A Break-Top Binge
Other than making them go bang a few times for fun, it dawned on me I had never actually targeted one of the old break-top revolvers. Their reputations run the gamut from those dreadful South American ones, to “modern” S&Ws from the turn of the century and a bit after. I once saw a South American break-top looking like an S&W DA from the teens. It was labeled: “Smill & Welson, Sprangfeld, Mus, EUA” on the top of the barrel. Those big sneaks.
I dug out my “box” of break-tops. You know, the ones I always score from Brandon’s here in Joplin. “If it’s stupid, broken or a weird caliber, I sell it to Roy,” Brandon always says proudly. I pulled out a pretty decent S&W DA .38 S&W Safety Hammerless 3rd Model, 3.5″ barrel — actually, a nice, tight, “real” gun showing classic S&W quality workmanship. While digging, I caught another glint of nickel and remembered I had a nice version of essentially the same gun, but with a very short 1.5″ barrel, also in .38 S&W. It’s an old family heirloom my dad actually used to carry now and again when I was a kid.
I also found a 4th Model .32 Top Break, also a Smith, more along the lines of the typical .32 S&W nightstand gun our great grandparents might have had. But quality is still up to snuff for what it is. Then, digging deeper, past the missing cylinders, broken hammer spurs and cracked grips, I found a fairly intact Iver Johnson Safety Automatic I forgot I had. I did a bit of quick research and found it was likely made sometime between 1894-1896, to the tune of about $4 to $6 each. It also has a trigger safety lever like a Glock has! Ha!
But — what did you get for your money back then?
These are 12 yard groups from these old beaters.
The old guns can shoot after all!
I rounded up my one box of new factory .38 S&W (classic 146-gr. RNL) and about 30 .32 S&W “Western” Lubaloy rounds I found. The first target was for the longer barreled S&W and I set it up at about five yards. I stood, two-handed and practiced my best DA trigger control while peering at the essentially non-existent nickel plated sights. I honestly thought it would be hard to keep the shots on the target. Much to my absolute and utter amazement, four of the five shots went into about a 1″ group just above and to the left of the center. I pulled one shot low in the diamond. Oops. But okay, I was surprised — and it hit fairly close to point of aim.
I pushed the target out to a bit more than 10 yards and shot the lower right group. The one high flyer at the point of the diamond is because I sorta’ lost my mind on that particular trigger press. I was also becoming a bit disturbed to note, just maybe — I was completely wrong about these old guns.
I moved the target back to 15 yards and, leaning against the garage door frame, took my time aiming at the lower left bull. Again, the shots hit a bit high (I was compensating by aiming lower a bit), but you can see the five shots. Had the idiot on the trigger — that would be me — had better control of that heavy DA pull, I’m thinking the five shots would have made one ragged hole. I was learning to shoot the gun by then and am convinced to try it more later when I get more ammo. Side note: Velocity was about 616 fps over my chrono. Sloowww.
Homeowner confronts bump in the night in this vintage ad.
The sights make it challenging to aim.
More Hard Lessons
Okay, so everyone jokes about how bad these guns are, but I was rapidly learning “everyone” might just be wrong.
Check out the pic with four targets. That’s the S&W in .38 S&W bottom right (the short-barreled gun), the .32 S&W bottom left (also a Smith), Iver Johnson .32 S&W upper left; and I tossed in a .38 S&W Enfield (1940 vintage) just for fun (upper right). I didn’t have much ammo so just shot at 12 yards, standing, leaning against that garage door frame. I put a few rounds through each gun first to get the hang of things, then targeted them.
No reason to be shy about the performance. The hitch was they all shot way off point of aim. For the snubby (lower-right) I had to aim at the top of the cardboard, as I discovered during my initial couple of test shots. Velocity was about 542 fps and I’m pretty sure I could see the bullets as they strolled leisurely toward the target.
The Enfield shot a bit high, as I aimed at the center bullseye, but the group was exceptional and the gun felt like a “real” gun. Velocity was at 627 fps. For the Iver Johnson and the lower-left S&W .32, I had to aim at the bottom of the bullseye, and even then they shot high. Velocity for the .32s hovered in the 535 fps range. I think a fast bank robber could out-run them.
You’d think gun companies might have at least roughly zeroed for the common loads of the day, but obviously not. I’m thinking the lack of decent sights and the rotten “Point Of Impact vs. Point Of Aim” situation just might be the guilty party causing everyone to think these guns shoot badly. They certainly don’t shoot badly — but they do shoot far away from where you’re aiming!
Without some experimenting, someone would likely have taken a few shots, missed badly and just assumed the gun was crapola. But fortunately for all of us, I didn’t have anything better to do; so now we’re all scratching our heads and looking at these old guns in a new light. Keep in mind, though, some of the really old ones are black powder only, and the cheaper ones are simply not up to being shot much. If you get the itch, make sure you have yours checked out first or you just might get blowed-up. Or worse.
Now … I wonder if I can take one of those pesky grey squirrels with that 3.5″ Smith? So much to do, so little time, eh?
Ingenious Gun Works
This really is — ingenious. Two guys who really know stuff, developed this hammer/sear and bushing set, and as much as I hate to say things like this, I do think it’s really going to revolutionize things for the 1911 set. In a nutshell, the 2nd Gen Hammer and Sear combo is completely re-designed from the stock design, offering a four pound-range pull and are honestly, truly, really — drop-in. I tried this set on four different 1911 models (stock and custom) and it worked perfectly in each. They’re also designed to withstand the abuses normal designs are subjected to — they wear “in” not “out.” That’s a “regular” hammer/sear on the right and you can see the differences in angles and sear areas, including the half-cock/safety point. They are nickel boron nitrided for wear/rust protection too.
The 2nd Gen Bushing design is also, um … ingenious. Look carefully and you’ll see a sort of “faceted” wire spring inside the bushing. This is what grabs and runs along the barrel. So rather than having to form a “perfect” metal-to-metal surface fit, the spring can flex and adapt, yet return to the same lock-up each time. It usually increases accuracy, or at least matches the best fitting barrel/bushing set-up tested so far. These guys are clever and passionate about their engineering and this stuff is well worth a hard look. For more info: www.ingeniousgunworks.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Book’s Back!
The latest edition of this veritable bible for gunnies is here. According to Steve Fjestad, the publisher, this one has 2,512 pages, 1,700 manufacturers/trademarks, 30,000 gun model descriptions and over 180,000 values! They’ve also updated the Photo Percentage Grading System, helping you to judge and understand the condition of guns. Steve said for the first time in decades, the value of some collectible guns, especially AR-platforms, has gone down significantly, and this 39th edition tracks the trend. The price is $54.95, but if you save a few bucks on your next purchase or make money on your next sale, it pays for itself. For more info: www.bluebookofgunvalues.com, Ph: (800) 877-4867, Ext. 3.
Hampton Weaver is back with their latest excellently done miniature in the series. This could be my favorite so far. It’s a brawny, beautifully detailed die-cast of the famous 1847 Walker. That’s a .45 ACP there for size, so you can see while it’s still small, it has some presence! They’re $19.95 to $24.95 depending upon the model, but a steal at that price. Look for the Python, Hi-Power, even an Automag — and more — down the road. For more info: www.firearmsassurefreedom.com.
SW22 Victory Target
Ispotted this at the recent NRA show. Smith has taken the hugely popular Victory series .22 and upgraded some key ingredients. A target grip, crisper trigger, 6″ fluted barrel and a factory-supplied Vortex Viper red dot sight is part of the package. I felt it and the trigger was crisp, and the flat face felt great. The mods are courtesy of the famous S&W Performance Center, giving you what is in essence an “out of the box” high performance target .22. We’ll be getting one to wring out. For more info: www.smith-wesson.com.
This is an American-owned company, started by vets, I’ll have you know. We’ve covered their products before, but these caught my eye at the NRA show. The little yellow widget is called their ARHook. Install it into your lower on your AR-style gun using the take-down pin to hold it in place. Then it holds your upper at the right angle to use the Sentinel Plate and AR magazine post while you clean your gun. There’s a small groove in the top of the ARHook allowing you to run your cleaning rod smoothly into the chamber. This is a tidy, simple way to help make an awkward job easier. The Sentinel Plate model shown here is called “The Last Stand” as it’s the last stand you need to help with your gun maintenance. The magazine posts are interchangeable with models fitting a range of handguns. Nifty. For more info: www.presentarmsinc.com, Ph: (431) 575-4656.
FBI Miami Firefight
I’m a lucky fellow. Not long ago, Jazz from our office sent me a note saying, “Roy, an Ed Mireles called wanting to know if we’d be interested in his new book on the FBI Miami gunfight. I told him I’d send his info over to you.” As a retired cop, and someone who lived through that time, I immediately knew who Ed Mireles was and was stunned to have the opportunity to talk to him. I called Ed and found a humble, personable, almost shy-sounding gentleman. I’ll confess to a bit of hero-worship on my part too, but he fought it off perfectly. His new book, called, FBI Miami Firefight: Five Minutes that Changed the Bureau is a “Can’t put this down read” and explains many things I always wondered about. It’s written clearly, and seems almost like Ed is sitting there talking to you about what happened. I can’t recommend it enough.
I also hooked Ed up with Massad Ayoob for a follow-up Ayoob Files to the original one we did many years ago. Watch for that in the Nov/Dec issue, along with more in the Cop Talk column. The shootout is, as I told Ed, in actuality, five minutes changing the entire world of police training, guns, calibers, mindset and more. He’s a hero at every level of the word — but he’ll deny it if you call him that. A huge Handgunner “Hat’s Off” to Ed and his wife Elizabeth, for this book — and for what they’ve done, together. Go to www.edmireles.com to get a copy. It’s likely available at Amazon.com and book stores too by the time you get this. If you like, call (540) 841-2124 if you don’t shop online. Let’s support this modest American hero!
We’ve covered GunPro’s anti-jam mags before, but they’ve added a couple of models. The simplicity of the design is what’s appealing — and the fact it works. A small tab is stamped into the side of the mag near the front, at the top, right below the bullet nose. This presses in a bit of the springy mag sidewall. What it does is essentially offers a point the bullet rides on as it goes toward the ramp. It doesn’t allow a bullet to do the classic nose-dive jam common in autos. The new models I tested for the 1911 design are the 10-round .45 ACP, 7-round 9mm compact and 10-round 9mm. All ran just fine and I used the .45 to show a shooter friend his own crappy magazines were causing his issues, not the gun. Gunpro also has an AR mag design pending, and a .38 Super and .40 S&W for the 1911. Simple is best and this is simple but effective. For more info: www.gunpro.us, Ph: (314) 680-2363
Knife And Stocks
In the “practice what you preach” category, we have hand-made knives and customized grips from our own Tiger McKee. Tiger took over the Tactics & Training column a couple of issues ago, and being a student of the gun, as it were, that naturally blooms out into knives and accessories if you’re serious about your craft. Tiger is, and in his tiny shop, using mostly hand tools, he turns out customized revolvers, and hand-made knives for — mostly — his students. He also finds clean, undecorated grips and customizes them as the mood strikes. Since the knives are custom they may be different shapes, with handle scales of all sorts of products. The best thing is to get on his mailing list and he’ll notify you when he has a small batch for sale. At around the $140 or so mark, price can vary due to design differences. I like the fact they come in these cool wooden boxes and Tiger signs each one. Mine has “#64” on the cover, with Tiger’s signature. For more info: www.shootrite.org, email: email@example.com
John Nosler Promoted
It’s hard to keep track of who’s doing what in the industry but when great people continue the tradition of keeping family in the business, I take notice. Nosler, that great, family-owned company, has promoted Bob Nosler’s son, John, to president. This wasn’t a hand-me job, as John has worked his way up through the ranks the hard way, keeping the traditions going his father and grandfather have kept alive at Nosler. My wife, Suzi, was on an elk hunt with Nosler not long ago and pronounced John, who was in the camp with them, “Absolutely salt of the earth. An intelligent gentleman at every level, and obviously raised right by his dad!” Well, I can’t explain things better, as Suzi’s hard to please — trust me. Well done John, and we’re all pleased to know Nosler will remain in good hands. What a great crew they have too! For more info: www.nosler.com.