Handguns For Dinosaurs?

We're Not Talkin' Jurassic Park Here
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Duke calls these .44’s “Dinosaur Guns.” From left: Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian, Smith & Wesson Model 21
Thunder Ranch Revolver .44 Special and Ruger Old Model Blackhawk .44 Magnum.

Another effort by Smith & Wesson to make Dinosaurs spend their hard
earned bucks — a 21st century Model 24 .44 Special.

Nope, this isn’t about guns for hunting dinosaurs although it seems like some of the revolvers and single shot handguns floating about nowadays could serve the purpose nicely. This is about handguns for us shooters who feel like dinosaurs — and yes, I’m one. As a teenager in the ’60s I could identify almost every Smith & Wesson then current, and many discontinued. I could tell you what cartridges they were chambered for and their barrel lengths. Colt SAAs were no mystery either. I could rattle off their available calibers and finish options on demand. Semi-autos didn’t interest me much but I certainly knew the difference between the Walther PP series or Colt Gold Cups from ordinary Government Models.

At movies I must have been obnoxious to my dates or even male friends because I would give a running discourse as to what firearms were being prominently displayed. For example in the 1966 movie The Professionals I told whoever was with me Lee Marvin was shooting a Colt New Service with a 41/2" barrel. In that same year in the movie Nevada Smith when Steve McQueen was being taught the finer points of revolver shooting by Brian Keith, I labeled his handgun a Smith & Wesson Model #3; most likely a “Schofield” with a 7" barrel bobbed to 5".

All these guns had one thing in common — they were made of ordinary steel and given a blue or nickel finish, with my guess being the ratio was about 10 to one in the same order. Grips were usually wood, but exotic materials like horn, ivory or mother of pearl were acceptable. I remember being just a mite less than excited when Smith & Wesson announced their first stainless steel revolver. It was a Chief’s Special .38 and I couldn’t see its advantage compared to blued and nickeled versions of the same handgun. I still don’t. Refer to the dinosaur reference.

Duke found this new-in-box U.S. Firearms .45 Colt with auxiliary .45 ACP cylinder
at a gun store for less than half what it cost when the company was still in business.

Occasionally, American gun makers try to make Dinosaurs happy, as they did with the
new S&W Model 22 (aka Model 1917) .45 ACP at right. At left is an original 1917.

Rip Van Duke

Then something went awry. It feels like I’m Rip Van Duke woken up after a hiatus from consciousness to find the Revolvers now have locks! And keys! Colt hardly even makes revolvers anymore except for a paltry few SAAs priced at over 10 times what they sold for in the 1960s and a new version of an old DA revolver.

Slowly it dawned on me I was a dinosaur — I have outlived my heyday. The American handgun scene changed but I have not. There are two options for me. I can jump on the synthetic, high capacity black semi-auto bandwagon. Or I can bog my head like a bronc and buck my way through this changing world. Instead of perusing cases full of nondescript new semi-autos at stores, I head straight for the ones holding used guns. Just in the last couple years, at one such store I found a mint S&W K38 (Model 14) with a 6" barrel. It was exactly like the first handgun I bought in 1966 but still not overpriced compared to black, square handguns.

Another time but at the same store I spied a Colt .45 Auto with little remaining finish. I asked to handle it and found it was a 1917 vintage Model 1911, all original and mechanically tight, just holster worn. I bought it for about what a run-of-the-mill plastic, 16-round capacity, black semi-auto costs. At another store that sold only used guns I found one of the now defunct U.S. Firearms Company’s single action .45’s with extra .45 Auto cylinder. It was priced at about half what it would have cost new when the company was in business. Sold!

When Duke decided he needed a high magazine capacity 9mm he didn’t buy a “plastic” gun.
Instead he searched until he found this 1944 vintage Inglis copy of the Browning Hi Power set.

Duke says the new “black” semi-autos are “soulless” but this S&W .455 Webley HE#2
that factory letters to the Canadian Government in 1916 has plenty of soul!

The holster-worn but mechanically perfect Colt Detective Special at right was on Gunbroker.com
and cost a mere $300. The like-new S&W Model 12 was at a local gun store for $400. Dinosaur bargains are out there!

Soul Food?

I’m afraid I don’t pick up current catalogs from new handgun manufacturers but do often visit Internet firearms auction sites looking for the types of handguns I find interesting. And there are plenty! For way less than a modern high capacity semi-auto I bought a S&W Hand Ejector, 2nd Model in .455 Webley. It even factory letters to the Canadian Government in 1916. That’s what I call soul!

One time I thought, “Maybe I did need a high capacity, 9mm semi-auto.” So on Gunbroker.com I found a John Inglis Hi Power complete with wooden holster/shoulder stock. A few years ago I decided I needed some good snub-nose .38’s. On the Internet I found a 1961 vintage Colt Detective Special for a measly $300. At the Colt Forum’s classified ads I found a 1926 vintage SAA .45 with about 50 percent finish remaining factory lettering to a hardware store in Maine. It cost me a mere $50 more than the last newly manufactured Colt SAA .45 I had purchased a few months earlier. Lots of soul in all that steel and wood!

Here in Montana gun shows are still thriving and can be a treasure trove of good handguns for we dinosaurs. Last weekend I viewed a fellow’s table holding dozens of still new-in-blue-cardboard-boxes Smith & Wesson revolvers, along with a good number of used Colts and S&Ws. The new ones were priced low enough to make good shooters instead of safe queens. While still on my snub nose kick I picked up three great Smith & Wessons. One was the Model 15 with adjustable sights, another was a nickeled Model 10-7 and the third was an 83/8" barreled S&W K38. None of those fine sixguns cost as much as anything in new handgun display cases.

To give Smith & Wesson their due the company has made some stabs at giving dinosaurs a few tidbits. One was the recreation of the Model 1917/aka Model 22 .45 Auto. Another was the Model 24 .44 Special. Colt put out a run of new Model 1911A1s complete with original style box. Also Colt has announced the Detective Special .38 has returned albeit not made in-house.

With a minor amount of shopping about Duke found this still new-in-blue-cardboard-box
S&W Model 19 .357 Magnum complete with target hammer, grips and trigger.

Early in the 21st century Colt turned out Model 1911A1 .45’s precisely as they had
been shipped to the U.S. Government circa 1941–1945, even down to the brown cardboard box.

Recently Duke landed this S&W Model 14 “K38” .38 Special with 83/8" barrel and a
Model 15 .38 Special with a 2" barrel. Both were priced about half what a new “black” semi-auto is priced.

European Hope

We dinosaurs need not despair too much. Good single action revolvers come over from Italy with great regularity. I’ve had to look closely at some to discern they weren’t Colts. Ruger still offers Blackhawks and of course their New Model Vaqueros. Inland Manufacturing of Ohio sent me one of their Model 1911A1s for testing and I found it to be a fine handgun: accurate and reliable. One semi-auto actually amazing me was one of Cimarron Arms Model 1911’s made in the Philippines. It was a darn nice, modestly priced and very accurate .45 Auto.

I’m not giving up. Having been in this gun’riting business for over 40 years I’ve seen immense changes, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a part of them. I’m a dinosaur and I’m proud of it.

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