And No, We’re Never Wrong. Well, Maybe Sometimes
No one likes to be the bearer of bad tidings and I am somewhat reluctant to burst any bubbles; however, I must be honest. Gunwriters, like every other group of people, are not infallible; in fact we actually make mistakes! We are not alone in this as proofreaders are also not perfect, and, gasp, even editors make mistakes.
Sometimes errors creep in simply because of a not so perfect source. For example, the original Colt Single Action Army which started production in 1873 and lasted until the eve of World War II, still causes debates over just how many different chamberings were actually produced and also what serial number marks the beginning of smokeless powder guns. Brain fades also occur, I’m sure they are caused by signals from all the satellite dishes and cell phones banging around the atmosphere; and all writers eventually get to the point where they have what someone has dubbed senior moments. None of us get out of here perfect!
Let’s take a look at some of the things I have seen come from gunwriters. Mistakes used to be confined to the printed word, however, now with the Outdoor Channel we can see glaring mistakes in beautiful high definition. Recently a very well-known gunwriter was asked why .38 Special and .357 Magnum bullets were standardized at 158 grains. His answer was that was the weight of the round ball in the original .36 Navy Colt. What? Those little round balls only weighed approximately 90 grains and even when we get to the .44 Army Colt, the weight is still well under 158 grains. I wonder what this gunwriter was thinking?
Another well-known gunwriter trying to make a case against 9mm hardball related the old Elmer Keith story of a cop putting several shots into the back of a black cowboy hanging on a cattle car. The cowboy lived long enough to pull a .45 SAA, kill his assailant, and put all his affairs in order. The only problem with the story was it was not a 9mm Luger, but the smaller .30 Luger which was used.
One mistake that shows up over and over again is the statement Elmer Keith invented the .44 Magnum. He inspired it, he was directly responsible for it, however he did not invent it. He spent years trying to convince ammunition makers to produce his Heavy .44 Special Load with a 250-grain bullet at 1,200 fps. They were afraid of older guns so he told them to just lengthen the brass case so it would only fit in newly produced sixguns. He was as surprised as anyone when the .44 Magnum arrived with loads 250 to 300 fps faster than he had asked for. Actually, in the late 1940s John Lachuk was using cut down rifle brass to create his .44 Lancer which turned out to be the same length as the .44 Magnum when it arrived; he used 22 grains of 2400 and special cylinders fitted to his .44 Special Colt Single Actions.
After Keith’s well-known story of the 600-yard mule deer shot, a contemporary of his, mainly to stir-up controversy I’m sure, talked about Keith whipping out his 4″ .44 He knew the circumstance—Keith trying to stop a deer, wounded by a rifle shooter—and he also knew it was a 6-1/2″ .44 Magnum. I guess he just stretched literary license to the breaking point. I recently read Elmer Keith’s famous long-shot was on an antelope at 600 yards. Can’t imagine where that one came from!
Keith was informed of the advent of the .44 Magnum from Smith & Wesson in the closing days of 1955. After receiving his .44 Magnum and writing it up one year later he complained the original ammunition was too hot. A writer recently said: “Magazines in the 1950s had shooters back then believing it actually delivered a 240-grain bullet at nearly 1,400 fps. The actual performance was more likely 1,200 fps.” What? My friend Brian Pearce recently worked out a trade coming up with not only a pre-29 .44 Magnum, but a case of 1957 ammunition as well. He clocked it through two 6-1/2″ pre-29s this year and the average was over 1,450 fps—so much for lightly loaded .44 Magnums.
Speaking of Dick Casull, a writer recently said beginning in the late 1960s he blew up Colt after Colt to improve the ballistics of the .45 Colt. This is only partially true; it was not in the late 1960s, it was in the early 1950s. By 1957 Dick had given up on the Colt Single Action, even when fitted with his custom cylinders, and was now building his own single actions with larger frames and cylinders. This eventually led to the Freedom Arms produced .454 Casull which first appeared in 1983. I also read recently, by an editor no less, the .44 Magnum was introduced by Dirty Harry! Shooters were buying .44 Magnums in 1956 and Clint Eastwood’s most favorite character did not appear until the early ’70s.
Ruger has produced millions of firearms since 1949. Guns so popular certainly are written about often; and the more often they are written about, the greater the chance of making mistakes. One of the most common ones is “The very first Ruger firearm, the Mark I was a .22 LR…” or “The Mark I was the first Ruger firearm product.” The problem here is the Mark I was not the first .22 Ruger, which is known as the Standard Model (when target sights were added it became the Mark I).
Switching to Ruger revolvers one finds many printed mistakes. I recently read the Blackhawk in .44 Magnum was dropped when the Super Blackhawk was announced. Not so, they were produced side by side for three years. I also read the Super Blackhawk received the protective ears around the rear sight which had first showed up on the “improved” .357 Blackhawk in 1962. Here the horse is before the cart, as those ears first appeared on the Super Blackhawk of 1959; it did not show up on the regular Blackhawk until three years later.
Here’s a strange one. Just this month I read the original Ruger .357 Blackhawk frames were anodized. I thought the writer meant grip frames which were of an aluminum alloy and were anodized; however, he said the mainframes like the grip frames were finished this way. I have yet to find a .357 Blackhawk Flat-Top from the 1950s which does not have a blued frame. Speaking of Ruger frames, another writer wrote that unlike the Colt Single Action, because of the metallurgy, Ruger frames could not be color case hardened. That certainly must be news to many custom sixgunsmiths who specialize in converting .357 Blackhawks to other chamberings such as .38-40, .44-40, .44 Special and .41 Special. Doug Turnbull does a beautiful job case hardening the frames and hammers of many of these custom Rugers.
When the Bisley Model Ruger was introduced in the 1980s one writer said the grip frame was the same size as that found on Elmer Keith’s custom No. 5SAA. It actually proved to be much larger. I also recently read the frame size of the New Vaquero is the same size as the 50th Anniversary Blackhawk .44 Magnum. This is definitely not true! The New Vaquero frame is the same size as the 50th Anniversary Blackhawk .357 Magnum, however the 50th Anniversary .44 Magnum has the larger frame and cylinder of the Super Blackhawk.
Speaking of case hardening, I read a test between a Cimarron SA and Ruger Vaquero (if that isn’t oranges and apples I don’t know what is!) in which the writer stated the Cimarron was new out-of-the-box and had a cylinder which was not only free-wheeling but it was also case hardened. Now there are gunsmiths who specialize in freewheeling cylinders, which spin forwards or backwards, however, you will never find this on a new Cimarron nor have I ever heard of a casehardened cylinder. I contacted the editor; he said no, it was new in the box and had a free-wheeling case-hardened cylinder. He definitely lost all credibility with me. One writer talking about Skeeter Skelton said his first article, which was about the Colt Model 1917 .45 ACP, was entitled “The Poor Man’s Magnum,” appeared in a 1962 issue of the now long gone GUNsport. At least three years earlier Charles A. Skelton was writing articles for this magazine.
Lest the reader think I am picking on other gunwriters I have to confess to being guilty of at least three, maybe even four, or more, of the foregoing mistakes. I do promise to try harder. But I am still looking for the Ruger factory Single-Six chambered in .32-20 I recently read about.
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