A Pair And A Spare

And A Spare And A Spare…

We are living in what many describe as the information age. Personally, I would be more inclined to call it the “misinformation age.” I well remember the early days of television in the late 1940’s to early 1950’s when we gathered eagerly at 7:30pm to watch what in those days was known as “The News.” There were 15 minutes dedicated to national happenings every evening. Somehow we managed to keep informed in what today’s terms seems like a miniscule amount of time.

In the early days there were four TV networks, one of which quickly disappeared. Today we have dozens that manage to broadcast “news” 24/7. This means the same thing is put out over and over and over. Literally everything becomes news. Just like most everything else in our society, the news has been corrupted. Today it’s mostly thinly veiled entertainment and/or propaganda. We really have to be very selective to find real news.

Just as news was in short supply in the 1950’s, so was just about any other kind of information, including anything to do with firearms. This very magazine was a trendsetter, being the first of its kind devoted totally to firearms. From the first issue in January 1955, reliable, important information began to appear where there had been very little.

Personally, I learned a lot from the early writers—especially those who had regular columns such as Elmer Keith, George Nonte and Kent Bellah, to name a few. Bellah was in charge of the reloading column and passed on many useful tips which I still use today.

One of the first and most valuable concepts I learned from him was the idea of “A Pair and a Spare” when it came to firearms. The idea was simple. Once you find a sixgun you really like and use quite often, it is a good idea to pick up a second one (the “pair”). If possible, having another one (the “spare”) can save a lot of problems.

In the early days of Fast Draw, participants soon found this was exceptionally good advice, as Colt single actions did not always hold up to the rigors foisted upon them by Fast Draw shooters. Fanning was especially detrimental to single actions as it put such a stress on metal parts. Even a heavy amount of normal thumb-cocking stresses those parts. Today we have sixgun ’smiths specializing in tuning single actions so they become what Eddie Janis of Peacemaker Specialist calls “buttery smooth.” This tuning removes a lot of the stress of metal upon metal, keeping those single actions working perfectly.

But in the “old days,” it was not easy to find someone who could do this, so it was often prudent to be able keep two guns working while the third one was in the shop.


Another Taffin sixgunner is born.


Not bad shooting for a girl… or a guy for that matter.

I subscribed to the “Pair and a Spare” philosophy very early, but only in theory. I could not afford to fully embrace it, especially as marriage, kids and college followed. Those were very lean years financially. It was rare for me to be able to purchase one sixgun, let alone three. It would be about 25 years—after the kids were grown and on their own—before I could apply the philosophy to such sixguns as the Colt Single Action, the Old Model Ruger, the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum and the S&W .357 Magnum. To me the Pair/Spare became a natural part of firearms acquisition, and even more so as the grandkids came along.

I soon had three grandsons, which seemed to fit the Pair/Spare philosophy. As I started thinking about putting things away for their future—it became normal for me to do everything in threes.

All my articles are saved in three ways, the actual magazine, yearly hardbound volumes and a meticulously maintained set of loose leaf binders with pages in plastic sheets. As I began to write books, three of each were set aside—each one inscribed for each of the boys. All three boys will get engraved sixguns—.45 Colt, .44 Special, .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum, both single and double action. They’ll also each get a Colt 1911 and Marlin leverguns in .22, .357 Magnum and .45-70. And each grandson will get the sixgun that was my first, the Ruger .22 Single-Six.

All was going along well with this plan, however, there turned out to be a glitch. Besides the three grandsons I also have five granddaughters, and they are not to be left out.
Diamond Dot grabbed on to my Pair/Spare philosophy for the granddaughters using jewelry instead of sixguns. She uses the same reasoning I have been using all these years to buy rings. This one is for…. This one will go to…and on and on. Something about what’s sauce for the goose also being sauce for the gander… or something like that.

One of my granddaughters is already married. Last year for Christmas I gave the couple a Marlin Model 39 .22 (next Christmas it will be the first firearm I ever shot, the Harrington & Richardson .22 Model 999, complete with a special holster). All of the granddaughters will also receive an equal share of the firearms I leave behind, but that is definitely not going to be enough as they have taken a greater interest in shooting (and also I find myself having to be a bit more selective in coming up with their “stuff”).

All of the grandkids are either out on their own or in college now. Even those who had moved back home in the worst part of the economy have managed to again get back into their own places.

Last Thanksgiving, when Granddaughter Number 4, Whit, visited from out of state, she wanted to go shooting. Since it was cold—and since I am no longer as tough as I used to be—I took her to the indoor range along with a trio of Smith & Wesson .357’s—a 3-1/2-inch Model 27, a 4-inch Model 28 Highway Patrolman and a 4-inch Model 19. Whit went for the Model 19 in a big way, but since it’s part of a Pair/Spare, I told her I would find one specifically for her.

As we were shooting she said to me “Papa, look at the target next to us!” Two fellows were shooting a silhouette target at about 7 yards and their groups couldn’t have been spread out more if they’d been using buckshot.

Now, I have to admit to sometimes being a little mean streaky, so I told Whit to put up a new target. We ran it out and I told her to put six shots in the center of the body and another six shots in the head. Then I added “let’s see what those guys think about a young girl showing them up.” Whit then put two cylinders full of .38 Specials exactly where they were supposed to go.

After she went home, I started looking for a Model 19 for her and managed to find one that could be brought back into excellent shape. I had it professionally re-blued, the hammer and trigger re-case-hardened and the action tuned. Then I started looking for a pair of appropriate stocks. On one of the sixgun forums I came across a fellow who was making Smith & Wesson target-style stocks and I ordered a pair for the Model 19 (as well as another pair for an N-frame).

I received them a couple months later and they are absolutely stunning in the choice of wood. The were well fitted to the frame of each S&W, in fact, they fit my hand so well I thought they might be too large for Whit. But they turned out to be just perfect for her too.

I found out just how well they fit this past weekend when she flew in to visit us. We went shooting again with her new Model 19, an ammo can of .38 Specials and a box of 158-grain .357 Magnum JHPs so she could see the difference in the power level. Up to this point she had only shot .38’s.

I told her to let me know when she was getting tired. Then my plan was to let her shoot just six of the .357’s to see how they felt. I was concerned she would be bothered by the recoil but must’ve forgotten she was a Taffin. I asked her if they were too stout. She said no and then warmed my sixgunnin’ heart by asking if she could shoot some more magnums.

We put up some new silhouette targets and she proceeded to empty the box of .357’s through her Model 19, shooting-double-action only.

She boarded the plane home this morning with her carry-on luggage and several silhouette targets rolled up together and rubber banded. (I wonder what the TSA folks thought?)

Now we have another full-fledged sixgunner in the family. The only problem with this is now, in addition to a Pair and a Spare for the grandsons, I have to be thinking about a Pair and a Spare… and a Spare… and a Spare…
By John Taffin

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