Sometimes you feel like popping the cork on a fresh bottle of cheap champagne, while letting Duke Ellington and his orchestra supply some Mood Indigo. Other times you feel like falling out of your chair. And then there are those times you have to do both. That's what happened recently when I learned that AMT had announced it had begun production of the .44 Auto Mag Model 180, only in a new incarnation called the AMT .44 Kodiak. For a handgunner, this is really big news.
As an admirer of the original Auto Mag — the illustrious semi-automatics that were designed for big and dangerous game hunting, the precursors to the Desert Eagle and LAR Grizzly — and as one truly baffled by how the concept never caught on, I have to say this seems like a golden opportunity. It’s like getting a chance to step back in time and shake Teddy Roosevelt’s hand. Or take a ride with Donald Douglas in the first commercial flight of a twin-engine DC-3. It puts a person in a sentimental mood, and makes you want to do something spontaneous, like drop $5600 on a new firearm.
There are plenty of things that make the Auto Mag a dreamy proposition for handgunners. The powerful magnum is like a cross between a Colt Python — with its 70s era vented rib, and a Luger – with its deeply-angled handle, which I’d hazard a guess makes it very comfortable to shoot. Its lines are sleek, even by contemporary standards.
It seems there are 400 castings left over from the by-gone days of the AMT Auto Mag Model 180 (were these all stored in someone’s closet all these years?). The company will use 50 of them for R&D, they say, and the rest will be manufactured as new firearms, renamed the .44 AMP Kodiak. There are two versions slated for manufacture: The stainless version with a price tag of $5600 and a parkerized one going for the low, low price of $3100, available fall of 2010 according to the website. I know what you’re thinking: That’s a lot of model 870s. Of course it is, but as one ages, the tool becomes just as important to the overall experience as the final downed game. Besides, you could wear a pinstriped suit to your deer stand, and as long as you have this pistol with you it will make perfect sense.
Now, I don’t mind admitting that I am pontificating somewhat about the Auto Mag pistol, having never pulled the trigger on one or even held one in my hands (complicating this further for me is the inner battle raging in my mind, where Elmer Keith is pistol whipping me with his ivory-gripped Smith & Wesson, and the blows are painful indeed). But, I've also never handled an authentic 1903 Springfield topped with an USMC-marked Unertl scope, either. Maybe my distance from these things is bolstering an unrealistic fantasy, but I'm fairly certain that, should the occasion ever arise, getting my mukluks on either would result in truly happy feelings — like the afterglow one experiences the moment you realize the IRS audit letter in your mailbox was intended for your neighbor, not you.
Introduced in the early 1960s by Harry Sanford, the .44 Auto Mag just never found wide enough market appeal to maintain a viable business, and I don’t know why. There are reports of the pistols not feeding reliably. However, I’m not so sure about those reports — at least I don’t want to believe them; they sure don’t support my Auto Mag fantasy — and yet still for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the .44 Auto Mag went extinct. But just like Spielberg’s movie Jurassic Park, where dinosaur DNA becomes the catalyst for scientists to hatch an island of prehistoric monsters into a nightmarish theme park, the Auto Mag people have resurrected the big bore creation (hopefully with a more cheerful end result) and they did so up in Kodiak, Alaska, a place that is both hellish and beautiful. And thank God it’s Made in the USA, might I add.
It’s also an appropriate headquarters for a semi-auto .44-caliber magnum, a place where a defensive gun use might be foisted upon you by thugs or big brown bears. Down in the lower 48, where people have less menacing critters to deal with, there is a silly debate over whether the 9mm is a smart concealed carry caliber for criminal work. I don’t hear any sounds on that issue coming from Kodiak. As AMT says proudly on their site, “The Auto Mag has never been a production autoloader for punching paper. The Kodiak is no different. The Kodiak is a Bear Killer.”
The Auto Mag won’t be cheap, though. As mentioned above, the $5600 price tag might put this pistol out of reach for all but the most diehard — some say deranged — handgun hunters. If you’ve watched the online firearm auctions and the used markets, you know that original AMT Auto Mag Model 180s are desirable as collectible arms, fetching $3000 and more consistently, and they are very rare indeed. But for the gun owner who simply has to have a classy little slice of firearm history with which to kill big stuff, the AMT Kodiak makes the list. At this time, .44 auto mag ammo availability remains a lingering question mark.
A similar autoloader, the Wildey, built around the proprietary .45 Wildey and .475 Wildey Magnum cartridges, likewise underwent rocky ups and downs — into production with high hopes and suddenly out of business in the next breath. Tough-guy actor Charles Bronson is widely accredited with propelling interest in the Wildey, after he used the hand-canon to blow holes the size of Mack trucks into street thugs in the 1970s vigilante flick Death Wish 3. On the silver screen there are certain moments that get remembered, reflective of that culture. What makes the Bronson movie so amusing is that, ballistically speaking, the .475 Wildey Magnum is designed to de-spine a Cape Buffalo, so its use on a street punk at close range is, to put it mildly, overkill. In similar fashion, the AMT Auto Mag 180, which was built around the only slightly-less impressive .44 Auto Mag cartridge — a rimless .44 magnum — took the idea of righteous violence to new levels in Clint Eastwood's film, Sudden Impact.
According to The Firearms Blog, “Wildey Guns, makers of the gas operated Wildly pistol, appear to have gone out of business sometime within the past year. Their phone has a message saying that they have ‘suspended operations,’ emails sent to them are bouncing and their website was last updated in August of last year.”
I’m sad to hear this, because the Wildey invokes similar emotions to the AMT. But I’m sure I’ll get over it come deer season, just in time to get my hands on one of these new Kodiak .44s. But, given the cost of ammo, the suit may have to wait.