Part II: The handguns.
A few months back I wrote this column about the two hunting rifles I will keep upon retiring from a full-time writing career. Now it’s time to talk about self-defense handguns. At the time of this writing my vault has scores of handguns, all of which would be suitable for home- and self-defense to one degree or the other. I call them my “shooting library.”
But only two will stay forever with me for that purpose—one big and one small, one autoloader and one revolver. I travel a considerable amount here in the state of Montana, and one handgun is with me virtually all the time—legally. It is a Smith & Wesson Model 442 .38 Special—the “snubnose” of crime novel fame because it wears only a 1.875-inch barrel (often called 2 inches).
Duke’s “keeper” home-defense handguns are a Smith & Wesson Model 442 .38 Special
“snubnose” revolver and a Les Baer .45 ACP Thunder Ranch Special autoloader.
The Model 442 is rather unique among snubnose revolvers in that its basic design from the early 1950’s was meant as a “pocket pistol” according to the book History Of Smith & Wesson by Roy G. Jinks. Originally named Centennial Model and becoming the Model 42 in 1957, these little J-frame five shooters had an internal hammer and a grip safety down the back of the butt similar to those on Model 1911 pistols. The internal hammer was meant to prevent a hammer spur from dragging on clothing when the gun was drawn. The grip safety’s purpose was obvious but it was dropped somewhere along the way. Model 42’s disappeared from Smith & Wesson’s catalog in 1974.
In 1993 the design was resurrected as the Model 442, with aluminum alloy frame and steel barrel and cylinder. Standard equipment on standard Model 442’s was rubber fingergroove grips. Mine is a bit different in that it came with fingergroove grips of some exotic wood. The way it appeared was also pleasing. Shortly after the turn of the century I was one of a group of writers who did some articles for a Smith & Wesson “magalog” (that’s a catalog also containing feature articles). After that issue was published, each of the writers received one of these special Model 442’s with wooden grips and marked “1852 An American Tradition 2002.”
Instead of leaving mine in its box to serve as a commemorative, I stuck it with my traveling kit and it goes with me—again, where legal. However, that was not before shooting it to ascertain (1) where bullets strike in regards to point of aim and (2) whether they land in close proximity to one another. Feeding it Black Hills 158-grain lead semiwadcutter factory loads, it passed my tests in both respects.
My other self-defense handgun was also a gift: this time from Clint Smith. It is a Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special .45 ACP that Clint also had fitted with a set of custom engraved silver grips bearing my initials (“MV”). The Les Baer TR Special is a full-size Model 1911 built to Les’s exacting standards. It wears Trijicon sights front and rear, dovetailed to the barrel so one or both can be drifted for perfect zeroing. It was also checked immediately upon arrival for point of aim/point of impact. They coincided perfectly with 230-grain “hardball” FMJ factory loads—also by Black Hills.
Duke test fired his S&W Model 442 at about a dozen feet for its accuracy
and point of impact/point of aim. It passed the test in both respects.
Other features of a Les Baer TR Special are a 5-inch barrel, bob-style hammer spur, extended grip safety and its own style of magazine, holding 8 rounds instead of the standard 7 of traditional Model 1911’s. Front and rear of the grip frame are stippled for a sure grip and front and rear of the slide have grasping grooves to help with manipulation. Trigger pull is a beautifully crisp 3 pounds.
These pistols have a well-known reputation for reliable functioning so once when attending a Thunder Ranch class I fired it several days, to the tune of near 1,000 rounds, without cleaning. It fired every time the trigger was pulled, although I could actually feel the slide slowing down due to the crud built up. Another well-known feature of Les Baer Model 1911’s is their accuracy, and this one is no different. It will group bullets closer to one another than I can hold.
Certainly not in the “pocket pistol” category, this big .45 requires a good holster for carrying. When it leaves the property with me it is either in a Galco belt holster for open carry, or when concealed it is in a Milt Sparks “Summer Special” inside-the-pants holster.
Although I’ve handloaded uncounted tens of thousands of .38 Special and .45 ACP for the past 4-plus decades, as usually loaded these two handguns have the mentioned Black Hills factory loads in them. They are my home-defense keeper handguns.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino