The Revolvers of Tiger McKee

Hop on the Chopper
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The Chopper, an S&W Model 66, as re-imagined by Tiger McKee of Shootrite Academy.

The big white dot of the front sight centers on the target as your finger rolls the trigger back, so smoothly it feels like an oiled ball bearing. The recoil of the .357 Magnum round is more reassuring than painful and the stippled grip doesn’t move inside your grasp at all as the trigger slides smoothly back forward, the white ball already centered again on the shot group forming downrange.

You are shooting a “Chopper,” a sweet Smith & Wesson revolver made all the sweeter by the ministrations of one Tiger McKee.

If you’re well acquainted with the handgun world, you already know the name. Tiger McKee is a world-recognized authority on defensive shooting, as evidenced by the fact he writes the Tactics & Training column for this magazine’s sister publication, American Handgunner. He earned his fame with two classic guns of his generation, the 1911 .45 pistol and the AR15 rifle, but admits to a love for revolvers. For a number of reasons, he thinks they’re good choices for armed citizen carry — and he improves them.

Muzzle re-shaped and counterbored. Note protective sight wings.

Meet The Test Gun

The Chopper featured here is one of a pair he built for Roger Caudle, a regular customer who already owns two or three McKee revolvers. It began as a Model 66-1 from the good ol’ days before internal locks, with a 2.5″ barrel and S&W’s micrometer adjustable sight. It looks a lot different now.

Tiger explains, “I started out taking square butt, 4″ barrel K-Frame revolvers and turning them into the 3″ round butt configuration everyone wants now and can’t find. That left the ‘Smith & Wesson’ designation on the left side of the barrel and the caliber designation on the other side no longer centered, and I wound up milling the sides of the barrel flat. That solved the aesthetic issue, and also seemed to improve the balance of the gun. The balance element is the reason I do it on guns that are already the desired barrel length.”

This Chopper has distinctive sights. Tiger added an XS Big Dot front with tritium dot in the front, and the big, rugged fixed rear sight Cylinder & Slide Inc. makes to replace factory S&W adjustable sights. The humongous front sight is flanked by thin steel protective wings. The reshaped barrel is pleasantly sculpted, its muzzle re-crowned for accuracy and counter-bored for protection. Tiger has made this 66 a “triple lock” with a spring-loaded ball bearing on the crane, giving the Chopper a three-point cylinder lockup. Tiger does a “melt” rounding of all sharp edges on the revolver. The backstrap of the grip-frame is lightly stippled and so are the Hideout grips from Brownells. The most expensive and time-consuming part of the full Chopper job, Tiger says, is reshaping and narrowing the trigger guard to allow faster access by the index finger. The gun is finished in Gun Kote, this sample being Magpul FDE for the frame and Magpul Stealth Gray for trigger, hammer, cylinder and traditional style cylinder release.

Another nice touch — the front edges of the cylinder are chamfered, allowing for smoother re-holstering: an important and often overlooked subtlety.

Which leaves the trigger work. Ah, the trigger work …

Added lock on yoke, unique barrel treatment are seen here.

CCI Lawman .38 +P gave us our best group with the Chopper.

The Chopper in Action

Externally, he radiuses and polishes the trigger itself (“For fighting, not target shooting,” as he puts it), and bobs the hammer. Tiger explains, “All metal-to-metal contact points are honed and polished. I’ve had a lot of people help me learn to tune one, like Roy Huntington. Correct tolerances are critical. The springs are Wolff. I use their standard hammer spring — a little lighter than factory but still giving positive ignition even with the hardest primers. I put in a 14-lb. rebound spring for faster trigger return.”

On the Chopper’s first of many range runs, I invited along Alan Davis and his son Owen. Alan is a many-time Stock Service Revolver division champion in major IDPA matches, and his first reaction to pulling the Chopper’s trigger was “Ooh. This is nice!”

My sentiments exactly. The trigger is hospitable to the finger, reset is indeed fast and the DA pull runs around 10 lbs. but feels a lot less because it’s so smoo-ooth. Like J.H. Fitzgerald, the legendary Colt guy who created the famed Fitz Special, Tiger leaves the bobbed hammer’s single action capability in place — sub-3 lbs. — for the customer who thinks he just might one day need a crisp short pull for a precision shot. You start the trigger back until enough of the stubbed hammer has risen for the support hand thumb to catch it, or he’ll make it double-action only, your choice.

We found ourselves shooting way low putting the Big Dot all the way into the U-notch of the rear sight, “ball in basket,” the way we shoot S&W Nightguards and 340 M&Ps so equipped. With the front sight up higher, we were on target, and Owen was soon going six for six on the falling plates. A call to Tiger elicited the info this particular customer preferred a sight picture with the Big Dot up out of the notch and the tritium dot level with the top edge of the rear sight. Two lessons: Don’t trust the other guy’s sights ’til you’ve shot the gun, and — Tiger McKee will make your gun exactly the way you want it.

The work ain’t cheap, but it’s so much in demand he has a four- to six-month wait time. From what I saw and felt shooting it, it’s worth the wait! You can reach Tiger McKee to discuss what you want through Shootrite.org or write him at Shootrite, 98 Lois Lane, Langston, Ala. 35755.

Cylinder-Slide.com

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