How to keep shootin’ Part I: Handguns

When age becomes an adversary, there are options

If you can’t take the pounding of a heavy pistol anymore, Dan Wesson sixguns chambered
in .32-20, .32 Magnum and .327 Magnum make for pleasant shooting.

We live in an ever-changing world. Everything around us is always changing and we ourselves are always changing. If we live long enough, we definitely see major changes physically and especially so when it comes to shooting.

I well remember the day when I was working on reloading data for the Freedom Arms .454 Casull and shot more than 800 rounds in one day. Then there was the testing of the .475 and .500 Linebaugh Longs (Maximums). They were brutal! Over the decades I made it through all of those and a lot more — even enjoyed most of it, but now my hands hurt just thinking about it. Something has definitely changed!

Actually, the changes began a long time ago when it was discovered I had washed all the cartilage out of my wrist bones. I’ve been able to mostly live with the wrist pain, however once the hands started really hurting, something had to be done. This time I found I had extreme carpal tunnel syndrome so I had surgery on my right hand. It helped but I still have pain, my fingers are mostly numb but my trigger finger still works and I can still see to shoot so I feel greatly blessed. There was also a cataract surgery along the way.

So — what are some of the things we can do to keep shooting when the years catch up with us?


When the .44 Magnum arrived, Smith & Wesson found the 1950 Target .44 Special with a rechambered cylinder worked fine except the recoil was brutal in the 39-oz. sixgun. To add more weight, Smith & Wesson lengthened the cylinder and added a heavy bull barrel, bringing the weight up to 48 oz. Today we can do the same thing — simply add more weight. There are several .44 Magnum sixguns which place shooting of heavy loads back into the tolerable category, sometimes even sneaking up on pleasant.

One of these sixguns can only be found on the used-gun market — the Dan Wesson Heavy Barrel .44 Magnum. The combination of heavy weight and very practical smooth wooden stocks go a long way to taming felt recoil. Two currently produced “easy shooting” .44 Magnums are the Taurus Raging Bull and the Ruger Super Redhawk. I do not face shooting either one of these .44 Magnums with any fear or trepidation.

Muzzle Brakes also add weight, but more importantly, go a long way to controlling felt recoil. My Encore .308 wears an SSK Brake while the Freedom Arms .454 has been fitted with a Mag-na-port Muzzle Brake. Both are great ways to tame these hard-kicking handguns.

John finds the longer 1860 grip frame better for handling felt recoil than the standard single-action grip.


Anyone who has read my work for very long knows I have a soft spot in my heart for custom stocks. I grew up reading Elmer Keith, who had a real feeling for ivory grips. Skeeter came right behind, talking about ivory stocks especially on Colt Single Actions. I still like ivory, rams’ horn, stag, exotic woods and …

However, here we are not dealing aesthetically but realistically — we are in survival mode. The Colt Single Action grip frame has been touted for decades as the perfect grip for every man. It works, and works well, but only up to a point. Ruger copied this grip perfectly for his first .44 Magnum Blackhawk in 1956 however it was not long before he redesigned it to the Super Blackhawk configuration. Thankfully Ruger did not stop there and in the mid-1980s came forth with an improvement over the original Colt Bisley Model of 1894. The Ruger Bisley made it possible for single actions to be chambered in really heavy recoiling cartridges.

I find the original design of the Colt Single Action works with standard .45 Colt and .44 Special loads, however I am now right on the edge. My solution has been to change the grip frame by adding a replica 1860 Army grip frame and stocks. This change to a longer grip helps to lower felt recoil. On the Super Redhawk I add Hogue rubber finger groove stocks.


It took me a long time to realize everything I loaded did not have to be loaded full-bore. For many years my standard load with the Keith 250-gr. .44 bullet in the .44 Magnum was 22.0 grains of #2400. Several years ago I changed my standard load to the same bullet with 10.0 grains of Unique.

A few years back I received several requests to come up with low recoil loads which would still operate the slide on the 1911 .45 ACP reliably. I came up with the loads and both Buffalo Bore and Double Tap began offering this type of ammo.

With the advent of Cowboy Action Shooting we now have all kinds of pleasant shooting loads for the .44 Colt, .44 Russian and .44 Special, all of which work in the .44 Magnum. Even the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum have very pleasant cast bullet loads available.

Muzzle brakes from SSK Industries and Mag-na-port help in taming John’s
hard-kickin’ .308 Encore and Freedom Arms 454.


offered a long list of chamberings in their Single Action Army. The .45 Colt is still the number one choice but if the recoil is more than we care to experience, we can drop down to the .44-40. The next step down is the .38-40 and if none of these are enjoyable, there is the .32-20. Of course there is always the .44 Special and the original loading of a 246-gr. cast bullet at about 750 fps still remains very pleasant and can be shot in both .44 Special/Magnum sixguns as well.

The .32-20 remains one of my favorite cartridges and it has been joined over the years by sixguns chambered in .32 Long, .32 Magnum, .327 Magnum and in the Ruger Blackhawk, .30 Carbine. They work fine for plinking, target shooting, hunting of varmints and small game and for the most part could even be pressed into service for self-defense. The .32 Long is a little on the light side however this was once the standard police load in cities on the East Coast.

What if we still want to shoot really big stuff, the .475s and .500s? We can do the same thing several of the producers of these sixguns do — test them by using loads assembled with Hodgdon’s Trail Boss Powder. This powder was originally designed for easy-shooting Cowboy Action Loads but also works in these large-capacity cartridges, giving velocities in the 800–900 fps. This brings them down into, or at least close to, the easy-shooting level.


If none of these solutions suffice there is the one thing in the “Always” category. The first successful cartridge-firing sixgun was the S&W Model #1 in 1857, chambered in a brand-new cartridge, the .22 Rimfire. Today we have a long list of excellent shooting .22 sixguns and semi-automatic pistols exhibiting very little, if any felt recoil.

In 1953 Ruger modernized the Colt Single Action Army pattern with the .22 Single-Six featuring virtually unbreakable coil springs. The finest double-action .22 ever produced, and I will not say arguably, is the Smith & Wesson K-22. It’s still offered today and several different versions are available on the used gun market. This is only the beginning — Browning, Taurus and several others offer high quality .22s.

No Excuses

The only thing not allowed are excuses. If nothing else can be handled, the .22 will still work, and if the eyes refuse to focus on the sights anymore scopes and red dot sights are available. As long as we have the energy to move, and the desire to keep shootin’, it can be accomplished.

Winston Churchill once gave a short speech in which he said: “Never Give In; Never Give In; Never Give In.” His words are still relevant today for us.

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