Starting Out

By Mike “Duke” Venturino

Many times people have asked me how I got my “start” — as in, my consuming interest in firearms, followed by my lifelong career writing about them. My stock answer is, “I was born to it.” And I think that is a fact.

My mother always said by the time I could go outside to play in our yard without supervision, my first moves of the day were to buckle on my toy gunbelt with its pot metal six-shooter and then slip on my cowboy boots. Was television responsible for that? Hardly! We didn’t have one until a couple of years later. A funny note here: When we did get a TV the very first program on was a football game. I’ve never watched another.

One of my first memories was my initial handgun experience. At about age six I must have pestered my non-shooting father about actually firing a real handgun. He borrowed a nickel-plated, double-action .22 revolver from someone and bought a box of .22 shorts for it. Helping me support the .22, we shot a few rounds into a large fallen tree. Dad then dug the little lead slugs out so I would understand what happened when the trigger was pulled.

Conversely, my mother hated guns. When she was young her drunken coal miner father would get a load of moonshine on and go wild. He always owned handguns — S&W .38’s and .44’s. He would start waving one about, sometimes even shooting it in the house. She tried to discourage my interests in guns. She might as well have been battling an anvil with a cotton hammer.


The original 7.65mm French Long cartridge with Duke’s
handloaded version using the 84-gr. RCBS cast bullet #32-84RN.

A Painted Pistol

About the time I turned 12, Dad came home with a pistol in a full-flap leather holster. He gave it to me with the admonition about safety, as in no messing with it when he wasn’t there, no taking it out of the house for any reason, etc. I obeyed because it was understood if I didn’t, that pistol would disappear as mysteriously as it arrived.

What was it? In the beginning I had no idea. It resembled a .45 Auto, which I later came to know were called 1911’s. But it wasn’t big enough, and the hole in the end of the barrel was far smaller than a .45. Also its finish wasn’t blue like on the .22 rifles I owned by that time. It looked like paint. It turned out it was paint.

Slowly, my education by means of gun magazines — which I started buying at age 13 — led me to understand my pistol was a French SACM Model 1935A chambered for an odd cartridge named the 7.65mm Long. Dad admitted the reason he felt safe giving me that old automatic was no ammunition was available for it. How he knew that remains a mystery because as I said he wasn’t a gun-guy. He also eventually told me how he came to have it. Our small town’s chief of police was also of Italian descent. Dad said the cop took the French pistol off a drunk and gave it to him. I suspect Dad’s job as a bill collector was somehow part of the story, but never found out for sure.

About the time I turned 16, some military surplus 7.65 French Long rounds became available in this country. With Dad’s permission I ordered some and finally was able to shoot my Model 1935A. It jammed a lot, but otherwise I have no memories as to its performance. At age 19 I was a full-fledged handloader, bullet caster and member of the local gun club. Needing cash for some powder and primers I sold it to my only shooting buddy for $12.50. It didn’t even seem ironic to me he was the son of the same chief of police. My friend soon discovered he could shoot the French pistol with .32 Auto factory loads, albeit only as a single shot. Dad would have been horrified to know that.


Duke’s handloads hit center at 25 yards
with his current French Model 1935A.

A Completed Circle

There the story ended for 45 years. Not long ago, during my on-going effort at putting together a collection of World War II handguns, it dawned on me I needed another Model 1935A. After all, the French carried some in World War II, and after the Nazis takeover the Wehrmacht issued about 40,000 of them to its forces. I picked one up for $265 from an Internet auction site, along with a couple boxes of nice looking French military surplus ammo. Not a single round of it would fire, and I wonder if that’s a social comment too! Space won’t allow details of my handloading efforts with it, but I do make my own 7.65mm Long ammo. Unlike my first ’35A this one doesn’t jam and actually hits to the sights at 25 yards.

By today’s standards the Model 1935A isn’t much of a pistol, but one darn sure helped me get a start.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino

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