By John Taffin
What does the name “Harpers Ferry” mean to you? For gun fans and history buffs, it’s tied to a proud tradition of gun making. Fast forward to the 21st century. While the original site of the Harpers Ferry Armory is now a national park, in 2015 a new Harpers Ferry Armory came to life less than eight miles away. The new armory is not a government facility but instead a commercial firearms manufacturer producing modern guns including 1911’s and small pocket revolvers.
I’ve always been intrigued how companies come up with names for their firearms. Not only did this new company begin producing quality firearms, they also looked back into history to come up with names/model numbers for their pocket pistols.
Their little 5-shot .38 Special is known as the I.S. 38, coming from “Isaac Smith,” John Brown’s alias while he was spying out the original Harpers Ferry before conducting his famous assault. The 5-shot .357 Magnum is designated as the A.H. 357. Andrew Hunter was the man who prosecuted John Brown before he was hanged. These pocket revolvers offered by Harpers Ferry Armory, which I have been shooting for the past several weeks, seem to be of excellent quality with a lot of attention paid to fit and finish.
Of all the Harpers Ferry Armory guns he tested, Taffin liked the
1911 best. It’s a Commander-sized .45 holding 8+1 rounds.
The barrel of the .357 is ported, with three ports cut along each side
of the revolver’s front sight.
The I.S. 38 is a DAO .38 Spl. rated for +P loads and holds five rounds. As with most pocket-sized revolvers, the barrel length is 2″, with fixed sights consisting of a square notch cut in the back of the frame matched up with a serrated ramp front sight. The frame is constructed of 416 stainless steel and the back of the frame is flame hardened. Both the frame and the barrel have a black Cerakote finish while the heat-treated cylinder, yoke, cylinder release latch, triggerguard, trigger and grip frame are high-polish stainless steel.
Grips are pebble-grained, finger-grooved black rubber that fill in behind the triggerguard. They’re quite comfortable and help to take the sting out of +P .38 Special loads. Since this is a small revolver designed for self-defense and pocket carry, I tested them at seven yards. I pressed eight .38 Special factory loads into service for testing. Some especially satisfactory loads were the Black Hills 125 JHP +P loads clocking out at 770 fps and grouping into 1″ for four shots at seven yards; the Buffalo Bore 158 LSWC HPGC, 800 fps and 1″; the Buffalo Bore 150 Hard Cast Full Wadcutter, 820 fps and 11/8″; the Hornady 140 XTP-JHP, 660 fps and 11/4″; and Speer’s Gold Dot HP load clocked out at 850 fps and grouped four shots into 1″. All in all, this is a quality, very good lookin’, 16 ounce packin’-snubbie for the pocket. MSRP is $589.
The A.H. .357 packs five rounds of magnum power into a compact package. John tested it
with a selection of .357 and .38 Spl. loads.
The I.S. 38 is a bobbed-hammer .38 Spl. rated for +P loads and ideal for CCW use.
Even More Bark
Moving up in power we come to the A.H. 357. This 20-ounce, 5-shot revolver is chambered in .357 Mag. and, of course, will also handle .38 Spl. and .38 Spl. +P loads. Just as with the I.S. 38, the frame is 416 stainless steel, the back of the frame is flame hardened and the cylinder is heat treated to 4045 Rockwell C scale. The hammer, cylinder, trigger, grip frame and triggerguard are all high-polish stainless steel while the barrel and frame have a blue Cerakote finish. Unlike the .38 Spl. version, this is a DA/SA revolver. Both revolvers are marked on the left side of the barrel with the model number and caliber while the right side of the barrel is inscribed in three lines: “HARPERS FERRY ARMORY, RANSON WV.”
Grips on this .357 version are the same as found on the .38 Spl. model and help to lessen felt recoil — especially of the .357 Mag. loads. I spent several mornings shooting all three test guns and I was reluctant to fire the .357 Mag. loads in this little revolver. I’ve done it before with other lightweight pocket pistols and did not find it to be a very pleasant experience. My worries were for nothing. I would not call the recoil pleasant with the magnum loads, but the 3-hole porting found on both sides of the front sight really worked with the rubber grips to make the recoil tolerable. Just as with the .38 Spl. model, this one also shot about 5″ low for me at seven yards.
This .357 Mag. was test-fired with nine .38 Spl. factory loads and four .357 Mag. factory loads. Results were exceptional. With .38 Spl. loads the Black Hills 125 JHP +P’s clocked out at 760 fps with a 4-shot, 7-yard group of 1″; Buffalo Bore’s 158 LSWC HPGC, 835 fps and 3/4″; Buffalo Bore’s 150 Full Wadcutter, 840 fps, 3/4″; and Buffalo Bore’s 110 Barnes Tactical grouped into 1″ with a muzzle velocity of 970 fps.
Switching to .357 Mag. loads, all four factory loads showed excellent accuracy. The Black Hills 158 LFP at 830 fps, the Hornady 125 XTP-JHP at 1,213 fps, and the Winchester 110 Lead Free JHP at 1,150 fps — with all grouping their shots into 7/8″. The Speer Gold Dot HP at 1,125 fps grouped four shots into 11/8″. Since it has an exposed hammer, it does not quite work as well as the I.S. 38 as a pocket gun, but it does carry nicely in a Bianchi Belt Slide holster. MSRP is $639.
The Harpers Ferry .357 and .45 ride in Bianchi leather while the .38 Special is easily
carried in a pocket. We do recommend a pocket holster though.
The 3-dot sights on the 1911 are Novaks with slanting rear faces to reduce glare.
Big Bore Bite
This brings us to what I find to be the most interesting of the test pistols from Harpers Ferry Armory, the 1911 model which in this case is a Commander-style .45 ACP. This 37-ounce pistol has a 41/4″ match-grade barrel and comes with an 8-round magazine with a polymer baseplate. I appreciate the fact magazine peepholes on both sides are numbered from “1” to “8” allowing you to know at a glance how many rounds are in place. Both the slide and frame are forged 4140 steel with a black nitride finish. Sights are Novak with the low-riding rear sight having a white dot on each side of the rear sight blade matched up with a white dot in the front sight blade. Both sights are set in a dovetail and locked in place with a screw, and the rear face of both of them slant to the front to reduce glare.
The thumb safety is striated, while the slide stop/release is checkered with both being easy to operate. The grip safety is the now-mandatory beavertail with a memory bump I find very helpful for depressing the safety. The trigger is a match-grade steel bow with an aluminum shoe, drilled with three holes. The front of the trigger, as with the .38 and .357 revolvers, is grooved and the steel hammer is Commander-style. The steel mainspring housing has 25 LPI checkering and matches the aggressive pattern on the carbon fiber grips, resulting in a very secure hold while shooting. The left grip panel is dished out behind the magazine release to allow quick access.
The barrel is tapered, with the wider point at the front, and matches up with a fitted bushing. The pistol is also fitted with a guide rod. Cocking serrations are found on both sides of the slide in front of the rear sight, and the left side of the slide is marked: “HARPERS FERRY ARMORY” with the Harpers Ferry logo found on both sides of the slide below the rear sight. Harpers Ferry says of this pistol: “Rail cuts are held at a 0.0005″ tolerance with each gun being hand-built and test-fired. Wolfe Springs are used throughout.” MSRP of this high quality .45 is $1,695.
I test-fired the Harpers Ferry Armory .45 ACP 1911 with a lucky 13 line-up of factory loads. Some of the best loads were the Black Hills 230 JHP +P at 900 fps and a 5-shot, 20-yard group of 11/4″; Hornady 200 XTP, 880 fps and 7/8″; HPR 185 JHP, 950 fps and 1”; HPR 230 FMJ, 850 fps and 7/8″; Remington 230 FMJ, 790 fps and 13/8″; and the Ruger ARX 118 polymer bullet clocking out at 1,400 fps. It didn’t shoot to point of aim but grouped into 13/8″ for four shots at 20 yards.
Harpers Ferry Armory is a relatively new company having first started production in 2015. All three of these test pistols are examples of the quality work they are producing and I expect to see more models offered in the future.
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index