Category Archives: Surplus Classic And Tactical Firearms

A Short Affair

The .22 Short 1890 Winchester
“Gallery Gun” Is Still A Blast.

My first introduction to firearms was at the Shooting Gallery at Frontierland in Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. One of my fondest memories is the excitement approaching Frontierland as the smell of powder smoke wafted in the air. From then on anytime I saw a shooting gallery anywhere, I wanted to shoot.

One of the most recognizable shapes even today is the profile of the John Browning-designed Winchester Model 1890, often called the “Gallery Gun,” and prices reflect its ongoing popularity—and long, hard use in many cases.

While not the first pump-action rifle design (Colt had been selling pump rifles for several years already), the Model 1890 proved one of the most reliable, accurate and dependable of rifles. It came about in a time when the frontier was settling down and recreational shooting was on the rise.

Previously, John M. Browning would turn in a model gun to Winchester for evaluation. Instead of sending a model gun this time, Browning submitted detailed drawings. Winchester’s engineers informed Browning he should discontinue the project because the gun couldn’t possibly work. Browning then made a model gun and upon submission said, “You said it wouldn’t work, but it seems to shoot pretty fair to me.”

The 1890 was chambered for one of the original rimfires, the .22 Short, which was very popular for target and small game shooting. The little round was topped with a 30-grain solid or 27-grain hollowpoint bullet over 3 grains of black powder.

As well, the 1890 was chambered for the .22 Long and a hot new cartridge called the .22 Winchester Rim Fire. The .22 Long, topped with a 35-grain bullet over 5 grains of powder was supposed to give hunters a more powerful cartridge. The Long never proved as accurate or popular as the Short.

The .22 WRF was unique among rimfires in having the bullet’s grease grooves within the case as is common with centerfire ammunition. The outside-lubricated Shorts and Longs were a lot messier to load, especially afield. The .22 WRF, topped with a 45-grain bullet over 7 grains of powder at 1,300 fps was powerful and a good small-game round. A more expensive round, the WRF cost $9 per 1,000 rounds compared to $5 per 1,000 for Shorts in Winchester’s 1899 catalog. More 1890’s were sold in .22 Short than the other two cartridges combined.


Jeff does his Holt Bodinson impersonation guest writing the column this
month. The Model 1890 Winchester is truly one of the best “fun guns” the
world has seen. The Model 1890 is light, sleek, reliable and accurate.


Many of the guns on the market have seen hard use, and this one
is no exception. During its life starting in 1914, it has been
rebarreled and many parts replaced.

High Numbers

Some 775,000 Model 1890’s were made from 1890 until its discontinuance at the beginning of WWII. Strangely enough, the .22 Long Rifle wasn’t chambered in the 1890 until after WWI, and never in large numbers. Only about 10 percent of the 1890’s were chambered in .22 LR. The inexpensive Model 1906, which shared parts with the 1890, had a round barrel and gumwood stock, and a carrier designed to handle .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle, but this carrier was never used in the 1890. The carrier and lifter of the 1890 remained caliber-specific until the end of production.

I’ve had an 1890 in .22 WRF for about 20 years and have enough ammo to enjoy shooting and hunting if I don’t get wild and careless. CCI still catalogs the WRF with a 45-grain hollowpoint, but likely it will be low on the list for production until demand for more popular rimfire ammo is satisfied.

Shooting the WRF is more like shooting a serious gun so I decided I “needed” a .22 Short for plinking fun. So I casually began to peruse, the gun shows and local stores. The ones in my price range were heavily used and some showed great abuse. For a gun made in such great numbers, it is surprising how many were used half to death, and how expensive the ones in good condition have become.

Surprisingly, CCI .22 Short ammo began showing up—and wasn’t instantly snapped up—so I acquired 500 rounds, and my quest became a little more serious. Now I had no shortage of Shorts, and really got bitten by the 1890 bug. Again.

I found one reasonably priced with little finish at a pawnbroker’s on It was about $200 less than others in similar or much worse condition. The bore was declared “shootable” (which means nothing or a lot!) and the stock appeared to have a crack. When I contacted the seller he told me it functioned perfectly. He and his employees had taken it along with other guns to shoot on a range day and it was the hit of the day (no surprise).

This was going to be a leap of faith, since it was being sold “as is” and I would be buying based on photos and my talk with the seller. There were no bids, but plenty of watchers, and I tossed a coin, put in a bid at the starting price and won.


As the breechblock (above) rises up out of the receiver, a cartridge slips into the lifter and in this position is ready to be fed directly into the barrel. Because the round might not be readily visible, safe shooters very carefully inspect these guns to ensure they are unloaded.


The Model 1890 breaks down easily into two parts. The takedown
screw is supposed to stay captured in the lower. Another thing to fix.


It turned out to be a strange hybrid of “Wow” and “Oh! The horror!” The serial number dated the receiver to 1914, and it had been rebarreled at a much later date outside the factory (according to the “mail order” proof and style of the barrel markings). Winchester sold 1890 barrels through the mail and marked them so the company could determine if it had been fitted outside the factory. The barrel’s external finish was horribly strange. It appeared to have been roughly and coarsely filed on each flat. Over the chamber between the barrel/receiver were five deep punch marks, leaving me to wonder if the new barrel ever fit correctly. The carrier in the 1890 was dedicated to the .22 Short, Long or WRF. Taking the gun apart, it had a carrier from a Winchester Model 1906 allowing the use of Shorts, Longs or Long Rifles interchangeably. The .22 Short barrel had been rechambered to accept the Long Rifle.

On the other hand, a nice feature is the gun now has a period Marble’s front and rear sight. The rear sight is set into a dovetail, unlike the factory sight, which just sits atop the barrel and is held in by a screw. Loosening a screw in the base of the Marble’s rear sight allows you to pivot the sight slightly in the dovetail for windage adjustment. A stepped elevator allows for elevation. The front is a bead.

Another “Wow” part is the action screws have never been buggered, the receiver and buttplate show little “hard wear” (although the proof mark on the receiver and serial numbers show the receiver has been polished since it left Winchester). If I desired to refinish, it would not be terribly time consuming to polish, and I don’t mind refinishing a gun already refinished once. The stock was cracked, repaired and cracked again. It’s fixable, but if I refinish the gun, I’ll certainly restock it in nice wood. While the barrel is perfect on the inside, if I go this route, I’ll want a barrel and carrier chambered in .22 Short only. Besides, the external finish on the barrel is beyond ugly.

Pulling a Bore Snake through revealed the rifling clean and like new. The 1:20-inch twist is meant for the 30-grain .22 Short and isn’t supposed to stabilize the average 40-grain .22 Long Rifle very well. A long time ago I got a good deal on Federal Spitfire Hyper Velocity .22 Long Rifle, and still have a lot of it left because none of my .22 Long Rifles shot it well. Spitfire is loaded with a 31-grain truncated cone bullet (today a hollowpoint called Game Shok), so my hopes were up for having some fun with Spitfire ammo after all these years. To test the theory about stabilization, I added Winchester .22 LR Power Points and Remington .22 LR Subsonics to the mix just to see if the accuracy would suffer.

All loads shot very well. The “shootable” bore delivered 2-inch 10-shot groups at 25 yards with CCI .22 Short, Federal Spitfire and Winchester Power Points. Remington Subsonic delivered a group of 1-7/8 inches.

The “uh-oh” thing raised its head again when I discovered the action partially unlocking upon firing with the Shorts and Spitfires. It didn’t with the Winchester or Remington. After shooting about 50 Shorts, I should have cleaned the chamber. The first Long Rifle Power Point stuck in the chamber. I was able to pull it out with my fingernail and it had gunk on the case. The second round stuck, too, but after that no problems extracting occurred again.

This 1890 was mostly reliable and decently accurate. I was looking for a fun plinker and the .22 Short is just the ticket. There is almost no noise (none with hearing protection), no recoil and the smell of the CCI powder brought me back to my first shots—or maybe I was just dreaming. If so, I don’t want to wake up just yet.
By Jeff John

Birchwood Casey
7900 Fuller Road
Eden Prairie, MN 55344
(952) 937-7933

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

Further Reading
Winchester Slide Action Rifles Vol. 1
by Ned Schwing, ©1992,
Krause Publications,
700 East State Street
Iola, WI 54990
(715) 445-2214,, OP

The Winchester Book, George Madis,
©1985, 640 pages, 1,800 photos, ISBN: 0-910156-03-4, $67.95,
Madis Books, P.O. Box 545
Brownsboro, TX 75756
(903) 852-6480,

>> Click Here << To See More Photos

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The Elegant Sharps Borchardt

The Swan Song Of The Sharps Rifle Co. Was Perhaps The Best
Single-Shot Rifle Of The Era.

When the Sharps Rifle Company ceased production in 1881, it went out with a bang, having produced in the waning years of the company what many still consider the most elegant single-shot action ever designed—the 1878 Sharps-Borchardt. A few years later, Borchardt’s name would once again be associated with a firearms marvel, the world’s first successful semi-automatic pistol, the C-93 Borchardt, which became the inspiration for the Georg Luger’s enduring Pistole ’08.

Hugo Borchardt was a mechanical genius with a definite flair for design and a born businessman. Born in Germany in 1844, he immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old and became a naturalized citizen. At the age of 28 he became Superintendent of Works for the Pioneer Breech-Loading Arms Co. Two years later, he became a foreman with the Singer Sewing Machine Co. and 2 years later at the age of 32, became the Superintendent of the Sharps Rifle Company.

With the dissolution of the Sharps Rifle Company in 1881, Borchardt returned to Europe permanently. Over his working life, he designed not only the Sharps-Borchardt action and the C-93 pistol, but a variety of inventions ranging from shirt neck shapers to electrical household appliances for gas lighting and heating and in 1915, patented a toggle-action, semi-automatic rifle. Borchardt passed away in Berlin in 1924 at the age of 79.

The early ’60’s found me at Fort Sill, Okla., going through the joint services, artillery officer’s school. Thankfully, the weekends were all ours, and I would roar down to Dallas where I had family and a girlfriend or two.

The finest antique arms store in Dallas at the time was Jackson Arms. It was not a large shop, but it reeked “quality” as in a matched pair of Winchester 1886 .45-90 saddle ring carbines and cased sets of dueling pistols. It was stuff a penny-poor, second lieutenant could only dream about, but on my second weekend visit to the shop, something caught my eye.

It wasn’t displayed prominently. Off in the corner of a gun rack was a racy-looking, Sharps-Borchardt sporting rifle composed of an original commercial-type, Sharps-Borchardt action, a .45-70 barrel stamped P.O. Ackley, a classic English walnut stock complete with a Schnabel fore-end and a Lyman tang sight. I never determined whether or not it was made entirely within the P.O. Ackley shop, but being a modern composite gun, it didn’t fit the Jackson Arms mold, and its price tag of $125 clearly reflected Mr. Jackson’s sentiment. Dates could wait, but Sharps-Borchardts couldn’t and wouldn’t. It was the fastest, wallet-emptying, $125 I ever shucked out.

Until you’ve owned one, handled one, shot one, you can’t really begin to appreciate how utterly modern the hammerless 1878 Sharps-Borchardt action really is. Originally introduced as a military musket model, here’s what the 1878 Sharp’s catalog had to say about it:
“For safety, accuracy, penetration, range, ease of manipulation, rapidity and certainty of fire, strength, durability and lightness of recoil, they are unequaled by any rifle made.


The innovative Borchardt action is a classic, dropping-block, single shot.


The military model is the most common and most affordable of the Sharps-Borchardts.

“These are built in .45 caliber, with a length of shell 2-1/10 inches, 75 grains of powder, 420 grains lead, U.S. cartridges can be used, length of barrel 32 inches, length of rifle 48-1/2 inches, weight without bayonet 9 pounds.
“Price without bayonet: $20.00
“Price with bayonet: $22.50
“Objections may possibly be made to the absence of the outside hammer on account of the difficulty in executing the movement of ‘Support Arms.’ It should be remembered that the manual is made for arms, and not arms for the manual.

“It is vastly more important, when an enemy is approaching, to be able to shoot him effectually, rather than salute him gracefully.”
Examining the action in detail, it is hammerless with a light, in-line firing pin powered by a strong, coiled mainspring. Lock time is very fast since the striker fall is only 0.312-inch.

The vertical operating breechblock is fully supported by the rear shoulders of the receiver. In the custom gun trade, the action was noted for its strength and desirability for rebarreling with modern high-pressure cartridges, particularly varmint cartridges, but only after the firing pin was reduced in diameter and bushed and a gas port drilled in from the top of the block.

The trigger and sear are simple and were set at the factory to a weight-of-pull of 3 to 3-1/2 pounds in the sporting models. When the finger lever is opened and the breechblock lowered, the striker is cocked and a safety lever just to the rear of the trigger automatically engages and blocks the trigger until it is disengaged by pulling rearward. (Sharps noted in their catalog the safety lever could be easily removed for military rapid fire).

The Sharps factory did fit some of its target and sporting models on request with set triggers, but apparently the factory set triggers were not well thought of. The finest set trigger ever developed for the Sharps-Borchardt was the work of gunsmith, A.O. Zischang of Syracuse, New York. Zischang favored the Sharps-Borchardt action above all others for building what many consider the finest, most accurate Schuetzen rifles of the era. Zischang also worked at the Sharps Rifle Company for several years as a barrel maker, and the company’s finest mid- and long-range target models often bear Zischang barrels.


The Borchardt military model sports a very unique-looking, tulip-headed, cleaning rod.


Adjustable to 1,000 yards, the military Borchardt sights
offer a crisp, precise, sight picture.


The design of the Borchardt’s striker-fired action
was light years ahead of its time.

The buttstock of the Sharps-Borchardt is attached to the receiver with a large through-bolt extending from the end of the butt through the small of the stock and is threaded into the rear of the receiver. Such a rigid design enhances the accuracy of a single shot. Also, the action exhibits little drop so it can be stocked along classic lines without resorting to a high- or Monte Carlo-style comb.

Overall, the action is streamlined, compact and beautifully machined, hardened and finished. Both sides of the receiver are flat and offer an engraver an inviting canvas. Many of the finer factory, sporting and target grades of the Sharps-Borchardt sport inletted side panels of hard rubber or richly grained walnut to match the stock. A little known fact is that when the two, large bolt heads, or threaded plugs, seen on both sides of the action are removed, the exposed holes are actually the entry points for the factory milling cutter used to rout out the receiver for the inletted side panels.

The Sharps-Borchardt action was produced in two styles: the military action seen here, which is very square in profile, and the sporting or target action, which is gracefully rounded at the top and bottom of the receiver.

The two most often seen criticisms of the Sharps-Borchardt action seen in the popular press are that there is no firing pin retractor, causing the pin to hang up in a fired primer and jamming the action, and there is no camming action by the breech block as the cartridge is seated in the chamber. As I learned from tuning my first Sharps-Borchardt, both critiques are unwarranted.

The firing pin is controlled by a round, transverse cocking pin that rides in two, matching, cocking cam plates screwed to the inside of both receiver walls. The cocking cam plates, which would be tricky to repair or duplicate, are hard. The round cocking pin (think of it as a short steel dowel), which follows the grooves in the cocking cam plates, is softer so that it wears and not the cocking cams. If the cocking pin is not worn and is in full contact with the cocking cam grooves, the firing pin is retracted instantly as the finger lever is opened. If the cocking pin is worn beyond a certain point, there will be some lost motion, and the firing pin will hang up in the fired primer. The solution is simple. Replace the worn cocking pin. I turned unhardened drill rod to make replacement cocking pins, and they worked perfectly.

Yes, the breechblock of the Sharps-Borchardt does not have a camming action. It works perfectly vertically, and if your cases are sized properly and have a standard rim thickness, there isn’t any problem in seating a cartridge in the chamber with finger pressure alone.


The receiver carries an indelible credit to the mechanical genius of
Hugo Borchardt. The Sharps company markings are repeated on the barrel.


As the breech block is lowered the safety automatically snaps into the
rear of the trigger. The big threaded plug screw just above the trigger
covers the hole for the entry of the milling cutter to rout out the side panels.


“Old Reliable” can still pound out some tight groups.

Produced from 1878-1881, approximately 8,700 Sharps-Borchardts were made in 10 distinct models ranging from the basic military rifle pictured here to the most refined, long-range rifles of the day. Of the 8,700 produced, 6,900 of those were the basic military rifle model, which is still commonly seen today and affordably priced for the collector. As a military arm, it failed to impress the world’s military who, by 1878, were seeking repeaters, not single shots, although in 1877, 300 were purchased by the Imperial Chinese Army for trials and the states of South Carolina, Louisiana and Michigan purchased the model for their militia units.

Ironically, it wasn’t until the Schuetzen era when leading gunsmiths like Zischang, Axel Petersen and George Schoyen plied their gun-building magic with the Sharps-Borchardt action that the advanced design of the action was fully appreciated.

How does the military model shoot? My Sharps-Borchardt shows signs of a long and healthy life. The original finish is no longer exemplary, but the bore is pristine. On hand were some 510-grain, semi-spitzer, smokeless loads once offered by Ten-X Ammunition.

Fortunately, the sight picture offered by the Borchardt is crisp and precise. The 50-yard target pictured shows a 3-shot group of 1-1/4 inches. At 100 yards, the Borchardt will cut 2-1/2 inches with the same ammunition. One of my favorite jacketed handloads which will equal the Ten-X loading is the Remington factory 405-grain bullet, 39.0 grs. of IMR-3031 and a Remington 9-1/2 primer. I don’t shoot black powder loads in the Borchardt because the striker fired breechblock is not the easiest to clean thoroughly.

In the 8th edition (2001) of Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values the average price of the military model is quoted from $1,100 in very good condition to $2,500 in excellent condition while the price of the long-range model is listed from $5,000 to $12,500-plus.

And what ever happened to my P.O. Ackley, Sharps-Borchardt sporter? I traded it for a Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine. If, by chance, you own my old P.O. Ackley sporter, I have a beautiful, sensational, absolutely mint, Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine readily available for trade.


Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values-9th Edition by Norm Flayderman, softcover, 752 pages, $39.99, F+W Publications, 700 E. State Street, Iola, WI 54990, (855) 864-2579,

Sharps Firearms by Frank Sellers, hardcover, 358 pages, $75, A&J Arms Booksellers, LLC. 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711, (520) 512-1065,

Single Shot Rifles and Actions by Frank DeHaas, softcover, 341 pages, Out-of-print
By Holt Bodinson

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Whispers Of Mossad

CIA Imports A Mysterious
Beretta Model 71.

There’s a distinct romantic side to collecting milsurps. Century International Arms’ current cache of Beretta Model 71’s in .22 LR with 3.5-inch threaded barrels fitted with permanently affixed faux suppressors has to make you wonder. You just have to wonder where they’ve been, what they’ve done and who used them.

You also have to wonder where Century found the little, threaded-barrel Berettas, but the milsurp trade is very close-mouthed about such questions. Like Churchill’s famous description of Russia, the milsurp business is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

The Beretta 71 was never imported into the United States in great numbers, particularly with a 3.5-inch barrel, which was unfortunately banned from further importation by the Gun Control Act of 1968, hence the current, permanently attached faux suppressor which stretches the barrel length out to a full 9 inches.

The Model 71 is a beautifully built and finished handgun, indicative of Beretta workmanship and quality control. It’s a single-action semi-auto with an 8-round magazine and fixed sights. The frame is aluminum and the slide is steel. Even without the additional weight of the current faux suppressor, a Model 71 chassis always reminded me less of a .22 rimfire and more of a .32 or .380 semi-auto. It has heft. It’s hand filling. To use the popular political term, the little Beretta has gravitas, much more so than the tip-up barrel rimfire Berettas so commonly seen today.

The controls on the Model 71 are typical of a single-action semi-auto. On the left-hand side of the frame, there’s a slide-stop lever and a thumb-operated safety blocks the sear and hammer. On the right-hand side, there’s a disassembly lever marked “SMONTAGGIO” which, when toggled forward, allows the removal of the slide and barrel assembly from the frame.


Due to the 1968 Gun Control Act, a 6-inch faux suppressor was
added for importation purposes. The Model 71 features Beretta’s
characteristic and reliable open-frame design.

The magazine release is rather unique on the Model 71. It consists of a large, recessed push button on the lower left side of the grip. And those grips! They’re really eye-catching with a bold Beretta Trident at the top of both panels.

The markings on both sides of the pistol are interesting. The left side of the slide reads: “PIETRO BERETTA, Gardone V.T. Cal. 22 L.R.” The right side: “P B–Made in Italy.”

The left side of the frame carries the original serial number and an added electro-penciled, model designation, “MOD. 71.” There is no original, factory model designation. The right side of the frame carries the importer’s name electro-penciled in: “C.A.I. Georgia VT” and the Italian proofhouse marks which include an Italian production code for the year of manufacture. The production code on this specimen consists of the letters “AB” inside a square box, indicating the Model 71 was produced in 1976.

In 1975, Italy ceased using Roman numerals as yearly production codes and adopted a lettering system. For example, 1975 is designated “AA,” 1976 “AB” and so forth. We’re now in the “C’s” with 2013 designated “CL” and 2014 “CM.” The only cautionary point is to be aware Italy skipped some of the sequential letters in the alphabet when selecting the second letter of the 2-letter code. For example, there are no “AG’s” or “AJ’s” or “AO’s.” The best bet is to search the Internet for “Italian firearm production codes” and print out the results. It’s valuable information to have on hand when you’re dealing with Italian arms.

The Model 71 uses Beretta’s characteristic open frame design with its exposed barrel. I must say it’s a remarkably reliable design. The little Beretta digested a smorgasbord of standard and high velocity ammunition without a hiccup.

The only problem in shooting the Model 71 is the front sight is totally obscured by the large suppressor. This is a point-and-shoot model only, but you can get quite good with it with a bit of practice. Of course, you could always mount a set of sights on the suppressor, but why? It’s a photogenic fun gun.


The Model 71 comes with a genuine 8-shot Beretta magazine (above) with
its spur finger support. The magazine release is the big button at the
base of the left grip. The left side of the frame features the slide
stop lever and thumb safety. Both stocks feature Beretta’s signature
“Trident.” The right side features a disassembly lever (below),
allowing the operator to separate the slide from the frame.


In Service

Returning to the more romantic and speculative side of the Model 71 Beretta with its threaded barrel, there is no doubt the Israeli Mossad and sky marshals employed Beretta rimfire models for assassination and airline security work. The Berettas were small, unobtrusive, reliable, quiet, easy to operate and shoot—and with their multiple shot capability, deadly at close range.

One of the most interesting references to the Mossad’s choice of the Beretta .22 is contained in a thesis on counter-terrorism submitted in April 1995 to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, written by Alexander B. Calahan. It’s on the web.

Calahan’s thesis documents the Mossad assassination teams organized immediately after the terrorist massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in September 1972. In retaliation, the Mossad teams were given a specific list of terrorist targets to eliminate. Throughout the thesis there are continual references to Beretta .22’s. Here are a few clips:

“After careful analysis, they selected Wael Zwaiter as their first target. The group determined that Zwaiter was a soft target, living and operating in Rome…The weapons specialist made arrangements to have five Beretta .22 caliber, semi-automatic pistols with extra ammunition and magazines transported into Italy through his own established network of arms’ suppliers… The lobby was dimly lit and as Zwaiter entered, Avner switched on additional lights to positively identify his target…the second shooter asked the target if he was Wael Zwaiter. With positive identification established, the two commandos quickly drew their weapons and shot 14 rounds into Zwaiter.

“The target and a female companion exited the movie at approximately 2235 hours and took a bus to an area just a short walk from their flat. As they began their walk from the bus stop to the flat, two members of the action team exited a Mazda and began firing into the man believed to be Salameh with Beretta .22 pistols.

“Former officers of the Mossad have also verified the firearms methodology utilized by Mossad specialists, to include their preference for the Beretta .22 caliber pistol.”
If only Century’s Model 71 Berettas could talk.
By Holt Bodinson


MAKER: Fabbrica D’Armi
Pietro Beretta S.p.A.
Via Pietro Beretta, 18
25063 Gardone Val Trompia (BS) – Italia
Importer: Century Int. Arms,
430 South Congress Ave., Ste. 1
Delray Beach, FL 33445
(800) 991-4867
ACTION TYPE: Blow-back, semi-auto
CALIBER: .22 Long Rifle
WEIGHT: 34 ounces
FINISH: Slide & Suppressor: Blue. Frame:, Black
GRIPS: Polymer
PRICE: (Contact your dealer)

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AMT Automag II

The First Successful Self-Loading Pistol
In .22 WMR Is Still A Peach.

Harry W. Sanford was one of those bigger-than-life entrepreneurs who strode into the firearms business, developed an incredible variety of advanced designs and then crash landed in an avoidable lawsuit.

Sanford is best known for his massive, stainless steel, rotary bolt Auto Mags in .44 and .357 AMP calibers which grabbed the public’s attention while flashing across the big screen in Clint Eastwood’s 1983 thriller Sudden Impact. Less glamorous, but made in much larger quantities at a price point the average shooter could afford, were his familiar AMT produced Backup, Hardballer and Automag II, III, IV and V stainless steel handguns plus a myriad of other pistol and rifle designs under a variety of corporate monikers.

Roger Renner, AMT’s former quality-control engineer, who now fashions sleek, underhammer big-game rifles was most helpful in giving me some insight into Sanford the man. Sanford was primarily an idea man, although he was totally at home in a machine shop. He would develop a concept for a new firearm and then hire engineers and machinists to flesh it out and build it. He had a passion for building original designs and was fascinated by the Kimball automatic pistol, chambered for the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge, which appeared on the market ever so briefly in the mid-1950’s.

Renner observed Sanford was also a stubborn man and not prone to take advice from those working for him. A case in point was his insistence on using type 17-4 precipitation hardening stainless steel for the major components of his firearm designs. It is a high strength alloy, but when used for both the frame and the slide of a pistol, for example, the parts tend to stick to each other and gall easily. The solution recommended to him by the engineering staff was to change the alloy of either the frame or the slide and eliminate the problem. He would have none of it and insisted on using a mixture of lithium grease and oil to keep his Auto Mag’s popping.

Similarly, Sanford was apparently averse to studying competitors’ products and their design solutions before charging off on a design of his own. The development of a new product was more or less a trial-by-error process at the AMT shop.



The AMT Automag II .22 Magnum (above) is a hard-hitting handgun for varmints and small game.
The profile II (below) is that of a slim, sleek, single-action hunting pistol.

Nevertheless, Sanford’s designs are some of the most interesting ever developed. The Automag II is a case in point.

As far as I know, the Automag II represents the first successful .22 Magnum pistol ever produced and marketed to the general public. What makes the design even more timely is currently High Standard has returned the Automag II and the .380 AMT Backup models to the marketplace.

The Automag II features a retarded blowback action. Visually, it looks like a sleek stainless steel blend of an open framed Beretta and a 1911 Colt. It is sleek. The frame is only 0.79-inch wide while the width of the grip is 2 inches. It feels like a nice, slim M1911 in my hand.

The Automag II was originally offered with three barrel lengths: 3-3/8, 4-1/2 and 6 inches. The model pictured here has a 6-inch barrel, weighs 32 ounces and has an overall length of 9-1/4 inches. Frankly, a .22 Magnum needs a 6-inch barrel to approach anywhere near its inherent potential as a hunting cartridge plus, even with a 6-inch barrel, the muzzle blast will pretty much awaken the dead. The fireball at the end of the muzzle will also light up the night sky. I can’t imagine touching off the .22 Maggie in a 3-3/8-inch barreled model Automag.

Some of the interesting features of the original, single-action Automag II are a 9-shot, stainless steel magazine with a release at the heel of the grip, a fully adjustable 3-dot sight system by LPA of Italy, a hammer-blocking safety at your right thumb which is pushed “Up” to disengage, a squared-off triggerguard, a trigger measuring 5 pounds on my Lyman electronic scale (but feels lighter), a last shot hold open on the slide and a M1911-type slide stop. Anyone familiar with fieldstripping the M1911 will have no problem with the disassembly of the Automag II, and if you have any doubts, YouTube has some great videos of the whole procedure, in addition High Standard can supply you with an owner’s manual.


Similar to the M1911, the Automag incorporates a barrel bushing and recoil spring plug (above).
Sanford’s operating base (below) was Arcadia Machine & Tool in Irwindale, Calif.


Some of the interesting features of the original, single-action Automag II are a 9-shot, stainless steel magazine with a release at the heel of the grip, a fully adjustable 3-dot sight system by LPA of Italy, a hammer-blocking safety at your right thumb which is pushed “Up” to disengage, a squared-off triggerguard, a trigger measuring 5 pounds on my Lyman electronic scale (but feels lighter), a last shot hold open on the slide and a M1911-type slide stop. Anyone familiar with fieldstripping the M1911 will have no problem with the disassembly of the Automag II, and if you have any doubts, YouTube has some great videos of the whole procedure, in addition High Standard can supply you with an owner’s manual.

What is intriguing to me is the caliber. The .22 WMR, as debuted in 1959, was designed by Winchester to do one thing well—to kill something. It’s not a plinking round. It’s not a target round. It’s not cheap. It uses jacketed hollowpoints, and in its present array of loadings, it’s better and more accurate than it’s ever been in the 55 years of its existence. I’ve used it on small antelope in Africa and on coyotes in the Back 40. The little Maggie is one terrific cartridge.

Having said that, an original Automag II can be choosy about its ammunition. I recently tested nine different industry loadings. My Automag II would only function perfectly with three: Remington’s 33-grain V-Max (1,439 fps), CCI’s Maxi-Mag 40-grain JHP (1,305 fps) and Winchester Super-X 40-grain (1,322 fps). Firing 5-shot groups at 25 yards from a rest, I found the most consistently accurate of those three choices were Remington’s V-Max (2 inches) and CCI’s Maxi-Mag HP (2 inches). If I had my choice between those two, I would select the Remington since it produced nicely rounded groups while the CCI load tended to string.

One of the “musts” when shooting any of Sanford’s 17-4 stainless models is to keep the sliding parts lubricated to eliminate galling. I don’t think brands of lubricants are as important as just making sure you lube it. Personally, I like Brownell’s “Stainless Slick” and “Slide-Glide Lite.”
Holsters? Try a US military .45 1911 shoulder holster.

And what was the straw that broke AMT’s back? Sanford decided to clone the Mark II Ruger. Bad idea. Ruger sued AMT on the basis of a common law trademark violation and won, driving the company into bankruptcy.

Fortunately for us, High Standard is making available again the classic Automag II and the classic, pocket-sized “Backups” under the “AMT-Houston” banner, and they’re making them better than ever before.
By Holt Bodinson

5151 Mitchelldale, Ste. B-14
Houston, TX 77092
(800) 272-7816
Roger Renner
Amt automag ii
Original Maker:
Arcadia machine & tool (amt)
Irwindale, California
Action Type: Retarded blow-back
Caliber: .22 Magnum
Barrel Length: 6 inches
Overall Length: 9-1/4 inches
Weight: 32 ounces
Finish: stainless
Sights: Fully adjustable
3-dot, Grips: Polymer
Retail: $845 (High Standard)

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Henry Deringer’s Pocket Pistol

And The Cartridge Versions
Born From The Concept.

My great uncle, the late Lester Williams, was a Southern shooting gentleman. When he wasn’t managing his orange grove at Turkey Lake, just outside of Orlando, Fla., you would find him bass fishing or raccoon hunting with a nondescript mutt or simply fiddling around with his modest gun collection. Living remotely, he was a cautious man. His home was wired so he could turn on every light in the house while keeping the oversized master bedroom dark.

On one side of his bed’s headboard was slung a target-sighted, Colt Bisley in .45 Colt. On the other side hung an early Colt Model 1911 military model with “United States Property” marks and rumored to have been liberated from the Capone gang. What is burned in my memory is on his trips to town, he always packed two .41-caliber Remington derringers in oversize watch pockets he had sewn especially into all his better trousers.


The Colt and the Remington truly are wee little pocket pistols.


The “classic” .41-caliber deringer was made popular by Henry Deringer of Philadelphia.
The contours of Deringer’s barrels are complex and pleasing to the eye.


Deringer’s models came in a variety of calibers
and sizes and featured patent breeches.

Hard Cocking

Derringer packing simply ran in the family. His wife carried a Colt Third Model derringer in .41 rimfire in her purse and her sister, my Texan grandmother, carried the mate to that gun in her purse as well. This was in the 1950’s, you understand, not the 1850’s. Why did the women of the family pack Colt Third Models? Well, a woman can easily cock a Colt, but a woman, child and few men can cock an original Remington Double Derringer using just the thumb of the shooting hand alone. I’m sure a few unpracticed ladies and gents were sped on their way to heaven just trying to get off their first, desperate shot with a Remington Double Derringer.

The secret is to catch the hammer spur of the Remington in the web of your hand between the thumb and forefinger, roll the derringer forward, cocking the hammer as your hand moves down to firmly take hold of the grip.

Trickling down the family tree, those two Remingtons and two Colts plus a shoebox full of vintage .41 rimfire ammunition finally arrived at my doorstep. It was a magical moment, and it was time to study up on derringers.

Born in 1786 in Easton, Pa., Henry Deringer, Jr. (note his proper name has only one “r”) was the son of a German gunsmith, and following a normal apprenticeship in his father’s shop, he set up his own gunmaking business in Philadelphia in 1806. He didn’t start off making deringers; rather it was the production of rifles, muskets and pistols for the commercial and government trades. Over time he became increasingly known for the quality of his pistols, and they became his focus. It is thought the arm we think of when the term “derringer” is used didn’t evolve until about 1849 when Deringer was well into his 60’s.

Pictured here, courtesy of the Frontier Gun Shop in Tucson, Ariz., is a classic example of Deringer’s percussion pocket pistol: A black walnut stock with a checkered bird’s head grip, foliate engraved German silver mountings, a petite back-action lock with a generous hammer spur, a short .41-caliber rifled barrel with a patent breech and with unique contour beginning as an octagon and ending with the sides and bottom of the barrel becoming rounded at the muzzle.

Not all of Derringer’s deringers fit this classic form. In his book, Henry Deringer’s Pocket Pistol, author, John Parsons, observes, “Barrel lengths from 27/32 of an inch, measured exclusive of the breechplug, to 4 inches and over, are known… and calibers all the way from .33 to .51. Overall the pistols extend from 3-3/4 inches to 9 inches.

“The lockplate and top of the breechplug each bear the trademark ‘DERINGER PHILADEL in two lines (with a small capital A above and to the right of the last L). In 1866, Deringer testified that in the previous 10 years he had sold 5,280 pairs of pistols at an average profit of $7 a pair.”

Deringer’s derringers were widely imitated by competitors and readily faked. The spelling of the name “Deringer” was quickly corrupted to “Derringer” with two r’s to avoid trademark infringements.

By the end of the Civil War, the days of Deringer’s percussion deringer were over. The new .41 Short rimfire cartridge had been introduced in a breech-loading derringer by the National Arms Company in 1863, but Deringer’s fame was intact. His name by that time had become a household and generic word applied to any petite pocket pistol.


Remington’s Double Derringer barrels are hinged at the top
of the frame and are flipped down for loading.


The “classic” .41-caliber deringer was made popular by Henry Deringer of Philadelphia.
The contours of Deringer’s barrels are complex and pleasing to the eye.


The .41 Shorts Zipped through 5 inches of saturated phone directories and 3/4 inch
of pine, proving the performance of the much maligned cartridge has ample penetrating power.

And what about the .41 Short rimfire cartridge? Frank Barnes’ invaluable reference, Cartridges of the World, has this to say about it: “The .41 Rimfire Short is so underpowered as to be worthless for anything but rats, mice or sparrows at short range. Fired from the average derringer at a tree or hard object 15 to 25 yards away, the bullet will often bounce back and land at your feet.”

With a shoebox full of vintage .41 Shorts and four derringers, I was to find otherwise.

In that shoebox were the old familiar green Remington boxes marked “Kleanbore,” blue Peters boxes marked “Rustless,” green Winchester boxes marked “Stainless” and the cream of the crop, blue and yellow Western boxes marked “Lubaloy.” In addition to this storehouse of old .41 rimfire, I ordered some new, Brazilian-made, .41 rimfire Navy Arms had commissioned.

The standard load was a soft lead 130-grain, heeled bullet over a pinch of smokeless powder in a short, copper case. Aside from the modern Navy Arms ammunition, the Western “Lubaloy” coated ammunition was outstanding. The Western bullets were given a golden wash of “Lubaloy” copper so the whole round just gleamed like polished copper. Western also coated their ammunition with a Vaseline-like lubricant that apparently helped to preserve the potency of their .41 Shorts.

Still, with some trepidation, I loaded up one of the Remington Double Derringers with two rounds of Western .41 Shorts, moved back 15 feet and let fly at a dead, but rock-hard, mesquite tree in the back yard. Fully expecting the bullets to come bouncing back, I was stunned when both bullets were driven out of sight into the tough mesquite trunk. I was also surprised how little recoil the derringer produced. It was time to wheel out my PACT Professional Chronograph and see exactly what ballistics the .41 Short rimfire was delivering.

From the 3-inch barrels of a Remington, the Western Lubaloys averaged 532 fps and the new lot of Navy Arms ammunition, 621 fps. A 130-grain bullet at 621 fps churns up 111 ft-lbs of energy. As a comparison, the current .38 S&W load with a 145-grain bullet and a muzzle velocity of 685 fps from a 4-inch barrel delivers 151 ft-lbs of energy, and with my chronograph screens set 10 feet from the muzzle of the derringer, I was seriously understating the actual muzzle velocity of the .41 Shorts. The .41 rimfire is not a puny round.


Holt’s Uncle Lester was a tough man who routinely packed
two Remington derringers in his custom watch pockets.

After the mesquite tree incident, I was curious about the penetration of the .41 Short, so I soaked some old phone directories in water and backed them up with a 3/4-inch pine board. I was expecting to recover the .41-caliber bullets somewhere inside the directories, but at 10 feet, the Lubaloy and the Navy Arms rounds simply sailed through all 5 inches of the water soaked directories, punched through that 3/4-inch piece of pine and kept on going.

An “underpowered and worthless round”? I don’t think so. Delivering a .41-caliber hole from a sneak pistol, it was an effective cartridge, and that’s why Colt produced and sold 63,500 First, Second and Third Model derringers from 1870 to 1912 and Remington, 150,000 of their over/under barreled model which was in production from 1866 right up to 1935!

Today, Henry’s little pocket pistols are still very much part of the personal-defense scene. His name may have been corrupted to “Derringer,” but with contemporary models being produced by the American Derringer Corp., Bond Arms and Cobra Enterprises, his vision is very much alive.
By Holt Bodinson Photos By Ilse Bodinson

Henry Deringer’s Pocket Pistol
by John E. Parsons,
Hardcover, 255 pages,
© 1952, Out-of-Print.

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The Awesome LeMat

This Was One Hard-Hitting Civil War Pistol.

The LeMat “Grape Shot Revolver” stands out as the most remarkable handgun of the Civil War. The chap with a LeMat slung on his hip or holstered on his saddle was instantly in command of a 9-shot, .42-caliber cylinder revolving around an 18-gauge shotgun barrel and was an awesome adversary at close range.

The origin, production and Confederate gunrunning of the LeMat is the stuff Civil War romances and intrigues are made from. Dr. Jean Francois Alexander LeMat and his French émigré friends in New Orleans certainly emerge as some pretty dashing Frenchmen who were able to support the Confederacy with guns, surgical supplies, medicine and propaganda abroad for the duration of the “War of Northern Aggression.”

To understand the revolver, you have to understand the man. While trained as a physician, Dr. LeMat was an inveterate inventor and is credited with more than 35 patents over his lifetime. His inventions ranged from surgical tools to metal alloys, from a floatation device to rescue disabled ships to a functioning helically driven airship that actually flew. Having a keen and inquiring mind, he was also gifted with social graces, which propelled him into the forefront of New Orleans society, allowing him to emerge as an impassioned patriot of the Confederacy.

He first patented his design for a combination revolver/shotgun in the United States in 1856 with subsequent patents obtained in France, Belgium, England, Saxony and Prussia. The first known models were produced by John Krider, a prominent Philadelphia gunsmith and appear to have been used for trial purposes and as prototypes to secure European patents. Krider No. 1, for example, resides in the collection of the Liège Arms Museum in Belgium.

Having a fist full of patents and some prototypes, LeMat needed financial backing and the help of someone who knew the ins-and-outs of government contracting. By marriage, LeMat’s cousin just happened to be Major Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard of the US Army Engineers, the same Beauregard who would shortly become one of the most prominent generals of the Confederacy, and upon whose orders Fort Sumter was shelled.

LeMat and Beauregard signed a partnership contract in 1859 in which Beauregard obtained 1/4 of the patent rights (which he later sold back to LeMat for $10,000). Beauregard subsequently signed some notes to move financing along and arranged for a semi-official board of prominent Army, Navy and political persons to conduct a public trial of the “LeMat Grape Shot Revolver.”

LeMat could not have wished for a more enthusiastic and successful rollout for his new handgun. The board’s findings, in part, read: “We consider the arm far superior to any we have seen for the use of cavalry acting against Indians or when charging on a square of infantry or a battery of field pieces. It is also indispensable for artillerist’s in defending their pieces against such a charge, and for infantry defending a breach… Its advantages in the naval service in boarding or repelling boarders is too obvious to require anything but passing notice…

“It is more than probable that the introduction and use of this pistol in the cavalry service would give to the latter the preponderance over the infantry, if not armed in like manner, for what would become of a line or square of infantry after its fire should have been drawn by the cavalry when the latter coming up to within a few paces would pour 10 shots into their very faces.

“We earnestly recommend that his arm be introduced in our military and naval services, as soon as the Government will find it practicable to do so…”


The Pietta Confederate LeMat is available engraved by special order. Photo: Jonathan Marmand

Following this report, an official military board was convened in Washington a few months later. With few reservations, the official Board recommended that the LeMat “be subjected to trials in the hands of troops that are in actual service in the field.” It didn’t happen, but what’s most interesting about the board’s report is the loading data it contains. The pistol load was 16 grains of powder and a 206-grain bullet, not a ball. The report reads, “elongated ball.” The shotgun barrel load was 40 grains of powder with either a 406-grain ball or 15 buckshot.

In the meantime, Beauregard approached every arms company in America with a proposal to manufacture the LeMat. None bit. Subsequently, the production of the LeMat was shifted to Paris, France and Birmingham, England.

With the formation of the Confederate Government in early 1861, LeMat, now a Colonel, obtained a contract for 5,000 revolvers for the Army plus another 3,000 for the Navy. To facilitate production in France, he formed a new partnership with Charles Girard, a prominent doctor and financier who became the major stockholder. LeMat meanwhile focused his energy on refining the design and designing a new revolver, the .32/.41-caliber Baby LeMat in pinfire as well as percussion and a .42/.48-caliber LeMat carbine. Limited numbers of the Baby LeMat and the LeMat carbine did make it to the shores of the CSA before the end of the war and are considered the rarest of the rare LeMats.

Unfortunately, Girard had his problems—political problems with the Confederacy’s chief Procurement Officer in Europe, Captain Caleb Huse, who resided in London. Huse was receiving kickbacks from the London Armory Company, which was producing the Kerr revolver and the Enfield rifle for the CSA, and Huse did everything possible to sabotage the LeMat contracts, accusing Girard of using cast iron rather than cast steel, refusing to inspect finished revolvers, even refusing to pay Girard for LeMats that had been delivered. It’s safe to say that Huse singlehandedly did more to destroy the Confederate LeMat than any other factor of the war, and his conniving resistance to its success is skillfully documented in Wiley Sword’s Firepower from Abroad.

The question of how many LeMat revolvers actually reached the CSA, to whom they were shipped and who actually used them is a confusing picture. By 1863, the official records indicate that 900 had been delivered to the War Department and 600 to the Navy Department.

Naval use of the LeMat is well documented. In Doug Adams’ invaluable book, The Confederate LeMat Revolver, he notes several LeMats “have known high-profile Confederate association: Thomas Henderson with No. 8, Major General John Lawson Lewis No. 88, General J.E.B. Stuart No. 115, Major Henry Wirz No. 189 (Commander of the Andersonville Prison), General P.G.T. Beauregard No. 427 and General Stonewall Jackson, serial number unknown.”

Adams concludes that by the end of the war, no more than 3,000 LeMats had been produced in France and England combined, and how many of those, beyond the previously documented 1,500, arrived on Confederate shores is unknown at this time. The book, Confederate Handguns, contains an extensive list of known LeMats, their serial numbers and documented associations.

The end of the LeMat story is Girard unsuccessfully tried to sell the LeMat patents to Colt after the war and ended up closing the LeMat factory in France in 1866 to settle the firm’s crushing debts. After a brief stay in debtor’s prison, Girard resumed his practice as a successful physician. LeMat and his wife left New Orleans and settled in Paris, where LeMat continued to churn out patented inventions including centerfire versions of the LeMat revolver and carbine until his death in 1895.

And the Confederacy’s dastardly European Procurement Officer, Captain Caleb Huse? He went to work for the London Armory Company!
But wait! That’s not the end of the story.


The angle of the grip makes the LeMat a natural pointer. The “Cavalry” model features a butt swivel.
The LeMat sights are period crude—OK for combat, tough going for target shooting.

Thanks to the pioneering work of the late Val Forgett, Sr. of Navy Arms, we can still buy and shoot a LeMat Grape Shot Revolver courtesy of the fine Italian gunmaker, F.LLI Pietta and Dixie Gun Works. Dixie currently catalogs three LeMat models: a Cavalry model, Navy model and Army model. The variations among the models are slight, while the model designations themselves do not conform to any historical examples.

The model illustrated here is one of the original Cavalry models imported and sold by Navy Arms, which no longer imports or sells LeMats. The distinctive features of the Cavalry model are its spur triggerguard, lanyard ring and takedown lever. The workmanship and detail of the Pietta LeMat are stunning as are its richly blued and color casehardened finish and finely checkered walnut grips.

It’s a handful of a handgun, weighing 3.5 pounds unloaded and 14 inches long with a 6.75-inch octagon barrel marked “Col. LeMat.” The cylinder is almost 2 inches in diameter. Frankly, I can’t imagine hauling this rig around in a belt holster. It belongs on a horse or racked in a ship’s armory.

The revolver side of the Pietta LeMat is made in .44 caliber and takes a standard 0.451-inch diameter ball, although the Civil War LeMat was loaded with a conical bullet. The shotgun side of the LeMat is a 20 bore and requires the use of 17-gauge over-powder and over-shot wads to keep the load in place when shooting the revolver.

Dixie and Pietta recommend a revolver loading of 22 grains of FFFg and an 0.451-inch ball and 30 grains of FFg and 0.75 ounces of buckshot or a 0.630-inch patched roundball. Why they would recommend a ball loading in the shotgun barrel eludes me, although the official trials board also loaded a ball as well as buckshot in testing the LeMat. It defeats the whole purpose of the LeMat Grape Shot Revolver!

The fire control system of the LeMat is interesting. The hammer nose is manually toggled up or down to strike the revolver nipples or the single shotgun nipple. It’s a good and simple solution.

The sights of the LeMat are period crude. The rear sight is a groove along the top of the hammer while the windage adjustable front sight is a large, thick pyramidal post—good for combat, bad for target shooting.

Two points to note about the Pietta LeMat. It uses the early reciprocating pin lock-up system. A small pin moves in and out of the face of the standing breech as the gun is cocked to mate with holes drilled into the rear of the cylinder. Historically, the pin system was later replaced by a more conventional and more rugged locking lug. In any case, the pin system works fine as long as the pin and its corresponding holes are kept clean.

The other point is the loading lever. Because the handle of the lever is hollow and contains the ramrod for the shotgun barrel, it’s not as strong and tough as a conventional cap-and-ball loading lever. The shotgun ramrod should always be in position inside the hollow handle to reinforce it when the lever is being used to seat a ball. Be forewarned, when shooting the shotgun barrel, the loading lever will consistently flip up and out of its spring clip and leave the shotgun ramrod on the ground at your feet.

Anyway, the Le Mat is a hoot to shoot. Speak about personal firepower with a Civil War handgun! The B-27 target shown here shot at 30 feet with a full load of 9 .44-caliber balls and a load of 15 No. 4 buckshot proves just how effective the LeMat was, if only the Confederacy could have gotten them in quantity. The irony is that, 153 years later, we can buy as many LeMats as we can afford.

The LeMat is a story about a fascinating man, a remarkable revolver, a weapons-starved Confederacy, a corrupt Procurement Officer and just enough intrigue and romance to spice it all up.
By Holt Bodinson

LeMat Cavalry
Maker: F.A.P. di Pietta, Italy
Importer: Dixie Gun Works
P.O. Box 130
1412 West Reelfoot Avenue
Union City, TN 38282
(731) 885-0561

Action Type: Single-action 2-barrel revolver
Caliber: .44/20-gauge
Capacity: 9 (.44), 1 (buck or ball load)
Barrel Length: 6.75 inches
Overall Length: 13.40 inches
Weight: 56.4 ounces
Finish: Blue
Sights: Notch in hammer rear, post front
Grips: Checkered European walnut
Price: $925 (blue)
Engraved: P.O.R.

The Confederate LeMat Revolver
by Doug Adams, softcover, 112 pages, ©2005, $29.99. Firepower from Abroad by Wiley Sword, hardcover, 120 pages, ©1986, $23, from Mowbray Publishers, 54 E. School Street, Woonsocket, RI 02895, (800) 999-4697,
Confederate Handguns by Albaugh, Benet and Simmons. hardcover, 250 pages, ©1963. Out-of-Print

>> Click Here << To See More Photos Of the LeMat Revolver

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Poland’s Premier Pistol

A Browning Influence, Combined With Several Innovative Features,
Made The Radom 9mm One Of The Best Service Autos Of WWII.

With Germany’s rearmament and rumors of war swirling around Europe in the 1930’s, Poland, wedged precisely between Germany and Russia, was in a tight spot. Coming out of WWI, its military was armed with an assortment of foreign and obsolete small arms. Even Poland’s finest, its revered horse cavalry units, were still armed primarily with lances and swords. The official handgun was the Model 1895 Nagant, but having been exposed to the automatic pistols of WWI, the Polish military, especially the cavalry, pressed for the development of a modern, Polish-designed pistol in 9mm Parabellum.

By the late 1920’s, Poland had established a modern State Arms Factory (Fabryka Broni) in the city of Radom. Opened in 1927, the factory’s initial products were Mauser rifles and Nagant revolvers. At the same time, Piotr Wilniewczyc, an armaments engineer there, was assigned the task of designing a contemporary auto for military adoption.

Joining Wilniewczyc in the design phase was Jan Skrzypinski, director of the Rifle Factory in Warsaw. Their collaboration was so close that the final design adopted was named “WIS” for Wilniewczyc and Skrzypinski. The military later dropped the “W” and replaced it with a “V,” forming the word “Vis” which in Latin translates as “power or force.” Notice the right side grip of the Radom carries the word “VIS” while the left side grip carries the letters “FB,” standing for “Fabryka Broni,” in which the Radom was produced.

After extensive testing, including 6,000-round durability tests, the Radom was formerly adopted by the Polish Army in 1935.

Designated the VIS-wz.35.Pat.Nr. 15567, the Radom was certainly inspired in many ways by John Browning’s 1911 and incorporates some parallel design features of the earlier Spanish Ruby, not to mention Browning’s Hi-Power.

Looking much like a Model 1911, the Radom is all steel, simple and rugged. It has a better grip-to-barrel angle than the M1911, making it a natural pointer and giving it a better balance in the hand. When you raise a Radom on target, you are on target. You’re looking right down an almost perfectly aligned sight picture.


Using factory ball ammunition, accuracy
at 25 yards averaged 6 to 7 inches with Holt’s Radom.

Unlike the M1911, the locking lugs of the Radom’s barrel move in and out of battery with the slide by way of a cam machined integral with the barrel, not a M1911-type swinging link. So, too, the barrel bushing of the Radom is permanently fixed, similar in concept to the Hi-Power, and is not removed when disassembling the pistol.

One of the most creative and original parts of the Radom is its captive recoil spring assembly, which, together with the fixed barrel bushing, was granted Polish patent number 15,567. Simple and compact, the captive recoil spring assembly protects the spring from kinking and makes fieldstripping a snap. It’s a design feature that is seen today in a variety of contemporary handguns.

The cavalry was responsible for at least two distinct features of the Radom. The pistol has one safety—a grip safety. Those levers on the left side of the frame and slide are actually a disassembly latch and a de-cocker. The concern of the cavalry was that after firing a shot or two, the mounted horseman would have to holster his pistol with the hammer fully cocked. In the act of holstering his pistol, he would be completely depressing the grip safety and might just shoot himself in the leg or, worst yet, shoot his valuable horse. The de-cocking mechanism was the solution.


The de-cocking lever on the slide was an original design.
Also note the engaged disassembly latch directly below it.


The cavalryman could cock his Radom by brushing the knurled
hammer against his saddle, boot, leg or gloved offhand.


Occupation-produced guns are stamped with these model
lines and two Waffenamt acceptance marks.


The Radom featured a permanently affixed barrel bushing and
a captive recoil spring and recoil spring guide.

The upper lever on the left of the slide is the de-cocker. When rotated down, it moves the firing pin beyond the reach of the hammer then rotates a steel block between the hammer and the firing pin. The sear is then tripped, thus lowering the hammer. The de-cocker is self-setting so the hammer can immediately be cocked again. Strangely enough, this unique design feature never seems to have been patented.

Cocking that hammer was the other design concern the cavalry had. With reins in one hand, the trooper had to be able to cock his pistol with the other hand, so the cavalry insisted upon a deeply knurled, rounded hammer. With the hammer down and a round in the chamber, it was desirable to be able to cock the pistol by brushing the hammer head down along the saddle, pant leg, boot or gloved riding hand. Granted, this was not a particularly safe practice, but then again, neither is mortal combat.

The other lever on the left side of the frame that looks like a M1911 thumb safety is actually a disassembly latch. To fieldstrip the Radom, pull back the slide just enough to engage that latch in a corresponding notch in the slide. This positions the slide stop perfectly so it can be pushed out from the right side, allowing you to remove the complete slide assembly with the barrel and recoil spring attached from the frame. The latch is important because the Radom slide stop is under pressure from the recoil spring. To relieve that pressure, you use your left hand to pull the exposed recoil spring guide forward while pushing the slide stop out. During reassembly, you have to again pull the recoil spring guide forward to reinsert the slide stop.


Poland’s military changed the “WIS” to “VIS,” denoting “power” in Latin for the right-hand grip (above). The left-hand grip (below) carries “FB” standing for “Fabryka Broni,” the arms factory in Radom, Poland.


Collectable Radoms can be grossly categorized into two production periods—those made by a free Poland up until the start of WWII and those made under Nazi occupation. Approximately 49,000 Polish Army Radoms were produced before the occupation and approximately 300,000 were made after under the managerial control of Austria’s Steyr-Daimler-Puch firm for distribution to German forces. As can be expected, production quality declined over time and features like the slotted grip for shoulder stocks, the disassembly latch and hard rubber grips were gradually phased out.

The Radom featured here is typical of the mid-point of the Nazi production period extending from 1939 to 1944. The Polish eagle has been omitted from the slide and the model is now stamped P35(p). The capital P stands for “Pistole” while the small (p) identifies the source of production as Polnisch (Polish). The slide and the frame carry very visible Waffenamt acceptance stamps, “WaA77” which later were shortened to just “77.” If the pistol is in original condition, the serial numbers on the frame, inside the slide and on the barrel will match.

German production serial numbers typically are grouped in alphabetical blocks starting with A0001, then B, then C, etc. Because compulsory and slave labor was used at Radom and there was concern the workers might sabotage components or steal them for the Polish underground, Steyr made many of the later frames, slides, magazines and all of the barrels. The labor at Radom largely produced pre-fitted pistol kits delivered to Steyr for final assembly and proofing.


The Browning influence is apparent in the Radom’s overall appearance.


With the help of the disassembly latch, field-stripping
the Radom is a straightforward affair.

The final ending of the VIS story? Fearing the Red Army’s westward advance, the Germans dismantled and moved the Radom inventory and machinery to Austria where, for a short time in 1945, Steyr continued production using the stamped code of either “WaA623”, “E/623” or “biz.” This wasn’t the total end of the Radom story though. Once in Soviet hands, the factory was restarted to produce the Soviet lines of military arms.

I enjoy shooting the Radoms. They point well, and because of their weight, recoil is minimal. Accuracy? The sights of the Radom aren’t the best; the front blade is just a nub while the rear is a wide “V.” With factory ball, my typical 8-shot groups at 25 yards on B-27-type targets will run between 6 and 7 inches.

Radoms produced during the occupation period are not uncommon in mil-surp circles. A lot came home as war trophies and are currently selling for $600 to $1,000. Free Poland-produced Radoms are rare and command premium prices. Recently, I followed a cream puff on an auction site. The bidding began at $349 and ended several days later with a sale price of $3,525.

The Polish Radom is one of the classic sidearms of WWII. It’s an interesting design, well made and fun to shoot. It’s a neat addition to any mil-surp collection.

Readers wishing more information may be interested in obtaining a copy of VIS RADOM: A Study and Photographic Album of Poland’s Finest Pistol by William J. York. Hardcover, 254 pages © 2011, $59.95, from: A&J Arms Book Sellers, 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711, (520) 512-1065,
By Holt Bodinson

Maker: Polish State Arms Factory, Radom, Poland and
the Steyr Works of Austria
Action: Single action, semi-automatic
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
Capacity: 8
Barrel Length: 4.7 inches
Overall Length: 7.8 inches
Weight: 2.25 pounds
Finish: Blue
Sights: “V” notch windage adjustable rear, blade front
Grips: Hard rubber, plastic or wood
Value: $600 to $1,000

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Emergency Stopgap

Italy’s Vetterli M70/87/15.

Some milsurps are simply more intrinsically fascinating than others. It might be an unusual design feature, maybe a quirky mechanical component, possibly a peculiar method of operation or a unique historical association. When you run across a milsurp that combines all these elements, then you really have something. Meet the Italian Vetterli M70/87/15.

I was cruising the gun racks of the Frontier Gunshop in Tucson, Ariz., one bright fall day when its owner, Jim Sharrah, drew my attention to the end rifle standing in his double-sided, floor gun rack. From across the room, I could tell it was a Vetterli, but until I walked over and got a better look at it and saw its distinct Mannlicher magazine protruding from the bottom of the stock, I realized it was an Italian—not a Swiss—Vetterli and did it ever have a story to tell.

With the unification of Italy in the 1860s, it was natural for the new national army to begin a trials program, leading to the adoption of a common Italian military rifle and cartridge. The Swiss Vetterli was selected in 1870 and licensed for Italian production at the Torino and Brescia arsenals.

It was a good choice. Designed by Johann Friedrich Vetterli, director of the SIG factory in Neuhausen, Switzerland, and adopted by the Swiss army in 1869, the Vetterli was the first self-cocking, smallbore, bolt-action repeating rifle manufactured for general issue by any country. Beautifully machined and finished, the Vetterli incorporated, in concept, the side loading port, tubular magazine and cartridge lifter of the Winchester Model 1866 and the turning bolt of the Dreyse needle gun with the locking lugs of the Greene/Chassepot. Chambered for the .41 Swiss rimfire cartridge, the Swiss Vetterli was replaced in 1890 by the Model 1889 Schmidt-Rubin.


The Vetterli was charged with a 6-round Mannlicher clip. That’s 1936-era
Italian ball being loaded. Holt doesn’t recommend actually shooting these
conversions with ball ammo.


In the 1887 conversion, a bolt guide was added to better stabilize the
heavy Vetterli bolt. Note the two massive locking lugs on the
rear-locking bolt of the Vetterli.


Whether Swiss or Italian, the Vetterli rifles were beautifully machined
and finely finished. Vetterli rifles were made at the Torino and
Brescia Arsenals. This is a late one, dated 1889.

While the Italians adopted the Vetterli action, they had some ideas of their own when designing their Model 1870 rifle. Rather than adopting the elaborate and expensive repeating magazine system of the Swiss, the Italians opted for a single-shot rifle with a dust cover. Rather than chambering their Vetterli for the .41 Swiss rimfire, the Italians introduced a new .41 cartridge, the bottlenecked and rimmed 10.4x47R.

On the basis of its ballistics, the Italian cartridge was essentially a clone of the .41 Swiss, but there was a distinct difference. The .41 Italian was assembled on a centerfire case with a central vent and primed with a Boxer-type primer. The original military loading consisted of a 309-grain, grooved lead bullet over 62 grains of fine black powder with a velocity of 1,345 fps. It was later loaded with a jacketed bullet and was also chambered in the Gardner, Maxim and Nordenfelt machine guns.

The Italians soldiered on with their single-shot Vetterli until 1887 when artillery Captain G. Vitali invented a 4-round, box magazine designed to convert the Vetterli into a repeater. The conversion consisted of milling out the bottom of the receiver to receive a coil-spring driven magazine and adding a metal, reinforcing plate around the protruding magazine at the bottom of the stock. Interestingly enough, the 4-shot Vitali magazine system was also adopted by the Dutch in 1888 to convert their Model 1871 Beaumonts into repeaters.

With thousands of Vetterli rifles being returned to the national arsenals for the Vitali magazine conversion, the Italians took the opportunity to give the old girl a real facelift. To better stabilize the long, rear-locking Vetterli bolt, a prominent, grooved, steel bolt guide was added to the rear of the receiver. The old dust cover was scrapped. A rotating, finger-operated, metal ring was mounted around the rear bridge. It served two purposes. It retained a sliding bolt release key in the bridge, and it functioned as a magazine cut-off, enabling the soldier to fire and recharge his rifle as a single-shot while keeping four rounds in reserve.


The M1881 Vicci quadrant sight is adjustable to an optimistic 2,000 meters.


On “Safe,” the root of the bolt handle and the safety lever are locked together.


The 6.5mm barrel liner, soldered into the old 10.4mm barrel, can be
clearly seen from the muzzle of the converted Vetterli.

One of the most interesting of the 1887 upgrades was its new safety. The new safety consisted of a spring-loaded lever on the right side of the receiver just below the bolt handle. The lever is attached to the sear and in its “up” or forward position, the sear is lowered. To operate the safety, the bolt has to be slightly open. With the bolt open, the safety is moved to its forward limit. The bolt handle is then lowered. The instant the root of the bolt handle connects with the shaft of the safety, the safety arm snaps down, locks into the root of the bolt handle and the bolt is de-cocked because the sear is still depressed. To release the safety, the bolt handle is lifted, cocking the bolt while allowing the safety to snap fully down and raise the sear. Clever indeed! It’s a quirky mechanical solution.

Finally, if not previously modified, the rear sight was replaced with a M. 1881 Vicci quadrant sight with a battlefield zero of 275 meters and a graduated range out to 2,000 meters.

In 1890, Italy formally adopted the smokeless 6.5×52 cartridge. Much to their credit, Italy was the first country to field a 6.5mm cartridge. Having selected a cartridge, they needed a rifle. In 1892, Italy adopted a design developed at the Fabbrica Nationale d’Armi in Turin by a team headed by Lt. Col. Salvatore Carcano. It was to become known as the Model 1891 Carcano, and it featured a Mannlicher magazine system using a 6-shot, en-bloc, Mannlicher clip. The Vetterli Model 1870/87 was gradually withdrawn and put in reserve stores.

When Italy became embroiled in WWI, it showed up with sufficient numbers of troops but too few Carcanos, so Ordnance came up with a brilliant, emergency solution. They dusted off the old black-powder Vetterli and converted them to 6.5×52. The conversion process is intriguing. They didn’t re-barrel the Vetterli. They took the 10.4mm barrel, bored it out and soldered a 6.5mm liner inside. The 10.4x47R bolt head was cut off and replaced with a 6.5×52-sized bolt head, brazed on the end of the old bolt body.


The bolt release key can be manipulated once the
notch in the rotating ring is aligned with it.


With the bolt removed, you can see how the safety works. Pushed fully
forward, the safety lowers the sear (above). In the fully down position
(below), the safety raises the sear.


The magazine cut-off ring was retained but only for the purpose of locking the bolt release key in place.

The best is for last. They removed the Vitali box magazines, applied wood patches to the areas inletted for the Vitali magazine reinforcing plate and fitted the old Vetterli with a new Carcano/Mannlicher magazine box which accepted the en-bloc 6.5×52 Mannlicher clip. The Vicci rear quadrant sight was unchanged as far as I know.

The old warhorse was now morphed into the Model 70/87/15 (“15” standing for 1915) and was apparently issued to second-line units and then years later showed up in the hands of Italian-lead African Askari troops during Italy’s 1935-36 invasion of Ethiopia.

Would I recommend shooting a Vetterli M70/87/15 today? Given the age of the rifle and the conversion work done on the barrel and bolt under wartime emergency conditions, I would advise not to fire it. It’s a piece of history that simply deserves a prominent place in your collection.

It’s a remarkable story. The Italian Vetterli is a remarkable rifle, having transitioned from a single shot to a box magazine to a Mannlicher magazine and from a low-pressure 10.4x47R black-powder cartridge to a thoroughly modern 6.5×52 smokeless cartridge with a working pressure of approximately 41,000 psi.

Yes, some milsurps are simply more intrinsically fascinating than others, and the Italian Vetterli M70/87/15 is right at the head of my list.
By Holt Bodinson

Vetterli M70/87/15
Maker: Brescia and Torino Arsenals
Action: Rear locking, turning bolt
Caliber: 6.5×52
Capacity: 6-shot
Mannlicher-style clip
Barrel Length: 33-1/4 inches
Overall Length: 53 inches
Weight: 9-3/4 pounds
Finish: Blue, Sights: Vicci quadrant 275-2,000 meters
Stock: Walnut
Price: $100 – $350 depending on condition (Standard Catalog of Military Firearms)

Frontier Gun Shop
3156 E. Grant Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85716
(520) 325-9880

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The IWI Tavor 5.56x45mm

The world Is Going To The
Pups—Bullpups That Is.

The short, compact bullpup configuration for a fighting rifle continues to win supporters throughout the world’s military powers. Think about it. Austria and Australia fielded the AUG, Britain, the SA80 and L85, FN the F2000, France the FAMAS, Russia the OTs-14 Groza, South Africa the VEKTOR CR21, South Korea the DAR-21 and the Ukraine, the Vepr.

In the civilian sporting world, semi-automatic versions of the FAMAS and more recently, the AUG, have enjoyed a certain level of popularity. Even Century International Arms lately produced a successful bullpup version of the AKM-47. Well, meet the new kid on the block—Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) semi-automatic version of the battle proven Tavor Assault Rifle-21st Century (TAR-21)—and it’s being built right here in the USA.

Since its inception, Israel Military Industries (IMI), recently privatizing their small arms division as Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), has worked hand-in-glove with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to develop some outstanding combat models like the Uzi and the Galil. For years, the M16 and M4 carbine were the predominant small arms in Israel’s arsenal, but beginning in 1993, IMI and the IDF formed a development team to design a more suitable domestic-made arm for close-quarter urban combat, mechanized warfare and peace-keeping missions. The result was the 5.56 NATO Tavor Assault Rifle which was first issued to the Israeli infantry brigades in 2006 and now makes up a family of mission-specific models ranging from sniper to micro-commando versions.

The bolt release is located just aft of the magazine well.
Loading a fresh magazine and hitting the bolt release with
your thumb is one swift motion.

IWI made a strategic decision in penetrating the American civilian, law enforcement and military markets. It created a USA-based manufacturing and marketing subsidiary, IWI US, Inc., under the leadership of well-known firearms importer and distributor, Michael Kassnar, whose name has been closely associated for years with the Charles Daly and KBI labels. In fact, Kassnar persuaded IWI to purchase his former KBI facility in Harrisburg, Pa. as their office, assembly, testing and warehousing complex. Kassnar also reports the Pennsylvania State Capitol State Police just adopted the Tavor, being the first law enforcement agency in the country to do so.

Using a mix of Israeli and American-made parts, IWI US is currently assembling the Tavor, the Uzi Pro pistol and both 9mm Luger and 5.45x39mm conversion kits for the Tavor.

The US manufactured Tavor is currently available as two models: the actual IDF issue version pictured here with a 16-1/2-inch barrel and standard issue Meprolight M21 day/night, illuminated reflex sight. The second model, the Tavor SAR, is offered in a factory right- or left-hand configuration with a full length, flattop, Picatinny rib, 18-inch barrel and a choice of black or flat dark earth colors. Actually, either Tavor model is completely ambidextrous by simply adding a left-handed bolt and switching over the cocking group, the safety, the short 45-degree Picatinny rib, the ejection port cover and deflector.

Here at GUNS, we requested the IDF model with the military issue Meprolight M21 reflex sight to really get a feel for the version the troopers of the IDF are carrying and fighting with.

The strong suit of the bullpup design is its compressed overall length combined with a standard length barrel, which maintains the full ballistic performance of the ammunition being used. Our IDF version is only 26-1/8 inches long with a 16-1/2-inch, hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrel. The flattop model with an 18-inch barrel is a short 27-5/8 inches in overall length. Compare those overall lengths with that of our M4 carbine. With a short 14-1/2-inch barrel and collapsed stock, the M4 measures 29-3/4 inches. The only things the Tavor and the M4 share are magazines and caliber.

Construction wise, the Tavor features a Teflon coated, 7075 aluminum receiver, shaped like a channel and bonded into a 1-piece polymer stock. The operating system is based on a long stroke, gas-driven piston attached to a bolt carrier, which also carries a captive recoil spring and guide rod. The cam-operated rotating bolt features four locking lugs, extractor and plunger-style ejector. The combined piston and bolt carrier remind me somewhat of the AK/Galil system. The channel shaped receiver with ample clearances on all sides for dirt and fouling is a bit reminiscent of the Uzi.

The Tavor incorporates flip up backup iron sights if
the Mepro-21 goes dark.

The IWI-made polymer 30-round magazine features a
round counter window. Empty magazines drop totally
free when the magazine release is depressed.

It does not use batteries; instead the reticle is
lit by fiber optic in daylight and tritium at night.

A “bullpup” is defined by the rearward location
of the receiver just in front of the buttplate.

Bullpups are notorious for their heavy triggers.
Measuring 11-3/4 pounds, the Tavor’s was no exception.
The safety lever is conveniently located on the pistol grip.

The Tavor accepts standard M16/NATO/STANAG magazines, and the polymer magazine supplied with the Tavor features a clear window stripe down its side for counting rounds. A lever just forward of the magazine well is the magazine release. When released, magazines fall completely free of the magazine well, facilitating a snappy reload, especially because the bolt is held back after the last round is fired. With the gun mounted, the location of the magazine well is perfectly positioned and accessible to the off hand. Inserting a magazine, your hand is also naturally positioned to tap the bolt release just aft of the inserted magazine. Excellent ergonomics.

By withdrawing a single pushpin, the rubber recoil pad of the Tavor swings down, allowing the complete bolt carrier/piston/recoil-spring assembly to be removed as one unit for cleaning and maintenance. Having withdrawn the unit, you can clean the chamber, bore, bolt, piston, gas cylinder and receiver channel from the breech with the IWI maintenance kit provided with instructions from the best owner’s manual I have ever seen. Similarly, the complete hammer and sear assembly can be removed quickly as a single unit by withdrawing two pushpins. In short, the Tavor is a cinch to strip, maintain and repair in the field. It just falls apart. Love it!

The challenge in any bullpup design is the trigger. How do you mechanically link a forward mounted trigger to a rear mounted sear and still maintain an acceptable trigger pull? It’s a tough issue. The 2-stage Tavor trigger measured 11-3/4 pounds on my Lyman electronic scale. To put what seems like a very heavy pull in perspective, I went back and reviewed my experience with three other current bullpups: the AUG, FN FS2000 and Century International’s AK bullpup.

The Tavor performed best with bullets in the 52- to
55-grain range.

the Lyman scale, the FS2000, 9-1/2 pounds and CIA’s bullpup, 11-1/2 pounds. It’s a trigger pull that just has to be mastered. Off the bench, it’s easy to press the Tavor trigger to the point of release. Offhand, I found if I took up the slack of the first stage, I could call my shots with a controlled jerk release.

The military issue Meprolight M21 illuminated reflex sight is a marvel of engineering. It’s always on. It requires no batteries. It transitions automatically from fiber optic illumination in daylight to tritium illumination under dim light conditions or at night. It’s weatherproof, tough as nails and has been Israel’s primary close quarter combat sight for almost 2 decades. The IDF estimates the M21 has a life cycle of 10 to 14 years. Some have lasted 20 years. If the light does go out, the Tavor features a set of adjustable, flip-up backup iron sights. You, too, can own a genuine M21 sight for approximately $560. Without having to worry about battery failure, it’s worth every penny of that.

The M21 is offered with a choice of four CQC reticles: a triangle, open X, bull’s-eye or a 4.3- or 5.5-MOA dot. The reticle glows orange in a field of green and is visible under all lighting conditions.

The reticle of the M21 on our test rifle was the “bull’s-eye” reticle, which consists of a fine dot surrounded by a circle. As a close quarter combat reticle, I like it. As a target sight, it’s a bit of a challenge because of the large area it subtends at 100 yards. Let’s call it “minute-of-head-shot” reticle at 100 yards. On the other hand, for testing at the range, I did find one target that fit the reticle perfectly. It’s Birchwood Casey’s Dirty Bird Splattering Target with a 17-1/2-inch black bull’s-eye with a 4-1/2-inch red center. At 100 yards, the M21 bull’s-eye reticle surrounds the 17-1/2-inch bull’s-eye with just a sliver of white showing around the perimeter to keep your sight picture centered.

With the removal of three pushpins, the Tavor
disassembles for maintenance and repair.

How does the Tavor handle and shoot? Being short, chunky and weighing a hefty 9-1/2 pounds fully loaded, I found the Tavor to be an unusually stable shooting platform in offhand, kneeling and prone. It really settles down, snuggles into your body and balances nicely between your hands. The comb proved a bit high for my face, and I had work at it to get an assuring center hold in the M21 sight. In a reflex sight, you may not need to, but I like it that way for precise target practice. The heavy bullpup trigger must be mastered. If you’re benching the Tavor, I would recommend swapping out the 30-round magazine for a shorter 20-rounder. Recoil is minimal, but with your ears being closer to the muzzle, the Tavor, like all bullpup breeds, barks.

With its 1:7-inch twist barrel, I expected the Tavor would turn in its best performance with 62- to 77-grain match loads. It was not to be. A classic target handload of 26.2 grains of 748 and Sierra’s 52-grain Matchking (2,832 fps) as well as a stock 55-grain FMJ loading by CorBon (3,031 fps) produced 3-shot groups running from 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 inches. PMC’s 62-grain M855 (2,925 fps) and Black Hills’ 69-grain Matchking (2,655 fps) loadings ran from 3 to 3-1/2 inches while Black Hills’ 77-grain open tip match load (2,751 fps) generated 3- to 4-inch groups at 100 yards. This performance is not unusual. I’ve worked with other 1:7-inch twist barrels that thrived best on 52- to 55-grain loadings, and note those sterling velocity levels delivered by the 16-1/2-inch barrel of the compact bullpup!

Love ’em or hate ’em, the bullpups are a whole ’nother breed. My hunch is we’ll be seeing more of them in the future. Maybe, just maybe, someday, someone will come up with a crisp, light trigger for the pup.
By Holt Bodinson


The World’s Assault Rifles by Gary Paul Johnston and Thomas B. Nelson, hardcover, 1,216 pages ©2010, $74.95, available from: A&J Arms Book Sellers, 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711, (520) 512-1065,

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GUNS Jan 2014

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The Intriguing Starr Double Action

This Unique Revolver Was The Third Most Issued Revolver By The Union Army In The Civil War.

The Starr revolver of the Civil War was, in my mind, a better and more advanced design than either the Colt or the Remington. The Starr double-action revolver may just have been too advanced for the average Union cavalryman because while the initial Army and Navy issues were double actions, Starr was requested later in the war to discontinue their double actions and simply build single actions. In any case, the inventor, Eben T. Starr of Yonkers, N.Y., was ahead of his time, building both advanced revolvers and carbines for the Union throughout the years of the Civil War.

Many decades ago, my father and I were passing through New York City, had a few hours to spare, so we decided to pay a visit to Robert Abels’ antique gun shop on Lexington Avenue. At the time, Robert Abels was one of a handful of first class antique arms dealers in the United States. His inventory and periodic catalogs were priceless plus his prices were very reasonable considering the quality of the arms he was dealing.

Browsing around Abels’ small, but gun packed, shop, I happened to spy an original Starr buried among the Colts, Remingtons and Manhattans. It was a double action all right but there was something different about it. It sported a high-polish blue and a price tag that read only $65. We asked to see it. Then the real facts came to light. The previous owner had not only refinished it, but had replaced the original military sights with 1950s-era Micro target sights. It functioned perfectly. Removing the single disassembly screw, we opened the frame, removed the cylinder and looked down the bore. It was spotless as were the chambers.

After a minute of intimate conversation, we agreed we would split the cost and offer $60. Abels took the offer in a heartbeat. I think he really wanted that revolting Starr out of his shop and out of his sight, but that messed-up Starr gave us many, many hours over many years of shooting fun.

So when our kindly editor asked if I would like to review his Italian, Pietta-made, Starr double-action replica, I couldn’t jump fast enough.

The Starr’s break-open design (above) is rugged and easy to clean and
maintain. Removing this one screw (below), allows the shooter to
begin disassembly of the Starr.

Eben T. Starr obtained his initial patent in 1856. In it, he claimed two unique features to his design: a “lifter lever” which looks exactly like a traditional revolver trigger and a real sear-releasing trigger which is the triangular-looking metal projection at the rear of the triggerguard. In short, pulling the trigger-looking “lifter lever” of a Starr double action revolver only rotates the cylinder and brings the hammer to full cock. In fact, you must use the “lifter lever.” You can’t thumb cock the hammer of a double-action Starr.

At that point, you have a choice to make. You can either continue pulling back the “lifter lever” until it contacts the small, projecting trigger at the rear of the triggerguard and fires the piece, or you can remove your finger from the “lifter lever” and place your finger behind the “lifter lever” and directly on the little, projecting trigger and fire the piece.

Looking more closely at the “lifter lever,” you can see a small, sliding, strip of metal on the rear of the lever that has a hump folded in it. If the hump is in the “up” position, the “lifter lever” will contact the trigger and fire the piece as you pull though. If the hump is in the “down” position, the hump will hit the frame and prevent the “lifter lever” from contacting the trigger so you can fire the piece with the trigger alone. It’s simply a way of “programming” the Starr, and I tip my hat to Mr. Starr. It’s darn clever.

Since you can’t cock the hammer single action and must use the “lifter lever,” I think that’s why his double-action revolvers never caught on with the troops who were conditioned to Colt and Remington single actions. Can you imagine in the heat of battle trying to haul back on the hammer of a Starr, and it won’t budge!

The Starr revolvers and carbines were produced at Binghamton and Yonkers, N.Y. By far, the Yonkers facility was the larger of the two, and come to think of it, an historical tie-in is Kimber’s current manufacturing facility is located in Yonkers, N.Y.

A young Holt and his father enjoying an afternoon shoot
with their Micro-sighted Starr wa-a-a-y back when.

The Starr double action can only be cocked by pulling the trigger.
The hammer spur won’t get you anywhere without the trigger’s help.

The first model produced was the double-action, .36-caliber Navy between 1858-60. Three thousand were made. More or less concurrently, the double action, Army model in .44 caliber was produced with a total production figure of 23,000. Then, from 1863-1865, Starr dropped the double-action models and made 32,000 single-action Army models in .44 caliber. The double-action models featured 6-inch barrels and the single actions, 8-inch barrels.

During the Civil War, Starr also produced 20,601 percussion, .54-caliber carbines and 5,002 cartridge carbines in .52-caliber rimfire. In government tests, the Starr was rated better than the Sharps. Like many Civil War arms manufacturers, the Starr firm did not adapt well to a peacetime economy, and by 1867, the Starr Arms Company closed its doors.

The Pietta-made double-action Starr replica is an incredibly accurate copy of the original, right down to that “sliding hump” to program the “lifter lever.” Having a Starr once again in my hands impressed me even more with design features often overlooked.

One of them is the strength of the break-open frame. Starr designed the top strap so it swings down and seats in milled mortises on both sides of the standing breech. Secured then with the cross-bolting disassembly screw, it’s a very rigid, strong design. The other is the cylinder pin is integral with the cylinder and is simply a short cone that mates with a seat in the frame. It doesn’t foul like the long cylinder pins of a Colt or Remington, and it’s a cinch to clean and keep lubricated.

The short, conical, integral, Starr cylinder pin (top) is unusually easy to clean and maintain. The Starr ratchet (bottom) is robust and should be kept lubricated with a modern gun grease.

The more I look at a Starr, the more impressed I am.

How did the replica shoot? My load was 22 grains of Goex’s new, premium, Olde Eynsford FFFg black powder, a greased felt wad, a .451 ball smeared over with a dab of Wonder Lube 1000. Percussion cap size was a slight problem with the Pietta nipples. I had CCI No. 10 and No. 11 caps on hand. The 11s were too loose, and the 10s were a bit tight, requiring two hammer strikes to fire (one to seat the cap, the other to fire it). Some experimentation with caps from Remington and RWS is called for.

The illustration here shows the quality of the Starr, and its capability as a fighting handgun. At 20 yards, on a torso silhouette, it delivers a killing group of six shots. I can’t do any better with my Glock .45. What tickles me at the range is the attention I get when I touch off a black-powder load. It doesn’t go “Bang.” It goes “Ka-Bam” and everyone comes over to see what new magnum I’m shooting.

The Starr double action was years ahead of its time. I can understand why the single-action conditioned cavalrymen didn’t like it with its “lifter lever” action that couldn’t be thumb cocked.

When I look at my rather modern Iver Johnson, Super Sealed Eight .22 revolver, with its “lifter lever” looking trigger and that real trigger in the rear of the triggerguard, I have to believe Mr. Starr is up there smiling, or maybe it’s Mr. Iver Johnson up there, giving us the wink and saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun”!
By Holt Bodinson

The Starr savaged this target with its six
shots at 20 yards. A great cavalry revolver!

Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms 9th Edition by Norm Flayderman, softcover. 669 pages, $39.99. Krause Publications, 700 East State Street, Iola, WI 54990, (715) 445-2214,

Read More Surplus, Classic And Tactical Firearms

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