Back To Basics

From Start To Finish

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages, at first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurses arms. And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school. And then the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, in fair round belly with good capon lined, with eyes severe and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws and modern instances; and so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts into the lean and slipper’d pantaloons, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side, his youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide for his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, turning again toward childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

So spoke William Shakespeare in As You Like It, written in the 16th century. I don’t know if any students still read Shakespeare, however I was in stage two, the “whining schoolboy” when I encountered Shakespeare in the 8th and 9th grade. As I recall I didn’t understand much of it but this passage hit me from the very beginning, and even though it was way back in 1952, I still recall, it vividly, and thought at the time Shakespeare is a pretty wise old fellow. Seven ages most of us follow: baby, youth, young lover, invincibility, wisdom, old age, and then right back to the helplessness stage we endured as a young baby. It wasn’t hard for me to look around at my extended family and see someone in every act, and I don’t like to even contemplate the act I am now in.

Shooters also spend their time on a stage as it were following through many acts. In fact, in many cases, certainly mine I have gone through acts/stages/ages of sixgunning with some overlapping. Usually, the best place to begin a journey is at the beginning, and the beginning of shooting, the place to learn all the basics, is a .22. It was 1956 and Act I was about to begin.

My first choice was a Marlin 39A, the Mountie which was then followed very quickly by a Ruger Single-Six which is now known to collectors as the Flat-Gate.

I’ve received a lot of pleasure from a lot of guns over the years but nothing has ever superseded these two .22s. I wouldn’t even try to count the number of rounds down the barrels of these two. Not only did I learn to shoot with it, so did Diamond Dot, the three kids, the grandkids, two of their spouses, and even girlfriends and boyfriends along the way. The .22 is simply the best place to start and we can learn everything about shooting without having to consider recoil. With a .22 shooting is as much fun as it should be and the cost is minimal. My infancy, unlike Shakespeare’s baby was not spent in a nurse’s arms, but rather lovingly clutching a .22 Levergun and sixgun.

Act II found me discovering big-bore sixguns. First came a 1900-ish 4-3/4″ Colt Single Action .38-40 which was soon followed by a very early Second Generation Colt .45 with a 7-1/2″ barrel. I could not afford to shoot either one of them very much, so the next scene in this act found me with a Ruger .357 Blackhawk and a S&W .357 Highway Patrolman. It was very difficult to find .357 brass in those days, however .38 Special cases where not only easy to find they were quite inexpensive.

The purchase of a Lyman mold which dropped Elmer Keith’s 358429 classic bullet design at 173 grains put me in business. I was not real smart in those days and loaded all of my .38s to the hilt with the Keith load. This resulted in .38s which were hotter than much .357 Magnum factory ammunition offered today. My progress would probably have been faster if at least some of those were standard .38 Special loads.

Act III found me with .44 Specials and .45 Colts. By now I was reloading enough I could afford to shoot my .45, however I made the same mistake with the .44 Specials I’d made with those first .38 Special loads; everything was loaded “Keith-style” with a 260-grain bullet at 1,150 to 1,200 fps which hampered my learning even more than the hot .38 Specials. Even the .45s received heavy treatment with 260s over 10.0 grains of Unique or 18.5 grains of 2400. I had a great time with those heavy loads in the .44 and .45, however I missed an awful lot of fun shooting and slowed down my learning time.


Going all the way back to 1949, the original Ruger .22 is
still a good starter or finisher.

Magnum Era

Act IV found me in my Magnum Era. By now, I had not only discovered the excellent Lyman/Thompson 358156GC bullet it also it had become increasingly easier to locate .357 Magnum brass. That gas-checked bullet minimized leading allowing hard cast bullets to be driven over 1,500 fps. The nice thing about the .357 Magnum is its relative lack of recoil in full-size sixguns. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the .44 Magnum.

My first .44 Magnum was an original 6-1/2″ Ruger Blackhawk followed in the early 1960s with a Smith & Wesson Model 29 of the same barrel length. I still have both sixguns, however they languished unused for many a year since I wasn’t smart enough to back off from full house loads. Some folks just take longer to learn than others and I missed the main positive attribute of reloading which is to custom tailor loads. There is nothing written anywhere in stone or otherwise which says we have to load everything to the max.

Act V basically covers my Really Big Bore years stretching from about mid 1980s until the turn of the century. First came the .454 Casull, followed by the .500 Linebaugh in short order. Over the years I added the .475 Linebaugh, .500 Wyoming Express, some really tough time with the .475 and .500 Linebaugh Long/Maximums and then came the arrival of the .500 and .460 Smith & Wesson Magnums. With the arrival of these really Big Bores, I learned very quickly to tailor my loads. None of these cartridges can be considered fun to shoot in their full-house loadings, however the arrival of Hodgdon’s Trail Boss powder made pleasant shooting loads a real possibility and actually makes these guns pleasurable.

By the time I arrived at Act VI, I realized Magnums do not have to always be maximized. A .44 Magnum with a 260- or 300-grain cast bullet over 10.0 grains of Unique or Universal will do right at 1,150 fps; this is a powerful but relatively pleasant shooting load plus the extra added bonus is you can get twice as many rounds from a can of powder. Act VII, where I spend most of my time these years is back to the .44 Special and .45 Colt. However, by now I’ve learned. The .44 Special is mostly loaded with a 260-grain bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique or Universal, or 8.0 grains of Power Pistol. With the .45 Colt it is a 260- or 270-grain bullet mostly over 8.0 grains of either Unique or Universal. All of these loads are in the 900 to 1,000 fps range and adequately powerful while remaining relatively low in felt recoil.

It’s been a long stage play, however I have learned much along the way. Shakespeare puts his actor back at the beginning. While I am not in as bad a shape as his main character (yet), I do find myself spending much more time with the basics—the basic .22 that is. Actually my shooting life these days is pretty much a mixture of several of the Sixgunning Acts. Early this month I spent four days shooting 1,000 rounds of .45 Auto Rim, and later this week I will start the same process with some .44 Specials.

However, the basic .22 is once again King. I spent much of last winter looking for older 3-Screw Ruger Single-Sixes and Super Single-Sixes. I not only wanted to make sure I have enough on hand for everyone in the family to have their own, I simply wanted to enjoy the pure pleasure of shooting them myself. Ten days were spent doing nothing but shooting .22s and although it is a very trite phrase, it really doesn’t get any better than this. I have come home.

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