When Less Is More

Well-Aged Reflections On A Shooting Life

S&W’s .380 Shield EZ: Easy to work, easy to rack, just what the doctor ordered!

“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 nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school. And then the lover, sighing like a 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 slippered pantaloon, 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.” —William Shakespeare, (As You Like It)

I was first introduced to Shakespeare in the 9th grade. Nothing he said struck me as much as this and is, in fact, the only thing I remember. I hoped against hope his seven ages were just a figment of his imagination. Unfortunately, as my life passed I saw the truth of it. I’ve entered the “seventh age”! As my body has grown older, my mind has certainly grown younger. This causes a powerful never-ending struggle between the two. I’ve escaped having no teeth, I can still see well, everything I like tastes too good.

It was several years ago when I slid headlong out of my invincible period right into my fragile time. Everything changes. It’s inevitable.

John’s probably sent more heavy sixgun loads downrange than anyone. Now, he likes his
.44 Mag Blackhawk stoked with kinder, gentler options.

Powering Up

When it comes to firearms I started out the right way with .22’s — a Marlin Mountie 39A levergun was followed very closely by a Ruger Single-Six. I learned to shoot with these. Just about the time I was a high-school senior, Ruger introduced their Blackhawk. For me the .357 Blackhawk came first followed by the .44 Magnum Blackhawk a year later. My Single-Six taught me how to shoot. My .357 Magnum taught me reloading, and my .44 Magnum eventually taught me how to handle big-bore sixguns.

It was definitely a long learning curve. The only thing I regret about purchasing the Ruger .44 Mag during the winter of 1956-1957 was my passing up an engraved Colt Single Action Army .45. The Ruger cost $96 — a lot more than two weeks’ take-home pay at the time, while the Colt was up at $150 and I foolishly deemed this too much to pay.

Over the passing decades I not only learned to shoot the .44 Ruger. I also added Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums, more Ruger .44 Magnums and then the floodgates opened. I was soon shooting the .500 Linebaugh, the .454 Casull, the .475 Linebaugh, the .50 Action Express, the .445 SuperMag, .475 Linebaugh Long, the .500 Linebaugh Long, the .500 Wyoming Express, the .480 Ruger and the .500 Smith & Wesson.

Along with these came a long list of heavy-kickin’ Contenders starting at .45-70 and going up. More than 30 years ago I spent a whole day shooting 800 rounds of .454 Casull. Now I only shoot the .454 when necessary, with my last elk and bison taken in 2014 with a Ruger Super Redhawk so chambered.

I don’t know how many thousands of heavy full-house big-bore rounds I have loaded since I started handloading in the mid-1950s, however, I do know virtually everything was loaded “full house,” beginning with Elmer Keith’s loads for the .44 Special, .45 Colt and .44 Magnum.

One pleasure of getting older is rediscovering the joys of a good .22 rifle
— like John’s old Marlin 39!

Powering Down

But that was then and this is now. Today I like to load this trio to a much more easy shooting 750-850 fps. They kill tin cans and punch paper with the best of them and serve exceptionally well as EDC loads.

A few years ago I contacted Buffalo Bore and DoubleTap to see if they could fulfill the request from several readers for lower recoil .45 ACP loads. Both of them did and now offer gentler alternatives.

But I went one step further and — using an alloy frame Colt 1911 — I reduced the recoil spring poundage to the point where it allowed much easier slide operation while still being 100 percent reliable. And this brings us right now to what may well be the Perfect Pocket Pistol for those who are enjoying life in Shakespeare’s “Seventh Stage.” Or for anyone who has trouble operating the slide on a semi-auto pistol.

Smith & Wesson’s .380 Shield EZ (EZ stands for exactly what it sounds like) is the perfect answer for those of us who may have trouble racking a slide. They have managed to combine total reliability with ease of manipulation. And S&W didn’t stop there; they also made loading the magazine equally easy. This little M&P is also chambered in .380 to make it as easy to shoot as it is easy to chamber a round. It also has an excellent grip safety — hinged at the bottom making it easier to depress.

But life is full of trade-offs and this is no exception. To come up with all these positive features, this .380 Shield is actually slightly larger than the 9mm version. But there’s more positive than negative here as it further lessens .380 felt recoil.

Smith & Wesson offers two models, one with an ambidextrous thumb safety and one without. I went with the first version simply because it is what my local gun shop, Buckhorn, had in stock. The thumb safety isn’t absolutely necessary, however, I like having this option — especially so with a semi-auto that may be carried in my jacket pocket, a backpack or Diamond Dot’s purse. A reader recently contacted me and was concerned about having the thumb safety on a pistol for his wife as when she needed the .380 for self-defense protection she might forget to take off the safety. My answer was training. Spend enough time training so flipping off the thumb safety becomes second nature.

I’m not quite at the stage yet where I need a slide that works this easily, however, I can see it coming; it’s simply a matter of time. Everything changes; we absolutely cannot avoid the inevitable.

Two weeks before I wrote this column, I began my 80th year and one thing I find is my hands growing more and more tender. If you find yours are growing weaker — or you have someone in your family who has a weak grip — this latest .380 Shield could very well be the answer. By taking the “EZ route,” Smith & Wesson has gone against the long-established grain of making everything smaller and lighter.

But many of us older shooters will reap the benefits.

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