Category Archives: Montana Musings

The Original Perfect Pocket Gun

The Colt Models 0f 1903 & 1908.

All the hoopla about the new, concealed carry type autoloaders is incomprehensible to me. Regardless of what sort of space-age “ium” material they are constructed of, they all are thick, square and black. And to my mind they are unnecessary although I admit up front my opinions on concealed carry are meaningless in regards to my actual time spent carrying concealed.

However, I do know something about firearms and shooting, which gives me the following opinion. I think the best small autoloading pistols ever made were designed over a century ago by none other than John M. Browning (with manufacture and marketing done by Colt).

These are Colt’s Model 1903 and Model 1908. Although introduced five years apart, a knowledgeable person is needed to tell them apart at a glance. I can’t do it if farther than about 5 feet away. The ’03 was introduced for the .32 Automatic Colt Pistol with a 71-grain FMJ roundnose bullet at about 905 fps. It is considered puny to the point of being laughable nowadays, but evidently no one smirked much about it back then. The ’08 version came out in .380 ACP, a noticeably more powerful round with 95-grain FMJ roundnose moving at about 955 fps. In Europe these rounds are known as the 7.65mm and 9mm Kurz—which means “short” in German.

With our modern mindset it might be likely to think the birth of the more powerful ’08 .380 killed the weaker ’03 .32. It did not. Both pistols continued in production until 1945, with the .32’s outnumbering the .380’s by a factor of over 4-to-1 in civilian sales.

Saying “civilian sales” indicates there also were military sales. There were. The US Government bought over 200,000 of the .32’s and an unknown number of .380’s. When an officer attained general rank, he was issued a special pistol. His choices were one or another of the Colt .32 or .380’s or a US Model 1911. Without a shred of proof to back me up, it seems by my reading, most generals chose one of the little Colts instead of the big .45. I judge that by the numbers of military marked .32 and .380 Colts offered for sale nowadays to collectors whereas, I’ve never seen a .45 traceable to a general.


Duke’s inspiration to own Colt Models 1903 and 1908 came when a
friend loaned him his father’s general officers .32 for some
cursory shooting.


Duke’s Model 1903 Colt .32 ACP was built prior to 1924.
The .32 ACP’s were made in numbers of 4-to-1 compared
with the .380 ACP’s.

Finishes of commercial Models 1903 and 1908 were either bright blue or full nickel. Quite often with the shiny ones, mother of pearl grips were also purchased. From inception until about 1924, standard grips were checkered hard rubber and after that year they were checkered walnut with Colt medallions inletted into the wood. Military versions were Parkerized with walnut grips and marked “US Property.”
Ironically, it was one of the rare general officers’ Model 1903’s by which I was introduced to these pistols. A friend loaned me his father’s military-marked Model 1903 for some cursory shooting. (His father had retired as a US Air Force 4-star General.) I liked the little pistol enough to get one, albeit certainly not as rare, valuable and collectible as my friend’s. A natural follow up was a Model 1908.

Neither Model 1903 nor Model 1908 was hard to find and their cost was considerably less than the new breed of small pistols. Being a shooter more than a collector, I searched out ones with perfect mechanical functioning, ignoring finish wear. With hard rubber grips my Model 1903 is pre-1924 and my Model 1908 is actually first-year production according to its serial number.

There is nary a sharp edge or angle to either of these little pistols. They are rounded (modern word: melted) everywhere for comfortable handling and carrying inside clothing. Both have 8-shot magazines plus a feature that sounds good to me for a concealed carry handgun—that being a grip safety such as found on the big 1911’s. Barrel lengths are 3-3/4 inches (very early Model 1903s had 4-inch barrels). Sights are a tiny blade front with a rounded, notched rear dovetailed into the slide. It can be drifted for windage zeroing. Neither of mine needed messing with when fired with run of the mill factory loads at about 10 yards.


Duke’s Model 1908 .380 ACP is from the first year of production.

Naturally, considering their era of manufacture, they are all steel. Mine both weigh 24 ounces. Colt billed these models as “hammerless.” Actually by today’s standards they are not truly hammerless but have concealed hammers. The only design point I would change is to have a magazine release button instead of the little sliding button at the bottom rear of the magazine well.

This final fact is perhaps the most amazing one of all regarding Colt’s little ’03’s and ’08’s. The ultra-famous Colt Single Action Army (aka Peacemaker) was made to the tune of 357,000 between 1873 and 1941 (1st Generation). The 2nd Generation amounted to about 74,000 (1955-1974) and 3rd Generation is well over 150,000 and counting (1976 to present). Starting in 1903 Colt made over 572,000 civilian Model 1903’s, another 200,000 for the US Government and at least 138,000 Model 1908’s. That’s closing in on a million of the little guns. Production ceased in 1945.

If modern pistol manufacturers want to hit a home run, why not copy Colt’s ’03 and ’08 form, perhaps lightening things with some space-age materials?
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Off To Pour I Go—With What?

Cast Bullet Alloys Come In Many Varieties.

In these pages time and again over the past 10 years I’ve touted the idea casting one’s own bullets is a good path to follow. It definitely is: both in the satisfaction of doing something for yourself and in the freedom to make most any sort of bullet desired.

A question I get sometimes in response to those articles is, “With the decline of wheelweight availability what do you recommend for cheap alloy?” Brothers of the Bullet Mold—to you I must say, “I’m not sure. Cheap may not apply much anymore. I know it doesn’t for me and my purposes.”

For instance, a few months back Yvonne wanted to clean out our old woodshed. Under some other junk she found several five gallon buckets of wheelweights and asked me what to do with them. I told her just to set them outside, after all weather can’t hurt lead alloys, and I’d give them to a friend who has never spent a cent on bullet alloy. He could have them for carting them off.

Why would I give away several hundred pounds of usable lead alloy? For several reasons: One, being I’m at a stage in my life where I can afford to buy lead alloys of certified composition. Another related reason is as busy as I am, it is not cost efficient for me to take the time to render down junk alloy and make it up into ingots. A third reason is I don’t experiment anymore. There is no need for me to blend up several mixes of lead and tin or lead, tin and antimony. I know what works for me and I don’t want to take a chance on the next pot of alloy not being the same as the last pot full.


In this RCBS bullet mold Duke uses 1:20 alloy for .38-40 rifles and revolvers, but when the same bullet is fired in .40 S&W autoloaders he uses Linotype in it. For the vast bulk of his cast bullet shooting, Duke has settled on only two alloys. At below, left is foundry certified 1:20 tin-to-lead alloy. At right is Linotype alloy.


As an avid competitor in the BPCR Silhouette game, after experimenting with bullet composition ranging from heat-treated wheelweights to pure lead, I’ve settled on a blend of one part tin to 20 parts pure lead. After tens of thousands of rounds fired downrange, that alloy has worked well in almost every black powder cartridge rifle tried. And that has amounted to scores of BPCR’s.

I say “almost” for a single caliber. Back in the 1870’s, for some unknown reason, both the Sharps and Remington companies bored their .44 caliber rifle barrels to have a groove diameter of 0.451 inch. (Give or take a thousandths or so once in a while.) Both of my vintage .44-77’s have 0.451-inch barrels. However, they cut the chambers of those rifles to accept cartridges loaded with bullets no larger than 0.444- to 0.446-inch diameter. Why? No one knows but firing a relatively hard 0.446-inch bullet over black powder and down a barrel with 0.451-inch groove diameter merely nets tumbling bullets. However, load very soft lead alloy bullets over the same black powder charge and it swells them up to fill the rifling allowing them to shoot surprisingly accurately. For that reason I keep a spare lead furnace filled with one part tin to 40 parts lead—an alloy so soft as to be useless for me in any other application.

Back to 1:20 alloy. Along the way, shooting experiences taught me this blend also makes superlative revolver bullets. I’ve used it in cartridges from .32 S&W Long to .45 Colt. Up to about 1,000 fps I use plain base bullets. Faster, and I use gas check designs. Such rounds also work perfectly for pistol-cartridge-firing Winchester and Marlin lever guns. Hence no need for me to hoard wheelweights anymore for such shooting.

The other genre of cast bullets needed for my guns are for auto-loading pistols and mild velocity loads for my two score of military bolt actions. The auto-loading pistol bullets are fired at speeds of 750 to 850 fps for .45’s up to 1,100 to 1,200 fps for 9mm’s. The rifle bullets are sent out at about 1,800 to 2,000 fps from cartridges as small as the 6.5mm Japanese up to the 8mm Mauser. One alloy serves for all. That is good old linotype used by the printing trade in the old days but still found at times at salvage yards. (A facsimile of linotype can also be purchased new from alloy dealers.)

Linotype is about the hardest lead-based alloy suitable for home casting bullets. It’s perfect if bullets must resist the vigor of being slammed up rough-finished feed ramps in military-type autoloaders or military bolt actions. It even works well in my M1 Thompson and M3 “grease gun” submachine guns.

A good friend bought more than a ton of linotype at a bargain price from a salvage yard a few years back and then decided it didn’t suit his needs. So from time to time he trades me a bucket full when he covets something I have an excess of. Our system works well for us.
In my day I was a superb lead scrounger. I got to be a familiar face at local tire shops and salvage yards. In fact I wasn’t above a bit of “light-handedness” because my first big haul of lead was a large block an uncle was using for a doorstop in his shop. My cousin and I replaced it with an old piece of scrap iron and melted it down into .38 Special bullets. It took us nigh on forever to chisel it into pieces small enough to fit into a lead pot.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Bullet Basics

Defining The Myriad Uses,
Shapes And Styles Of Projectiles.

Last year I wrote a column titled, “They Aren’t Bullets” concerning how our idiotic news media is forever referring to loaded ammunition as bullets. It is not—bullets are simply projectiles. Also they are not “heads” as is done on some Internet auction sites. They are bullets.

There exists a vast array of bullet types. Today we have jacketed bullets and lead-alloy bullets, plus the relatively new all-copper bullets caused by the politically-inspired hysteria about lead dangers.

Bullet Styles

Jacketed bullets consist of a lead-alloy core covered in a gilding metal jacket. Jacketed bullets come in many styles and configurations. Regardless of whether meant for rifles or handguns, there are full metal-jacketed ones (FMJ) most seen in military ammunition. Then there are hollowpoints and softnoses (JHP and JSP). Hollowpoint rifle bullets can be target types which are not meant to expand. The hollowpoint is there to move the center of gravity rearwards for better stability at distance. Hollowpoints that do expand are meant for shooting live critters so the expanding bullets do maximum damage. In rifles those are usually for varmints, but in handgun bullets they are most often meant for self-defense.

Softnose jacketed rifle bullets can be spitzers, roundnoses and roundnose/flatpoints. For rifle shooting, there are flat-base jacketed bullets and boattail jacketed bullets and they exist in both target types and hunting types. A common misconception is boattail bullets give better accuracy, which is actually a misnomer for precision. It’s not necessarily true. Some of the most accurate (precise) target bullets I’ve ever fired in rifles capable of sub-1/2 MOA groups have been flat base.

The true origin of boattail bullets was for long-range shooting in machine guns circa World War I. The flight characteristics of boattail bullets increased maximum range of bullets fired from high power cartridges such as the German 8x57mm Mauser or American .30-06. Consider this: Strip the fins off of a German V2 rocket from 1945 and its profile is exactly the same as a boattail bullet. Somewhere along the way hunters got the idea boattail bullets were ideal for them too, but in actual fact they offer little or no significant advantages inside 300 yards or so.

Now let’s turn to lead alloy bullets. There are two basic types: Cast and swaged. Cast bullets are formed when molten lead alloys are poured into molds expressly cut so the finished bullet drops in a certain shape, weight and diameter. Cast bullets are mostly produced by handloaders at home or by commercial casters who sell bullets in bulk.


Pouring your own lead alloy bullets is the easiest manner by which home handloaders can try a wide variety of bullet weights and shapes. Here, on the semi-auto’s slide are (from left to right) roundnose and roundnose/flatpoint bullets, which are optimum for functioning in autoloaders. On the revolver barrel (from left to right) are a variety of cast bullets in wadcutter, conical, roundnose/flatpoint and semiwadcutter with gas-check designs. All are fine for revolver shooting.

Home casters have several advantages. They can alter their lead-based alloys for hardness, and to a minor degree, to change bullet diameter. They also have the choice of hundreds upon hundreds of designs for rifle and handgun bullets, and finally they are not at the whim of panic buyers who cause unnecessary shortages. The disadvantage to home casting is time and space.

Cast handgun bullets come in many shapes: wadcutters (WC), semi-wadcutters (SWC), roundnose (RN) roundnose/flatpoint (RN/FP), plus hollowpoint (HP) and hollowbase (HB). WC’s were developed for paper-target shooting because they cut full-caliber holes. SWC’s do the same but are also commonly used for hunting. RN’s are archaic and were actually called “balls” in the early days of cartridge-firing handguns. The only advantage they offer to my knowledge is they slide easily into revolver chambers and almost always feed well in autoloaders.

RN/FPs were developed for use in tubular magazine lever- and pump-action rifles and carbines so the nose of a bullet did not endanger the primer of a round ahead of it in the magazine. They can also perform well on game. All the above type bullets can be had as plain-base or gas-check types, except I’ve never seen a WC meant for gas checks. The purpose of a gas check is to protect the bullet’s base in high-pressure loads. They are seldom needed for handgun bullets traveling under about 1,000 feet per second.


All of these cast bullets offer good shooting from most .30 caliber rifles
despite their differences in nose shape. These include (from left to right)
the Lyman mold No. 31141 flatnose, Lyman 311291 roundnose, Lyman 311299
semi-spitzer, RCBS 30-200SIL flatpoint and Lyman 311284 roundnose.


These five bullets, all loaded in .30-06’s, illustrate some of the many configurations
available in jacketed factory made bullets. They are (from left to right) 150-grain
flat base spitzer, 150-grain boattail polymer nose spitzer, 150-grain boattail spitzer,
155-grain hollowpoint/boattail for target shooting, and 155-grain boattail, polymer
nose target bullet.

Cast rifle bullets come in spitzer, semi-spitzer, roundnose and roundnose/flatpoint styles with again, the latter types coming about due to tubular magazines. Most cast bullet designs from .22 to .375 for use in high-power rifles are gas-check types. Big-bore rifle bullets often are plain base because they are shot at slower speeds but gas-check versions are fairly common too. A good cut-off velocity would be about 1,400 to 1,500 fps. Under that and rifle bullets usually do not need gas checks, but over that they do.

Swaged lead bullets can be had in all the above styles with even a few made to take gas checks. (Remington’s old 240-grain lead SWC .44 Magnum load was one such.) They are necessarily soft because they are cold-formed by squeezing in massive machines, although a minor number of handloaders do take upon themselves to cold form their own bullets with hand-powered equipment. Being soft, swaged lead handgun bullets usually work best when fired under about 900 fps. Swaged lead rifle bullets under .45 caliber are seldom encountered.

And that is a brief synopsis of bullet basics. Remember they are projectiles: Just one component of several needed for a fully loaded cartridge.
By Mike “DUKE” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

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Keepers: Part 2

Part II: The handguns.

A few months back I wrote this column about the two hunting rifles I will keep upon retiring from a full-time writing career. Now it’s time to talk about self-defense handguns. At the time of this writing my vault has scores of handguns, all of which would be suitable for home- and self-defense to one degree or the other. I call them my “shooting library.”

But only two will stay forever with me for that purpose—one big and one small, one autoloader and one revolver. I travel a considerable amount here in the state of Montana, and one handgun is with me virtually all the time—legally. It is a Smith & Wesson Model 442 .38 Special—the “snubnose” of crime novel fame because it wears only a 1.875-inch barrel (often called 2 inches).


Duke’s “keeper” home-defense handguns are a Smith & Wesson Model 442 .38 Special
“snubnose” revolver and a Les Baer .45 ACP Thunder Ranch Special autoloader.

The Centennial

The Model 442 is rather unique among snubnose revolvers in that its basic design from the early 1950’s was meant as a “pocket pistol” according to the book History Of Smith & Wesson by Roy G. Jinks. Originally named Centennial Model and becoming the Model 42 in 1957, these little J-frame five shooters had an internal hammer and a grip safety down the back of the butt similar to those on Model 1911 pistols. The internal hammer was meant to prevent a hammer spur from dragging on clothing when the gun was drawn. The grip safety’s purpose was obvious but it was dropped somewhere along the way. Model 42’s disappeared from Smith & Wesson’s catalog in 1974.

In 1993 the design was resurrected as the Model 442, with aluminum alloy frame and steel barrel and cylinder. Standard equipment on standard Model 442’s was rubber fingergroove grips. Mine is a bit different in that it came with fingergroove grips of some exotic wood. The way it appeared was also pleasing. Shortly after the turn of the century I was one of a group of writers who did some articles for a Smith & Wesson “magalog” (that’s a catalog also containing feature articles). After that issue was published, each of the writers received one of these special Model 442’s with wooden grips and marked “1852 An American Tradition 2002.”

Instead of leaving mine in its box to serve as a commemorative, I stuck it with my traveling kit and it goes with me—again, where legal. However, that was not before shooting it to ascertain (1) where bullets strike in regards to point of aim and (2) whether they land in close proximity to one another. Feeding it Black Hills 158-grain lead semiwadcutter factory loads, it passed my tests in both respects.

My other self-defense handgun was also a gift: this time from Clint Smith. It is a Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special .45 ACP that Clint also had fitted with a set of custom engraved silver grips bearing my initials (“MV”). The Les Baer TR Special is a full-size Model 1911 built to Les’s exacting standards. It wears Trijicon sights front and rear, dovetailed to the barrel so one or both can be drifted for perfect zeroing. It was also checked immediately upon arrival for point of aim/point of impact. They coincided perfectly with 230-grain “hardball” FMJ factory loads—also by Black Hills.


Duke test fired his S&W Model 442 at about a dozen feet for its accuracy
and point of impact/point of aim. It passed the test in both respects.

Other features of a Les Baer TR Special are a 5-inch barrel, bob-style hammer spur, extended grip safety and its own style of magazine, holding 8 rounds instead of the standard 7 of traditional Model 1911’s. Front and rear of the grip frame are stippled for a sure grip and front and rear of the slide have grasping grooves to help with manipulation. Trigger pull is a beautifully crisp 3 pounds.

These pistols have a well-known reputation for reliable functioning so once when attending a Thunder Ranch class I fired it several days, to the tune of near 1,000 rounds, without cleaning. It fired every time the trigger was pulled, although I could actually feel the slide slowing down due to the crud built up. Another well-known feature of Les Baer Model 1911’s is their accuracy, and this one is no different. It will group bullets closer to one another than I can hold.

Certainly not in the “pocket pistol” category, this big .45 requires a good holster for carrying. When it leaves the property with me it is either in a Galco belt holster for open carry, or when concealed it is in a Milt Sparks “Summer Special” inside-the-pants holster.

Although I’ve handloaded uncounted tens of thousands of .38 Special and .45 ACP for the past 4-plus decades, as usually loaded these two handguns have the mentioned Black Hills factory loads in them. They are my home-defense keeper handguns.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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The Remington No. 1 Rolling Block

This Simple, Rugged Action
Was Made In The Millions.

Among modern shooters, the Sharps Model 1874 is the buffalo rifle of the Old West, as well as the premier single shot used in the famous 1,000-yard Creedmoor target events of the 1870’s. The nearest competitor to the Sharps was Remington’s No. 1 single shot, nicknamed the “rolling block.”

During the 1870’s, the Sharps factory produced somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 Model 1874’s in all configurations, from sporting rifles to long-range target rifles.

But consider this: In approximately the same timeframe—give or take a couple of years—the Remington factory produced about a million No. 1 rolling blocks, give or take a couple of thousand. The only reason the Sharps is more famous today is because it’s been featured in countless movies. I can’t think of a movie or even a television show in which rolling blocks starred.

Don’t take the above as criticism if you’re a Sharps fan. I’m one, too. In fact I owned multiple Sharps—replicas and originals—for several years before ever turning my attention to rolling blocks. But once I did, I became a great fan of them also. They’re sturdy, accurate and generally trouble-free black-powder cartridge rifles.


This original Remington No. 1 Creedmoor sports a tang-mounted Vernier peep sight.
The single trigger was mandatory by the rules of long-range target competition in the 1870’s.

Simplicity Itself

Rolling blocks are also simple, with a minimum of moving parts. To operate one, merely pull the hammer to full cock, roll the breechblock backwards all the way to expose the chamber, insert a cartridge and close the breechblock. The rifle is now ready to fire.

One time a visitor told me—after I showed him one my rolling blocks—“I consider that an unsafe design. It’s cocked and ready to fire as soon as the breechblock is closed.”
My answer? “How is that different from your bolt-action rifle?”

Looking back on it, I should’ve had a camera ready to catch the “deer in the headlights” look on his face.

Actually, the full cock-on-loading factor worried some back in the 19th century because many of the military-style rolling blocks were designed so the hammer automatically fell to half cock when the breechblock was closed. But to the best of my knowledge that design was never incorporated into the sporting or Creedmoor target models intended for the civilian market.

The Export Factor

You may be asking, “If Remington No. 1’s were so prevalent back in the days of the Wild West, why aren’t they portrayed in movies more often nowadays?” Good question. It’s because the vast majority of them went overseas. They were made as military rifles and sold to nations circling the globe. To name just a few destinations, rolling blocks went to Spain, Egypt, Denmark, Sweden and too many South American countries to list here.

Also too numerous to list would be the individual features various nations wanted built on their rolling blocks. Suffice to say most had barrels between 32 and 33 inches in length, held to their walnut stocks with at least three barrel bands and fitted with barrel mounted sights only. An original 1877 Remington catalog I have lists military rolling blocks priced at $16 to $17. Without evidence to prove it, I think the most popular caliber of military rolling blocks was .43 Spanish.


Duke (left) and BPCR Silhouette shooting partner Butch Ulsher show off their original
Remington competition rifles after the 2013 Arizona State Championship. Duke’s is a
No. 1 Creedmoor. Ulsher’s is the No. 3 “Hepburn.” Both wear new Krieger .45-90 barrels.

Civilian Options

When sold on the civilian market as sporting rifles, Remington advertised rolling blocks as coming in weights from 8-1/2 to 15 pounds, with a standard barrel length of 26 inches. Longer barrels were optional, up to 34 inches at $1 per every 2 inches added.

Unlike Sharps Model 1874’s, double-set triggers were not a factory option on rolling blocks, but a single-set trigger was. This was a $2.50 option operated by pushing it forward until it clicked. Then it could be adjusted to release at about 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of pressure.

Another popular option was the “Combination Open & Peep Sight.” As opposed to most rifles of the day—where peep sights were mounted on the tang—this one (also a $2.50 option) was set atop the barrel, just in front of the receiver.

Although it had no Vernier scales on it for precise adjustment, I know from experience with at least one original rifle in .44-77 carrying this sight, its elevation was sufficient to reach 1,000 yards. A Remington rolling block sporting rifle with both the single-set trigger and combination sight option would have cost about $30 in the 1870’s.
The only Remington rolling blocks with tangs drilled for Vernier peep sight mounting were target rifles, of which those meant for Creedmoor competition were “the best of the best.” As a rule, Remington’s No. 1 target rifles came with pistol grips, shotgun-type buttplates and target sights. Those meant for mid-range shooting cost about $37, but Creedmoors for truly long-range competition started at $100 and could go as high as $150. Those prices are almost fantastic for American rifles in the 1870’s. Most Creedmoor No. 1’s were chambered for .44 caliber rounds, with case lengths of 2-1/4 and 2-7/16 inches.

Once I indulged myself and bought a target-grade rolling block built by the now-defunct Lone Star Rifle Company, the hook was set. Since then I’ve owned more replicas and several custom rifles built on original actions.

My favorite for several years has been a hybrid—all original from the action rearward and all new from the action forward. The Krieger barrel is chambered for the .45-2-4/10-inch Sharps, today commonly called the .45-90. I’ve shot my highest score in BPCR Silhouette with that rifle.

I guess you could say I’m still hooked on rolling blocks.
Buy Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Part I: Hunting Rifles.

Just a few days ago I was listening to the song, “I’m a Keeper” by the young folks that make up The Band Perry. It’s a good song performed with lots of enthusiasm. Naturally my mind then turned to my favorite subject—guns—and I thought, “What are my keepers?”

First let me say this: I’ve made no secret that at this age I’d like to slow down a bit. Not fully retire, just slow down some, have more time to cast bullets, handload and go to more shooting events instead of staring at this computer screen nigh on every day. After all, I’ve had over 1,800 magazine articles and columns published and written or co-authored 7 books.

Trying to pin down all “keepers” in a column like this would be impossible, so I’m going to break it down into genres. The first will be hunting rifles because it is the easiest, as I’ve already whittled down my assortment to the two I’ll keep forever. One is for big game and the other is for varmints.

Now let me say up-front that my last big game hunting was in ’05. I have no desire to shoot another deer, elk, antelope or whatever. That fact was proven to me (and Yvonne) just a couple of days ago on the opening day of Montana’s big game season. Towards evening, Yvonne said, “Look out the window.” I did and beheld a very handsome 4×4 mule deer buck standing not 20 yards from the house accompanied by three does. I said aloud, “You guys stay close for the next few weeks. You’ll be safe here.”
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not anti-hunting. I’ve enjoyed the big-game hunting I’ve done in my life but overall health and a severely damaged knee preclude it now. Yvonne and I see deer around our place almost every day year round. We consider it one of the perks of living in the country in Montana.

That said, I never want to be without a dedicated big-game rifle—just in case. My pick is a 1952 vintage Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .308 that a former owner fitted with a Mannlicher-style stock cut from rather plain walnut. It was already well worn in November 1980 when I bought it off a used gun rack in a store in Bozeman, Mont. In the past 33 years, much more wear has been inflicted on it both in the United States and Africa. The only change I’ve made on it has been switching its old Weaver K4 scope for a Leupold 2-7X.

A couple of times readers have dropped me notes saying they didn’t share my enthusiasm for this rifle because it was “homely.” Homely is as homely does, and I’ve not missed many shots with that .308. It has taken mule deer, pronghorns, coyotes and elk for me, plus a few head of African antelope. I can hear some readers thinking, “Elk? Isn’t .308 kind of small for elk?” I’ve never bought into the magnum craze and know for sure that a well-aimed shot with a good .308 load inside a couple hundred yards does just fine for elk. I’ll not blow smoke and call this Model 70 a minute-of-angle shooter, but it darn sure will keep three shots inside 1.5 MOA with my handloads and many factory loads.

My second keeper is a varmint rifle. And again let me clarify something: I have no interest at all in sitting out in a blazing Montana summer sun potting away at prairie dogs and/or ground squirrels. (The latter are commonly but wrongly called gophers around here.) I’ve done that to the tune of many thousands of rounds through a myriad of rifles starting in the mid 1970’s. As I said, I’d rather be home casting bullets or otherwise preparing for a shooting event.


Although Duke doesn’t actively hunt varmints anymore, he keeps his .222 Remington Magnum
close by his door to discourage predators from coming around his home looking for an easy meal.

And again with all that said, a varmint rifle is needed because we do live out in the country in Montana. Yvonne and I never had children, so we have lavished our affections on a continuing assortment of dogs and cats. (Besides being my photographer, Yvonne is a part-time employee of the local animal shelter.) I don’t go coyote hunting like in the old days, but more than once I’ve shot them from our front porch when they come lurking about looking for an easy meal.

For a varmint rifle I’ve coincidentally kept one also purchased back in 1980. It is a plain-Jane Remington Model 700 ADL in the now discontinued .222 Remington Magnum caliber. That round will easily reach out to 200 to 250 yards with pinpoint precision. That is a fact: This old Model 700 certainly is a minute-of-angle rifle with my handloads. I bought it 33 years ago without a scope and fitted it with a Weaver KT-10. It wore that scope until a few months back when I switched it for one of the new Weaver Tactical 4-15X scopes.

A logical reader at this point might say, “But what about brass. They don’t make it anymore, do they?” The answer to that I’m not sure of but it’s a nevermind. About the time I got down to 200 good cases, a friend showed up with a large plastic bag of brand new ones. I’m set for life with .222 Remington Magnum cases.

Those are my hunting rifle keepers. They’ll surely be up for sale someday, but it will be after I’m gone. Whoever ends up with them will be lucky. As I determine what other “keepers” are in my vault I’ll let you know—genre by genre.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

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The War Baby! Books

The Chronicle Of The Little M1 Carbine
Is Brought To Life In Three Volumes.

Elsewhere in this issue I mentioned how various books helped me identify M1 Garands by maker and vintage. There were only four manufacturers of M1 Garands. Now consider the M1 Carbine: There were 10 manufacturers of M1 Carbines during World War II alone. Collectively their production totals amounted to 6-1/4 million in a mere 4-year period. And there have been other civilian makers of M1 Carbine clones right until this day, and their production totals can only be guessed about.

With such history it is no wonder the complete story of the M1 Carbine can’t be told in a single volume—or even two. Author Larry L. Ruth has now added a third volume to his history of M1 Carbines. Volume I is titled War Baby! Its initial copyright date is 1992 with updated reprints dated 2001 and 2006. It begins with the rationale for the US Army wanting a “light rifle” and continues through detailed information concerning all 10 manufacturers’ production during WWII.

Volume II is titled War Baby! Comes Home and is copyrighted 1993 with a second printing in 2001. This volume begins with a focus on WWII and Korean War combat usage of M1 and M2 Carbines including Medal of Honor citations for Americans who used the little rifle in their outstanding acts of bravery in action. Included is quite a bit of little-known information concerning M1 Carbine usage by other nations, both ones given to friendly countries as foreign aid and ones captured and turned against American soldiers by enemy troops. This volume also contains specialized collector details such as carbine flash hiders, grenade launchers, bayonets and so forth.

Volume I of War Baby! goes to page 496. Volume II begins with page 497 and ends at page 846. In 2013, after a long hiatus, War Baby III finally appeared. It begins at page 847 and continues to an awesome length at page 1,757. In Volume III, author Larry L. Ruth actually goes back to the beginning and adds more information on M1 Carbine development with chapters such as “More on The Inland M1 Carbine” continuing through all 10 manufacturers.


Duke has absorbed many facts pertaining to his own M1/M1A1/M2 .30
Carbines from research in the War Baby! volumes.

Volume I of War Baby! goes to page 496. Volume II begins with page 497 and ends at page 846. In 2013, after a long hiatus, War Baby III finally appeared. It begins at page 847 and continues to an awesome length at page 1,757. In Volume III, author Larry L. Ruth actually goes back to the beginning and adds more information on M1 Carbine development with chapters such as “More on The Inland M1 Carbine” continuing through all 10 manufacturers.

In Volume III Ruth includes in-depth information about commercially made carbine clones from both domestic and foreign factories. There is also information on manufacturers of .30 Carbine ammunition worldwide. For instance, did you know that .30 Carbine ammunition has even been made in Ethiopia?

Also in this new volume is coverage of other firearms made to fire .30 Carbine ammunition. Most readers are aware that Ruger still makes their Blackhawk single-action revolver for this caliber and older readers perhaps remember the now-defunct AMT Company’s semi-auto .30 Carbine pistol. But did you know that Smith & Wesson actually made several prototype revolvers chambered for .30 Carbine? I’ve owned both Ruger and AMT .30 Carbine handguns and while they are more than adequately accurate they are also very loud.

Here are a few more tidbits taken from all three of Ruth’s War Baby! volumes. Today’s shooters and collectors might be excused for thinking that M1 Carbine development arose because US Army officers witnessed how badly troops fired .45 ACP Model 1911 pistols. It didn’t happen exactly like that. After WWI, army researchers scanned Germany’s medical records regarding wounds their troops experienced. The researchers found that remarkably few German soldiers had been wounded by .45-caliber projectiles. (We must wonder if so few were actually being hit or if more were hit but were killed instead of wounded.)


War Baby! is a 3-volume set totaling 1,757 pages of M1 Carbine information.

Anyway, these findings lead to the search for a “light rifle” with which to replace handguns and also, for that matter, submachine guns such as the Thompson. The “light rifle” concept did occur as the M1 Carbine but, of course, it never replaced handguns entirely.

Another bit of sad trivia included in Volume III is that at least one worker involved in M1 Carbine assembly at the Inland plant was accidentally killed with one. Mrs. Edna C. Layton was shot through the heart in November 1942 because someone else left a chambered round in a carbine after its proof firing.

Here is one other minor fact I personally find interesting pertaining to .30 Carbine ammunition. Initially the smokeless propellant used with test ammunition was DuPont’s IMR4227. It gave substandard velocity and left considerable fouling. Next the testers tried a relatively new development: Western’s ball powder. It gave the required velocity and burned cleaner. Most (if not all) World War II US military ammunition was loaded with ball propellant. After the war, surplus stocks were sold to a fellow named Bruce Hodgdon and it then was labeled H110. Incidentally, in a time when as a rule military ammunition carried the so-called “corrosive” primers, all US military .30 Carbine loads used non-corrosive primers.

These few minor facts have been pulled almost at random from the three volumes of War Baby! There are literally thousands more in their 1,757 pages.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

Collector Grade Publications
P.O. Box 1046, Cobourg, Ontario
Canada K9A 4W5
(905) 342-3434

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Guns Of The Plains Indians

Modern Archeology Gives Us A Pretty Good
Idea Of How They Were Armed.

Battlefield archaeology has given modern historians exact proof of the sort of weapons used by both sides during the Plains Indian Wars of 1860 through 1890. The most famous of these archaeology digs happened in the 1980s at the Little Bighorn Battlefield (formerly Custer Battlefield). However a smaller dig was done at the Big Hole Battlefield in 1991 and I was fortunate to have participated in it.

As might be expected there were few surprises as to what sort of weapons were used by the US Army. By the time of these two fights they were armed with US Model 1873 .45-caliber rifles and carbines (trapdoors) and cavalrymen were also issued .45-caliber Colt revolvers. Conversely the Indians (Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn and Nez Perce at the Big Hole) used a hodge-podge of firearms. Some of them, however, were surprising. For example Winchester only started shipping Model 1873 .44 WCFs (.44-40s) in quantity in 1874. But just 2 years later enough had filtered “out West” and into Indian warriors’ hands that archaeologists have been able to determine at least eight were used in the Little Bighorn Battle of June 1876. Four were fired in the much smaller fight with Nez Perce in August 1877.

How can they say with authority how many of a certain rifle type were fired? Their proof is the recovered cartridge cases which were tested forensically in police labs. The results of firing pin and extractor inspections show the cases came from eight different Winchester ’73s in one case and four in another. How can they say the Indians fired the Winchesters instead of the soldiers? One reason is there is no historical record of any soldier packing a personally owned Winchester at either fight. A second reason is that the ’73’s recovered cartridge cases were metal detected from known Indian firing positions on the battlefields.

This Plains Indian warrior is shown photographed with his
Winchester Model 1866. Photo courtesy Herb Peck Jr. collection.

But Winchester ’73s were a mere drop in the bucket compared to the number of Winchester ’66s and Henry repeating rifles used by Indians in the Little Bighorn fight. Literally thousands of .44 Henry Rimfire cases have been recovered from the Little Bighorn Battlefield and related Reno-Benteen Siege site. (And also from privately owned land in the surrounding vicinity.) Archaeologists posit that the number of Henry and Winchester ’66s at those connected fights numbered well over 200. Ten of those two .44 rimfire rifles were identified with the Nez Perce battle.

(Interestingly, two civilians attached to Major Reno’s command at the Little Bighorn Battle also carried Henry .44 Rimfire rifles. They were Charley Reynolds, a white scout and Isaiah Dorman a Negro hired as an interpreter. Both were killed there.)

At both battle sites only a few Spencer repeating carbines were represented. That is interesting because until the US Army adopted Model 1873 .45-70s for their cavalry regiments, they mostly carried Spencers—mostly .56-50 in caliber. You might think that Sioux and Cheyenne would have captured more between the mid-1860s and the great 1876 battle. Since the Nez Perce never fought the US Government prior to 1877 theirs perhaps came by routine trade.

Two favorite firearms of Indian warriors in the 1860s and 1870s were .44 rimfire Henry
rifles (top) and Winchester Model 1866s. The latter one is the saddle ring carbine version.

That brings us to another factor. Just how did Indians acquire their firearms? Some were given to them by the US Government, many of which were cartridge-firing conversions of Sharps percussion carbines. These were chambered as .50-70 and given to reservation residents for “hunting” purposes. They ended up being pointed at US soldiers either by being traded to non-reservation “hostiles” or by their owners jumping the reservations. At least 3-dozen of these .50-70s were used at the Little Bighorn Battle and perhaps one at the Big Hole. (A .50-70 case recovered was definitely from a Sharps but exact model could not be determined.)
Another method by which Indians acquired US-marked firearms was by capturing them. For instance in the earliest confrontation with troops in the Nez Perce campaign the Indians killed at least 36 members of the US 1st Cavalry Regiment at White Bird Canyon in Idaho. All their weapons and ammunition fell into Nez Perce hands and some were definitely fired from their positions at soldiers at the Big Hole site.

At the Little Bighorn the captured US weapons were turned on the 7th Cavalrymen much quicker. The archaeologists have been able to plot on maps places were specific carbines were being fired from early cavalry positions and then their fired cartridges showed up in positions known to have been later held by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. On the second day of the Little Bighorn Battle when surviving elements of the 7th Cavalry were besieged on a ridge high above the river, cartridge cases have been found that forensics identified as coming from Model 1873 carbines used the previous day on the site where Custer and his 200-plus men met their deaths.

Many Indians were armed with weapons captured from the US Army. This Model 1873
“trapdoor” carbine was purchased in modern times on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.

Here’s an interesting bit of ammunition information. By the time of these two battles the US Army had determined that the ammunition issued for their Model 1873 infantry rifles give objectionable recoil in the lighter cavalry carbines. The infantry loads contained 70 grains of black powder (hence the famous .45-70 name) under 405-grain bullets. For cavalry use the charge was reduced to 55 grains with the same bullet. In order to take up space left by the lighter-powder charge spacers (wads) were placed between bullet and powder or cylindrical tubes of cardboard were inserted inside the cases with the powder going inside them. Of course the wads were blown out upon firing but occasionally tubes remained in place. At both battlefields .45-caliber cases were recovered still containing cardboard tubes.

For more information about this fascinating subject of Plains Indian Wars weaponry I refer readers to A Sharp Little Affair by Douglas Scott and Archaeological Insights Into The Custer Battle by Scott, Fox and Harmon.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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A Gun Powder Primer

There’s A Lot More To It Than You May Imagine.

The politically caused shortages of all sorts of reloading components and even tooling should make us think about what those components truly are. It is easy to take for granted something, which we can stop and buy somewhere at a moment’s notice. When that item becomes scarce perhaps we should think of all the effort someone is making to keep it on retailer’s shelves?

There are two basic types of gunpowders being used by today’s handloaders. The first and oldest is black powder: a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter. Sounds simple but manufacturing it requires considerable knowledge and technical support—especially in the safety arena. Every now and then some yo-yo decides to make his own black gunpowder and ends up destroying something: his kitchen, his house or his own life.

In the 1880s, arrived what are generically called smokeless gunpowders, by far the industry standard of the last century and a quarter. Again there are two basic divisions of smokeless propellants: single base and double base. The first is composed of nitrocellulose and the second consists of that plus a tad of nitroglycerine added. On top of that the actual shapes of smokeless powders vary. There are extruded types, flake types, and ball or spherical types. The British used to have (they may still use it for all I know) cordite gunpowder. It looked like strands of angel-hair pasta, which they cut to length to fit inside various cartridge cases.

In time of powder shortages Duke can live with
these two for all his handgun reloading.

In firing thousands of rounds through his World War II rifle
collection, Duke has come to rely on these two powders most.

Smokeless powders generate far higher pressures than black powders and must be loaded with considerable caution—as in frequent reference to recognize reloading manuals assembled by companies with well-equipped laboratories. On the plus side of the coin, smokeless gunpowders are very safe to handle, store and transport.

Black gunpowders are capable of generating far less chamber pressures in firearms, hence they are safer to use in firearms actually designed and produced in the pre-smokeless powder era. The negative side of the black gunpowder coin is they are far easier to ignite. Care must be taken in regards to their safe storage, handling and transport.

Today’s array of smokeless propellants is almost mind-boggling. Hornady’s newest reloading manual (No. 8) lists 142 different smokeless gunpowders with various levels of availability in this country. I’ve been an extremely avid handloader since 1966, written hundreds of magazine articles on the topic starting in 1972 and yet of those 142 listed smokeless propellants I count only 60 that have passed through my hands.

Smokeless powders are graded in burning rate from fast to slow but their names are no indication of how fast or slow burning they might be. It is up to the user to purchase the proper propellant for whatever cartridge(s) he might be handloading. Also the gunpowder manufacturers have not done much to make identification easier. For instance Hodgdon and IMR both have 4350s and 4831s—IMR4350 and H4350 and IMR4831 and H4831. They are similar but not identical in burning rates so appropriate data must be used with each. Then there are similar sounding but far different powders such as ATK’s Reloder 7 and Western Powder’s Accurate No. 7. Confusing data for those two could be deadly—I actually do know of one gent who lost part of a hand by doing that.

Similar looking powder cans also might get hurrying reloaders into trouble and even 40 years of experience can be negated in an instant. Once in a rush to meet a deadline I grabbed a can of Hodgdon Clays powder and then loaded it in .45 Colt cases to the charge recommended for Hodgdon Universal. Clays is a much faster burning powder than Universal. The result was two bulged chambers in a fine Colt Single Action Army revolver, requiring factory fitting of a new cylinder.

Black powders—at least in the United States—are graded in at least a nominal manner, not exactly indicating their burning rate but their coarseness of “grind.” They are rated from Fg to FFFFg with the more Fs the finer the powder. Fg is generally accepted as being for big-bore muzzleloading muskets or big-bore cartridge rifles, FFg is for moderate bore sizes of each, FFFg is considered a pistol and revolver powder, and FFFFg is priming powder for flintlocks.

For reloading single-shot, black-powder rifle cartridges Duke
uses Swiss 1-1/2 Fg. For smokeless loads for most antique
cartridges plus cast bullet loads for modern rifle rounds
Duke uses only 5744.

For decades I’ve lived with a storage shed about 75 yards from the house with a large array of smokeless propellants in stock. About 200 yards from the house I keep my black powder stock in another shed. So many different types of powders were kept on hand for the purposes of gathering information to flesh out these articles and columns.

Coming into my retirement years I’ve been actively working on consolidating my powders; keeping a good supply of favorites and letting stocks of the others dwindle away. Here’s what I consider favorites. For autoloading handguns I like Winchester 231. For revolver cartridges originally developed with black powder from .38 Special to .45 Colt IMR’s Trail Boss is my pick. For the majority of rifles in my World War II collection Hodgdon’s Varget works well but I also keep H110 just for .30 Carbine. For cast bullet shooting in those same military rifles and most big-bore levergun cartridges Western Powders’ 5744 beats all. And finally, as an avid competitor in the NRA’s Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette game I burn about a case of Swiss 1-1/2 Fg black powder ever year.

I always keep a plentiful stock of those six gunpowders on hand. Therefore, politically inspired shortages don’t keep me from shooting the types of guns I most favor.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Ladling Lead Just Got Easier

Lyman’s 4th Edition Cast Bullet Handbook
Helps Expand The Reloader’s Universe.

In my continually cluttered work area reside a host of reloading manuals but the most tattered of all are Lyman’s various cast bullet handbooks. There have only been four editions with the newest arriving in 2010.

It is the one most dear to me. Why? Because in its table of contents I am listed as “author.” That’s not 100-percent exact. I did 15 of the 18 informational or “how-to” chapters. The other three chapters were done by experts in their fields. Also the amazing amount of data that makes up the bulk of this book was tested and compiled by Lyman’s own technicians in their Middletown, Connecticut, laboratory. Still I was extremely pleased to be asked to help and to be listed as it primary author.

In the mid-1960s upon taking up bullet casting myself, it seemed a mysterious art. Even then good information concerning its ins and outs and ups and downs was scarce. Then one of the older gents who helped me along loaned me his Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook (1st Edition) but only with my promise to return it promptly. With its reading, many details of pouring good bullets became clear. That 1st edition was so rare that it wasn’t until the 1990s that I found one for my own library.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Lyman produced 2nd and 3rd Editions of their cast bullet manual and I devoured their contents page by page. In the 2nd Edition, Lyman listed all their hundreds of cast bullet designs with sample photos of each. As I acquired molds and tried shooting those bullets an X was placed with its photo. There are scores of Xs there now.

Lest someone assumes I’m so happy with Lyman’s new cast bullet book because I was instrumental in producing it, let me stress that’s only one reason. The primary reasons I’m enthusiastic are three. One is that for the first time they have included other companies’ bullet designs. RCBS, Lee, and Redding/SAECO molds are represented along with their own molds. A second reason is that new powders are used including black powder and Pyrodex where applicable. The third and most important reason that this book will be useful to a wide range of shooters is that it is so comprehensive.

This array of cast bullet loaded cartridges (above) shows some of the data variety you will find in Lyman’s new Cast Bullet Handbook, 4th Edition. From left to right: .30 Carbine, .308 Winchester, .38-55, .44 WCF (.44-40) and .50-70 Government. Duke was satisfied to see in the manual that his 8mm Mauser cast bullet load coincides closely with Lyman’s data (below).

Host Of Calibers

Let’s look at that factor for a moment. In its rifle data section Lyman’s new manual starts with .22 Hornet on the little end and finishes with the .50-70 Government on the large side. Along with run of the mill standbys such as .30-30 and .30-06, there is cast bullet information for such esoteric rounds as .30-378 Weatherby Magnum, .375 Ruger, and even .460 Weatherby Magnum. Did you know that 52 grains of Accurate 5744 will give about 1,700 fps from a Weatherby Mark V .460 rifle? That tones it down enough for practice shooting.

It is also nice when perusing this new book to see that some of my own cast bullet load favorites coincide with Lyman’s data. For instance, in my array of German K98k Mausers Redding/SAECO’s bullet mold 081 over 27 grains of Accurate 5744 is my standard load. Lyman uses that same bullet with a starting charge of 25.5 grains (1,702 fps) to a maximum of 31 grains (2,156 fps).

Antique and obsolete rifle rounds are not ignored either. There is loading information for .40-65 Winchester and .40-70 Sharps Straight, .45-90, .45-100, .45-110 and .45-120 Sharps along with .45-70. There is even information for the .56-50 Spencer Centerfire which has been brought back to replicate the original Spencer rimfire cartridge.

Cast bullet handgun information has also been covered in great detail starting with .30 Luger and progressing to the .500 Smith & Wesson. Other big boomers covered are .480 Ruger and .475 Linebaugh but some of the old smaller-capacity Old West rounds have gotten modern coverage in this book. Here, I’m talking about .44 S&W Russian and .45 S&W Schofield.

Finally at the end of this new book are reference charts that can come in handy. Such are a crossover chart of top punches necessary for cast bullet sizing. This chart shows which Lyman top punches might be compatible with Redding/SAECO and Lee bullet designs. For some reason, RCBS is left out. Also there is a shell holder chart, which I have found very useful. There are some interesting anomalies in it. For instance, Lyman lists a No. 17 shell holder for 7.62x54R Russian and for most magnum cartridges up to and including .460 Weatherby Magnum. Yet Hornady, RCBS and Redding list a specific shell holder for the old Russian military round (numbers 23, 13 and 15 respectively) that is shared with no other cartridge. A minor point but interesting to us “handloading loonies.”
With reloading component supply being so spotty nowadays with the political inspired hoarding and panic buying happening in 2013, bullet casting is on the upswing. In my opinion new casters and many older casters would benefit from this Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook 4th Edition.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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(860) 632-2020

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