Category Archives: Campfire Tales

Counting On A New Number

MY New-Found Appreciation
For The .32 Sixgun.

When the .44 Magnum first arrived in my area the local range, Shell’s Gun & Archery Farm, rented it out to all who were brave enough to shoot it. It was a 4-inch Smith & Wesson pre-Model 29, which in those days was simply known as the .44 Magnum. We were then teenagers who always shot together, and we each paid our fee—I think it was 50¢ for six rounds—and proceeded to go where no man had gone before.

Up to this time we mostly shot .45 ACP and .45 Colt for big-bore guns as well as an assortment of .357 Magnums mostly using .38 Special brass with the Keith bullet and the Keith load. After we all shot our six rounds out of the new .44 Magnum in that beautiful S&W sixgun, we all tried to hide our discomfort, all lied and said it wasn’t bad. Actually we didn’t lie—it wasn’t bad, it was horrible.

Later on I would read Elmer Keith saying it was not as bad as shooting a .38 Chiefs Special, while at the same time General Hatcher at the NRA said it felt like getting hit in the palm of the hand with a baseball bat. At the time I definitely leaned more to General Hatcher’s thinking; however, as I progressed I found the truth was more in between what these two fine gentlemen had to say.

After those six rounds I knew I did not want a S&W .44 Magnum. However, when a Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk showed up at the same gun shop I bought it. I had read, I believe it was in an article by Lucian Cary, the Ruger had the same grip frame as the Colt Single Action Army, which everyone knew was very user-friendly. Upon firing, it would simply slip in the hand and minimize recoil. I actually bought into that until I fired my first round.

Perhaps the grip frame did work with standard .45 Colt loads, however, when I touched off that first .44 Magnum in the Ruger the barrel rotated 90 degrees (probably more) and the hammer dug into the back of my hand drawing blood. I hung that gun on a couple of pegs in my bedroom where it stayed for quite a while.

No one likes to admit defeat and I wasn’t about to be conquered by the .44 Magnum. I bought a 6-1/2-inch S&W and found the answer was different grips. Herrett’s was marketing their smooth Jordan Trooper stocks and that proved to be the answer. I added thicker stocks to the Ruger Flat-Top, and subsequently purchased a Ruger Super Blackhawk and a 4-inch S&W .44 Magnum. These four sixguns were the subject of the first article I ever wrote entitled “4 x 44 =Fun” way back in 1967.

Being a teenager I was not in on the ground floor of load development for the .44 Magnum, however I do believe I was the one of the first, if not the first, to publish load data for the .44 Magnum using 300-grain bullets. That was just the beginning and I went on to work with virtually every big-bore cartridge offered over the next three decades working out extensive loading data for each one of them.


John’s growing battery of .32’s now includes (left to right) an S&W K-32 .32 S&W,
a Gary Reeder custom Ruger .32 H&R Single-Six and Bisley Model, and an S&W .32
H&R Kit Gun.

Although I had great pleasure doing all of this, and definitely earned my spurs, I paid a high price for all this “fun.” My hands, fingers, and wrists would be in much better shape today had I not shot so many of these loads. If you are working with any of these, just as with about everything else, the key is moderation. Elmer Keith tried to tell us, however we just didn’t pay attention. After waiting nearly 30 years he wrote an article one year after the introduction of the .44 Magnum saying he had fired his first gun a total of 600 rounds the first year, meaning he fired 12 rounds per week.

After Roy Huntington at American Handgunner talked of his .32’s, I started doing an inventory of my own. My first introduction to the .32 was the Ruger Single-Six .32 H&R Magnum. My friend Joe had purchased one with a 9-1/2-inch barrel and I immediately thought of it as a toy. However, I decided to go along with him and searched the cupboard for some suitable targets for his JHP handloads. One of the targets I found was a can of split pea soup (way down the list of things I find edible).

The can was set up at 25 yards with me shooting and Joe photographing. That first shot changed any thoughts I had about the .32 being a toy. That JHP dead-centered the soup can and seemed like the whole world turned green. I was splattered with little blobs of green as well as was my red Bronco. A whole new world opened up to me.

About the same time Elgin Gates, who was then the president of IHMSA (International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association), sent me a new sixgun designed for an offshoot of long-range silhouettes, namely Field Pistol using smaller targets, at shorter ranges and shot standing only. That first dedicated Field Pistol was an 8-inch Heavy Barreled Dan Wesson .32 Magnum. It was extremely accurate with virtually no recoil. That was my first .32 but definitely not my last. I bought two Ruger .32 Magnum Single-Sixes and they were sent off to gunsmith Andy Horvath to be converted into Perfect Packin’ Pistols. Andy shortened the barrels to 4 inches, round-butted both grip frames, one of which was the Bisley-style, tuned, tightened and refinished both of them. They remain favorites to this day. S&W made a .32 Magnum Kit Gun for only one year and for some reason never cataloged it. It also has a 4-inch barrel and makes a PPP.

Lately, I am more drawn to used guns, especially smallbores. I found a Ruger .32 Magnum Single-Six while a friend in Texas found two .32 Bisley Models for me. All three were sent to Gary Reeder for full customization. The Single-Six now wears a 9-1/2-inch barrel, the two Bisleys, (one fixed-sight and the other adjustable), are both now 7-1/2-inch sixguns. Gary reblued them as only he can and they are all excellent shooters. At the same time I had him rechamber of the cylinder of a second Dan Wesson .32 H&R to .327 Magnum.


John’s rare Dan Wesson .32-20 shoots superbly.


Today’s .32 cartridges include (left to right) the .32 S&W,
.32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum and .327 Federal Magnum.

The New .32’s

Today it is difficult to find new .32 sixguns. Ruger offers the SP101 and GP100 in .327 Magnum, while Freedom Arms has the best .32 ever offered with their little Model 97 which can be ordered with at least three cylinders in .327 Federal, .32 H&R and .32-20. The .32-20 is an old Winchester rifle cartridge first chambered in the Colt SAA. For a very short time Colt offered their 3rd Generation SAA in .32-20 and I feel very fortunate to have been able to come up with a 5-1/2-inch version. Uberti has offered replicas in .32-20 for some time and I’ve found all to be quite accurate. I have also had both Hamilton Bowen and John Gallagher build me custom .32-20’s on Colt and Ruger Single Actions respectively. Both are excellent small-game pistols.

Lately I’ve been looking for older double action .32’s. One of the hardest .32’s to come up with, at least at any kind of a reasonable price, is the Smith & Wesson K-32 Target Masterpiece. Thanks to a reader I now have one at an almost unbelievable purchase price. In the past couple of months, as I have been recuperating from knee surgery, I have hobbled into a couple of local gunshops and come up with several .32’s from the beginning of the 20th century. One is a very small Colt Pocket Positive .32 S&W and two of them are Colt Army Specials, which were the forerunners of the Official Police. They are both chambered in .32-20, one with a 4- and the other a 6-inch barrel. Both are in excellent shape and were very reasonably priced.

Big-bore sixguns are a grand choice for various serious situations, however they can also be loaded down to a more pleasant level. The .32’s, even in their heaviest versions, are always pleasant to shoot without a kick in a carload and they do very well for punching holes in paper, tin cans, varmints. Should the need arise, they could certainly be used for self-defense.

Elmer Keith’s first sixgun was a 7-1/2-inch Colt Single Action .32-20, which he used to take several mule deer. This was his start and he then went on to big bores. I did it backwards and now find myself with a small, magnificent obsession.
By John Taffin

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Dreams, Realities And Memories

These Are The Things That Matter.

I have often written of the “4 F’s.” Those four things which are extremely important in my life, namely, faith, family, friends and firearms. At this stage of my life I am blessed by the fact my cup runneth over with all four. Just before Christmas I was e-mailing back and forth with two very dear friends. One is custom gun maker Gary Reeder out of Flagstaff, Ariz., who I have known for at least 20 years, and Jim Taylor who I first met in the mountains of Oracle, Ariz., around 35 years ago. Currently Jim and his wife Twyla are serving on a mission station in Mozambique. Gary and I try to support Jim financially as much as possible.

By e-mail the three of us were discussing old friends getting together and I told Gary I figured this would be pretty much impossible at least on this side of the River. Gary thought about that for several days and decided to do something about it. Jim and Twyla were going to be in the country for Christmas visiting family. Gary talked to Jim and made arrangements for him to fly up from Texas while Gary would drive up from Flagstaff. Everything went smoothly and we spent three wonderful days together reminiscing and building memories.

Gary’s everyday carrying gun for the past 30 years has been a .45 Star PD. This gun dates back to 1975 when it was originally imported from Spain and as far as I know was the first real attempt to downsize the 1911. I very much liked the looks and feel of Gary’s PD and since I did not have a semi-auto worked over by his son Kase I sent my PD home with Gary to be upgraded.

My first thought was to have Kase do a little tuning and engrave the slide to match Gary’s, refinish the slide and polish the alloy frame. After Gary and Jim had left I got to thinking about what wonderful memories I would have from this get together and decided to commemorate the time with the Star PD. I doubt very much we will have trouble remembering our time together, but one never knows as we get older. So instead of the original plan I asked Gary to mark one side of the slide with our three names and the other to be engraved “Until We Cross The River.” He thought that was an excellent idea and added the thought we should also date it, another excellent idea, which I thoroughly endorsed.

As I thought more and more about this, and in spite of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, which are based on the physical, I thought of the emotional and realized we basically spend our life in three stages none of which are exclusive but rather exhibit considerable overlapping. Those three stages are dreams, reality and memories. Most of our younger life is spent dreaming while our middle year’s are busy with reality and then when we get to our so-called golden years (who in the world ever came up with that obviously was not there!) memories are extremely important. So much so sometimes they are all we have to hold onto.

When do the dreams actually start? How old do we have to be to begin looking to the future? For me, it was my grade school years—at least that is my first recollection—and many of the dreams were built by the old outdoor magazines of the time. I devoured all of them. I dreamed of someday hunting Canada. It never happened, however the walls of my bedroom were covered with maps of each province. As a frustrated artist I spent much time drawing pictures of myself living in the wilderness with my dog, my Jeep, a good rifle and snowshoes for traveling in the worst weather.


A handgun hunt in Africa was a long-awaited dream, became a reality (above),
and is now a memory. Rex Applegate (below) became a regular correspondent
with John—a grand part of John’s memories.


In my early years such writers as Jack O’Connor really stimulated my dreams. Every month he was hunting in a different exotic locale such as Alaska, Canada, India and Africa. I collected pop bottles and old newspapers to come up with 25¢ every month to pick up the current copy of his magazine. I dreamed of hunting lions and tigers and monkeys and bears… well not so much monkeys, and every day I redesigned my future trophy room planning just exactly where each trophy would go. These dreams carried on into my high school years and beyond, however they began to fade as reality set in. Reality began with Diamond Dot.

I was probably still mainly in my dream stage when we were married, however that soon became reality when I was responsible for providing food, clothing and shelter. At the time I had the best job in the world in charge of unloading boxcars and trucks as the foreman of a crew, although I was still a teenager. It was a great job, however it just didn’t pay enough to support a family. Reality said find another job, which I did—a job which paid three times as much. That was the upside. The downside was I hated every minute working in that factory but it provided the opportunity for me to go to college full-time while working a full-time night shift. If you want a perfect definition of reality that is it! We had three kids while I was in this reality phase and I was definitely pushed to the limit; however, Diamond Dot was totally supportive, never complaining about the fact we never actually did anything except survive.

Reality, of course, continued as after graduating from Kent State University. Diamond Dot and I packed up our three pre-school age kids, hooked a small U-Haul to the back of the ’65 Ford Station Wagon and headed for Idaho. It was definitely dreams which made me choose Idaho, as I had now been reading Elmer Keith for more than 10 years and I wanted to live in Keith Country. Part of the reality of that move was the fact my first Idaho teaching job paid just a little more than half of what I had been making. It was a struggle for sure, however we did make it and that first summer in Idaho we lived in the Payette National Forest and a great dream I had begun came true as I wrote my first article for a gun magazine. Since that time, the reality has been seven books and more than 2,000 articles and my dream has definitely been fulfilled.

The fulfilling of the dream as a gunwriter has led to the reality of building many memories. I know many who are envious of the fact I have the opportunity to test so many firearms, however, that is not the best part of this job. Yes, it really is a job although a real dream job. The best part of my being a gunwriter for nearly 50 years is all the people I have met many of which have now crossed over the river.

Not only do I have great memories of Elmer Keith due to reading every sixgun article he ever wrote, I think of the day in 1968 when Diamond Dot and I spent the day with him and his wife Lorraine in his home in Salmon, Idaho. They were a most gracious couple. I think of Skeeter Skelton and the first time I met him at an NRA Show. I showed him a picture of the barrel of a Colt Single Action Army marked “S&W Russian and Special .44” and he grabbed me by the arm and said: “Let’s go find a quiet place to talk.”


Favorite memories include meeting Elmer Keith in 1968.

I think of evenings spent with Jeff Cooper and Bill Jordan and I was certainly in a dream world visiting one-on-one with these two fine gentlemen. In their later years both Bill Jordan and Col. Rex Applegate called me on a weekly basis and we had many fine conversations. There are many others such as Deacon Deason, Hal Swiggett, John Wootters, Jimmy Clark, Bill Grover, Gary Sitton… however, as too often happens to a writer, I am constrained by space.

Now the reality is I am in the twilight of my years. There are very few dreams but lots of memories and a grand reality is after so many years of struggling we are now financially able to have everything we need and a lot of the things we want. Actually, the only thing we, mostly me, really want from time to time is some firearm (usually one of the old classics). The reality is I can now not only afford just about anything I want, I don’t—as so many men seem to have to do—hide any purchases from my wife. Another part of this reality is the fact we have been blessed with three great kids, which is actually six when we include their spouses and eight grandkids, which becomes 11 with the spouses of those who are now married. Since we have so few wants, one of the wonderful realities is we have been able to help several of the grandkids through school.

Not only do I spend much of my time with memories connected with firearms I also think quite often of family now gone on, grade school days and the friends I made, and some of the really fine teachers I had in high school. I wished I had taken the time to tell them how much they were appreciated.
By John Taffin

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Recovery Can Come In Many Forms.

His childhood had been very difficult as he was born with asthma and often found himself gasping for breath. He had wonderful ideas of what he wanted to do with his life; however, asthma coupled with a very weak body assured those dreams would never come true. Neither he nor his father would give up and the latter built a gym in the house. He told his young son he was going to have to start from scratch and build his own body. That is exactly what he did. His body became strong, however, he was soon devastated by the early death of his beloved father who he called the best friend he ever had.

Now things were much better. The girl he truly loved had finally said yes and now they were expecting their first child. Elected to the state assembly, every Monday morning he caught the train to the state capital and came back Friday evening to spend the weekend with his family. He and his wife lived with his mother and his siblings in the family home. Everything was perfect. Then he got a message to hurry home. His mother was quite sick and died that day, which was enough of a blow but added to this was the fact his wife also died in childbirth. The two women he loved the most both died in the same house on the same day. Can we even begin to imagine the emotional roller coaster he was now on?

His father was gone; now his mother and wife. He gave his new daughter to his sister and ran. He ran away from all responsibility—something he would never ever do again. He went to the Badlands of Dakota Territory and became something he absolutely knew nothing about, a rancher. He learned quickly, and no one ever called him a 4-eyed tenderfoot the second time. He was not an ordinary cowboy. Actually, there never was anything very ordinary about him. He dressed in buckskins and carried a fully-engraved 7-1/2-inch Colt Frontier Six-Shooter complete with a carved ivory stock in a fully carved cross-draw holster. No one who met him ever forgot him. He tracked down thieves in the bitter winter and stood up to anyone no matter their size or station. He was definitely a man’s man.

It was not an easy time. He built a large cabin and friends who had guided him on hunting trips in Maine joined him with their wives and they began the glorious adventure. He made sure he had a large enough room for his library and room to write. He invested his inheritance from his father and one of the worst winters in history wiped out most of the cattle and half of his family fortune.

That time in the Badlands totally shaped Theodore Roosevelt. Without that experience he would not have been Col. Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War and he certainly would never have been president. That time did much to heal him emotionally and spiritually probably even somewhat physically. He wrote a best-selling book, one of many, entitled Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, which is still worth reading. Theodore needed to be healed and he was.

All of us need healing of some kind at some time or the other. Sometimes it’s spiritual, sometimes it’s emotional, and unless we grow up in a plastic bubble we go through a whole lot of physical healing. When we are young healing comes very quickly. As we grow older healing of any kind seems to take much longer. You might guess reading this I am in the process of healing right now. I had the first of two needed total knee replacements and the healing, although slow, has been aided in so many ways.


Single-action sixguns have special healing properties.

Of course, my worn-out old body still has its built-in healing process. It may be slower now, but there are many outside forces which have contributed greatly to it. First and foremost there is Diamond Dot who, for the few of you who may not know, is my wife of more than half a century. I have no idea how I would’ve ever made it this far without her. She basically had to do everything for me the first few weeks and I am just now getting to the point where I can really start doing things for myself again. The walker was put away two weeks ago and the cane is mostly just a security blanket now (I often just leave it behind.)

I have often said there are only four things in this life that are really important, namely faith, family, friends and firearms. My personal faith has sustained me through this time, as it does through every day of my life. Not only Diamond Dot but the other members of my family, kids and grandkids, have been such a joy in helping me get better. Friends regularly called and sent cards when too far away to visit, while others living much closer have visited frequently which helps to pass the time when I can’t do much of anything else. I am also sure it adds to the healing.

That brings us down to firearms. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Gary Reeder Custom Guns.” I responded with, “Hi Gary. You’re not going to believe what has happened.” I was about two weeks into recuperating and Gary had just sent me John Taffin’s Classic custom revolver built on a Ruger .44 Special New Model Flat-Top. Gary began honoring me with this limited edition of 100 “special Specials” one year ago and now I had my own. “Gary, I got this beautiful .44 Special and I rubbed it on my knee and I can feel healing happening!” We both got a good laugh out of that, but healing cannot be accomplished in this way, Or can it?

Three years ago when I was recuperating from an operation, which was only, at best, 20 percent successful, I am convinced firearms helped me to heal. First, I had been looking to no avail for a full-sized 1911 chambered in 9mm. Don’t ask why I wanted a 9mm (I just did). They were very hard to find and then one showed up from Springfield Armory and I immediately started to feel better. Then Matt over at Buckhorn Gun Shop came over with a pair of 1950 Target Smith & Wesson’s he thought I might be interested in and I could almost feel the healing happening as he stepped on the porch. Imagination? Maybe, maybe not. Emotion? Definitely. I know emotions have a lot to do with physical healing.

Even before my current operation I did a few things to surround myself with healing firearms. I had stopped to see my friend Cactus at Boise Gun and what should I find but two wonderful old classic revolvers. One dated back to the 1920’s, it being a Colt Army Special chambered in .32-20, while the other was a 1950’s S&W Military & Police .38 Special. I could almost feel the healing properties oozing from each. If I ever needed a reason for purchasing firearms what could be better than the innate healing qualities found in them? Actually this was not the beginning of preparing for healing. Even earlier, in fact, months earlier, I had commissioned a matched pair of USFA Buntline Specials.


Classic double actions have their own special magic too.

USFA began as USPFA in the early 1990’s at which time they were importing parts from Uberti and assembling and finishing sixguns in this country. They were definitely a cut above the typical replica of the time. The goal was to eventually produce an all American-made single action. USFA has closed their doors, however, parts remained. While they were operating as USPFA, special frames were made by Uberti.

These 10-inch .45 Colt single actions have more than just long barrels. They were built of all American parts except the Uberti mainframes, which have the true Buntline rear sight consisting of a “ladder” lifting up out of the trough in the top of the frame to allow for long range shooting. Holding one of these in each hand, I can really feel healing running through my knee.

I haven’t got to the point where I’ve been able to shoot any of these yet. However, the time is coming faster and faster and today it even got warm enough for some defrosting to occur.

While I have been recuperating, both of my computers totally died with no chance of healing. Even more painful than the process of healing my body has been that of learning a totally new operating system as found in today’s newer computers. Without my son-in-law I would never have made it. My healing process will be complete when I take the two older computers out and use them for targets with my “Healing Handguns.” There is something very satisfying and therapeutic about shooting holes in computers.
By John Taffin

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The Croft/ Keith Slip Gun

This Cut-Down Colt SAA May WellL
Be The Holy Grail Of Belly Guns.

Elmer Keith’s Sixguns was first published in 1955, updated in 1961 and has been reprinted several times over the past 5+ decades. As all gun books more than a few hours old it is definitely dated, however it still contains much valuable information. Many of his principles, just as with those of Col. Cooper, Col. Askins and Skeeter Skelton still apply today.

In his chapter on long range shooting, Keith says, “Effective long-range revolver shooting requires as much, perhaps more, practice than any other phase of the game. One must learn the trajectory of his pet load and how much front sight to hold up above the level of the rear sight notch to attain different ranges. With enough practice, one becomes proficient and could surprise the natives. We had the Zane Grey outfit here on a two-month pack trip in 1931. One day the boys started shooting at a rock at 400 yards with their .30-06 Model 1895 rifles… They were far from expert rifleman and we laid down with our back against the log for a perfect back and headrest and with a 7-1/2-inch .44 Special S.A. Colt, with target sights, held with both hands between the drawn up knees, proceeded to hit the rock repeatedly. That was something new to Zane Grey and he used what he learned of that trip about long-range pistol shooting in his novel, Thunder Mountain.

That dates back nearly 85 years but the principles involved still hold true today. I’ve handled that Colt .44 Special and have no doubt both the old Colt and Keith were capable of doing what he said he did. In fact, both my friend Jim Taylor and I have duplicated such shots, some even further, by using Keith’s principles of long-range shooting.

In the same book Keith says, “In 1928, S. Harold Croft of Philadelphia, with whom I had had considerable correspondence regarding sixguns and various loads, spent a month with us on the ranch at Durkee, Oregon. He brought a suitcase full of good sixguns, mostly .44 Special or .45 Colt caliber and asked me to demonstrate some of the long-range shooting I have been writing about. Seven hundred yards across a dry, dusty field I had a target 4 feet square. By laying on my back with my saddle used for a head and shoulder rest. And shooting with both hands held between my drawn up knees, I proceeded to lob slugs into that target. I hit with every gun he brought along before the gun was empty except one 2-inch barreled .45 S.A. with a Newman hammer. It required 11 shots to find a target with the short-barreled gun and I was then aiming on the sagebrush on top of a small mountain behind and a bit to one side of the target before I finally hit it. The short barrel was not burning the 40-grain black powder charge, and trajectory was hopelessly high. With a good .44 Special and .45 Colt sixguns with barrels of 4- to 7-1/2 inches it was no trouble to find that target in a shot or two, and with some I hit the 4-foot target with three out of five shots. Croft was soon convinced I had been writing facts and not fiction, but was very skeptical before the shooting started. We experimented most of the month and during that time I designed the first of my line of Ideal Keith bullets in caliber .44 Special Ideal No. 429421.”


This could very well be the Slip Hammer Colt SAA .45 Colt S. Harold Croft
took along on his visit to Elmer Keith back in the 1920’s.

At the time Keith was in his late 20’s and could not foresee what an influence he would have over the next 50+ years with the far-reaching effects of this trip with his “guncrank friend” from Philadelphia. Croft had brought along four custom .45 Colt Featherweight single-action sixguns. Two were built on Colt Single Actions and two on Bisley Models. These were numbered from 1 to 4. Keith wrote these up in the September 1928 issue of The American Rifleman. During the month Keith and Croft spent a lot of time discussing sixguns and the result was the now very famous Keith No. 5 S.A.A. .44 Special, which he wrote up as “The Last Word” in April 1929. Keith relates in Sixguns that Harold Croft had the No. 5 engraved and blued for him. From the late 1920’s well into the 1950’s it was Keith’s favorite .44 Special.

What about the guns Croft brought out to Keith’s little ranch? Two of these surfaced, and about 10 years ago I was able to handle them and actually shoot one of them. These guns were written up in this column in November 2005. Here we are interested in another Croft gun, which has surfaced. The .45 Slip Gun Keith mentions being more difficult to hit with at long-range. Just what is a Slip Gun?

In his book The Secrets of Double-Action Shooting, Bob Nichols quotes General Hatcher, who said, “Recently the late John Newman of Seattle, Washington, and Elmer Keith of Weiser, Idaho, have given prominence to what is known as ‘slip shooting’ with the .45 Single Action Army. The gun is converted into a ‘slip hammer’ revolver by altering the hammer, taking off the hammer spur entirely and substituting for it a short peg projecting to the rear and lower down on the hammer than the conventional hammer spur. The trigger is preferably removed altogether and sometimes the triggerguard itself is also removed. The gun like this can be fired rapidly and accurately by simply drawing the hammer back with the right thumb and then, when it is ready to fire, allowing the handle of the ‘slip hammer’ to escape from under the thumb. The speed with which this can be accomplished is shown by the fact that John Newman has been known to throw a tin can in the air and put four shots into it with his ‘slip hammer’ Colt before it hit the ground.”

Even before such Slip Guns were associated with Keith, Croft, Newman and gunsmiths Sedgley and J.D. O’Meara, old-time gunfighters made their own Slip Guns by tying the trigger back on their standard Single Actions or even removing it all together. With the barrel cut short the .45 Colt was turned into a deadly pocket revolver. What about the Slip Gun Croft brought out to the Keith Ranch? Remember that was more than 85 years ago. Two of the original four Croft Featherweights have been found and I do believe the Croft Slip Gun has surfaced.


The lowered hammer spur allows for very quick shooting by holding
the trigger back and just letting the hammer “slip.”

I have often said in the past the greatest thing about being a gunwriter is the people I meet. One such person who has the same deep down sixgunnin’ soul feeling I have for .44 Specials (“I’m the guy you robbed a few years back with the 4-inch S&W 1950 Target .44 Spl.”) His name is Jack Curro and he has the Croft .45 Colt Slip Gun. He related his find to me saying, “My buddy got this gun in a couple years ago at the shop, calls me up, and tells me he just got in an old Colt that someone butchered up.

I went down to the shop and about wet my pants when I saw it. I started getting all jittery, sweating and all and said ‘I want that bad!’ This is where it gets interesting. The gun came from an old estate in the same area where Sedgley Gun Works used to be, right off Sedgley Ave. in Philly. The conversion was very professionally done with stampings under the triggerguard. Expert welding on the hammer; you can’t even see any marks. The trigger is checkered perfectly. Barrel is 2-1/2 inches. Timing and overall mechanics are perfect. I have since shot several hundred rounds out of it and it’s a no-brainer to hit the full-size rams at 200m. This gun is a shooter. You know the story of Elmer Keith when Harold Croft brought a suitcase of revolvers out to Elmer’s ranch in 1928 and how Elmer took 10 shots or so to hit the 700-yard target with the slip gun with the Newman hammer? This gun is totally capable of that. Croft took the gun back to Philly and I have this strange feeling this is the gun that Elmer used.” I definitely think he is correct!

Curro adds, “This gun fits the description, has the accuracy needed, 99.999 percent that it is a Sedgley/Croft gun, it came from the same small area of the city where Croft was and, to be realistic, how many Colt Slip Guns were actually made by Sedgley and Croft? The serial number puts it at 1903 and all matching numbers. John, this gun is a blast to shoot… hits high… real high… Point of aim does not become point of impact until about 150 yards with a Keith 454424 with 8.5 of Unique.”

Jack sent me a whole bunch of pictures a few of which are included here. Notice the low riding hammer spur, the barrel band front sight, and the overall very good condition. When the triggerguard is removed vivid case colors are revealed, as well as a number stamped probably by Sedgley. Also note the trigger has been maintained for deliberate shooting, as Keith did at 700 yards. To use this .45 as a slip gun you simply hold the trigger to the rear as the hammer is slipped with the thumb.
Today we are blessed with a long list of exceptionally talented sixgunsmiths. In Keith’s early days Sedgley, O’Meara and King Gunsight were at the top. It is unfortunate that Croft and Keith did not leave a written document about each of the sixguns in that suitcase. Of course, as mentioned, they could not see how important these guns would be in the future. We can all learn something from this. We may never be important to the world, however, we are important to our families and special firearms should be documented so future grandkids and great grandkids will know all about them and where they came from.
By John Taffin

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“That Little Guy?!”

Some Men Are Giants Anyway.

The magazine you are now reading first arrived in January 1955. Before that it was very difficult for someone who desired information about guns like I did to find much in print. At the time I was in high school and had a paper route, which required me to go to town once a week and pay my bill.

This was also a time to haunt the two newsstands in town looking for any new publications from several companies offering 6×9-inch paperback books about guns for the princely sum of 75¢, which was a lot of money in those days. Several of these books were entitled Lucian Cary on Guns and were compilations of articles by Cary who was the gun editor for True magazine. It was also in one of these little books in 1958 when I first discovered Jeff Cooper through his paperback book Fighting Handguns.

I first encountered Col. Walter Walsh by reading about him in a book by Lucian Cary in the mid-1950’s. I was drawn to a photo of Walsh firing a Smith & Wesson identified as a .38-44 Heavy Duty. I still have that picture; however later Col. Walsh would tell me the picture was labeled wrong and it was actually a .357 Magnum. I also found an earlier 1950 publication of Cary’s works with a full-length feature on Walter Walsh. In those days most of us could name several FBI agents such as Jelly Bryce (who was featured in LIFE magazine), Walter Walsh and such Texas Rangers as Bob Crowder, Clint Peoples and Frank Hamer, as well as Bill Jordan (who appeared on the TV show You Asked For It) and Charles Askins who were well known Border Patrol agents. They were national heroes; however today such LEO’s are mostly anonymous and unknown.

Early Days

Cary talked of meeting Walter Walsh in the early 1930’s when he was shooting in both rifle and pistol matches. He said: “In May 1934 we heard that Walter Walsh had joined the FBI. Those were the days when the agents of the FBI were fighting gun battles with public enemies and we who knew how well Walsh could shoot drew our own conclusions.

On July 22, 1934, the agents of the FBI caught up with John Dillinger and killed him on a Chicago street when he resisted arrest. On October 22, 1934, they got Pretty Boy Floyd on an Ohio farm. On November 27, 1934, they got Baby Face Nelson, who had murdered three FBI agents. On January 8, 1935, they killed Russell Gibson after he had fired on a Special Agent. On January 16, 1935, they killed Ma and Fred Barker, leaders of the Barker-Karpis gang who had holed up in Florida and who answered the demand for surrender with fire from Thompson SMGs.

I don’t know what share Walsh had in these affairs, which occurred in the year after Walsh joined the FBI, or in the many others which occurred during his subsequent years of FBI service. I’ve heard the gossip—that Walsh was in 15 or 20 gunfights and personally accounted for 11 men. But the facts have never been published.”

There was one exception to this publicity with a well-known exploit of Walter Walsh making national news. In 1937, three men stopped at a sporting goods store in Bangor, Maine, buying several guns and asking the owner if he could get them Thompson submachine guns. The owner said it would take a couple weeks but he thought he could.

As soon as the men left, the owner called the Bangor Police Department who immediately reported it to the FBI. Agents from the FBI arrived at the store with hundreds of photographs of known criminals and the owner was able to pick out Albert Brady and two other members of the Brady gang. They had held up several banks and committed a number of murders.


Col. Walter Walsh, FBI agent and Marine Corp reservist, firing his
Smith & Wesson .357 with the Magnum Marine Corps in the late 1940’s.

“Special Stuff”

On Sunday, October 10, FBI agents were stationed in the back of the sporting goods store behind a large advertisement for golf balls. They were able to cut peepholes in the advertisement so they could see the front of the store. One of the men was armed with a Thompson submachine gun. Walter Walsh was undercover behind the counter waiting on customers. There were other FBI agents on the street as well as on the roof of the building across the street. This stakeout, unlike many which may go on for weeks, paid dividends within a few hours on the first day. The owner received a phone call wanting to know if he would be open tomorrow on Columbus Day. The owner said he would and the caller said he would be in to see about that “special stuff” he wanted.

At 8:30 the next morning a car pulled up in front of the store and Walsh recognized the man who entered store as a member of the Brady gang. Walsh pulled a gun on him and marched him behind the partition with the other agents frisking him and removing two guns. Walsh then moved towards the door to encounter the other gang members who were still outside. Walsh was armed with a .357 Magnum in his left hand and a .45 Model 1911 in his right. He had some difficulty opening the door because he had a gun in each hand, and as he was doing so one of the gang members fired through the glass of the door striking Walsh high in the chest and the second round hit Walsh in the thumb. Walsh returned fire from his .357 Magnum killing the gang member.

Albert Brady, the leader of the gang, was still behind the wheel of the car, which was soon surrounded by other agents. Brady exited the car and started shooting. He died from the gunfire of several agents. Walsh had been hit in the chest by a .32 ACP and it was high enough to miss the top of his lung and the big artery by a fraction of an inch. He recovered within a couple weeks.

Col. Walter Walsh was a true American hero. Born in 1907, Walsh would not only be one of the early FBI agents during the turbulent 1930’s, he personally captured Doc Barker, son of the infamous Ma Barker. He also found time to take part in the National Matches shooting both rifle and pistol. While serving with the FBI, Walsh’s favored sidearm was Smith & Wesson’s .357 Magnum. He also carried this gun with him as a Marine in WWII; however he used his personal 1911 Government Model .45 to take out a Japanese sniper at 90 yards.

I would not meet Col. Walsh personally until he was a nominee for the Outstanding American Handgunner Award in 1997. It was my pleasure to write Bill Jordan’s speech acknowledging Col. Walsh as the recipient of the coveted bronze trophy. Bill Jordan also told me a wonderful story about Col. Walsh. During the national matches a man came up to the easily recognizable 6-foot, 6-inch tall Jordan and asked him if he could point out Walter Walsh. Jordan said: “That’s him on the firing line right now.” “That little guy?” responded the inquirer, looking at Col. Walsh at not much over 5-feet tall. Jordan said to him: “When he is through shooting go over and look in his eyes.” The man did thus and returned with: “I see exactly what you mean.”

Col. Walter Walsh was past 90-years old when I first met him, still stood ramrod straight as we would expect a Marine to stand, and could still see quite well without the aid of glasses. He was also still very active serving as a shooting coach in the Olympics. One of my prized possessions is an autographed picture from him with the two of us together.


Col. Walter Walsh and Taffin at the Outstanding American Handgunner
Awards presentation in 1997.

One A Month

At the time he won the award, renowned pistolsmith Jimmy Clark had made arrangements to present him with a new customized S&W .357 Magnum. When it was shipped to him he had just recently purchased a firearm, and so was caught under the one-gun-a-month fiasco. Col. Walter Walsh, FBI agent, World War II hero, Olympic coach and 90 year-old gentleman was deemed so dangerous to society by his state of residency he had to wait the required 30 days before he could receive his new sixgun.

Col. Walter Walsh passed away in April 2014 at the remarkable age of 107. He was an esteemed member of The Greatest Generation, as was Bill Jordan. And just as with Bill Jordan, we will likely not see his kind again.
By John Taffin

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Memorable Handgun Hunts

The Y.O. Ranch Holds A Special
Place In John’s Heart.

We had spent a long time working our way to the top and as I looked across the canyon there was the largest mule deer buck I had ever seen before or since. I could plainly see his antlers with the naked eye and he had no inkling, at least from the way he acted, we were even there. It was a long shot but certainly possible with my Enfield .30-06 Sporter. We were beside a pile of downed timber, which would make an excellent rest. All I would have to do is remove my down vest, fold it into a pad, place my ’06 on the log, get a solid rest and squeeze off a shot as I lined up the crosshairs on the buck. Easy. But there was one problem. The .30-06 was back home.

The hike to the top was made much easier by the fact both arms were free and I wasn’t burdened down with that 10-pound rifle. Instead I was packing a Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk with a 10-inch barrel and carried in a Goerg shoulder holster. Even if I got down on the log, even if I got a steady rest, even if the buck stood absolutely still, the shot was still totally out of the question. All I could do was sit there and enjoy the sight of such a magnificent Idaho mule deer. I could’ve been upset with myself for not having the rifle along. I wasn’t. I could’ve second-guessed bringing the iron-sighted .44 Magnum. I didn’t. This was the defining moment for me to decide whether I would be a handgun hunter or not. No regrets, from that moment on I would be a confirmed handgun hunter.

How do you explain such a choice? The answer is simply it can’t be explained. This is one of those situations if understood, no explanation is necessary; if not understood, no explanation is possible. One of the major reasons given by those who hunt with the handgun is a simply they did not want to carry a heavy rifle all day, or perhaps, they will say rifle hunting had become too easy. Maybe. But more likely the reason goes much deeper. There is something in our soul, something in our spirit that makes us want to hunt with a sixgun, semi-automatic pistol, or single-shot pistol. When looked at matter-of-factly this does not make much sense if the only goal in hunting is totally wrapped up in the animal taken. I can’t explain my obsession with handguns, however, I am sure it is something inside of me from birth. If you are reading this now you probably have the same feeling. We don’t need to explain it. We only need to enjoy it.


JD Jones and the late Ken French of Thompson/Center. One of JD’s creations—the 6.5
JDJ in a T/C became one of John’s favorite hunting handguns.

Hunter’s Paradise

There are two places, which are absolute paradise for the handgun hunter. One is Africa and my trip to Africa was one of the greatest pleasures I have ever had except for the plane ride. And that plane ride—17 hours in a cattle car—kept me from ever returning. The other paradise is found right here in the United States and it is Texas. Texas is the most heavily hunted state in the country and yet it has, and will continue to have, the greatest population of game simply because of correct management added to dozens of species of game from around the world, exotics, which have been imported and allowed to thrive for nearly a century. Texas is the closest you can be to Africa without leaving the United States.

I may have never discovered Texas had it not been for the North American Handgun Hunters’ Chapter of Safari Club International. In 1989 I was invited to be a member of the Handgun Hunters’ Advisory Committee of SCI with Herb Bobchin as chairman. By 1995 more than 60 paid founding chapter members proposed the creation of the North American Handgun Hunters’ Chapter of SCI. Bobchin served as president of the new chapter until 2001 when Taz Ridley took over. In 1988 Texan Thompson Temple put on the very first Sportsman Against Hunger Hunt and Bobchin was part of this function as well as Ridley. One year later the first Handgun Hunt for the Sportsman Against Hunger was held with Temple. I was fortunate to be among those first hunters.


Taffin took this bull bison on the Y.O. with a Freedom Arms
4-3/4-inch revolver chambered in .475 Linebaugh.

The Big YO

The following year the program had grown to such an extent the only logical place to hold such a hunt was on the Y.O. Ranch, which was founded by Charles Schreiner in 1880. Schreiner was originally from Alsace-Lorraine, which is also where some of my people came from, and in 1858 joined the Texas Rangers. It was while he was a Ranger he discovered the Texas Hill Country. The ranch originally was a working cattle ranch and had over 500,000 acres.

By 1990 the main crop was no longer cattle but rather whitetails and exotic game from all over the world. I was also on the first handgun hunt on the YO Ranch. By then the ranch was run by Charles Schreiner III, “Charlie Three” with his son Louis running the hunting operation. Louie was one of the most pleasant folks it’s ever been my pleasure to know and we always had a great time hunting on the Y.O.

I loved the Texas Hill Country from the very first and never missed one of the Handgun Hunts. I also made several other trips to Texas in between hunts. It was on one of these trips I met Frank Pulkrabek, another most pleasant gentleman, who not only guided me on other ranches but also put together my trip to Africa and accompanied me. Unfortunately, Frank was killed by a drunk driver while taking a group of hunters to the San Antonio Airport.

My guide on the Y.O. was always Don McMinn who lived on the ranch with his wife Sharie. Along with Terry Thompson from SCI, the three of us hunted together every year and the McMinns also opened their home to us so we could stay with them on each trip. We had some absolutely wonderful times together, and my SSK Custom Thompson/Center Contender chambered in 6.5 JDJ became legendary. Any time I felt inclined to turn down a shot Don would say: “I’ve seen you shoot; you can do it.” Fortunately, neither I, nor the 6.5 ever let him down. One time I was trusted to take one ragged Corsican ram valued at about $300 out of a herd of Red sheep, which carried price tags of around $5,000 each. The Contender did its job perfectly.

Not only was the Y.O. Handgun Hunt thoroughly enjoyable and resulted in many trophies for all of the hunters, it also had a more serious aspect as the original idea from Thompson Temple of Sportsman Against Hunger was carried on and every year all of the meat, thousands upon thousands of pounds, was donated to the Salvation Army to feed the less fortunate. When I shot my big bison bull I got the hide and head while the less fortunate received the meat.


Retired Major General Joe Engle, test pilot for the North American X-15 program, aeronautical
engineer and a former NASA astronaut, presented Herb Bobchin, chairman of the Handgun Hunters’
Advisory Committee of SCI with this photo montage after a hunt on the Y.O.


I’ve taken a long list of exotic trophies on these Y.O. Handgun Hunts, as have many others as well. As I sit here and compose this article I can look around my room and see aoudad, ibex, Merino, Corsican, Black Hawaiian, white Texas dall and mouflon sheep; sika deer plus chocolate, spotted and white fallow deer; black, brown and white Catalina goats; my favorite exotic—the black buck antelope originally from India, and many domestic favorites from Texas, namely whitetail deer. Had it not been for that original Handgun Hunters Advisory Committee this wonderful world may never have been opened up to me.

The original concept was to invite celebrities, and we did have a few. My favorite was Major General Joe Engle who was part of our space program. The first time I met him on a hunt he asked my advice about a handgun as he was just really getting started. I thought he would never remember me but 6 months later when I ran into him at an NRA Show he not only remembered me, but also had taken my advice. He was certainly another one of those wonderful people met in the hunting fields and I was really impressed by something he did. While we were hunting together, along with Terry Thompson and Don McMinn, Joe said he needed to get to a telephone before the day was over. This was long before cell phones had arrived. So when we got back to the main camp Joe made his important phone call. It was to his daughter to wish her a happy birthday. In my mind that is a very special man.

I said I had never missed one of the Handgun Hunts but this changed in our new century. In 2001, several things happened. Of course, 9-11 changed everything—especially the airlines. It was not long before I refused to fly, which put a real crimp in traveling as far as Texas. That same year Charlie Three and Louie both died. All of this combined to change the Y.O. for me forever. I still have memories, wonderful memories of all the hunts with so many good people, as well as a house full of game heads. Everything in this life touched by the hand of man changes and now, my last Y.O. Handgun Hunt has been held and there will be no more. Only the memories linger.
By John Taffin

Y.O. Ranch
1736 Y.O. Ranch Road
Mountain Home, TX 78058
(800) 967-2624

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House Gun(s)

Have More Than One
If YOUR House Is Large.

The earliest, most vivid recollection I have of the house we lived in goes back to when I was about 4-years old. My father had died before I was a year old, my mother had remarried, and my step-dad was now off to war. We shared a small house with my step-dad’s brother and his wife who lived upstairs while mom and I and my little newborn sister had the downstairs. After the war we moved into a new housing project, which was mostly built for returning veterans and their families. This was another very small place with a downstairs consisting of a kitchen and living room while there were two bedrooms upstairs—again, very small.

In 1950 we finally moved into a house of our own, however one thing stayed the same namely it, too, was very small. This time we had a kitchen, dining room, living room and two bedrooms upstairs. The dining room became our living room and the living room became my folks’ bedroom.

After graduating Diamond Dot and our three pre-school-aged kids left Ohio and headed for Idaho where we soon found ourselves in the smallest place I can ever remember living in. That only lasted a couple years until we bought our own place. Over the years we have added a 16×32-foot family room, a 16×25-foot office, converted the double garage into a second office and workshop, added another 16×12-foot reloading room and a 16-square-foot sewing room for Dot. The days of small living quarters disappeared and are certainly not missed.


Four Charter Arms .44 Special Bulldogs, all loaded with CCI 200-grain
Gold Dot Hollowpoints, serve as house guns in various locations.

There Is A Point

Now it may seem like I’ve taken a long way around the barn to get where I’m going. And where I am going is the subject of having a house gun. Those many tiny spaces I lived in for such a long time could have been well taken care of with a house gun. Maybe. Even as small as they were it would have been easy to find myself too far removed from the house gun should trouble arise. If I have a house gun today—the way my house is spread out—it is easy to see I could be in deep trouble if I found myself at one end of the house while my house gun was as far away from me as it could be. Early on I decided the idea of a house gun was not practical. What was needed was not a house gun but rather house guns.

Of course, the problem could be solved, at least most of the time, if I always carried a gun. When I am normally dressed there is always a J-frame in my pocket and if I’m wearing a jacket there is a second gun in one of the pockets. Quite often, a semi-automatic rides in my belt so I’m generally prepared. However, though this sounds easy, I certainly don’t carry a gun while sleeping, nor in the bathroom, and while I am working on articles and taking pictures, or just relaxing in the evening I normally wear sweats, which are not conducive to easily carrying a gun. Yes, I could do it and yes, I know the gun is supposed to be comforting and not necessarily comfortable, however, in my own home I prefer to be comfortable. So what’s the answer?


Taffin’s main bedroom handgun is this flashlight
equipped Ruger KP345 in .45 ACP.

Gun No. 1

Like many, I started out with one house gun, a surplus M1911 Government Model .45 ACP. It was my car gun, my traveling gun, my house gun, my shooting gun, my bedroom gun, my everything gun. As time went by and I was able to purchase more guns, I also dedicated more of them to being house guns. Now I have reached the point no matter where I am in the house a handgun or shotgun is in easy reach.

In my main office I have two computers for writing, a third computer to access the Internet plus an easy chair for reading or watching TV. No matter where I am a self-defense handgun is within easy reach. As I sit here and type (actually as I sit here and dictate to my computer using a voice package as I am a terrible typist and this modern convenience saves me hours and hours of work daily), there are two double-action revolvers within reach. To my right is a custom Taurus 5-shot .44 Special worked over by Bill Oglesby. Bill completely tuned the action, bobbed the hammer, added high visibility sites complete with a large white bead for the front sight and a V-notch rear. It is loaded with CCI factory .44 Specials with a 200-grain Gold Dot hollowpoint.

To my left within easy access is a Dan Wesson L’il Dan 2-inch .38 Special. This is an all-steel, 6-shot pistol and is quite a bit larger and heavier than a J-frame making it somewhat impractical for pocket carry, however, it works very well in a desk drawer and is loaded with Black Hills 125-grain .38 Special +P JHP’s.


This older Colt Trooper is kept at the ready loaded
with Black Hills 125-grain .38 Special +P JHPs.

The Beater

When I am at my desk to access the Internet there is an interesting “beater gun” easily accessible. In our family a “beater gun” is not a gun which has been beaten, but rather one whose finishes a lot less than pristine and whatever use we put it to, we don’t have to worry about scratching or adding more wear. This particular sixgun is a 5-1/2-inch Uberti single action, which some previous owner fitted with a Colt cylinder and a Colt barrel, both in .357 Magnum. The barrel, and cylinder alone are worth much more than I paid for the entire sixgun. It too carries Black Hills 125-grain .38 Special +P JHPs.

For years one of my favorite carry guns was a 9mm Smith & Wesson Model 3913. This semi-automatic predates the plastic polymer pistols, so it is all steel with a single-stack magazine. The reason this was such a favorite is the fact I could put it inside my belt just behind my hip and it always stayed there, never shifting in the least. Now it is my reading chair gun easily reached amidst all the books. It is loaded with 115-grain JHP’s except for the first two rounds, which are Cor-Bon Pow’R Balls. We have now made it through one room and instead of a house gun it takes four house guns.

Moving into the family room where my wife and I normally sit to watch TV there are two sixguns and a small, semi-automatic easily within reach. For the revolvers one is a J-framed-sized Taurus .38 Special with laser grips the other a 4-inch Colt Trooper. By now it should be obvious these are both loaded with Black Hills .38 Special 125-grain +P JHP’s. The third concealed firearm is a .380 Walther PP copy-loaded with JHP’s. Off the family room is my wife’s office, which is guarded by two J-frames. One is a 2-inch S&W Bodyguard, which is always in her purse, while the other is a 3-inch concealed hammer Smith & Wesson about one arm’s length away from her. Both of these .38 Specials also contain the mandatory Black Hills load.

Dogs have always been important in our family and we now have six of them on duty constantly. My wife’s two little females, Chloe, a Pomeranian, and Molly, a Shih’tsu, are wonderful watchdogs and our first line of defense. They are backed up by four bulldogs—Charter Arms Bulldogs, that is. I have mentioned several times over the years the fact that two stainless steel Charter Arms, a regular Bulldog and a Pit Bull, are stashed in each one of the bathrooms (as there is nowhere in the house we are more vulnerable). Just as with the Oglesby .44 Special Taurus these are also loaded with CCI 200-grain .44 Special Gold Dot Hollowpoints. I recently tested two of the latest offerings from Charter Arms, their new Target Bulldogs. These two sixguns, one with a 4-inch barrel and the other a 5-inch, are also loaded with the Gold Dots and guard my reloading room and second office, which is used for study, working on guns and is also set up for indoor photography.

This brings me to the room where we spend at least one-third of our time every day, the master bedroom. Diamond Dot has another .38 Special J-frame on her side of the bed and by now you know what it is loaded with. My side has three firearms within easy reach, a .45 ACP Ruger K345 with a flashlight attached to the Picatinny rail and loaded with Black Hills 230-grain JHP’s. It is backed up by a Smith & Wesson Model 65 Ladysmith, also loaded with the mandatory Black Hills .38 Specials.

This brings me to what is probably the most important house gun we have, a 12-gauge pump shotgun. I recently tested, and subsequently purchased, the new Winchester SXP Marine Defender. It is at the ready with an empty chamber and four rounds in the 5-shot magazine tube. Those four rounds are No. 8 birdshot and the reason for being one under capacity is so I can easily insert a round of buckshot, or even a slug into the magazine, then quickly pump it into the chamber if I felt it was needed first. For home defense birdshot should be all we need, however there is always that possibility I want to be prepared for.

You will notice I do not have any super powerful, heavy-duty, big-bore magnums among any of my house guns. If I ever have to pull the trigger, and I pray to God I never do, I realize I am responsible for any round which leaves the barrel of my firearm. I don’t want it to exit the house and put someone else in danger.
Some who don’t understand might say I am paranoid or ask what I’m afraid of.

The simple answer is I don’t need to be paranoid with all this protection and also with all this protection. And I’m not afraid of anything, well, at least anything within reason.
By John Taffin

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Monitor And Adjust Part II

Dealing With Internal Changes.

Last month we saw monitoring and adjusting simply means taking stock of a particular situation and changing accordingly. Part One dealt with external forces. Now we look at internal forces which cause us to look carefully at what is happening and change direction if necessary.

As we get older everything, and I do mean everything, changes. I recently received a letter from a reader wanting to know why I cocked my hands and arms at the angle I do when I shoot a sixgun or semi-automatic. The answer was it wasn’t deliberate but simply our body changes and the slight angle is simply what happens when I now grip a sixgun. The body does not always do what the mind tells it to do.

I spent many years testing virtually every type of firearm and for most of my life I preferred to be off by myself so I could shoot with no interruptions. In recent years this has changed dramatically, and now I rarely shoot by myself, but always with friends. There are a couple of reasons for this major change. One is the fact I’m no longer pressed for time and can relax more and enjoy what I’m doing as well as enjoying good companionship. There are two men I shoot with at least once a week and usually more.

One has been a shooter for almost as long as I have, while the other is relatively new at shooting. He did have a couple .22’s and a .357 Magnum Python, however, since he has retired last year he has accused me of being an enabler, as he has purchased at least a dozen handguns chambered in .22, .38 Special, .357 and 9mm. It has been a real pleasure to watch him become a better and better shooter. The extra bonus is the fact his wife usually shoots with us one day a week and I always get a hug from her.

About the only thing which still works at all well on my body is my trigger finger. Nothing else seems to do what I tell it to do. This, coupled with lens implants in my eyes about 5 years ago, allows me at this stage of my life to still shoot very well. In fact, I can shoot well enough for someone in their 70’s that it is nice to have witnesses. The extra added bonus of shooting with others is when we are through we can all gather for lunch together and relax even more. There was a time when my shooting day started at daylight and ended late in the afternoon. This has definitely changed.

Perhaps the most important benefit of shooting with friends is the unavoidable fact as we get older, it is not really smart, whether we are shooting, hunting, fishing or hiking, to be by ourselves. In the last couple years I have had four friends fall and hit their heads. Two of them died almost instantly, one spent six months in the hospital, and the other one is now in a wheelchair. This past February my turn came, however, I was fortunate in two ways.

I had left our Shootin’ Shack to make a pit stop and as I was walking through about 4 inches of snow, everything seemed to be fine until I hit a patch which had been in the sunshine, melted and then turned to ice. I was on the ground faster than I can say it. As I lay there I thanked the good Lord I had fallen on my left arm and shoulder instead of my head. That’s the good part. The bad part was I could not get up. Had I been by myself who knows how long I would have laid there in the cold. As it was, my good friend Glen heard me shout and came to my rescue. That was a turning point in my life and really impressed upon me not to go out shooting alone no matter what the weather.


Trail Boss performs both pleasantly and accurately in the .475 Linebaugh.


Big heavy bullets at moderate velocity put fun back into
shooting monster guns such as the .500 Linebaugh.


Elmer Keith was 56 years old when he finally got the .44 Magnum he had been urging firearms and ammunition companies to bring out. You might think when he at last had his dream realized, he would go overboard on shooting it. He was much wiser than this. When he reported on “The .44 Magnum One Year Later,” he said he had shot it 600 times the first year; that averages out to 12 rounds per week. I should have paid closer attention to this. However, as silhouetting grew across the country it was not unusual for many of us to shoot 300 to 600 rounds per day and we have paid the cost.

One of the most foolish things I ever did was fire 800 rounds of .454 Casull ammunition through three different Freedom Arms .454 sixguns, not in one year, not in one week, but actually in one day. My hands were especially tired just from loading and unloading cylinders and my wrists paid a premium price. Within a short time this was followed by testing the brutally recoiling .475 and .500 Linebaugh Long cartridges in custom 5-shooters built on the Ruger .357 Maximum with a cylinder long enough to be capable of handling cartridges whose brass was approximately 1.600 inches in length. These cartridges are definitely in the category of recoil, which can’t be explained, but has to be experienced to be appreciated. It was not long until a visit to the wrist doctor saw him explain the fact the cartilage was gone from my wrist bones and, in his words, “You have separation big enough to drive a Mack truck through.”

That was about 20 years ago and so I have had to monitor and adjust accordingly. I now wear wristbands on both hands when I shoot very much and I am especially careful of how many rounds I shoot per session. I would not even consider trying to shoot the .475 LL or .500 LL in a 3-pound single action sixgun. And handling very many really heavy loads in the .454 Casull, .475 or .500 Linebaugh, or the .500 Wyoming Express is definitely out of the question.

The great redeeming feature of the Smith & Wesson Model 500 is its excess weight, which cuts recoil considerably when compared to the much lighter single actions. When it comes to shooting .44 Magnums and heavy loaded .45 Colts, I definitely appreciate the heavy weight of the Dan Wesson and Taurus sixguns.

There was a time in my life when I was invincible. Everything was loaded to the hilt. I did not even have to label the cartridge boxes which held my handloads. If it was .44 Magnum it was the Keith load of his bullet over 22.0 grains of 2400, the .45 Colt also used his bullet with 18.5 grains of 2400, and the .44 Special again used Keith’s bullet over 17.5 grains of 2400. I still keep a few of these loads on hand but I have changed dramatically for my “heavy loads” using 10.0 grains of Unique or Universal for the .44 Magnum and .45 Colt while the .44 Special get 7.5 grains of the same powder. Actually most of my .45 Colt loads are assembled with 8.0 grains of Unique or Universal for right at 850 to 900 fps.

“Pleasurable Loads” is a label found on many of the .50 caliber ammo cans I use for storing my handloads. These are just what it says, that is, loads without objectionable recoil whether they be .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt or .44 Special. There was a time I enjoyed shooting the heavy stuff in sixguns and even .45-70 leverguns, however the passing of time has definitely reduced that enjoyment. Not only do I shoot more Pleasurable Loads in the big bores I also find myself shooting a whole lot more .22’s, .32’s, .38 Specials and even some really neat sixguns chambered in .38 S&W. There was a time I would not even consider this, at least in public, however one of the added benefits, one of the very few benefits of getting older is (hopefully) actually getting wiser.

I still like shooting the Really Big Bores but full-house loads in any amount other than a very few are out of the question. The answer has turned out to be Hodgdon’s Trail Boss powder. Trail Boss is unlike anything else out there. It is not made for high velocity loads—just the opposite. The purpose of Trail Boss is to be able to load relatively light loads with no danger of an overload. A maximum load is found by filling the case to the base of the bullet—without compression—a minimum load is 70 percent of that charge.

I’ve never tried to hide anything from readers so I have made it very plain my invincible era is long over and I can’t regularly shoot the really big loads I spent so much time experimenting with in the 1980’s and 1990’s. So for me monitoring and adjusting means Trail Boss is the perfect solution for the really big bores. I load them to the maximum load as outlined above which results in muzzle velocities mostly in the 750 to 850 fps range.

This may not sound like much until you realize we are shooting 350- to 400-grain bullets at .45 ACP hardball muzzle velocities. That definitely takes them out of what some might choose to call a wimp category. I still keep a few rounds of each of these really big bores loaded to the hilt; however the vast majority of my reloads have now been Trail Bossed. Sixgunning really big bores is enjoyable once again.
By John Taffin

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Monitor & Adjust

Part I: Finding New Ways
To Enjoy Your Shooting Hobby.

Monitor and adjust. Every successful speaker and/or teacher practices these two principles. It may be deliberate or subconscious, but it must be done on a regular basis. When I was just barely out of my teens and not knowing what I was going to do in the future, I had a young traveling evangelist tell me he always took his glasses off before delivering his message so he couldn’t see the faces of the folks in the audience. I thought that was a pretty good idea until I became a teacher and speaker.

Monitoring and adjusting refers to paying close attention to what is happening before us and following up with changes if necessary.

I learned very early to watch faces and not try to avoid them. With familiar audiences, I already know those who I particularly watch so I can read their faces. This tells me how things are going, or in a worse situation, if things are not going very well. Once I see this I can adjust accordingly. With an unfamiliar audience, I quickly try to pick out certain faces I can read so they can be monitored and I can adjust if necessary. Now what does this have to do with firearms?

In all of my early exposure to shooting, actually in books and magazines before I ever could personally shoot very much, I particularly noticed classic firearms. Those composed of deep blue steel and finely grained wood, perhaps even engraving, and in the case of handguns, having ivory grips. This is what I grew up with and this is what I expected to be always what firearms were about. This was further aided by the fact my early shooting years coincided with the classic age of firearms.

My firearms purchases were both dramatic and traumatic. My father had been killed in an accident before I was a year old. My mother remarried three years later and my new step-dad was promptly off to fight WWII. He came home after being expatriated from a POW camp, which followed after pretty bitter fighting. He brought home two war trophy guns, a P38 and a Luger along with several knives and other souvenirs. However, these were soon sold to keep the family going until he found a suitable job. His mindset was such there were to be no guns in the house. He was a good man, the only father I ever knew, always took care of his family, however, he would not budge on the gun thing.


This very early Smith & Wesson Military & Police is
barrel marked for both the .38 Special and the US
Service Cartridge which happened to be .38 Long
Colt at the time.


Classic Colt.38 Special “Pocket Pistols” are
the Detective Special and the Cobra.

It would be just over 10 years later when I purchased my first firearm. I was now graduated from high school and working on my own but still living at home. When I came in with my Marlin .22 Mountie, my dad literally hit the roof. A few months later I arrived back at home with a Ruger .22 Single-Six and this time he did not jump quite so high. Then came my Colt SAA .45, Ruger .357 Blackhawk, and S&W .357 Highway Patrolman. By this time his attitude was, “Hey Johnny; show Uncle Chuck your new guns.” He had monitored and adjusted.

He knew by now firearms would be an important part of my life so he simply changed his attitude and encouraged and supported me. He was part of the greatest generation. He never got past the fourth grade, volunteered for service in WWII and after returning from the war and the healing of his wounds, which were never taken care of in the POW camp, he went to work to support his family and for the rest of his life he was never out of a job. Temporarily, maybe, but by noon on the day he lost a job he had found something else. He monitored the situation and adjusted accordingly.

He adjusted to accept any job available. In my young life I can remember him working as a milkman, iceman and rural bus driver. For the younger readers there was a time when milk was delivered door-to-door and many folks had iceboxes instead refrigerators requiring regular delivery of ice. None of these jobs paid very much, and we were certainly what would be classed today as “working poor,” but didn’t realize it. We always had plenty to eat, a clean, dry, warm and totally un-fancy house, and the great joy of having Kool-Aid and popcorn as a treat on Saturday night. It had to be a great sacrifice for my parents when they purchased their first TV in 1950.

None of Dad’s jobs ever provided enough money even for this, so he monitored and adjusted and worked two jobs. His second job consisted of painting houses during the summer months and saving up the money to help get us through the winter months. He would come home from his regular job, quickly eat supper and then go off to work until dark and then worked this second job all day Saturday and Sunday. I’m sure he would have preferred to be fishing after work and on weekends, however the only time we went fishing was when it was raining. His adjustment consisted of doing what he had to do. I learned a lot from him including how to work, no matter what the task, and especially there are some things in this life we may not want to do, but we have to do them.

Many shooters have found themselves caught in the recent situation of either being unable to find reloading components or having to pay exorbitant prices for those which are available. Reloaders soon discovered powder, if found, is at least double the price it was a year ago with primers being even more dear. Ammunition has also been in short supply and .22’s are almost nonexistent. As this is written it seems the situation is starting to slowly moderate and at least 9mm and .45 ACP ammunition is beginning to appear more regularly.


Two Classic Smith & Wesson .38 Special “Pocket Pistols”
are the Chief’s Special and the 2-inch M&P.


Older Smith & Wesson Military & Police .38 Specials
are still available at very reasonable prices.

I’ve learned my lessons over the years and especially during the first Gulf War, which was a time it was almost impossible to find primers. Once this situation passed I monitored and adjusted and began making sure I have enough components to keep me going for a reasonable amount of time. This also carried over to ammunition so I again made sure I always had a reasonable amount of the more popular offerings for testing. For the average shooter, if there is such a thing, not being able to buy components or ammunition is an inconvenience; for me it means working or not working.

Since the 2012 election, availability of firearms also changed dramatically with seemingly everyone looking for polymer pistols and AR rifles. Somehow my first book got listed on the Internet as a gun store and it has not been unusual for me to receive three to four phone calls a day, often long-distance, from those wanting to know if I had any AR’s for sale. This situation has also moderated somewhat very recently with the supply going up and the price coming down. Normally, as I shop for used firearms, I focus on such older classic sixguns as .44 Specials and .45 Colts. However, the buying frenzy, which has been with us for several months now has caused me to monitor and adjust.

Older .44 Special and .45 Colt sixguns have become harder to find and seemingly everyone is looking for a .45 ACP or 9mm. As I monitored this situation it became readily apparent it was time to adjust. While all of these were hard to find, it was much easier to locate older .38 sixguns. They just seemed to languish unnoticed on dealers’ shelves.
There is certainly nothing at all wrong with a good .38 Special and there have been many Classic Colt and Smith & Wesson .38 revolvers produced over the past 100 years or so and, as I started looking diligently, I found several at very reasonable prices. They have probably always been there, however I simply did not pay close attention.

By adjusting I have added a Colt Official Police Heavy Barrel, several Colt Detective Specials and Colt Cobras, a Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special Model 60, and a Chief’s Special Airweight along with a beautiful pre-war Military & Police. All of these were purchased relatively inexpensively and I have been thoroughly enjoying myself shooting these historic sixguns and not having to pay any sort of price as far as recoil is concerned.

Being prepared is not just for Boy Scouts. When I first started shooting seriously in the 1950’s ammunition and reloading components were not all that easy to find. Over the years it has changed tremendously and in this country we became used to being able to buy anything and everything at anytime we desired. This is no longer the case at least during repeated intervals. Monitoring and adjusting will keep us shooting.
By John Taffin

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The (Almost) Forgotten .38

Some Are Bargains Now.

Thirty-eight. Mention this to a bunch of shooters and the images they’ll conjure up will differ according to their reference points. For most shooters .38 means .38 Special, while others if they are Cowboy Action shooters may immediately think .38 Long Colt and the semi-automatic connoisseurs will think .38 Super. These three cartridges have a total of nearly 325 years of history behind them chambered in millions of guns and they have had time to gather many followers.

The .38 Long Colt first arrived in 1875 chambered in the single-action, spur-triggered Colt New Line pocket revolver. In 1877 Colt’s first double-action revolver arrived as the Lightning chambered in the new .38 Centerfire cartridge. The Lightning loaded and unloaded the same as the Colt Single Action Army with a loading gate to access the cylinder for inserting cartridges and an ejector rod for ejecting spent brass. The main difference between the smaller Lightning compared to the full-sized Single Action Army besides the obvious double-action feature was the new grip frame. The Single Action Army grip frame was designed to roll in the hand as the gun was fired allowing quick access to the hammer to cock it for the next shot. The double-action Lightning grip frame was designed to do just the opposite, that is, to stay in place in the shooting hand for easier access to the double action trigger. The grip frame on the Lightning is now often found on custom sixguns and is known as the Bird’s Head.


The .38 S&W Colt Bankers’ Special is a very compact little snubbie. Colt
marked their revolvers chambered in the .38 S&W as being in “.38 New Police.”

Ballistic Blunder

In the 1880’s Colt produced their first swing-out cylinder, double-action sixguns with the Army and Navy Double Action Models. The first of these were chambered in .38 Long Colt and .41 Long Colt. In the 1890’s the US military made one of their greatest weapons blunders of all time replacing the tried-and-true proven man-stopping .45 Colt with the .38 Long Colt.

Theodore Roosevelt, who had carried a 7-1/2-inch .44 WCF Colt Frontier Six-Shooter during his ranching days in the Dakotas was armed with a Colt Double Action .38 Long Colt as a leader of the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War. The main objective in adopting the .38 was to switch to a more “modern” double action sixgun, however in the process they sent a boy—a very young boy—to do an experienced man’s job.

It was inevitable the .38 LC would be found wanting and this happened in the Philippine campaign resulting in .45 Colt Single Actions being removed from storage and put back into use. This led to the adoption of the Colt .45 New Service Model 1909 which was soon replaced by the 1911 Government Model .45 ACP. Perhaps the .38 Long Colt was necessary to get us to the Government Model.

The .38 Special, more powerful than the .38 Long Colt, first arrived in the Smith & Wesson Military & Police in 1902. The M&P had arrived in 1899 and included both US Army and US Navy Models chambered in .38 Long Colt. The arrival of the .38 Special began a long law-enforcement adoption which would last for nearly 3/4 of a century with virtually every police officer carrying either a Smith & Wesson M&P or Colt Official Police chambered in .38 Special. Both Colt and Smith & Wesson also offered pocket version .38 Specials such as the Detective Special, Cobra and Chief’s Special.


All of these revolvers are chambered in .38 S&W. From top right clockwise
they are Colt Police Positive, Colt Bankers’ Special, Smith & Wesson
Regulation Police, Smith & Wesson Terrier and Smith & Wesson Victory Model.

Heavy Duty Power

With the coming of Prohibition in the Roaring ’20’s, new criminals arrived running illegal liquor, robbing banks, and not only driving fast cars, but being heavily armed with military weapons often stolen from armories. To combat the new criminal, two new cartridges arrived (actually they were only heavier loadings of already existing cartridges) and shooters were expected to be smart enough to know which guns took which cartridges. The .38 Special with its 850 fps loading was used as the basis for the .38-44 at 1,150 fps and chambered in the Smith & Wesson Heavy Duty, which was simply a .44 Special chambered in .38 Special. This double action sixgun, perhaps the finest of all time for speed shooting, arrived in 1930.

Colt took a different path in 1935. They already had the .38 ACP cartridge, which they now heavy loaded and chambered in the 1911 Government Model. It became the .38 Super which lies somewhere in power between the .38-44 Heavy Duty and the .357 Magnum. Both the .38-44 and the .38 Super offered metal piercing rounds which would puncture criminals’ automobiles. The .38 Super was resurrected a few decades ago for use in combat-style competition shooting. It is to semi-automatics what the .44 Special is to sixguns, namely a true connoisseur’s cartridge.

However, there is another .38, which arrived before the .38 Super, before the .38 Special and about the same time as the .38 Long Colt. In 1876 Smith & Wesson chambered their spur-triggered, single-action revolver in their own cartridge, the .38 Smith & Wesson. The .38 S&W is a shorter, slightly fatter cartridge than the .38 Long Colt and the .38 Special, which came later. In 1880, Smith & Wesson offered their first double-action top-break revolvers chambered in .32 S&W and .38 S&W. Seven years later the Safety Hammerless, or “Lemon Squeezer” arrived in .38 S&W. This little pocket pistol featured a hidden hammer and a grip safety. Altogether Smith & Wesson produced a combined total of more than 800,000 double action top-break pocket guns chambered in .38 Smith & Wesson.

Even though the .38 Special became very popular in the early decades of the 20th century, both Colt and Smith & Wesson produced many versions of their double-action, swing-out cylindered sixguns chambered in .38 S&W. Since this cartridge is shorter and less powerful than the .38 Special it could be chambered in smaller and lighter revolvers.

For Smith & Wesson this meant a 5-shot I-frame revolver such as the Regulation Police and the Terrier, which were smaller than their .38 Special counterparts the Military & Police and the Chief’s Special respectively. During World War II Smith & Wesson manufactured over a 1/2 million M&P Victory Models chambered in .38 S&W under Lend Lease for the Brits. This was known as the .38/200 British Service Revolver and used a .38 S&W loading with a 174-grain bullet.

Colt offered two lines of .38’s in the early decades of the 20th century. The Police Positive and Police Positive Special look very similar, however the former is slightly smaller and chambered in .38 S&W, or as Colt called it, the .38 Colt New Police, while the latter, as its name implies, is in .38 Special. These two PP’s were used to make Colt’s Pocket Pistols with the Police Positive Special having its barrel cut to 2 inches and becoming the Detective Special while the Police Positive with a 2-inch barrel was the Bankers’ Special.

During the recent feeding frenzy over reloading components, ammunition, and especially firearms, it has been possible to find these older guns at relatively inexpensive prices. While others have been looking at black plastic guns I have been able to find some real bargains chambered in .38 S&W. Being a shooter and an accumulator, I am not looking for pristine collectors items but rather good shooters which have not been abused. One weekend I hit three of our main gun shops and came away from Buckhorn with a 4-inch S&W Regulation Police, from Boise Gun with a Smith & Wesson 5-inch Victory Model, and at Cabela’s I found a .38 S&W Terrier. Just prior to this I came up with two .38 S&W sixguns, a 4-inch Colt Police Positive and a 2-inch Colt Bankers’ Special. I have less, much less money, invested in these five historical sixguns than many have spent on just one black rifle.

One of these .38 S&W chambered sixguns came with three boxes of ammunition and I was even able to find 500 rounds of new Starline brass. The factory loads feature a 146-grain lead bullet at a muzzle velocities of 600 to 650 fps from a 4-inch barrel. I duplicate these velocities using the Lyman mold 358311 roundnosed bullet with 2.5 grains of HP38, or for even easier shooting loads at about 100 fps less velocity I go with the same charge of Hodgdon’s Trail Boss. This powder is as easy to load as the appropriate charge is to fill a case to the base of the bullet without compression. It is a natural for older sixguns such as these five, however for the .38 S&W Top-Breaks, I stick with black powder or a black powder equivalent.

The feeding frenzies, which started in 2008 and then again in 2012 with even greater intensity, will eventually pass, however it is much easier to survive through them if we look at other options which the main buying public ignores. Without the frenzy I may have never discovered the joy of these .38 S&W sixguns.
By John Taffin

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