Colt SA’s. The first one, with a 71/2″ barrel was silver-plated, pearl-gripped and had his name inscribed on the backstrap. Two of the subsequent guns had 51/2″ barrels while the other five — including a matched pair — had PPP lengths of 43/4″. They were nickel-plated and had gutta percha grips, except one fitted with ivories. With five of his sixguns being 43/4″-barreled .45’s it’d be easy to conclude Bat Masterson was the first to specify a barrel length even with the end of the ejector rod.

It would certainly add to the legend of Bat Masterson if we could give him credit for coming up with the 43/4″ Colt SAA, later known as the Civilian Model. Factory records show Masterson ordered his first such sixgun in February 1882; they also show it wasn’t the first.

According to A Study of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver (a book everyone who appreciates the Colt SAA should have!) by Graham, Kopec and Moore: “Factory ledgers reveal Colt did indeed assemble 43/4″-barreled SA’s before 1879. In one such instance a 56-gun shipment of 43/4″ .45 Eley SA’s was sent to Colt’s London Agency in May 1877.” So not only Masterson doesn’t receive credit, the first Colt PPP’s weren’t even chambered in .45 Colt and went to England rather than the Frontier West.

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The darlings of the Old West, these 1st Generation Colts are chambered
in (from top-right, clockwise) .45 Colt, .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20.

Other Packin’ Pistols

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Colt offered the PPP chambered in .44 Special and then in the late 1930’s in .357 Magnum. The Colt PPP reached the epitome of usefulness with the adjustable-sighted, modernized Flattop Target Model; the New Frontier began production in 1962. In the 43/4″ barrel length it would be chambered in .45 Colt, .44-40, .357 Magnum and .38 Special. I’ve never heard of a factory original New Frontier .44 Special with the PPP barrel length, so I’ve solved this problem by adding a .44 Special cylinder to a .44-40 New Frontier.

The concept of Perfect Packin’ Pistol spread far beyond the Colt Factory. In 1955 Bill Ruger’s first Blackhawk, the .357 Magnum Flattop, was issued with a 45/8″ barrel; I have no idea what happened to the other 1/8″! Ruger would go on to offer PPP’s in .45 Colt, .41 Magnum and finally, .44 Magnum.

One year before Ruger’s first Blackhawk, Great Western began offering PPP’s and Freedom Arms, which arrived in 1983, offered their Model 83 in 43/4″ PPP versions chambered in .454 Casull, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .475 Linebaugh and .500 Wyoming Express. And of course there are excellent replica SA’s offered as PPP’s — one of my prized PPP’s is a Texas Longhorn Arms 43/4″ South Texas Army chambered in .44 Special.

As long as there are sixgunners, the first Perfect Packin’ Pistol will continue to have great influence.

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By John Taffin

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Downsizing The .45 ACP Part 2

The Star PD.

Colt’s Commander is basically the same size as the Colt 1911 Government Model except for the barrel and slide being 3/4″ shorter. The first real attempt to actually downsize the 1911 .45 ACP occurred not in the United States but from Spain and imported by Garcia — their Star PD. This was 40 years ago, and Col. Jeff Cooper found the Star PD .45 ACP much to his liking.

According to Jeff: “In the new Star PD, we have a striking tactical advance, for this is truly a pocket .45 — and it works! Heretofore you could not buy a really light, handy, concealable pistol that you could count on to stop a fight. Now you can, that is a very important development.”

That was good enough for me and I bought my first Star PD. The Star is definitely smaller, with the butt about 1″ shorter than a standard 1911 and lighter than the original Colt Commander by two ounces. There’s no grip safety, and the thumb safety positively locks the hammer. The grip frame has a built-in beavertail, however the back of the hammer is slightly too long and needs to be polished off to prevent pinching. Sights, which are black on black, are fully adjustable, with the rear sight being de-horned. The Star PD is long out of production but I had no trouble finding two reasonably priced examples in the gun shops and on the Internet.

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The first truly down-sized .45 ACP was the Star PD. John’s
was customized by Gary Reeder with Pachmayr grips.

Smith & Wesson .45’s

In the 1980’s S&W dove deeply into the semi-auto market and the joke was they were bringing out a “gun of the week” and many of these were .45’s. At the NRA Show in 1990, S&W unveiled the newest of what was then their Third Generation semi-autos, the compact version of the newly introduced 4506, this one called the 4516. I thought for the first time we had a DA .45 semi-auto defensive pistol in a compact package and at an affordable price. Fully loaded, full magazine plus one in the chamber, the 4516 holds eight rounds and weighs in at 391/2 ounces, so it’s no lightweight.

The grip supplied on the 4516 is a synthetic wrap-around style fitting my hand quite well. It’s fitted with an ambidextrous de-cocking lever and no-grip safety. Sights on the 4516 are Novak-style, low mount, non-snag rear sight with two white dots matching up with a white dot front.

Accuracy from the 31/4″-barreled S&W is quite astounding when you realize this is not a target pistol but a quick handling defensive pistol. Both the 4516 and the 4506 were dropped from the S&W catalog in 1999. The year before the models were dropped S&W introduced the semi-auto Chief’s Special in a .45 ACP version numbered as the CS45. This even more compact satin stainless steel .45 has a bobbed hammer, 6-shot magazine and a barrel length of 31/4″.

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Colt led the way in downsizing with their Officer’s Model.

Colt Officer’s ACP

Colt did come back with something even smaller than the Star PD. Actually it began not with Colt, but the Rock Island Arsenal-developed pistol especially for use by general officers of the Army and Air Force. It was known as the General Officer’s Model. This little .45 was not available to the shooting public so Colt decided to do something about that and came up with their own version in 1985. The all-steel Colt Officer’s ACP .45 is 36 ounces and has a much smaller profile than the Commander, with a shorter butt and a 31/2″ barrel.

Several finishes were offered such as blued, matte blued and stainless steel and there was also an aluminum alloy frame version which cut the weight by almost 40 percent. This frame was also used matched up with a Commander stainless steel slide and barrel and was known as the Concealed Carry Officer’s Model. Today the influence of the Colt Officer’s ACP can be seen in offerings from several manufacturers.

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Kimber’s Ultra Compact .45 with aluminum frame.

Ultra Compact .45’s

Both Kimber and Springfield Armory followed Colt’s lead of the Officer’s ACP .45, but with even shorter barrels and shortened butts making them quite a bit smaller than the Commander. I believe my personal small Kimber is the first model ever offered, the Compact Aluminum. As the name implies it’s both small and lightweight, quite a bit smaller than the original Lightweight Commander. Barrel length is 31/2″ while the grip frame is the same size as the Colt Officer’s ACP. Surprisingly the weight is identical to that of the Lightweight Commander.

As the name implies, the Kimber’s frame is an aluminum alloy finished in matte black, the slide is steel, and instead of a bushing there is a sharply tapered barrel and a full-length guide rod. Sights are excellent, square and black, hammer and trigger are skeletonized, the thumb safety is extended and the grip safety is of the beavertail design. The flat mainspring housing is finally checkered. Even with this small grip frame the magazine holds seven rounds.

A most attractive Springfield Armory pistol is the V10 Ultra Compact, which is basically the same size as the Colt Officer’s ACP. The V10 gets its name from the fact it’s ported with a 1″ slot on each side of the front sight revealing five round holes for porting. The V10 Ultra Compact has a two-tone finish with a stainless steel frame and a blued slide. Barrel length is 31/4″ and is tapered to the front instead of having a bushing. With its all-steel construction, felt recoil is held to a minimum. Unfortunately, it’s no longer cataloged but is certainly worth searching for in used gun outlets.

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Compact Springfield Armory pistols: the V10 (top) and XD-S.

Springfield’s XD-S

Not only did Springfield Armory make their XD(M) slightly larger with the XD(M) 5.25, they also went the other way, shrinking the size of their very popular XD series .45 ACP to where it will actually fit in the top of my boot, while being totally reliable, even with its very small size. The result is the Single Stack XD-S.

This is not a semi-auto to be shot for a long pleasurable afternoon, but rather a serious self-defense gun. Firing any .45 ACP load certainly gets my attention in it. I did all my testing before I compared it to my full-sized XD .45 and was really quite surprised at just how small it actually is. After more than a century of .45 semi-autos, it’s not difficult to make a totally reliable pistol, nor is it all that difficult to make a small pistol. The rub comes when you attempt to make a small reliable pistol, and that is exactly what Springfield Armory has accomplished. Comparing it with the full-sized XD reveals just how much engineering went into this down-sizing project.

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The .45 ACP Glock Model 30 has a magazine capacity of nine rounds.

Glock 30

Since introducing the original Glock .45 several variations — down-sized versions — have been introduced, including the G30. This version weighs in at 261/2 ounces with a barrel length of 33/4″ putting it in between the Colt Commander and the Colt Officer’s ACP. It has all the basic features of every other Glock, including the inherent ability to perform flawlessly with about any quality .45 ACP ammunition. Its smaller grip frame allows the use of 10 rounds as opposed to the original 13 rounds of the Glock 21. However, 10 rounds in such a small pistol is quite comforting. As is the case with the smaller .45’s, it’s harder to shoot accurately than the full-sized pistols but is not all that difficult to accomplish.

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Dan Wesson’s Officer’s-sized model is the ECO.

The Dan Wesson ECO

This down-sized 1911 is also the size normally referred to as “Officer’s” sized. The ECO .45 ACP with its anodized aluminum frame weighs in at 25 ounces with a 31/2″ barrel. The sights are excellent Trijicon tritium sights and the finish is matte black. The hammer is Commander-style and the beavertail grip safety is generous. Trigger pull measures 41/4 pounds on this very small pistol. Even with its compact grip frame, the flush-fitting magazine holds seven rounds.

The grips are quite spectacular. They are thin and finished in a half-smooth, half aggressive pattern dubbed “DW Carry G10” grips. They are mated up with 25 LPI checkering on the front strap and mainspring housing. The ECO’s match-grade, target-crowned, ramped bull barrel is bushingless.

Wesson Firearms says: “The recoil system is unique for this style of 1911 as we use a solid, one-piece guide rod and a flat recoil spring rated for 15,000 rounds in .45 ACP … This recoil system also gives the benefit of a smooth slide for easier operation and less felt recoil.” During my tests, functioning was absolutely flawless, and accuracy was way above adequate for self-defense use, with many loads resulting in one-hole groups.

There are many other compact .45’s being offered with new ones arriving constantly. If your favorite isn’t here, it’s simply because I stuck to guns I’ve had personal experience with, and any of these would do the job protecting you and your family.

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By John Taffin

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Downsizing The .45ACP Part 1

after WWII the US military decided it was time to come up with a smaller, lighter 1911, and also one chambered in 9mm to match our NATO allies. Colt went to work on the Government Model shortening the barrel and slide, replacing the steel frame with an alloy version, and chambering it in 9mm. Unlike 1986 when the military dropped the .45 and adopted the 9mm Beretta, this 9mm was not accepted by the government and the decision was made to stay with the standard .45 ACP.

Fortunately for shooters Colt decided to build the new model for the civilian market. I was still in grade school when Colt came out with their first Lightweight .45 ACP. They cut the barrel and slide length of the standard Government Model by just under 1″ and went with an alloy frame, resulting in the Commander, which at 26 ounces is 2/3 the weight of a standard 1911.

In early 1950’s I first saw this new pistol in the Gun Digest when it was known as “The New Lightning Colt — The Zephyr Commander.” Go into your local shop and ask to see a Colt Zephyr and see what kind of looks you get! The new Commander was not only offered in the originally designed 9mm and .45 ACP but also .38 Super as well. Although the military was looking for something smaller and lighter they did not accept any of the various versions which were offered.

My first 1911 was a military surplus .45 ACP I picked up sometime in 1956-57. That was the only 1911 I had until 1968 with the passing — by Congress in their ultimate wisdom — of the GCA ’68. We really didn’t know what effect this all-encompassing law would have so many of us bought as much as we could before it went into effect. For me it meant opening a charge account at a local department store. In those days virtually all our Idaho department stores and grocery stores had gun departments, and bought not one but three Commanders. They had a Lightweight .45 ACP as well as 9 mm and .38 Super Commanders, and I bought them all. Unfortunately, I let the 9mm get away in a trade, however the other two have been companions now for more than 45 years.

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Iver Johnson’s Hawk shoots very well and is quite affordable.

The Family Grew

Over the years I’ve added other Colt Commanders. One very special one is an all-steel Custom Colt Commander by the late Jimmy Clark. Jimmy fitted it with adjustable sights, Beavertail safety, group tightener, trigger job, satin nickel finish — essentially everything to make it a first-class pistol. It shoots like a target gun and I completed the job by adding very attractive staghorn stocks. This is one of the best carry pistols I have ever encountered.

Two other Colt Commanders have also been added, both chambered in the marvelous .38 Super. The Commander in .38 Super is the equivalent of a short-barrel .357 Magnum sixgun and does it with almost double the capacity.

Bill Wilson’s version of the Commander is The Professional. My original Colt Commander was, and is, a good pistol. It did, however need help to make it really usable. That help consisted of high-visibility fixed sights, a beavertail grip safety and polishing of the ramp to allow it to handle anything other than hardball. In today’s dollars, that 1968 Colt cost me more than the price of the Wilson Professional Model which needs absolutely nothing to make it perfectly reliable and perfectly usable, except possibly custom grips. Since this is now my personal pistol, I have fitted it with skip-checkered grips from Herrett’s.

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Wilson’s Professional Model is reliable
and exceptionally accurate.

Shooting Wilson’s

The Professional Model from Wilson Combat has a barrel length just over 4″, the weight is a gnat’s hair under 36 ounces according to my postal scale, and the trigger pull, which is guaranteed to be between 31/4 and 33/4 pounds comes in at 35/8 pounds. Next comes the easy handling features such as the Wilson Combat High Ride Beavertail grip safety, the Extended Tactical thumb safety, the Ultralight Trigger and matching Commander style Ultralight hammer, and the 30 LPI checkering on the front strap and mainspring housing. The fine line checkering allows for a very secure feeling while shooting. The ejection port has been lowered and flared for ease of ejection of fired brass and the rear of the slide has serrations for easy cocking. It’s also been neatly de-horned.

Sights on the Wilson Professional Model are a perfect choice for this .45, consisting of Wilson Tactical Combat sights. These also serve well as night sights with three tritium round dots, one on each side of the rear notch and one in the face of the front sight. The finish is Armor-Tuff, a chemical and heat resistant thermally cured finish that provides a satin matte surface. Test shooting revealed it to deliver reliable 11/4″ to 11/2″ groups at 20 yards.

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Taffin’s .45 Commanders include a Lightweight
factory version and a custom by Jimmy Clark (right).

The Hawk And Ruger

There are many manufacturers offering their versions of the Commander. The Hawk is Iver Johnson’s Commander-sized 1911 and, except for the sights and shorter frame and slide, it has all of the same features as their full-sized Eagle 1911. The sights are combat style mounted in dovetails and provide a large black, easy to see sight picture. Mine came in the matte finish which makes it a natural for packing in an inside the waistband holster. Originally, the Hawk had a much too heavy trigger pull at 8 pounds; even so I managed to get some excellent groups with it. The best factory loads for the Hawk proved to be Black Hills 230-gr. JHP +P at 926 fps and the CCI Blazer 230-gr. FMJ at 888 fps; both group in 11/2″; my two handloads with the RCBS #45-201 also do well with groups at 13/4″ or less.

The importance of the 1911 is easily seen by the fact Ruger brought out their full-size 1911 for the 100th Anniversary celebration and then followed up with their Commander. In the twilight of my life the most important feature on any handgun is the sights. I can live with a heavy trigger and overcome it, however there is no overcoming hard to see sights. The sights on the Ruger 1911 are excellent and the same sights have been carried over to their stainless steel Commander version. Both the front and rear sights are set in a dovetail and can be adjusted for windage. They are Novak-style, set low, and there are no sharp edges on the rear to injure the hand when a quick positive operation of the slide is used to chamber a cartridge. Sights are black with white dots and provide a good square, easy to see, for me, sight picture.

Ruger’s 1911 trigger is skeletonized aluminum with, if you desire such a thing, an adjustable over-travel stop. My original SR1911 has a clean, crisp trigger which measures 43/4 pounds. That on the Commander is about 1 pound heavier and was a little gritty to begin with. The latter has been worked out with several shooting sessions.

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Ruger now also offers their
SR1911 in a Commander style.

Fixing Fixed Sights

One of the problems inherent with fixed sights is the fact that all loads do not shoot to the same point of impact. With adjustable sights it simply requires a few clicks of the rear sight screw to compensate. With the Ruger 1911 I found most loads shot 1″ to 2″ high at 20 yards for me, which can easily be addressed by replacing the front sight with a taller version. However with the sights just as they are this 1911 shoots right to point of aim with 230-gr. round-nosed cast bullets at 850 fps. With the Commander I found just the opposite, and most groups printed just slightly lower than point of aim. In fact all I possibly need to do to adjust both pistol’s sights is to swap front sights.

The Ruger SR1911 Commander never failed to feed, fire, or extract; performance was absolutely perfect. My most accurate handload is the Oregon Trail 200-gr. SWC over 5.5 grs. of Bullseye for 915 fps and a 20-yard, 5-shot group of just 3/4″! The two most accurate factory loads are both designed for target shooting, the 1965 Match and Winchester 230-gr. FMJ. They clock out at 808 fps and 848 fps respectively with both loads placing their five shots into 11/4″ at 20 yards. Every load tested exhibited more than adequate self-defense accuracy. For every day carry with the .45 Ruger Commander I would go with Black Hills 230-gr. JHP +Ps at 875 fps or Buffalo Bore’s 200-gr. JHP +Ps at just over 1,000 fps.

The Colt Commander was only the beginning when it came to downsizing the .45 ACP. In Part Two we’ll look at the Star PD and the Colt Officer’s ACP and many of the really compact firearms that followed.
By John Taffin
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Custom .22’s

21st Century

No matter how large or small one’s gun collection — actually … “accumulation” ­— there are two, possibly three, absolutely basic firearms. Many years ago Skeeter Skelton did a Dobe Grant story in which the old Texas Ranger shared what his favorite firearm was. No surprise, it turned out to be a .22 rifle. In addition to a .22 rifle, a good .22 handgun is absolutely essential. It may be a sixgun on a semi-automatic, actually probably both. My first .22 handgun was a Ruger Single-Six also purchased in 1956. At my tender age of 17 I thought I basically had all the bases covered. As I look back nearly 60 years, I did.

Today the .22 Long Rifle is our most used cartridge. At least it was until the election of 2008, followed by a repeat in 2012. Ammunition may be in short supply right now, however there’s no shortage of factory produced high quality .22 rifles and handguns. Personally, I have a hard time passing up a good .22 and especially look for some of the older classics as well as new production items. Whether it’s by S&W or Ruger or another maker, shooters gain exceptional value with production guns. These days, we even have custom gunsmiths offering some really neat custom .22 handguns. Two of those gunsmiths are Bruce Warren and Gary Reeder.

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The innovative Bruce Warren Model 617 .22
Long Rifle is a 10-shooter with some very
nifty features.

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Sights on the Warren Model 617 consist of an 8-MOA
Burris Red-Dot Optic but can be customized
to meet a shooter’s needs.

Bruce Warren

Bruce of BC Armory says his is a shop “Specializing in 1911-style autos, S&W revolvers and Glock pistols for competition and/or concealed carry. If you compete in bowling pin shooting, IPSC, IDPA, ICORE, IPSA, GSSP, steel challenge or American Handgunner-type matches and require a space gun, race gun, open class, limited class or a tactical weapon with the utmost in reliability for concealed carry, you can rely on the BC Armory to build the weapon you need to compete.”

In receiving the test gun from Bruce my first reaction was “Wow! This is really 21st century stuff.” Built on a 10-shot S&W Model 617, Bruce’s creation makes my 30-year-old blued 10-shot Model 17 look positively stodgy. Diamond Dot pegged it years ago when we were involved in Cowboy Action Shooting when she said “Even if I don’t shoot very well, I want to look good.” Warren’s .22 not only shoots well, but it also looks great.

Bruce sponsors a family of shooters, one of whom “… is a very good revolver shooter.” They were discussing building a lightweight .22 for him to use in steel challenge matches. In the past Warren

has lightened barrels on S&W sixguns, however this time his goal was something even lighter and especially distinctive, and he has succeeded.

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The ultra-lightweight Model 617 was test-fired with a
variety of .22 ammunition. It’s not designed to be a
tack-driver, but to be very controllable during
fast competition shooting.

Custom 617

Starting with a S&W Model 617, Bruce removed the factory barrel, cut a lightweight Tactical Solutions .22 barrel to length, in this case 4″, added a highly effective compensator and threaded it for installation in the S&W. Flamboyancy is obtained by the highly attractive fluted barrel which is an anodized blue with aluminum flutes. The revolver itself is stainless steel and to add to the lightness afforded by the Tactical Solutions barrel, Warren has also machined metal from the front two-thirds of the cylinder so the back part of the cylinder is full diameter while the front is smaller.

Bruce can provide any type of sights, such as a Weigand front sight base and choice of sights matched up with the S&W factory rear sight. This Model 617, which is Warren’s personal sixgun, came equipped with a Burris Red-Dot optic. Normally when testing a firearm of any kind I spend a lot of time shooting groups at varying distances. When it comes to .22’s I especially prefer to shoot as many different varieties of ammunition as I can come up with looking for the best, spelled tight-shooting, load I can find.

However, this BC Armory gun was not built for that kind of precision shooting. It’s for fast competition shooting, as is the Burris Red-Dot 8 MOA, and that big red dot pretty much rules out shooting very tight groups, at least in my hands. It’s built for very fast shooting on relatively large targets, and to add to this goal Bruce has made it double action only. All groups pictured were shot at 15-20 yards rapid-fire double action. And this double action is just about the finest I’ve ever experienced on a S&W revolver. Over the years, rapidly approaching 50 years as a gunwriter, I’ve tested about everything there is to shoot from .22 Mini-Guns up to various hyper recoiling .50 handguns. Most of them have been some fun combined with a lot of work. This sixgun from BC Armory is nothing but pure unadulterated fun, 21st century style.

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Reeder .22 Mag.

Gary Reeder, of Reeder Custom Guns, offer some of the most powerful hunting handguns imaginable, built on Ruger Blackhawk and Redhawk platforms as well as Thompson/Center Single-Shot pistols. Many of these are chambered in cartridges of Gary’s own design. Gary also has a highly pleasant shooting side to his personality, offering some especially pleasing and exceptionally desirable 21st century .22’s.

When Bill Ruger introduced his Convertible Single-Six with two cylinders it required more than just adding a second cylinder chambered in .22 Magnum. The two .22 cartridges do not use the same diameter bullets, with the Magnum version being slightly larger. Originally the Single-Six used a bore diameter of 0.216″ while the Magnum version was cut at 0.223″. To chamber both cartridges for shooting through the same barrel Ruger compromised at a bore diameter of 0.219″.

Starting with Ruger .22’s, Gary makes them even more versatile by converting them to .22 Magnum. Because of the difference in bore diameter simply re-chambering an existing .22 Long Rifle cylinder and using the same factory barrel does not guarantee good accuracy.
I have currently been testing two Reeder Prototypes both of which are marked as such on the right side of the barrel. The Gary Reeder Pocket Packer starts as a standard .22 LR Ruger Bearcat, however a new cylinder is machined for the Magnum cartridge and a new barrel is installed with a bore diameter of 0.224″. This ensures the best accuracy possible with the .22 Magnum. In addition a new front sight is installed, the barrel is marked “Gary Reeder Pocket Packer” and the left side of the frame is marked “.22 Magnum.”

The entire Bearcat is then finished in Black Chromex, Reeder’s special blue which absolutely has no equal. The lettering is highlighted in white, screws are nickeled and the grips are the ivory-like, though much less expensive, Corian. The action, of course is tuned to perfection, and the lock-up is exceptionally tight. For testing the little Reeder/Ruger .22 Magnum Bearcat I was able to come up with five different types of .22 Magnum ammunition.
The highest velocity out of the 4″ barrel was recorded with the CCI Maxi-Mag +V HP at an amazing 1,650 fps. The best accuracy came with CCI’s Gold Dot HP Personal Protection at 1,390 fps and a 5-shot group at 20 yards of 15/8″ while the Winchester Super-X HP came in at 1,260 fps and an even better group of 13/8″. Exceptional performance for me with such a small, short-barreled .22.

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Reeder’s Pocket Packer delivered surprising
groups at 20 yards for such a small gun.

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DA or SA, Gary Reeder’s .22 Magnum Pocket
Packer and Striker have you covered.

Striker

Reeder’s Striker is built on a stainless steel Ruger SP101. Just as with the Bearcat Gary fashions a new barrel with a bore diameter of .224″ and also a custom 8-shot cylinder. The Stryker is larger and heavier than the Bearcat, however offers more versatility for shooters by having adjustable sights. The left side of the barrel is marked “Gary Reeder Custom Striker” while the right side is marked “.22 Magnum.” A very nice touch is the striking cobra head etched on the left side of the barrel below the front sight and the full striking cobra on the left side of the frame.

All this is mated up with a polished stainless steel finish resulting in a most attractive and relatively small sixgun weighing in at 2 pounds. The panels on the Ruger factory rubber grips have been replaced with those fashioned from Corian. Whether with the deep blue Black Chromex finish of the Pocket Packer Bearcat or the stainless steel Striker SP101, the ivory-style Corian grips provide a nice contrast.

The Reeder Striker was test-fired with the same five .22 Magnum loads and as expected the resulting accuracy in my hands gave tighter groups due to the adjustable sights and longer sight radius. Groups are also seven shots at 20 yards instead of five shots as in the Pocket Packer. Both the CCI Maxi-Mag HP at 1,290 fps and the Winchester Super-X HP, 1,135 fps, grouped their seven shots into 13/8″. This Reeder Stryier makes a very practical varmint hunting pistol or a plinking pistol providing quite a bit more range than afforded by the factory chambered .22 Long Rifle. With the built-in ruggedness of the Ruger platform, the custom tuning and chambering by Gary Reeder, this is a .22 Magnum sixgun built for decades of tough service.

The Pocket Packer is appropriately named and is very easy to pack and remains a potent package where weight is very important. I remember when the .22 Long Rifle Bearcat first came out in the late 1950’s Elmer Keith wrote of his son Ted carrying it as a smoke jumper. By converting it to .22 Magnum Reeder has provided a Perfect Packin’ Pistol .22-style.

I mentioned earlier carrying a deep pocket .22 Magnum Mini-Gun. The Pocket Packer won’t fit in the tiniest places a Mini-Gun goes, however it is much easier to hit with. Weighing only 11/2 pounds, it could well be the Ultimate Survival .22 fitting neatly into a backpack along with a couple boxes of ammunition and taking up very little space and adding very little weight.

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/product-index; BC Armory Ph: (269) 729-5508; Reeder Custom Guns Ph: (928) 527-4100
By John Taffin

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Classic Snub Guns

Twenty years ago it was very difficult in many areas to get a concealed weapon permit. Thanks to the hard work of many individuals and organizations I believe every state now has legislation in place to issue concealed weapons permits. Not only are the laws in place, we now have a near endless supply of pocket pistols, both revolvers and semi-automatics to choose from. However, when I started shooting seriously the choices were basically a Colt or S&W 2″ double-action .38 Special, the classic snub guns of the 20th century.

In 1950, one of the most famous of the S&W revolvers arrived. A 5-shot, compact revolver chambering the more powerful .38 Special instead of the .38 S&W, was introduced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., and has been officially and lovingly known as the Chiefs Special ever since. This was the first J-frame revolver, a bit larger than the I-frame, which had been chambered in .22, .32 S&W Long and .38 S&W. In 1960, all I-frames became J-frames.

The Chiefs Special as been offered in a number of versions along the way. The standard model became the Model 36 in 1957, offered in both round- and square-butt versions, followed by the Airweight Model 37. The Model 38 Bodyguard, which has an extended frame protecting the hammer, exposing only enough of the tip to allow for cocking, was also introduced. Thanks to the urging of Col. Rex Applegate, the modern version of the Safety Hammerless — the Model 40 Centennial .38 Special — arrived with a hidden hammer and safety bar in the back of the grip.

The late Col. Applegate was often involved in clandestine operations from his early days with an outfit known as the OSS in World War II, through his commissioning as a general in the Mexican Army. One of his favorite pocket pistols was a Top-Break .38 S&W which he carried in a special holster designed to be worn on the belt but with the pistol up under his arm. When he had to empty his little .38, which was chambered in .38 S&W not .38 Special, to stop an attacker, he knew more power was needed in pocket pistols.

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Purdy Gear’s “Rex” rig (left) and “Applegate” rig (right) are based on the Colonel’s
rig he wore while carrying a top-break .38 S&W. Rex’s experience in shooting helped
lead S&W to make the J-frame .38 Special. Purdy Gear: (706) 692-5536, info@nullpurdygear.com.

Colt’s Idea

Colt had been way ahead of Smith & Wesson in the .38 power market. Long before WWII they had chopped the barrel of their Police Positive Special to 2″ and called it the Detective Special. It was a start in the right direction, but with its 6-shot cylinder, some felt it was a mite big for a pocket pistol. Smith & Wesson went to work to improve the I-frame by slightly enlarging it to take five rounds of .38 Special. In addition to a larger frame, the new J-frame used a coil mainspring and an extra long cylinder filling out the frame window.

There was a time in my life when I needed to carry the Chiefs Special in a situation where a firearm was not only disallowed but I could not take the chance on anyone brushing up against me and feeling the outline of the little .38. My solution was to carry it in the top of my boot where it lived for several years. I certainly would’ve felt better with something larger such as a .45 ACP 1911 or a .44 Special Smith & Wesson, however for several reasons — none of which were very pleasant — I couldn’t take the chance.

In 1965, a most significant J-frame variation appeared, one that was to have far-reaching consequences throughout the firearms industry. This was the Chiefs Special, carried out in stainless steel as the Model 60. Instantly popular with peace officers and outdoorsman alike, the first stainless steel revolver from Smith & Wesson revolutionized firearms. Stainless steel revolvers as well as semi-autos are now a major part of the handgun industry, but at the time this was a radical development.

Colt first began offering 2″ barrel .38 Specials in the 1920’s. Colt introduced the Detective Special in 1927 using the Police Positive Special as the platform. In that year, the 6-shot Police Positive was chambered in .38 S&W, a shorter and less powerful cartridge than the then relatively new .38 Special. In 1908 the Police Positive was made slightly larger in frame and cylinder to become the Police Positive Special chambered in .38 Special.

Both the standard Police Positive and the Police Positive Special were popular since they were relatively light and small in size. Even with a 4″ barrel they were easy to conceal, especially in a coat pocket. When we talk of Fitz Specials, the custom sixguns of John Henry FitzGerald, we normally think of the large Colt New Service .45 with a 2″ barrel, shortened and rounded butt, de-horned hammer and cutaway trigger guard. Fitz also performed the same surgery on the Police Positive and he pictures a pair of these with a pair of .45 New Service Fitz Specials in his 1930 book Shooting.

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Whether the .38 Special snub gun is from Smith & Wesson or Colt,
it performs exceptionally well as a self-defense sixgun.
Note the slightly larger grip frame of the Colt.

Positive Ideas

The Police Positive had a cylinder 11/4″ in length and was normally chambered for the .38 Colt New Police which is basically the same as the .38 S&W. The later Police Positive Special had its cylinder increased to 15/8″ and was chambered for the more powerful .38 Special. The former arrived in 1905 while the latter came on the stage in 1908.

My particular Police Positive has a 4″ barrel and is chambered in .38 Colt New Police/.38 S&W and is particularly easy to shoot with very little recoil and also shoots very accurately. In this day and age it’s probably considered under powered, however I would still prefer the .38 S&W cartridge over such “acceptable” defensive cartridges as the .380 ACP and .25 ACP. The .38 Colt New Police/.38 S&W is a shorter cartridge than the .38 Special and is also slightly larger in diameter. It also takes a bullet of 0.360″ instead of the standard 0.358″ of the .38 Special. Starline still offers .38 S&W brass.

The first shortened versions maintained the square butt of the Police Positive Special, however this was soon round-butted to the standard Detective Special .38 we are most familiar with. One year later the Police Positive received the same treatment to become the .38 New Police Bankers Special. Since the Detective Special started as the larger of the Police Positive models it’s also slightly larger than the Bankers Special.

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Colt offered both the Detective Special and the
Cobra in nickel-plated finishes.

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The Colt Banker’s Special .38 S&W was
built on the Police Positive.

Still Timely?

Life is full of trade-offs and definitely so when it comes to choosing a firearm for concealed carry. I always recommend the first-time carrier to choose a .38 Special. In these days since the Colt is no longer available I normally recommend a J-frame. Back in the day when one had both choices one could either go with the smaller, lighter S&W Chiefs Special 5-shooter, or the slightly larger, heavier Colt Detective Special with a 6-shot cylinder. Easier carrying or one extra round is the choice which had to be made. Personally I find the Detective Special a little easier to shoot, and if it was the 1950’s — long before high-cap magazines were common — that one extra round may have made a difference.

In the waning days of the 1940’s, Alcoa and Colt worked together to come up with a lightweight frame for the Detective Special. The result in late 1949/early 1950 was a 15-ounce revolver. That’s six-ounces, or just under a 30 percent reduction in weight of the Detective Special. This new alloy frame, 2″ .38 Special was given the appropriate name of the Colt Cobra for its quick striking ability. It’s identical in all ways to the Detective Special except for the lightweight frame. I first saw my choice at the company store and I could not resist this nickel-plated pocket pistol. It rode in my pocket from the early 1960’s on.

Taking a close look in the display case of most gun shops will reveal a large number of modern pocket pistols. However, if one looks very closely, and if everything happens to be going right at that particular time, it may actually be possible to find one of these classic snub guns almost hidden in a sea of polymer. The good news is when they are found they normally have very reasonable prices. These Colt and S&W 2″ .38 Specials will be found to have been carried a lot and shot very little. A bargain just waiting for the right sixgunner to come along.

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The 5-shot .38 Chiefs Special is quite a bit
smaller than the 6-shot M&P.

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Snub guns/pocket pistols don’t come any better than the Chiefs
Special or Model 60 (stainless) from Smith & Wesson.

Hard Choices

Only one thing remains, namely which one should we choose, Colt or Smith & Wesson? I must admit I have a terrible time making such decisions so in situations such as this I take my own advice and “Buy ’em both.” This is easy simply because I like them both. However, there are some differences. The Chiefs Special, also known as the Model 36 since 1957, is a 5-shooter and slightly smaller than the 6-shot Detective Special. Both are available in lightweight frames as the Chiefs Special Model 37 and the Colt Cobra. The Smith & Wesson version is also offered in stainless steel as the Model 60.

The Smith & Wessons have a somewhat protected ejector rod while the original Colts do not. Colt “corrected” this with their final run before production stopped. Finally the Chiefs Special has a smaller grip frame than that of the Colt and also Colt added larger grips in their last run. In their original form with standard grips I find both the Smith & Wesson and the Colt relatively easy to control and shoot, and I don’t use them with +P’s and honestly, there’s no reason to.
By John Taffin

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Culina Custom Grips

Affordable Quality

When my kids were preschool age and even several years later, money was really tight. Twice a year, I managed to squeeze out enough money at both Easter and Christmas to buy my two girls special dresses, hoping I could one day do more. I’m sure many of you have gone down the same highway at a time when necessities literally ate up the budget.

Now, my kids are grown and my grandkids are no longer teenagers. I feel fortunate to have expendable dollars so I can do things for my grandkids, really important things such as helping with college expenses. I want to do everything I can for them, and one of the things I’ve done — after teaching them how to shoot and do it safely — is to supply them with quality firearms.

Two years ago, my granddaughter Whitney visited us for Thanksgiving, so I picked a few guns out of the safe and we went shooting. She immediately latched onto a Model 19 and said she’d like to have it someday, since she knew I plan on giving many of my guns to my kids and grandkids. After thinking about this, I figured it’d be better to start from scratch and build a special Model 19 just for her. I looked around and found a classic 4″ pinned and recessed which had possibilities.

I went to see my gunsmith Tom at Buckhorn Gun and made arrangements for him to tune and tighten it. He then turned it over to Rocky York, a local craftsman, for re-bluing. At the same time, the hammer and trigger were sent back to Turnbull for re-case hardening. I wanted to cover all the bases, as this would be a very special sixgun for a very special granddaughter. There was one thing missing: a nice set of grips/stocks.

I just “happened” (I definitely don’t believe in coincidences) to be on an online forum and found the username, Kurac — a fellow who was making Smith & Wesson target-style grips as a hobby and selling them from time to time. I contacted him and learned it would be several months before he had anything for me, and it was my choice whether or not I wanted to purchase them later.

A couple of months later, he informed me he had two pairs of smooth target grips, one for a Model 19 and the other for a Model 29. I immediately told him I’d take both — this is certainly one of those times when “Buy ’em both!” really paid off. It turned out to be a good news/bad news proposition.

The good news was these grips are absolutely exquisite: beautifully crafted, very hand friendly and just about fit the grip frames perfectly. The bad news was the maker, John Culina, didn’t want me to write about them, since he only made them as a hobby. This saddened me, as I always like to inform readers when I stumble onto something very special. Believe me, these grips are very special. More on that later.

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When paired with these smooth, French walnut Magna-style grips, the Model 1955 is an
unparalleled big-bore defensive sixgun.

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A Jim Riggs-engraved Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum with
checkered Culina grips in the Roper pattern.

The Tipping Point

There was a time when Smith & Wesson actually offered quality wood stocks, which looked good, felt good and fit the frame like they were made for it. Something went south in the 1980’s and it all changed. John discovered this when he purchased one of those special run .44 Special stainless steel Model 624’s. He discovered, as many of us had earlier, the “Coke Bottle” shape of the stocks — which had deteriorated to something more akin to a saw handle.

John had this to say on his Model 624: “The gun was in good condition, but it had one problem which I’m sure many of you can relate to — it came with one of the most ugly set of aftermarket grips I had ever laid eyes on. I just couldn’t bear it, so I sanded them down and gave them a nice glossy refinish. They looked much better, but the walnut was still really plain and I wanted something more appealing.

“I decided a set of Ebony smooth target grips would look really sharp on this handgun. After much research, I could only find one custom grip maker who was making Ebony grips. I wasn’t able to contact him directly, but I got a hold of an outfit that stocked and sold his product. After several attempts, they couldn’t tell me what a set would cost and how long it would take to get one. I got frustrated, threw up my hands and said, ‘Forget it; I’ll make a set myself!’”

Sixgunners in the future will be very glad this frustration occurred!

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John appreciated the “3-legged” quality of Culina’s grip making. This collection
of N-Frame grips (from left to right) of Circassian walnut, Osage orange and
Bocote is a good example of his craftsmanship.

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This unlucky target took a beating from John’s granddaughter, Whitney.
Her new .357 Magnum fitted with Culina’s cocobolo stocks shoots how it looks — snappy.

Good News

This good news/bad news situation is now only good news: John decided to go into the business of crafting custom grips for sixgunners. Not to worry, he isn’t leaving out those who pack a 1911! John recently informed me he and his wife formed Culina LLC and are making grips/stocks fulltime.

I’m certainly happy he made this decision. I know many grip makers, and John Culina is starting at the top by providing exceptional quality and workmanship. In fact, if you like what you see here, you better order quickly before he becomes famous and you wind up on the waiting list.

Currently, John offers both square and round-butt to square, smooth target grips for N- and K-Frame Smith & Wessons, Magna-style for S&W N- and K-Frames, as well as Colt Python-size smooth target grips and both standard and flat bottom style for 1911’s. J-Frame grips will soon follow and he’s already offering checkering. Factory medallions can also be fitted.

The classic “Coke Bottle” style grips are offered, as well as regular Smith & Wesson factory target grips. He can provide potential buyers with the dimensions of each of these grips. In my younger years, my hands were tougher and I preferred relatively thin grips; however, these days I’m much more inclined to choose thicker grips like the ones John offers. By the time you read this, John’s hoping to offer grips for single action sixguns.

It isn’t difficult to find hand-filling, target-style stocks for Smith & Wesson sixguns. They can be anything from smooth to checkered to finger grooved and all levels of quality. However, trying to find a pair of Magna-style grips — or plainclothes grips, as Elmer Keith called them — for Smith & Wesson N-Frames isn’t easy.

I got a pair smooth fancy walnut grips from John and they fit my 1955 Model 4″ .45 ACP perfectly — making it easier to conceal than when fitted with target grips and they fit my hand exceptionally well. I realize how subjective grip fit is, but big-bore 4″ Smith & Wesson’s seem to balance superbly for me with smaller grips. These concealable grips, when matched with full moon clips for the 1955 .45 ACP, make for one of the most practical big-bore defensive sixguns ever imagined.

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Osage orange (left) and Circassian walnut grips stand out
on this pair of Smith & Wesson Model 629’s.

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Culina LLC’s quality doesn’t leave out 1911’s; these stylish
grips include English walnut (left) and cocobolo.

Exotic Options

Currently, John’s grips are offered from exotic woods such as bocote, cocobolo, three types of ebony, goncala alves, three types of maple, Osage orange, snakewood, zebra wood and — would you believe — seven styles of walnut, including claro, Circassian, French and English. In addition to all of these, Culina also handles special requests.

Slabs for creating grips are book-matched and three grades are offered, based upon grain pattern and origin of the wood. The three are: Service Grade, which is the plainest wood; Signature Grade, made from premium select cuts; and the very rare Exhibition Grade, which only about two to three percent of wood qualifies for. Prices for the three grades average $85, $135 and $159 for S&W target grips, while the same grades for 1911 are $35 and $65 for Service and Signature Grades.

Grips are normally finished with Tru-Oil, occasionally Tung-Oil and then buffed with a coat of wax. Personally, I normally don’t like high-gloss finishes on gun grips — but the finish used by John Culina is quite eye-pleasing.

Grip making, just as custom holster making, is a 3-legged stool. Those three legs are quality of design, quality of raw material and quality of craftsmanship. John Culina’s grips rest on three solid legs.

John can be reached the old-fashioned way at (916) 259-1251 or at www.culinagrips.com.
By John Taffin

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A True Sixgunner’s Dream

Classic Carved Grips Found!

There was a time in my life — in the first half of the 1960’s — I mostly lived on dreams. When I wasn’t working, sleeping or attending classes, I often dreamed of the sixguns I would have in the future. Those dreams were inspired by such books as Elmer Keith’s Sixguns, Ed McGivern’s Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting and Walter Roper’s Pistol and Revolver Shooting. On page 179 of Keith’s Sixguns there’s a picture of four of his Smith & Wesson double-action sixguns: A 61/2″ .357 Magnum, a 61/2″ .44 Special Triple-Lock Target, a 4″ .44 Special 1950 Target and a 6″ K-22 Masterpiece. The last line in the caption says, “Kearsarge custom grips on top two guns.”

There’s a much better picture of Kearsarge grips on page 455 of McGivern’s book and he also mentions Kearsarge and Walter Roper on page 287. In Roper’s book, of course, we have more pictures of stocks by the author, who also designed the “Target” grip for the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum which carried over to.44 Specials and the .44 Magnum.

By the time I could even think of buying more sixguns — let alone custom grips — both Roper and Kearsarge were gone. Anyone who found an old Smith & Wesson sixgun equipped with either grip really found something special. What’s interesting about both grips is the fact Roper grips weren’t made by Roper, and Kearsarge was not a man, but a mountain. Walter Roper was a designer, not a woodworker, and Kearsarge Woodcraft Co. put out grips made by one Charles Wendell Jr. In either case, the work was magnificent.

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These Pre-War-style exhibition French walnut grips — once called “Magna Stocks” or
“Plainclothes Grips” depending on who you ask — match perfectly with an 83/8″ Pre-Model 27.

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Two classics joined together: Keith Brown’s Kearsarge
grips on a S&W Model 1950 Target .44 Special.

History Lesson

Thanks to an article, “The Gripping Story of Walter F. Roper” by Kevin Williams, we know a lot more about the famed grip maker. Williams tells us while he was shooting a .45 ACP Smith & Wesson Model 1917 in 1921, Roper realized something needed to be done about the grips, and his experiments began. After meeting a French clockmaker by the name of Mathias Gagne, Roper’s designs were translated into wood. The fleur-de-lis pattern of the checkering is thanks to the Frenchman’s heritage. Roper didn’t care much for it; however, we can be thankful he allowed it to stay.

When it comes to Kearsarge custom grips we know Wendell pre-dated Roper, as he started making grips in the 1920’s. He esablished Kearsarge Woodcrafters in the 1930’s in sight of the mountain for which it was named.

Both Walter Roper and Charles Wendell started making grips designed for target shooters. The coming of the Magnum double-action sixguns made the filler behind the trigger guard just as important for the peace officer, outdoorsman, hunter and anyone who shot any heavily-loaded double action sixgun. There was a time when Smith & Wesson grips closely followed the Roper design, however this disappeared with the demise of the “diamond” stocks.

Several companies offer Roper’s design for double-action revolvers. However, carved and checkered examples could not be found until now. Wendell specialized in an oak leaf design in his carvings and these also have been lost to time — again, at least until now.

I recently discovered Classic Carved Grips — a one-man operation by Keith Brown. I say I discovered him, but actually someone mentioned him on an online forum and I was immediately enraptured by the pictures on his website. I arranged for him to send a pair of carved Ropers along with some other samples.

Once I put all those samples on Smith & Wesson sixguns, there was no turning back! Try as I might, I couldn’t get my screwdriver to go into reverse, so Diamond Dot wrote a check for all of them. If anyone can resist Keith Brown’s stocks or grips — whichever terminology you prefer — I would wonder about whether or not you had a real sixgunner’s heart.

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True sixgunners will appreciate Keith Brown’s carved grips on
a .357 Magnum pre-Model 27 and .44 Special 1950 Target.

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Keith Brown Birdseye Maple smooth target stocks on a Model 27 and
exhibition French walnut on a Model 19 go pretty well together, right?

Dreams Come True

The original order was for a set of carved and checkered Roper-style grips of exhibition claro walnut. These were ordered to go on a Smith & Wesson 1950 Target .44 Special. However, a second pair of grips, as we’ll soon see, changed my mind.

Instead of going on the .44, the Ropers were installed on a most appropriate substitute: a 61/2″ pre-Model 27 Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. I’ve seen several pictures of the original .357 Magnum with Roper stocks so it just seemed natural for me to follow the pattern. The Ropers are beautifully carried out, with exquisite grain pattern, perfect carving and checkering. Most importantly, they fit my hand perfectly. Keith requires a hand pattern for every set of grips — obviously paying great attention to it.

The grips, which caused the change in sixguns, were a set of Kearsarge grips of French walnut with the Charles Wendell-style oak leaf carving — just as on Elmer Keith’s .44 Special Triple-Lock Target. These are also perfect, with their shape, carving and checkering fitting my hand neatly. It’s taken over 40 years to have a set of Kearsarge stocks on a .44, and my .44 Special isn’t a Triple-Lock Target, but a 61/2″ Model 1950 — more than close enough for me.

It took a long time to locate a 61/2″ S&W .357 Magnum. I’d have settled for any pinned and recessed Model 27 and I feel very fortunate I found a pre-27 on an online site and at an especially attractive price. This sixgun definitely deserved the Ropers as much as the 1950 Target, now complete with the Kearsarge stocks. Two classic Smith & Wesson sixguns from the early 1950’s now have equally classic grips from the first half of the 20th century.

The third pair from Keith Brown perfectly matched the smooth-finished Roper-style Smith & Wesson target stocks of the pre-war period. Made of Birdseye maple, these stocks are a perfect complement to an 83/8″ Model 27 and especially a nickel-plated one. Once I put them on the .357 Magnum sixgun, I spent a beautiful Idaho morning putting several hundred rounds of full-house cast bullet loads through the long-barreled Smith & Wesson.

The .357 Magnum is no .44 Magnum, but repeated firing will definitely find any hotspots on grips. The Keith Brown stocks came through with perfect performance. This sixgun never looked better or provided more pleasurable shooting.

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Keith Brown’s carved and checkered Roper stocks and John’s
pre-Model 27 S&W .357 Magnum rest upon copies of Walter Roper’s books.

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Keith Brown’s standard grips of French Walnut on a Smith & Wesson .357
Magnum Model 19 provide concealability without sacrificing handling.

Keeping History Alive

The last two pair consists of pre-war style Magna grips. For N-frames with a square butt — as all N-frames should be — I received exhibition French walnut with scrimshawed elephant ivory S&W medallions. These went on another 83/8″ pre-Model 27, finished in the old Bright Blue. Most of the post-1950 S&W Magna stocks are slightly blocky, however this pair from Keith Brown are perfectly rounded and set this blued Smith off to perfection. I knew as soon as they went on this sixgun there was no way the screwdriver would ever be able to remove them. I’m certainly thankful Diamond Dot understands!

The second set of Magnas is for a round butt K-frame and crafted of exhibition French walnut. These were actually Brown’s personal stocks and he re-finished them before sending them to me. He’ll just have to make another set! These are now on one of the all-time great concealment sixguns, a 21/2″ Model 19 .357 Magnum.

We live in a world where most things are turned out by machinery. It’s always refreshing to find a real craftsman working with his hands to keep history alive.
By John Taffin

For more info: Visit the maker’s website at www.kbgrips.com, e-mail: keithbrowngrips@nullgmail.com

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A Tale of Two .45s

The Internet is a most interesting place. If we know where to look we can find reliable information. However it’s definitely the place where the buyer should be extremely aware. The Internet is also filled with misinformation, outright lies and even evil people out to cause harm. Just this past week someone raised the question as to why modern guns are of such poor quality and then he was joined in by a long chorus of like thinkers. Never mind his original premise was wrong — he still had plenty of support.

He is so far off the mark as to not even be in the game. Anyone who is a regular reader of mine knows how much I appreciate the old Classic Sixguns. These are the guns that stir my soul, my heart and my spirit. However, at the same time, even though today’s firearms do not touch me emotionally as the old guns, I have to admit they are better made, of better materials, held to tighter tolerances and are relatively less expensive.

In every test I’ve ever run when they are matched side-by-side with their early “Classic” counterparts they have proven to be more accurate. Two of these guns, both .45’s, are what this piece is all about. One is a replica of the Colt Single Action Army .45 while the other is a .45 Model 1911 — the former comes from Italy while the latter was produced in the Philippines. After shooting sixguns and semi-autos for more than 65 years, and writing about them for more than 45 years, I’m not easily impressed. Both of these .45’s are impressive.

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The 14-round mag of the MAC 3011 means a loaded gun
and two spare mags just about eats up a box of 50 .45’s!

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Because of the transfer bar the Traditions
.45 can safely be carried with six rounds.

The SAA .45

The Single Action Army .45 is a Traditions Performance Firearms revolver produced by Pietta and imported by Eagle Imports. It’s offered in several chamberings and all three standard barrel lengths of 43/4″, 51/2″ and 71/2″. In the old days, these were known as Civilian, Artillery and Cavalry Models. Two versions are offered, an all-blue Rawhide and a case-colored/blue Frontier version. Just as with the originals both of these have one-piece walnut grips.

At first glance, the Frontier .45 looks just like an original Peacemaker from the 1870s with one easy-to-miss change. That change is the position of the trigger. With traditional single actions, the trigger sets back in the trigger guard, however with the coming of transfer bars, as pioneered by Ruger, the trigger rides farther forward. The position of the trigger on the Traditions Frontier tells us this replica single action has a transfer bar.

In fact, as far as I know, this is the first actual replica ever fitted with a transfer bar.

Until this .45 arrived, all replica single actions were best carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber.

There were some versions produced with a safety engaged by putting the trigger in the so-called safety notch. Others use the “Swiss-safe” extra-long cylinder pin, which could be pushed backwards, allowing it to protrude enough from the back of the frame to prevent the firing pin on the hammer from contacting a primer. I never trusted the first version and the second was more trouble than it was worth. So until the arrival of this Traditions Pietta .45, all replicas I used personally were carried as 5-shooters with the hammer down on an empty chamber.

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The Traditions .45 Frontier performed exceptionally well with both
factory ammo and reloads.

Fit And Finish

The 71/2″ Traditions Frontier .45 is very well finished with a case-colored frame and hammer, and the balance of this excellent sixgun — including the grip frame — are blued steel. Metal to metal fit is excellent, as is wood to metal fit.

The cylinder locks up tightly whether the hammer is in full-cock position or at rest, the action is quite smooth (especially considering it has a safety transfer bar) and the trigger pull is set at a slightly creepy 4 pounds. The walnut stocks are not only well fitted to the frame; they are also contoured correctly for my hand. There is no overlap of wood at the top of the frame. They are also oil finished instead of being glossy, which also aids in an authentic look.

Sights are traditionally-styled Single Action Army consisting of a square-backed non-tapered post front sight mated up with a well-cut square notch rear sight. For my eyes, hands and loads, the sights were right on the money for windage and would only require a few file strokes on the top of the front sight to bring the elevation to perfection. If there is anything wrong with this replica single action, I can’t find it.

Shooting the Traditions .45 was pure pleasure as I used three Everyday Working handloads, and three factory loads (Black Hills, Buffalo Bore and Federal). The average of all six loads was just a gnat’s hair over 1″, as five of the loads printed 1″ groups while one other load was a “large” 13/8″. For those who do not reload, Buffalo Bore offers a .45 Colt load using a 255-gr. semi-wadcutter clocking out at over 1,025 fps while operating at standard pressures. It’s an excellent do-it-all load for outdoor use in the .45 Colt. There is certainly nothing here in Southwest Idaho that cannot be handled with this sixgun and load.

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The .45 ACP MAC 3011 delivered remarkable groups.
Most hovered around 1″ or a tad more at 20 yards.

The 1911

From the .45 Single Action with more than 140 years of history behind it we turn to the newcomer which only has a few years over a century guiding it. This second .45 is on the 1911 pattern and of course is chambered in .45 ACP. It’s the MAC 3011 SSD and is manufactured by MetroArms Corporation in Manila, Philippines. Unlike the .45 Single Action this 1911 is neither a replica nor can it be considered traditionally styled. Everything has been accomplished to turn this into a perfect competition pistol. By competition, we’re not talking bull’s-eye shooting, although it probably would work quite well for this, but rather high-speed, combat shooting at steel plates and such.

As far as functioning, everything is traditional 1911 and it fed and chambered everything I tried, both factory loads and handloads, and also shot everything exceptionally well. This pistol is blued steel, however only the sides of the slides are high polished with the rest being a matte finish. Starting at the top of the slide we have an excellent set of sights. The fully adjustable rear sight is set deep in a dovetail. The rear sight notch is cut square and the rear sight blade itself is serrated and tapers to reduce glare. The front sight is also set in a dovetail and is a highly visible red fiber optic.

The slide has cocking serrations, which are slanted backwards and located below the front and rear sights on both sides. The hammer is a commander style skeletonized matched up with a lightweight trigger. The safety is extended and ambidextrous. The Beavertail grip safely is hollowed out slightly on the top to accept the back of the hammer and it also contains a memory bump. Grips are very nicely checkered aluminum, the front strap is checkered and the mainspring housing is serrated.

The magazine release is located on the normal 1911 left side position and releases the magazine positively. The magazine itself is a major difference when compared to most .45 Model 1911s. Instead of the standard seven or eight rounds it is a double stack 14-rounder, giving this pistol a capacity of 14+1 rounds. The bottom of the grip frame is fitted with a beveled magazine well to assist in rapid replacement of the magazine. At this point I would say the only thing I can find wrong with this pistol is the fact it only came with one magazine.

Even if it were never to be used for competition, it would be a most comforting outdoor pistol when carried in quality leather. It would certainly serve as a concealed carry pistol if you’re willing to put up with the extra weight and bulk. Fully loaded with two extra magazines would pretty well use up a box of .45 ACP ammunition.

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More than 240 years of .45 history are represented by these two .45’s.

A Lucky Winner!

The survey was so popular that it was kept open longer than originally intended. The work itself took time, but finally, after two years, the pistol came back. I noticed NHC added a couple features — tritium night sight inserts, and the NHC forged steel slide stop.

If I hadn’t kept a record of the serial number I wouldn’t have believed it was the same gun. Craig Gholson at NHC had mentioned the slide/frame fit was about the worst they’d seen, no doubt due to mismatched components. It appears as though they built up the rails with TIG welding, then re-machined them. At any rate, fit is now excellent.

The trigger broke cleanly at 33/4 pounds. Best groups (5 shots at 25 yards) were around 11/2″ while average groups were around 2″. I shot around 150 rounds of various factory loads with no malfunctions.

This is an amazing 1911. It went from an ill-fitting, mismatched handyman special to a pistol any 1911 fan would be proud to own. And in fact, one lucky Handgunner reader will own it. All who voted in the survey were eligible for a draw to win the Colt/Nighthawk custom. Congratulations to the lucky winner (not drawn at the time I wrote this) and a sincere thanks to the thousands of knowledgeable Handgunner readers who took the time to vote.
By John Taffin

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/nighthawk-custom

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Playin’ Favorites: 9mm

9MM Semi-Auto Pistols.

In the 1950s, when I first really became interested in handguns, it did not take me long to notice a reoccurring theme of “9mm vs. .45 ACP.” The debate never seemed to end but my innocent young mind at the time realized this was not really a debate but rather somewhat like arguing over Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Joe Louis. Even I knew a good big man will always beat a good little man. Of course, I realize this analogy dates me. There was no way a 9mm hardball round could beat a .45 hardball round, which is basically all that was available at the time. However, things have changed dramatically over the past 60 years in many ways, and especially with available ammunition. No longer are we restricted to hardball, and there are many very effective 9mm rounds available.

Nevertheless, the “debate” served one purpose — to prejudice my thoughts against the 9mm; something that took a long time to escape. Something else I noticed during the rush to condemn the 9mm as somehow being inadequate — the .38 Special in a 2″ belly gun was totally acceptable. It certainly didn’t make any sense to me.

We can argue all we want about the effect of different cartridges, however one thing I’ve learned over the past 60 years is the three most important ingredients, whether hunting or in self-defense, are bullet placement, bullet placement and bullet placement.

My first 9mm, purchased 45 years ago, was a Colt Commander, which I wasn’t smart enough to hold onto. Fast-forward to the 1980s and I came up with two 9mms I’ve managed to keep and which have become favorites. One of these was the Browning Hi-Power. How could anyone not like the Browning Hi-Power?

Two of Taffin’s long-time favored 9mms are the
Browning Hi-Power and the Ruger P85.

For ease of carrying and concealing, Taffin prefers the Ruger LC9c,
Springfield Armory EMP and Glock 19C.

Original High-Cap

Mention John Browning and handguns and universally the first thought is the .45 ACP Model 1911. However, Browning’s last design was the 9mm Hi-Power. Apparently, Browning sought to improve his 1911. Besides the obvious change from .45 to 9mm (perhaps to encourage European sales?) that allowed the first high-cap magazine, going from the 7-round .45 to 13-round 9mm, Browning also dropped the grip safety. John Browning died in 1926 and the Hi-Power, also known as the P-35 for the year it was introduced, was not totally finished by John Browning himself. By the time the Hi-Power arrived, horses had given way to horsepower. Whatever the case, it’s not hard to make the argument the original Hi-Power is still one of the best, if not the best, 9mms ever offered. Mine wears beautifully checkered stocks by my late friend Dave Wayland and it is one of those handguns to never leave the family.

About the same time I came up with my Browning Hi-Power Ruger offered their first centerfire semi-automatic pistol, the first of the “P”-series pistols, the P85. I got one of the original test guns from Ruger and soon began to hear grumblings from other writers, which I could not understand. Mine was more than adequately accurate, always worked, and fed everything flawlessly. There’s nothing sophisticated about the Ruger P85. It’s big, bulky and not all that good looking, but is still a rather perfect shooting machine. His Editorship told me the early P85s issued in his police department were fondly referred to as “John Deeres” by the rangemaster: hardy, tough and able to work in any conditions.

Shortly after my coming up with these two favored 9mms, Smith & Wesson got into semi-automatics in a big way. They had introduced the 9mm Model 39 back in the 1950s, and this later version was the stainless steel 3913. I sent mine to have it tuned; added Hogue’s exotic wood grips, and it soon spent a lot of time riding in my waist belt. It’s one of those rare handguns which when placed in the belt simply does not move. It stays in that same spot during whatever reasonable activity I perform. Even as I type this it is well within reach. It does not have a high-capacity magazine, however it carries just as easily, actually easier, than a 2″ belly gun in .38 Special and is certainly more effective.

Springfield Armory’s 1911 9mm mates up well with the El Paso Saddlery outfit.

Modern Ideas

All through the 1990s, Ruger worked on downsizing the “P” pistols. Then after the turn of the century, Ruger designers took a different track and the result was the totally new Model 345 chambered in .45 ACP. Gone was the width and girth of the “P” pistols, with the result being a very comfortable-to-carry .45. The next step for Ruger was the SR9 9mm, also very comfortable to carry, with no excess girth and a magazine capacity of 17 rounds.

However, Ruger did not stop there and the next step was the SR9c, the compact version of the SR9. Ruger basically shortened the barrel of the SR9 to 3.5″ while the grip frame itself was also shortened by at least one finger. Although it comes standard with a 10-round magazine, which fits flush with the bottom of the grip frame, the extended backup magazine holds 17 rounds. In spite of its small size, the SR9c is very easy to shoot and has worked flawlessly with everything I have put through it, making it an excellent 9mm concealment pistol.

A couple years ago found me looking through the Glock Annual, where I discovered the 15-shot Model 19C, C for compensated, 9mm. To me this looked like a perfect answer for a high-capacity, easy-to-carry 9mm with a compensator making it even easier to control in rapid fire. It came with excellent sights, with the rear sight in a dovetail and adjustable for windage. It shoots extremely well, with very little recoil, making follow-up shots, very easy — it was just about perfect.

A close companion for several decades has been the easy
to carry Smith & Wesson 3913. This one has been
worked over by Teddy Jacobson and fitted with Hogue grips.

9mm 1911

Today it’s very difficult to find a 9mm Colt in either the Commander or 1911 configuration, and when they are found they are very pricey. I have wanted a 9mm-chambered 1911 for quite some time and while I was recuperating from major surgery in the closing months of 2010 I contacted Springfield Armory and soon had what I feel is the perfect 1911 9mm. It’s their stainless steel 1911-A1 Target Model with black sights, consisting of a square notch rear sight matched up with a sloping post front sight, and the rear sight — set very low in the top of the slide — is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The grip safety is a beavertail, while the flat mainspring housing is as found on the original 1911. With the relatively light recoil of 9mm loads the checkered backstrap, combined with the checkered grips, works just fine. It’s my perfect 9mm 1911.

The Ruger LC9, left, compared
to the SR9, SR9c and LCP .380.

Tiny Guns

Today the main reason for the 9mm’s existence is being chambered in small pocket pistols. Most of these are double action with polymer frames, but the Springfield Armory EMP (Enhanced Micro Pistol) is different. With the EMP, Springfield Armory took a different approach than simply cutting down full-sized 1911s, and actually downsized the entire 1911 by making smaller parts, engineering things to work together in a smaller scale. The result is a smallish 1911, and one of the neatest, slickest, fastest-handling, easy-shooting 9mms in existence. The EMP features a 3″ stainless steel match-grade heavy bull barrel with a fully supported feed ramp. Sights are low-profile 3-dot tritium with a combat rear sight matched up with a slanted post front sight, both of which are set in dovetails. Although this is a very small pistol, the grip frame allows a full, secure grip with no fingers dangling off the bottom. Weight with an empty magazine is only 26 ounces, and this little pistol tucks easily into the waistband, or the Springfield Armory supplied plastic holster. Felt recoil is relatively mild, even with +P loads.

My smallest 9mm designed for deep-pocket use is the Ruger LC9. It’s smaller than the Ruger SR9c and much easier to handle than the .380 LCP. The recoil of the latter is quite nasty, however I find the LC9 relatively pleasant to shoot even with its more powerful loads. This very smallish semi-auto pistol has a 3″ barrel and weighs in at only 17 ounces with its steel slide and polymer/glass-filled nylon frame with integral grip panels. Sights are excellent, black with a square-notch rear mated up with a post front and are of the 3-dot configuration and quite easy to see. Although it’s larger than the LCP .380, the LC9 easily fits in to the front pocket of my jeans. Due to its lack of sharp edges it’s very easy to draw and to control.

It is no longer the 1950s, and it’s been a long time since I have seen the so-called 9mm vs. .45 ACP debate. We have so much great 9mm ammunition available today making the 9mm a perfectly viable self-defense cartridge; no one needs to feel under-gunned with one. The gun to be carried is the biggest gun we can shoot well. For many shooters that gun is the 9mm — not the .45 ACP.
By John Taffin

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/product-index and click on the company name.

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