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Recoiling From Reality

Face it. Getting older Means “Those Kicks
Just Keep Gettin’ Harder…”

It’s funny, but when it comes to hunting rifles, most kids can’t wait to get old enough to step up to more power, while lots of older guys secretly want to step down.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve become less tolerant of felt recoil as I’ve gotten older. Problem is, I’ve also become less tolerant of lugging heavy rifles around. And since I’m pretty fond of the calibers I’ve always used, I’m somewhat reluctant to scale down to loads capable of making a featherweight sporter more user-friendly.

Of course, today’s super-premium monolithic bullets allow what were previously considered lighter, marginal calibers to “punch above their weight.” Or you can simply use those bullets in a caliber you’re already “invested” in. In the January 2015 “Handloading,” John Barsness makes the case for using the 130-grain Barnes TSX in a .300 Magnum.

(Advocating a bullet of that weight in a .300 would have been big-game heresy not long ago): “The solid copper design results in a solid refusal to disintegrate, even at very high impact velocities. And the 130-grain loads recoiled noticeably less… something I appreciated during an afternoon of shooting off the bench.”

a 1- or 2-shot hunting situation, but somehow, sometime, you’ve got to zero the thing. And sitting at a bench—or shooting prone—makes it awful tough to escape the old “equal-and-opposite-reaction” thing. Unless you’re one of those zeroing geniuses who invariably manages to knock things into line with a couple of cartridges. After all, one wrong-way spin on an unfamiliar scope’s windage or elevation dial, and you can find yourself sentenced to another dozen rounds or so before you’re back to square one. And when you’re dealing with something like, say, a .340 Weatherby Magnum in a classic old “high comb/rollover cheekpiece” Mark V, the fun factor quickly fades (assuming you don’t have access to a Caldwell Lead Sled).


Load tailoring in a specific caliber can help block that kick. The .45-70 can be had—or handloaded—in
a wide range of power levels, suitable for anything from a Trapdoor action through a Marlin Guide Gun,
up to a Ruger No. 1. Here’s a Remington 405-grain Core-Lokt (left) at 1,330 fps and a Garrett 420-grain
+P Hard Cast (right) at 1,850 fps. The difference on hogs in the field at iron-sight ranges is minimal.
The difference on your shoulder from the bench is not.


Even in different calibers roughly covering the same areas of usefulness, it’s possible to step down
in recoil if you’re willing to step down a bit in power. The 7mm-08 (left) may not have the storied
versatility of the .30-06 (right), but in lightweight, short-action rifles, it’s a kinder, gentler

I’ve had my share of heavy-kickers. Although none were rifles I personally owned, shooting them fell into the “job description” area. One of the most notable was a beautiful .505 Gibbs built on a magnum Mauser action with 50- and 100-yard folding-leaf Express sights and a curb weight (if memory serves) of somewhere just north of 10 pounds. Editor Jeff John and I each fired one 50-yard, 3-shot group with it from a “standup” benchrest contraption, sporting a rolled-up carpet around a giant cross-dowel with the diameter of a coffee can. The ammunition we used featured a 525-grain softpoint at something in the neighborhood of 2,300 fps.

With age, however, comes wisdom. Next time out we enlisted the talents of a younger, studlier shooter who had a well-established “recoil proof” reputation. Jeff and I were relieved and grateful to find an heir to the tradition of Sir Samuel Baker, because now the rifle we had was an 8-bore October Country percussion double. This “no-longer-in-production” monster employed a full-power charge consisting of an 830-grain roundball in front of 300 grains of FFg.

The fact the rifle weighed a bit over 18 pounds wasn’t nearly enough inducement for me to try it. No worries though. Our friend Johnny scornfully declined our offer of a reduced load and went manfully for the Full Monty. He fired four rounds and chatted away gamely as Jeff reloaded the rifle again. (Thinking back on it, Johnny didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry for Jeff to finish).

Finally, Jeff capped the rifle and handed it back. Our test subject shouldered it with considerably less enthusiasm this time. His fifth shot was a misfire, so the flinch Jeff and I saw was there as if on the Big Screen—in all its undisguised, unmistakable glory.


Even John Taffin won’t take an unnecessary pounding if he doesn’t have to. Here he takes advantage
of a spring-loaded Knoxx Compstock to take some of felt recoil out of a .375 H&H.

A few years later—and a couple of upticks on my personal “creakiness scale”—got me to thinking about one of my own rifles; a very nice David Clay-customized Marlin Guide Gun in, naturally, .45-70—a cartridge I’ve always liked on hogs. Around the time there was something of a .45-70 revival going on.

Some of the loads from smaller, innovative ammo companies, like Garrett and Buffalo Bore, were seriously pushing the old Custer-era service round into low-end .458 Winchester territory. And I’d used several of these potent offerings—usually in heavyweight hardcast persuasion—despite the fact they invariably pushed me around quite a bit at the bench.

So eventually I began to shed my romantic fantasies and face up to the fact I was shooting hogs, not Alaskan brown bear or Cape buffalo. Sure, some of the pigs were pretty big, but I reasoned maybe it would be smart to back off on the horsepower somewhat.

That’s when I switched over to the older, slower 405-grain Core-Lokt Remington. Now, even at a relatively sedate 1,330 fps, it didn’t take much hog-hunting to convince me of one fact. While not in class of a 1,850 fps 420-grain +P Garrett, it was one heck of a hog load, besides being quite pleasant to shoot off the bench. And, turns out, the rifle liked it as much as I did.


Taffin, in his “salad days,” shot the .454 Casull for fun.
Now he uses it solely out of hunting necessity.

Handguns Included!

Our own John Taffin has fooled around with more hard-kicking ordnance—handgun and rifle—than most guys. I asked him if his tolerance level for recoil had diminished over the years. What he said made me feel a whole lot better about my own feelings in this regard:

”Shakespeare was right. We wind up just like we start. I began with .22’s 60 years ago and worked my way up to the biggest, baddest sixguns ever produced. The condition of my wrists and hands are evidence of that. Now I find myself back enjoying .22’s, .32’s and .38’s all over again. I only shoot the big stuff out of necessity these days, not for fun. Like when I used a .454 Casull to take a 7×7 bull elk and buffalo last fall.”

This also brings to mind another bit of advice from John. Never go out shooting until the temperature equals your age. Or, better still, exceeds it. Just make sure it’s Fahrenheit, not Celsius.


For the Navy SEAL Foundation: Three Sisters Forge Gorgon liner-lock,
in its presentation box.

A Cut-and-Dried Worthy Cause

If you want a first-rate custom folder and want to help out the Navy SEAL Foundation at the same time, check out this offering from Three Sisters Forge. It’s the Gorgon liner-lock, titanium-framed, black Cerakote finished folder, inscribed with the SEAL emblem, which comes in a wooden presentation case. Three Sisters’ Jim Allen kicks in $100 for every one sold to the Foundation, which serves Navy Seals, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen, Naval Special Warfare Support personnel and their families. It’s a more than worthy cause and a heck of a knife (
By Payton Miller

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Miles Of Aisles

SHOT Show! A Showcase For Shooters
Of Every Stripe.

Navigating through mammoth crowds of shooters, exhibitors and assorted industry types to examine the latest array of shooting-related gear is pretty much what the SHOT Show is all about. Of course, hooking up with old friends from previous shows, hunting trips and range sessions is part of the fun as well. (Incidentally, if you were wondering about the health of the industry, it’s worth noting this particular SHOT boasted the second-highest attendance rate ever.) Most folks seek out items they’re interested in and I’m no exception. But I often find myself enchanted with stuff I normally wouldn’t have thought about. And that’s part of the fun as well. At any rate, here are some of the Greatest Hits from my 2015 pilgrimage to Las Vegas.


SIG’s very shootable P220 Match Elite 10mm will come in four models including a hunting pistol.

Live Action!

Being an ink-stained wretch does have its advantages—such as participating in Media Range Day, where you actually get to send rounds downrange from a variety of “hot off the press” blasters. A couple of new items from SIG SAUER were particularly impressive. One was the 10mm P220 Match Elite—one of four single-stack P220 variants chambered for this hard-hitting caliber. The Match Elite operates in traditional DA/SA mode and has fully adjustable target sights. From what I experienced, it is remarkably soft-shooting and rang steel with authority. Firing at assorted dirt clods on the 75-yard berm showcased the flat-shooting characteristics of the 180-grain SIG Elite Performance load I used, making me wonder why the 10mm isn’t more popular than it is. Sure, the .40 S&W stole a lot of its thunder back in the early ’90’s, but still…

Since man does not live by handguns alone, I took a test spin with SIG’s new MPX 9mm SBR (also available in .357 SIG and .40 S&W). Once I got the adjustable stock set right, it was almost ridiculously easy to smack plates “at speed” out to 50 yards using the adjustable ghost-ring sights. Full-auto and suppressed versions were on hand featuring SIG’s proprietary lineup of cans and optics (the company is quite serious about integrating guns, ammo, optics and suppressors under their own banner).


Galco’s Walkabout IWB rig also features an integral mag pouch.

Dialing 1-9-1-1

No hike through the aisles would be complete without perusing the latest takes on The Greatest Handgun Ever Made. The two that blew my skirt up were Springfield’s full-size MC (Marine Corps) Operator—the newest entry into the company’s “Loaded” 1911 series. It features a 5-inch stainless match-grade barrel, flat mainspring housing, G10 grip panels, duo-tone black and OD green Armory Kote finish, memory bump, accessory rail and low-profile tritium 3-dot sights.

The other 1911 that caught my fancy was a Colt item—part of gunwriter Wiley Clapp’s Signature Series. The Lightweight Commander features the Series 70 firing system, Novak extra-wide rear (great for older eyes) and brass bead front. The signature look of the gun is accentuated by the Tactical Oval grips with a distinctive Pete Shingle checkering pattern, plus an original “long trigger.” And for dyed-in-the-wool Browning “completists,” Colt is reintroducing the .32 ACP Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless in Parkerized military trim. Word has it they’ll be bring the 1908 (.380 ACP) back as well.


Eagle Grips’ Limited Edition Walnut Heritage stocks dress up an S&W M58 .41 Magnum.

Hands-On History

If you’re like me, a love of “retro” is part and parcel of being a revolver freak. Eagle Grips’ Limited Edition Walnut Heritage stocks replicate the original S&W “Coke Bottle” factory style supplied through the 1950’s. Preferred by revolver legends Skeeter Skelton and Bill Jordan, they’re available for K-, L- and N-Frames, roundbutt or square in hand-checkered or smooth configuration.

Back in Black

Brown or black? I’ve often (reluctantly) pondered that style question in relation to shoes and belts. But Galco has decided to offer the choice to those who pack compact revolvers and autos. The Concealed Carry Lite lineup of IWB holsters is now available in black premium steerhide. The Walkabout model caught my attention with its integral spare magazine carrier. Even

to my unsophisticated eye, it looks dressier than brown. And whether it’s a wedding, a formal dinner or a SHOT Show, we all have to slip into a suit sometimes.


Looking for a revolver with reach? The S&W Performance Center 460XVR Bone Collector will.

S&W Screamer

I had an eye-opening (actually, nearly an out-of-body) experience while shooting the .460 S&W in the company’s massive X-Frame revolver when it first came out in 2005. So far, S&W has housed this high-velocity champ in number of X-Frame variants, but the Performance Center’s Model 460XVR Bone Collector may be the sexiest yet. Featuring a 7.5-inch barrel, unfluted cylinder, extended muzzlebrake, integral Weaver rail, 2-tone stainless finish and Bone Collector logo, this may well be the last word in big-game revolvers. And with a top velocity potential of 2,400 fps, who’s gonna argue? Curb weight of this limited-edition thumper is 4.81 pounds and, yes, it does come with a sling.


Back to tradition. Mossberg’s walnut-stocked Patriot is an affordable,
traditional bolt-action sporter.

Bolt-Action Basics

Mossberg has been one of our premier innovators lately, with their Flex modular system and MVP synthetic-stocked “chassis,” tactical and scout rifles. But with their classic walnut/laminate-stocked Patriot bolt action, they’ve obviously not forgotten the tradition-minded, big-game hunter. The Patriot features a fluted barrel, spiral bolt flutes and a flush-fitting box magazine. The streamlined bolt handle is sensibly designed and the stock is in the clean, no-nonsense American-style (of course they have synthetic-stocked versions as well). It’s available in 11 calibers—.22-250 on up to .375 Ruger—and in several variations.


For off-the-beaten path shooting spots, carry all your gear in
Maxpedition’s Gila Gearslinger.

Pistol-Friendly Pack

Maxpedition’s Gila Gearslinger is a compact solution for hauling range gear. It features a padded, load-bearing waistbelt, which allows concealed carry of large handguns, plus assorted ammo, targets and accessories should you find yourself having to hike a ways to your favorite shooting spot. I’ve used the larger Gearslinger packs for this purpose, but for informal, quick-and-dirty range forays requiring only one or two handguns, this one is even better. It’s available in several colors.


Colt’s got a Wiley Clapp Signature LW Commander (above), while
Springfield now offers the Marine Corps Operator (below).


XD Evolution Continue

Springfield has improved the ergonomics of their XD with the new Mod.2 Sub-Compact. Three different textured “Gripzones” combine to help the pistol stay in position when shooting—and do so comfortably. Available in 9mm, .40 S&W—and new for 2015—the .45 ACP with a slightly longer 3.3-inch barrel. The Mod. 2 Sub-Compact also features a slimmed-down slide, low-profile sights, and what the company refers to as a “High-Hand” beavertail and Grip Relief. We plan on covering the .45 ACP in detail soon, once the dust from SHOT settles.


Winchester’s Deer Season XP line features Extreme Point bullets.

A Primer-Poppin’ Premiere

• For high-volume shooters, Winchester offers a 200-round 9mm Range Pack featuring a 115-grain FMJ bullet (.40 S&W and .45 ACP also available). For deer hunters there’s the Deer Season XP line featuring Extreme Point bullets. It features eight loads ranging from a 95-grain .243 on up to a 150-grain .300 Win Mag.

• Long famous for offering Cowboy Action as well as historic (read: obsolete) loads, Ten-X Ammunition’s new Tactical line has a “Steel-Safe” frangible .223/5.56 featuring a 45-grain “PolyFrang” bullet at 3,100 fps.

• Hornady is now in the hog-specific ammo market. Their Full Boar lineup features monolithic copper-alloy GMX bullets to save your bacon in those pesky “no lead” hunting zones. Calibers include .223, .243, .6.8 SPC, .270 Win, 7mm Rem Mag, .308, .30-06 and .300 Win Mag. Other items of interest from Grand Island include a 12-gauge, 1-ounce American Whitetail Rifled Slug for smoothbores and a Critical Duty 135-grain .357 Magnum FlexLock load for revolver-ists.

• SIG SAUER’s Elite Performance ammo lineup now includes two loads to feed the company’s P220 10mm pistols. First is a 180-grain V-Crown JHP load, supported by a 180-grain FMJ practice load.

• Federal Premium is addressing the booming .380 ACP market with an HST Micro offering in their Personal Defense line. As the name suggests, this little number provides enhanced terminal efficiency from compact pistols, featuring a relatively heavy 99-grain JHP at 1,030 fps

• Remington’s “enhanced velocity” Hypersonic line of centerfire rifle cartridges employs Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded bullets and includes the usual suspects in terms of hunting favorites—.223, .243, .270 Win, 7mm Rem Mag, .308 and .30-06. Velocity increases vary, but as an example, the classic .30-06 150-grain offering clocks 3,035 fps, the 62-grain .223, 3,263 fps. We’re talking launch speeds well above conventional loadings here.

• CorBon’s latest handgun hunting loads uphold the company’s reputation for raw power. All feature Hunter A-Frame bullets and include a 180-grain .357 Mag at 1,200 fps (4-inch barrel), a 210-grain .41 Mag at 1,350 fps (4-inch barrel), a 280-grain .44 Mag at 1,350 fps (8.375-inch barrel) and a 300-grain .460 S&W Mag at 1,700 fps (8.375-inch barrel). Just reading the specs makes me reach for my P.A.S.T. recoil gloves!
By Payton Miller

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Sensible Special-ization

Revolving Results: Having a 3-Gun Workout
With A Trio Of Standard-Pressure .38 Special
Defensive Loads Is An Educational Experience.

More than a half-century ago, when Jeff Cooper pretty much kick-started the Great .45 ACP Revival, one of his major concerns—if not a precipitating factor—was the .38 Special’s relative lack of stopping power, at least in comparison to Browning’s 1911. In this regard, the .38 Special—in particular its 158-grain lead RN configuration—was the target of a lot of bad press.

Although the 9mm eventually became the Colonel’s main whipping boy, it’s worth remembering in those early days, the 9mm was nowhere nearly as popular stateside as it eventually became. For every 1st Generation S&W Model 39 or 59 auto, there were a seeming bazillion S&W and Colt .38 revolvers serving as LE duty guns or sitting on some homeowner’s nightstand.

Different schools of thought arose as to how to power-up the old .38 to avoid resorting to the “bright lights and blast” of the more penetrative and difficult-to-control .357 Magnum. Many turned to loads featuring a lightweight JHP at high speeds, such as the Super-Vel 110-grain (introduced in 1963), which clocked around 1,200 fps from a 4-inch barrel. Handloads featuring heavier 146- to 160-grain jacketed or lead Keith-style bullets driven in excess of 1,000 fps (and usually from 6-inch barrels) had their adherents as well.

Commercially, the legendary “Treasury” or “FBI” load” consisting of a 158-grain +P lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint was offered by Federal, Remington and Winchester, and usually clocked around 900 fps from a 4-inch gun. And, of course, most of those same manufacturers offered 125-grain +P JHP loads as well.

Today, of course, the .38 Special is primarily relegated (from a defensive standpoint) to small, lightweight revolvers. In light of this, several companies are offering standard-pressure personal defense loads, often tailored for low flash and low recoil. Another key element is the fact makers have taken full advantage of advances in bullet technology (which can offer a lower velocity “window” for expansion) for more reliable terminal performance. Many of those who rely on .38 revolvers are relatively “non-gunny” types as well as peace officers (uniformed and otherwise) who still prefer the point-and-shoot simplicity of a backup snubbie.

For those folks, we’ve dug up a trio of controllable loads from Winchester, Hornady and Buffalo Bore. Two feature a JHP bullet—Winchester’s Train & Defend bonded 130-grain load and Hornady’s American Gunner 125-grain XTP (both factory-rated at 900 fps). The third is what Buffalo Bore refers to as a “Standard Pressure Short Barrel Low Flash Heavy 150-grain HC Wadcutter.” This interesting little number is rated at 850 fps.



Thomas Mackie lines up his 2-inch S&W Model 36. This classic little steel J-Frame acquitted
itself well offhand (despite the two lone flyers) at 10 yards with Buffalo Bore 150-grain
Hard-Cast WC (inset, left) and Hornady American Gunner 125-grain XTP loads (below).


The Guns

We dug up an appropriate trio of revolvers to try them in. A vintage 6-inch barreled S&W Model 14, Ruger’s new 4-inch barreled GP100 Match Champion (to be featured in depth in a future issue) and, of course, the quintessential J-Frame, 2-inch snubbie, S&W’s Model 36 Chiefs Special. In the interests of full and fair disclosure, it should be noted, however, that the barrel length of the Match Champion is actually 4.2 inches and the barrel of the Chief’s Special is really 1-7/8—an admittedly infinitesimal “rounding” discrepancy.

Our objective wasn’t very mysterious. We wanted to check the velocity gain/loss figures from all three barrel lengths. In addition, we wanted to get an admittedly subjective feel for the recoil characteristics in guns ranging in weight from 19-1/2 to 38 ounces.

And, of course, we also wanted to get an idea as to how they grouped from each particular gun. To get an idea, we decided to group the 6-inch M14 and the 4-inch Ruger GP100 Match Champion at 25 yards from a sandbagged rest. For the S&W M36, we decided to bring the target in to a more “snubbie friendly” 10 yards.

In terms of low-recoil and controllability, all of these loads—in all three guns—lived up to their “standard pressure” billing. From the K-Frame Model 14 and the beefy Ruger-GP100 Match Champion, recoil was negligible—virtually no difference between the lighter Winchester and Hornady offerings, and only a slightly heavier bump from the Buffalo Bore.

From the little steel-frame 19-1/2-ounce M36, the recoil from the lighter pair was slightly more noticeable, but definitely not in +P class. Despite the “Heavy” designation, the Buffalo Bore 150-grain load felt about like a standard-pressure, 158-grain .38 Special. It made its presence known in a slightly less polite fashion (and would be even bumpier from an alloy J-Frame weighing roughly 5 ounces less), but it was nothing even a casual shooter couldn’t handle.
By Payton Miller


Our 4-inch revolver just happened to be Ruger’s new GP100 Match Champion, which turned in a
very respectable 25-yard group with Winchester’s Train & Defend 130-grain bonded JHP load.
Recoil, as might be expected from the 39-ounce Ruger, was negligible.




Our trio of very manageable .38 Special defensive loads included left to right):
Buffalo Bore 150-grain Hard-Cast WC, Winchester Train & Defend 130-grain JHP and
Hornady American Gunner 125-grain XTP.

Shooting Facilities provided by:
Angeles Shooting Ranges, 12651
Little Tujunga Road, San Fernando, CA 91342
(800) 499-4486,

.38 Special Factory Ammo Performance

Gun: S&W M14, 6-inch barrel

Load Velocity Extreme Spread Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (fps) (inches)
Winchester T&D 130 JHP 862 73 3.5
Hornady American Gunner 125 JHP 904 58 2.50
Buffalo Bore 150 Hard-Cast WC 968 62 3.0

Gun: Ruger GP100 Match Champion, 4.2-inch barrel

Load Velocity Extreme Spread Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (fps) (inches)
Winchester 130 T&D JHP 831 65 2.00
Hornady 125 American Gunner JHP 861 54 2.75
Buffalo Bore 150 Hard-Cast WC 944 23 4.0

GUN: S&W M36, 2-inch barrel*

Load Velocity Extreme Spread Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (fps) (fps) (inches)
Winchester T&D 130 JHP 724 39 2.00
Hornady American Gunner 125 JHP 760 65 2.25
Buffalo Bore 150 Hard-Cast WC 882 9 1.75

Notes: *Groups fired offhand at 10 yards with the S&W M36. S&W M14 and Ruger GP100 groups fired from a sandbagged rest at 25 yards.

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Cowboy “Double” Action

Home On The Range With Classic Big-Frame
Revolvers Of A Bygone Era.

I never got bit by the Cowboy Action bug—even when it seemed to be the hottest thing going. Maybe it’s because I don’t look all that good in a Resistol and Nocona boots (not from lack of trying, you understand). I do like single-action sixguns, however. Not quite as much as double actions, but as much as any responsible adult should.

When it came to using either type, for years I was overly concerned with laying hands on the hottest +P or magnum stuff I could find—hoping to get as much bump as possible. After all, I reasoned, what’s the fun of lighting off something if it doesn’t try to climb out of your hands with every shot?

After years of cheerfully seeking out such abuse, I guess something approaching an epiphany came to me when I was shooting some fairly serious .41 Magnum factory loads out of a 4-inch N-Frame. Normally, that wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact I hadn’t shot a magnum-class revolver in awhile and it was about 20 degrees F. The result? It flat-out hurt with every shot. I remember thinking to myself, “You’re trying to hit a tin can at 40 yards, not stop a running boar.” In short, what was supposed to be fun, wasn’t anymore.

Maybe it’s a natural progression. As I got older (not so much smarter), I discovered it’s almost as fun to hear a 210-grain lead bullet at 700 fps ring a gong as a 240-grain JHP at 1,200. Yep, I’d started using Cowboy Action-specific ammo for a large part of my paper-punching and plinking, as well as smacking steel. And even though I’ve yet to get near one of those Western movie set-type SASS courses, things started getting enjoyable again. But I wanted to combine my new-found infatuation with Cowboy loads with something cool. Or at least a touch different than a Peacemaker or Winchester 1873 clone.


Doug Fee (above) lines up on target with a Colt New Service .38-40 (once billed as the .38 WCF).
Other oldies during our “Cowboy” range session included (below) an S&W .44 Triple Lock .44
Special and a New Service Target in .44 Russian.


Fortunately, I found it. Reading our esteemed sixgun authority John Taffin’s musings on vintage, large-framed Colt and S&W double-action revolvers made me realize there was a significant “missing link” in my shooting background.

I’d always fancied myself a revolver guy, but with the exception of a pre-war .38 Special M&P, I realized I’d somehow missed out on banging away with the Golden Oldies John is so enamored of—S&W Triple Locks, Colt New Services, and the 1917 “enlisted” variants of from both companies.

Since a shooting buddy of mine, Doug Fee, just happens to have several of those big American classics on hand, it didn’t take much convincing to get him to trot a couple out to the range, with the stipulation that I would round up as much ammo as I could lay hands on. Doug’s guns were an eclectic lot, including a Colt New Service in .38-40, a New Service Target in .45 Colt, and a Flattop New Service in .44 Russian. All three sported 7-1/2-inch barrels. Our pair of S&W Triple Locks—both in .44 Special—each had shorter 6-1/2-inch barrels. One of the Smiths had been chromed (!) somewhere along the line of various owners. This decorative scheme got some amused commentary from Thomas Mackie and I at the range, until Doug said, somewhat defensively, “Hey, it’s a real good shooter.”


Our partial “by the box” Cowboy Action menu included (from left)
.38-40, .44 Russian and .44 Special.


A Colt New Service in .38-40 produced gratifying results at 25 yards


To obtain the Cowboy Action ammo needed, I’d rounded up a pretty good manifest of Black Hills and Ten-X loadings, which included .38-40, .44 Special, .44 Russian and .45 Schofield. We planned to run the Schofield load in our .45 Colt New Service, but we did step briefly out of the Cowboy category by bringing along a box of 255-grain Winchester Super-X .45 Colt ammo, which, not surprisingly, turned out to be the chronograph champ of the day, averaging 871 fps. This may give you some indication of the refreshingly cavalier attitude Cowboy Action types have toward mere velocity. From what we saw overall, the Black Hills stuff was a bit faster, but still posed no danger of running afoul of Cowboy Action “speed limits.”

The results? The Ten-X and Black Hills 180-grain .38-40 offerings clocked 726 and 819 fps respectively from the Colt. The versatility of the .45 Colt chambering allowed us to run some .45 Schofield ammo out of the .45 New Service. Schofield loads included 165 grains (Ten-X) and 230 grains (Black Hills). From them, we got 607 and 747 fps respectively. From the 6-1/2-inch barrel of Doug’s .44 Special Triple Lock, the Ten-X 200-grain LFP load averaged a docile 609 fps, but shot to point-of-aim at 25 yards.


This .44 Special S&W Triple Lock shows a lot of honest wear,
but there’s nothing wrong with the bore!



Black Hills’ .45 Schofield load proved itself a first-rate
performer from a .45 Colt New Service.

The “King of the Mild Frontier” turned out to be the .44 Russian loads. Neither Black Hills’ 210-grain offering or the Ten-X 200-grain exceeded 550 fps. Slowpokes? Yep. But both had very respectable extreme spreads of 45 and 79 fps respectively.

All of our vintage, well-patina’d revolvers were in the 42 to 46-ounce weight range, which made those Cowboy Action loads extremely pleasant. Accuracy results were mixed—the best performers being the Black Hills .45 Schofield and the Ten-X .38-40 stuff. As might be expected, not all load/gun combinations shot to point-of-aim—we had our share of “too highs and too lows,” so holding over—or under—was the order of the day at our “end of session” gong shooting. Windage issues were addressed in the same way.

Once we’d figured holdover—particularly with the .38-40—we were able to ring things fairly often, not with what you’d call “monotonous regularity,” but enough to keep things rewarding. We mainly stuck to shooting single action even then, as the double-action trigger pulls, in the main, were pretty far removed from a tuned S&W Model 625 (or Colt Python for that matter). But sheer power and a super-refined action weren’t the point of the whole exercise. Just a bit of old-timey fun with big, heavy, early 20th century revolvers you don’t see much of anymore, using ammo that’s easy on the hands and ears.


Buffalo Bore’s Heavy Duty 158-grain +P Outdoorsman load
can seriously push the capabilities of this S&W Model 15.

Bumping Up an Old Favorite

Cowboy Action loads are designed—for the most part—to provide less bump in “over .40” handgun calibers. But Buffalo Bore’s Heavy Duty .38 Special +P Outdoorsman adds serious muscle to what a lot of folks still consider to be the revolver cartridge. Featuring a 158-grain hardcast Keith semi-wadcutter rated at 1,250 fps from a 6-inch barrel, this one surely lives up to the “Outdoorsman” billing, being highly reminiscent of the old .38-44 load for S&W’s N-Frame Outdoorsman revolver introduced back in the early 1930’s.

From my 4-inch S&W Model 15, I averaged around 1,130 fps, and got consistent 2-1/4- to 2-1/2-inch groups at 25 yards. Buffalo Bore says this one is OK for alloy lightweights, although for comfort, I’d just as soon stick with a steel K-frame or its equivalent. This is a powerful proposition and could just about qualify as a “transitional” step between the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum, much as the old .38-44 did. Is it an optimum item for bear emergencies? I don’t think so—that type of situation would be better handled with a 1-ounce shotgun slug (s). But if you ever anticipate having to make your .38 Special handle more than it should—or when deep penetration is needed—this thumping SWC concoction seems ideal.
By Payton Miller

Shooting Facilities provided by:
Angeles Shooting Ranges,
12651 Little Tujunga Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
(800) 499-4486

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

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

Ten-X Ammunition
8722 Lanyard Ct.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
(909) 946-8369

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Like Night And Day

The Right Ammo, Guns And Optics Help Make
Texas Hog Hunting An Around-The-Clock Business.

A recent hog hunt in West Texas turned out to be unlike anything I’d ever done before. For one thing, hunting wasn’t as much the focus as was eradication—a difficult (some would say impossible) goal. Hogs are going to keep breeding and folks are going to keep shooting them.

But the fact remains they are now high-profile pests throughout a large percentage of this country, although I’d always looked at them as a legitimate (and tasty) game animal—probably because I grew up hunting them in California where you needed a tag for them in addition to a regular hunting license. Of course, were I a landowner, I’d have seen things a lot differently.

When I hunted hogs on public and private land, as well as a few offshore islands, I used fairly conventional tools—sporting rifles of the “non-modern” variety, handguns, archery tackle and the occasional slug-loaded shotgun.

But I’d never seen anything like what I saw at the Spike Box Ranch near the small town of Benjamin. Up to then I’d always considered a bolt- or lever-action “deer-caliber” rifle with a relatively low-powered scope to be pretty much state of the art for hogs. But in agricultural areas where pig infestation is an enormously costly nuisance, such a setup would rate as pedestrian.

The guys I was with were using suppressed AR’s (30-round magazines being the norm) with night vision or thermal imaging scopes—Night Optics being the brand of choice. Obviously, the definition of approved “shooting hours” was a bit more elastic than I was used to.

If it’s against your religion to even consider any optical device costing several orders of magnitude more than the rifle you need it for, you’re probably going to think twice about one of these items—we’re talking prices in the $3K-to-$6K range. That’s a far cry from even the pricier European conventional scopes. But the old saying, “You can’t shoot ’em if you can’t see ’em” goes double between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.


High-tech hog hunting: Hal Shaffer, host of TV’s “Drop Zone,” likes an S&W M&P
with an AAC suppressor and Night Optics thermal-imaging scope for nocturnal “bacon
eradication.” The rifle is chambered in .300 Blackout and zeroed for DRT’s new
135-grain load (inset), which, though nominally supersonic, is remarkably quiet
with a suppressor. And an excellent alternative for those who want “more bore
for their boar” than a .223 offers.

The ammunition we were using was from Dynamic Research Technologies, known informally as DRT (as in “Dead Right There,” a fairly accurate description of the terminal results of their products from what I saw).

Lead-free bullets with a powdered metallic core have been used in indoor ranges and against metallic targets for some time now. But the main impetus in their development has usually been from a safety, health or ecological standpoint. DRT’s non-sintered core is of copper and what the company refers to as “other proprietary metals.” It’ll instantly bust to powder and skived jacket fragments on a hard surface, which is a real plus when the terrain is ricochet-friendly. But what gives it its considerable reputation is the effect it has on tissue.

The trick on game, of course, is to delay the disintegration long enough for the bullet to get into a vital area. And maintaining the bullet’s “integrity” until that happens requires considerable engineering expertise in projectile design. Whereas the older Glaser Safety Slug concept relied on fine shot encapsulated in a gel-like medium and was primarily designed to operate at handgun velocities, the DRT rifle-caliber stuff functions at much higher speeds.

DRT’s Nathan Dudney says, “the critical element in determining how far the bullet penetrates tissue before rupturing is based on the bullet design and proprietary construction within the jacket and core. When it does rupture, the energy dump is massive, with an effect about like directional sandblasting.”

Several hogs were taken with DRT’s 55-grain .223 load, but—as might be expected—the company’s 135-grain .308—used in a lone Colt LE901—was even more conclusive. And the company’s new 135-grain .300 AAC Blackout offering worked very well at around 1,800 fps.

Probably because I’ve mostly used .30-caliber rifles for big hogs, I’d feel more comfortable with that bore size. But for small and medium-sized ones, the .223 DRT load was undeniably impressive. I watched Nathan nail a running 90-pounder at night with one out of the LWRCI 8-1/2-inch-barreled SBR with a base-of-the-neck shot that missed the spinal column. Nonetheless, the hog went straight down.


The greening of America: With night-vision gear, there’s no such thing as “the
cover of darkness” for marauding hogs. These pre-dawn photos were taken by
“Student of the Gun’s” Jarrad T. Markel using a Sony camcorder and a
streamlight infrared flashlight.


When we cut him up later, I got a very instructive look at the damage the little 55-grain bullet did. “Directional sandblasting,” indeed. Even the reduced velocity from the SBR didn’t seem to matter much.

During some midday downtime, we shot a gelatin block with the .223 load (from a 20-inch barrel this time) after first draping a section of hog hide (with attached gristle plate) over the front end. The results showed the company claim of delayed jacket rupture to be on the money.

Since the guys from DRT we were hunting with were Class III holders, exotically tricked-out (at least to a Californian) AR’s were the order of the day—as in the suppressed LWRCI SBR and an S&W M&P in .300 Blackout with a Night Optics thermal imaging scope—also suppressed.

The very efficient Advanced Armament Corporation suppressors, incidentally, precluded the need for bulky ear protection at the bench and in the field—which is all to the good since I have a tough enough time getting a decent cheekweld on a collapsible AR stock as it is, although I did use foam earplugs. Aside from the Cool Factor of suppressors, that’s probably their biggest selling point as far as I’m concerned. Just make sure everybody around you is also using one.

No, we didn’t manage to solve the hog problem at Spike Box in a few days. The hot weather may have had something to do with it, but we did get well into double figures. Most of the other guys racked ’em up by going out for the late, late show, while I mainly stuck with early morning and early evening forays using a Vortex scope with an illuminated reticle on either an S&W M&P or Nathan’s SBR. Although I was unsuccessful, I felt justified in following that plan for the first two or three days because the guys doing the full-on “after midnight” thing were having spotty results—until the final night when they dumped six or seven pigs in about 10 seconds. My thoughts on examining their full pickup bed early next morning revolved around the usual envious “I shoulda…” refrain.

But all in all, the whole experience was a fascinating look into the world of AR’s, night optics and suppressors. Granted, it was a whole new scene to me, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


There’s no denying the handiness—and low noise signature—of a suppressed LWRCI SBR
in the confines of a box blind. Even from an 8-1/2-inch barrel, the 55-grain DRT
.223 load proved effective.


The Jarre Harmonica Pistol: A noteworthy 19th Century innovation.

One False Note and…

Rock Island Auctions is a magnet for eclectic hardware. Case in point: The 7mm pinfire Jarre Harmonica Pistol. Patented in 1862 in the US, this little cartridge-firing “10-shooter” features a row of barrels which fold sideways to reduce width and facilitate discreet carry. No, it’s unlikely any modern CCW holder would trade in his chopped polymer 9mm or S&W J-Frame .38 for one, but it is a mighty cool Blast from the Past. For information on RIA’s upcoming auctions, contact them at (800) 238-8022,


GUNS Magazine is proud to support the National Shooting Sports Foundations’ Project ChildSafe to promote safe firearms handling and storage. For a free Safety Kit including a gun-locking cable and brochure, visit
By Payton Miller

Advanced Armament Corporation
2408 Tech Center Pkwy
Suite 150
Lawrenceville,GA 30043
(770) 925-9988

Dynamic Research Technologies
3106 State Hwy. N
Albany, MO 64402-8160
(660) 448-2212

Night Optics USA
15182 Triton Lane, Suite 101
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
(800) 30-NIGHT

Spike Box Ranch
P.O. Box 237, Benjamin, TX 79505
(940) 459-4009

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Back In The Swing Of Things

When It Comes To Family Dove
Hunts, Tradition Has No Limit.

Hunting, at its best, is a family tradition. Some kids have fond memories of Wisconsin deer camps, Georgia quail get-togethers or Wyoming antelope hunts. Mine are of broiling Labor Day dove openers in dead-flat, plowed-over agricultural acreage—wheat, sorghum, maize, a feedlot, whatever. Anything that’d bring the birds in—low and fast and dippy when it’s barely light, higher and spookier when the sun starts to climb out of the orange-pink haze to the east.

A cold snap or thunderstorm could queer the whole deal. My uncles and dad used to say if you weren’t sweating bullets by 8 a.m., it was too darned cold to bother with (I subscribed to this notion until I had a pretty good shoot not long ago in some rather brisk fall weather in South Dakota).

The Neal family dove hunt began a few years prior to WWII and—with a few breaks—has continued in one fashion or another. The locale has shifted from various spots in Southern California’s Coachella and Imperial Valleys (Indio, Mecca, Indian Wells, Brawley) and has recently relocated near Phoenix, Arizona. And, of course, the faces have changed. The real old-timers are all gone now. But the younger faces of sons (two of which are mine) fill the ranks for the departed. Sometimes recognizable mannerisms of a badly missed elder, somehow inherited by a junior member, are cause for a wry, but wistful comment.
Now the “senior circuit” includes just my cousins Mike, Craig and I, and the occasional in-law husband lucky enough to get a “kitchen pass” from home. We are now the geezers we used to giggle at affectionately when we were kids.


Man, gun, dove: your basic traditiional Labor Day Trilogy.


Neal family dove hunt, Indio, California, circa 1962 (left to right):
Mike Neal, Keith Neal, Payton Miller, Howard Miller (with aviator shades),
Burton Burton, Virgil Neal. Photo: Mick Neal.

My father began going around the late 1950’s. My older cousin Mike was in his third year when I first showed up at my Uncle Virgil’s place in Palm Desert. Mike told me how lucky I was to have been entrusted with a shotgun. His first year, he simply shagged, picked and cleaned birds, a task he could hardly wait to pass on to his younger brother Craig. But, shotgun or no, all three of us pitched into that humongous gray mound of mourning dove after each outing (no 10-bird limits back then) as the elders flaked out, beer in hand, in Virgil’s ranch-style house with its industrial-strength air conditioning. We generally hunted south toward Indio in fields, which today are packed wall to wall with ungodly pink “Moorish-themed” condos if not mini-malls and golf courses.

Later, for well over a decade’s worth of seasons, our rallying point was a motel in Brawley, California, at the southern end of the aptly named Salton Sea. The area was hot, full of rattlers and gnats and an absolute blast to hunt in, provided you stayed hydrated.

We quickly adopted two local restaurant hangouts—one for Mexican dinners, another for country-style breakfasts. Both places quickly became our post-hunt command centers. And why not? They were invariably filled with hoards of camo T-shirt-wearing guys trading lies over how fast they limited, while at the same time being remarkably circumspect about exactly where they actually did it. And the food was first class.

But, of course, the inevitable happened. Dads and uncles passed away. Wives dreamed up home improvement schemes. People moved. Divorces shifted the dynamic of relationships. Kids grew up and got jobs (Labor Day is a tough time to wrangle a couple of days off you’re in anything remotely resembling retail sales).



Neal Biery (bottom) couldn’t resist this high-flying barn pigeon. It, too, was featured prominently in the inevitable barbecue. After suitably heavy marinating, of course. Lightening up for a change of pace: A Benelli Legacy 28-gauge accounted for several “first morning” mourning dove (top).

Our last get-together at Mike’s house west of Phoenix, Ariz., was a skeleton crew compared to the glory years—me, Mike, brother-in-law Doug and his son Neal (named, of course, after the founding family). My two boys who, against all odds, had somehow turned into responsible citizens, had to work. Our puny numbers were the downside. The upside? The daily limit had just been bumped up to 15 birds, a number we hadn’t seen back in California since Shep was a pup.

Plus, good old Cousin Mike—who inherited Uncle Virgil’s awesome talent for getting permission from landowners—had gotten us on to a true hotspot, a magnet for Eurasian, whitewing and mourning dove… all just a 20-minute drive from his doorstep.

Still, on the first morning I was feeling kind of blue. I posed what I thought was a fairly philosophical question during pre-dawn preparations. “How did we get this way,” I asked as I rummaged about in his kitchen for Zip-Lock bags and ice. “How did we get so old?”

“I dunno,” Mike replied as he tried to decide between taking his new, shockingly lightweight Benelli Legacy 28-gauge auto or his old Browning Citori 12. “But it beats the heck out of the alternative.”
“Besides,” he added, “now that we’re old and selfish, we can afford nicer shotguns than we had when we were kids. Or when our kids were little.”


Mike Neal takes a bead on an incoming dove with his Browning O/U
(above). Keeping your gun loaded is a full-time job when things
are hot and heavy.


True that, I thought. My first gun had been a Depression-era Stevens Model 520 pump 20-gauge marketed under the Sears Roebuck “Ranger” label. It was choked tighter than a second coat of paint. Our fathers and uncles had mostly hunted with 12-gauge Remington 870 or Winchester Model 12 pumps—except for Mike’s Dad, Keith, who liked a 16-gauge Model 37 Ithaca, which, even today, still sees service when someone needs a loaner. Or is in a particularly sentimental mood.

Opening morning—my first ever on the Arizona side of the border—was a good one. By the time the sun was well up off the deck, most of the birds were coming out of it—which meant a lot of them never got shot at. Once they disappeared into that giant orange ball, they pretty much had a safe conduct pass—at least from where I was. Passing up “Hail Mary” shots is one of the best ways I know to improve your bird-to-shell ratio without having to endure the public humiliation of a sporting clays course. But, of course, relatively few once-a-season shooters have that kind of fire discipline unless the birds are coming in like flies.

But there were enough of them this time—low enough and out of the glare—to allow us to fill out pretty quickly. Every now and again, everyone would count—and recount—the number of birds in the rear vent pocket of his shell vest against the possibility of an “over-limit” ticket and the subsequent hassle that would ensue.

Naturally, Neal, the youngest member of our little band punched out first. He shoots well, but was also the unwitting beneficiary of a dove hunter’s greatest ally since Improved Cylinder and the cheap folding stool. That would be location, location, location.

After we had breakfast at around 8:30 (breakfast always seems like lunch on opening morning), we headed back to Mike’s place to clean the birds, get ourselves “air-conditioned” and take a nap. Doug and Neal had to head back home, so they napped longer and harder than did Mike and I. Next morning, of course, Mike and I went out again by ourselves. Took us a bit longer to fill out this time, but it was well worth it. When we got back, I called my boys to tell them how things went. They were suitably envious and both told me they are good to go for the later split season. I’m good with that. I’ll settle for anything that keeps things going.

I seem to need it now more than I ever thought I would.


Target loads with No. 7-1/2 or No. 8 shot are proper
dove medicine. Winchester AA’s have plenty of oomph
and will cycle the most finicky autoloader.

By The Numbers

Two state stats: During Arizona’s previous dove season (2013) an estimated total of 36,300 hunters averaged 21.3 birds for the season. During the same time frame, 63,300 California hunters averaged 13 birds.—Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service
By Payton Miller

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A Lesson In Leverage

Unloading A Lever-Action Rifle The Wrong
Way Can Create Memories For A Lifetime.

I’ve been around firearms for as long as I can remember. But I feel rather lucky considering I’ve only been involved in one accidental discharge (or “negligent discharge,” in keeping with current terminology). It was of the indoor variety and happened when I was about 16. It turned out to be the source of family jokes for years, but could have ended a lot less fortunately than it did.

It happened like this:

My uncle and his wife were in the antique business (they referred to it as the “junk business” back then). They dealt in old turquoise and silver, guns, branding irons, Indian blankets, even barbed-wire sample boards—anything remotely classifiable as “Westernalia.” Plus a lot of stuff that wasn’t—Depression-era slot machines, seriously weather-beaten examples of the taxidermist’s art, and steamer trunks full of science-fiction paperbacks from the early 1950’s.

In the course of an estate sale, my uncle had picked up an old Model 92 Winchester in .25-20 (at a ridiculously low price) and had stopped by our house to present me with it. The original bluing was pretty much a distant memory, but it was mechanically sound and oozed “cool factor.”
The receiver was stamped, in small letters, “W.F. Sheard,” the name of an old Tacoma, Wash., sporting goods concern, which, as I was able to determine later, was a major player in the West Coast gun business back around the time of old Woodrow Wilson.

Being of the sensible opinion that a rifle was fairly useless without ammo, my uncle had naturally included a yellow, taped-together 50-round Winchester/Western cartridge box about 2/3 full of cute little bottlenecked 86-grain jacketed softpoints.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, it was about 9 o’clock in the evening and both of us were still at the dinner table examining my prize. The centerpiece of our attention was that 24-inch octagonal barrel and the rifle’s intriguing full-length magazine.

It was so intriguing, in fact, we simply had to know what the actual cartridge capacity was. So my uncle—after first anchoring the crescent buttplate against his thigh and holding the barrel skyward (I suppose “roof-ward” would be a better term)—fished out a handful of cartridges and began to thread them through the loading gate, counting each one aloud. He got to 15 before it became obvious things were well and truly topped off. Meanwhile, my aunt dozed peacefully on a nearby couch.

Now at this point what we had was a lever-action rifle with a fully loaded tubular magazine. As of yet, there was no problem. That would come when it came time to unload (Dad wasn’t too enthusiastic about loaded firearms in the house, the notable exception being the Colt Official Police on his nightstand).


Lessons learned the hard way (above): Fingers—particularly oversized ones—should be
kept out of triggerguards when emptying out a lever action’s magazine. Hooking your
thumb around the rear end of a lever (below) is a good way to help prevent mishaps,
but keep that barrel pointed in a safe direction.


The proper course of action seemed obvious. So my uncle began working the lever, popping each cartridge straight out the top of the receiver (these were the pre-angle eject days, no sideways nonsense here). To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to his technique. Had I been older and wiser I might have suggested he simply use his thumb wrapped under the bottom rear of the lever instead of using his whole mega-sized hand—with its banana-sized trigger finger inside the triggerguard.

What I always thought odd, years later, was the fact he actually got through the first 14 rounds before his trigger finger hit the jackpot with the 15th sitting in the chamber. The rifle responded as it was designed to do, launching a copper-jacketed softpoint onwards and upwards at something in the neighborhood of 1,450 fps.

Two things struck me at the time. (1) There is nothing louder than an unanticipated gunshot in an enclosed area, even one from a relatively modest caliber most folks would relegate to turkeys and medium-size game, and (2) there is nothing quieter than the silence immediately afterward.

Of course, the silence only lasted until my aunt’s bone-jarring shriek rent the air as she was rudely launched out of her slumber. Her first response—once she figured out what had happened—was to display a vocabulary I would never have imagined her capable of possessing.

There is probably no end of gun safety “commandments”—whether on a “square range,” while practicing dynamic tactical techniques, whether you’re hunting or in a crisis situation. Gunsite’s list is brief and to the point. So are the NRA’s boiled-down Big Three, which are beautiful not only for their simplicity, but for the fact you’ve got to screw up on the entire trio to cause a disaster:
1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Few phrases in the lexicon of current buzzwords are as annoyingly overworked as “teachable moment.” But it did seem applicable to our situation. In our little dinner table fiasco we had violated Rules No. 2 and 3. What saved our bacon was adhering to Rule No. 1. Despite the fact that no sentient beings were injured, there were victims of our folly—the plaster ceiling, the wood floor and a pair of associated 2×4’s in the attic, a foot or two of insulation, the attic ceiling, a few layers of tarpaper and the final unfortunate set of roofing shingles which ultimately stopped the bullet.

What probably prevented it from traveling on turned out to be another slap in the face. The bore of that old Winchester was in such amazingly dreadful shape, the bullet was keyholing almost immediately upon exiting the muzzle. (This was later confirmed conclusively by yours truly at the local range, when I was rewarded with a 3-foot, 25-yard group, each shot making an eerie fluttering sound.)


Even a relatively modest round like the .25-20 has a very respectable
potential for penetration, even if it’s keyholing.

A final measure of humiliation was heaped upon us when my mother refused to have the ceiling patched. She used the somewhat elongated .25-caliber hole to hang birthday balloon streamers for years after—and, of course, to point out to curious guests the fruits of carelessness.
Jeff Cooper once said something to the effect that although people expect to be forgiven for their mistakes (presumably by other people), machinery is one thing that does not forgive human stupidity. It will get you first time, every time. But nobody got “got” in this episode, thanks to good old Rule No. 1.

Lots of traditional, tubular-magazine lever actions now feature a cross-bolt or tang safety—redundant afterthoughts which are a never-ending source of exasperation to a whole lot of traditional lever-action users. I’m not crazy about them myself, although one would have prevented our long-ago mishap had they existed then. If your current rifle has one, by all means put it in the “on” position while unloading.
But keep your finger out of the triggerguard anyway.
Payton Miller

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The Short Answer?

When teaching kids to shoot, there’s
no such thing as “too close.”

The world is full of first-rate shots, but first-rate shooting instructors are considerably fewer in number. When I was about 11 years old, I took the mandatory Hunter’s Safety Course. In those days it was multi-day deal—a couple of evening visits to the home of an NRA-certified instructor, then a written test followed by a range session.

It was, of course, invaluable. But between the mechanical and ballistic information, the iron-clad emphasis on safety procedures, and the avalanche of stuff on California game laws, there was relatively little time devoted to the mysteries of actually hitting a target with a rifle.
Thankfully, my Dad had pretty much taken care of this beforehand. He was an outstanding shot (WWII USMC), but like most fathers instructing an eager and adoring son, he relied mainly on motivational techniques like “Now, watch how I do it. Like this….”
Years later, of course, I pretty much did the same thing with my own kids. But I did manage to stumble on something along the way that worked pretty well. But first, let’s touch on the subject of sights and rifles.

It may be inevitable any kid you teach to shoot will eventually go to optical sights. But kids should be exposed to iron sights—open or peep—for much the same reason you’d teach kids how to handle a stick shift. Someday “iron” may be all they have access to.

I feel pretty much the same about teaching kids—initially—on a manually cycled rifle—bolt, pump or lever-action. Yes, we do live in a self-loading age, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to burn up ammo at warp speed down the line. But for now, let’s take it one shot at a time. Not to say this can’t be done with an autoloader. But they do make it easier for kids to “throw good money after bad” when they’re having a bad day in the sighting department.

First off, you should establish an instantly recognizable cause-and-effect link in a kid’s mind between point of aim and point of impact. This needs to be reinforced by setting the target very close. It’s important to bear this in mind: 25 yards doesn’t qualify as “short range” to a kid—not yet anyway. About 15 to 20 feet is about right, from a sandbagged benchrest. You’re not trying to teach prone, sitting or standing here. This isn’t prepping for Olympic smallbore. Sight picture, trigger break and breath control are the foundations everybody talks about—or at least pays lip service to—and this is what you’re instilling. Stay with it until they are consistently delivering at least quarter-sized groups.


The Ruger Explorer takes only 16.5 pounds of effort to cock—a far cry
from the 40-plus pounds required for most ultra high-velocity break-barrel air rifles.


Up close and personal: Vincent Mendez, 12, lines up on a very large,
very close Shoot-N-C with an open-sighted Browning BL-22. The Ruger
scoped 77/357 is also an excellent trainer and, with light .38
Special ammo, punches very easy-to-see holes.

Have a felt-tipped pen and a sheet of paper handy in case they keep forgetting what the right sight picture—open, peep or scope crosshair—should look like. And be patient and slow. Frequent breaks may be in order because concentrating solidly for any length of time can wear a kid out (it sure does me). In fact, some fathers I know have gotten their shooting buddies to take over after a break—sometimes this can change the dynamic for the better.

Once they’re laying ’em into one ragged hole, they’ll get a bit cocky (mine did) about how easy it is. Now it’s time to keep moving the target out until the groups begin to enlarge to real-world dimensions. Then gently re-explain why the basics are even more important at longer distances.

I realize that a .22 rifle is the commonly accepted tool for beginners, but I’ve seen good results from using a Ruger 77/357 bolt-action carbine loaded with light .38 Special loads on a Shoot-N-C “splash target.” Why? No kick to speak of, easier for small fingers to single-load, and a dramatic, easy-to-see hole.
Proper eye and ear protection, of course, are critical, but there’s only so much ear protection can accomplish. If you’re going to a public range, try to avoid fall prime time and don’t park your kid next to a guy zeroing his ’braked .338.


The Ruger Explorer air rifle is inexpensive, tailored to kids, cool looking
and easy to cock. Three varieties of imported pellets were chronographed
(below), varying in weight from 5.9 to 15.8 grains.


Try and resist the temptation to load the rifle for them—whether you’re in single shot or repeater mode. If your kids are like mine were, it’ll frustrate them (“I can do it myself, Dad!”). Besides, they’re going to have to learn eventually, so why not from the get-go?

I always liked to end paper target shooting sessions by switching to gongs or metallic silhouettes. Reactive targets with an audible ping provide the instant feedback kids thrive on. But only after the “paperwork” is done. The critical things are sight picture and trigger break. Once those fundamentals are locked into place, everything else can follow.

Air rifles are, of course, invaluable training tools. The Chinese-made (under license) Ruger Explorer, imported by Umarex, is one of the coolest kid-friendly air rifles I’ve seen. Despite its modest velocity (it’s rated at 495 fps), I used it to instantly extinguish a particularly gnarly looking Norway rat in the backyard the first time I fired it. All I heard was a sedate, barely audible bonk—certainly more desirable in a suburban neighborhood than the “almost-a-.22” whack of some 1,200 fps break-barrel scorcher requiring well over 40 pounds of cocking effort. The skeletonized stock/pistol gripped Explorer requires a mere 16-1/2 pounds to cock—well within the capabilities of any kid big enough to use it. I chronographed a couple types of .177 pellets through it and found velocity varies considerably from the Explorer’s 15-inch barrel.

The stuff I had included three types of Hungarian-made pellets ( The two lighter projectiles feature cute little plastic sabots on them. One of them was a 5.9-grain lead-free Hyper Velocity Field Pellet which, at 530 fps, lived up to its billing (and made a real believer out of my trophy rodent). A lead Blue Arrow pellet at 6.4 grains was only slightly slower at 520 fps, while a more conventional, skirted number, the Newboy Senior Heavyweight weighed in at 15.8 grains and clocked a more modest 220 fps. Using the green-and-red fiber-optic, fully adjustable open sights, I had no trouble staying in a quarter at 30 feet with all three pellets while leaning against the corner of the house, and I am sure this nifty little air rifle would do even better from a more dedicated rest arrangement.


This target (above) is a confidence builder, intended to reward proper
sight alignment. It was shot at about 15 feet and shows a cluster of
.22’s above, .38’s at the bottom. Moving the target out to 25 yards
(or beyond) introduces a touch of reality (below) into the training session.


This seems to me to be a pretty good training tool for kids for those days when you can’t make it out to the range. And take the time to shoot with them, but no sandbagging! That way, when the inevitable day comes when one of your kids finally beats you straight up, it’ll be one of the prouder moments of your life.

As long as we’re on the subject of kid-size long guns, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mossberg 2014 Youth Catalog. In it are 24 models of rimfire rifles, centerfire rifles and shotguns, which all feature the company’s EZ-Reach fore-ends, Super Bantam stock spacer adjustment system and FLEX tool-less locking systems.

All have—or can be easily be made to have—the shorter lengths-of-pull required by younger shooters.
By Payton Miller

Ruger Explorer
Importer: Umarex USA
7700 Chad Colley Blvd.
Fort Smith, AR 72916
(479) 646-4210

Type: Break-barrel spring/pneumatic single shot
Caliber: .177
Overall length: 37.12 inches
Barrel length: 15 inches
Weight: 4.45 pounds
Cocking effort: 16.5 pounds
Velocity: 495 fps
Length of pull: 12 inches
Sights: Open adjustable fiber-optic
Stock: Polymer
Price: $69.9

Shooting facilities provided by:
Angeles Shooting Ranges,
12651 Little Tujunga Rd.,
San Fernando, CA 91342
(800) 499-4486

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Package Deal

The humble .22 Long Rifle has come in an
ever-evolving array of containers.

The .22 Long Rifle cartridge may well be the most perfect single thing ever conceived in what a lot of PR-types refer to as the “shooting sports.” It’s been R-and-D’d to death. In serious, white-glove, hand-inspected match load trim (think Lapua or Eley), it can boast single-digit Extreme Spread numbers over 5- or 10-round strings through the chronograph. It can be pushed at speeds ranging from a subsonic 900 fps to a hyper-velocity 1,700.

The .22 LR is amazingly accurate, powerful enough to serve as a terrific general-purpose small game and varmint load and, up until recently, was indecently inexpensive by centerfire standards.

But the packaging it’s been available in over the years has—by and large—been kind of dicey. First there were the flimsy cardboard 50-round boxes I remember as a kid. They were fine if you planned on shooting all 50 at a sitting (or a standing, or a whatever). But for a fumble-fingered 10-year-old, shooting five or 10, and then trying to stuff the rest back in the box in that-old “nose up, nose down” order was a recipe for frustration and spilled ammo—not to mention loose rounds later going through the washing machine after they were hurriedly stuffed into pants pockets in frustration. And when those tiny little boxes got really shopworn and squished, you’d end up having to use a bit of Scotch tape to keep the ends shut.

A lot of this packaging angst was, of course, nearly unavoidable due to the fact a .22 LR round is, well, small. The OAL on the Winchester Power-Point I measured to serve as Exhibit A in this monthly rant was 0.987 inch with a case diameter of 0.225 (please, let’s don’t even bring .22 Shorts into the picture here).


Doug Fee dips into Federal’s Fresh Fire Pack at Angeles Shooting Ranges.
He’s using a Ruger 77/22 topped with a Tasco 6-24×44 variable.

Next came the plastic 50-round trays with the sliding lid. The kind where you had to slit the adhesive label to achieve unfettered “lid slid.” Can’t remember who did it first, but I seem to recall it in conjunction with CCI Stingers—the granddaddy of all hyper-velocity .22 rimfires. This was an improvement over the old cardboard boxes if for no other reason than all the bullets pointed down. Which made putting back unexpended cartridges less onerous. But it was still a pain for the directionally challenged to remember which way to push things—and how hard.

CCI later (or was it earlier?) started offering 100-round rectangular plastic boxes. This method was soon adopted by other ammo companies. It was better—it gave you more to hang onto while you were trying to slice the adhesive with your pocketknife or fingernail. But the dispensing aspect of the whole arrangement was less than ideal. It always reminded me of the old Richard Armour poem.

“Shake and shake the ketchup bottle None’ll come, and then a lot’ll.”

Other packages came later—generally centering around a bulk, loose-pack concept. Remington came out with a sort of “milk carton” container holding 250 cartridges, which was actually a step up—although space-conscious hoarders quibbled about the stacking difficulties of such an arrangement.

OK, you’re thinking: “This guy is using valuable editorial space sniveling about something nobody in their right mind would worry about. So why doesn’t he come up with something himself?”

Well, turns out I don’t have to. Federal Ammunition did. They came up with a nice, rounded take on the “spam can” ammo container concept.

The Fresh Fire Pack is a nitrogen-sealed can about the size of a jumbo can of chicken or tuna. It holds 325 rounds. Once you break the seal and peel off the metal lid by means of a pull-tab to start shooting, you’ve still got another plastic snap-on lid (like you’d find on a 1-pound coffee can) to protect the remaining rounds. With the nitrogen seal unbroken, the stuff should last just about indefinitely—stash it, store it, bury it, whatever—it’s weatherproof and waterproof. And it’s far smaller and easier to stack than any 500-round brick.


That 325-round can is full of Federal Champion 36-grain high-velocity HPs.
They averaged 1,279 fps out of the Ruger’s 20-inch barrel and produced excellent
50-yard groups (below).


It’s the best idea I’ve seen yet. The only other cartridge container I’ve seen that triggered the old “Now, why didn’t someone think of that before?” response were those late, lamented Speer Nitrex 5-packs for centerfire rifle cartridges you could carry in your shirt pocket like a pack of smokes.

Federal Champion isn’t what is considered match-grade stuff. It’s too fast to qualify as “standard velocity.” But it does fall under the “high velocity,” banner, although its 36-grain HP bullet isn’t light enough or fast enough to make the “hyper-velocity” class of a CCI Stinger or Federal Spitfire. And that’s fine with me. Good old .22 LR high velocity is generally more reliable in many .22 autoloaders than standard stuff—something to think about if you plan on rat-holing a lot of rimfire ammo in bulk.

Since I loved the Fresh Fire concept, I figured I’d better take one out to actually see how the stuff shot. After all, it’s got to be what’s inside the can that counts.

It proved exceptionally accurate out of a 20-inch barreled Ruger 77/22 topped with a large Tasco 6-24×44 variable. Admittedly, that’s optical overkill on a rimfire sporter, but the parallax adjustment for short yardage is a godsend, plus its 1/8-MOA dot reticle works very well.

Chronograph results over a Pro-Chrono averaged 1,279 fps with a standard deviation of 27.8. That may not sound breathtaking, but at 50 yards, five shots stayed well under 1/2 inch, with a Best of Show hovering right around a 1/4 inch.

Federal Champion .22 Long Rifle is excellent ammo. And, short of a paper sack full of loaded magazines, the Fresh Fire Pack is easily one of the best ways to pack it prior to sticking it in your gun.
By Payton Miller


Traditional 50-round boxes (above) have their disadvantages. The plastic tray helped some
(below), but the Fresh Fire Pack beneath, with its reusable snap-on plastic lid, is better still.


Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee Street
Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442

Federal Cartridge Corp.
900 Bob Ehlen Dr.
Anoka, MN 55303
(763) 323-2300

9200 Cody
Overland Park, KS 66214-1734
(800) 423.3537

Competition Electronics (Pro-Chrono)
3469 Precision Dr.
Rockford, IL 61109
(815) 874-8001

Shooting facilities provided by:
Angeles Shooting Ranges,
12651 Little Tujunga Road,
San Fernando, CA 91242.
(800) 499-4486

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Not Just Another Pretty Face

Fetish: An object of irrational
reverence or obsessive devotion.

Most rifle shooters I know have, at one time or another, been guilty of having a cartridge fetish. It’s sort of an occupational hazard. Most are fairly harmless and burn themselves out after a year or two. Kind of like a summer romance.

rt of the ballistic equivalent of a lifelong love affair, occasionally on an Of Human Bondage-type level of intensity.

First off, let’s differentiate between a fetish, which usually revolves around modern cartridges and their perceived performance differences, and a historical obsession involving 19th century black powder loads (perhaps best typified by editor Jeff’s inexplicable passion for the .45-75 WCF). From what I’ve seen, historical obsessions are usually pretty fairly divided between the cartridge itself and the rifle chambered for it—Sharps, Remington rolling block, 1876 Winchester, Martini, whatever.

Of course, the same could be said for modern loads I guess. But it doesn’t fully explain why your shooting buddy may own half a dozen different rifles in .284 Winchester.

What helps makes these all-consuming fetishes socially acceptable is the fact many of the founding fathers in the gunwriting business were usually victims themselves—Warren Page and the 7mm Remington Magnum, or Jack O’Connor and the .270 Winchester are but two examples.

But back when those revered pioneers were nursing their prejudices, things were less complicated somehow, at least in the sense of “legitimate” factory offerings. Today the field of contenders for your affection is packed.

The last 50 years or so has seen an unprecedented number of new rifle cartridges on the market and it seems they’ve come in clusters—not surprising when you stop to consider the competitive nature of the marketplace. These cartridge “families” include the early Magnum Boom (7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .264 Winchester Magnum), the .308-spawned short-action offerings (.243 Winchester, 7mm-08, .358 Winchester, .260 Remington, .338 Federal), the “short mags” (Winchester WSM’s, WSSM’s, Remington Ultras, SAUM’s, Ruger RCM’s), and a whole recent raft of cartridges specifically tailored for AR’s. And let’s not forget the proprietary numbers—Weatherby, Dakota, Lazzeroni, plus the various European metrics.


Talk about sensory overload! The array of caliber choices available to today’s rifle crank is staggering. Of course, knowing what you want from the get-go simplifies things considerably.

All this has led to some fairly arcane conjecture. And that ain’t no new thing. I have actually read meticulously researched 3,000+ word features back in the day addressing the question of whether the .280 Remington is “superior” to the .270 Winchester. Or which of the innumerable .300 magnums out there—full-length or short, belted or not—is the better choice for ridgeline-to-ridgeline shots on elk. It gets bewildering for sure.
More knowledgeable hunters than I have cast a jaundiced eye at ballistic nitpicking. And for the most part, they’re right. Shot placement and bullet selection mean more than anything else. Speaking of bullets, advances in projectile technology have allowed many cartridges, which may have once been considered marginal on certain critters, to punch above their weight. So why burn more powder and put up with more blast and kick for a diminishing margin of effectiveness?

Most of the obsessive cartridge fetishes I saw early in my shooting career revolved around velocity, real or imagined. A lot of the guys I hunted and shot with in my youth were, in the fashion of the day, obsessed with velocity.

As I seem to recall, the magic threshold number back then was 3,000 fps. Anything at it or over it was taken seriously, revered even. Concepts like ballistic coefficients, efficiency, barrel life or the hard-number reality of actual mid-range trajectory differences were either given short shrift or ignored altogether. And so was the price differential involved in ponying up for a box of .308 as opposed to .300 Weatherby.

But if there’s one thing responsible for putting a damper on obsessive cartridge fetishes involving raw speed, I’d have to say it’s the appearance of the affordable, easily portable personal chronograph.


Relative old-timers like the belted .338 Win Mag (right) have been challenged ballistically—and in the marketplace—by shorter, more efficient “hot .33’s” like the .338 RCM (left).

Relatively inexpensive (read: easily replaceable when accidentally shot) units like Competition Electronics’ Pro-Chrono or the Shooting Chrony have done much to cool off fanciful claims involving 28-inch pressure barrels in laboratory conditions. To be fair to the ammo companies, however, these little ballistic “polygraphs” have had a similar effect on overly adamant handloaders. Now what you see printed on a cartridge box is usually pretty close to what you’ll actually see on the screen.

I’ll never forget the crushing feeling of betrayal I experienced many years ago. I’d just found out the 100-grain .243 load I’d assumed to be moving out at around 3,000 fps was—from the 22-inch barrel of my Remington 788—actually having a tough time getting anywhere near 2,800.
Of course, it made absolutely no difference in the field. But it did help cure me of my fixation on that particular cartridge and got me thinking briefly on the .243’s less-successful 6mm competition—the 6mm Remington.

But in the final analysis, most rifle guys would probably get pretty antsy without a fetish or two to spice things up. Once, after I’d made some fairly exasperated observations about the sheer number of cartridges out there to an old timer (who’d been something of a wildcatter in his youth), he looked at me in wonderment, and then, as if explaining something to a child, said “Sure. We could all shoot a .30-06 or .270 and nothing else. Just like a lot of the guys in back in the ’30’s. And, truth be told, we’d all probably do just fine. But, really, what’d be the fun in that?”

By Way Of Introduction

FMG Publications (this means us) recently made a pair of personnel moves, the benefits of which will soon become apparent to our loyal readers (this means you).


Mark Kakkuri brings a wealth of “gun cred” to the FMG table.

Mark Kakkuri, who is now the online editor for GUNS and American Handgunner, has impeccable “gun guy” credentials. Over the past 16 years his work has been published in numerous print and online venues. Most recently, he’s been addressing the growing trend of CCW carry.

“Writing for the firearms industry can hardly be called work, especially when your closest colleagues share the same interests and look out for one another like they do,” Mark says. “So it’s more than an honor and privilege to join FMG as an online editor—it’s like being a part of a big family.”

Visitors to both FMG websites ( and can look forward to several articles a week from Mark, who invites reader feedback. Like the rest of us, he is sure to get it!


Jade Moldé, our multi-tasking managing editor, with his Lab, Minnie.

Our managing editor, Jade Moldé, is something of a workhorse. Besides GUNS, he’s also been handling American Handgunner, Shooting Industry and the Special Editions for several months now.
“I’ve been with FMG for nearly 2-1/2 years,” says Jade. “And that time has really flown by. But I’ve been having fun along the way.

“I’ve had an interest in guns for as long as I can remember. My dad and I would go out to the desert where I used to spend many a long afternoon plinking with my Ruger Mark II. Since then, I’ve taken on sporting clays and trap.

“If you’ve stopped by your local range lately, you’ve likely noticed there’s a bit of a shift in the shooting sports demographic—there’s a lot of new shooters, and many of them are younger and from urban backgrounds. Welcoming them into our community can go a long way to growing the shooting sports.”
By Payton Miller

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