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More Than A Number

The 9mm Knows No Bounds.

Life can be ironic. Sometimes with age a subject once considered boring becomes interesting, for me that has been 9mm handguns. There was a time in the 1980’s when just hearing the word “9mm” put me on edge. The magazine I worked for then was plain goofy about having 9mm handguns on the cover and nearly every month they wanted a feature article about one or another 9mm pistol. I didn’t own a single 9mm handgun of any sort.

Nowadays that’s not the case. I have lots of 9mm’s. Be sure of one thing: if you throw out the term 9mm every listener’s brain will register 9mm Luger. That cartridge was actually introduced as 9mm Parabellum, the word meaning “for war” in Latin. Although by far the most popular and best known of 9mm cartridges, it is far from the only one. Some long obsolete ones are 9mm Glisenti from Italy or the 9mm Mauser from Germany or the Japanese 9mm Revolver.

There are even 9mm’s that are not called 9mm. The .357 SIG shoots the same bullets as 9mm Luger but its case has no similarities to it. Although originally using 0.356-inch bullets, the .38 Super now shoots the same diameter jacketed bullets as 9mm Luger. The .380 ACP also uses the same diameter bullets as 9mm Luger but requires a different shell holder. In Europe the .380 is called 9mm Kurz (German for “short”). I don’t want to forget the old .38 Colt Automatic. Dimensionally, it is exactly the same as the .38 Super but loaded to much lower pressure levels. You can safely fire .38 Colt Automatic rounds in .38 Super pistols but for heaven’s sake don’t go stuffing .38 Super in some old weak .38 Colt Auto pistol. Because of that possibility the ammo factories today stamp .38 Super case heads with a +P.

Then there is at least one round named 9mm but it really isn’t by the size of its bullets. That is the 9mm Makarov, which originated in the Soviet Union after World War II. Where standard bullet diameter for 9mm Luger and most everything else mentioned in the above paragraph is 0.355-inch, the 9mm Makarov uses 0.363 to 0.365-inch bullets depending on which brand you buy. That makes it more like a 9.2mm. However, it does use the same shell holder for reloading as the 9mm Luger/Parabellum.

Are you confused? Just wait. The 9mm Luger, 9mm Kurz (.380 ACP), .357 SIG and 9mm Makarov cartridge cases are all rimless. They are designed to headspace on the case mouth. The .357 SIG is a bottleneck case design, which is almost unique among modern autoloading handgun cartridges. Older bottlenecked pistol rounds such as .30 Luger and .30 Mauser headspace on the case shoulder just like a .30-06 or .270 Winchester. Therefore their case mouths could be roll-crimped onto bullets. Not the .357 SIG. For some reason its designers decided it should headspace on the case mouth just like traditional straight-cased autoloading pistol cartridges. Therefore, .357 SIG rounds require crimping of the case-to-bullet by the taper-crimp method.

Back in my teen-age years in the 1960’s, the word 9mm not only usually meant 9mm Luger/Parabellum but it also usually meant the “Luger” version of pistol because tons of them had come back in soldiers’ duffle bags after two world wars. Interestingly, there never was a “Luger” factory. They were made in several different factories in Germany, Switzerland and even some in England. It took me decades past the 1960’s but I now have three Lugers. Two are standard 4-inch barreled P08’s. (German designation meaning “Pistole 1908”). However one is the Artillery version with 8-inch barrel and detachable shoulder stock, which was actually used as an “assault carbine” by German Sturmtruppen (storm troops) in World War I.


The five 9mm handguns currently part of Duke’s WWII collection include (from left, top to bottom)
a John Inglis Hi-Power, John Inglis Hi-Power with shoulder stock as ordered by the Nationalist Chinese,
an FN Hi-Power with Nazi markings and (right) a German issue P08 (Luger) and P38. Germany was the
first nation to adopt a full-size 9mm pistol with double action trigger mechanism. It was designed
by the Walther firm and adopted in 1938.


Duke’s most recently acquired P08 “Luger” is the WWI artillery version with
8-inch barrel, high-capacity drum magazine and shoulder stock.


This is Duke’s newest “9mm.” It is a Colt 1911 Gov’t Model finished
in high polish stainless steel and chambered in .38 Super.

m fact is it was possible in WWII for combatants on both sides to be shooting at one another with the same model of handgun, although there was an ocean between their manufacturers. Those pistols were the FN and Inglis Hi-Powers, also called P35’s. The Fabrique Nationale (FN) factory in Belgium was making those upon John M. Browning’s basic patents when WWII erupted. The German Wehrmacht quickly overran Belgium but instructed the FN factory to continue making weapons. Of course they all went to Germany’s military forces.

The John Inglis Company of Canada got some FN Hi-Power pistols and reverse engineered them. According to my sources the first one came off the production lines in early 1944. Naturally Canadian forces operating under British control got some and so did other British special operations units such as paratroopers and commandos. The Nationalist Chinese Government also ordered Inglis Hi-Powers but wanted them to come with wooden holster/shoulder stocks. Those Inglis Hi-Powers can be identified by the CH as part of their serial numbers.

Because the Hi-Power design was based on a 13-round magazine, it was much appreciated among WWII troops. Some authors even rate it as the best of all WWII handguns. However, another 9mm pistol rivaled it for that title. That was Germany’s P38, as designed by the Walther Company. It still only held the 8 rounds as did the Luger but its primary selling point was a double-action trigger mechanism. No safety had to be disengaged prior to getting off the first shot as did Lugers or Hi-Powers (or most other 9mm pistols of that era if they were to be carried with a round chambered).

I have two Inglis Hi-Powers, an FN with Nazi markings and also a German P38 to go along with my three Lugers. All will deliver suitable accuracy. The Lugers are very sensitive to ammunition, feeding reliably only with FMJ type bullets and sometimes not with all of them. The P38 also occasionally has a failure to function, usually with the fired cartridge not completely clearing the pistol. None of my Hi-Powers ever seem to fail me. Those things are just plain reliable, which is probably why they are still being carried by some nations’ soldiers.

With all the gun magazine press modern concealed carry pistols get, usually chambered in .380 ACP or 9mm Luger, it is worth noting the genre is not new. Colt sold their “hammerless pocket pistols” in excess of a million between 1903 and 1945. Most of them were .25 or .32 ACP but in 3rd place was .380 ACP. I have a 1935 Colt catalog with such priced at $20.50 and 75¢ for extra magazines. They weigh a 1-1/2 pounds, are 6-3/4 inches long with 3-3/4-inch barrel and came either blued or fully nickel-plated. They had two safeties: one a knurled lever on the left side and the other a grip safety such as was always installed on Colt 1911’s. That latter one was a good idea for a pistol meant for pocket carry.


Duke has found that the P08 “Luger” (right) is very finicky about functioning with anything
but FMJ roundnose bullets while the FN P35 “Hi-Power” (left) feeds well with all types of loads.


The Japanese adopted a 9mm revolver late in the 19th century but
continued to issue it during WWII. It was named the Type 26.


For reloading the 9mm Luger (Parabellum) Duke uses both lead alloy bullets and jacketed bullets.
From left (above) 9mm NATO factory load, handload with Lyman 356242 (120 grains), handload with
Oregon Trail 124-grain roundnose, and handload with Zero Bullet Company 115-grain FMJ. The
“9mm’s” Duke has been shooting and reloading for include (below, left to right) the 9mm Kurz
(.380 Auto), 9mm Makarov, 9mm Luger (Parabellum) 9mm Japanese Revolver and .38 Super.


A reader recently took me to task for calling my Colt .380 Pocket Model a “Model 1908.” In the strict sense he was correct. Colt never called them such. But neither did they ever call their .36 Navy revolvers “Model 1851.” Both Model 1908 and Model 1851 are terms devised by modern collectors. My Colt got that date because it was the year .380 ACP was added as a caliber option. Here’s another fine idea for a pistol termed “Pocket Model.” There is nary a sharp edge anywhere on it. It is lacking a bit in the sight department, but it was meant for only one thing—close range personal protection.

The same thing goes for my Hungarian-made PA63 9mm Makarov. Its purpose is to ensure my and my wife’s safety. How did a gun’riter so focused on Old West and other historical firearms come to appreciate a knockoff of the Walter PP? Because it was priced at only a C-note, is why! With its aluminum frame, the little thing has more recoil than one would ever expect from a load firing a 95-grain bullet. For a while back in the 1990’s its military surplus ammunition was plentiful. Not so much today, but good American-made factory loads are around.

My oddest 9mm handgun is one of the Japanese Type 26 9mm revolvers. This was their standard handgun for cavalrymen in the early 20th century but then in WWII it was mostly given to non-commissioned officers. It is double-action only, with a top-break mechanism for loading and unloading. Its military ammunition was rated as having a 149-grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 750 fps. (Source: Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century 7th Edition). Commercial factory ammunition is and always has been nonexistent but handloads can be put together by altering .38 Special cases. They need be shortened to 0.86-inch and rim thickness narrowed to 0.050-inch. Then 147-grain 9mm lead alloy bullets work perfectly.

My newest “9mm” is a .38 Super. Lately I got it into my head that I needed a shiny .38 Super and bought the first one encountered. It is actually highly polished stainless steel Colt 1911, which according to the Internet was from an overrun actually intended for export “south of the border.” At this writing I’ve barely shot it, but plan an extensive reloading project for it after this Montana winter.

The above are five 9mm rounds, which I’ve been shooting and for which I’ve been reloading. And I have not even scratched the 9mm surface yet, there are many others such as 9mm Steyr, 9mm Browning and 9mm Largo and they may need my attention someday.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Game-Saving Bullet Points

Quick Kills And Minimal Meat-Mangling Don’t
HaveTo Be Mutually Exclusive. But Shot
Placement And Projectile Selection Are Critical.

A few years ago a rant appeared in the classified section of a major West Coast newspaper, abusing hunters for killing wild animals when they could easily shop in “the stores where meat is made.” The paragraph may have been a satire on urban ignorance, but how many Americans do feel hunting and eating wild game is somehow uncivilized?

I’ve even had an avid shooter ask, rather belligerently, if I “actually needed the meat in the 21st century.” I replied by asking if he “actually needed guns to protect his family,” when his civilized 21st-century city had a police force numbering in the thousands.

There’s a good supermarket in our small Montana town where my wife and I frequently shop, but aside from eating in restaurants now and then, the vast majority of the meat we eat comes from wild game we killed, butchered and stacked in our freezers. Hunting provides not only an independence closely related to being able to defend ourselves, but wild meat has more varied flavors than “store-made” meat.

A wild deer eats forbs, leaves, twigs, mushrooms, berries and nuts, so the flavor’s more complex, like a good red wine. Elk primarily eat grass, so their meat resembles grass-fed (not corn-fed) beef. Pronghorns primarily eat forbs and small bushes, including sagebrush, and if their meat’s properly cared for, the sage provides just a hint of extra flavor. Moose eat a lot of soft green plants, in and around water, so their meat has yet another distinct flavor. Wild game is also far lower in saturated fat than domestic meat, and higher in protein, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. We like it.

However, one of the downsides of hunting is meat loss due to the bruising and ripping effect of bullets. I’ve seen over 10 pounds of fine venison turned into inedible mush, and while some urbanites apparently believe a deer is as big as an Angus steer, the average deer taken across North America only provides about 50 or 75 pounds of boned meat.

The most obvious solution is to avoid placing bullets where they’ll damage a lot of meat, but that’s more complicated than it appears. A brain shot, for instance, kills animals instantly, but wild animals move their heads a lot (they’re nervous about predators). Deer rarely put their head down to feed for more than a few seconds before jerking it up to take a look around. Plus, the brain’s a small target, taking up relatively little room inside the skull.

The same applies to neck shots. A bullet in the spinal cord drops animals instantly, but the spine takes up relatively little space inside the neck, especially in bigger game like elk, and the spine’s exact position inside all that muscle varies along the length of the neck. Neck muscle also tends to be tough, especially in animals with heavy antlers, and some bullets aren’t up to the task of penetrating both the tough muscle and the spine. (Despite its toughness, however, neck meat is very flavorful. Most hunters turn it into burger, but a chunk of neck also makes a fine pot roast.)

While hunting we also don’t always have the opportunity to use super-steady shooting positions. Not only are benchrests scarce in the woods, but the darn ground can be uneven and covered with grass, rocks and trees. All of this can make hitting the relatively small brain or spine far more difficult than hitting a 1-inch bull’s-eye on a range. While I occasionally shoot big game animals in the head or, especially, the neck, the ideal shot is with the animal facing either directly away or directly toward me, when the brain and spinal cord are right in the center of all that bone and meat.

With animals standing broadside, most hunters play the odds and aim for the largest area of vital tissue, the center of the chest, containing the heart and lungs. A chest shot normally drops animals within seconds, and even if the bullet strays above the lungs, it can break or damage the spine.

Unfortunately, much of the chest lies behind the front legs, and there’s a lot of good meat on the shoulders. Not only can shoulder meat be ground or pot-roasted, but the softer meat at the back of the shoulder joint can be sliced into a few steaks.


Even big bucks can taste great, especially before the rut. This Wyoming
mule deer (above) was taken with a bonded 180-grain Norma Oryx from a .30-06,
and though the bullet broke the far shoulder very little meat was lost.


British Columbia moose guide Donny Davis (above) was very impressed with
how little meat was lost from a 9.3mm 286-grain Nosler Partition. The moderate
muzzle velocity and the high retention of bullet weight make it a classic
meat-saving combination.

The Velocity Factor

The ways different bullets affect this meat are almost endless. Velocity and bullet construction both play huge roles. The least destruction is caused by low-velocity bullets that don’t expand much, if at all. Back in the days of black powder, hunters weren’t much concerned about meat loss, because a lead bullet started at 1,500 fps just makes a round hole. As former GUNS columnist and well-known big-game hunter Elmer Keith put it, “You could eat right up to the hole,” meaning there wasn’t any torn, bruised or jellied meat. Anybody who’s hunted with a traditional muzzleloader, black-powder cartridge rifle, shotgun with standard-velocity slugs, or revolver rounds loaded with hard-cast bullets has seen this same lack of meat damage.

But since 1900, when even conservative rifle hunters started to accept the advantages of smokeless powder, most hunting bullets have been designed to expand. This combines the flatter trajectory and minimal wind-drift of a small-caliber, high-velocity bullet with a bigger, quicker-killing hole in the animal’s vitals. (While small-caliber bullets that don’t expand will kill game, unless they tumble the hole won’t be very big, and a chest-shot animal can travel quite a ways before it falls.)

Most hunting bullets start to expand as soon as they enter the skin of an animal, and are usually fully “mushroomed” before they penetrate their own length. As they expand, their velocity slows drastically, the reason the most severe meat damage occurs right around the entrance hole, where velocity’s highest. This is exactly why hunters concerned about meat damage try to shoot slightly behind the shoulder on broadside animals, because there isn’t as much meat on ribs.

First, let’s look at bullet construction. The basic rule is, the less weight an expanding bullet loses from pieces flying off, the less meat damage. However, most forensic ballisticians find the size of the wound channel is the most reliable indicator of killing power. As a result, “shrapnel” from a bullet that loses weight is a two-edged sword: It usually helps the bullet kill quicker, but also ruins more meat.


Even supposedly “soft” jacketed bullets won’t tear up much meat if muzzle
velocity isn’t too high. John used a 160-grain Sierra GameKing at only
2,650 fps from a 7×57 on this ewe bighorn, one of the tastiest animals
in North America


Chris Olsen used a .45-70 with 405-grain Remington factory
loads on this Texas javelina.

Bullet Types

Today’s expanding hunting bullets provide a continuum of weight-loss from almost total to none. At one end we have monolithic bullets made entirely of copper or copper alloys like the Barnes X, Hornady GMX and Nosler E-Tip that rarely lose any metal, and at the other end lead-cored bullets that almost totally fragment. In between are various levels of “controlled expansion” lead-cored bullets. These employ various means of stopping expansion, whether heavy jackets, bonding the lead to the jacket, or a jacket partition preventing the rear of the bullet from disintegrating.

One advantage of monolithic, non-disintegrating bullets is even if they hit the shoulder, meat damage is considerably reduced—and sometimes a shoulder shot is preferred, especially in heavy brush or timber. A bullet through the shoulder bones and, possibly, the spine will drop an animal right there, while a typical behind-the-shoulder chest shot often results in an animal running off a little ways before falling, and even a relatively short run can result in a difficult search and recovery in thick vegetation. As a result, hunters using monolithic bullets often “shoot bone,” trading a small amount of meat damage for an animal dropped right there.

However, velocity also has a major effect on meat damage, and one of the other advantages of monolithic bullets is how well they hold up to high impact speeds, the reason many hunters prefer them in super-zappers producing well over 3,000 fps. But if you put a fast monolithic into shoulder bones, bone fragments can damage meat as readily as bullet fragments. I’ve seen this several times in .25 caliber cartridges from the .257 Roberts to the .257 Weatherby Magnum when using the 100-grain Barnes Tipped Triple-Shock.

In more open country, many hunters prefer using bullets that lose some weight, putting them behind the shoulder meat, since it doesn’t matter if the animal moves a few yards before falling—and with a partially disintegrating bullet they often fall instantly anyway. This is particularly true of deer, and just about any common bullet made with a relatively thin jacket around a lead core will do the job. The list is almost endless, but includes Hornady InterLocks, Nosler Ballistic Tips, Remington Core-Lokts, Sierra GameKings and ProHunters, Speer Hot-Cors and Winchester Power-Points.

I’ve used them all, but these days use more Hornady InterLocks and Nosler Ballistic Tips than any others—both tend to retain around half their weight, providing a good compromise between disintegration and penetration, although I also use some Sierras and Speers in heavier weights. One good rule-of-thumb for these bullets is a muzzle velocity no more 2,800 fps, the reason “cup-and-core” bullets in such classic combinations as the 180-grain .30-06 have a good reputation for killing power, penetration and minimal meat loss.

Less velocity damages even less meat, especially with premium lead-cored bullets that don’t lose much weight. In my experience, one of the best combinations is the 286-grain Nosler Partition at 2,400 fps or so in the 9.3×62 Mauser. As with most bigger Noslers, the partition is more forward inside the bullet, resulting in an average of about 80 percent weight retention, vs. 65 percent in smaller Partitions.

I first used this combination on a big British Columbia moose, putting the bullet in the meat of the shoulder right behind the joint. The bull fell almost immediately. While we were dismantling our prize, my Cree guide Donny Davis said, “That’s a good rifle! It kills quick but doesn’t shoot up any meat.” Elmer Keith would have been proud.

One anomaly in these general principles is Berger hunting bullets, with very thin jackets and soft cores. This combination normally means lots of bullet disintegration and meat damage, but the extremely long, pointed ogive allows Bergers to penetrate 2 to 3 inches before expanding—but then they really expand inside the vitals, killing very quickly. The entrance hole typically resembles something made by an icepick, with zero meat damage—exactly the opposite of most expanding bullets.

I particularly like the lack of meat damage from Bergers when hunting smaller open-country game like pronghorn, where the high ballistic coefficient and super accuracy are useful for longer shots. Bergers do so much interior damage I often deliberately aim a little further behind the shoulder than with conventional lead-core bullets, because they still drop game quickly. The last animal I took with a Berger was a pronghorn buck taken with the 140-grain 6.5mm VLD from a 6.5-06. I aimed about a hand’s width behind the shoulder, and the buck dropped within 30 feet. The only damage was the 1-inch exit hole in the middle of the far ribs, and a pronghorn has about as much rib meat as a super-model.

So yes, there are still people in 21st-century America who exist almost entirely on wild game, and actually prefer it. There are also ways to use modern firearms to keep the vast majority of that fine wild meat fit for our tables.


John and Eileen (top and below) used two different approaches to saving
meat on these small-bodied pronghorns. The buck was taken with a 6.5mm
140-grain Berger Hunting VLD carefully placed in the ribs, while the doe
was taken with a 100-grain Barnes Tipped TSX from Eileen’s .257 Roberts
with a facing shot.



Today’s expanding bullets cover the spectrum from those designed
not to lose any weight—such as this Barnes TSX—to almost total
disintegration. Depending on placement, both types can work very
well for saving game meat.

Something to Chew On

The word “venison” didn’t originally mean deer meat. The term has its roots in the Latin venari (to chase or hunt), so it referred to any meat obtained by hunting. But the meaning started to change during the period in France and England when “the king’s deer” were protected from commoners, who could often get away with taking smaller game, like rabbits.
By John Barsness

Barnes Bullets
38 N. Frontage Rd., Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Berger Bullets
4275 N. Palm St., Fullerton, CA 92835
(714) 447-5456

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802
(800) 338-3220

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671 , Bend, OR 97709
(800) 285-3701

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry Street, Sedalia, MO 65301
(660) 827-6300

Speer Bullets
2299 Snake River Avenue, Lewiston, ID 83501
(208) 746-2351

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Varmint Rifle Trends

Improvements In Ammo, Optics And-Of
Course — The AR Equation Are All Influencing The Game.

Before discussing varmint rifles, we should define the word “varmint.” Dictionaries all say it’s a colloquial version of “vermin”—a wild animal causing problems for humans, especially ranchers and farmers, though some varmints also spread disease.

Some definitions specifically mention predators, or animals that can be legally shot at any time of year without a license or limit. But Idaho requires a non-game license to hunt varmints, and in other states bears, mountain lions, wolves and even coyotes have been reclassified. Mountain lions remain varmints in Texas, but are game in other states, and not even legally huntable in others, such as California.

Colorado classifies coyotes, rockchucks, prairie dogs and prairie rattlesnakes as game animals, requiring a small game license, though there’s no season or limit on coyotes. There are Colorado seasons for rockchucks (marmots), prairie dogs and even rattlesnakes, and bag limits on the number of rockchucks and prairie rattlers. (In case you’re interested, you can take three snakes a day, with a maximum of six in possession.)

I live in Montana, where there’s no license or limit for smaller varmints, but mountain lions and wolves are considered big game. My paternal grandparents homesteaded here less than a century ago, and would be astounded to find regulations for lion or wolf shooting today, and even more astounded anybody would “restore” wolves to the state. It’s been almost as startling for me to travel to other states and discover all the varmint-hunting licenses and regulations, especially in places still considered part of the “Wild West” in the eastern half of the US. The licenses are no doubt due to the insatiable bureaucratic appetite for dollars, but calling a coyote, prairie dog or rattlesnake “game” seems excessive, even for a bureaucrat.


Even big game animals can be turn into varmints when abundant. Eileen Clarke
used the .257 Roberts, a cartridge originally designed for hayfield-raiding
woodchucks in the East, on this hayfield-raiding cow elk on a ranch damage hunt.

Big Varmint

Some highly prized big-game animals can also turn into varmints, given the opportunity. In early September 2014 my wife Eileen Clarke got a phone call from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks saying her name had been computer-selected for a damage hunt for cow elk.

Western elk populations increased considerably over the past couple of decades, while at the same time more ranches closed to hunting. As a result, many elk from the mountains around valley ranches come down to feed on crops, especially alfalfa. Since an elk can eat almost as much as an Angus, and the hooves of a good-sized herd can literally tromp a crop into the dirt, a lot of potential winter hay disappears.

September elk usually (but not always) hit bottomland hayfields at night, spending warm days in the cool, mosquito-free timber of surrounding foothills. Eileen had 10 days to hunt one particular ranch, after two other hunters had already taken elk. Combined with daytime temperatures around 80, this made hunting tough, but after five days Eileen got her 450-pound varmint, appropriately enough with one shot from a .257 Roberts, a cartridge designed almost 100 years ago to shoot what was then the major varmint in the eastern US—the woodchuck—another common hayfield raider.

Woodchuck shooting isn’t what it used to be, due to coyotes increasing east of the Mississippi and plenty of eastern hayfields turning into subdivisions. Varmint hunting in other parts of the country has changed as well over the past century, and varmint rifles have changed to keep up (though don’t expect a “Rattlesnake Rifle Roundup” anytime soon). Probably the biggest change has been the widespread popularity of coyote hunting, since they now inhabit almost all of North America except northern Quebec and Nunavut Territory in Canada.

Twenty years ago the typical solution was a typical scope-sighted, bolt-action rifle, but today many coyote hunters carry a semi-auto. Depending on local hunting laws, their rifle may also be equipped with a suppressor and a night-vision scope. Semi-autos are of course most valuable for repeat shots, while suppressors help in several ways. First, they vastly reduce the sound of shots, which helps when hunting within hearing distance of houses. A lot of landowners are happy to have coyotes shot on their land, but aren’t as happy about loud sounds, especially at night.

In less open coyote country, subsonic centerfire cartridges such as the .300 AAC Blackout (originally developed for military use) or .300 Whisper (the same round with a slightly shorter chamber throat) are becoming more popular. Where suppressors are legal, they’re very quiet.


A line-up of modern and traditional varmint rifles includes (from left to right)
a Remington Model 700 .204 Ruger, Thompson/Center Icon .223 Remington, Bushmaster
AR-15 and custom Mauser .243 Winchester.


Fine accuracy is cheaper than ever before, thanks to rifles like the Savage Axis.
Eileen used this .22-250 to take a winter jackrabbit in Montana.


While many long-range coyote hunters use scopes equipped with an easily-adjustable elevation turrets, some have started using Burris Eliminator III scopes. Instead of having to first range a coyote with a hand-held laser, then twist a knob, you just aim at the coyote, press a button on the side of the scope and an LED dot appears on the reticle for the correct range. In September of 2013 I mounted an Eliminator III on my .22/6mm Remington, hoping to use it on a coyote or three during the winter, but my Labrador retriever dislocated my right knee a week later while hunting pheasants. The knee did recover enough, however, to use the rifle and scope on prairie dogs in the spring of 2014, and it makes longer-range varmint aiming much quicker. Barring another Lab accident, by the time you read this the rifle should be out in coyote country. Of course, the Eliminator also features a “ballistic reticle” with multiple aiming points, just in case the laser’s battery dies, and for more precise windage holds, the same reason many scopes with easy-adjust turrets also have ballistic reticles.

Another continuing trend in varmint rifles is smaller-caliber cartridges and, often, faster rifling twists for longer bullets with higher ballistic coefficients. Back in primitive times, before laser rangefinders, varmint hunters often used comparatively large cartridges even for prairie dogs, such as the .22-250 Remington and .243 Winchester. We could only estimate ranges, so desired the flattest trajectory possible and hyper-velocity is the best way to accomplish that within normal “guesstimated” shooting ranges, say around 400 yards. Once in a while we’d hit a varmint beyond 400, but light-for-caliber hollow or softpoint bullets start to drop quickly once they lose their initial ambition, even when started at 4,000 fps or close to it.

The first change was plastic-tipped bullets, noticeably increasing ballistic coefficient. Nosler ballistic Tips (and, eventually, Hornady V-Maxes and Sierra BlitzKings) allowed a .223 Remington with 50-grain bullet to basically duplicate the trajectory of a .22-250 loaded with 55-grain softpoints. This not only extended barrel life (a factor when shooting abundant burrowing rodents) but lighter recoil allowed shooters to spot their own shots through the scope on a heavy-barreled .223. And believe me, touching off several hundred .22-250’s in a day can eventually make a varmint rifle feel more like a .375 H&H.

They also help the hunting. Among many serious coyote hunters, the most I’m aware of is Montanan Pat Sinclair, a professional government varmint hunter who got into long-range rifle shooting in order to take called-in coyotes that “hang up” beyond normal rifle ranges. Pat’s constantly trying new rifles and cartridges, and in the winter of 2014 started using a suppressed 6.5 Creedmoor. He e-mailed after its first field use, ecstatic because when he’d called in two coyotes, and after the first one dropped the second one “just stood there,” instead of instantly fleeing at the rifle’s report, and Pat got it too.


Easily adjustable elevation turrets and computer ballistics programs
make longer shots much easier these days.


Next laser rangefinders appeared, and wind drift instead of range became the big “guess” factor in long-range varmint shooting, and beyond the old 400-yard limit heavier, sleeker bullets were less affected by wind than lighter, faster bullets. Soon some shooters started putting faster-twist barrels on their .223’s and shooting bullets heavier than the traditional 1:12 twist could stabilize, extending hittable ranges even further.

So-called “sub-caliber” varmint rifles, shooting bullets less than 0.224 inch in diameter, had been around for a long time, but better barrels and plastic-tipped bullets made them far more practical. The first sub-caliber to make it big commercially was the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire, introduced in 2002. Its 17-grain bullet at 2,550 fps revolutionized our notions of what a rimfire can do, and two years later was followed by an the centerfire .204 Ruger, with a 32-grain bullet at well over 4,000 fps and a slightly slower 40-grain.


An adjustable buttstock, like the one on this Sisk STAR rifle (above), make aiming
with the small field-of-view in high-magnification scopes much quicker. Larger scopes
in tactical rings on Picatinny rails (below) are a top trend in varmint rifles, just
as they are in larger rifles.


Sweet Seventeens

Eventually a couple of new .17-caliber commercial cartridges appeared, first Remington’s .17 Fireball in 2007, then Hornady’s .17 Hornet in 2012. Unlike most new cartridges in a given caliber, the cases kept getting smaller, yet the increased efficiency of plastic-tipped bullets and new powders allowed both little cartridges to be very effective at typical small-varmint ranges of 250 to 400 yards. In effect, they fill the same role the .223 did a quarter-century ago, with less powder burned and so little recoil the crosshairs barely move when the rifle goes off. While there aren’t as many dedicated hide hunters among varmint shooters a generation ago, those who do sell hides often like the .17’s, because with the right bullet they do far less damage than larger rounds, especially to smaller furbearers like foxes.

Neither of the newer .17’s has become as popular as the .204 Ruger, much less the .223 Remington (military rounds always have commercial advantages, like abundant, cheap brass), but the varmint hunters who use .17’s tend to be very firm fans. The few I’ve known who haven’t taken to .17’s they’d purchased usually complained about dropping too many tiny bullets when handloading ammo.
There’s also a fairly common belief that the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire’s bullets drift more in the wind than the heavier bullets of the .22 Magnum, but this simply isn’t true, as anybody who shoots both cartridges much will discover. In fact most .22 Magnum bullets drift as much as .22 Long Rifle bullets, and .17 HMR bullets drift about half as much.

All these smaller cartridges have another advantage over traditional rounds: Their milder report doesn’t scare burrowing rodents back into their holes as quickly. These days lot of prairie dog shooters start off on a new “town” with a .17 HMR, because unlike the blast of a .223 the mild crack doesn’t send every dog within 150 yards underground, and beyond 150 a .17 Hornet or Fireball is noticeably less alarming.

Despite these developments, there are still some prairie dog shooters around who just don’t get it. I ran into one this past year, who insisted his .243 Winchester was necessary because the prairie dogs in his area were so spooky he rarely got a shot at less than 300 yards. Well, duh!


Do The Twist

Faster-than-normal rifling twists used to be found exclusively in custom barrels, but more factory rifles feature fast twists these days. This is often combined with another trend: really affordable rifles that really shoot. The latest example is the Ruger American Rifle, which usually retails between $300 and $400. The .223 Remington versions have 1:8-inch twists, and the .243 Winchesters 1:12, both capable of stabilizing longer bullets than the standard twists in most factory rifles. Eileen and I own both Ruger American and Savage Axis rifles that shoot just as well as some of our custom rifles costing 10 times as much. Those rifles aren’t as “nice” as the customs in other ways, but over the past couple of decades the price of rifle accuracy dropped as much as the price of gasoline rose.

The other trend in varmint rifles is “tactical” stocks, with adjustable buttstocks, plus screw-holes and rails for attaching various gadgets from bipods to flashlights. Adjustable buttstocks are very handy on varmint rifles, because most varmint hunters use higher-magnification scopes. Tweaking the stock helps align the shooter’s eye behind the smaller field-of-view of high-power scopes.

Last year Eileen and I had Charlie Sisk built us one of his new STAR (Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle) rifles with interchangeable Lilja barrels in .22-250 Remington and .308 Winchester. The aluminum stock (yes, aluminum) is among the most adaptable we’ve tried, and we can both use it with just a few quick changes. So far Eileen has used the .22-250 barrel on various varmints, and I used the .308 barrel when testing ammo and scopes.

Overall, the modern trends in varmint rifles are much like the modern trends in all hunting rifles. The cartridges and calibers are smaller yet just as effective, the scopes work better at any range, and the stocks adaptable not just to various shooting positions but different shooters. Vermin beware!
By John Barsness

Burris Company
331 East 8th Street
Greeley, CO 80631
(970) 356-1670

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802
(800) 338-3220

Savage Arms, Inc.
100 Springdale Road
Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 568-7001

Sisk Rifles
400 County Road 2340
Dayton, TX 77535
(936) 258-4984

Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.
200 Ruger Road
Prescott, AZ 86301
(928) 541-8892

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The Uncluttered Carbine

All Together Now! A Personalized
Upper/Lower Matchup Results In A
Purpose-Built, Accurate AR.

As you all remember during ObamaScare I, prices had gone through the roof and shortages arose on practically everything remotely associated with shooting. ObamaScare II didn’t help much either and it’s only been in the last six months some sort of inventory has been accruing on dealer’s shelves—including spot sales on items for which we used to pay handsomely. If there is a silver lining, it’s this: The shooting sports have drawn millions of new participants.

Recently, Federal released the new “Fresh Fire Pack AR 5.56” and it comes in a 30-round nitrogen purged, waterproof, weatherproof can. The easy-open pop-top can also comes with a resealable plastic lid. This is one of the most sensible products available for those who maintain “bug-out bags” and have chosen the AR-15 as their go-to rifle for self-defense. You have one magazine-load per can, available well-preserved and easily replaceable for long-term storage. The bullet employed? The 62-grain “green tipped” M855 and the ammo is loaded to NATO specs. The retail is a reasonable $23.95, and it is often found on sale.

I ran into a hitch after acquiring the ammo. My AR’s were all .223 Rem. However, like many of you, I bought an AR-15 lower “just in case.” It has been languishing in my safe since January 2013.

There’s always a dizzying array of AR uppers in various states of completion. Rather than surf the catalogs of every manufacturer, I chose Bravo Company because they build in-house and carry a wide variety of rifles and parts from many of the top names in AR’s. If there is a mission suitable for Stoner’s signature creation, Bravo Company has the parts. And, for serious shoppers, the stock status is displayed on the website—something I really appreciate.


The two scopes used in this test were the Leupold Mark AR 3-9X and the
Leupold Mark AR Mod 1 1.5-4X. The 3-9X (above) helps wring out the
accuracy potential and the 1.5-4X is better in the self-defense role.
After the final zero is attained, the setscrews on the turrets of 1.5-4X
are loosened and then moved to “zero.” The upright “L” is your key the
scope is still on zero.


For accuracy testing, Jeff installed a Leupold 3-9x40mm Mark AR scope
with the Mil-Dot reticle using the 1-piece Leupold base. The adjustments
are positive and clearly marked as to direction and clicks. The elevation
turret is calibrated for the 55-grain bullet, and turrets calibrated for
other loads are available from the Leupold Custom Shop.

My lower is a mil-spec US Autoweapons M4 with collapsible stock. I like this one because it was ATF-approved with “safe,” “fire” and “auto” engraved on the receiver, even though the lower is semi-auto only and the safety only operates in “safe” or “fire” mode. I had been planning a varmint rifle, but since the lower was ready to go as a carbine, I dragooned it for my 5.56 build. These days I’m a little more concerned with self-defense than hunting anyway.

I had an idea for what I wanted—a lightweight carbine with a fore-end easy on the hands, slim and versatile. Too many fore-ends are just too thick and with far more rails than I want or need. My current house AR is such, with a big cylindrical forearm with four sharp rails now all covered with MagPul rail covers (making things even fatter). It weighs 8 pounds, 12 ounces loaded with 20 rounds, but feels heavier and clumsier than that.

Paring some weight and slimming the rifle was in order, even though the AR is an inherently heavy platform. My search at Bravo’s website took several visits, mostly because everything starts to look the same to me after awhile. Eventually I settled on a Bravo Company upper with the firm’s proprietary Key Mod fore-end. It didn’t hurt my feelings to find it was on sale at 20 percent off.

The octagon fore-end is made from an aluminum/magnesium blend giving greater strength and lighter weight than aluminum alone. The key slots aren’t sharp, don’t snag and gives the carbine fast handling qualities. The slots are on seven sides with a Picatinny rail along the full 12 o’clock position of the receiver and fore-end. Rail sections, sling swivels, forward pistol grips and dozens of other gizmos can be quickly added anywhere along the rails.


The American Gold trigger is an aftermarket unit and is complete with pins
for mil-spec receivers. Jeff’s US Autoweapons lower has such and the trigger
dropped in as if it were made for the unit.


The Gunfighter Charging Handle provided on the Bravo upper extends further
than the standard AR’s, making it easier to charge when optics such as the
3-9X Leupold are mounted. The bolt carrier key has properly double-staked screws.


The Bravo Mod 0 compensator differs from the usual M4 flash hider in that
it also reduces muzzle rise as well as reducing flash.

Proof Tested

The heart of the Bravo upper is the bolt and barrel assembly. The mil-spec barrel in the lighter GI contour is proof-tested at 70,000 psi, then magnetic particle inspected for flaws. The 1:7-inch twist barrel is NATO chambered. Both bore and chamber are chrome lined, with the barrel exterior Parkerized. The bolt is fitted and the combination test-fired at Bravo. The barrel comes fitted with Bravo’s Gunfighter Mod 0 compensator. It is designed to reduce muzzle rise and side blast, plus lower the flash signature. My combination ran flawlessly throughout the first range session, which was a little more than 100 rounds.

The US Autoweapon lower is also mil-spec, made from hard-anodized 7076-T6 aluminum. It came complete with buttstock and GI trigger. I had one American Gold trigger on hand and have come to desire them in all my AR’s. It’s a light, 2-stage design breaking at a combined weight of just more than 3 pounds—a really delightful let-off and one I believe contributed to the accuracy results immensely.

The Gold’s instructions recommend you to have it installed by gunsmith, but by watching the company’s online video and following the instructions, I successfully installed it. Both the trigger and the upper fit as if they were custom-made for my lower. I don’t usually find anything goes together so easily and happily didn’t have to take a bag o’parts to the gunschmidt!

With an older Leupold Mark AR 3-9X scope mounted in the sturdy Leupold Mk 2 integral mounts for accuracy testing, my carbine weighs 7 pounds, 8 ounces, but feels lighter. There is just enough muzzle heaviness for a steady offhand hold and smooth swings between targets, and it carries easily.

With the aid of an Accuscope chart, I quickly zeroed the scope at 25 yards. Moving to 100 yards, a few more clicks put me into the diamond of the Mountain Plains targets. My shooting technique got me into trouble as my initial groups were in the 2-inch range shooting off a pair of bags. I removed the rear bag and my groups instantly settled down. The American Eagle 5.56mm delivered a 5-shot group of 1-1/2 inches, and four of those shots were in a pleasing 3/4-inch cluster. Federal Gold Medal Match took top accuracy honors with a 5-shot 1-1/8-inch group (four of those shots were in a tight 1/2-inch cluster).

There were no malfunctions throughout the test. The Bravo Company Gunfighter extended charging handle made working the bolt effortless even though the eyepiece of the optic is right over it. The last can of ammo was dedicated to ringing the 14×14-inch steel plates at 250 and 300 yards. A full 20-rounds was loaded into the Brownells magazine (I prefer 20’s over 30’s at the range for the lower profile).

The Leupold 3-9X scope has a simple Mil-Dot reticle. The closest gong required one dot down and centered to produce a satisfying ring. The 300-yard gong only needed the second dot raised to the top of the gong to ring it, and I placed 15 of the 20 rounds on target.


The new American Eagle 5.56mm 62-grain load, used as inspiration for this AR build,
delivered a nice tight 1-1/2-inch 100-yard group. The ammo comes packed in convenient
nitrogen-purged, weatherproof, resealable long-term storage cans holding 30-rounds in each.


Accuracy was all Jeff could ask from a carbine shot off a casual rest at 100 yards. Black Hills .223 77-grain Match ammo (left) delivered this 1-1/2-inch group and the Federal Gold Medal Match delivered a 1-1/4-inch group with four of those shots in a tight 1/2-inch cluster.


As a graduation exercise, after mounting and zeroing the Leupold Mark AR 1.5-4X scope,
Jeff loaded a magazine with 20 rounds and shot the gongs at about a round per second.
With the barrel hot, the final 14 rounds were loaded and fired on paper at 100 yards.
Even in a hot, dirty barrel, the final 14 delivered this 2-1/2-inch group right to
point of aim. Jeff has confidence he can rely on this new AR.

For the second range test, the smaller, handier Leupold Mark AR Mod 1 1.5-4X Illuminated Fire Dot scope now on my present house AR was switched over to this one. The eyepiece is far enough forward it gives easy access to the charging handle. The lower power meant my 100-yard groups were going to be bigger, and they were. My best group landed three shots into 1-1/2 inches with the 5-shot group enlarging to 4 inches. Most groups were in the 2-plus-inch range for three shots with the 5-shot group in the 4- to 5-inch range shooting the American Eagle 5.56mm ammo.

At the end of this 90-round session, I loaded a 20-round mag and shot about one round a second at the gongs. I loaded my last 14 rounds and fired on the 100-yard paper target at the same speed turning on the reticle’s green Fire Dot. The fore-end was now pleasingly warmer (since it was a 50 degree F day) and these last rounds went through a barrel allowed to cool only the time it took to load the mag. The overall group was 2-1/2×2-1/2 inches for 14 shots with no wandering of zero due to heat. The barrel was hot to the touch. I have confidence this outfit will allow me to shoot well hot or cold.

The rifle wasn’t cleaned between these shooting sessions, although I re-oiled the bolt carrier because I shot photos between range sessions. The bolt was lubed with Pro Shot Pro Gold initially and the heavy grease was sufficient for the whole test. There were no malfunctions to feed, eject or fire over these combined sessions of roughly 200 rounds.

All in all, I’m glad I built my own “Mr. Potato Head AR.” I now have a wonderfully accurate and reliable rifle. Weight with a loaded 20-round mag is a manageable 7 pounds, 13 ounces. Future plans are for folding iron sights, and I doubt I’ll add much more to the rails other than maybe a flashlight. My goal was a lightweight uncluttered carbine and that’s what I have.
By Jeff John


Jeff had a spare lower in the safe, so when a good deal on Federal 5.56 ammo came
along, a new house AR was in order to replace the one in .223. The Bravo Company
upper with Key Mod fore-end can handle all manner of accessories. Clutter can
include a simple forward grip to Browning’s new Black Label Rail System knife,
the sheath of which attaches to the M1913 rail. The 5.11 vest holds two 30 round
mags and three pistol mags in three of its 18 pockets. Brownells mags feature
chrome-silicon springs and anti-bind followers. The mags functioned flawlessly.

Mark AR Scopes

Maker: Leupold & Stevens
14400 Northwest Greenbriar Parkway, Beaverton, OR 97006
(503) 646-9171

Mark AR 3-9x40mm Model: Mark AR Mod 1 1-4x20mm
3.3X to 8.6 (actual) Magnification: 1.4X to 3.9X (actual)
40mm Objective Diameter: 20mm
4.3 inches (3X),
3.6 inches (9X)
Eye Relief: 125 MOA windage
& elevation
56 inches elevation,
52 inches windage at 100 yards
Internal Adj. Range: 125 MOA windage
& elevation
1/2 MOA Click Value: 0.1 Mils
1 inch Tube Diameter: 1 inch
12.4 ounces Weight: 9.6 ounces
12.6 inches Overall Length: 9-3/8 inches
Mil-Dot Reticles: Fire Dot-G TMR
$439.99 Price: $564.99

.223 Remington Factory Ammo Performance
Load(brand, bullet weight, type) Velocity (fps) Group Size (inches)
Black Hills Match 77 BTHP 2,588 1-5/8
Federal Gold Medal 68 BTHP 2,521 1-1/4
Federal American Eagle 62 BT* 2,789 1-1/2

Notes: Groups the product of 5 shots at 100 yards.
Magneto Speed Chronograph measures at the muzzle. *NATO-spec 5.56x45mm.

P.O. Box 633
Ankeny, IA 50021

Black Hills Ammunition
3050 Eglin St.
Rapid City, SD 57703
(605) 348-5150

200 South Front Street
Montezuma, IA 50171
(641) 623-4000

Federal Cartridge Co.
900 Ehlen Drive
Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 322-2342

Mountain Plains Targets
3720 Otter Place
Lynchburg, VA 24503
(800) 687-3000

PACT (American Gold Trigger)
P.O. Box 535025
Grand Prairie, TX 75053
(800) 722-8462

Pro-Shot Products
P.O. Box 763
Taylorville, IL 62568
(217) 824-9133

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Armed And Airborne

Firepower From The Sky, Guns Of The
World War II Paratroopers.

World War II was the first conflict in which parachute troops were used. Germany, Great Britain, Japan and the United States all employed paratroopers to one extent or the other. The first truly large-scale assault by paras in WWII was by Germany. That was when their Fallschirmjäger dropped from tri-motor JU-52’s over the island of Crete in May 1941. The last big parachute drop was made by British and American troops during the push to cross the Rhine in March 1945. The Soviets actually pioneered dropping soldiers from airplanes, but no specific details as to their arms or missions have turned up in my research—yet.

Jumping from airplanes meant paratroopers could not carry much in the way of heavy weaponry. So each country’s military organizations developed their own doctrines about what arms these elite fighting men would carry when they dropped into combat. As we will see shortly, some standard infantry weapons were altered specifically for airborne units. Others were exactly the same as those carried by conventional infantrymen.

Let’s take rifles first. With some minor exceptions, rank and file paratroopers regardless of nationality carried the same full-size rifle with which their country’s infantry were armed. In the case of Germany it was the K98k. For the United States the rifle was the M1 Garand and the Brits had their No. 4 Mk1. Those rifles were chambered for 8x57mm, .30-06 and .303 British respectively. Of the three, only the M1 can be disassembled without at least a screwdriver. That led American airborne doctrine to decree the M1 be packed in a jump bag in three component parts and reassembled after landing, although many paratroopers chose to jump with their M1’s assembled and ready for use.

When the 82nd and 101st US airborne divisions were dropped into Normandy on June 6, 1944, some paratroopers carried US Model 1903 or US Model 1903A3/A4 bolt-action rifles. If scoped A4 versions, they were issued to designated snipers. However, most of the bolt actions sent with Americans on the Normandy night jump were there because no suitable grenade launcher was yet available for the semi-auto M1 Garand.

As far as my research has shown, only Japan altered their standard infantry rifle into a specialized version for paratroopers. That was the Type 99 7.7mm of which a takedown model was developed. The two halves were connected by means of a simple tapered pin. German paratroopers also had the select-fire 8mm FG42, which is so rare today samples cost tens of thousands of dollars. FG42’s are perhaps the only WWII rifle I’ve never laid eyes on.


American, British and German parachute troops carried more submachine
guns into combat than standard infantry units. These were four of the most
common (at left, top to bottom) US M1 Thompson and M3 “Grease Gun,” both are
.45 ACP. The German MP40 and British MkII STEN gun (right top to bottom)
are both 9mm.


American paratroopers were likely to have .45 ACP handguns to accompany their
Thompsons and Grease Guns. They included the (A) S&W Model 1917 revolver and
(B) Model 1911 as well as the (C) Colt Model 1917 revolver and (D) Model 1911A1.
For D-Day, American paratroopers were heavily weighted with equipment, which often
included the Thompson M1 SMG (below).



The definition of carbine is “a short rifle.” You might think that carbines would be considered ideal for troops worrying about every extra pound of equipment. That said, only the United States developed a special paratrooper carbine. It was nothing more than a standard M1 .30 Carbine barreled action dropped into a heavy wire, skeleton-type folding stock with pistol grip. As such it was designated M1A1 (Model One, Alteration One.) With stocks folded, M1A1’s measure 26 inches long (36 inches with stocks extended). Weight is a mere 5-1/2 pounds. Their cartridge was the small .30 Carbine, which propelled a 110-grain bullet at about 1,980 fps. Its lack of stopping power was somewhat compensated by 15-round magazines.

Here are a couple of “maybes” in regards to WWII paratroopers and carbines. In my research I’ve seen references to German airborne troops being issued with G33/40 8x57mm carbines. Those were slightly lighter and shorter versions of the basic Mauser Model 98 but were developed for Gebirgstruppen (mountain troops). But I can’t confirm G33/40’s were ever issued to Fallschirmjäger units. The same applies to British .303 No. 5’s (often called “Jungle Carbines”). I’ve read the Brits gave them to Polish paratroopers fighting with the Allies, but again I can’t verify it.

With American, British and German airborne troops, submachine guns were very popular. Airborne units had to drop their full-size machine guns in canisters because they were too heavy to be carried by one paratrooper. Therefore, they tried to make up for any initial shortage of firepower with by issuing far more SMG’s than were given to infantry formations. The Germans favored their MP38/MP40 9mm designs. These were full-auto only, made of all metal or synthetic materials (no wood) with 32-round magazines. At about 8 pounds, they were also light by contemporary SMG standards.

At the other end of the weight spectrum were American Thompson SMG’s. They weighed from 11 to 13 pounds (loaded) depending upon the exact model and magazine capacity. Early versions were the Model 1928 and Model 1928A1. However, by 1944 most in use were the M1 and M1A1 versions, easily discernible from each other by the rear sight. The A1 model had steel “wings” on either side of the rear sight, whereas the earlier M1 version had only the rear sight sitting atop the frame. All Thompson SMG’s were select fire types and had a with wooden buttstock and either a horizontal or vertical wooden foregrip.


The standard rifle for British paratroopers was the No. 4 Mk1 (top) but Duke has read—
but is unable to fully verify—that Polish paratroopers fighting for the Allies were
issued No. 5 “Jungle Carbines” (bottom).


As far as Duke has been able to discern only the United States issued a specific
carbine to parachute units. At top is standard M1 .30 Carbine. At bottom is the M1A1
folding-stock version made for paratroops.

Arguably the best SMG for airborne troops was the British STEN Mk II 9mm. It could be disassembled into three parts in seconds and weighed only 6 pounds. It was crudely made, without the slightest hint of aesthetic consideration, but was accurate enough for an SMG. Plus, it could be manufactured in enormous numbers and its cost per unit was a fraction of comparable American or German SMG’s.

When the American paratroopers dropped into Normandy, some were carrying a brand-new SMG—the .45 ACP M3 “Grease Gun.” Its design and method of manufacture was obviously inspired by the British STEN Mk II, although the M3 was 2 pounds heavier and lacked the STEN’s quick-takedown features.

Among WWII combat troops of all nations, paratroopers likely felt the need for handguns most. That’s because when they landed, even if things went perfectly, they were completely helpless until they could get their shoulder-fired weapon ready. When things didn’t go perfectly—say when the paratrooper ended up hanging in a tree or tangled in their parachute harness—the only object perhaps more precious than a handgun was a sharp knife with which they could cut themselves free.

In Gene Eric Salecker’s Blossoming Silk Against the Rising Sun, the author details at least two instances of 11th Airborne Division paratroopers saving themselves during their 1945 drop onto Corregidor. Both were still in their harnesses when charged by Japanese soldiers with bayoneted rifles. In both cases the paratroopers used their Model 1911A1 .45’s to kill their assailants.


Imperial Japanese Army paratroops carried either Type 14 pistols (shown) or Type 94’s,
along with Type 91 hand grenades. Officers often carried swords. For an issue pistol,
the Imperial Japanese Navy paratroopers only had Type 94’s (above).



By 1943 German Fallschirmjägers were issued the select-fire FG42, although they never
dropped with one. Note this trooper also has the bandolier holding eight 20-round magazines
around his neck. Photo: Rock Island Auctions

If issued a handgun, most American paratroopers would have carried the aforementioned 1911A1 or possibly retread Model 1917 .45 revolvers by Smith & Wesson or Colt. If they weren’t officially issued a handgun, American paratroopers were fairly crafty about acquiring them otherwise. WWII oral histories speak of many civilian pistols and revolvers shipped (illegally) by family members to their airborne sons and brothers.

Also in Salecker’s book I found out about Japanese Imperial Army and Imperial Navy airborne troops, the latter being part of the Special Naval Landing Forces. Their doctrine called for each paratrooper to jump armed with only handguns and grenades, with shoulder fired weapons simultaneously dropped in padded canisters. Japanese paratroopers were supposed to fight their way to the canisters and retrieve their heavier weapons. For pistols, the Japanese issued both the Type 14 and Type 94 chambered in 8mm Nambu. The airborne rikusentai (SNLF troops) only were given Type 94’s, according to Salecker.

Although the handguns most often identified with British were revolvers, they did acquire some 9mm pistols for special units such as commandos and paratroopers. Those were Browning Model 1935 Hi-Powers, but not ones made in Belgium by FN. Instead, a Canadian firm, the John Inglis Company, reverse engineered Browning’s P35 design. The 13-round magazine capacity was likely a great comfort to many British airborne troops. To the best of my knowledge, of all the weapons I’ve mentioned, only the Browning Model 1935’s are still in use by military organizations.

Of course, Germany likewise used 9mm pistols and readers could be excused for thinking that Fallschirmjägers carried both P38’s and P08’s (Lugers). But although the P38 was adopted to replace the Luger as far as the German Army was concerned, German paratroop units were part of the Luftwaffe, which kept the Luger as their standard handgun until the end of the war.

WWII proved that massive assaults by parachutists were not practical and the world probably will never see such tactics again. Instead, highly trained special forces-types are the paratroopers of 21st century, and they carry specialized weapons far different from those carried by airborne forces in the 1940’s.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Putting The “9” In 1911

Premium Parabellum: With Sub-Inch Potential
At 25 Yards And A Sweet Street Trigger,
Nighthawk Custom’s Soft-Kicking P5 Justifies Its Price Tag.

John Moses Browning probably didn’t plan it, but over the years, the 1911 has become very much a modular pistol. We have small ones, big ones, long-barrel ones, short-barrel versions, long-gripped snubbies and short-butt pistols with longer barrels—and heaven only knows how many caliber choices. The latest mix-and-match format for the 1911 is the P5 from one of our premier “boutique manufacturers,” Nighthawk Custom.

Nighthawk’s thinned, full-size frame LadyHawk is the starting point. Add a full-length “Government Model-size” slide for good sight radius. Chamber it in 9mm Luger. Fit it with a heavy barrel (flanged at the muzzle), and extra-thin grips to go with the svelte frame, and voilà! You have the new P5. Luckily, we had our test sample three months before its scheduled introduction at the 2015 SHOT Show.

For most of its production life, the 1911’s signature .45 ACP chambering was one reason most users—including the US Army—found it desirable in the first place. In 1950, when it first became available in 9mm (in the lightweight Colt Commander), there were few takers. Anyone who wanted a 9mm generally wanted one that held more cartridges, such as the Browning Hi-Power. Moreover, the 1911—originally designed for the longer .45 ACP—had reliability issues with the increased leap the 9mm round had to take from magazine to chamber.

In recent years, however, the 9mm 1911 has come into its own. A big, relatively heavy gun, the 1911 has very light recoil with even the hottest 9mm loads. The Nighthawk P5 9mm comes with a recoil spring of merely 10 pounds, making it easy for anyone to rack the slide. Additionally, Nighthawk offers an even lighter 8-pound recoil spring for those who prefer particularly light 9mm loads.

To take further advantage of the low recoil factor, Nighthawk owner Mark Stone went with what his company calls the “Predator Family.” Nighthawk’s Predators—including the P5—are distinguished by heavy coned barrels, flanged at the muzzle end, accompanied by a full-length steel guide rod. According to Mark, this took careful engineering and workmanship. “With the heavy barrel, we really had to smooth things up. When the barrel drops out of battery, we have to make sure there’s no drag at all.”


Nighthawk Custom’s P5—shown here with Boker’s Kwaiken folding knife—is
tailored specifically to handle, and to get the most out of, the 9mm.

Nighthawk’s 9mm Falcon series, with conventional JMB barrel-bushing design, is increasingly popular in the Enhanced Service Division of the fast-growing International Defensive Pistol Association. Mark doesn’t think the P5 will be eligible to compete there, due to restrictions excluding certain barrel/bushing designs giving users an unfair advantage. But he’s a good sport about it. “We feel it does reduce recoil, due to the up-front weight of the flanged barrel,” he said. “The weight out front is a definite competitive advantage.” Lance Biddle, Florida’s area coordinator for IDPA, confirms the Predator-style barrel/bushing arrangement on the P5 won’t be “IDPA-legal.”

If you want a 9mm 1911 for IDPA ESP, go with the Falcon. But if a pistol is effective enough to constitute an “unfair advantage,” then it’s obviously the gun you want in a fight. If that’s the case, the P5 may be the 9mm 1911 for you. Today’s 9mm defense ammunition is dramatically better than yesteryear’s. And, thanks to companies like Nighthawk, we now have 9mm 1911’s that actually work reliably.

When testing for accuracy, it helps a lot if the firearm in question has a good trigger pull. Here, the P5 delivers. Its trigger is more consistent press-to-press than most I measure and averaged 4.52 pounds—an ideal balance between “safe street pull” on a 1911 and a high level of “shootability.”


On the firing line: Mas (foreground) demonstrates the one-hand
controllability of Nighthawk P5. Photo: Gail Pepin


Mas with his “pace-setter” qualification target: The P5 delivered all timed shots
into the center zone, most in one hole. Photo: Gail Pepin

I ran the gun through my usual protocol: Caldwell Matrix Rest on concrete bench. Five shot groups measured twice, center-to-center (farthest shots). First measurement: All five shots, to show what an experienced shooter can expect from an ideally braced position in calm conditions. Second measurement: Best three of those hits, which is a good approximation of what a machine rest will deliver from all five, and something the reader can more easily duplicate with his or her own pistol.

My favorite carry load in a full-size 1911 9mm is Federal’s 9BPLE, which turns out to also be one of the most affordable choices these days. With a decades-long history of quickly dropping armed felons, it has a bullet shape that feeds like hardball and enough “oomph” to run a .45-size slide with 9mm ballistics. Rated at 1,300 fps, this round averaged 1,336 out of the 5-inch P5 barrel on an Oehler chronograph. It planted its quintet of bullets into 1.70 inches, with the best three in 4/5 inch. Recoil wasn’t bad at all. In fact, you wouldn’t really notice this load kicks harder than standard-pressure 9mm practice ammo from the all-steel P5.

Once the heaviest weight available in 9mm Luger, 124-grain loads are nowadays considered “medium weight.” They were represented in my test with the proven-accurate Black Hills standard-velocity JHP—which produced the tightest group using both measurement criteria. The five-shot group ran 1.25 inches (all measurements were taken to the nearest 0.05), and the best three were in a mere 0.65.

Subsonic 147-grain loads have been a strong 9mm ammo trend for a quarter century now, and was represented here with Remington-UMC’s FMJ truncated cone offering, which I’ve seen win a number of practical pistol matches despite its relatively low cost. In this test, it put five shots into 2.45 inches at 25 yards, but four of those were in 1.35, and the best three clustered in 0.85.

My chronograph told me the Nighthawk barrel “shot hot,” sending the bullets out faster than the ammo makers’ specs. We’ve already noted that the Federal +P+ ran 36 fps faster than advertised. The Black Hills ammo—rated at 1,150 fps—averaged 1,177 fps over my Oehler. Only the 147-grain Remington-UMC subsonic landed in the expected ballpark, with an average velocity of 996 fps.


The heavy, coned, flanged barrel of the all-steel P5 reduces felt recoil, improving control but
disqualifying the gun from IDPA competition. Note the full-length guide rod.


Three other loads arrived too close to deadline in order to chronograph, but we had time to bench ’em. Nosler Match Handgun showed up in two bullet weights, both jacketed hollowpoint. The 115-grain, rated by Nosler at a mild 1,170 fps according to Nosler’s Mike See, punched five holes 2.80-inch apart, with the best four in 1.65 and the best three in 1-1/4. The Nighthawk P5 liked Nosler’s warmer 124-grain Match load a bit better: the total group was 2.35 inches with four in 1-1/2 and the best three in 1.05.

The surprise of the test, however, was Buffalo Bore +P+. With a 115-grain JHP bullet rated for a ferocious 1,400 fps, I figured it would have been built more for impact than for accuracy, but it gave the tightest group of the test from 25 yards. All five shots were in a best-of-test 1.20 inches, and the best three, which included a double, gave a group of 0.65.

When a gunwriter tests a deer rifle, you expect him to hunt deer with it. So if you’re testing a combat pistol,” it’s only logical to test it in a “combat shooting match.” After all, the match is supposed to replicate how the gun performs in a real situation. It’s not really convenient to ask the writer to get into an actual gunfight with it, and then get back to you on how things worked out!

My “Plan A” for this test gun had been to shoot it in the Citrus Challenge IDPA regional championship at the Central Florida Rifle & Pistol Club in Orlando, Florida. But Plan A went belly-up as soon as I learned the test gun wasn’t “IDPA-legal.” So Plan B was to use the P5 as a “demo gun” in the Pace-Setter drill I shoot with the training staff just before the students shoot their qualification.

We demonstrate to show the students what they have to perform, in limited time frames, if they want to become graduates. If you’re the instructor and the students are all watching you and thinking, “Let’s see if those who teach, can do,” I can tell you the experience will give you your weekly adrenaline requirement. Sweetening (or, depending how you look at it, poisoning) the pot is my promise to the students that if they outshoot me, they get an autographed $5 bill that says, “You beat me at my own game.”


The P5’s trigger is one of the most consistent Mas has encountered. The pull weight
of his test sample averaged a “street safe” 4.52 pounds.


The P5 features excellent sights. The ledged rear (above) allows one-handed
slide manipulation against belt or holster if necessary.


We started with extracts from the NRA Police Service Pistol course, six shots one-handed at 4 yards in 8 seconds. Now, the NRA specifies three yards and stipulates “ dominant hand only.” We did it twice, one hand only with either hand. With the non-dominant hand, the P5 planted six bullets in a pleasingly tight cluster, thanks to its clean trigger pull and highly visible front sight. Dominant hand only, the group was even tighter. So far, so good.

Next came six shots, a reload and six more shots at 7 yards. The Nighthawk’s excellent shootability put a dozen bullets pretty much through one center hole. Moving back to 10 yards, we fired 18 rounds from low cover position—a fast-in, fast-out “cover crouch,” then high kneeling, then low kneeling and reloading as we went. The consistent trigger and inherent accuracy of the P5 had every shot in about 3 inches long before the allotted time ran out. The wide magazine well (it’s capacious, but not a flower pot or anything) helped on every speed reload. The rig I carried the P5 in was a Mitch Rosen Ayoob Rear Guard IWB holster. It’s worth noting that I had no difficulty staying “discreet” with it during several days of concealed carry.

Finally, we fired “six rounds-each” runs from 15 yards from three different stances. I—not the Nighthawk—was responsible for one high left shot out of the group in the first position, and one low on the second. I was just shooting too fast. Still, the clean trigger pull and inherent accuracy of the P5 kept them toward the middle, and I wound up with a 100 percent score, 300 out of 300 points, with all shots in a group that measured 5 inches and change. When you can do that with more than three dozen people watching you, it says a lot for the “shootabilty” of your pistol. I was not unhappy with the Nighthawk P5’s performance.

Using the Nighthawk-furnished, Metalform magazines and my own Wilsons, there was never a feeding malfunction. The only choke was a single extraction failure with a low-power generic ball round, quickly cleared with a lock-strip-rack-reload protocol. In all the remainder of several hundred rounds fired by several shooters on the test team, the P5 ran perfectly.


Black Hills 124-grain JHP


Federal 115-grain +P+ JHP


Remington/UMC 147-grain FMJ
Twenty-five yard accuracy was impressive.

The Bottom Line

At an anticipated $3,800, what you’re paying for is extremely low recoil with extremely high shootability, and, of course, the pride of ownership factor. But the pride isn’t tied entirely to the price tag. Work the slide of the Nighthawk P5. That easy, “glass-smooth” feel is part of what you’re paying for. Nighthawk Custom is back-ordered on the production of its high-dollar, high-quality 1911 pistols.

There are reasons for that…
By Massad Ayoob
Photos: Joseph R. Novezolo


Maker: Nighthawk Custom
1306 Trimble Ave,
Berryhill, AR 72616
(870) 423-4867
Price: $3,800

Action type: Locked-breech semi-automatic
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 9+1
Barrel length: 5 inches
Overall length: 8.7 inches
Finish: Matte black
Sights: Fixed (night sights)
Grips: Checkered walnut
Price: $3,800

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Workhorse Rifle

Savage’s Model 16 Weather Warrior Proves
Its Mettle Up Past The Arctic Circle.

It seems the older I get, the more particular I am about firearms—especially where accuracy is concerned. Thirty years ago if I shot “minute of deer” groups from any rifle or handgun, that was good enough. Today I am much more finicky. Heck, if I can’t get MOA groups from some of my handguns, down the road they go.

Many years ago if you wanted extreme accuracy you generally had to lean toward a custom offering of some sort—and that demanded a larger cash outlay. But today’s gunmakers are using modern technology and design to push the envelope and are offering “out of the box” accuracy at a price that won’t deteriorate your kid’s college fund.

With an upcoming hunt scheduled in Greenland, I began searching for a utilitarian rifle to handle the rigors of travel and possible inclement weather. But accuracy was vital. Central Canadian Barren-Ground caribou was on the menu and I knew shots on the tundra could be long ones. During my research for the right rifle, the Savage Weather Warrior series kept cropping up. After speaking with various gunsmiths, hunters and shooters alike, I felt confident the short-action Savage Model 16 in the series would fill the bill (the company’s Model 116 is designated for long-action cartridges). I went ahead and ordered mine in .260 Remington.

The Weather Warrior series features a detachable box magazine and comes with the proprietary Accustock, incorporating a molded-in aluminum pillar block. But newer versions of the Accustock have been redesigned to feature a free-floating barrel—you can slide a dollar bill along the gap between stock and barrel. And the new Accustock variant comes with a unique recoil pad to make lengthy shooting sessions off the bench downright enjoyable.

Another Savage feature is the Accutrigger. Yes, it is adjustable (a tool is provided for this with the rifle). But since my test gun trigger broke at around 3 clean, creep-free pounds right out of the box, I didn’t feel any need to adjust it. I took the Model 16 Weather Warrior to the range along with another rifle costing three times as much and found the Savage to have a much better trigger by a considerable margin.

When cleaning the Model 16 I found the bolt release design most helpful. The release mechanism is located below the action just in front of the triggerguard. By depressing the release button and pulling the trigger simultaneously, the bolt can be removed or inserted. The ease of this feature is much appreciated when airline security personal request the bolt be removed and packed separate from the rifle.

A serrated, 3-position tang-mounted safety is another welcome feature. It’s located directly behind the bolt and can be operated with your right thumb (provided you’re right-handed!). This Savage also comes with detachable sling swivel bases. Before embarking on the Greenland hunt, I fitted the gun with a Butler Creek sling in anticipation for those long hikes ahead.

My test gun tipped the scales around 6-1/2 pounds unscoped. Both the 22-inch barrel and action are—in keeping with the Weather Warrior designation—stainless. Overall length is almost 42 inches and the rifle balances very well.

I fitted a Weaver Grand Slam 2-8X variable in rings and base mount provided by Savage. The scope features a Ballistic-X reticle with hash marks below the center crosshair. If you spend enough time at the range, you can figure out your hold at various yardages. For a hunt of this nature I normally sight in dead-on at 200 yards. Surprisingly, the next hash mark down from the center crosshair will be darn close to a 300-yard zero, while the next one down put me on at 400. Obviously, different loads and calibers will have different points of impact, but this is a starting point and a good way figure out your hold for a long poke. My .260 test gun, incidentally, features a 1:8-inch-twist barrel.


Two contributing factors to the Weather Warrior’s performance potential are
a free-floated barrel (above) and the excellent proprietary AccuTrigger (below).



A flush-fitting detachable box magazine (above) is a hallmark of the Weather
Warrior series. Mark topped his Model 16 Weather Warrior with Weaver’s 2-8X variable
(below). The Ken Onion Shenanigan (below, left) is available from Columbia River
Knife & Tool.


A Real-World 6.5

I feel the .260 Remington to be an unjustly neglected cartridge and I have grown fond of it (I’ve also used it in three different handguns recently). I’ve even bought one for my wife who has taken several deer and antelope with it. One reason for the .260’s effectiveness, I believe, is the range of quality 6.5mm projectiles available. Nosler, Hornady, and Sierra all make great bullets and I have hunted with all of them successfully. The 0.264-inch bullets are not only effective on medium-sized game, they are scary accurate. The cartridge has been extremely accurate in my guns and it doesn’t beat me up with recoil. What’s not to like about it? There is also a lot of reloading data from Nosler, Hornady, Sierra and Hodgdon. I seem to load most of my hunting rounds with Varget or H4350.

I’ve also tested factory ammunition from Federal, Remington, Barnes Vortex, Fusion, DoubleTap, CorBon and Black Hills at the range. My Savage, thankfully, was not picky—several 100-yard groups hovered around an inch. For my Greenland hunt, I settled on Federal’s 120-grain Ballistic Tip offering as it performed beyond my expectations.

Now all that was left for me to do was to get a caribou within sane shooting range.

Our adventure began in Kangerlussuaq, a small village in southwest Greenland slightly above the Arctic Circle. Greenland, incidentally, played an important role for the Allies during World War II as a stepping stone for American troops and supplies bound for England. And it’s also home to musk ox and caribou.

My wife, Karen, and I were celebrating our 35th anniversary. When I first asked her along, she thought I said “Greece.” But after a few days she was happy and content with Greenland. We were sharing camp with a group of American hunters whom we knew beforehand. Our comfortable tent camp was situated beside a river flowing from melting ice cap.

Joe Jakab, of Point Blank Hunts, organized the trip and enlisted the services of Jacob, a local outfitter who knows Greenland well. The camp proved good, the food great, and hard-working guides put us on to enough game to keep things interesting.

The first day we started hiking up the hills with Jacob. I was a little surprised to see some pretty steep hills, not exactly mountains, but serious inclines nonetheless (I’d been expecting more gentle, rolling terrain. Before lunch we bumped into an old musk ox bull. I couldn’t pass such an opportunity and used a Ten Point crossbow to take him down at 44 yards (but that’s another story!).

After the skinning chores were over, Jacob decided we would continue to look for caribou. To say he could cover ground would be an understatement! It doesn’t get dark until around 9 o’clock that far north, and we spent the day hiking and searching for caribou until then, covering miles on the open tundra. Karen was exhausted and I wasn’t far from it myself. That’s when I began to appreciate the easy-carrying qualities of the Savage Weather Warrior.


The Greenland tent camp—at a river’s edge—proved a comfortable respite from days afield.


Mark earned his caribou after days of wet-weather hiking through the Greenland tundra.

After a couple of days searching for a decent caribou, we found few. Unfortunately, the big bulls were nowhere to be found. So we had to cover as much ground as possible. On Day 4 we hiked to a beautiful lake up in the mountains where we took a boat to reach the far side—a previously un-hunted area.

We left our raincoats in the boat and begin climbing toward the top of a ridge. A couple of hours later it started raining. Perfect! Karen, who was now soaking wet, asked me what I had planned for our 40th anniversary.

But our travails were instantly forgotten when we spotted three caribou from a distant ridge—one decent bull running with a couple of females. We decided it was time to make a move and 30 minutes later we intercepted the bull. When he laid down momentarily, I peeked over the rim and ranged him at 142 yards. As I was wiping the water from the scope, the caribou must have caught wind of us as they all took off on a dead run.

Quickly I put the crosshairs on the bull and waited until he was clear of the two females. At the shot he stumbled but kept running. My second shot was a clean miss—100 percent operator error. The third shot dropped the bull in his tracks. I was relieved and thrilled, as were Jacob and Karen.

During all the excitement I found the bolt could be manipulated easily with the checkered bolt knob despite all the moisture. The bolt also cycled smoothly with no hiccups. And the good balance of the rifle had made it easy to stay on my running target.

The Savage was a pleasure to carry for miles as it weighed less than 8 pounds scoped. After photos, caping, quartering and packing the caribou back to the boat, all of our gear was soaking wet, including the rifle. But withstanding inhospitable weather conditions is exactly what the Savage Weather Warrior was designed for, while delivering an accurate shot under adverse conditions at a price that won’t scare you.
By Mark Hampton

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Model 16 Weather Warrior
Maker: Savage Arms
100 Springdale Rd., Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 642-4262

Action type: Bolt action
Caliber: .260 (tested), many others
Capacity: 4
Barrel length: 22 inches
Overall length: 41-3/4 inches
Weight: 6.9 pounds
Finish: Matte stainless steel
Sights: None, drilled and tapped for scope
Stock: Synthetic Accustock
Price: $885

2-8x Grand Slam
Maker: Weaver Optics
1 ATK Way, Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 379-1732

Magnification: 2X to 8X
Objective Diameter: 36mm
Eye Relief: 3.46 inches (2X), 3.31 inches (8X)
Internal Adj. Range: 80 MOA elevation & windage at 100 yards
Click Value: 1/4 inch
Tube Diameter: 1 inch
Overall Length: 10.9 inches
Reticles: Ballistic X
Price: $415.95


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Lever Action Deluxe

Tasteful Tradition: Thanks To Doug Turnbull
And Miroku, Navy Arms’ Model 1873 .357
Magnum Is Several Cuts Above The Ordinary.

The levergun I am currently shooting has plenty of history and tradition connected with it. It’s Navy Arms’ .357 Magnum reproduction of the legendary Winchester Model 1873. Let’s take a look at how it evolved.

Looking first at the history of Winchester, we have to go back to the 1850’s. Two men destined to become very famous, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, began manufacturing a magazine-fed, lever-action pistol in their Connecticut plant. It was called the Volcanic, and one Benjamin Tyler Henry was in charge of production.

In 1855 Smith & Wesson was reincorporated with a new name, Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. One of the investors was a shirtmaker by the name of Oliver Winchester. The Volcanic, both in pistol and rifle form, did not prove to be financially lucrative, and in 1856 the company was bankrupt. Winchester, however, purchased the entire company and reorganized it as New Haven Arms Company with B. Tyler Henry as shop superintendent.

In 1860 the Henry rifle from New Haven Arms Co. became the first successful repeating rifle using fixed ammunition. The caliber was .44 Rimfire and the cartridges loaded from the front of a tubular magazine—much like .22 leverguns today. In 1866 the King’s Patent loading gate was incorporated into the receiver and the 1860 Henry evolved into the 1866 Winchester. At this time New Haven Arms became Winchester Repeating Arms. Both rifles had brass frames and were chambered for the original .44 Rimfire round. The stage was now set for what would be known as “The Gun That Won The West”.

Starting with an iron—then a steel—frame, the 1866 evolved into the Model 1873. The cartridge was also changed from .44 Rimfire to the .44 Winchester Center Fire or .44 WCF—today usually referred to as the .44-40. All three of these rifles featured what is known as a toggle-link action.

The toggle link works on the principle of a knuckle—a design also used on the much larger Model 1876, a levergun, and the model Theodore Roosevelt preferred for big-game hunting. With the coming of John Browning and the Model 1886, the action was changed to a much stronger version with two steel bars at the back, which locked everything in place for firing. This same principle was used in a smaller Model 1892 Winchester, which eventually replaced the Model 1873. Today, all of these 19th-century Winchesters live on in replica form with those bearing the Winchester name being produced by Miroku in Japan.

In the late 1950’s I acquired my first replica percussion sixgun imported by Navy Arms, founded by Val Forgett and headquartered in New Jersey. I believe Forgett’s first replica was the .36 Model 1851 Navy. Over the decades Navy Arms grew, and today, anyone who enjoys shooting replicas of 19th-century arms can thank Val Forgett.


The Navy Arms Model 1873 Rifle (top) compared to the standard Winchester 1873.
The short-stroke lever kit on the Navy Arms version (below) permits a shorter
lever throw.


Currently, Navy Arms, along with Gibbs Rifle Company and Old Western Scrounger, is headed up by Val Forgett III. Now they’ve once again reached back into history to resurrect a traditionally styled levergun. However, this particular Model 1873 has many special features as would have been found on some of the original Winchesters in the 1870’s. This is the type of rifle, which would have been special ordered by someone taking particular pride in their firearm. Currently, Miroku is producing a standard Winchester Model 1873 with a blued receiver, walnut stock and forearm, round barrel and curved steel butt plate. But this Navy Arms version is more like you’d expect a “1 of 1,000” Winchester original to have looked.

Just as with the original 1873, this modern version has a sliding dust cover on top of the receiver to keep dirt and debris out of the action. When the lever is operated the dust cover slides to the rear and stays there until you push it forward with your thumb.

The first thing I noticed about the Navy Arms 1873 is the beautifully color case-hardened receiver. One look and I surmised it could only have been done by Doug Turnbull. And it was. It consists of striking blue, brown and gray… beautifully mottled colors as only Turnbull can do them. In addition to the receiver, the lever, hammer, trigger, sliding dust cover and forearm tip are also case colored.

All of this matches up with a deep blue finish on the octagon barrel and tubular magazine. Stamped on the left side of the barrel is “Winchester Model 1873—Caliber 357 Mag-38 Spl Only.” On the right side is “Made by Miroku-Japan—Imported by BACO, Inc. -Morgan, Utah” and “Winchester is a registered trademark of Olin Corporation.” Finally, on top in front of the rear sight is “Navy Arms.”

The exceptionally nice American walnut stock is finished with a very tough glossy coating adding to the good looks of the rifle. The forearm and pistol grip area are nicely checkered. Wood-to-metal fit is excellent.

I’ve never understood why anyone ever came up with the steel curved buttplate found on most traditional lever guns of the era, so I am happy to report the rifle has a shotgun-style buttplate. There isn’t much felt recoil exhibited by the .357 Magnum cartridge for which this Navy Arms Model 1873 is chambered; however, the sharp points on a steel curved buttplate do not need much in the way of recoil to make things uncomfortable.

Sights consist of an adjustable for elevation semi-buckhorn rear sight matched up with a gold bead front. Both are set in dovetails should windage adjustment be necessary. I do not get along real well with buckhorn sights; however, the tang of the Navy Arms Model 1873 is already drilled and tapped for a tang sight. Another nice touch to this Navy Arms Model 1873 is the fact it has a factory-installed short-stroke kit. Without it, the lever would bow forward far enough to form a 90-degree angle with the receiver, but with the short-stroke kit the angle is more like 75 percent. The upshot is the Navy Arms Model 1873 can be operated very quickly. The trigger pull on mine was a very crisp 4 pounds.


Turnbull color case-hardening, a .357 Magnum chambering and smooth
shootability make the Navy Arms Model 1873 a hit from the get-go.


These targets show John’s Navy Arms Model 1873 handles
several 158-grain .357 factory loads quite well.

Thanks to the toggle-link action, cartridges in the magazine tube come straight back and then straight up to be fed into the chamber. This is a very smooth operation—and especially so when combined with the short-stroke kit. However, all is not perfect.

This Navy Arms 1873 rifle is advertised as being able to take both .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges. However, when the shorter cartridge comes straight back out of the magazine tube onto the lifter, it allows the next cartridge in the magazine tube to also try to enter and the lifter locks up on the rim of the second round. I tried some dummy .38 Specials with regular semi-wadcutters, which proved too short and jammed up the action. This can be remedied by using relatively long bullets such as 168-grain cast lead RN’s (remember, though, plain-base bullets normally only work at a relatively very low velocity).

With the buckhorn sights, my test-firing was done at 40 yards. Two of my handloads using the Lyman/Thompson 358156GC and loaded with 2400 and 4227 did not perform well at all—grouping in the 3-inch range. But my handload consisting of the Hornady 158-grain XTP-JHP over 15.5 grains H110 clocked out at 1,644 fps and put four shots in 1-1/4 inches at 40 yards. With factory loads the most accurate tested was Speer’s 158-grain Gold Dot HP at 1,864 fps. This load produced 4-shot groups in a very tight 5/8 inches. I was surprised at the performance of the Black Hills 158-grain lead SWC (1,238 fps), and the Federal 180-grain Cast Core (1,602 fps), both of which produced groups of just over an inch.

I normally don’t like to play the “What if you could only have one gun” game. But I will say a good .22 rifle is an absolute given, and after that my first choice in a centerfire rifle is a .357 Magnum, and this is about the best looking .357 rifle ever produced. No, I would not use it for big-game hunting, although it would certainly suffice for hogs and small deer. It makes a perfect “packing around” lever action. With 10 rounds in the magazine it would certainly serve for self-defense and for the grand old pastime of plinking. I don’t know of anything else which could top it.
By John Taffin

.357 MAGNUM Factory Ammo Performance

Load Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (inches)
Black Hills 158 JHP 1,546 1-1/4
Black Hills 158 LSWC 1,238 1-3/8
Federal 180 JHP 1,583 2
Federal 180 Cast Core 1,602 1-1/4
Hornady 125 XTP-JHP 2,206 1-3/4
Hornady 158 XTP JHP 1,869 1-1/4
Hornady 158 XTP FP 1,847 1-1/2
Speer 125 GDHP 2,256 1-3/4
Speer 158 GDHP 1,864 5/8
Winchester 125 JHP 2,196 1-3/4
Winchester 145 Silvertip 1,911 2

Note: Chronograph set at 10 feet from the muzzle. Groups are 4 shots at 40 yards.

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Model 1873

Maker: Miroku
Importer: Browning Arms
Distributor: Navy Arms
44 Dupont Road, Martinsburg, WV 25404
(304) 274-0004

Action Type: Lever
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Capacity: 10+1
Barrel Length: 20 inches
Overall Length: 39 inches
Weight: 8 pounds
Finish: Blued with case colored receiver and furniture by Turnbull
Sights: Semi-buckhorn rear
Marble gold bead front
Stock: American walnut
Price: $2,500


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Good Vibrations

How Your Rifles Barrel Moves And Affects Accuracy.

Many shooters call the vibrations of a fired rifle barrel “harmonics,” but anybody who’s ever seen a slow-motion video of a centerfire rifle being fired would have a hard time applying a musical term. The barrel whips up and down like a jiggled fishing rod, and those are just the vibrations we can see, since it also expands slightly as the bullet passes through the bore, like a snake swallowing a mouse, and even twists due to the torque of the rifling. In rifles chambered for more powerful rounds the visible whips and snaps often extend into the action and scope.

The largest barrel movement, however, is up and down. Shooters normally hold a rifle with the trigger underneath and the sights on top, so when the rifle goes off, recoil tilts the rifle upward. This effect is reduced with a very straight stock and high scope or sights, but our upper body still tends to bend backwards during the push of recoil, even from a light-kicking rifle. Plus, at rest the barrel bends downward slightly, due to gravity. This “droop” tends to straighten with the pressure of a bullet traveling down the bore, and combined with the natural upward movement of the rifle emphasizes vertical vibrations.

Unfortunately, we can’t totally prevent barrel whip. All we can do is cope with its effect, using three methods: freedom, repression and what’s often called “tuning.”

Free-floating, naturally, is the freedom method, theoretically allowing the barrel to vibrate the same way every time. To be truly free-floated the barrel can’t touch the fore-end even during its deepest bends. This confuses some people, including a few supposedly professional gunsmiths, who believe if a folded dollar bill can slide between barrel and fore-end, then the barrel’s free-floated.

Unfortunately, many bill-floated barrels will touch the fore-end when fired, resulting in some really weird vibrations. My basic test for free-floating is to grab the tip of the fore-end and the barrel in one hand and squeeze. If the barrel bottoms out in the fore-end, then it isn’t floated enough to vibrate freely, but complications can occur.

Many years ago I purchased a Mark X Mauser 7mm Remington Magnum, and decided to install an early injection-molded stock. The rifle shot very well in the original factory walnut stock, and would group most shots well under an inch in the “Tupperware” stock—except now and then, when a flier landed an inch or more from the main group.

The fore-end was hollow, so I couldn’t see how it could be tapping the barrel. However, the hollow channel contained a plastic pedestal for the fore-end sling-swivel stud, and once in a while the barrel vibrated enough to tap the top. After filing off about 0.1-inch of the pedestal and the screw inside, the rifle started behaving predictably.


This particular ladder test was shot at 400 yards with a .223 WSSM and H1000 powder,
one the Hodgdon Extremes, resulting in less velocity variation at different temperatures.

In slimmer barrels the torque effect of the rifling can also whip the barrel back and forth somewhat. As a result, we also need to make sure the barrel doesn’t touch the sides of the barrel channel.

The most common method of vibration repression is a thicker barrel, the reason for the “truck axles” on benchrest rifles. A fat barrel doesn’t vibrate as widely as a thin barrel, but fat is a relative term. We’re really referring to a barrel’s stiffness, and several factors affect stiffness, including the size of the bore and barrel length. In barrels of the same outside diameter, there’s more steel around, say, a .22 caliber hole than a .30 caliber hole, one reason factory rifles in .223 Remington usually shoot more accurately than identical factory rifles in .308 Winchester.

However, shortening a barrel also reduces vibrations, and a shorter barrel also doesn’t droop as much from gravity. This effect is particularly noticeable in thinner barrels, and over the years I’ve cured accuracy problems in several lightweight barrels by cutting off an inch or three. (And no, the cure wasn’t due to a new crown, because recrowning had already been tried before the shortening.)

In fact, more than one “accuracy” gunsmith of my acquaintance refuses to put 26-inch barrels on hunting rifles, because long sporter-weight barrels flop around too much for the finest accuracy. As a result I’ve owned more than one 25-inch barreled rifle in chamberings such as .270 Weatherby and .300 Winchester Magnum. In general, my experience with long, free-floated sporter-weight barrels mirrors theirs.

Then there are those trendy flutes. Some people still claim flutes stiffen barrels, but removing steel from a cylinder can’t stiffen the cylinder. Instead, fluting results in a stiffer barrel than a standard barrel that weighs the same, because the standard barrel is thinner in diameter. However, there’s some scientific evidence that certain kinds of fluting can help dampen barrel vibrations—but most fluting isn’t done scientifically, and factory fluting is often so shallow it’s essentially cosmetic.

Today there are even the triangular-shaped barrels on Remington 700 VTR’s. One corner of the equilateral triangle runs along the top of the barrel, like an integral rib, and probably does reduce up-and-down vibrations, especially since the stocks on VTR’s have the typical Remington “speed bump” near the tip of the fore-end channel, placing some upward pressure on the barrel.

I’ve shot several VTR’s and own one, and all shot accurately. In fact the .204 Ruger VTR I own was really accurate before the barrel was shot out, averaging around 3/4-inch for 10 shots of its favored handload, fired as fast as possible with accurate aiming. (This is my standard test for a varmint rifle used on abundant rodents, because a barrel that shifts point-of-impact when hot is useless for shooting prairie dogs.)

However, when the rifle’s original 22-inch barrel started losing accuracy, after about 1,600 rounds of often-hot shooting, I replaced it with a 24-inch sporter-weight, stainless-steel Remington factory barrel, purchased for the vast sum of $75. (New 700 barrels can be purchased cheaply on the Internet because so many rifle loonies desiring custom rifles buy new Remington 700’s just for the action.)

The replacement barrel fits inside the wide barrel channel of the VTR stock like a flagpole inside an elevator shaft, so in theory should vibrate far more than the shorter, stiffer triangular barrel. But it shoots just as accurately as the old barrel, demonstrating some overlap in barrel performance regardless of contour and length.

Using the stock’s fore-end to tame barrel vibrations sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Much depends on the amount of pressure, how and where it’s applied, and the stock. The barrels of Melvin Forbes’ New Ultra Light Arms rifles are full-length bedded, without a speed bump or any other extra pressure. Instead the barrels are epoxy-bedded “neutrally” in the barrel channel—and NULA’s have an enviable reputation not just for accuracy but continuing to shoot accurately when the barrel’s hot.


John owns two hunting rifles with light 26-inch barrels, a custom .25-06 (top) and a
Weatherby Ultra Lightweight in 7mm Wby. Magnum. The fore-ends of both rifles firmly
contact the barrels, dampening vibrations somewhat, but the slim barrels are much
more finicky about the loads they prefer than heavier barrels.


Heavy-contour barrels are the most reliably accurate (above), because they’re stiffer,
the reason benchrest rifles have heavy barrels. The load for this E.R. Shaw 6.5-06 was
worked up at 100 yards (below), but still didn’t show much elevation variation at 600.
The horizontal spread is due to a slight right-hand breeze.


The 3-Shot Myth

One of the oldest semi-myths in rifle accuracy is all sporter-weight barrels throw “fliers” after three shots, due to heating up, the reason many people shoot only 3-shot groups, or allow barrels to cool for a couple minutes between shots. But when properly stress-relieved, even light barrels shouldn’t change point of impact as they heat up.

Instead, the primary reason a 4th or 5th shot often lands “outside” a 3-shot group is that three shots aren’t enough to reveal the accuracy spread of any ammunition. While shooters have long argued about how many shots are required, no shooting statistician I’ve ever talked to says three are sufficient.

This doesn’t mean some factory barrels don’t start shooting in a different direction when warm. I once owned a heavy-barreled .22-250 made by a factory noted for accurate rifles, but it proved useless for prairie dog shooting because after three or four shots you never knew where the next bullet would land. (While heavy barrels tend to shoot more accurately, they aren’t a guarantee of accuracy, and heat-warping isn’t limited to sporter-weight barrels.)

At the other extreme, a friend who bought a NULA with a No. 2 contour .30-06 barrel reported a 35-shot group of just over an inch, while firing one shot after another until, he said, “the barrel was hot enough to light a cigarette.” (That may have been an exaggeration, but my friend does smoke cigarettes—though only in hunting camp.) The bullets kept landing in the same place, and he couldn’t keep himself from pulling the trigger, just to see what would happen.

With any fore-end contact, stock stiffness also has an effect on barrel vibrations. NULA stocks are among the stiffest made, but another accuracy gunsmith I know claims synthetic stocks should be at least slightly flexible, which he says helps dampen vibrations. (Some shooters also claim laminated wood stocks reduce vibrations, and my experience tends to agree.) Target stocks have even included adjustable pressure points in the fore-end, though these days they’re uncommon.


John’s Remington 700 VTR in .204 Ruger shot extremely well with the original, triangular-contour
factory barrel until it was shot out. The barrel was replaced by another factory Remington .204
barrel that shoots equally well, despite being longer and so thin it doesn’t come anywhere close
to touching the stock’s barrel channel.


These Remington 700 barrels have the same length and outside diameter, but the
.17-caliber barrel is stiffer than the 7mm barrel, so should be more accurate—and is.


Many believe a barrel’s free-floated when a folded dollar bill will slip between
fore-end and barrel, but a cotton cleaning patch is a better test, since many
barrels can still whip enough to contact the fore-end during the dollar bill test.


Shooting a “ladder test” at longer ranges can help find the
accuracy “node” for a certain load.

Firm fore-end bedding doesn’t guarantee accuracy with slimmer barrels. In my modest collection of light hunting rifles are a couple with 26-inch barrels. One’s a custom Mauser 98 in .25-06, with a genuine P.O. Ackley barrel measuring only 0.575 inch at the muzzle, stocked in straight-grained walnut with the same sort of “neutral” fore-end bedding as in NULA rifles. The other’s a Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight in 7mm Weatherby Magnum with a factory-fluted barrel, 0.585 inch at the muzzle, supported by a speed bump in the fore-end of the synthetic stock. Both are accurate with very specific handloads, but not very accurate with others.

Experimenting with various loads is part of the third method of “tuning” barrel vibrating. Most theories suggest the finest accuracy results when bullets leave the muzzle during the same stage of barrel vibration. Some say this is when the muzzle “pauses” at the top and bottom of the up-and-down whip, but others claim bullets leaving just before the top pause shoot most accurately, especially at longer ranges. This is because even in the most consistent ammunition, there’s always some velocity variation and bullets with slower muzzle velocities exit the muzzle slightly later in the vibration cycle, when the muzzle’s tilted slightly higher. The higher trajectory of the slower bullets makes them land closer to the same place as faster bullets.

Finding this accurate vibration “node” is the theory behind the ladder method of testing long-range handloads, usually credited to the late gunsmith and target shooter Creighton Audette. Instead of shooting handloads at only 100 yards to determine which powder charge groups tightest, single rounds with slightly varying powder charges are shot at longer range. This results in a vertical string of bullet holes, but several will usually cluster around a certain level, and averaging those powder charges results in the correct charge for longer-range accuracy. (Of course, other shooters say this is BS, that finding the most accurate powder charge at 100 yards results in fine accuracy way out there too, especially when there’s little variation in chronographed accuracy. I am firmly equivocal on the subject, having experienced good results with both methods.)

Factory ammo, whether centerfire or rimfire, can be accuracy-tested by shooting several brands, or by tuning the barrel itself, either with an adjustable muzzle extension or slide-on additions. A few factory rifles come with adjustable muzzle extensions. Probably the best-known is the BOSS introduced by Browning in the mid-1990’s. Instead of trying different ammo, you select the brand desired and then tune the barrel by turning the BOSS.

This works, at least for one range session, but rifle powders vary considerably in their sensitivity to temperature, the major flaw of any barrel-tuning device. If ambient temperature is roughly the same as when tuning the barrel, then the load will shoot accurately, but if the temperature changes considerably it may not. The powders used in factory ammunition also change more than most shooters realize, especially in hunting ammo.

Factories do try to make target ammo as close to the same as possible from lot to lot, the reason most rifles shoot it very well. Over the past couple of years I’ve shot quite a bit of Black Hills and Hornady target ammo in .308 Winchester, in rifles varying from inexpensive, slim-barreled sporters to heavy-barreled tactical rifles, and both brands usually shot as well or better than handloads “tuned” to particular rifles, and in temperatures varying from sub-freezing to 90+ degrees.

After we consider all the factors in barrel vibrations, it starts to cause some wonder about how so many rifles place their bullets in tiny clusters, so consistently—but if we understand the basic of barrel vibrations the odds of our own rifles shooting accurately rise, perhaps even as much as the muzzle of a .338 Lapua during the peak of its “harmonics.”
By John Barsness

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Cast Away!

No, You Don’t Have To Stick With Jacketed
Bullets In Your Pet Semi-Auto Pistol. Really.

This last politically inspired component/ammunition scare has hit hard and lasted long. At this writing shortages have eased somewhat, but supplies at many gun stores are not back to normal. Just like everyone else, I am hostage to manufactured components such as primers, powders and factory-made rifle bullets.

But in regard to handgun bullets, this past shortage has had zero impact on me, even for my autoloading pistols.

That’s because I cast my own. When gathering information to present in my articles, jacketed bullets are included in handloads for semi-auto’s and, whenever possible, factory ammunition is used as well. But for my own personal use, I cast bullets.

A great many handgunners and handloaders think jacketed bullets are mandatory for their autoloaders. And that may be true, if their own guns come with specific instructions to avoid lead alloy bullets because of specific types of rifling. Personally, I don’t own or handload any gun with this handicap anyway.

But I do currently reload for 17 autoloading pistols chambered for the following cartridges: .32 ACP, 7.65mm French Long, 8mm Japanese Nambu, .380 ACP, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Makarov, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Every single one of those pistols feeds, functions and shoots accurately with bullets I cast for them.

It is not a difficult process, although some specifics must be addressed differently than when casting for revolvers. The first such factor is alloy temper. Autoloading pistol bullets go through a violent journey in feeding from magazines, often up rough feed ramps and then stopping abruptly in chambers. This means the bullet must be strong and locked securely in the case.

A “strong” bullet is a hard bullet. There is just no way around it. Autoloading pistol bullets must be hard. Lyman recommends their No. 2 alloy blend as minimum for autoloading pistols. Its Brinell Hardness Number is about 15. In times long gone, that alloy could be formed by adding a pound of 50/50 solder to 9 pounds of wheelweight alloy. Unfortunately, wheelweights made of lead and antimony are rapidly disappearing as is lead-based solder—again due to politically inspired factors.


These five WWi 9mm’s are used almost exclusively with Duke’s home-cast bullets
(above, left and down): Inglis/Browning Hi-Power, Inglis/Browning Hi-Power with
shoulder stock and FN/Browning Hi-Power. Two others (right and down) include a
German P08 “Luger” and a Walther P-38. Duke casts bullets for these semi-auto
handgun cartridges (below, from left): .32 ACP, 7.65mm French Long, 8mm Nambu,
.380 ACP, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Makarov, .40 S&W and .45 Auto.


Lyman’s several cast bullet manuals (the most recent written by yours truly) list linotype alloy as the hardest one practical for cast bullet shooting. It is usually rated as having a BHN of 22—making it a wonderful choice for semi-auto pistols (as well as for rifle bullets exceeding about 1,500 fps). Being so hard, linotype pistol bullets are also “slick” in regard to sliding up feed ramps without damage.

Linotype was a product of the printing trade and is also becoming a thing of the past. But don’t despair—it was made in such enormous quantities it is still encountered in salvage yards, and modern equivalents from alloy dealers are commercially available.

Now get this: Only 5 of my 17 semi-auto pistols are civilian models (Colt, Les Baer, Kimber). The rest were manufactured in their respective nations for military use. None have been altered in any way. All function perfectly with linotype cast bullets if they are of the proper shape.

Semi-wadcutter cast bullets with their sharp edges and flat meplat have been all the rage for revolvers for the past half century. Sometimes they will actually function through semi-auto’s, but it’s a chancy thing. My very first 9mm—an S&W Model 39—handled SWC bullets fine. None of my current 9mm’s will at all.

The nearest thing to a SWC that will usually function through unaltered semi-auto’s is the roundnose/flatpoint (RN/FP). Such a bullet shape was originally intended for lever guns with tubular magazines. The flatpoint bullets were insurance against rounds setting off primers ahead of them in the magazine. I’ve used those lever gun bullets in .40 S&W and .45 ACP with no problems.



Duke relies on cast bullets when shooting his shoulder-stocked Inglis/Browning
9mm. He likes Lyman’s 356242 for 9mm handloading (inset), but wishes they would
offer it in a 4-cavity mold instead of just a double-cavity version.

However, the king of all cast bullet shapes for semi-auto handloads is the plain old roundnose. All the bullet mold manufacturers offer .45 ACP, 9mm and .32 ACP RN designs, but an interesting fact is that the “Big Three” (Lyman, RCBS and Redding/SAECO) do not offer a RN .40 S&W bullet design.

Here’s another tip from me gained from reloading for autoloaders for 46 years at this writing: Buy a mold with multiple cavities. I started with a Lyman 452374, 225-grain RN for my first 1911. It was a single-cavity model because it was all I could afford as a college student. That thing nearly worked me to distraction! Now I have the same bullet design in a Lyman 4-cavity mold, so a few hours of casting nets me a pile of .45’s.

At times the mold manufacturers try to stifle my joy. For instance, after discovering that my 9mm pistols all shoot well with Lyman 356242 (120-grain RN), I tried to buy a 4-cavity mold for it but they only make that one in double-cavity molds. The same was true for my favorite .40 S&W choices—either Lyman 401043 or RCBS 40-180CM. They are only available in double-cavity blocks. Redding/SAECO is more open-minded. They offer all their semi-auto pistol bullet designs in either 3- or 4-cavity blocks.

Here’s another tip gained from personal experience: Many new casters start out by sizing their new bullets to the same diameter as jacketed bullets for their chosen cartridge. They pick 0.355-inch for 9mm or 0.400 for .40 S&W or 0.451 for .45 ACP. Conversely, I’ve learned from actual shooting experience that more in the way of accuracy will occur with larger-than-nominal cast bullets. My standard sizing diameters for the three above-mentioned calibers are 0.356-inch, 0.401 and 0.452. I’ve even used 0.357 for 9mm military pistols with good results, but rounds with bullets that large may not chamber in tighter commercial chambers.

Early on I mentioned cast bullets in semi-auto handguns must be “locked in.” That means they must have some sort of crimp. Going back to my first experiences with the 9mm S&W Model 39. I just seated cast bullets into the cases friction tight and they shot fine until one got pushed back on the powder charge during its trip up the feed ramp. Result? The case wall blew out with the escaping gas splitting both wooden grip panels. No other harm was done, fortunately, and a good lesson was learned.


The easiest way to avoid semi-auto functioning woes with cast bullets is to cast
them hard and with rounded shapes (from left): 9mm/Lyman #356242 (120 grains),
.45 ACP/Lyman 452374 (225 grains), .32 ACP/RCBS 32-77RN (77 grains), 8mm Nambu/RCBS
#8mm-110RN (110 grains) and .40 S&W/Lyman #401043 (170 grains).


Bullets must be locked in semi-auto cases securely. Ruptured cases (above) can
result if they become pushed back on top of powder charges, raising pressures.
Another problem that can be encountered with lead alloy bullets is slivers being
peeled by the case mouth during bullet seating (below). The case mouth must be
expanded and its edge chamfered properly. The accumulated lead can interfere
with headspacing.


For most semi-auto handloading, a taper crimp is recommended (with jacketed bullets too) but that is not a universal rule. Rounds such as .45 ACP and .40 S&W are rimless. Therefore headspacing is done by the case mouth stopping on the end of the pistol barrel’s chamber. The .32 ACP is considered a semi-rimmed case. You can actually apply a bit of a roll-crimp on .32 ACP bullets without problems. Then of course, bottleneck cases headspace on the case shoulder so they can get a full roll crimp. Examples of those are .30 Mauser, .30 Luger and 8mm Nambu (the former two I’ve handloaded with cast bullets in the past and the latter one I still do).

In regards to reloading dies and cast bullets the handloader needs to think about plugs: expander plugs and seating die nose plugs. The seating die nose plug needs to fit the bullet’s nose profile. At the minimum an improper plug will score the bullet’s nose with an unsightly ring. At most it will seat the bullet crooked in the case, which will do nothing good for the finished loads.

To get cast bullets properly seated without damage, the case mouth must be flared so bullet’s base starts without shaving alloy as they are pushed into cases. Also the case mouth edge should be chamfered. However, another consideration is the diameter of the expander plug in those dies. Most companies supply expander plugs for semi-auto pistol calibers about 0.002-inch less than nominal bullet diameter.

For instance, I just measured the expander plug from a set of Lyman .40 S&W/10mm Auto dies. It is 0.398-inch in diameter whereas the nominal jacketed bullet size is 0.400. Likewise, with a set of Lyman .38 Super dies. Jacketed bullets for that cartridge are supposed to be 0.356 (although most jacketed bullets today are 0.355) and Lyman supplies a 0.353 plug. Most times and with most brands of cartridge cases these expander plugs will work well with cast bullets because we’re usually only going 0.001 inch over jacketed bullet diameters.


Duke shot this group at 21 feet (above) with Walther PP .380 ACP using his
own cast bullets. His 1938-vintage 9mm Luger shoots home-cast bullets
very well at 25 yards (below).



Duke has owned this Hungarian PA63 9mm Makarov for 20 years and
fires home-cast bullets in it most of the time.

But an expander plug that is too large or too small can cause you problems. The one in my RCBS 9mm Parabellum die set is only 0.352-inch. That’s OK for jacketed bullets—they’re strong enough to force the case to accept the 0.003-inch larger bullet. But if you want to seat a 0.356, or even 0.357 bullet in 9mm cases expanded with a 0.352-inch plug, they may be damaged. I’m not saying they will be dangerous to shoot, but they probably won’t group as well as you’d like.

Now let’s look at it from the other direction. Let’s say your expander plug is 0.353-inch and you need to load 0.355 lead alloy bullets. Are they going to be tight enough in cases when cycled through the pistol? Remember what I said happened to me when a loose bullet was pushed back on the powder charge? All this talk of measuring bullets, expander plugs and so forth is why wise handloaders keep good micrometers and calipers on their reloading benches.

At this point I’m sure some readers are waiting for me to tell them, specifically, what some really great semi-auto cast-bullet handloads are. I can’t. My own loads for my own guns I know well, but with the vast assortment of semi-auto pistols available today, I can’t say what will work in all of them.

But here’s what I will say. Start with good, hard bullets sized about 0.001-inch larger than jacketed bullets and carrying a well-known brand of commercial lube. Load them over charges of Bullseye, Accurate No. 2, Hodgdon’s HP38 or Titegroup that you garnered from Lyman’s 4th Edition Cast Bullet Handbook or their 49th Edition Reloading Handbook. Seat the bullets and crimp properly and you will be shooting every bit as accurately as I do.
Mike “DUKE” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino


These two oddball WWII-vintage pistols (above) make fine cast-bullet shooters.
At left is French Model 1935A 7.65mm Long. At right is Japan’s Type 14 8mm Nambu.
Duke developed cast bullet handloads equaling factory jacketed bullet loads in
these three pocket pistols (below, from left): FN/Browning Model 1922 .32 ACP,
Walther PP .380 ACP and Hungarian PA63 9mm Makarov.



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(860) 632-2020

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