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Caribou Killer

Kimber’s Adirondack .308 Is Built
For Hard Hunting.

After checking the weather channel and seeing possible heavy rain showers, I knew the rifle would take some abuse. Not only would the punishment come from inclement weather, but from rigors of travel as well. Previously I had two successful hunting trips with Kimber rifles. Both models were accurate, dependable and were responsible for some punched tags. Their Caprivi model performed well in—of all places—the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, where the rifle got its name. I consider it a serious hunt when dangerous game is involved and the Caprivi never missed a beat even under a harsh environment and intense pressure (like keeping me alive).

Just recently I returned from the Kamchatka Peninsula on a challenging sheep hunt. Those Kamchatka bighorns are magnificent animals and live in precipitous terrain. Kimber’s Mountain Ascent proved to be an ideal rifle for this tough, demanding mountain hunt. It’s not uncommon to climb mountains for several days and only get one possible chance at a magnificent ram. You certainly want to have confidence in your rifle when that cherished opportunity comes knocking on your door. So, after gaining considerable confidence with Kimber firearms, it was a natural choice to select their Adirondack for an upcoming woodland caribou hunt in Newfoundland.

My good friend and hunting consultant, Wade Derby of Crosshair Consulting, who organized the adventure, informed me a lot of hiking was in order for woodland caribou. Searching for a good bull entails covering a lot of Newfoundland real estate, possibly in pouring down rain with gusty winds. The Adirondack seemed to be a good choice for this type of hunt. These animals do not require a magnum cartridge even though shots can be 300 yards or so in some circumstances. A caribou is not that difficult to bring down and doesn’t require a cartridge that will kick the snot out of you. The Adirondack is available in 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester. Since I have been a fan-boy of the .308 cartridge for many years, there was enough ammo in-house to endure serious range sessions.


This woodland caribou was taken from 200 yards with Buffalo Bore’s
150-grain supercharged .308 Winchester load.


The Adirondack tips the scales under 6 pounds when scoped. This makes for
easy carrying on the long hikes following the caribou. Glassing for game
is easier with good binoculars. These are Leica 10x42mm.

The Adirondack comes from Kimber’s Model 84M series of rifles. The firearm tips the scales at a tad less than 5 pounds. It’s pretty darn light, which will make it welcome on long treks. The stainless steel barrel is 18 inches long. This makes for a fast handling rifle if hunting in thick cover, plus it’s easy to maneuver in tight spots. The barrel utilizes a right hand twist of 1:12. I did not use a muzzlebrake but the barrel is threaded for such. My test gun came with a protector cap.

Standard features include a fluted bolt body, and even a few ounces have been shaved with the hollow bolt knob. The action is stainless steel with a full-length Mauser claw extractor. The 3-position wing safety is a welcome feature for many hunters, me included. You can load and unload without switching the safety to the fire position. A bolt release is located on the left side of the action.

The compact rifle has the capacity to seat four rounds in the magazine plus another up the spout when needed. The cool-looking stock with Optifade Concealment in the Forest Pattern contrasts well with the stainless steel. It’s attractive and easy on the eyes. This stock is molded from reinforced Kevlar/carbon fiber material with the barrel and action pillar and glass bedded. The straight comb mounts to your cheek quick and painless. I was pleased with the 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad during lengthy range sessions. What I was most impressed with is the adjustable trigger. However, there was no need for me to touch mine as the trigger was crisp and broke around 3 pounds. This gun had a great trigger and the friends who shot it at the range all agreed.

The Adirondack was fitted with a Leupold 3.5-10X with Boone and Crocket reticle inside Tally rings. This scope would be an ideal match for the .308 Winchester. With scope mounted, overall weight was still less than 6 pounds. The Boone and Crocket reticle is most helpful on those extended-range shots.


Primos’ short tripod helped make this caribou hunt a success.
It’s light, easy to pack and sets up quickly.


The Adirondack was fitted with a Leupold VX-3 3.5-10X scope. The combination was nicely
balanced and carried easily. The Adirondack is based on Kimber’s 84M series of rifles.


The forest camo pattern (above) matches well with the stainless steel barrel
and action. The muzzle is threaded for a brake if desired (below) and the
threads are protected by a cap.



To pare weight, the bolt knob is hollowed and the bolt body deeply fluted in a spiral
pattern. A Model 70-style, 3-position safety is provided and the controlled-feed
action uses a Mauser-style extractor.

Before the Adirondack hit the range I came up with 16 different factory loadings, all with 150-grain bullets. There remains a multitude of quality factory offerings with an array of bullet choices. The chances are pretty good you will be able to find a particular brand any given rifle will digest with minute of caribou accuracy.

With the Kimber I was able to find several loads that produced 3-shot, 100-yard groups hovering around an inch. I did clean the barrel periodically between sessions involving different brands of ammo. Buffalo Bore offers a Supercharged 150-grain spritzer that landed three shots inside an inch consistently. So I decided to throw in a box of this premium ammo in the luggage headed to the North Country.

Handloads also shot well in the lightweight .308 Win. There is an enormous amount of reliable and safe handloading information for the .308. Many powders work well and often I load Varget or Reloder 15 with 150-grain bullets. I frequently use Hodgdon powders so I refer to their loading data. If I’m shooting a Nosler bullet for example, I cross-reference information with their manual. For various reasons I find Nosler, Hornady and Sierra bullets going down the barrel from many of my .308’s—rifles and handguns alike. If you can’t find a recipe that will shoot well in a rifle chambered in .308 Winchester, it’s probably time to send that particular firearm away.

Throughout the aggressive shooting evaluation I could feel Newton’s third law of motion was alive and well: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Lightweight rifles are synonymous with moderate recoil. That doesn’t come as any earth-shattering surprise. The recoil was easily manageable and the Pachmayr Decelerator pad helped dampen the source. Shooting at game you will seldom notice any degree of recoil.

Arriving in Newfoundland I was greeted with pouring rain. We drove to a nice lodge in a remote setting and got organized for the following day’s hunt. After setting up a target at 100 yards, I was pleased to find the Adirondack was still shooting as expected even from possible mistreatment by baggage handlers along the way. Three shots inside an inch confirmed if a miss occured, I would know who to blame.


There is a wide variety of quality ammo available in .308 Winchester. If you don’t
handload, it is very likely you will find a winner in this bunch.


After cleaning the barrel, the first shot on target was slightly low and left. The next
three rounds were touching. Taking the Buffalo Bore ammo on the hunt was an easy choice.


The Argo was used as a pack mule, helping get meat out of the backcountry.

Luckily the following morning was filled with sunshine. It was cold and windy but at least the skies cleared for good glassing conditions. We traveled quite some distance in an Argo and boy, could that piece of machinery go places unimaginable. I’m not too sure it didn’t jar every filling out of my teeth. We glassed several places before leaving on foot across the tundra.

Around noon we spotted a group of four caribou walking across the rock-infested tundra with one decent bull in the group. The animals were a long distance from us so we set out to get closer and take a better look at the bull. When caribou are walking it doesn’t appear they are moving very fast. That’s a bit of an illusion. It’s almost impossible to keep up with them much less gain any ground. Going as quickly as possible, we finally got in position to take a good look at the lone bull with our binoculars. He wasn’t the biggest bull in Newfoundland but we made a decision to go after him nonetheless.

An hour later we still were several hundred yards behind the group. I can tell you the Adirondack was an asset for carrying over miles of tundra. I hardly knew it was on my shoulder. Av, my experienced guide, told me we needed to hurry as much as possible if we were ever going to get within range. Heck, I thought we had been walking fast!

When we topped a ridgeline the caribou were on the next crest, just about to disappear in some scattered spruce trees. I quickly set-up the Primos’ short tripod and rested the fore-end in the Y-yoke of the shooting stick. Av told me the bull was 200 yards as I settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder. The bull was quartering away slightly as I tugged the trigger. At the shot, the bull flinched and took off running behind a small group of trees.

When he came around the other side I was ready to shoot but it was unnecessary. He dropped. Av and I both were pleased with results even though the real work would now begin with caping and quartering. The Adirondack performed like a champ. Buffalo Bore’s supercharged 150-grain spitzer left an exit wound, but bull didn’t go 50 yards before dropping.

Kimber’s Adirondack is the perfect choice for those long hikes in the backcountry where a firearm impervious to inclement weather is important. The rifle is very accurate and available in two cartridges ideally suited to medium-sized game. There are a lot of deer and black bear hunters who will appreciate the quality attributes of the Adirondack. I know one caribou hunter who enjoyed this fine rifle immensely.
By Mark Hampton

Maker: Kimber
30 Lower Valley Road
Kalispell, MT 59901
(888) 243-4522

Action type: Bolt-action
Caliber: .308 (tested), 7mm-08, 6.5 Creedmoor, .300 AAC
Capacity: 4+1
Barrel length: 18 inches
Weight: 4 pounds, 13 ounces
Finish: Matte stainless steel
Sights: None, drilled and tapped
Stock: Kevlar/carbon fiber
Price: $1,768

VX-3 3.5-10x40mm
Maker: Leupold & Stevens
14400 NW Greenbrier Parkway
Beaverton, OR 97006
(503) 646-9171

Magnification: 3.3 to 9.7 (actual)
Objective diameter: 40mm, Eye relief: 4.4 inches (3.5X), 3.6 inches (10X)
Internal adj. range: 52 MOA elevation & windage at 100 yards
Click value: 1/4 MOA, Tube diameter: 1 inch
Weight: 12.6 ounces
Overall length: 12.6 inches
Reticles: Boone & Crockett
Price: $749

Buffalo Bore
366 Sandy Creek Road
Salmon, ID 83467
(208) 756-3434

Crosshair Consulting
P.O. Box 864
Oakley, CA 94561
(925) 679-9232

604 First St.
Flora, MS 39071
(601) 879-9323

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High Mountain Handgunners

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A Rare, Dedicated Breed.

The 30 mph gusting wind was peppering our face with gritty particles of snow. It was brutal. My lungs were feeling the effects of altitude while climbing. My feet were frozen. The final stalk took us over snow covered jagged rocks until we crested the ridge. Then, belly-crawling like a snake, we eased forward the last few yards. It was tough going. My eyes were watering like a flooded river. I was trying hard to catch my breath. Nineteen Marco Polo sheep were lying down on the snowy landscape in front of us, including two rams. Malabek, my local guide, peeked over a rock and took a reading with the rangefinder. With his fingers he motioned 220 yards. I couldn’t believe we were this close. I eased the handgun on top of the backpack for a steady rest.

We continued to glass and could see every sheep except the biggest ram. Some of the females got nervous and started to get up. I still couldn’t find the big ram. The fierce wind is blowing snow sideways. I’m getting edgy and anxious. Where is the big ram? All the sheep started to mix, mingle and meander away. When I finally spotted our ram, immediately the crosshairs of the Leupold scope came up behind his shoulder. I squeezed and the recoil caused me to lose the sight picture on the ram. The whole herd took off. I quickly loaded a round and somehow managed to find the ram in the scope and get another shot off before the herd disappeared. Malabek, who didn’t speak English, had a disgusted look on his face. I tried desperately to ask him where I hit the sheep. He just slowly shook his head. Had I just blown the ideal opportunity on a very nice ram?

This adventure was unfolding slightly north of the China border in the country of Kyrgyzstan. The Asian country is one of America’s closest allies in this part of the world. I didn’t realize just how important the location was to US interest until I noticed the military aircraft on the tarmac. There were many more US military planes at the airport than commercial aircraft. We traveled from Bishkek, to our hunting area south of the Naryn River about seven hours. We changed vehicles, graduating to a 4-wheel drive van. I had hunted in Kyrgyzstan twice previously and always found the people friendly and hunting incredible. There are primarily two species of mountain game enticing hunters to travel to this seemingly end-of-the world former Soviet bloc — ibex and Marco Polo sheep. I had taken a beautiful mid-Asian ibex on previous hunts. On this trip I was hoping to connect with a mature Marco Polo ram.


Base camp where the hunt begins.


Harsh winters take their toll on game, especially
the older animals like this ibex.


Shepherds hut served as spike camp for one evening.

Long-Range Pistol

During this hunt I was using an H-S Precision Model 2000P pistol in 270 WSM. This is an extremely accurate bolt-action handgun. I had acquired a permit to hunt with this particular gun even though it would add another layer of challenge to the adventure. Darrell Holland’s Radial Baffle muzzle brake was installed and really helped tame the recoil. You can actually shoot this pistol one-handed. Leupold’s VX 3 riflescope, 4.5-14X with B&C reticle, was mounted in Leupold’s dual-ring system for the long-range shooting opportunity commonly encountered in the Tien Shan Mountains.

During the summer I had tested a variety of factory ammunition. There are a lot of good options available for this cartridge. Most all of the ammo with 130-grain bullets produced more than respectable groups. I settled on Federal Premium ammo with the Nosler 130-grain BT bullet. This ammunition shot less than MOA from distances out to 400 yards. Yes, I was expecting the possibility of shooting a ram at this distance. I certainly didn’t want to shoot a ram at this range, but after talking to many other hunters who experienced sheep hunting in Kyrgyzstan, it was a real possibility. Providing you know the exact range, Leupold’s B&C reticle affords the ability to shoot at extended ranges without a lot of guesswork.

Early the first day, four of us left base camp and rode horses up the Atbashi River. To access sheep habitat in this rugged mountain range, horses are the best and only option. Incidentally, the horses are well adept in this harsh environment, precipitous terrain, and are capable of going places most of us think of as impossible. Malabek, our head guide, was followed by his 22-year-old assistant Cherro, and both of these guys knew the area well. Malabek not only knew every inch of the country, but also knew the habits of these animals.

My Russian outfitter — Nikolai Khokhlov of East-West Safari’s — had organized this hunt and would be guide, interrupter, story-teller, and hopefully, a good luck charm. Luckily for me, Nikolai had actually been on many trips to Kyrgyzstan and knew everything about the details and hunting strategy for Marco Polo. Plus, he was a very pleasant chap and spoke English. We rode approximately five hours through beautiful mountain scenery and set up camp in a shepherd’s hut for the night.


Hunting at higher elevations is part of sheep hunting.


A well-deserved lunch break is always a special time.


Even the horses deserve a break from climbing mountains.

Extreme Altitude

Early the next morning we rode horses up the mountain and started glassing for sheep around 12,500′. It wasn’t long until Malabek spotted seven rams feeding. The sheep were located slightly below us about a mile away. It was a perfect setup as we could hike down the long, knife-life ridge concealing our presence as we closed the distance. The last few yards we crawled up behind a huge rock. The huge boulder provided a great hiding place as we watched the seven rams feed directly below us at 200 yards. I couldn’t believe we were this close as you can see for miles in this terrain. There is not a tree in sight.

Malabek and Nikolai were whispering back and forth, trying to decide which ram was the biggest. I made sure the gun was loaded and ready. As I checked the setting on the scope and put my earmuffs on, I thought about how lucky we were to get an opportunity this early in the hunt. Well, I shouldn’t have thought about this as the next thing I knew the sheep were off and running. They didn’t see us but the swirling winds may have spoiled our stalk. Whatever made them nervous put them out of range in seconds. With a healthy population of wolves in the area, once these sheep suspect danger they flat out leave. Not for just a few yards and turn around to look back — they disappear! We hunted the rest of the day and didn’t see as many sheep as Malabek was expecting.

The next morning we loaded all of our gear and headed up the river for new territory. After about three hours of riding we spotted two groups of sheep. There were two males working toward our position close to the river. On the snow-covered mountainside directly above them were approximately 20 sheep with one very good ram in the mix.

We unloaded all of our gear off the horses. Whatever happens in the next few hours, we would come back and set up camp here for the night. Using ditches that feed in to the river, we could stay out of sight, cross the river and position ourselves to intercept the two lone rams. This worked like a charm but as it turned out; neither ram was big enough to gain our interest. The rest of the day we spent trying to get within range of the herd but things just didn’t come together. We made it back to our gear, setup two small tents and enjoyed dinner by the river.

The following days provided magnificent scenery with beautiful clear skies and cold weather. It was the first part of November and not a lot of snow had blanketed the mountains yet. The guides were actually hoping for more snow in order to drive the sheep to lower elevations. We spotted several groups of ibex including some big males. Some days we located several sheep although the big, mature rams were eluding us. Looking for a big ram sometimes entails a lot of glassing and covering as much real estate as humanly possible. This is classic sheep hunting. After 15 wild sheep hunts in various parts of the world, I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a sheep hunter.

Unlike some dedicated, passionate, purists seeking whitetail deer or wild turkey, or perhaps elk — sheep hunters are a different group. These hardcore hunters endure trials and tribulations many hunters simply would not tolerate. Sleeping in small tents in freezing weather, making difficult climbs in lung-burning altitude, under harsh conditions, with little food and zero comforts for days are just a part of the game. Sheep hunting makes grown men do things ordinary folks just don’t comprehend. As crazy as it sounds, it’s these extreme conditions that make the hunt all that more memorable and rewarding. If you’re lucky, a big ram will be in your pack at the end of the hunt. Then, you start planning your next sheep hunt. I was continually optimistic during this hunt. Good guides, good area and good company go a long way in making a successful hunting adventure.


Spending time behind optics in search of rams is a big part of the day.


Getting a solid rest from a backpack is essential for long-range shooting.

Hard Hunting

We hunted hard every day. The guides worked very hard and were bound and determined to find sheep. This is no cakewalk for hunters or guides. And absolutely nothing happens quickly. We searched a lot of different mountain ranges; sometimes we would spot sheep and work in closer for a better look. Some days we couldn’t find any rams. By the end of the eighth day we had hunted a large portion of the mountains up the river. Malabek and Nikolai decided to return to base camp for a day or two in a different area. A change of scenery, sauna and home-cooked meal didn’t sound bad either.

Early on the ninth day we decided to take one more look in an area not previously hunted. We crossed the raging river in front of our tents and slowly made our way to the top of the mountain. We glassed a lot of territory. It was around mid-day and we hadn’t located any sheep so we headed back to camp, loaded all of our gear, and rode back to base camp arriving just before dark. The sauna and hot meal were worth the trip.


Everyone was thrilled when this dandy ram was taken on the last day.


Back at base camp, the guides and staff enjoy luxury and a hot meal.

The Last Day

After a good night’s rest we hit the trail early on our tenth and final day of hunting. Before we reached the top of the mountain several sets of fresh tracks could be seen in the snow. We followed them for quite some time and then spotted 19 sheep with one nice ram in the bunch. As they walked over the crest of the mountain, we all thought it would be ideal to sneak over the ridge and be within range. Ah, that would be too perfect! Before we made it to the top of the ridge the sheep were spotted running to our left, over the adjacent mountain. We spent most of the day trying to get on these sheep. As we climbed to the top of one mountain, they would be going over the next peak. This cat and mouse game went on for several hours.

Luckily, the snow-covered terrain allowed us to follow their tracks. They finally bedded down in some rocks on the upper side of a long, huge valley. There wasn’t any good way to approach these sheep. After much discussion, we decided it was best if Malabek and I tried to sneak up the valley and approach the herd alone. It was getting late in the day and we needed to execute a plan pretty quick. At least the wind was in our favor even though it was blasting us in the face.

After my two shots mentioned earlier, all the sheep had disappeared. I told Malabek we must look for blood even though he thought I cleanly missed the ram. I couldn’t believe I had botched both shots! Not that I never miss but everything looked and felt good when I pressed the trigger. After we searched the area and never found any sign of a hit, my heart began to sink in despair. I replayed the shots over and over again in my head. Maybe I rushed the shot and didn’t get a good squeeze of the trigger. I thought the wind might have been a factor but at that range it couldn’t have been an issue. I just didn’t want to believe I had missed and I didn’t have any excuse.

It’s a horrible feeling when you think you’ve just blown a fairly easy shot at a magnificent animal, after 10 days of hunting! Malabek said we would ride the horses further up the valley and then look back up the mountainside where the sheep disappeared. When we reached a spot where we could see the entire area, part of the mountainside not visible from where I shot, Malabek began glassing. A moment later he turned to me with a big grin on his face. He had spotted the ram lying next to a big rock. My disposition turned from an all-time low to ecstatic. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. We were all jubilant. Taking a nice ram on the last day of the hunt was incalculably rewarding. It was genuinely an experience I’ll never forget.

This adventure had been well organized by friend Wade Derby of Crosshair Consulting and I am very grateful for all of his organizational skills. There were no unpleasant surprises. Just like my previous hunts in Kyrgyzstan, the people were friendly and the hunting remained incredible. Mountain hunts like this may not be for everyone but I can sincerely tell you they provide special memories. I can’t wait to return! 
By Mark Hampton

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Rifle Royalty

Al, Roger, Paula: The Biesen Family Has Long
Been At The Peak Of America’s Custom Rifle
Scene, As Well As Being An Essential Element
of Jack O’Connor Legend.

Custom gunmaking in America is a tradition dating back to the flintlock era. Through much of the black-powder era, guns were made just one at a time. A classic example is the famous Pennsylvania long rifle.

The Machine-Age revolution opened the door to many identical firearms assembled with standardized components, resulting in dramatically reduced costs per unit. It made it possible for the average worker to purchase a reliable firearm. Maybe your Winchester Model 94 was identical to every other one. So what? It was still a good gun.

But if you wanted something a little different, factories in those days offered options. If you wanted an octagonal barrel, a different barrel length or engraving, you could probably get it. For the most part though, buyers were satisfied with “off-the-rack” guns.

From the turn of the 20th century up to WWII, it appeared as though custom gunmaking was becoming a thing of the past. Certainly there were still enthusiasts with the means and desire for rifles built exactly to their needs, but their numbers weren’t very high.

The Depression seemed like the final blow. It was hard enough to sell a factory rifle, much less a custom one. Even in the early years following WWII, conventional wisdom indicated the era of custom guns was over. Many believed once the few custom makers still practicing retired or passed on, there would be no more.

But in fact, the greatest era of American custom gunmaking was just about to begin. Several factors came together to bring this about.

The postwar economic boom created unprecedented demand for consumer goods and participation in the hunting and shooting sports increased tremendously.

Thousands of surplus military rifles were imported, fostering the growth of an industry to convert them to sporting rifles. Scope sights became the norm rather than an exotic accessory. Factory hunting rifle stocks intended for use with iron sights left scope users wanting replacement stocks more suited to optics.

Cheaper air travel provided more hunting opportunities. It had another effect—it let custom gunmakers see the work of their peers. The resulting competition led to even better workmanship.

Al Biesen was born in Lacrosse, Wis., in 1918 and grew up during the lean years of the Great Depression. In those hard times Al found work where he could. Some of the jobs—working in a machine shop and cabinet making—would help develop skills later put to use in gunmaking.

His skill in precision workmanship was further demonstrated in the optical field, grinding precision optics. During WWII Al tried to join the US Navy but was not allowed to, as his job was considered essential to the war effort.


Three generations of Biesen craftsmanship: From left: Roger, Al and Paula.


Paula Biesen-Malicki at her workbench doing some fine engraving. Much of the
work is done under magnification in order to get the details right.


Roger detailed and rebarreled this Model 70 action (using an original Featherweight .270 barrel).
He reshaped the bolt and added a steel triggerguard and straddle floorplate. Al inletted, shaped
and sanded the stock. All that remains is for the customer to specify length of pull, checkering
pattern, engraving and metal finishing.

Al was always a hunter, shooter and firearms enthusiast. In those days he couldn’t afford the guns he wanted. Instead, he bought used, sometimes broken, guns to repair and restock. His son Roger was just a boy when the family relocated to Spokane, Wash., but remembers Al making some stocks while they still lived in Wisconsin.

Almost from the beginning Al’s stock design was both beautiful—with sweeping lines and pleasing shape—and marvelously functional. It was comfortable, fast to handle and aim.

Roger Biesen recently acquired one of Al’s early rifles, made in 1951. It’s a .270 built on a Mauser action with Buhmiller barrel and Tilden safety. Anyone familiar with Biesen’s work would recognize it instantly.

“It has the basic designs of what we’re putting out today,” says Roger. “About 5/8-inch drop at heel, length of pull to suit the shooter and it’s got a cheekpiece. And it’s very slim through the forearm.

“Once Dad had designed his stocks, he’s always stayed with that same feel. The people came back because of the pointability of his rifle. It jumps up like a fine shotgun. That’s what Dad has always built. Get it up there and the sight picture is there.”

Roger worked as a machinist for 15 years before going into partnership with his father. During more than 30 years of working together, he learned every aspect of gunmaking from Al. The most important lesson? Always do the very best work of which you are capable.

Roger’s daughter Paula is an extremely talented artist. When she expressed interest in engraving, Al and Roger acquired engraving tools, and left it to Paula to develop her engraving skill as she saw fit. Paula says she knew her father and grandfather would be thrilled to have her join the family business, but they never pressed her—it was an opportunity if she wanted it. Fortunately for admirers of fine firearm engraving, she took up the challenge.


The engraved grip cap has a floral pattern framing Dave’s last-name initial (above).
Screw slots are “timed” to align with the axis of the rifle. The result (below) is one
of the last “3-generation” custom rifles to carry the Biesen name.



Roger rebuilt a standard Winchester steel floorplate and steel triggerguard (above)
into a straddle style plate, rather than the alloy components used on factory Featherweights.
Paula used a floral engraving pattern on the guard and floorplate. The bolt handle (below)
was was reshaped and bolt knob checkered by Roger. Paula engraved the bolt handle.


The O’Connor Connection

ithout mentioning Jack O’Connor, considered by many to be the most influential hunting/shooting editor of the postwar era. The two were friends and hunting companions for many years.

The Biesen website notes, “Many of Jack’s articles and stories talked about his favorite Biesen rifle. O’Connor’s writings helped make Al Biesen one of the most famous gunmakers in the world.” Still, no endorsement—even O’Connor’s—would have made Al’s reputation on its own. Al knew perfectly well the outstanding quality of his work.

Some years ago I was visiting the Biesens in the workshop and another visitor mentioned the “O’Connor Rifle.” Al replied firmly, “It’s not an O’Connor rifle. It’s a Biesen rifle that O’Connor owned.”

Incidentally, for the cynics who claim O’Connor sold his opinions for free guns, here’s a quote from O’Connor’s The Last Book published after his death: “Al has stocked and remodeled at least fifteen rifles for me over the past thirty years. I have yet to get a free one. I get the same discount as a retail store would—25 percent.”

O’Connor’s favorite rifle was the No. 2 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .270, the second of a matched pair. This is the rifle of which he once wrote, “I love this rifle and plan to have it buried with me!”

Roger recalls how Al went to O’Connor’s funeral in 1978 with a few .270 cartridges in his pocket, planning to drop them in the casket. Al didn’t want his old friend to reach the Happy Hunting Grounds with a rifle and no ammo.

As it turned out, O’Connor had directed his remains be cremated and the ashes scattered by his son Brad, over the mountains where he loved to hunt. The rifle now belongs to Brad and is usually on display at the Jack O’Connor Center in Lewiston, Idaho.

Al Biesen made custom rifles for shahs and princes and kings, for collectors of great wealth and for rifle enthusiasts of average means who scrimped, saved and sacrificed. Custom rifles built in the cluttered basement of the modest frame house in Spokane were carried in exotic hunting locations all over the world—and on deer hunts on public land a few hours drive from where they were made.


Dave’s Model 70 .270 was built on a 1951 vintage action. Fifty years earlier Al stocked a
Model 70 for Jack O’Connor, which became his famous “Number 2.” Jack’s writings influenced
a lot of people, including Dave, who dreamed of one day owning a Biesen custom.

Year in and year out, the meat and potatoes of the Biesen business came from shooters and hunters, often of modest means, who simply loved and admired fine rifles.
Many of these customers were satisfied with the accuracy and function of their rifles, but wanted a stock better suited to scope use, one that fit them, was fast into action and pleasing to the eye. No matter the job or the customer, all got the same quality of work.

Rifles built decades earlier show up at the shop now and then; sometimes for additional work (such as Paula’s engraving), sometimes for appraisals or sale by executors of estates. Sometimes the rifles look as new as when they left the shop, having spent their life in a climate-controlled cabinet.

But what the Biesens really like to see is one of their rifles with the bluing on barrel and floorplate worn from saddle scabbards and hand carry, with the stock showing the scratches of Alaskan alders, African thorns and Wyoming sagebrush. Better yet, bring along an album with photos of the game taken with the rifle. The Biesens like to see their rifles admired and looked at, but most of all they want them to be used.

Al is now in his mid-90’s and, sadly, suffers from Alzheimer’s. Roger is closer to 70 than 60 and recently had knee replacement surgery. As this is written he is not taking on any new custom work, as he wants time to clear the backlog of work already ordered. Paula is still taking on new engraving jobs.

Personally, if I owned a rifle built by either Al or Roger, I’d be thinking seriously of having Paula add the final touch of custom engraving. The Biesens are an amazing family and among the nicest folks I’ve ever met. Extraordinary talent. Extraordinary skills. Extraordinary people.

Biesen Custom Guns and Fine Engraving
(509) 954-0763


From left: Dave, Roger, Al and Paula with the custom “3-generation” Biesen rifle.
The photo was taken in the basement workshop of the Biesen home in Spokane.

Three-Generation Model 70

This rifle is one of the last 3-generation Biesen custom rifles. What the Biesens consider the very last 3-generation rifle was built to order for a long-time customer and close family friend. (Since he might not care to be publicly identified, I’ll omit the name.)

On occasion, as their workload permitted, the Biesens built rifles “on spec,” using components on hand. Typically these would have the metal work done and the stock inletted, shaped and sanded.

If a customer liked the basic package, all that remained was to choose length of pull, checkering pattern, any other detailing (e.g. bolt knob checkering, trigger pull weight, scope bases) and engraving if desired.

That’s how my rifle was built. It wasn’t built specifically to my order, though it is almost exactly what I would have ordered. Doing it this way gave me something I prize: a rifle built by three generations of Biesens.

Roger assembled the barreled action from components he had in the shop. The action is from a 1951 Winchester Model 70 originally belonging to Al. Roger detailed the action, squaring the face of the receiver, lapping the locking lugs to bear evenly, honing and smoothing bolt operation.

He reworked the tang to a more graceful shape, reshaped the bolt handle, built up and checkered the bolt stop, tuned and adjusted the trigger to a crisp 3-pound break. He added a steel triggerguard with the floorplate release inside the guard. The hinged floorplate is an original Winchester steel plate, reworked to straddle the triggerguard.

The barrel came from another Model 70. Long ago a customer brought in a new Featherweight .270 along with a custom barrel he wanted installed. The unfired .270 Winchester barrel was stored away and forgotten until Roger came across it. He removed the front and rear sights and fitted it to the action, fitting it so nicely the factory barrel markings line up just as on an original.

The stock blank chosen was a lovely piece of American black walnut. European walnut is rightly considered the king of stock woods, but the best American walnut can equal it in terms of hardness and figure, but is denser and somewhat heavier.

Because of the dense stock wood, weight with scope and bases is 8 pounds, 4 ounces. With Nosler 130-grain Ballistic Tips and H4831SC, it shoots into 0.75-inch at 100 yards.
By Dave Anderson

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A Fierce, Affordable Forty

The New Value-Priced CT40 From Kahr Arms.

When considering the qualities of a good concealed-carry pistol some words come easily to mind; words like slim, light, simple and smooth. In fact, I think they come so easily to mind that sometimes they also fade away easily, and then get overlooked. Maybe the best way to avoid this is to remind yourself of their opposites. Would you go lookin’ for a concealed-carry piece that’s fat, heavy, complex and festooned with hooks and knobs stickin’ out the sides? Not likely.

“Reliability” is another appropriate word, though it’s not a desirable trait but rather an absolute requirement. “Accuracy” is another, but not “target accuracy.” A carry-gun may not be suited for cutting clover-leaves in paper at 50 yards, but should keep snap-shots in the clockworks at 7 yards 1-handed, and punching out the pump at 20, 2-handed. Add “power” to the list, and you’ve almost filled in the blanks for Kahr’s new .40 S&W CT40. Now add a really nice one: Affordable.

Kahr, taking note of the economic downturn some while ago, rolled out bargain-priced versions of some of their top-selling premium full-size pistols, the 4-inch barreled TP45, TP40, and more recently the TP9. They’re the “Value Series” CT models, and while they look like clones of the TP’s—and they are in most respects—the CT’s are priced more than $200 less than their fraternal twins!

Kahr achieved this savings by making a few less machining operations on the slide’s exterior—nothing negatively affecting performance—and simple roll marks versus engraving; mounting a pinned polymer front sight instead of a TP’s drift-adjustable sight; using a MIM rather than a forged slide-stop lever, and substituting a conventionally-rifled barrel for Kahr’s standard and far more expensive to produce match grade polygonal rifled barrel. Also, you only get one magazine with the CT’s—a situation easily rectified.

The pivotal question for most concealed-carriers is, “What difference, if any, do these differences make in a gunfight?” Read on and you can be the judge.


Kahr’s new CT40 with a comfortable IWB holster by N82 Tactical and
Kahr’s special Spyderco Delica knife—a great concealed-carry trio.

Mech-And-Tech Specs

Decades ago Kahr made its bones in micro-precision machining and then in small, high-quality pocket pistols, and that heredity is evident. Our test CT40 is only 6.5 inches long and just 5.13 inches high with a very slim 0.94-inch slide and 0.925-inch wide frame.

Empty weight is 21.8 ounces. Compared to other gunmakers’ products, the size of Kahr’s TP’s and CT’s would be “compact,” and their weight is more in keeping with a “sub-compact”—without surrendering any strength. Despite that miniscule weight and spare dimensions, the polymer frame gives the largest hand a full-fingers grip. At the same time, consider that the “reach” from the surface of the trigger to the point where the web of the hand contacts the frame is only 2.375 inches—making it a comfortable and effective reach for even small hands. Check the triggerguard and you’ll see it accommodates fat-sausage fingers like mine as well as slender digits.

Peer down the port side and you’ll note the only protuberance is the flat, smooth slide-stop lever; no whale-tail safety paddles or “tactical-ish” bollards there. The only other feature is the easily reached and operated magazine release button. On the starboard, note the hefty external extractor and deeply relieved ejection port. At the muzzle, the slide is machined with a steep bevel, making re-holstering easier and more certain. The grip frame sides are nicely textured without being raspy, while the front and backstrap are very aggressively knurled providing an excellent purchase under stress and violent action.

The sights are crisp and clear, the front post bearing a white dot and the drift-adjustable rear sight bearing a white square centered under the U-notch. That combination gives you both speedy pickup for snap-shots and precision for deliberate aiming. Go squinty and focused when you may, but for fast work just put the dot over the square and squeeze!

The action is a trigger-cocking breech-locking DAO (Double Action Only) with a Browning-type recoil lug. It’s very strong and very simple. As my go-to gunsmith says, “There just ain’t much to go wrong, so it doesn’t,” which is why a Kahr PM has lived in his right front pocket since the mid-’90’s.

But the heart of a Kahr pistol is the trigger, and it’s ideally suited for speed-reactive fighting. Rather than moving a bar linearly, the smooth-surfaced ergonomically curved trigger rotates a multi-function cam. The feel is more like that of a tuned revolver than a conventional semi-auto pistol. It’s so different from other fire control systems that it’s protected by seven patents. As you move through the long, smooth trigger stroke the cam rotates, cocking the striker, pushing the positive firing-pin block out of position, and then releasing the striker.

Trigger pull weight remains constant through this arc, with no stacking. Before break-in, the pull measured 6 pounds, 1 ounce on a Lyman electronic gauge, and after break-in, 5 pounds, 13 ounces—nice. The release is clean (not “crisp as snapping a thin glass rod”), but just about perfect for a fighting pistol. Given the length of the stroke, accidental discharge is highly unlikely. It takes a deliberate pull, enhancing safety even if you just dump the piece in a pocket. I don’t recommend that, but I’ve done it with confidence.


All four brands of ammo proved very accurate. That’s a 5-shot
1-handed group at 10 yards, fired on a 1.25-inch dot.


The CT40 fieldstrips easily. Construction is simple and strong.

ooth and well constructed of stainless steel, with stout springs for sure feeding. They pop in positively and release and drop free smartly. The CT40’s mag capacity is 7 rounds.

Before heading to the range, get yourself a 4-ounce bottle of Militec-1 Synthetic Weapons Lubricant, a 1-ounce bottle with precision needle applicator, and a 1/4-ounce tube of their grease. Kahr uses Militec-1at the factory, and it’s some classy goop—kind of a high-tech “dry lube” in liquid suspension. It just makes sense to keep your cleaner, lube and protectant “in the family,” you know? I’ve found if you stick to Militec-1 from the start and follow the directions you may never have to use a solvent. Once well treated, you need very little lube.

Disassembly is simple and straightforward, so do that. For break-in, I wipe it down, then lube liberally—not dripping—but “lube-rich,” with a tiny dab of grease on hard chatter-and-bash points. After 80 to 100 rounds, I wipe off all the excess and soldier on. I kinda bust ’em in rather than break ’em in. Kahr recommends putting 200 rounds through their new pistols before you consider them reliable for carry. My rule is 400 rounds. I put over 500 through this one in two sessions. If you do this, wear a glove. I did. The aggressive knurling I mentioned is great for gunfighting, but not for marathon machine-gunning.

As expected, there were several failures to go completely into battery in the first 50 to 60 rounds. All these occurred with the first round from a full magazine after firing the leader “up the pipe.” Also, a dozen times during that same sequence, ejected empties came flyin’ straight back at me, dingin’ me just above the cap brim. After that it was smooth sailing and malfunction-free straight shooting all the way. By the way, I devoted the entire first session to just clearing her throat, stretching her legs and introductory dancing, shooting for accuracy later. Glad I did.


The “Value Series” CT 40 (bottom) with a more expensive cousin, a TP 45 at top.
The CT pistols may lack some refinement, but they’re fine fighting pistols.

How did she perform? I don’t own .40’s, but I shoot them from time to time. I haven’t shot such a well-behaved example in years, and that was a full “full-sized” model weighing 2 pounds. The CT40 was rock-stable in the hand, and shot right to point of aim. I attribute a lot of the stability to the geometry of the grip, and its controllability to that and the low bore axis. After I got rockin’ with the roll of the trigger, it was an unexpected pleasure.

Accuracy flat-out surprised me. I must have been having a really good day. I’ll credit that to the pistol and premium ammo, but I’ll take a bow if somebody applauds.

About the ammo: All four types are premium-grade, and any one of them would be a great choice for defensive duties. Federal’s Personal Defense was the softest-shooting, and since it pushes a Hydra-Shok slug you can be assured of great terminal effect. Hornady’s Critical Defense produced the stoutest recoil, with a heavy slug at over 1,100 fps. The FTX is a “pre-stuffed” hollowpoint made to overcome the “plugging effect” of heavy clothing and still achieve significant expansion. CorBon 135’s shot snappy yet still controllable—check the velocity of those puppies! If you’re a “faster is better” shooter, this is your chamber-chow. I’ve shot Nosler’s Match Grade ammo in three calibers now and its accuracy and consistency is outstanding. Check the Extreme Spread in chronograph data: 22 feet per second!

In addition to the accuracy groups, I burned lots of powder shooting “rapid sevens” on half-sized silhouettes at 7 yards, putting five shots in center mass and then two in the gourd. This is where the CT40 really sang, producing results like five rounds into 1.3 inches high by 1.5 wide with four in the 10-oval, plus two shots 0.75-inch apart in the head. That was my best, but you get the picture. The CT40 proved itself as a gunfighter’s gun. And for $449? Sweet! Connor OUT
By John Connor

CT40 Model CT4043
Maker: 130 Goddard Memorial Drive
Worcester, MA 01603
(508) 795-3919

Action: Trigger cocking DAO locked breech, passive striker block,
Caliber: .40 S&W,
Capacity: 7+1,
Barrel: 4 inches,
Overall length: 6.5 inches,
Height: 5.13 inches,
Slide Width: 0.94 inches,
Weight: 21.8 ounces,
Grips: Textured polymer,
Sights: Drift adjustable white bar-dot combat rear, pinned in polymer front,
Finish: Black polymer frame, matte stainless steel slide,
Price: $449

.40 S&W Factory Ammo Performance

Load Velocity ES Group Size Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (fps) (10 yards) (inches) (20 yards) (inches)
Cartridge Highest Velocity Lowest Average Extreme Spread
CorBon 135 JHP 1,394 29 2 3.375
Federal Premium PD165 JHP 1,000 30 1.75 3
Hornady Critical Defense 165 FTX 1,122 42 1.25 3.13
Nosler Match Grade 150 JHP 1,158 22 1.375 3

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The “E” Factor

9E: Ruger’s Economical Take On The
Striker-Fired SR9 Platform Could
Be All The 9mm You Need.

Ruger entered the striker-fired handgun field in 2007 with introduction of the SR9. A full-featured, compact, lightweight and affordable pistol, the SR series is now a mature design and encompasses 9mm Luger, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. It soon came to include compact models and “State Compliant” variations—10-round magazines in place of the sizes standard in jurisdictions not fully sold on the Utopian Ideal.

The SR9—as with the subject of this review—holds 17 rounds in its wide-body magazine. The width and length of the polymer grip frame is dimensionally indistinguishable from pistols utilizing single-stack magazines with less than half the capacity. Even so, the grip arrangement effectively distributes recoil, enhancing speed of delivery and shooter comfort. The original SR9 has demonstrated reliability with the current crop of premium and generic ammunition and has survived a couple of fairly well-circulated, multi-thousand-round torture tests.

The Ruger approach to applying the “E-ssential” treatment to its rifles, and now handguns, diminishes nothing in the way of quality or material. The 9E pistol incorporates a couple of modifications many buyers might consider improvements. One reviewer noted the slide serrations on the previous SR were sharp and tended to cut into his fingers. The 9E’s wider rear-slide serrations are fewer in number with a melt treatment to remove any edges. They are still easy to grip, attractive and serve their purpose just as effectively. The 9E also eliminates the tactile-loaded chamber indicator required for sale in California (it is required nowhere else and its replacement with a view port simplifies matters and does not reduce safety). Since California has effectively banned semi-autos, Ruger is able to offer the simplified 9E for the rest of the country.


The Streamlight TRL-2G offers 200 lumens through its C4 LED lamp for 1.5
hours and offers a beam with optimum peripheral illumination. A green
laser rests below the light, and if both are utilized, run time is
reduced to 1.25 hours. The TRL-2G is powered by one 3v CR 123A
lithium battery.


The Ruger 9E slide and frame are given a slight “melt” treatment
at the front for ease of holstering.


The Ruger 9E, “E” for Essential, comes in a simple cardboard box with one
magazine and a cable lock. You might desire to add other essential items
like the Streamlight TRL-2G light for the accessory rail and a Spyderco Delica.

When the 9E is in its “at rest” position, the striker is partially cocked with the rear of the striker visible at the back of the slide. The 9E retains the internal passive drop-safe mechanism to block the striker and the trigger, and prevents firing unless the trigger is consciously pulled. It has the SR9’s ambidextrous frame-mounted thumb safeties absent on many striker-fired “double action” pistols. This seems somewhat redundant, but the thumb safety is easily accessed and could serve as a positive hedge against use against you in a gun-grab.

It also has the Glock-like rocker/block frame impingement safety situated in the center of the trigger’s face. A magazine disconnector works off of the magazine lips and has no influence on trigger pull. The single available finish is basic black and the magazines have the single option of a flat floorplate.

Disassembly for routine maintenance is very simple. Remove the magazine, ensure the pistol is unloaded, lock the slide back and push the ejector downward. The disassembly lever/pin is aligned for easy removal and replacement at slide lock. The ejector should be in the down position for reassembly and insertion of the magazine will put it back into register.

The owner’s manual claims the 9E’s modular construction makes disassembly of the action easy, but provides no further encouragement toward trying this at home. Some users have noted it is very easy to remove the magazine disconnect. There are several excellent reasons to refrain from doing this, or decommissioning any safety feature. (See Massad Ayoob’s In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of Firearms in Personal Protection or his Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right To Self Defense).


The 9E has an ample ejection port and rocker style trigger safety (above). In addition,
an ambidextrous thumb safety is provided on the frame within easy reach of the shooting
hand. Mike found the controls easy to manipulate. The left side of the gun (below)
features the slide stop and thumb safety for right-handed folks.



The Ruger fieldstrips quickly and easily for routine maintenance. Just remember
to push down the ejector before removing the slide or replacing it. Insertion
of the magazine will push the ejector back up into operation.

Practical Performer

Our 9E arrived in a cardboard box—another cost-saving concession, with a single flat floorplate magazine, cable lock and owner’s manual. The sights are drift-adjustable (with a rear sight set-screw) and feature prominent white dots, with the width of the front sight and the rear-sight opening sized for easy target acquisition. The trigger, partially cocked upon slide closure (preventing double-strike capability), let off at exactly 5 pounds after about a 3/8-inch takeup. Trigger travel is smooth and allows for a steady, straight-back pull and undisturbed release. The usual 25-yard benchrested groups ranged from just over 3 inches to a hair under 5. My worst groups highlight my tentative relationship with precision shooting using a striker-fired handgun, which does teach… humility.

The Ruger 9E really comes into its own with more practically oriented rangework. The 10-inch plates at the Centex Rifle and Pistol Club were easy marks with a 6 o’clock hold at a moderately rapid pace from 15 yards. I walked through the 50-round standard Texas Concealed Handgun Demo ignoring the par times and variable shot sequences and simply firing when the sights came back on target. The 9E’s minimal muzzle rise allows for a considerably quicker pace than called for in the official course.

The “10” and “X” rings are a central oval of 3.5 inches wide by 5.8-inches tall. The Ruger quickly produced a gaping hole dead center with the widest shot printing an inch—or a little more—outside the 10-ring. The course is shot from 3, 7 and 15 yards. The Black Hills 115-grain FMJ loads hit to the sights at the shorter ranges. The tendency of this pistol to shoot high and right, which had manifested itself at the 25-yard bench became apparent at 15 yards, accounting for the five rounds edging the 10-ring at 2 to 4 o’clock.

While the Black Hills FMJ load was of standard pressure, the rest of my sample loads were +P with the exception of Buffalo Bore’s 95-grain load marked +P+. All except the Black Hills FMJ were JHP’s and the Ruger 9E functioned reliably with all of them. The rear of the grip—resembling the mainspring housing of a 1911—is reversible, giving you the choice of a flat or arched profile (it came arched side up and I left it that way.) The grip angle and overall geometry was so favorable that the felt recoil and muzzle rise of the hottest loads diverged very little from the standard velocity Black Hills load.

The +P 115-grain load from CorBon and the 124-grain loads from Buffalo Bore produced velocities in the high 1,200 fps range and tied for best accuracy from the bench. Buffalo Bore’s 124-grain JHP +P produced four duplicate velocities in a row and one that was only 2 fps slower. Similar results came with the Buffalo Bore Lead Free 95-grain Barnes JHP +P+. The extreme spread was 22 fps but four of the rounds were duplicates at 1,449 fps. These readings were real. Each consecutive reading the same as the last read “dupe” on the chrono screen. I watched the numbers flip with each shot. Enough readings weren’t duplicates to show the thing was working just fine. Consistency like this is usually rare but occurs frequently with Buffalo Bore loads in various calibers.

The Buffalo Bore +P 147-grain JHP produced the same velocity as the standard pressure Black Hills 115-grain FMJ. The FBI and the San Diego Police Department have both used one or the other loading of this bullet weight and have been pleased with the results. The +P+ Buffalo Bore 95-grain load and the company’s 147-grain +P offering printed near point of aim at 25 yards while most other loads hit several inches high.


A 25-yard group fired hand-held from the bench. Several loads shot high at
this distance with the Buffalo Bore 95-grain +P+ and 147-grain +P hitting
close to point of aim.


The Shooting Demonstration required of Concealed Handgun License applicants
in Texas consists of 50 rounds from 3, 5 and 15 yards. The rounds outside
of the 10 ring include five of the 10-round strings from 15 yards.


The weight and size of the 9E make for comfortable carry and fast deployment
from these slacks from CCW Breakaways (above). The 9E is a little smaller
and a lot lighter than the Colt XSE Commander beneath (below).


Specs, Extras, Final Thoughts

The accessory rail will accommodate the full array of accessory lights and laser sights. The SR9 window on the Ruger Firearms links to “buy now” cites for holster from Bianchi, Fobus, Mitch Rosen and Gould & Goodrich. The 9E is, incidentally, Commander-size. In fact, with the Ruger laid on top of a Colt Commander, the Colt is visible at all points of the compass. The unloaded weight is about 9 ounces lighter than the steel-framed Commander and barely tops 30 ounces with the magazine fully loaded with 115-grain, 9mm rounds. It turned out to be a natural in my quick-deployment slacks from CCW Breakaways.

Covering the basics, eliminating the hard box, the magazine loader and spare magazine shaves about $100 off suggested retail and, given the current realities of the marketplace, lands the real-world tariff at or below the $400 “price point” beloved of the gun-buying public. The 9E should be a solid performer both for the Ruger Company and the quality-conscious armed citizen.
By Mike Cumpston Photos By Robbie Barrkman



Shooting at Centex Rifle and Pistol Club, Mike found the 9E would
clean this 6-plate rack at a reasonable pace from 15 yards.

9mm Factory Ammo Performance

Load Velocity Energy Average Group
(Brand, Bullet Type, Weight) (fps) (ft-lbs) (inches)
Black Hills FMJ 115 1,109 314 4.0
CorBon +P JHP 115 1,280 418 3.2
Buffalo Bore +P JHP 115 1,264 408 3.2
Buffalo Bore +P JHP 124 1,213 405 5.1
Buffalo Bore +P JHP 147 1,119 409 4.9
Buffalo Bore +P+ Barnes 95 1,437 436 4.3


Maker: Ruger
200 Ruger Rd.
Prescott, AZ 86301
(928) 541-8892

Action Type: Striker-fired semi-auto
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 17+1
Barrel length: 4.14 inches
Overall length: 7.5 inches
Weight: 27.2 ounces
Finish: Matte black, black polymer frame
Sights: 3-dot, drift-adjustable
Grips: Textured polymer
Price: $429

Black Hills Ammunition
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
(605) 438-5150

Buffalo Bore Ammunition
366 Sandy Creek Rd.
Salmon, ID 83467
(208) 756-3434

CCW Breakaways LLC
1619 Lowell Ln.
New Cumberland, PA 17070
(717) 774-2152

1311 Industry Rd.
Sturgis, SD 57785
(800) 626-7266

Streamlight Inc.
30 Eagleville Road
Eagleville, PA 19403
(610) 631-0600

820 Spyderco Way
Golden, CO 80402
(800) 525-7770

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Guns Of The Scarlet Riders

Outfitting A 19th Century Mountie With Current
Reproductions Calls For A Bit Of Research. Not
To Mention A Bit Of Rangework!

There is a romantic allure to Winchester’s 1876 North-West Mounted Police carbine, which armed the Scarlet Riders for several decades during the turbulent late-19th century. The adoption of the ’76 by the NWMP was a necessary move, and the force simply purchased the most powerful repeating rifle readily available to them at the time.

After the Custer Massacre in 1876, the Sioux crossed the border into Canada and were well-armed with repeating rifles themselves. In addition, the NWMP had to contend with well-armed smugglers and whiskey runners as well. The Mounties realized how woefully under-armed they were with the already obsolete single-shot Snider carbines and Adams revolvers, both of which had been converted from percussion to cartridge.

The fact that Britain was still armed with single-shot rifles—combined with how small the NWMP was—caused the force to take a hard look at the repeaters then available to even the odds. They ultimately set their sights on the .45-75 Winchester Model 1876 Carbine and purchased 50 from a retailer for trials in 1878. The carbines would give the NWMP a ballistic advantage over the Henry, Spencer, 1866 and 1873 rifles popular among Indians and smugglers.

The first 50 trial carbines had a simple “non-adjustable leaf sight” and no dust cover. The force requested improvements, and the most important of which was increasing the barrel shank diameter to give the barrel/receiver joint greater strength. The next 50 also had a dust cover and an improved adjustable leaf sight. However, the new rear sight still proved inadequate, and a military-style sight called the “Spanish Meter” sight (because it was first used on Winchesters provided to the Spanish government) was ordered. The force eventually purchased 1,611 Winchester 1876 carbines.


The Cimarron 1876 Carbine has a saddle ring on the left side, and the lever lock
typical of Winchesters of the era. The NWMP generally carried the carbines across
the pommel of the saddle.


The carbine buttplate is generously sized and comfortable to shoot.
Oddly, the Model 1876 Carbines had no provision for a cleaning kit.


Early Winchesters acquired by the NWMP had standard carbine sights dovetailed into
the barrel (top). Later, the sturdier “Spanish Meter” rear sight (shown in the white)
were ordered. It was attached with two screws. The front sight (bottom) is dovetailed
into the barrel, while original Winchesters had the sight sweated on. The useless
nub of the Uberti was milled off and a 0.063-inch German silver blade pinned in place.


Cimarron Steps In

Upon seeing the first Cimarron 1876 rifle in .45-60, I had hoped a carbine would eventually enter the catalog, since it is one of the more exotic-looking arms of the Old West. I was even happier to find Cimarron would reproduce the gun from the second lot of 50 guns, which was provided to the force featuring the carbine sight, dustcover, NWMP markings and most importantly, was chambered in the original .45-75. I had mine shipped to Holt Bodinson, who wrote about it in the December 2010 issue (

Components for some of the odder calibers remained in supply during the “Great ObamaScare Ammo, Gun and Component Shortage” of the last few years, and I was able to acquire dies, mold and 150 rounds of rather expensive, new, high-quality Jamison brass. The carbine required tuning to shoot well, but once I was satisfied with its performance at the range, I realized I wouldn’t really be living until I had the appropriate NWMP companion handgun from the same time period as well.

The handguns issued to the NWMP in 1874 were old .450 Adams Mk I cartridge conversions and, later in the 1880’s, the odd-looking .476 Enfield Mk II. Originals of either are pricey, with NWMP specimens quite scarce, since so many were used up. I perused the book Arms and Accouterments of the Mounted Police 1873-1973 by Philips and Klancher, to aid me in my search for a suitable—and current—repro handgun. It proved to be Uberti’s copy of the S&W Old Model No. 3 Russian.

Initially, many of the NWMP’s Adams Mk I’s were so poorly converted, the British War Department agreed to exchange them. In the interim, the force purchased 30 S&W No. 3 Old Model .44 Russian revolvers, one of which history records as still in service during 1878. Truth be told, individual troops purchased a wide variety of American-made arms such as the Colt SAA and 1878 DA revolvers among others, so a Colt (or Colt clone) would have been equally correct as well. But in the Old Model Russian’s favor was the fact it was an issue revolver. None of the original 30 S&W revolvers are known to have survived, and if they had ownership marks peculiar to the NWMP, those markings are lost to history.

When I was hit by the “have-to-have-fever,” the supply of No. 3 revolvers dried up as ObamaScare II swept the nation. I haunted the Internet for one, and balked at the retail-plus prices asked. So I waited until they made more.

The overall fit and finish of this No. 3 Russian Top Break (its official name) is superb. The bluing is rich and deep, and metal polish is very good, with no ripples in the rather complex contours of the barrel and frame. The grips have a nice matte oil finish, unlike the slippery wood finish found on most of the Uberti arms. The case hardening on the hammer barrel-locking block and triggerguard is very attractive.

A nice touch is the finish on the screws and pins. They all fit perfectly and the screws passing through the frame are correctly trimmed and the ends domed. No threads appear—just the domed end of the screw. The pins are as well finished on both sides. And the sideplate fit is exceptional.


Many members of the NWMP privately purchased arms and just about any American
big-bore revolver saw use. The big Colt 1878 DA (top) was quite popular in
Canada and England.


The S&W top-break design must have turned heads upon its release in the 1870’s.
The biggest purchaser was Russia and S&W redesigned the pistol into this c
onfiguration at their behest. The NWMP purchased 30 Old Models to supplement
their Adams Mk I revolvers.


The 5-shot Mk I Adams cartridge conversions proved disappointing in service,
although some officers purchased the 6-shot Mk II (shown) and Mk III Adams
revolvers privately. The .450 Adams was one of the more anemic military rounds
fielded in the 19th century. Photo courtesy:

The serial number is visibly stamped on the frame, face of the cylinder and under the locking block. The barrel address is marked in Cyrillic letters—as were the ones shipped to Russia in the 1870’s.

Oddly enough, although the revolver is marked “.44 Russian,” it is chambered in .44 Special (I checked with John Taffin and Duke Venturino and their older Uberti’s are chambered for the shorter Russian round). But the .44 Special chambering wasn’t a deal breaker for me. In fact, it increases the utility of the revolver, since it is usually easier to get Specials. They are not supposed to be chambered for Specials, so be sure and decide if it is important to you. The cylinder length is long enough for this model to be chambered in .45 Colt (another current option).

Be advised, even if it chambers .44 Special these top-break revolvers should only be fired with ammunition loaded to SAMMI specifications and never with any of the hot-rodded +P loads available. The Uberti is well made from modern materials, but a top break can’t compare in strength to a solid-frame revolver. On the plus side, if you want to duplicate black-powder .44 Russian loads, the Special case is ideal, since it has the capacity of the old balloon-head Russian cases. This is not the case with the newer solid-head Russian brass.

I went to the range with my .44 Russian handloads along with some Black Hills and Winchester factory ammo. The Black Hills, topped with a 210-grain bullet, was certainly adequate for Cowboy Action shooting, delivering 25-yard groups in the 3-1/2-inch range. Switching to a handload using a 246-grain lead roundnose over 3.8 grains of TiteGroup delivered one ragged hole at 15 yards and 2-1/2 inches at 25 yards. Winchester factory .44 Special 246-grain lead RN’s delivered the best 25-yard group of 2-1/4 inches.

The 7-pound trigger pull had creep on top of being heavy. A trigger job is in order, but won’t be as easy as with Colt-style revolvers, since many of the components are pinned in place. Another thing, the sights need to be corrected for both windage and elevation.

My Cimarron NWMP carbine had some accuracy problems, most notably throwing shots 3, 4 and 5 wide, although the first two would be close together.

It also shot very high at 50 yards. The good news was the action was smooth, the trigger light and creep-free, and the lever safety spring not too heavy.


The slow rate-of-fire possessed by the Snider carbine issued to the force early on meant the
NWMP was hopelessly outclassed by opponent’s repeating rifles. Canadian-issue Sniders such as
this one are marked “DC” on the left side of the butt. Photo courtesy:,
(603) 732-4000.


The North-West Mounted Police quickly discovered the scarlet British uniform and
pith helmet to be useless on the frontier. The force quickly adopted Stetson hats
and buckskins for patrol. Improving their firepower greatly was the adoption of
the 8-shot Model 1876 Winchester in .45-75 WCF. The unsuitable .450 Mk I Adams
cartridge conversion revolvers were supplemented by .44 Russian S&W No. 3
revolvers prior to the adoption of the Enfield Mk II.


The NWMP was faced with Indians and smugglers armed with a wide variety of arms including
such as the .56-56 Spencer (above, far left), big long-range single shots (.40-70 Ballard
shown middle left), as well as repeaters in .44-40 (left). While formidable looking, the
.577 Snider (far right) was already obsolete. Adoption of the .45-75 WCF (middle right)
gave the force a powerful repeating round capable of challenging both man and beast on
the frontier. Handgun cartridges used by the NWMP included (below, left to right) .450
Adams, .44 Russian, .455 Mk II, and later, towards the turn of the century, the .38 S&W
for plainclothes officers armed with S&W New Departure pocket revolvers.


After rereading M. L. McPherson’s chapters on lever actions in Accurizing the Factory Rifle, I discovered the fore-end was bearing hard both at the receiver face and fore-end lug. The mag tube also was jammed into place between the receiver and the lug dovetailed into the bottom of the barrel for the nose cap. The nose cap was tightly fitted to the barrel and forced against the wood so hard I was afraid I was going to twist the head off the retaining screw while removing it. The barrel band was “squish fit” tightly to the wood and barrel. None of these attributes contribute to accuracy.

Per McPherson, I relieved just enough of the mag tube to give it a little fore-and-aft play and polished the end entering the receiver. Next I scraped away the wood on the end of the fore-end where it touched the face of the receiver. I then used a Dremel to grind away a little off the nose cap where it touched the barrel. Lastly, I relieved the barrel band on the area in contact with the barrel until a thin piece of paper would slide in between band and the barrel.

I loaded up 20 rounds of ammo using Hodgdon Trail Boss and a 350-grain bullet cast from the correctly-profiled Buffalo Arms mold. Now I got a 5-shot group at 50 yards in the 3-inch range (still too high), and had an epiphany. The finish on the stock was so slippery I couldn’t maintain a consistent hold very well.

I next stripped and refinished the stock. Uberti stocks are finish-sanded closely to the metal and the finish on the stock itself is glass-hard and so thick sanding would remove too much wood. Few strippers touch this finish but Certi Strip from Brownells will. Steel wool barely touches this finish even after it is bubbling up (it’s that thick). I employed a sheet of brass to scrape off the finish.

The wood underneath the metal had no finish and I tested stains there until I achieved the color I wanted. I used Pilkington Oil Finish over the stain and, when I was satisfied, brushed in a generous coat of Laurel Mountain Permalyn Sealer. Now the rifle felt like it was rosined to my hands.

This 1876 has a standard Winchester-style carbine sight with a V-notch combined with a front sight on a block with the blade ground so fine it appears to be an inverted-V front (I prefer a square-blade front with a V-notch rear).

Track of the Wolf offers a variety of German silver sights and sheets in various thicknesses, from 0.050-inch to 0.080-inch. Rather than buy a sheet, it was far cheaper to buy a front sight and loot the blade. Friend Roger, who runs the “Biggest Little Gunshop in Reno,” milled the useless inverted “V” off the sight block, slotted it and installed a 0.063-inch blade, pinned through the sight block. The 0.063-inch width proved perfect for the V-notch rear.


One way to get a little more shooting done with black powder is topping the case
with jacketed bullets (above). The Hornady 350-grain bullets delivered this nice
5-shot group at 50 yards. As with many originals, the Uberti No. 3 Russian shoots
very high at 25 yards (below), yet is quite accurate. Fit and finish of the
top-break repro is superlative.


Finding a Load

The toggle-link action of the 1876 Centennial is not strong, and smokeless-powder loads won’t safely approach the power of original black powder loads. The light-for-caliber bullets don’t generate enough resistance for the black powder to burn completely, quickly fouling the shallow rifling. Modern solid-head brass doesn’t hold enough black powder to reach original ballistics, either. Still, to get that pleasant boom and a large puff of smoke, I shoot jacketed bullets over black powder (a tip from Duke Venturino.) I can shoot a full magazine or two with decent accuracy without cleaning, since the jacketed bullets scour the black powder fouling with each shot. Initial 5-shot groups are very good, and I wouldn’t hesitate to hunt with this gun.

I found 4 boxes of previously-owned Hornady .458 350-grain jacketed softnose bullets very reasonably priced at a gun show. Loading 20 rounds with the Hornady bullets over 62 grains of Goex FFg in Jamison brass, I headed off to the range and shot a 5-round, 50-yard group 2 inches high and an inch wide. Cutting the sight, I returned to the range, moved the target out to 100 yards and shot a 4-shot group of 2-1/2 inches, with shot 5 pulling out the group to 4-1/2 inches.

I charged the cases through a drop tube and seated the bullet to just touch the powder. The Hornady bullets sat below the cannelure and no roll crimp could be applied. Not a big deal, since the bullet is sitting on the powder, but this technique precludes using smokeless powder since recoil will cause the bullets to telescope in the magazine.

Switching to Speer 300-grain “Plinkers,” proved a better bet as they can be crimped into the top of the cannelure. The Speer 350-grain bullets begin to taper before they are deep enough, and the brass has to be rolled over the nose—not a big deal, just harder on brass life, and won’t work with smokeless powder.

Cast bullets over Trail Boss were accurate and fun to shoot. They delivered a little higher velocity than I expected—higher than the jacketed bullet loads—and I may just settle on them for the majority of my fun shooting.


The robust and odd-looking Enfield Mk II in .476 was adopted by the force in the 1880’s
and served into the 20th century. A top-break, the cylinder slides straight ahead to
eject the spent casings. After unloading, the revolver was closed and charged through
a loading gate one at a time. It was both a cumbersome and heavy revolver.
Photo courtesy:

The Final Factor

To me, one of the allures in our hobby is the romance associated with an arm. Having the M1876 carbine and a handgun known to be issued to the Scarlet Riders increases the fun factor for me. I was hoping to have a belt and holster for the story, but the buckle is on backorder. Always something to look forward to!
Story and Photos Jeff John

.44 Russian & Special Factory Ammo Performance

Load Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (inches)
Black Hills 210 FN (Russian) 697 3-1/4
Black Hills 210 FN (Special) 655 3-1/2
Winchester 246 RN (Special) 727 2-1/4

Notes: Groups the product of 5 shots at 25 yards.
Magneto Speed chronograph used at the muzzle.

.44 Russian Handloaded Ammo Performance

Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (brand) (grains weight) (fps) (inches)
Remington 246 RN TiteGroup 3.8 643 2-1/2
Cast 265 RN Swiss FFg 19 * 3-1/4

Notes: Groups the product of 5 shots at 25 yards. Magneto Speed chronograph used at the
muzzle. Winchester primers used in Starline brass. *Magneto Speed Chrono can’t pick
up cast bullets over black powder.

.45-75 WCF Handloaded Ammo Performance

Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (brand) (grains weight) (fps) (inches)
Buffalo Arms .458 350 Cast Trail Boss 17.6 1,268 2-1/2
Hornady 350 FN Goex FFg 62.0 1,068 4-1/2*
Speer 300 Plinker Goex FFg 64.0 1,217 2
Speer 350 FP Goex FFg 60.0 1,155 2-3/4

Notes: Groups the product of 5 shots at 50 yards. Magneto Speed chronograph used
at the muzzle. Winchester primers used in Jamison brass. *100-yard group.

No. 3 Russian Top Break

Maker: Uberti
Brescia, Italy
Importer: Stoeger Industries
17603 Indian Head Hwy
Accokeek, MD 20607
(301) 283-6981

Action type: Top break, single action
Caliber: .44 Russian
Capacity: 6
Barrel length: 6-1/2 inches
Overall length: 12 inches
Weight: 45 ounces
Finish: Blue
Sights: Fixed

Model 1876 NWMP carbine

Maker: A. Uberti
Brescia, Italy
Importer: Cimarron Firearms
105 Winding Oak Rd.,
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(830) 997-9090

Action: Lever-action repeater
Caliber: .45-75 WCF
Capacity: 8+1
Barrel length: 22 inches
Sights: 100-900 yard ladder rear, blade front
Weight: 8.5 pounds,
Finish: Blue
Stock: Walnut Price: $1,818.70
Grips: Walnut Price: $1,079

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Ugly Yet Functional

World War II Soviet Small Arms Were Used For
And Against Mother Russia And Then Fought
Against The Free World For Decades To Follow.

Never in history have two nations fought one another with armies so large or with such ferocity as did the Germans and Soviets between 1941 and 1945. Where the United States fielded a few score infantry and armored divisions in Europe, the Germans and Soviets went at each other with several hundred divisions each.

With millions of men under arms, each of those countries found it difficult to make sure every soldier indeed had a weapon. The Soviets, sometimes early in the conflict only gave rifles to the first few waves of their attacking troops. Ones following later were given ammunition and told to pick up a fallen comrades’ rifle.

(Author’s note: The statement in the above paragraph is considered apocryphal by some people nowadays, but I have read it stated authoritatively in several well-researched history books concerning the “Eastern Front.”)

The Germans took a different tack in regards to weapons shortages. They captured millions of small arms by overrunning most of Europe prior to attacking the Soviet Union in June 1941. Also in the first year of that invasion they captured millions more small arms from surrendered or perished Soviet troops. In fact so many Soviet weapons were captured that the German Heer (Army) gave most of them their own designations.

There is no doubt the Soviet Union paid little or no attention to cosmetic quality of their infantry small arms even before the fighting began. No one could favorably compare the fit and finish of say a Mosin-Nagant Model 91/30 to a US-made Model 1903 Springfield as produced by Remington circa 1941. The same goes when comparing a German MP40 submachine gun (machine pistol in German parlance) to the Soviet’s PPSh-41, or even when comparing the Soviet TT33 pistol to a Japanese Type 14 “Nambu” pistol.


The Red Army’s secondary infantry rifle was the SVT40, also in 7.62x54mmR caliber (above).
The SVT40 was modernistic in some features. Note the perforations to allow heat to escape
from the barrel and the addition of a flash hider. The standard rifle for the Red Army in
WWII was the Mosin-Nagant Model 91/30 rifle which proved unwieldy in urban fighting, so
the Mosin-Nagant Model 38 carbine (below, middle) was designed for close combat. The
Mosin-Nagant Model 44 carbine (bottom) improved the concept with the addition of a
side-folding bayonet. Are all 7.62x54mmR caliber.



Duke owns and shoots a PPSh-41 submachine gun. He says its rate of fire
is impressive. Note the 71-round drum magazine. Caliber is 7.62x25mm.

Ugly But Functional

That said, one fact about Soviet small arms is they worked. Cosmetically they were utilitarian in the extreme but they worked. And because the vast bulk of potential Soviet infantry troops were drawn from peasant stock their weapons were simple. Here’s one example drawn from my own personal experience. To dismantle my US M1 Thompson submachine gun, I must refer to a manual detailing each step. That is despite owning it for 7 years.
Dismantling my German MP40 is much easier and after 7 years of ownership I can whip it apart in a few minutes. To dismantle a Soviet PPSh-41for basic cleaning I merely have to press a button at the rear of the receiver and tip the barrel down. Then the bolt can be lifted from its trough. These steps take about 10 seconds.

As with all nations deeply involved in WWII just about every military weapon—newly designed or obsolete—was pressed into service. In a magazine article such as this we can only cover so much so I’m limiting this to the infantry weapons with which most frontline Red Army troops were armed.
The Soviet Union fielded two basic infantry rifles during their “Great Patriotic War.” These were the bolt action Mosin-Nagant Model 91/30 and the semi-auto SVT40. The former rifle was simply a remodeled version of the MN Model 1891. The barrel length was shortened from 31.6 inches to 28.75 inches and the receiver was made round at the front ring instead of hexagonal. While Model 91/30 sights were slightly improved over the older model they remained open type. Interestingly, Red Army doctrine called for troops to always fight with the Model 91/30’s bayonet attached.

The semi-auto SVT40 was a rifle ahead of its time. The American M1 Garand is more famous but the SVT40 had some superior design features. One was the gas operating system was atop the barrel, making access for cleaning easier. Its 10-round magazine was detachable but could also be loaded from the top with 5-round stripper clips or individual rounds. Although long at over 48 inches, it was light at just over 8 pounds. (Garands were 43.5 inches long and 9.5 pounds.) And finally, the SVT40 could have a scope mounted directly in line with its barrel instead of offset as necessary with the M1 Garand.

Where the SVT40 did not equal the Garand was the fact the Soviet Union could not produce enough of them during wartime emergency. Therefore the Red Army decided to stick with bolt action rifles predominately and save semi-autos for special issue. The common Soviet infantryman was given a Mosin-Nagant Model 91/30. NCOs and special ops troops were issued the SVT40, as well as specially-trained snipers.


Although long obsolete the Red Army issued Nagant Model 1895 revolvers by
the thousands in the nearly worthless caliber of 7.62mm Nagant.


The second submachine gun fielded in significant numbers by the Red Army in
WWII was the PPS-43. This is the semi-auto only imported from Poland.
Caliber is also 7.62x25mm.


The TT33 pistol was the Soviet Union’s frontline handgun in WWII. Its caliber
was 7.62x25mm and it is unique in that has no safety at all.

Legions Of Snipers

That is not the same as saying all snipers got SVT40’s. Far more were handed scoped M91/30’s. In fact, the Soviet Union—even before hostilities began—placed more emphasis on trained snipers. They boasted having 60,000 at war’s beginning. By comparison, in late 1941, the United States Army had none and the US Marine Corps, perhaps a few score.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union fitted better telescopic sights to their sniper rifles than any other combatant nation in WWII. Early Model 91/30’s had 4X PE or PEM scopes, differing only in the former were adjustable for focus and the latter were not. Later the 3.5X PU scope became standard and was used on both bolt actions and semi-autos. (Those put on SVT40’s had some slight dimensional tube differences from those meant for bolt actions.)

All major WWII combatant nations issued carbines to their troops manning artillery, mortars and machine guns. Except for the United States’ M1 .30 Carbine, all fired the same cartridges as their respective countries’ standard infantry rifles. The Red Army fielded two based on the M91/30. They were the Model 38 and Model 44. Both had 20-inch barrels give or take a fraction of an inch, but their main difference was the later model had a folding bayonet permanently attached. That brought weight from a bit over 7 pounds for the Model 38 to over 9 pounds for the Model 44. It was probably the heaviest carbine issued in WWII. There was also an extremely rare SVT40 carbine.

The cartridge for both Red Army rifles and carbines was 7.62x54mm Rimmed. It was an archaic-looking, large bodied tapered bottleneck case with a wide rim. It may have looked outdated but in terms of ballistics it certainly was not. Generally issued were “light ball” loads with 149-grain bullets at 2,855 fps or “heavy ball” loads with 185-grain bullets at 2,683 fps. (Source: Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century, 7th Edition.)


Many SVT40’s were also fitted with scopes and issued as sniper rifles (above).
This scope is a slight variation of the usual PU 3.5X scope seen on many Mosin-Nagant
Model 91/30s. Note the unique scope mount. To dismantle a PPSh-41for cleaning, you
merely press a button at the rear of the receiver (below). Then tilting the barrel
down exposes the bolt.



The main battle cartridge of the Red Army in World War II was the 7.62x54mmR.
Today factory ammo in the United States is available from DoubleTap (center)
and Winchester (right).

Sub Guns

In terms of submachine guns the Soviets had arguably the most effective and deadly one ever made. Over 5 million were made during WWII and later, making it was the most prolific submachine gun ever. Its name was PPSh-41. Barrel length was 10.5 inches with trademark perforated steel handguard around it. Firing the small 7.62x25mm pistol cartridge PPSh-41’s could accommodate 35-round stick magazines or 71-round drum magazines. With fully-loaded drum magazine a PPSh-41 weighed over 12 pounds.

PPSh-41’s needed high-capacity magazines because their nominal rate of fire was 900 rounds per minute. (I have one and it actually runs over 1,100 rounds per minute with Romanian military surplus ammunition.) It has been written that the Soviets used too light a cartridge in their sub-guns—an 85-grain FMJ bullet at about 1,600 fps—but the true fact is with such a rate of fire enemies seldom got hit with a single bullet. Most victims caught in a PPSh-41 burst garnered several wounds. It was a very effective weapon, especially later in the war when the Red Army sent entire battalions armed with PPSh41’s at the Germans. It was almost impossible for Wehrmacht troops to raise their heads to return fire.

A secondary submachine gun the Soviets did employ in numbers was the PPS-43. Whereas the PPSh-41had a wooden stock, this second SMG was all metal with folding stock. It fired the same cartridge but more sedately at about 700 RPM. The PPS-43 was actually a stopgap measure initially made in the besieged city of Leningrad, but it proved such a good idea that some postwar Warsaw Pact nations produced them for their military forces.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino Photos By Yvonne Venturino


This German Soldier is armed with a PPSh-41 submachine gun.


These German troops are carrying Mosin-Nagant Model 91/30’s.


Early in the war the Germans captured so many small arms from the Red Army
that they reissued them to their own forces. Here captured Mosin-Nagant Model
91/30’s are being stacked. Note many of them have bayonets attached.
Photos courtesy Michael Heidler


The Soviets also turned German small arms on their former owners. This photo
shows a Russian gunner firing a German MG34 while being assisted with a rifleman
with a Mosin-Nagant Model 91/30. Photo courtesy Michael Heidler

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Necessity’s Child

Our Revolution Put An End To British Reliance On American Rifleman.

The United States of America is exceptional for many reasons, not the least of which is the tactical use of the rifle—even before we “officially” existed. The British Army used American rifleman prior to the Revolution, and loyalist rifleman served them during the conflict. But how the British actually employed rifles is little known today.

So many myths arose from the American Revolution they are hard to dispel. In fact, some parts of the story are lost and only pieces are left for us. One thing we know to be true is American riflemen, particularly Timothy Murphy, likely tilted the course of the war for us (2nd Battle of Saratoga, Oct. 1777). Yet a myth centers around the British Army being helpless because of a dependence on musketry in the face of this devastating long-range fire from American riflemen. Not surprisingly, there is more to the story.

British commanders, especially the Highlanders, requested rifles early on, as many American riflemen joined the revolt. This led to the development of a rifle by a German gunsmith in Hanover, called the Pattern 1776 rifle, with 200 built in Hanover, Germany, and 800 of a slightly different version built by Birmingham gunsmiths (the one reviewed here). The rifles arrived in America at the end of 1776 and one of the regiments issued rifles was the infantry and cavalry of the Queen’s Rangers.
Major Robert Rogers, who fought with distinction in the French and Indian War as leader of Rogers’ Rangers had codified Ranger tactics. A loyalist, he formed the Queen’s Rangers from like-minded Americans at the beginning of the Revolution, yet was retired due to “poor health.” Command eventually fell to Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe, who led the Queen’s Rangers—without losing a battle—until the British army’s surrender at Yorktown.

The Queen’s Rangers were a small but complete regiment, having infantry, riflemen, cavalry and artillery (in the form of a 3-pounder Grasshopper gun). By the end of the campaign, the vast majority of Rangers were no longer loyalist Americans, but recruited from Britain, Ireland and Scotland.

The Rangers kept their green uniforms throughout the war even as the rest of the British army switched to red coats. Lt. Col. Simcoe even passed himself off as American General Charles Lee (whose uniform color was green as well) and acquired information from Colonial messengers, whom he subsequently arrested.


Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe commanded the Queen’s Rangers for 5 years. He never lost
a battle and made good use of the bayonet and the rifle. He was an advanced student of
tactics with the both the Brown Bess musket (left) and P1776 rifle (right).
Print purchased from


This watercolor of a rifleman of the Queen’s Rangers was painted circa 1780 by Capt. James Murray
of the Rangers. Note the minimally equipped rifleman carries a powder horn, rifle and perhaps a
pouch on his right side. The original painting is in the possession of the Public Library of
Toronto, Canadian Historical Picture Collection, where this print was purchase


The Rangers were often placed in the van or rearguard as the British Army moved. So deployed, rifle-armed troops of the Queen’s Rangers were used to cover movements by the regiment and, in the case of retreat, could keep the enemy advance in check by accurate fire along the route of march, allowing the regiment unharrassed movement. In Simcoe’s journal, he notes during a retreat from Elizabethtown, “The riflemen of the Queen’s Rangers, now commanded by Serjeant M’Pherson, were eminently distinguished on this retreat. The enemy’s militia, who followed the army, were kept by them at such a distance, that very few shot reached the battalion; and they concealed themselves so admirably that none of them were wounded, whilst they scarcely returned a shot in vain” (1).

In the absence of rifles, the British were not helpless, either. The Journal notes, “The principal which Lieut. Col. Simcoe always inculcated and acted on against riflemen, was to rush upon them; when, if each separate company kept itself compact, there was little danger, even should it be surrounded, from troops who were without bayonets, and whose object it was to fire a single shot with effect: the position of an advancing soldier was calculated to lessen the true aim of the first shot, and his rapidity to prevent the rifleman, who requires some time to load, from giving a second; or at least render his aim uncertain, and his fire by no means formidable” (1).


(Top Photo) Riflemen carried their ammo in a haversack mostly, but a belly box, tin-lined with
compartments would be ideal for paper ammunition, stitched and lubed roundballs and loose
patch and roundballs. A horn such as this would’ve been issued as well. (Bottom Photo) The left hand
target was shot at 50 yards with the standing sight and measures 1-7/8 inches. The right
hand target, with the 2nd leaf raised, was shot at 100 yards and measures 3-3/4 inches.



The Queen’s Rangers were a small force, but considered a full regiment capable of independent
action, since they had cavalry, a single 3-pound Verbruggen gun for artillery (nicknamed “the
Grasshopper”), light infantry armed with musket and bayonet (a Dixie/Pedersoli .75 Brown Bess),
and riflemen armed with the P1776 .62 rifle. The Grasshopper could be towed by one horse,
packed on two horses or carried by eight men. It was crewed by two detached Royal Artillerymen

The Rifle

The P1776 was a well-thought-out rifle designed to cover many types of mission both mounted and on foot on a faraway frontier. In order to facilitate ease of maintenance, the barrel was fitted with a break-off breech and secured to the stock by three captured slides or keys. Thus, the barrel could be easily fieldstripped out of the wood for cleaning and the slides stayed in the stock without chance of loss (a feature usually found only on fine sporting rifles). The British normally used boiling water to clean the black powder fouling and being able to remove the barrel meant the wood wouldn’t get soaked as well.

The captive rammer operated on swivels held in place by a spring to prevent the rammer from flying out of place—an important feature to mounted units. The rammer itself was held in the swivels by a threaded brass nut. Removing this brass nut allowed the rammer to double as a cleaning rod with appropriate tools threaded on. A pair of pins on either side of the barrel stopped the rammer above the bore’s centerline. Modern critics say the rammer mechanism was too fragile in use. Except the rifle was not issued to recruits, only to veterans with proven skills. Since the rifle was issued to both infantry, mounted infantry and cavalry, the rammer arrangement was likely to be more useful than a problem.

One economy measure on British-made P1776’s was leaving off a patchbox, either to hold down cost or because the Army didn’t appreciate its value. The Rangers apparently carried ammunition in their haversacks. The P1776 was not equipped for a bayonet, and infantry were supposed to be issued short swords as a secondary weapon. Generally, riflemen needed to be backed up by muskets (true of the German Jägers, too). In lieu of a short sword, a tomahawk may have been issued. The original Rogers’ Rangers carried them, so it would be no surprise if the Queen’s Rangers did as well.

On the practical side, the barrel was rifled for use of the standard carbine ball with a patch. The muzzle of the iron barrel was slightly swaged so a patched ball could be seated flush in the barrel without using a short starter. Today this is called “coning the muzzle” and is done with a reamer or a hone. A secondary benefit was this allowed the use of the standard carbine paper cartridges in an emergency. Otherwise, riflemen loaded a patched roundball.

Many riflemen stitched the patches to the balls for faster loading in a fight. Author DeWitt Bailey notes, “…what is not stated in the records is that much latitude was left to the individual riflemen and their officers as to how and with what their rifles were loaded” (3).

The issue powder horn did not have a measure. Since German riflemen were expected to work up an accurate load for their individual pieces, it is believed British riflemen were expected to do the same. British riflemen were also issued the much higher quality “super fine, double strength” powder of the same type as their Jäger counterparts rather than musket powder. The rifle had a 3-leaf backsight and a brass blade foresight dovetailed into the barrel.


The rifle was marked with smaller Crown proofs along with the maker’s initials (above). Since John
King and Jeff were the makers, JJ & JK is marked on the barrel. “RP” on the cockade button stands
for “Royal Provincials.” The P1776 was equipped with a 3-leaf sight (below) more at home on a
sporting rifle than a military arm, but it does increase its ranging capabilities. The front
sight (botom) was a simple brass blade dovetailed into the barrel. Note the complex rammer
arrangement. Upon withdrawal, the swivel arms stop on the pins and the rammer becomes centered
over the barrel.



Back To War

In one of Ranger’s last actions before the surrender at Saratoga, a small contingent of 300 Queen’s Rangers including cavalry, held off a larger force estimated at 1,200 men sent by Marquis de La Fayette, and led by Col. Richard Butler. Having raided the nearby countryside destroying boats and foraging for supplies, Lt. Col. Simcoe sent a herd of cattle back towards General Cornwallis and planned to engage the Continentals at Spencer’s Ordinary near Williamsburg, Virginia, on June 26, 1781. Upon arriving at the Ordinary, Simcoe ordered the fences thrown down, and “observing [the ground] remarking to the officers with him, ‘That it was an admirable place for the chicanery of action.’”

Lt. Col. Simcoe’s deception centered on making the Continentals believe he had a far larger body of men than he did. “Lt. Col. Simcoe moved with the cavalry out of sight of the enemy… re-ascending at Lee’s farm, there made a display of the whole force; then fell back again behind the hill, leaving only the front, a detachment of huzzars, both to deceive the enemy in a belief that the whole cavalry… were behind the eminences, waiting for the opportunity to fall upon their right flank: He returned rapidly with the rest of the cavalry undiscovered… formed them out of sight and out of reach of the enemy partly in the road and partly on the left” (1). Simcoe deployed his 3-pounder Grasshopper upon the left of the road along with his Highlanders.

The Continental infantry appeared in force, but refused the right, apparently buying the deception of the cavalry at Lee’s farm. Lt. Col. Simcoe expected no victory—he simply wanted to give the foraging party time to drive all the cattle to Cornwallis, but he was determined to try. To aid the illusion, Simcoe had one shot fired from the Grasshopper at the farthest body of enemy troops.

The Ranger infantry companies advanced across the ploughed field as quickly as practical. Simcoe’s cavalry turned both flanks as the Ranger infantry advanced. Tactics played a role, too. Lt. Charles Dunlop, who was mounted, advanced his company giving his men a signal to lay down whenever the opposition leveled their muskets to fire. “He arrived at the fence where the enemy had been posted with his arms loaded, a conduct that might have been decisive of the action” (1). The force sent by Lafayette retreated in confusion. Lt. Dunlop was uninjured.

To Simcoe’s surprise, the Colonials now bought the idea they were facing a larger force. With so few men against more than 1,200 Continentals, Simcoe was justifiably proud that each and every man performed so well. His Journal relates, “…Lt. Col. Simcoe has ever considered this action as the climax of a campaign of five years, as the result of true discipline acquired in that space by unremitted diligence, toil, and danger, as an honourable victory earned by veteran intrepidity” (1).


Throughout the war, riflemen of the Queen’s Rangers wore a short-tailed green jacket and black
leather mitre cap. On their headdress was a crescent moon, symbol of Diana, Roman goddess of
the hunt, and green, white and black plume. The Pattern 1776 rifle was short, handy and capable.

Fearing the Continentals would reform and advance, Simcoe left his wounded and dead at Spencer’s Ordinary with a surgeon and a flag of truce while he retreated with his newly taken prisoners to find General Cornwallis. Cornwallis returned with Simcoe to Spencer’s Ordinary to find the Continental army had retreated thinking all of Cornwallis’ army was right behind the Rangers. His ploy successful, Simcoe was able to retrieve his wounded, surgeon and dead. One of the dead was the formerly mentioned Sergeant M’Pherson, killed while charging the right flank as part of the mounted riflemen.

On October 19, 1781 Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. Given one ship, Cornwallis allowed Simcoe (whose health had deteriorated in the months since Spencer’s Ordinary) and many loyalist Rangers, including the riflemen and others who possibly faced execution by the Americans to sail to Canada under arms. Likely these P1776 rifles are all that survived. Any captured rifles were probably sold or used up in service on our side.

The Rangers were disbanded by Britain in 1783 (2), and Simcoe retained their colours. The Rangers were reformed by Simcoe, who was appointed Lt. Governor of Upper Canada in 1790. Only a few of the P1776 rifles brought into Canada still exist. During their long service life many were converted to percussion with their rammer/swivel mechanism removed.

The Rangers reformed again for the Canadian Rebellion of 1837, by the son of Secretary of Upper Canada William Jarvis who had held a commission under the original Queen’s Rangers. The Regiment served in WWI and WWII. Recently, Rangers have served on operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia, Namibia and Cyprus. Today the force is known as the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st American Regiment, and the original colors of Simcoe’s Rangers, brought to Canada in the early 1920’s, are on display at the Officer’s Mess at Fort York Armory. They are believed to be the oldest military colors in North America. Not a bad legacy for such a storied regiment from the “other” side, and to be “used up in service” is a proud legacy for any rifle.


Smoke lingers after the 85-grain charge launches its payload. At more than 1,400 fps,
the ball hits with authority, providing an audible “smack” on the target at 100 yards.


Most of the shooting was accomplished with FFFg from Goex, new FFFg
Olde Eynsford (FFg shown) and Swiss. Jeff had a just enough Swiss left
to get chronograph results.

Ammunition & Shooting

The original bore size of the P1776 is 0.630 of an inch with 0.650-inch square grooves (4). The British carbine ball was 0.615 of an inch, wrapped in paper and there are references to the British issuing paper cartridges for use by riflemen in an emergency. The Rifle Shoppe kit comes with a .62-caliber Colerain barrel with round-bottom grooves rather than the original’s square-bottom grooves, so no attempt on my part could replicate actual performance. The muzzle of this rifle isn’t “coned” and after shooting it, why take the chance? (Colerain implores people to shoot the rifle before coning, as it can destroy accuracy if done improperly.)

With a broad, well-shaped buttplate, the P1776 is a very pleasant gun to shoot, even with a hefty charge of 85 grains of FFFg under the 0.600-inch 325-grain roundball. Holt Bodinson recommended I try Shenandoah Patch Lube. It’s amazing stuff and enabled me to shoot without cleaning during several range visits. Through shooting 20 rounds or so per session, I never had a problem loading, even in the dry air here in Northern Nevada.

I worked up paper cartridges for this rifle after a fashion. I had purchased about 100 tied paper tubes meant for .58 Minié balls for a Civil War story some time ago. A Hornady 0.570-inch roundball drops in just as nicely and is sufficiently undersized to be a press fit in the muzzle. A common shibboleth is a tight-fitting patch and ball is necessary for accuracy with a muzzleloader. So I set the target at 25 yards, expecting ho-hum results, and shot offhand. I was surprised to see a 4-shot, 2-1/2-inch group form, albeit low and right. One flyer from flinching a bit took the 5-shots out to 6-3/4 inches. Time for more experiments!


(Top Gun) The P1776 is a well-balanced handy rifle with a swamped octagon barrel of .62
caliber. It is designed more along the lines of German Jäger rifles rather than the
American long rifle.

(Bottom Gun ) The left side features are not as ornamental as often found even on
military arms, as the sideplate is a flat piece of brass.

Notes On Finishing

De Witt Bailey’s book (4) describes the P1776 as having a browned barrel, rather than the usual bright finish found on British arms. Designed by a German gunsmith experienced in Jäger rifles, it only makes sense such a rifle would be browned, and a subdued finish fits its mission.

Jess Melot of the Rifle Shoppe, who took apart the only complete original to make the kit’s molds, said he discovered the barrel was brown under the wood, and the brown had been varnished. While no finish remained on any parts exposed, he believed the lock and other metal parts were likely browned as well, common on German arms. I elected to brown the entire gun.

Afterward, the metal parts were brushed with Windsor & Newton Japan Gold Varnish. The varnish is thin, spreads evenly and when wiped with a lint-free cloth (I used Butch’s Bore Shine patches), evens the coat. It dries to the touch in about 2 hours. I wiped each flat as the varnish was brushed on as it sets up pretty fast.

I finished the English walnut stock with Pilkington’s Gold & Brown Oil Finish. Not completely satisfied with the color, I applied Fiebing’s Light Brown Leather Oil Stain (wear nitrile or latex gloves when handling the stain). The stain went right through the Pilkington’s finish and darkened the wood to a pleasing reddish-gold color.
By Jeff John

Maker: The Rifle Shoppe, Inc.
18420 E. Hefner Road
Jones, Oklahoma 73049
(405) 396-2583

Action type: Flintlock
Caliber: .62
Capacity: 1
Barrel length: 28 inches
Overall length: 44-3/4 inches
Weight: 8-1/2 pounds
Finish: Brown
Sights: 3-leaf rear, brass blade front
Stock: English walnut, oil finish
Price: $1,195 (Kit w/assembled lock for advanced builders)
Price: $2,995 (Completed by the Rifle Shoppe)

(1) Simcoe’s Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corp, Called the Queen’s Rangers, Commanded by Lieut. Col. J. G. Simcoe, During the War of the American Revolution; Now First Published with a Memoir of the Author and Other Additions, A “Print on Demand” book from

(2) The Queen’s Rangers, A pamphlet issued in connection with the presentation of the colours of the Queen’s Rangers to the Public Library of Toronto, by Frederick M. Robins, (OP, ©1923, The Public Library of Toronto)

(3) Small Arms of the British Forces in America, 1664-1815, by DeWitt Bailey, ©2009, hardcover, 368 pages, 400+ illustrations, 8.5×11 inches, $59.99, ISBN: 1-931464-40-5, from Mowbray Publishing, 54 East School Street, Woonsocket, RI 02895 , (800) 999-4697,

(4) British Military Flintlock Rifles: 1740-1840, by DeWitt Bailey, ©2002, hardcover, 264 pages, 320 photos, 8.5×11 inches, $47.95, ISBN: 1-931464-30-0, from Mowbray Publishing

.62 MuzzlELoading Ammo Performance*
Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Energy Group Size
(Brand, Bullet Weight, Yype) (Brand) (Grains Weight) (FPS) (Ft-Lbs) (Inches)
Track of the Wolf 325 Roundball Goex FFFg 85 1,417 1,449 3-3/4
rack of the Wolf 325 Roundball Olde Eynsford FFFg 85 1,464 1,547 3-1/4
Track of the Wolf 325 Roundball Swiss FFFg 85 1,489 1,600 5-1/2**

Notes: Groups the product of 3 shots at 100 yards. Chronograph screens set 10 feet from muzzle. *One Ox Yoke Wonder Wad placed over the powder and a 0.600-inch ball, 0.010-inch patch lubed with Shenandoah Patch & Bore Solvent used on all loads. **A steady crosswind of 20-25 mph arose and really spread the horizontal in this group. The vertical group was 2-1/2 inches.

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Black Rain Ordnance Upscales The AR

As featured in the GUNS Magazine Combat 2014 Special Edition. Get additional great features in this giant edition. Order now!

A Billet-Grade .308/5.56 Matched Set!

I know the people who make Black Rain Ordnance rifles. They live and work near me, just south of Joplin, Mo. I’ve visited their facility, shook their hands, chatted with the people building the rifles, seen their machines and watched them pack and ship guns. I’ve also watched their faces while they talked about their work, their dreams and their rifles. I don’t review this company, these people—or their rifles—lightly. As a matter of fact, it comes after an almost two-year journey getting to know them and their guns.

Justin Harvel, the young president of Black Rain Ordnance, Inc., lives and breathes the brand. He and his staff are shameless, self-proclaimed “gun-guys” as he says. They shoot, compete and constantly strive to deliver the best possible rifles to the market. Rifles, as Justin says, “We use ourselves.”

“We make all our products with the same integrity—across the board,” he explained to me. “They are all American-made and handcrafted, one at a time. Our rifles are accurate, dependable, well-balanced—and good looking. We sometimes get slandered in chat rooms for being “too showy” or “too extreme.” We’re proud of that. They are showy—and they are extreme. The rifles we make are intended to be family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Why not build them the very best we can?

“We make not only practical functioning rifles, but care enough about them to make them look good too! Can’t a girl be smart—and pretty?” said Justin, laughing.

I happen to know Black Rain’s rifles have been called the Lamborghinis of the AR world. To me, it means high performance, over-the-top looks and design and a gut-level appeal you don’t normally get from a conglomeration of steel, alloys and plastic. And frankly, it’s a compliment—to Lamborghini.
Lamborghini, take note.


Deciding On Quality

“The quality will remain, long after the price is forgotten.”—Sir Henry Royce
With the flood of AR platforms hitting the market over the past 10 years or so, what do you need to know in order to select one meeting your needs—or wishes? It’s actually easy.

First off: Target shooting and/or hunting or self-defense? Second: Are you price-point shopping, or do you want something of the highest quality?

And now it gets interesting. Some makers and guns can do both—adequately.
But some makers and guns can do both—excellently.

Now it’s time to refer to Sir Henry Royce’s quote, and to hear what Justin has to say about quality.

“The whole backbone and thought behind our business is to produce the best quality products in the marketplace by using the best materials combined with the best craftsmen in the business. We strive above and beyond, to back-breaking effort to accomplish this,” he explained to me. “I think sometimes people just assume it happens, like we just snap our fingers and miraculously rifles appear. We must be doing something right if it seems that easy—because I promise you it’s not! The dedication, the blood, sweat and yes, there’ve been tears, is the key.”

But I asked him, what about growth? Black Rain’s footprint has grown over the past few years. The market has exploded, and experienced buyers have learned quality is where it’s at. What happens to the small-shop mentality when the need to produce looms large? How has Black Rain kept their high standards?

“The bigger we get, the harder it becomes,” Justin told me seriously. “At some point then, soon, you may have neither. It’s a struggle of quality versus quantity, and we have weekly meetings to address this. Everyone in our shop is sensitive to it. But we have an edge over most ‘factory’ makers. A lot of the men and women who work here, who build the rifles, who make the parts, who inspect, label and ship our guns—are part owners in Black Rain Ordnance. They have an extra dog in the fight when it comes to our quest for consistent quality. It’s not just a paycheck for them, it’s their name on the gun too,” said Justin quietly.

Why Do We Care?

I’ve built this story to this point for a reason. I’m in my early-middles, and while I seem to still be learning so much, one thing I know for a fact is the people behind a product are what makes it all work. The people behind a product tell you everything you need to know about what they produce. And this is the case with Black Rain.

If you met Justin, or anyone at Black Rain, I know you’d come away from them thinking: “Whatever this person does, I would trust it.” If they made bricks, or automobile brakes, or shaped wood to finished dimensions, or did the final inspection on the airplane you were about to board, you could trust the work.

Which leads us neatly to the rifles in question.


The 5.56

Black Rain Ordnance, Inc. makes many models. Indeed, you can easily match your chore to a rifle in their inventory. But I like to think about the crossover effect. How do you do many jobs with one tool, yet do each job well?

The plainly named, but remarkable, “BRO-PG9” 5.56 answers that question. Are you a cop on a beat? Do you need an uncompromising fighting rifle? Here it is. Do you have a family and are concerned about the state of affairs in the country today and want a rifle you could call upon to defend your family? Stop here.

On the lighter side, do you enjoy chasing prairie dogs, coyotes who harass the livestock, need to cull the deer in the cornfield, the pigs ripping up your crops or simply enjoy making small groups of bullet holes in targets “way out there?” Look no further.

As close to a “jack-of-all-trades” and master of them all as you can get when it comes to a 5.56 AR platform. Quality oozes from every “just-so” curve or compellingly flat surface on the PG9. I actually found myself staring at it, trying to find fault with the workmanship. I wasted my time.

Made from 7075 T6 Billet aircraft-grade aluminum, the receivers of both rifles showcase their “NorGuard” finish, a tough and durable hard coat. The bolt and full-auto carrier group is nickel boron-coated and cleans effortlessly.

The barrel is a 16″ straight-fluted machined wonder, with 1×8″ rifling and milled pineapple flash suppressor. It boasts a .223 Wylde chamber and a modified throat for improved accuracy. It also, conveniently, allows shooters to shoot both .223 and 5.56 NATO with aplomb. The direct gas-impingement system is complete with an adjustable, micro, low profile gas block. Tune the PG9 to your favorite load.

The 9″ mid-length quad rail covers the operating system, giving the shooter maximum availability to mount accessories. The sturdy, yet crisp 3.5 pounds single unit triggers are single stage and nonadjustable. Trust me, you won’t need to adjust it. Weighing in at 6 pounds. 7 ounces with a total length of about 32.5″, the PG9 comes complete with a soft case, sling and one 30-round, MAGPUL PMAG.
Did I mention it has a lifetime guarantee?

This rifle is eminently shootable, exudes quality, shows some of the best sheer workmanship I’ve seen in any gun, ever, and is about as turn-key as you could ask. What custom touches would I add?

I’ll admit up front, I’m no AR expert. But I’ve been around them since the first triangular forend models from Colt, shot most of them, and after 24-odd years in the field as a cop, have a good understanding of what a defensive rifle might need to be. Terms like “rugged, best-quality materials,” and “advanced engineering touches” come to mind. Like most things, if it feels right—it likely is right. The Black Rain PG9 feels right. At $2,109 MSRP, it’s a hell of a lot of rifle for the money and you simply could not build one, engineered as well as this, for that same investment.
Would I trust my life to it?

Yes. I’m buying this rifle to use as my personal, defensive rifle. There you go. Money where the mouth is, and all that.


Using a “tactical” scope like the Meopta MeoTac 1-4×22 RD on
the PG14, Roy achieved about 1″ groups at 100 yards with
multiple loads.

A .308

The bigger brother, for lack of a better way of thinking, to the PG9, the BRO-PG14, takes things to the next level. Workmanship, quality of construction and materials mirrors that of the PG9 (and all of Black Rain’s rifles), but stepping up to the .308/7.62 NATO raises the bar. I like to call this a “final solution” rifle. If something really needs doing, this rifle will do it.

Hunting? Virtually anything walking in North America. Target shooting? How far would you like to try? A police rifle for handling the worst society has to offer? Here’s your beat partner. It’s brawny (almost 9 pounds), brash, speaks with authority and offers guilt-edged accuracy. When it’s resting in your hands it gives you confidence you can handle the threat at hand.

Like the PG9, the PG14 in .308 has a 7075 T6 billet aircraft-grade aluminum receiver with Black Rain’s NorGuard finish. The bolt and carrier group is also nickel boron coated and runs smoothly. The .308/7.62 NATO 18″ stainless, straight-fluted machined barrel with 1×11″ rifling also has a milled pineapple flash suppressor.

Mirroring the 5.56, the PG14 offers a direct gas-impingement system with an adjustable, micro, low profile gas block. The 12″ rifle-length quad rail covers the operating system too, giving the user a wide range of options for mounting accessories. Black Rain’s 3.5 lb, single-unit trigger is installed and is non-adjustable. The total length is 37″ (a bit longer than the 5.56) and comes complete with tactical soft case, sling and one 20-round. MAGPUL PMAG. And, the lifetime Black Rain warranty applies, of course. The price for all this peace of mind is $2,699 MSRP. And keep Sir Henry Royce’s quote in mind. This rifle will pay for itself many times over during the decades your family owns it.

For both of these rifles, the list of specific engineering touches is extensive, and if you’re curious to know more specifics, I think time spent on the Black Rain website would be time well spent. Keep in mind, a $50 soft case and $50 single-point sling are part of this package. When combined with a lifetime warranty, suddenly prices become understandable.


I put a Redfield Counterstrike Red Dot sight on the PG9 and a Meopta MeoTac 1-4×22 RD illuminated optical scope on the PG14 for targeting and general shooting. Depending upon the use, either optic would work well on either the 5.56 or the .308.

Targeting actually didn’t deliver any surprises. The build quality is obvious as you run the guns, with clear, clean sounds and feels apparent as the bolt cycles and controls are manipulated. If it should go “snick,” it does, and if something should “lock”—it locks. Triggers on both rifles were sure and crisp. With several hundred assorted loads through each rifle, there were no malfunctions. We used the Magpul mags supplied and standard military issue AR mags on the 5.56. All worked reliably.

Something did crop up during initial targeting. I had some heavy-bulleted 5.56 loads on-hand from Black Hills and AYSM, from 70-grains to 77-grains, and one or two other weights in that range. The PG9 simply didn’t like the heavy bullets, and the 77-grain loads actually key-holed. That’s not unusual for any .223 caliber rifle, and even if the rifling rate of twist seems like it should stabilize them, other factors may enter into the equation. When using 55 to 65-grain bullets, the PG9 delivered laser-like accuracy at our 100-yard targets.

The 4 MOA dot of the Redfield hindered precise accuracy, but by centering the dot on the entire target I was able to get a very consistent hold. Groups hovering at the 1″ level were easily possible (ammunition-dependant), and there is no doubt in my mind if you scoped this rifle with a cross-hair optic you could easily break .75″, and with some load testing, I’d wager you could chase .5″. Considering a deer only needs about a paper plate-sized group to bring home the meat, I think you could rest easy. This rifle is a real shooter and it was a pleasure to use. Bragging rights are definitely involved.

The PG14 handled the Federal 168-grain Match load, Nosler Custom 168-grain Custom Competition and Black Hill’s 168-grain loads perfectly, delivering bolt-action-like accuracy hovering around 1″ at 100. I also tried the 150-grain Hornady GMX loaded by Black Hills with similar results. In case you’re going hunting, the Federal Premium Trophy Bonded Bear Claw 165-grain went into a tidy 1.25″ group.

The Meopta scope on the PG14 is a “tactical” scope, so at only 1-4 power, is more at home for fast work. The true 1x magnification lets you keep both eyes open when close-in and the illuminated reticle allows you to pick up the abbreviated “T” crosshair easily. With a true target scope and some care, this is a sub-1″ rifle for sure. It’s amazing—and satisfying—to feel the trigger break and see .30 caliber holes virtually touching one another on that 100-yard target. Pointing your finger and smiting at a distance can be real.


Like the PG9, the PG14 has a 7075 T6 billet aircraft-grade
aluminum receiver with Black Rain’s NorGuard finish.

A Final Thought

Justin told me, “We have always—no matter what—been fair and honest with people. Customer service is something easy to beat big corporate America at—and I think it’s almost expected a smaller company does just that. It’s another reason people choose our rifles over the big guys. It’s not uncommon when someone calls with a question that I’ll answer the phone personally, or the vice president, or general manager—you’ll never be shunted off to a long wait on a customer service line.”

And that’s important, and is yet another reason for Black Rain’s success. I’m going to leave you with one more thing striking a chord with me. Regardless of how busy they are, they respond to the needs of existing customers—immediately.

Explains Justin, “We have a policy here any returned merchandise, no matter the reason, goes back out the same day. Our UPS truck drops off packages on our dock in the early morning and we have two technicians who are assigned to stop what they are doing and jump on these items. Whatever needs to be fixed, replaced, tested or whatever the need is, it’s done immediately, and we get them back out the door when UPS picks up at 5:00 the same afternoon.”

Quality, follow-up, customer service, a lifetime warranty and same-day turn-around for repairs or attention to your needs is remarkable if you ask me. And something most of the “big guys” can only dream about.
These are solidly built rifles—from exceptional people.

When you call, say hi to the Black Rain family from us, would you? 
By Roy Huntington  
Photos: Robbie Barrkman

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Happy 35th Anniversary S&W L-Frame!

9×7= A Different Spin. S&W’s Pro Series
Model 986 Is An Upscale Take On The 9mm
Revolver Concept.

Introduced in 2014, the Pro Series 986 L-Frame is very much a niche gun, but it actually fills more niches than you may think. In the Open Class of ICORE action revolver shooting, many would prefer the 8-shot moon clips of the bigger N-frame version of this gun, the 929. However, weighing about the same as a 4-inch K-Frame .357 Combat Magnum and fitted with a 5-inch barrel, the 986 seems to track faster between targets. For some, that’s worth losing a shot for.

Some folks just don’t trust autos and cleave to the revolver for personal defense, but appreciate the relatively low price of 9mm practice ammo. Because a moon clip is generally faster than a speedloader, a 9mm revolver comes into its own in a crisis. And of course, there’s the very mild recoil of the 9mm in a relatively hefty L-Frame.

One reason some of us cherish our .45 ACP S&W revolvers is that every now and then, our reload recipes for our .45 autos come out too short or too light in the powder charge to cycle our square guns. So our revolvers make a handy garbage disposal for those reloads (and it’s a lot more fun than disassembling ammo). The same will be true for 9mm revolver/auto owners.

My friend Roger Clark has made his Bill Pfeil-tuned 986 his daily carry gun in a hip holster made by a local craftsman. Roger is tall, so he conceals the gun well and appreciates its light recoil, fast reloading, excellent handling and reliability.

It’s subjective, but I love the S&W Performance Center’s signature barrel style on this gun. Gracefully tapered, it pleases both the eye and the hand with exquisite balance and fast handling. The light titanium alloy cylinder is a help here. And given the range of 9mm loads, its standard S&W adjustable sight is almost a necessity.



Mas runs the 986 over an Oehler chronograph. There was never a
misfire with moon-clipped 9mm rounds of any flavor in our test 986.
The tapering barrel and fiber-optic front sight of the 986 are
useful touches.

The double-action trigger pull was a reasonably smooth 14 pounds. Heavy is necessary here, because springy moon clips create headspace and ignition issues, requiring a hard smack of the hammer. The single-action pull weight was a bit over 4 pounds and very crisp.

As with the N-Frame 929 9mm 8-shooter, you can’t just drop rimless cartridges into a 986’s chambers and fire away, punching the empties out with a pencil or plucking them out with a fingernail. We hand-fed 7 rounds into the 986’s chambers, stroked the trigger seven times, and got seven clicks with no “bangs.” The firing pin barely touched a couple of primers and never touched most. Obviously, moon clips are necessary with the 986.

To find out how the 9mm would handle the jump from a revolver’s firing chamber to the forcing cone, across the velocity-bleeding barrel/cylinder we ran four of our accuracy-testing loads over an Oehler chronograph (see chart). For a good home defense load, I chose 115-grain Federal 9BPLE, a +P+ jacketed hollowpoint. Although my 5-shot group measured 3.30, with the best three in 1.65 inches. This load pretty much “shot to the sights,” point-of-aim vis-à-vis point of impact.

Hunting with a 9mm revolver does not seem to compute, but if it’s all you’ve got, it’s better than a sharp stick. For dangerous game, we’d want something like the Buffalo Bore 124-grain Penetrator round, loaded to +P+ pressure with a solidly jacketed flatnose bullet which the 986 grouped slightly above the other loads, but right to point-of-aim. Ejection was sticky, and we had to hammer the ejector rod to get the spent moon clips out. Probably not the best load for our test sample.


Roger Clark wields his Bill Pfeil-slicked S&W 986. He’s very happy with it.


This ain’t your daddy’s auto-caliber revolver. Without moon clips, cartridges seat to
different levels in the chambers (above). Don’t shoot the 986 without moon clips!
Seven pulls of the trigger later, none of the rounds chambered without moon clip fired,
some were untouched and some only very slightly dented by firing pin. Remington-UMC
147-grain 9mm ammo gave this fine 5-shot group (below) at 25 yards from the 986.


As the test approached deadline, we received two flavors of Nosler’s excellent Match Grade ammo, both JHP’s. We did not have time to chronograph them, but the 115-grain was factory spec’d for a sedate 1,170 fps, while the 124 is loaded to a nominal 1,200 fps. With the 115-grain load we got 3.45-inch groups (best three in 1.95). The 124 grain gave us 2.65 (best three in 1.05).

Back in the 1970’s, I debriefed Illinois Trooper Ken Kaas, whose department was the only state police agency issuing semi-auto’s instead of 6-shot revolvers at the time. He got into a gunfight with a bad guy who opened fire on him with a semi-automatic shotgun from behind hard cover, and was smart enough to keep track of his opponent’s shots. As Kaas fired his sixth round, the gunman jumped up and rushed toward Kaas, who promptly dropped him with a bullet through the liver. Later, in custody at a hospital, his attacker was heard to tell his lawyer, “He (the trooper) fired all six!” April Fools! Trooper Kaas had a seventh round waiting in his issue S&W Model 39.

I shot the late, lamented Second Chance bowling pin match from the mid-1970’s until the last one in the late ’90’s. I lost count of how many revolver shooters had left one pin standing after their six shots were expended, and had to take time to reload or go to another gun, when one more shot would have stopped the stopwatches and allowed them to clear the table with a prize-winning time. And at Bianchi Cup, I saw one LAPD pistol team member who was in the lead lose the title when he short-stroked his S&W .38 Special on one shot, and didn’t have time to run through the cylinder again before the moving target disappeared behind its impenetrable barricade.

So, yes, my revolver brothers, the 7th shot does bring value to the table.
By Massad Ayoob



The Perfect Packin’ Pistol is the Smith & Wesson’s Model 69 .44 Magnum

Over the past 35 years Smith & Wesson has mostly offered L-Frame sixguns in .357 Magnum and, most notably, a 5-shot .44 Special including the Model 696 and the Mountain Light Model 396. Now Smith & Wesson has introduced the L-Frame M69 revolver, which to my way of thinking is just about the most Perfect Packin’ Pistol double-action style ever offered by Smith & Wesson.

A Perfect Packin’ Pistol was defined by yours truly too many years ago as an easy carrying sixgun, either double or single action, with a barrel length of 4 to 5-1/2 inches, and chambered in a cartridge which would handle anything likely to be encountered. Of course, the chambering would depend upon where the PPP was being carried and could be anything from .22 Long Rifle up to one of the really big-bore magnums.

Smith & Wesson has reach the epitome of Perfect Packin’ Pistols with the Model 69 Combat Magnum chambered in .44 Magnum. This is a stainless steel, 5-shot, 4-1/4-inch double-action sixgun. Sights are typical S&W adjustables with a white outline rear sight matched up with a red ramp front sight. The frame screws, hammer, trigger and cylinder release as well as the front and rear sight are matte black finish and contrast nicely with the matte stainless steel of the rest of this excellent big-bore revolver.

The front of the cylinder is chamfered for easy entrance into a holster and the muzzle has a deep concave crown, which protects the rifling. The right side of the barrel is marked in two lines with “.44 Magnum” and “Combat Magnum.” The grips are wrap around fingergroove-style, pebble-grained rubber. Single-action trigger pull is 4-1/4 pounds while the double action measures 14 pounds. The cylinder locks at the front of the frame with a modernized version of the Triple-Lock set up instead of locking at the front of the ejector rod. Since this is a 5-shot .44 Magnum the locking bolt notches on the cylinder are in between chambers so there is no weak spot on each chamber.

Test firing of this .44 Combat Magnum began with .44 Special loads with muzzle velocities in the 800 to 1,000 fps neighborhood. Results were most gratifying and especially so because of the fact my utility loads assembled with 7.5 grains of Unique under the Oregon Trail 240-grain SWC delivered 900+ fps and grouped into just over 1 inch. I then switched to .44 Magnum handloads using 15 different loads with muzzle velocities in the same range as my .44 Special loads. Results also were quite gratifying with many loads in the 1-inch category. My .44 Magnum utility load also using the Oregon Trail 240-grain SWC this time over 8.0 grains of Universal clocked out at 1,000 fps and grouped just as did the .44 Special load. I got the same results with the RCBS 44-250KT bullet over 17.0 grains of 2400. For everyday use any of these loads will handle 99 percent of my needs.


The Smith & Wesson .44 Combat Magnum was tested with a variety of factory .44 Magnum loads,
and John found during shooting the M69 .44 it earned high marks as a “Perfect Packin’ Pistol.”

I put it off long enough. Now it was time to try .44 Magnum loads. I was not looking forward to shooting full-house loads in this relatively lightweight pistol, however the grip proved to be exceptionally capable of reducing felt recoil. Normally, I prefer to fit custom grips to any of my sixguns, however these factory grips are about as perfect as one is likely to find for handling recoil of the .44 Magnum.

Six different .44 Magnum factory loads were put through the S&W .44 Combat Magnum with all loads shooting right into the 1-inch category or less. These loads consisted of everything from Federal 180-grain JHP’s at 1,450+ fps to Garrett Cartridges of Texas 310-grain Hard Cast Hammerheads at just under 1,000 fps. This load is especially designed for use in 4-inch sixguns providing maximum penetration against critters—most notably bears—which can scratch, claw and bite.

My most used hunting .44 Magnum load over the last couple decades has been the Black Hills 240-grain JHP load using Hornady XTP’s. I’ve taken 24 Texas whitetails and an Idaho cougar all with 1-shot kills using this load. In the Model 69 Combat Magnum it delivered just over 1,100 fps and groups of 1-inch. This was my first time to try HPR ammunition and their 240-grain JHP shot exceptionally well at just over 1,200 fps and a group under 1-inch. The most accurate load proved to be the CCI Blazer 200-grain JHP at 1,200 fps and a 3/4-inch group. What all this shows is the amazing versatility of this 5-shooter with the ability to shoot everything well from lightweight to heavyweight bullets and from jacketed to hard cast.


Targets shot with .44 Magnum factory loads in the Smith & Wesson
.44 Combat Magnum show fine performance.


Shooting with .44 Magnum handloads in the Smith & Wesson Model
69 show how accurate the new revolver is.


Modestly powerful .44 Special handloads in the Smith & Wesson Model
69 were accurate and pleasant.

My first Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum dates back to the early 1960’s when I purchased a 4- and a 6-1/2-inch Model 29. Over the years I have added several more including examples of pre-29’s and they are some of my most prized sixguns. This latest Perfect Packin’ Pistol Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum has also become an instant favorite. It looks great and shoots great. Nearly everything about it is just right. No wide hammer and trigger to get in the way of a real working sixgun and the trigger face is smooth for easy double-action shooting.

The red ramp front sight insert is a bother to my eyes in bright sunlight but this is a subjective problem easily cured. I can use it with everything from standard 750 fps .44 Special loads up to full house Magnum loads and it shoots accurately and handles well. I would call it the most useful .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson has produced since the original .44 Magnum Model 29 disappeared in the waning years of the last century. I like it.
By John Taffin

Click Here To View Side By Side Photo Comparisons Of The Model 9mm 986 and Model 44Mag 69


In Phoenix, Mas wins the 2011 South Mountain Regional IDPA Championship in Stock
Service Revolver with a Bob Lloyd-tuned 4-inch 686 shooting smoky .38 Special
158-grain lead ammo.

S&W 686 Memories

By Massad Ayoob

1980: The sea change to autos was still just over the horizon, and the big thing in police service revolvers was the switch from .38 Special to .357 Magnum, with full Mag loads in training. The latter was more than the K-Frame Combat Magnum was designed for, and S&W introduced the 586 (chrome-molybdenum steel in blue or nickel) and its stainless twin, the 686 on a “.41-size” L-Frame. Dimensions including weight almost exactly duplicated the Colt Python, but at a much lower price. The 686 was an instant hit, and remains one of Smith & Wesson’s best-selling revolvers to this day.

I liked it, but already having Pythons didn’t own one until Andy Cannon and I collaborated on his “Street-L,” with enhanced action and an integral expansion chamber recoil compensator he machined out of the S&W barrel itself, which only slightly reduced velocity but hugely reduced Magnum recoil and muzzle jump. I carried it on duty sometimes, and one year fitted it with Jarvis barrel weight and Pro-Point red dot optic, and shot it at Bianchi Cup.

Over the years I acquired a 2.5-inch 686 (ideal for PPC “snubby” events) and a 6-inch Mag-na-Port Custom 686-Plus 7-shooter I won at Second Chance. However, the one I’ve spent most time with is a 4-inch stock configuration with shaved cylinder latch, bobbed hammer, and superb action job by Bob Lloyd. It was the gun I used when I shot Stock Service Revolver at the IDPA World Championships, and it won a few state and regional IDPA championships for me. For roughly 3-1/2 decades, the Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum has served me well, and I’m one of the many who consider it a modern classic.


This early 1980’s S&W 586 .357 Magnum set the stage for 35 years of success for
the revolver. Lately, the platform has grown into the Model 69 .44 Magnum and
Model 986 9mm.

First Encounters With The L-Frame

By John Taffin

More than 25 years ago I was assigned a comprehensive article on the history and use of the .357 Magnum. I already had several .357’s including the K-Frame Model 19 Combat Magnum and the Model 27 N-Frame. The assignment gave me an excuse to add the newest Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum at the time, the L-Frame. The Model 19 when fully loaded was nearly 1/2-pound lighter than the Model 27 and was also less bulky. However, by the 1980’s, some Combat Magnum Model 19 shooters as well as those using its stainless steel counterpart, the Model 66, were complaining the K-Frame would not hold up to modern ammunition.

Border Patrol Inspector Bill Jordan originally devised the K-Frame Magnum as one to be practiced with using .38 Specials and fed .357’s for serious business. When shooters started pushing thousands of rounds of Magnum ammunition through the 19/66 some problems developed with forcing cone wear and guns shooting loose. Since the vast majority of my loads for my Model 19 had been assembled with cast bullets I had not experienced any of these problems. Nevertheless I ordered a blue 4-inch L-Frame Model 586 which was known as the Distinguished Combat Magnum. I found it weighed just 1-ounce less than the original Model 27, however, the weight was in the heavy underlug barrel and increased size at the forcing cone.

Shortly after receiving my L-Frame I was invited to take part in the qualification course with the local Sheriff’s Department. At the time the duty weapon was the 4-inch Model 586 equipped with target stocks. I soon discovered several women deputies were having a difficult time with the Model 586 because the grip was much too large for their hands. I was able to show them what could be done by either slimming down the factory grips or fitting their revolver with much smaller custom grips which fit their hands. It made a huge difference in their ability to shoot well. Currently my L-Frame .357 consists of a nickel-plated 6-inch Model 586 which handles any .357 load with ease, while my original 4-inch Model 586 has been converted to .41 Special.


Model 986 ( Left Gun )
Maker: S&W
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
(800) 831-0852

Action: Double-action revolver
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
Capacity: 7
Barrel length: 5 inches
Overall length: 10.5 inches
Sights: Fully adjustable rear
Patridge front, Weight: 34.9 ounces
Grips: Synthetic
Material: Stainless steel frame, titanium alloy cylinder
Price: $1,149

Model 69 ( Right Gun )
Combat Magnum
Maker: S&W
2100 Roosevelt Avenue
Springfield, MA 01104
(800) 331-0852

Action Type: Double action
Caliber: .44 Magnum
Capacity: 5
Barrel Length: 4-1/4 inches
Overall Length: 9-3/4 inches
Weight: 37 ounces
Finish: Stainless steel
Sights: White outline adjustable rear, red ramp front
Grips: Finger-groove rubber
Price: $849

Click Here To See Performance Charts


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