Sunday, July 26, 2009

Riding The Mechanical Bull

I have decided to delve into a dangerous subject: the quality of Taurus firearms. With my personal safety at stake, I've decided to be as judicious as possible and start with full disclosure. My experience with Taurus firearms entails shooting my friend's PT1911, and another friend's dad's Millenium Pro compact 9mm. I do not own a Taurus, but I am open to the idea. Let me explain why riding this particular mechanical bull may lead some into a crisis of conscience. What led me to write this was my experience working with my NG unit at a recruiting event just yesterday. I was talking to a local cop, and when he turned his right side toward me, I saw a two tone Taurus 24/7 Pro (pictured below) .40S&W on his hip. My knee jerk reaction was "Holy crap! He's carrying a Taurus on duty!". I told James of my reaction, and he reminded me that the 24/7 Pro has virtually nothing but stellar reviews. Upon that revelation, I decided to examine my knee jerk reaction in some more detail.

For those of you who haven't been around guns for very long, Taurus has a long and sordid history with its quality control measures. About half the people you talk to in real life either swear by or swear at Taurus handguns. That was especially true when I was shooting handguns competitively in the junior division from roughly 1999 to 2003. Taurus's quality control was famous, or rather, infamous at my local shooting club--but worse, it was a hotly debated subject with both sides viciously defending their view. I was shooting a borrowed Browning Hi-Power, and new to handguns, so I was fairly ambivalent. The only thing I knew was I could come near affording a Taurus PT92 (a copy of Beretta's 92FS) even on my wages from washing dishes at the local college cafeteria.

Fast forward a few years and Taurus's line of handguns has grown, and the debate rages on, though I believe (or would like to) that Taurus has turned a corner, QC wise. What has sparked this hope is that Taurus pushes the envelope in handgun research and development. They also actually listen to their customers and produce new designs based on customer feedback. How novel! One of the new designs is the PT709 Slim (below). It is a single stack 9mm along the same lines as something Kahr might put out, but will be several hundred dollars cheaper than Kahr.

If it proves reliable, the Slim looks like it could be quite a nice concealed carry piece.

But something always pulls me back from buying a Taurus. My only complaint with Taurus is that their low price comes from a generally "adequate" fit and finish. Both Taurus guns I've shot had lots of sharp edges all over the grip and controls. The Millenium Pro I shot had an awful trigger and felt slightly cumbersome in my hand. That said, I could shoot bowling pins with it at 10 yards. My buddy's PT1911 is really quite nice. The problem is that there are odd sharp corners on the backstrap that are not present on my Springfield Armory 1911. Also, the PT1911's ambidextrous safety broke after maybe 200 rounds, and the bluing started wearing off after only a couple of months of normal use for a concealed carry gun. But the trigger is really nice, the sights are fantastic, and it is every last bit as accurate as my Springfield. But it cost less. And if you're worried about the bluing, Taurus offers a stainless model for about $50 more than a blued one.

So what's my conclusion? Well, I don't know. I'm still interested in Taurus pistols. I really want another 1911 but the S&W 1911PD I want as a range toy is about $1000. A similar one from Taurus is about $650. I also can't seem to get enough 9mm pistols, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a PT709 show up in my stable in the future. Though my experience with Taurus has been pretty good, I still can't bring myself to reccomend them as a cheap defensive weapon with the same assuredness I do Ruger's P85 and P90. However, if the stories of Taurus's repentance and transformation are true, they will have my full support (that and 75 cents will get you a USA Today). Taurus continues to draw my curiousity as they continue to ambitiously develop new models. They certainly draw my applause for listening to their customers. I wish others would follow their example in that regard. I guess until I actually own a Taurus, my advice will have to be that you thoroughly research the model you're interested in and maybe shoot one before you buy. Then again, that's good advice for any firearm you buy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The New Arrival

Click to play some 38 Special while you read about my 38 Special.

I took possession of my surplus S&W Model 64-3 tonight. I haven't fired it yet, so this is just a "first look" article.

First of all, it is in FANTASTIC shape, except for the Pachmayr grips which have been crudely modified for someone with slightly smaller hands than my own. No matter. New grips are cheap, and these have plenty of life in them, they're just ugly. The stainless steel of the rest of the gun is in really great condition. There are a few dings and scratches on the right side, but none are deep or really all that noticeable.

The cylinder locks up like a Swiss watch. It has almost no play side to side when the gun is at full lockup (trigger pulled fully to the rear, hammer down as if it just fired). It has no play front to back, which is great. Front to back play is more serious than side to side. Regardless, this one locks up tight. The trigger is heavy and slick, like you'd expect from a DAO revolver.

Overall, I am really liking this gun a great deal. I bought it because, well, it was cheap and I like S&W revolvers. Who doesn't need another .38 Special anyway? Sure, the .357 Mag walks away from it, power wise, but the good old .38 is a great deal of fun to plink with and is a great soft shooter for training new shooters. Handling this thing makes me want to go back to the pistol matches I enjoyed so much in high school. Shooting in the revolver class is pretty cheap if you load your own ammo (which I do). I can't wait to get this thing back where it belongs: on the range.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Maths and Myths

I've taken load data from the Hogdon Reloading Data Center and used it to produce a list of calibers and their estimated muzzle energy in ft/lbs. I used the highest velocity listed for what I consider the most common bullet weight (in grains) for each caliber. The formula for calculating muzzle energy is: (weight x velocity squared)/450450=engergy in ft/lbs [which is a constant for a projectile fired on Earth--not sure where it comes from but that's what it says in my Lee reloading manual.] A note on bullet types: JFP=Jacketed Flat Point; JHP= Jacketed Hollow Point; FMJ= Full Metal Jacket; LSWC= Lead Semi-Wadcutter; JSP= Jacketed Soft Point; LRN= Lead Round Nose.

Now, a word on muzzle energy. Do not choose a caliber solely on muzzle energy. Target penetration, expansion, and (above all) shot placement determine how effective a caliber is for self defense. The FBI determined that a round must penetrate at least 12" in ballistics gel to be able to penetrate deep enough to disturb vital organs. I do not have that data here, but it is available with a little Google-fu. A saying that I find the most helpful when discussing self defense is this "Knockdown power = where you hit and how many times you hit it!". I find the concept of a "one shot stop" to be more than a bit specious.

Here we go:
22LR (from handgun) 40gr LRN @ 1000fps=88ft/lbs

380 ACP 95gr FMJ @ 937fps=185ft/lbs

38 Special 158gr LSWC @ 865fps=262ft/lbs

9x19mm 124gr FMJ @ 1115fps=342ft/lbs

40S&W 180gr JFP@ 1009fps=406ft/lbs

45ACP 230gr FMJ @ 890fps=411ft/lbs

357 Mag 158gr JHP @ 1591fps=887ft/lbs

44 Mag 240gr JHP @ 1522=1234ft/lbs

454 Casull 300gr JHP @ 1716fps=1961ft/lbs

500S&W Magnum 400gr JSP @ 1721fps=2630ft/lbs

So what? Well, I threw in the .22LR as a way of pointing out why I say .380ACP is the BARE MINIMUM I can suggest for concealed carry or self defense. The .22LR has killed people. Probably lots of them. But I still can't suggest it in good conscience. I threw in the .454 Casull and .500 S&W Magnum for the purpose of being absolutely absurd, and to point out a point of diminishing returns. Yes, the .500 and .454 have HUGE amounts of power, but trying to apply that power quickly and efficiently is a task that even master pistoleers find difficult. You are better off sticking between .380ACP and 44 Mag, really most people can stick with the .357, but if you live in a state with bears, your .44 could do double duty as a concealed carry piece and as a trail gun. The .454 and .500 mag are truly shocking in the amount of power you get on tap.

As an aside, I had the chance to fire my hetero-lifepartner's Ruger Alaskan in .454 Casull. I can honestly say it was the only time I've found the amount of recoil from a handgun distracting. I've shot a couple of .44mags, and while they were impressive, the .454 is in a whole different class. I'd advise new shooters to avoid this cartridge as a first or maybe even second handgun. If you don't have at least a decent form, it will make you pay. Don't fear it, but don't take it lightly either.

But back on task, I think we can all see that the eternal debate of "9mm vs. 40S&W vs. 45 ACP" is a fairly worthless argument. The only meaningful difference is the bore diameter. While I am a dyed-in-the-wool 9mm fan, I will readily admit that a larger wound channel is always better than a smaller one. That said, I've seen ballistics gel tests that showed Winchester Ranger hollowpoint ammunition in all three calibers. They all penetrated about 13" and expanded up to the standard "caliber and a half". That means the 9mm ended up at about .53", the .40 at about .60", and the .45 at about .68" respectively. So the argument ends. Buy the one you like the best and shoot the best.

Now for the low end of the power spectrum, the .380 and .38spl. There is a pretty heated debate about shooting full metal jackets vs. hollowpoints in each caliber. The FMJ guys claim that you should rely on shot placement and the superior penetration of the FMJ bullet. The HP guys claim that the larger wound channel of the HP will bring the threat down faster, provided they hit the vitals squarely and have enough energy to penetrate deeply enough. One load for the .38spl that both sides tend to agree on is the "FBI Load" from Federal. The .380ACP has a number of decent JHP loads available, and if your .380 feeds them, I think they're the better way to go. Either way, both of these calibers require a high degree of accuracy to be used in defense. Then again, accuracy is always key, even if you have an Smith & Wesson X Frame chambered in .500 S&W Magnum. Shot placement is king, and penetration is queen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Props to J&G Sales

I ordered my S&W Model 64 (square butt, very good condition) from J&G sales at 11:29AM central time. I got an update via email at 6:09PM central time stating that my order had shipped (2nd day air, per federal law regarding the shipping of handguns).

All too often we hear horror stories about retailers, so I thought I'd buck the trend and give some props to a retailer who has supplied me with three firearms so far. Way to go, J&G, keep up the good work.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oh Yes, She Will Be Mine...

To the right, you will see several variants of the S&W Model 64 chambered in .38 Special. These guns have had their hammers bobbed and converted to "double-action only" (or DAO). They were carried for decades by brave policemen around the country. Now they are retired and are sitting in surplus waiting for good homes.

J&G sales currently has a bunch of them in stock in various condition and trim levels, none of which cost more than $300. They may have some wear on their finish or grips, but they should still be fantastic shooters. Being police guns, they should have been taken care of reasonably well, and fired only a few times a year for qualification.

I am a huge fan of S&W revolvers, and really love this old school stuff. I think these are beautiful old guns, and they're just about giving them away now. I will be placing my order before the week is out. I can't wait to adopt one of these old public servants and give it a good home where it can live out its retirement with other under-appreciated old school firearms. I urge you to consider doing the same.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where To Save Money (And Where To Spend It)

In these rough times, a gun nut needs to know how to gear up for concealed carry or self-defense without breaking the bank. But there are places where you shouldn't skimp. Here's the short list:

1. The gun!
You don't have to spend $1000+ on a new 1911A1 with all the trimmings, or a shiny new Sig. But you also don't need to take chances with shady names like Bersa, Taurus, and Hi-Point. (Please, no angry "I have a Taurus/Bersa/Hi-Point model X that has never malfunctioned etc" emails or comments. For every one of those I get, I'll get another that says "Amen, I had a Taurus/Bersa/Hi-Point model X that went back to the factory/gunsmith five times and never worked right". I've heard it all, save both of our time.) Instead, look for police trade-ins, second hand Glocks, Sigs, Berettas, or other big-name trade-ins. Also, you can get a S&W M&P-series pistol for $550 or so if you look long enough. Glocks are still around $500 in my neck of the woods, and most Ruger double action six-shooters and their full line of semi-autos come in under $500 new. Some older Rugers can be had for under $400 new. Keep your eyes peeled, and don't rush into a purchase.

As for long guns, most any flavor of pump-action 12 gage shotgun from Mossberg, Remington, and Benelli will be under $400 new, and a very good used one can be had for much less. Military surplus rifles are also usually a bargain if you aren't afraid to do some light gunsmithing/woodworking. If you know what you're looking for, a pawn shop can be quite a gold mine also.

2. Defensive Ammunition.
Your self-defense ammo should be reliable and proven. It doesn't necessarily have to be expensive though. For handguns, the CCI-Speer Gold Dot, Federal Hydra-shok, and Remington Golden Saber ammunition in most any caliber can be trusted. Stay away from Extreme Shock, DRT, and other ammo that costs ridiculous amounts of money and has pictures of ninjas or bikini babes on the box. For rifles, a good jacketed soft point makes a lot of sense. Most any major brand will do. With the shotgun, go with the biggest bite you can get away with, and once again make sure it's from a decent maker (Nobel, Centurian, Federal, Remington, Winchester, Fiocci,etc.).

3. Holsters.
Once again, you don't have to spend a bloody fortune for a good one, but make sure you get a *decent* one. Concealed carry holsters should be very carefully thought out (how, where, and what position will you carry?) and a one-size-fits-all holster probably isn't going to get it done properly. General or rough duty holsters can be one-size-fits-most and you can get away with it. I use a heavy canvas molle-loop enabled holster that came free with my tac vest. It is blocky and cumbersome, but it holds my AR-24 or 1911 high and firm and holds on tight to them when I'm out stomping around the farm. Good leather and good plastic will cost you money, but you'll probably be happier than if you cheap out on them. A bit of forethought goes a long way with holster selection.

Now, places where you can skimp a bit or just invest wisely to save in the long run.

1. Sub-caliber adapters.
I have .22LR adapters for both my 1911A1 and my AR-15. The adapter kits themselves both cost about $200 each, but consider that 500 rounds of .223 Remington (for the AR) costs about $280, while 500 rounds of .22LR costs about $15. Shoot one bulk-pack of .22 and it has paid for itself. Meanwhile, you keep practicing with the same mag pouches, same holster, and same gun. All that changes is the recoil pulse and the cost of training.

2. Range Ammo.
In contrast to defensive ammo, range ammo does not have to be quite as reliable, nor does the bullet have to do anything special. Thus, full metal jacket bulk ammunition is cheaper than defensive ammo. It used to be just plain cheap, but then Barry O got elected and a buying frenzy ensued. Prices probably won't fall for a while yet, so you may want to look at option #1 unless you have a bigger budget than me (and if you aren't a homeless person, you probably do).

3. Snap Caps
If you don't have money to blow on ammo, then spend less than $20 on a set or two of snap caps and do as many dry fire drills as you can. You can practice most anything with these, to include drawing and firing, reload, unload, clear a malfunction, and plain old trigger control (trigger control is 99% of pistol shooting!). Why not make a minor investment for a major payoff?

Shooting is getting expensive enough that it might make you want to throw up your hands and just blow your money on gold chains and a gym membership. But worry not. With a bit of forethought and careful investment, you can afford to keep shooting or at least keep sharpening your skills.

How To Win A Gun Fight Part II: Go Long.

In a gun fight? Want to win? Pay attention to how the James-Younger gang was defeated in Northfield, Minnesota on September 7, 1876 (citation, full article here).

The James-Younger gang cased Northfield before hitting the bank there. The gang was mainly armed with six-shot revolvers, which were in reality only five-shot revolvers because the firing mechanism of the day did not allow the user to carry the hammer down on a live cartridge. To this day, cowboy-action shooters only load five for safety, though new Ruger cowboy gun clones have safer frame-mounted firing pins and transfer bars.

Back on point, the gang members had maybe two or three handguns, which only held five shots and were painfully slow to reload (the Schofield style revolvers were faster to reload though). When the gang actually entered the bank, a teller refused to open the safe and was killed for his trouble. The residents rather resented the attempted robbery and cold-blooded murder, so they went on the offensive. But not with handguns.

One A.R. Manning used a single shot rifle to kill a horse (why not?), wound Cole Younger, and kill William Chadwell. Henry Wheeler grabbed "an old army carbine" (likely a Sharps single shot carbine) wounded Bob Younger, and killed Clell Miller. The residents finished the fight by dispatching possies which in total numbered around 2000 men.

William Chadwell (left) and Clell Miller (right) "pose" for their last photos. Note the solid heart shot on Chadwell, and the hole in the top of Miller's head. Those Minnesota farmers could shoot, eh?

The James and Younger brothers were deadly with their handguns, so why were they trounced by a bunch of farmers and businessmen? Well, the reasons are many, but two big points come to mind: 1) The rifle is MUCH more powerful than any handgun. Even today, the hyper-magnum revolvers only nudge into light or medium rifle muzzle energy. And in my opinion, they are still slower and less accurate than a rifle from most practical positions. 2) Rifles are easier to shoot at distance than handguns. While they aren't necessarily *easy* to shoot, a mediocre rifleman should be able to make hits at much longer ranges than an above average pistolero. Considering ballistics of the day, a rifle could be expected to make hits (in the hands of your average citizen) at 200 yards or better. A long-barreled revolver of the day, in the hands of a skilled marksman (say, Wild Bill Hickok) could kill a man at up to 75 yards with a carefully (NOT under fire) aimed shot. Add in the stress of a battle, a bucking horse, and a dirty bore, and maybe we should reel that range back in to 15 or 25 yards.

So, conservatively (and that's the way I prefer to do things...), the kind folks of Northfield had nearly double the range of the James-Younger boys, and their rifles hit with more authority. In short, the armed citizens who responded to the robbery gave themselves every advantage. Only a fool would go toe-to-toe with a professional gunslinger. However, an accomplished rifleman would stand a chance if he fought his fight--with aimed fire at distance. The point? When you can do so, go for the long gun. Never fight fair!

I should add that while this article focuses on the rifle, the shotgun is also quite an awesome tool for repelling robbers--particularly for urbanites who need to be concerned with over-penetration. I use steel BB shot (brand doesn't matter much to me, but I like Winchester and Federal) in my 12ga Benelli Nova when in the city, and Centurion Multi-Defense or whatever 00 buckshot I can find cheap when I'm in the country. I sometimes load slugs if I think big mean nasties are in the 'hood (cougars, coyotes, escaped prisoners, insurance salesmen, Jehova's Witnesses, etc.). The shotgun is, in my opinion, the most versatile tool available to civilians. It can be loaded for anything, mouse to moose, is easy to use, and can be quite accurate out to 100 yards.

Now, I know that there will be some situations where you may not have the opportunity to grab a shotgun or rifle. Say you get mugged in the mall parking lot. Well, as nice as it would be to have your AR-15, you'll probably have to settle for your pistol (in my case, an M&P9C). While it's true that "you fight with what you have", I think it is also wise to choose the long gun if the chance presents itself. If you can, go long.