PPC Gun Of Yesteryear


In the ‘70s and even ‘80s, Handgunner often featured “PPC Guns,” the hot set-up for police pistol teams. Here’s what they did, and the legacy they left …

If you read the archived copies of this magazine from 30 years ago (www.americanhandgunner.com) you’ll see in both ads and articles that a staple of the day was the PPC gun. It was a revolver, usually a K-frame S&W firing .38 Special, with a 6″ stovepipe barrel, precision adjustable sight rib, and mandatory swe-e-et, light trigger pull. Their purpose: to hit a roughly 3″ by 2″ X-ring at 50 yards, 2-handed from various support positions. The fastest you’d fire — in PPC, anyway — was 12 shots in 25 seconds, later to be tightened to 20 seconds. The standard load was the mouse-fart 148-gr. midrange wadcutter.

As near as I can determine, the first such gun was built by Austin Behlert in New Jersey for NYPD gunfighting legend Jim Cirillo, who had already won numerous PPC championships before his first shootout, and credited his match experience somewhat for his survival. The Douglas custom barrels of the time may have been slightly more accurate than a factory K-38 barrel, but their main advantage was their added weight at the front held the gun steady against the DA trigger stroke. A jerk of the trigger finger that might have pulled a shot into the eight-ring or even the seven with a service revolver, would merely turn a 10-X into a plain 10, or at worst, a 9-point hit.

PPC guns found their way into other games. In 1979, the first shot fired at the first Bianchi Cup was a 125-gr. Federal +P out of a Ron Power Custom S&W PPC gun, drawn from an early plastic holster, a Bill Rogers PPC breakfront. I know that because I fired it. Over the years, John Pride won the Cup several times in a row with PPC guns. Brian Enos used one, built by Frank Glenn if memory serves, under a first generation Aimpoint to win the Cup early in the ’80s; that feat, along with contemporary Aimpoint wins in IPSC by Jerry Barnhart, laid the groundwork for the popularity which red-dot optic sights enjoy today.

PPC gun variations: By Andy Cannon on S&W 25-2 .45 ACP. 1.25"-diameter barrel
and Aristocrat rib installed by Austin Behlert on a Colt Official Police .38. Photos: Gail Pepin

Looking Back

I had acquired that Power gun, the 500th Ron built, a bit earlier in the ’70s when it became clear the service revolvers I’d been using couldn’t keep up with the heavy barrel PPC guns. It improved my scores tremendously. I stayed at the gracious Mr. Power’s home in Independence, Missouri over the days he crafted it out of a trade-in KCPD Model 15, and we wrote about it in detail in Handgunner. Thousands of other shooters — mostly cops, as PPC was a police game — recognized the PPC gun’s edge, and soon you needed one of these heavy precision six-guns if you expected to be competitive.

In ’83, Handgunner featured the Aimpoint-sighted PPC
gun Brian Enos used to win the Bianchi Cup that year.

The Douglas barrel was joined by the Apex and others; the BoMar sight rib was joined by the Aristocrat and others; and a whole pantheon of superb revolversmiths created a myriad of heavy-barrel six-shooters. Some were made in heavy calibers for the then-popular bowling pin matches. Later, Ron Power applied the PPC gun treatment to the Ruger Redhawk and added a recoil compensator; it made full power .44 Magnum ammo kick like, well, like it wasn’t .44 Magnum.

I only ran across two cops who actually carried these humongous guns on duty, both in the Chicago area. One, a Niles cop who shot in a league where you had to use what you carried on duty, had a breakfront holster custom made for his 6″ S&W with its fat Douglas barrel. One night after the gunpoint arrest of a gang-banger, his arrestee screamed to a supervisor, “Captain! This cop’s a po-leece assassination squad! I saw his gun! It’s got a big-ass silencer on it!” The other was a Chicago cop who ordered a 4″ long, 1″ wide Douglas barrel with fixed sights installed on his Model 10. Puzzled by this strange configuration, pistolsmith Andy Cannon called him to confirm the order. “Yeah, that’s what I want,” the cop told him. “I ain’t no target shooter, but the last mope I smacked onna’ head with my gun, it bent the regular barrel.”

PPC gun and its natural prey, the B27 PPC target. Tiny center oval is the X-ring.
Gun is Ron Power Custom #500, built on S&W Model 15 .38 Special.

Passed By, By Time

Fewer police departments today, in times of layoff-level economic crunches, field pistol teams. The young cops who do want to compete prefer action shooting. PPC events are thin on the ground. I’ve only found two to shoot in the last two years. Oddly enough, I won them both. Nature may be telling me something. I got away from PPC because it was old and slow. Now that I’m old and slow, it seems we may be a good fit for each other.

Subscribe To American Handgunner

Get More Revolver Content Every Week!

Sign up for the Wheelgun Wednesday newsletter here: