Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ruger's New Blackhawk: Fun Incarnate

I picked up my Blackhawk last week. It's got a 7 1/2" barrel and is chambered for the ancient .45 Colt (aka .45 Long Colt). I loaded up 100 rounds of .45 colt in Starline nickel plated brass(seen above) and topped 50 with Magtech 250 grain LRNFP's and the other 50 with Speer 200gr SWC--both cast lead bullets. I used WW231 powder (I don't publish my load data for CYA reasons, sorry) and CCI Large Pistol primers. I loaded my own ammo because .45 Colt ammo off the store shelf is absurdly expensive. Twenty rounds of plain old plinking ammo will run you about $17.50. I loaded all 100 of my rounds for about $40. Re-using my brass, the next 100 will cost about $18--about the same as 100 rounds of 9mm bulk ammo. If you're going to shoot .45 Colt and you aren't made of money, a reloading press may serve you well.

I took the old smokewagon out to my dad's farm for a thorough workout. I shot a bad-guy silhouette and didn't keep careful track of my groups. I will sit down and do a serious accuracy workout before I head back to college (I hope). I could make head shots from 35 yards when resting over the hood of my truck. From 25 yards or less and using a one-handed hold, the torso was an easy target. I shot a good number of "X"s once I got my grip figured out. I managed to pick off an unlucky sparrow from about 20 yards using a two-hand hold. I apologise again for not getting solid group sizes or doing any serious testing. It took about three cylinders of ammo to figure out that this gun requires a firm grip to keep the muzzle from diving when that massive hammer comes crashing down on the firing pin. Also, the trigger was a bit heavy. Very clean and crisp, but heavy. The revolver itself points very naturally and I think it is better used with a one-hand grip inside 25 yards. Provided you aren't trying to kill sparrows, that is.

The sights are big and blocky, which is nice because this revolver is capable of pretty amazing accuracy. My only complaint is that the front blade disappears in the glare of the sun. I'm heading out to the hobby shop to pick up some burnt orange paint for it. That should cure the glare and give me a clearer sight picture.

The trigger could use a little work, but is very capable right out of the box. I ordered a Wilson Combat reduced power spring kit to reduce the hammer's "nose dive" effect. Also, the checkering on the grips is a bit rough on your bare hands when it's cold out. With gloves on, the deep checkering really gives you some purchase on the grip. With bare hands and a 30mph crosswind on a 25 degree day, it is painful. No problem because I'm going to dress it up with some black pearlite grips from MidwayUSA.

On the tangible side of things, the Blackhawk is rugged, simple, accurate, and darn near cheap. I was out the door for $422 and change. Rugers are notorious for being overbuilt and tough. The Blackhawk takes that to the extreme. As proof, check out this article by the legendary John Linebaugh. I would feel perfectly comfortable with the Blackhawk at my side as a woods companion. Double action revolvers are faster to shoot, unload and reload. Semi-auto pistols are faster yet. However, as a hunting piece or an insurance policy while checking the back forty, a single action revolver chambered for a powerful cartridge will do just fine. It's also quite a bit of fun on the range.

Now for the intangibles. I love this revolver. It is slow to fire. It is slow to load. It is even slower to unload. But I don't care. It is just a hoot to fire. It has enough recoil to be fun, but without beating on you. It's easy to shoot accurately, and almost impossible for me to put down. I brought my M&P15 and three magazines with me to the range, but I just couldn't put the old single action revolver down! I fired off 48 rounds before I realized it. I was trying to pace myself and try to objectively measure the difference in recoil between the 200 grain SWCs and the 250 grain LRNFPs. I can't tell you because I was too busy enjoying myself while firing bullets the size of ashtrays into the forehead of my bad-guy silhouette. For a few minutes, I was the man who shot Liberty Valance. I was Rooster Cogburn. I was the Man with No Name. I was the Flatland Gun Nut, enjoying myself immensely.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Rant From the Gun Nut

Anyone else out there into single action revolvers? I just got the bug. Well, I got the bug a few years ago. I got the money recently. I'd like a Blackhawk in .45 Colt with a big, cheesy leather rig-- but not because I want to dress up like a cowboy and enter a contest under the pseudonym of "Buckshot Houghton". Single action revolvers look stupid in sleek, modern, plastic holsters. And here we find the source of my rant:

Why isn't there a club for normal folks who just enjoy shooting a single action revolver? I used to shoot IDPA matches as a teenager. I borrowed a Browning Hi-Power from a friend's mom, and held my own against fat old men with 1911s in .45ACP. Of course, I got beaten soundly by men who could've been my grandfather. Men who could reload a S&W 625 faster than I could reload my borrowed Hi-Power. I don't want to take a single action Blackhawk to an IDPA or IPSC revolver class match. There'd be no point. The scoring is based on speed and accuracy. Well, a Blackhawk is really only good at one of those. Reloading anything with a loading gate is next to impossible to do quickly. In short, all I could do is shoot "fun" class matches. My score would be utterly useless, and there'd be no competition.

I don't want to shoot my Blackhawk in competition THAT bad....

My other choice is no better: Dress up like a cowboy and get beaten by fat old men dressed like cowboys. The kind of men who won't listen to Roy Orbison because he's "too new wave-ish". If I'm going to be beaten in a pistol match (which is the most likely outcome), I'd rather not be wearing a silly costume while I get beat by a fat old man in an equally silly costume. Isn't there a club out there for people like me? Honest, hard-working young men who want to enjoy a simpler kind of shooting, not to mention some friendly competition--without playing dress up at the same time?

Before I receive literally a handful of irate e-mails from SASS members, please hear me out. Your pastime is just fine. Dressing up is not for me. If you enjoy it, by all means, go for it. I am only lamenting that SASS is the only club where a Blackhawk wouldn't get smoked by the competition. I want to compete, but I'd rather not dress up while I do so.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Self Defense on a Budget

The P89

I went out shooting with a friend of a friend who let me shoot his Ruger P89 9mm. What shocked me is that he claimed he bought it second hand for $250! After a little research, I found the darn things for just over $380 new. Ruger lists this particular model as "discontinued", but they can still be had new for cheap, and second hand for a song. Even better, they shoot straight and have a reputation for anvil-like reliability.

I've shot the P-90 .45ACP a few times, and put a number of rounds through the P98 9mm. Both were DA/SA triggers with a decocker safety. The DA pull was heavy, but smooth. Not bad, and certainly more than I expected in a "cheap" autoloader. The SA pull had a long take-up (like a two-stage trigger) but broke light and clean. Both were accurate. I shot the 9mm at 30 yards and kept all 10 rounds in about 6" standing unsupported. Pretty respectable, and I was clearly the limiting factor in the "test".

The KP345

So what? Well, Ruger pistols are built like tanks. Sure, they're a little clunky, and if you're tall and skinny like me, they're hard to conceal. However, if you want a defensive piece, or just a fun "full size" plinker but don't have much cash, you should look at the Ruger P-series. They can be had in 9mm, 40 S&W, and 45ACP. Even newer models like the KP345 can be had for about $450 new. No need to sacrifice quality to save money.

A lot of folks who are new to shooting tend to go cheap on their first purchase or two. Fine, if you're getting a range toy. Not fine if you're going to stake your life on it. I've been asked a lot lately what pistol a guy can get into for not much money. I can recommend the Ruger P-series with a clean conscience. If you're lookin' but strapped for cash, look no further.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shooting the Mosin Nagant 91/30

Some of you may recall that I picked up an Izhevsk arsenal Mosin Nagant 91/30. Well, I had a chance to put some Bulgarian surplus ammo through it a couple of weekends ago, and with good effect. Quite good, in fact.

I hung up a target on that tree and fired from 50 yards. Mostly from standing, a few prone, and a few kneeling. My wife also shot it and enjoyed it. 31 rounds later, the tree gave in. Fun Fact: those Bulgarian steel core rounds will penetrate an awful lot without destabilizing (steel doesn't expand like lead will. It only changes shape if hit by something awfully hard.)

I picked up a few pointers about handling the rifle and made some useful observations.
First, it takes about twenty rounds fired quickly to heat this thing up. And it gets HOT. However, if you leave the bolt open and set it aside for about five minutes, it's cool enough to shoot again.

Second, It takes a heavy hand to manipulate the bolt. Mine was a little sticky because there was some cosmoline in the chamber, but I've since cleaned most of it out. Even when clean, it takes a distinct effort to operate the bolt. Don't be afraid to do so.

Third, this thing is really easy to use with big, bulky gloves on. It gets cold in Russia, and the designers obviously had that in mind when they made it. The controls are big and clunky. Not a good recipe for a precision rifle, but plenty for a deer-snuffer or defeating the NAZIs.

The Mosin-Nagant was built to last, period. It is not as refined as a contemporary Mauser, and can't hold a candle to modern bolt actions for accuracy and slickness of the action. However, my rifle is 64 years old and works fine. I'd guess that in 64 more years it will still work fine. It is nothing but wood, iron, and testosterone.

To tell a dirty little secret, this is the most fun gun I own. And I have a lot of cool stuff. Part of it is that this rifle cost $107 after tax. 770 rounds bought online cost me about $120 shipped to my door. It is a medium bore rifle that I can afford to shoot!