The time-tested M1917 is still a sweet shooter, even 100 years on. But in many case the rifle will need work, particularly its barrel, to get on target.
M1917s are 100 or more years old now. Nevertheless, they’re still sought after by collectors and people who like to shoot old guns.
But M1917s sometimes need repair, and finding the right gunsmith to do the job can be difficult. Somewhat common problems with old guns are barrel wear and corrosion. Age and neglect, especially on a gun that was built when corrosive ammunition was all that was available, often result in a gun that has a pitted barrel and is not accurate.
But sometimes, even if the barrel is not corroded or pitted, the gun has been shot so much that the headspace has increased to a point that repairs are needed for safety—or just to make the gun fire. That’s the case with the sample gun used for this review of the M1917.
The gun’s barrel was made by High Standard Manufacturing sometime during World War II and replaced the original barrel installed by Remington in 1918. While the replacement barrel still had sharp rifling and a bright bore, the chamber dimensions had increased, probably from firing many rounds, to the point that not all ammunition would fire. A check with chamber gauges showed that the headspace was greater than specifications. The bolt wouldn’t close on a field gauge but would close on a go-/no-go gauge, indicating that the chamber was close to being oversized … although it might still be safe.
The fix was to either install a new barrel or screw the existing barrel in toward the receiver one additional turn. Then, using a chamber reamer, cut the chamber to proper dimensions.
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The M1917 has a reputation for the barrel being extremely tight in the receiver and very hard to turn. Either the barrel won’t budge, even with a great amount of force applied, or the receiver cracks when enough force is applied to turn the barrel. And a cracked receiver is ruined.
The challenge was finding a gunsmith willing to work on the barrel of an M1917—and who had the skill to do it correctly. I consulted a number of gunsmiths, and finally, one who had the experience and tools to do it successfully agreed to take on this project.
This issue didn’t faze Bobby Tyler of Tyler Gun Works (Friona, Texas). When the problem was posed to him, his immediate response was for me to send him the gun. It seems Tyler really likes a challenge, and if another gunsmith can’t do the work, Tyler wants the job even more.
He built a fixture to properly support the receiver and used a very long bar for the leverage to turn the barrel. The price and turnaround time were reasonable, and the gun now works perfectly, igniting every .30-06 cartridge tried. It was important to save the High Standard barrel, and it looks just as it did before Tyler worked on it.
Tyler is also a specialist with metal finishes and is particularly good at color case-hardening.
The M1917 Enfield, or the “American Enfield”, was used in larger numbers than the official U.S. service rifle of the Great War. Today, it still a sweet shooter.
How Did The Unique M1917 Make It Into U.S. Service:
The rifle was issued and carried by more U.S. servicemen in WWI than the M1903 Springfield.
It is an American modification, chambered .30-06 Springfield, of the Pattern 1914 Enfield.
The rifles were used due to a lack of M1903 and Krag service rifles.
They were made by Winchester Repeating Arms Co., Remington Arms Company and the Eddystone Rifle Plant.
Its official designation was the “U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30 M1917,” but it was also known as the “Enfield” or “P-17”—both of which are technically incorrect (although many attached those nicknames to it).
The term, “P-17,” was most likely coined by workers at Remington, Winchester and Eddystone, which were previously contracted to manufacture the P-14, Great Britain’s replacement for the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE). To differentiate these two very similar guns, the P-17 name came into unofficial use. “Enfield” most likely surfaced because it rolled off a soldier’s tongue easier than M1917 and because the P-14 on which it was based was designed by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock in England.
No Love Lost
Regardless of what it was called, it was issued to, and carried by, more U.S. servicemen than the official U.S. military rifle—the M1903 Springfield—during that time period. And, many in the military didn’t like it much, preferring the Springfield.
For one thing, the M1903 had a sleeker look. It also had a windage-adjustable rear sight, making it easier to zero (although some would argue that the M1917’s rear sight was tougher, as was the front sight; both were protected by robust wings, or ears, to prevent dings or damage by rough handling in combat conditions). In addition, it just didn’t seem right to many Americans that this foreign-designed rifle—which finished cocking upon closing the bolt, unlike that of the M1903 that cocked when the bolt handle was lifted to open it—be used by American forces.(Actually, the M1917’s dual-locking lug bolt’s striker partially cocked on opening the bolt. It then completed the cocking process when the bolt was closed.)
Nevertheless, even with all the criticism, the M1917 served well. It was also the tool that saved many U.S. soldiers’ lives and took the lives of many of the enemy. And, after use and experience with the gun, many doughboys stopped complaining.
M1917 Chain of Events
Originally, it was never intended for the British-designed rifle to be used by American forces, but circumstances resulted in the gun being used in far greater numbers than the M1903. Reports vary as to exact numbers, but it’s estimated that three out of four rifles used by American forces in Europe were M1917s.
The chain of events began when the British, in an effort to replace the SMLE as their main service rifle, began developing the Pattern 13 (P-13) rifle early in the 20th century and chambered it in a cartridge of .276 caliber—actually, .282 inch. But when the Great War started, Britain’s Select Committee decided to alter the P-13 to chamber the .303 British cartridge, which was Britain’s standard service round at the time.
Only about 1,250 P-13s in .276 caliber had been completed at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, and the Brits had difficulty finding enough British capacity to produce the .303-caliber P-13, which had been designated the Pattern 14 rifle. The urgency of the war led them to contact American manufacturers in a search for manufacturing capacity. In the end, Winchester and Remington signed contracts to produce the .303-caliber P-14. It so happened that Remington Arms Company of Delaware had a plant operated by a sister company in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, and that plant also became engaged in producing P-14s.
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Then, when the United States entered World War I, there weren’t enough M1903 Springfield or older U.S. Krag service rifles on hand to meet demand. In addition, M1903 production at Springfield and Rock Island arsenals wouldn’t be enough fill the shortage.
Finding new sources and building the tools to manufacture the M1903 would take too long, so the only viable alternative was to modify and use the British P-14 rifle chambered in .303 British, which was being manufactured by Winchester Repeating Arms Co. (New Haven, Connecticut), Remington Arms Company (Ilion, New York) and the Eddystone Rifle Plant, which was operated by a subsidiary of Remington—the Midvale Steel & Ordnance Co.—and was located in Eddystone, Pennsylvania.
With the three manufacturers just completing contracts with the British for the P-14, manufacturing capacity was immediately available, and only small modifications to the P-14 were needed to rechamber the rifle for the .30-06 U.S. service rifle cartridge. There was a slight delay, but that route was the best alternative to quickly produce enough rifles for America, given the circumstances.
Design changes to the P-14 to chamber it for the .30-06 included different barrels with chambers cut to accept the .30-06; a change in the bolt face; and minor alterations to the magazine well. The .303 British round had a bullet diameter of .311 inch, compared to the .30-06 diameter of .308 inch, and the .303 was a rimmed case, while the .30-06 was rimless.
There was some bad information circulating at the time that the P-14 could not handle the pressure generated by the higher-velocity .30-06 round, but that was incorrect. In fact, the receiver and bolt of the M1917 and the P-14 were made of nickel steel and were stronger than those of the M1903. And while the change from a rimmed to a rimless cartridge resulted in the magazine accepting six .30-06 rounds instead of five .303 rounds, there were complaints that the M1917 didn’t have a magazine cutoff like the P-14. This made inspection arms when drilling more difficult to execute and rapid dry-fire in practice impossible because the magazine follower would lock the bolt back.
Workarounds were developed for both shortcomings, so although the M1917 might not have been perfect, it still got the job done.
The American .30-06 charging clip that was used to load the M1903 and the M1917 held five rounds, and the M1917 magazine capacity was six, but in the heat of battle, a soldier would typically load one charging clip of five rounds. If there were time and a loose round were available, the last and sixth round could be loaded individually—if the soldier chose to do so.
To facilitate drill and rapid dry-fire, it was common to insert a coin into the magazine to hold the follower down so the bolt wouldn’t be held open when caught on the square back of the follower. (Experiments with a sample M1917 used for this review showed that a nickel seemed to work best, while a penny or dime failed to sufficiently depress the follower.)
Rebuilds and Refurbishing
Judging from its serial number and other markings, the M1917 specimen used for this article was produced by Remington at its Ilion, New York, factory, most likely in August 1918. Serial number records are not entirely accurate, so the manufacture date is not certain.
During the Great War, the federal government was paying about $26 for each gun, but prices for used guns have increased considerably since then. As with many M1917s available today, this one isn’t original, because it was rebuilt or refurbished at the San Antonio Armory, probably during World War II. Nevertheless, it’s in very good condition, retains most of its finish, has a bright bore with distinct lands and grooves, and the wood has a very nice patina. The one-piece, English-style stock with a semi-pistol grip (as is the case with all M1917 stocks) is made of black walnut that is oiled and has a hole with a spring-loaded door in the butt to store cleaning equipment.
As was common with World War II rebuilds, the barrel was replaced with one made by the High Standard Company. Johnson Arms also made replacement barrels. Frequently, and because parts were mostly interchangeable among manufacturers, parts were intermingled. Some on the sample M1917 are marked with an “E” to indicate they were made by Eddystone in Pennsylvania.
However, not all parts of all M1917s are interchangeable. M1917s manufactured early on by Winchester suffered from parts interchangeability problems, so Remington and Eddystone delayed production until standardized manufacturing drawings were completed and a 95 percent interchangeability level was achieved.
Zeroed? Not Necessarily
During the refurbishing process, it was not uncommon for guns to be released without being zeroed. But it isn’t particularly difficult to zero an M1917; it just takes a little time, because the front sight must be drifted to adjust for windage. Once done, it’s staked in place.
The rear sight on M1917s has two apertures: one fixed for a battle sight zero (BZO) of 300 or 400 yards (sources disagree on the BZO range) and the other mounted on a ladder-type, flip-up sight graduated for ranges of 200 to 1,600 yards. The apertures make for a very good sight picture—although for aging eyes, they’re not perfect. For that reason, I fired test groups off the bench at 50 yards, rather than 100 yards.
The gun proved to be pretty accurate with several different loads, and the average group size was about 1.5 inches. There were no malfunctions of any kind, thanks to some expert gunsmithing performed by Tyler Gun Works. However, due to a headspace problem, the barrel had to be moved back slightly and the chamber recut.
Originally, the metal on M1917s was blued, but during the World War II refurbishing process, many were Parkerized. It appears that the finish on the sample gun is blue. The reason M1917s were arsenal-overhauled during World War II was to arm some U.S. military units, especially those stationed in the States, as well as to arm some allies, including Great Britain. And, following World War II, the United States supplied M1917s to a number of friendly countries. After all, the M1917 had proven to be an efficient battle rifle.
M1917 or M1903?
It’s often debated whether Sergeant Alvin York of the U.S. Army used a M1917 or a M1903 rifle in Europe during the action for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH).
His personal diary clearly says that after arrival in France, his unit, the 82nd Infantry Division, turned in its M1903s and was issued M1917s. But during an interview with York’s son by Garry James, a well-known gun writer and firearms historian, James says he was told Sergeant York preferred the M1903 and therefore traded his M1917 for one that later was used in the encounter in France during which York captured many Germans and for which the MOH was bestowed upon him. That’s pretty convincing evidence, but the controversy and uncertainty persist to this day.
M1917s found their way into the civilian market when the U.S. government sold some as surplus. Many were sporterized, and some were rechambered for more-powerful cartridges to take advantage of the M1917’s strong action. Today, they’re available on the used market, although prices have risen as more shooters begin to appreciate the history of these old war-horse rifles.
There’s a major nostalgia factor to blackpowder shooting in general and the cap-and-ball revolver in particular, and an appreciation for just how far things have come.
How To Load A Cap-And-Ball Revolver:
Make certain there are no burning embers in the cylinder.
Pour the appropriate measure of powder into the chamber.
Place wad on top of powder charge in chamber.
Seat ball or bullet via revolver's built-in rammer or separate tool, leaving no air gap.
Seal the mouth of the chamber with suitable grease or seal made for the purpose.
Fit percussion cap on the nipple at the rear of the chamber.
Many shooters today have never handled an old firearm that’s loaded one chamber at a time with blackpowder, ball and percussion cap. Yet, when introduced, these guns were state-of-the-art and were a great step forward in weaponry. They were used to put food on the table, for fighting wars, for self-defense and in sporting contests.
While old cap-and-ball firearms can still be found, many should not be fired because of their historical value or deterioration due to age and the effects of corrosive blackpowder that was used to propel projectiles. But some modern manufacturers make replicas of the old guns, which today’s shooters enthusiastically use for enjoyment, competition, hunting — and for a taste of how things used to be.
I recently had the opportunity to revisit and reexamine the techniques involved in shooting a cap-and-ball revolver. While there are many replica blackpowder firearms made these days, I’ve been impressed by one imported by Traditions Performance Firearms and made in Italy by Pietta. It’s based on the 1858 Army cap-and-ball revolver that fires a soft, round lead ball of .454-inch diameter, although the caliber is designated as .44. During testing, it performed flawlessly.
Some may say that cap-and-ball shooting is a lost art, but that’s not true: It’s alive and well, though the inner circles of aficionados has certainly subsided. That said, the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) sanctions blackpowder shooting events where competitors use guns of old design.
To make the old model gun go bang, a propellant is ignited by a percussion cap. But because blackpowder creates a great deal of residue when burned, some sort of lubricant or softening agent is also needed to keep the barrel and mechanism from fouling so badly that accuracy is completely degraded — or the gun will not function.
The lubricants used by old timers were natural lubricants, such as animal fat, which served to soften fouling. Today, we have modern commercial lubricants like Wonder Lube. Not only does lubricant serve as a softening agent, it also, when placed on top of the ball in a loaded revolver cylinder, decreases the likelihood that a spark from one chamber will jump to another chamber and ignite it. That’s called a chain fire — and it’s not a good thing.
Blackpowder is a concoction of charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate, also called saltpeter. It creates a great deal of smoke when ignited and, as mentioned before, leaves much fouling. Fortunately, it’s no longer necessary to use blackpowder in the old or replica firearms; instead, substitutes like Pyrodex are available.
While Pyrodex and other substitutes have approximately the same amount of stored energy per volume as blackpowder, and they behave similarly, they generally leave somewhat less residue. They’re also not subject to the strict storage and shipping regulations that blackpowder is, and therefore retailers are more likely to carry substitutes — which make them easier to find on store shelves.
Bullets, then and now, are soft lead round balls or conical bullets. People used to make their own by melting lead and pouring lead into molds, but today it’s easier to purchase them off the shelf.
Loading a blackpowder firearm is simple, but it’s time-consuming. First, make sure there are no burning embers in the cylinder that could ignite the powder. Next, pour powder into the chambers. Some people will dispense powder into each chamber before moving onto the next step, and others will completely load a chamber before moving on.
It’s your choice, but I found that, although slower, I was more certain that powder would not be forgotten if each chamber was loaded fully before going to the next. My shooting partner at Gunsite forgot to put powder in one chamber and had to pull the ball by hand. That can happen to the best, experienced shooters, of which he is one.
Blackpowder or similar substitutes are measured by volume, not weight. Pyrodex R is for revolvers, and the manufacturer, Hodgdon Powder Company, says it’s designed to be a direct replacement by volume for blackpowder. So, when loading, follow the manufacturer’s recommended loads which, for the sample revolver, Traditions says is between 22 grains and 30 grains by volume. And don’t load directly from an open canister. Use a field flask or a dipper from a small container of powder. Remember, a spark ignites this stuff easily.
The next step is to seat the projectile, be it a round ball or a conical bullet. When doing so, use the revolver’s built-in rammer, or a separate tool that can be used to load a cylinder while off the gun. Seating the ball will take a bit of force, but this is good because if the projectile is of the correct size, a slim ring of lead will be shaved off to indicate a tight seal between the projectile and the chamber. You want this. And the projectile should be resting against the felt wad or powder so there’s no air gap.
Then, seal the mouths of the chambers with suitable grease or some type of seal made for that purpose. This is supposed to prevent chain fires. Loose grease can be used, but it’s easier, although more expensive, to use Wonder Seals or an equivalent. Smash the Wonder Seals down a bit so they seal the chambers.
Finally, a percussion cap is fitted to the nipple of each chamber on the cylinder. The Pietta revolver called for either No. 10 or 11 caps, with No. 11 caps being slightly larger. I also found the No. 11s to be more user friendly because, although the sides of the caps needed to be pinched a bit to stay on the nipples during recoil, they were easier to fully seat. With No. 10 caps, the fit was so tight that they had to be forced onto the nipples. Too much force could cause them to ignite, and too little would result in a misfire or delayed firing.
Spare cylinders are also available for some revolvers. While some may need to be fitted, others, like those for the Pietta 1858 Army, can be bought off the shelf and dropped in. Carrying a spare loaded cylinder — minus the caps, which should be put on after the cylinder is in the gun — saves loading time.
Shooting With Style
While it was customary in the 1800s — and most of the 1900s, for that matter — to shoot handguns with one hand, it has now become standard to shoot with two hands. A single-action revolver must have the hammer cocked before the trigger is pressed, and the most efficient way to do this is with the support-hand thumb.
Opinions vary, but everyone agrees that a cap-and-ball revolver should never be carried with the hammer resting on a loaded chamber: It’s too easy for a bump to the hammer to ignite the percussion cap. So, most manufacturers advise carrying the hammer down on an unloaded, uncapped chamber. Others say to carry with the hammer down on the safety notch between chambers that’s found on some revolvers.
After the gun is fired and before reloading the cylinder, the used caps need to be removed from the nipples. However, at least with caps by CCI and the test gun, the caps ruptured when fired, and if the hammer was cocked quickly, flew off the nipples due to centrifugal force. This eliminated the need to remove them by hand.
Recoil with the Pietta, while present, was very mild and in no way a nuisance. And accuracy was satisfactory with groups off-hand at 7 yards being easily covered with an open hand. The sights, while not very good by today’s standards, were a narrow front blade and a trough along the top strap.
Cleaning is best done the same day after shooting so that the metal doesn’t corrode. And black-powder or the residue from substitutes is cleaned using lots of hot water and detergent. Commercial cleaners, like Easy Clean from Traditions, is also good.
First, remove the cylinder, then the stocks — or grips — and in the case of the Pietta, the brass trigger guard, then soak all in hot water and detergent or spray liberally with Easy Clean until the fouling is softened. Swab out the bore and cylinder, wipe everything down and apply a thin coat of oil to prevent rust.
A blackpowder revolver will definitely slow down the shooting process and allow more time for enjoyment while you learn to appreciate what the old timers had to do to put food on the table, and to protect themselves and those they love.
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
Many different handgun designs have been introduced since the 1911 appeared more than 100 years ago, but the 1911 pistol is still wildly popular and is probably the most customized handgun in existence. In fact, most of the major firearms manufacturers produce a 1911 even though they make handguns of a newer design, and most of those 1911s have features that years ago were seen only on very expensive customized 1911s. Despite this, the demand for the custom 1911 remains very strong.
But don’t you dare go in blind.
Choosing The Right Gunsmith Because not all gunsmiths do the kind of work expected on a custom 1911, the first step in customizing one is to find the right gunsmith. Complicating the selection is that some custom shops have a stock of 1911s that have been built with certain features. We’ll call them production custom guns, and generally, they’re available on short notice or will be built once an order is received.
But each of these guns from a single shop will be the same, although some shops might allow the customer to request minor variations in features. Other gunsmiths do not make production custom guns and instead build guns only to the customer’s specifications — true customization on an a la carte basis. And then, complicating things further, some gunsmith shops provide both production custom guns and true custom guns.
ROBAR, located in Phoenix, Arizona, is a gunsmithing shop that does it all. With seven gunsmiths on staff, the shop is licensed as a manufacturer, not just a gunsmith operation, and offers true a la carte custom gunsmithing services as well as a production custom 1911 called the RC-1911. ROBAR will customize a 1911 provided by the customer or take an order for a customized 1911 and also supply all the parts including the frame, slide and barrel. ROBAR will even use parts from manufacturers specified by the customer.
Marty Enloe, head gunsmith at ROBAR, says there are several good base guns on which a custom 1911 can be built. These include Colt, Springfield, Kimber, Dan Wesson, Auto Ordnance and Ruger. He added that some aftermarket parts are not compatible with some gun makes, so the customer should listen to the gunsmith’s advice about what parts work best with a particular model of base gun.
No reputable gunsmith will build a gun that will be unsafe, and some gunsmiths will not build a gun with certain features that the gunsmith dislikes either for aesthetic or other personal reasons. So, when searching for a custom gunsmith, the customer should have in mind the types of features wanted, and then get recommendations from trusted sources and friends. The customer should also try to find out how a gunsmith handles complaints. One of the best references are professional trainers because they might see many different 1911s come through classes and develop an opinion of how well a particular gunsmith’s guns perform.
Determine The Intended Use There are many 1911 options and features, so when selecting which to include, first decide what the gun is going to be used for. Will it be a competition gun where accuracy is the primary concern? Will the gun be used for serious work, such as for self defense or duty?
Reliability often comes at the expense of accuracy, and an accurate gun is often less reliable. Tight tolerances on super-accurate guns make them less tolerant of dirt and debris that can cause the gun to stop working, whereas a duty or defense gun has greater tolerances, making it less sensitive. A gun that stops working in a competition might cost points, but one that stops working in a gunfight might cost lives.
Find out if the gunsmith has any specialties. For example, ROBAR builds very few competition or race guns and instead focuses on duty or defense guns. ROBAR’s guns will still have close tolerances, but they might not be as close as on a race gun.
And ROBAR will not build a gun with a trigger pull weight less than 4 pounds, where a race gun owner might want a lighter trigger weight. A well-made custom 1911 should have a clean, crisp trigger that breaks at the weight the customer wants. And the customer should get to decide the length of the trigger. Again, it’s personal preference and the use to which a gun is going to be put should help the customer determine the features and specifications.
Other features that should be considered include the slip resistance of the grip. Some people might have extremely sweaty hands or are concerned about having to shoot the gun in a fight where mud or blood might make the grip slippery. Others might want a gun that’s more comfortable to grasp, so they might opt for a less aggressive texturing.
Gun makers recognize this and have developed a wide variety of slip-resistant treatments for grip panels, frontstraps and mainspring housings. A good custom gunsmith can help you decide which grip treatment is right for you and help you pick out one that suits your needs.
Inspecting The Work Quality of work varies among gunsmiths, as it does in any business, so some guidelines can help determine if the finished custom handgun is up to the standards advertised by the gunsmith, but more importantly the standards expected by the customer.
A close visual inspection is a good place to start. Sharp edges should have been removed, and the bevels or rounding applied should be even along the entire length of the edge. Checkering should have straight lines and the points should be sharp, unless the customer has specified the points be blunt to reduce coarseness. If the gun has been polished, the manufacturer’s logo and other detail marks should still be crisp and there should be no thin spots.
The edges of the joints where the mainspring housing fits the frame should be parallel and straight, and the grips should be flush with the frame and have no high spots or gaps. The metal finish should also be evenly applied and contain absolutely no visible blemishes.
While a custom gun is expected to have a flawless appearance, more importantly — especially in a gun built for carry or duty — it must be reliable. And to get a gun to work correctly, parts such as the barrel, slide, extractor and safeties must fit properly. Feed ramp angles need to be correct. It’s nearly impossible for most 1911 owners to check all these things, but with a little work the owner can easily and quickly check the function of the gun.
To do so, the gun must first be broken in. Follow the advice of the gunsmith here, because some guns will need a longer break-in period than others. Then, using the type of ammunition that will be used when running the gun for real — this is especially important for a duty or carry gun — test fire it using every magazine that will be carried concealed or used for competition.
At least one authority says that for a duty gun, a 1911 should malfunction no more than once in every 1,000 rounds. Others say less. Make sure the safeties work, the slide stop catches the slide only when it is supposed to, and the magazine release when pressed allows magazines to drop freely whether loaded or not.
Now Comes The Wait Once you have decided what features are wanted and have found a gunsmith you’re sure can do the job, place the order, pay the money and be prepared to wait. Sometimes the wait can be quite awhile because custom shops are in high demand and the work gets backed up. In fact, some custom shops are not currently accepting new orders because of a massive demand backlog.
And custom work is expensive. It takes time to do all of the fitting. Much is done with soot from a candle to identify high spots, and a hand file to slowly remove metal. Costs for a custom gun can range from $2,000 to much more. Add more features and the price goes up. If you want engraving, add even more to the cost and don’t be surprised at a five-figure bill for the best of the best.
Owning a customized 1911 can be a very satisfying experience. Even if all you want is a feature or two added to your gun, or the trigger pull improved, custom work enhances the joys of ownership and can be worth every penny.
The Nighthawk Border Special 1911 does whatever you ask of it, and it does it well. It is designed by former peace officer Jim Wilson.
What to know about Nighthawk's Border Special 1911:
Retired peace officer Jim Wilson issued design specs for the Nighthawk Boarder Special
It is a 1911 tailor made for concealed carry and personal defense.
Built on a Commander-sized frame, the Border Special has a 4.25-inch barrel.
The .45 ACP has a shorter trigger than most 1911s and no noticeable overtravel.
Each Border Special is hand-fitted by one gunsmith, ensuring each is tuned to near perfection.
Not many shooters had ever heard of Nighthawk Custom when it began making 1911 pistols in 2004. Started by four individuals, more than a decade later it now employs about 65 people and specializes not only in custom 1911s, but also in fighting shotguns, and most recently in revolvers. It produced a few models of a freakishly accurate bolt-action rifle for a short while but discontinued that line, resulting in a sharp increase in the value of those previously purchased.
But Nighthawk has always made high-end 1911s, and one of the most recent additions to the line is the Border Special, which was designed by Jim Wilson, a retired peace officer with nearly 30 years of experience and who also served as the Sheriff of Crockett County, Texas. Wilson has lived in the Southwest border country for many years, where gunfights happen all too regularly. He’s also a well-known gun writer and has applied his accumulated knowledge and experience in selecting the features for the Border Special. His good taste and insight about what works shows in every feature of this gun.
Simple And Functional Elegance
The Border Special is a gun designed for carry and personal defense, so it was built on a Commander-size 1911 frame that has a standard-length grip — with a shorter slide and a 4.25-inch barrel instead of a 5-inch barrel. A little muzzle velocity is sacrificed, but the gun is easier to carry. Besides, the Border Special is chambered in .45 ACP, a cartridge with a good reputation for ending violent criminal behavior, even from the shorter 4.25-inch barrel.
A striking feature that’s immediately obvious when the Border Special is first seen is the beautiful, deep and smooth Cerakote Elite Midnight finish applied to the frame and slide. Traditional Cerakote is a thin film ceramic coating that’s extremely hard and corrosion resistant, but the Elite series of coatings is even harder, more abrasion resistant and has a low coefficient of friction that provides lubricity.
The highly polished double-diamond cocobolo grips with custom grip screws contrast nicely with the Cerakote and provide a good gripping surface to anchor the gun in the hand during recoil. Nighthawk has also applied what it calls a “concealed carry cut scallop” to the front strap and mainspring housing to enhance the grip. These scallops are not only good looking, they also provide a slip-resistant surface that doesn’t have the sharp edges associated with traditional checkering that can cut hands after repeated draws in a long training class.
In order to reduce telltale printing through a garment worn over the gun to carry it discreetly, Nighthawk bobbed the heel of the grip. Basically, the heel is lopped off, which requires a cut to the frame and the mainspring housing. Despite the loss of a little of the real estate at the back of the gun, it’s still a comfortable gun to shoot and provides plenty of gripping surface.
These days, most manufacturers install a long-reach trigger on 1911s, but the Border Special has a short trigger with an overtravel adjustment screw and serrations on the front. There was no discernible over-travel, and the trigger broke cleanly after just a bit of take-up. Reset was distinct for those who are overly concerned with this feature.
Many people are going to like the trigger because the finger doesn’t have to be extended as far as with the normally seen long trigger. It’s a subtle difference, but the shooter will find it easier to apply a steady, firm pressure. When the finger is not extended as far, leverage changes, and a heavy, steady pressure can be more easily applied, resulting in a smoother stroke and more trigger control. And shooters with shorter fingers will definitely appreciate it.
The nicely checkered magazine release is a little longer than a stock release, but not so long as to be prone to accidental activation. The magazine well is slightly beveled to easily accept the two eight-round magazines supplied. The slide stop has a fairly wide shelf to make it easier to manipulate, and Nighthawk has added a special touch — a groove or notch cut into the back that contacts the plunger tube pin during assembly. The groove pushes the pin back into the plunger tube, allowing the stop to be pushed straight into the gun, reducing the possibility of scratching the frame. It makes assembly a bit easier and is a nice touch.
The thumb safety is also a bit wider than normal, making it easier to manipulate, and it worked positively during testing. The hammer is skeletonized, and the beavertail grip safety has the familiar palm swell to assure positive activation.
Up top, the slide has rear cocking serrations with the Nighthawk logo behind them on both sides of the slide. On the right side of the slide, the gun sports the words “BORDER SPECIAL” in front of the ejection port, but on request, Nighthawk will omit them. The ejection port is wide, flared and lowered, and there was no evidence of ejected brass contacting the slide on the test gun.
On the upper surface of the slide, Nighthawk has cut glare-reducing longitudinal serrations that run between the front and rear sights. The rear sight is a Heinie Slant Pro Black with a square notch and horizontal serrations on the backside. There are no dots on it. Up front, Nighthawk installs its own gold bead front sight. The front blade is all black except for a genuine gold dot that draws the eye, encouraging a front sight focus. Gold bead front sights have been around for a long time, but fell out of favor when white dots, fiber optics or night sights became popular. But the old-timers knew something about sights when they used a gold bead because it does not tarnish, is tough and reflects what little light there might be, making the front sight easier to see. Gold glitters.
The Border Special’s match barrel has a fluted hood that gives it a distinct look. The barrel and bushing fit tightly — but not so tightly that it degraded reliability of the test gun. The bushing fit snugly in the slide, but disassembly and turning the bushing were still possible without the aid of a bushing wrench. And the guide rod and spring plug are shortened for use in a Commander-size gun.
All this attention to detail and hand fitting by one gunsmith — Nighthawk lets one gunsmith build each gun instead of having several gunsmiths work on a single gun — resulted in the test gun being very accurate, with some groups off the bench at 25 yards being less than 1 inch. The slightly extra weight of the all-steel frame compared to a lightweight aluminum frame sometimes found on Commander-size 1911s helped absorb felt recoil, making the Border Special pleasant to shoot and easy to get back on target quickly. Sheriff Jim Wilson obviously put a lot of thought into designing this gun, and it delivers.
Editor's Notes: This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
Older shooters remember when Sturm, Ruger & Company appeared, and how its reputation grew as a maker of some of the most robust, yet reasonably priced, firearms available. The first offering was a .22 Long Rifle semi-automatic handgun, which has evolved from the Standard model to the newly introduced Ruger Mark IV Target.
After WWII, Bill Ruger decided he wanted to build a .22 Long Rifle semi-automatic pistol of his own design, and about that time he met Alexander Sturm, a young man who had access to the capital needed.
Ruger told Sturm about his pistol idea, and in 1949, with Sturm’s money, created Sturm, Ruger & Company. In a small building they called the “red barn” in Southport, Connecticut, they produced 2,500 Standard model pistols during their first year in business.
The Standard had a Japanese Nambu pistol-inspired bolt that was housed inside a tubular receiver, which was permanently attached to the rear of a 4.75-inch barrel.
The finished gun looked a little bit like the P08 Luger, which at that time was highly sought after, especially as a war souvenir. That resemblance probably helped spur the popularity of the new gun, especially considering that the list price in 1949 was about $38 – less than the list price of its major competitors.
Then in 1950, Ruger released a newer model called the Mark I Target featuring a 6-inch barrel and adjustable sights, while production of the Standard with its fixed sights continued. Manufacture of the Standard and Mark I ended in 1981 when they were replaced by the Mark II Standard and Mark II Target.
Both featured a bolt hold-open lock, loaded chamber indicator and magazine disconnect.
The Mark III was introduced in 2004 and had a magazine release button on the left side of the frame instead of the heel clip used on previous models.
Then a stainless steel hunter model appeared that had a fluted bull barrel, fiber optic front sight and adjustable rear sight. A stainless steel Competition model was then introduced with an adjustable rear sight and slab sided bull barrel.
A Closer Look At The Ruger Mark IV Target
Most recently we have the introduction of the Mark IV models. Prior to the Mark IV, a latch located on the mainspring housing had to be pulled down in order to disassemble the gun. It was an awkward operation.
Then, when assembling the gun, care had to be taken to get the hammer strut properly aligned with the mainspring plunger in the mainspring housing. This takedown and assembly design caused criticism and more than a few trips to the gunsmith to find out why the gun did not work properly once the owner had tried to assemble it.
In its September 22, 2016, press release introducing the Mark IV, Ruger leads off by announcing a new, much simpler method of disassembling the gun. Instead of the latch, a takedown button located at the rear of the grip frame just below the receiver is pressed and the barrel/receiver assembly tilted down at the muzzle until the bolt stop pin is cleared.
The barrel/receiver assembly can then be lifted away from the grip frame. At that point, the bolt can be removed from the receiver. Assembly is in reverse order.
For comparison purposes, a vintage Ruger Standard model originally purchased new in 1971 for a retail price the owner recalls as being less than $50 was located. Thousands of rounds have been fired through the gun, but it still functions well, just as it did when first purchased.
A close examination shows evidence of marring on the mainspring housing where on more than one occasion the owner had difficulty lowering the takedown latch during disassembly. The bore is still bright and the rifling sharp, while the original blue is slightly worn in a few places.
The original owners manual still accompanies the gun and reflects the times during which the gun was made. Six pages long, with only three pages of instructions, a title page and two pages devoted to a parts diagram and parts list; there are no long warning paragraphs. Instructions are short.
Even new gun owners at the time were rightfully expected to have some basic knowledge of firearms and how to handle them, so that long, detailed descriptions and warnings were not characteristic of most owner manuals. And because most people had common sense and took responsibility for their own actions, a person being injured with a firearm did not necessarily spur a lawsuit against the manufacturer.
Looking inside the frame on the older gun reveals that it was built by forming two sheets of steel and then welding them together. In comparison, the new Mark IV frame is CNC machined from solid metal to improve strength and precision.
Other features of the Mark IV not found on the older Standard model include an ambidextrous safety located above and to the rear of the grip panels. There is also a bolt catch located on the left side of the frame above the grip panel, which is activated after the last round is fired, holding the bolt to the rear.
On the old Standard model, the bolt does not lock back after the last round is fired, and the safety doubles as the bolt catch only when the bolt is manually held to the rear and the safety selector pushed up.
The Mark IV has a magazine release located on the left side just to the rear of the junction of the trigger guard and front strap. This is in contrast to the magazine release on the original Standard model, which is a heel clip.
Additionally, the Mark IV is equipped with a magazine disconnector that prevents firing unless the magazine is in place. The older Standard model does not have this controversial feature.
The Mark IV rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation by turning adjustment screws, while the rear sight on the old Standard model is fixed. The front sight on both guns is a fixed blade, although a Hunter model Mark IV is offered with a fiber optic. Mark IV receivers are drilled and tapped for the installation of an optic, except for the 22/45 Lite that has a factory-installed Picatinny rail in addition to iron sights.
Although it was not possible to obtain a sample Mark IV for accuracy testing because of deadlines, the accuracy potential of the gun is high due to the fact that the sights are firmly mounted to the barrel/receiver assembly rather than on a reciprocating slide. This means that the barrel and sights are permanently aligned during firing and disassembly/assembly, eliminating any movement that could reduce accuracy.
Ruger offers several models within the Mark IV series, including the blued Target with an aluminum grip frame, as well as a model with a bright finish stainless steel grip frame and barrel/receiver assembly.
Then there are the Hunter in stainless steel and the 22/45 Lite that features a grip frame with a grip angle similar to that of the 1911 pistol. Within the various models, the company offers a variety of features. More information about the Mark IV and features available can be found at www.ruger.com.
Deciding to concealed carry takes plenty of consideration, particularly determining which is the right gun for you.
How should you go about choosing a concealed carry gun?
Concealed carry gives armed citizens the advantage.
Potential attackers do not know who's armed and who's not.
The author will not disclose whether he carries, and suggests others don't either.
There are some basic considerations for carry: climate, training level, concealablity.
A sub-compact, single-stack 9mm, for many circumstances, is adequate protection.
Where I live, a lot of people carry discreetly. As such, the bad guy doesn’t know who is armed and might shoot him. That makes every type of attack less likely, which makes everyone much safer. And that’s exactly how it should be.
So, I’m not going to tell you — or anybody — if I carry a gun or not and what that gun might be. And you shouldn’t — unless required by law — let other people know whether or not you are carrying. But I can give you the reasoning I would use if I had to choose a gun for concealed carry in public.
Why should you care what I think? I’m just like many of you, except I’ve had hundreds of hours of training in the use of handguns, rifles and shotguns from some of the best trainers and gun fighting schools in the world. And I’ve done a lot of research on the subject and learned directly from real gun fighters.
All of them have an opinion about what gun or caliber is best, and it’s reflected in what they carry when they have a choice. And the choice each person makes is right for them. So learn, get training and weigh the options. Then make your choice, but obey the law.
It’s hot where I live, so if I had to select a gun for concealed carry, it would have to be easy to carry discreetly in hot weather where a coat looks out of place. So small is better. But with more terrorist activity, the rise in attacks by multiple assailants is increasing, so it would be a good idea to have as much ammo on board as possible. While a double-stack 9mm pistol sounds good, it might not be as easy to hide as a single stack. And the same pistol in .45 ACP won’t hold as many rounds as a 9mm.
I’m getting older, and my bones and joints don’t work as well as they used to. After years of aggressive shooting, especially after shooting a lot of very high-powered handgun cartridges, I find that a gun in 9mm is much easier to control and more comfortable to shoot during long periods of training.
So, if I had to choose, I would not feel under protected by a sub-compact single-stack 9mm semi-automatic. But this is just my opinion, and it’s all hypothetical anyway. You should do what makes sense for you.
The .45 ACP has long been one of the most popular for personal defense among those who carry, but is the 9mm starting to edge it out?
In .45 ACP vs 9mm, is the .45 still the top self-defense choice?
A key point in choosing self-defense ammo is its ability to quickly neutralize a threat.
The .45 ACP, .40 S&W or 9mm are the most commonly argued for calibers.
Hornady's chief ballistician Dave Emery says there's little difference between them.
Terminal performance of modern defensive rounds is relatively similar in ballistics gel.
Some stick to the .45 ACP — if technology fails, the round still makes a bigger hole.
While attending a recent event where .45-caliber semi-automatic handguns, double-action revolvers and single-action revolvers were shot at contact to long-range targets in simulated self-defense situations, it brought to mind the United States’ long-standing love affair with the .45-caliber handgun round. Yet, many who carry a handgun as part of their job choose to use other handgun cartridges, such as the .40 S&W and 9mm Parabellum.
The disagreement about what’s the best handgun cartridge for self-defense never seems to end, and it probably never will until someone invents a handgun that will always stop a felonious assault immediately.
You see, handguns just aren’t very effective fight stoppers. The reason people carry them is because they are easy to keep out of sight and they’re readily available in an emergency. Rifles in almost any caliber and shotguns are much better at stopping an aggressor, but they’re not easy to carry — and, incidentally, they too are not perfect at immediately stopping an attack. So, for the time being, handguns are the method of protection that most people rely on.
But, you say, on TV and in the movies, if a guy gets shot with a handgun, he goes down right away. That’s the movies, and it’s Hollywood, where fantasy reigns. It’s not real life.
In his book, Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights, Jim Cirillo, a real gunfighter and member of the New York Police Department Stakeout Unit, states, “I have seen felons get shot with 158-grain .38 Special, 200- and 230-grain .45 ACP, 115-grain 9mm hollow points, 110-grain .30 Carbine and 12-gauge 1-ounce slugs, and only two of those [many] incidents were one-shot stops.”
Keep in mind that human spirit and determination varies. Some people intent on doing injury to others will be stopped and scared off at the mere sight of a gun. Others will be stopped by a minor injury or thumping them with a fist. But a small number will not stop unless they’re physically unable to continue.
For the last group, they must no longer be able to breathe, the blood supply must be interrupted so that muscles and organs can no longer function, a bone must be broken so that the person can no longer control the body, or the nervous system must be disrupted so that the brain can no longer send signals to the muscles.
And even if the air or blood supply is cut off, a person can still function for long enough to continue an attack and kill a victim. So, the goal for a law-abiding citizen, who has no other choice to save his life or prevent serious bodily harm from a felonious attack, is to do as much damage as necessary to quickly stop the attacker. Notice that the goal is not to kill the attacker, but to stop the attack. If the attacker turns and runs, that’s a good outcome, but if the attacker is killed in lawful self-defense, that’s a consequence the attacker assumed when starting the aggressive behavior.
Given these realities of life, it makes sense to carry a handgun chambered in the most effective cartridge available that the shooter can shoot accurately, quickly and can carry discreetly. This is where the argument begins. And the argument has been raging for decades with no clear winner.
It’s All In The Ammo: .45 ACP vs 9mm, .40 S&W
The FBI and other law enforcement organizations are switching to the 9mm Parabellum. Reasons include lower recoil generated by the 9mm round, which makes it easier for many people to shoot accurately and get back on target quickly for follow-up shots. And a 9mm handgun can carry more rounds than the same-sized handgun chambered in .40 S&W or .45 ACP. That’s an important consideration given the rising frequency of group attacks by terrorists or gang members.
But probably the biggest reason for the switch is the recent improvement in handgun round terminal ballistics. According to Dave Emery, wizard and senior ballistician at Hornady Manufacturing, an innovative maker of a variety of ammunition, there’s now very little difference in the actual terminal performance in ordnance gelatin between premium self-defense .40, .45 and 9mm projectiles.
Yet the disagreement continues. While some excellent firearms trainers and experts, many who have carried a gun for a living and participated in real gunfights, have switched from .45 ACP to 9mm, others still carry the .45 ACP.
No less than the late Pat Rogers, who I have trained under and who has used a gun while in the U.S. Marines and as an officer with the New York Police Department, switched from a 1911 chambered in .45 ACP to a double-stack, striker-fired 9mm polymer-framed pistol. And many experienced gunfighters have done the same. But others, like retired Sheriff Ken Campbell, who is the Chief Operations Officer at Gunsite Academy, still favor the .45 ACP.
Campbell points out that gelatin blocks are not human and that humans are much more complex and react differently than an inanimate, unmotivated blob of jelly. He recognizes the improvement in self-defense bullet technology that has resulted in better terminal ballistics for the 9mm round, but the .45 ACP bullet has also improved.
“I’ll stick with the bigger bullet,” Campbell says. “Again, when technology fails, the .45 ACP makes a bigger hole. Also, it has a greater chance of hitting something vital since it is wider.”
But Campbell is rational and not married to the .45 ACP just because of tradition. He recognizes that getting multiple, fast and accurate hits in vital locations is more important than bullet performance, and if he ever gets to the point that he physically cannot control the .45 ACP adequately, he will consider switching to smaller bullets. In fact, despite the 1911 .45 ACP heritage associated with Gunsite, the school regularly teaches students how to effectively use other guns in other calibers.
For some, the .45 ACP works best, but for others, the .380 ACP or an even smaller round is the right choice. There is no way everyone is going to agree on this, so the debate continues.
Coonan .357 Magnum 1911s in Classic and Compact are powerful defensive handguns that can be surprisingly concealable.
How Coonan brought the .357 Magnum to the 1911 platform:
Coonan tweaked the classic 1911 design to accept the rimmed .357 Magnum.
Being semi-autos, Coonan's 1911s tend to be softer shooting than .357 Mag. revolvers.
The 5-inch barrel Classic and 4-inch barrel Compact were tested.
Both models proved accurate off the bench at 25 yards.
The author felt the Coonans were pleasant to shoot and viable for self-defense, hunting and target shooting guns.
While not everyone agrees, a lot of experienced shooters say that John Browning’s 1911 pistol is the greatest fighting handgun ever designed. Many major gun manufacturers offer them, and several smaller manufacturers exist primarily because they specialize in building them. An example is Coonan, Inc. — but there’s a twist.
Whereas most 1911s are chambered in .45 ACP or 9mm — yes, there are other chamberings — Coonan wanted more power and decided a 1911 chambered in .357 Magnum was needed. Adopted by many law enforcement agencies since its creation in 1935 and able to cleanly take some game, it developed a great reputation. However, the .357 Magnum is a rimmed cartridge and is longer than the cartridges usually used in 1911s.
That meant a redesign.
Coonan set out to get it done, and they did, although the gun still uses many of the same parts found on a standard 1911. And the controls are about the same, too, so an experienced 1911 shooter will be comfortable with a Coonan. Sure, the gun is a little larger to accommodate the longer cartridge, and therefore the grip circumference is greater, but the end result is surprisingly close to the original.
It’s so close that, despite the .357 Magnum chambering, it’s feasible to carry the gun discreetly for self-defense. Sure, it’s a bit on the larger side, but not so much that the gun is too big for someone comfortable with carrying a 1911. And as a bonus, the Coonan website lists many holster manufacturers that currently make discreet carry holsters to fit.
Packing The Power So why would anyone want a 1911 chambered in .357 Magnum? The most obvious answer is power. A typical 230-grain .45 ACP delivers about 370 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, but the 158-grain .357 Magnum tops it with about 505 foot-pounds. And generally speaking, the more energy delivered to the target, the better chance of stopping a dangerous, felonious assault or bringing down a prized game animal.
More muzzle energy, of course, means more recoil. It’s physics. But the Coonan is surprisingly comfortable to shoot, especially when compared to the typical .357 Magnum revolver. With a revolver, recoil energy is instantaneously transmitted through the solid frame and grip to the shooter, so the impulse is sharp and heavy. But with a semi-automatic handgun, the slide and barrel move under recoil relative to the frame, and that slows delivery of the recoil impulse to the shooter. The result is softer felt recoil. Incidentally, the Coonan Classic will also shoot .38 Special rounds, which deliver even less recoil.
Pick Your Poison Coonan makes several models, all variants of the original Coonan Classic. A Classic — the full size — and a Compact were received for testing. Both were rendered in stainless steel, although different grips and finishes are available.
The Classic and Compact share most of the same features, but even with the shorter grip, the Compact offers enough room for most to grip it with the small finger. Grips on both models are smooth, light-colored wood. The front straps and mainspring housings are also smooth, although textured mainspring housings and grips can be ordered.
The grip safety has an extended beavertail to protect against hammer bite, but it’s not upswept like those often seen on 1911s. Still, it’s functional; though, the grip safety doesn’t have the common palm hump to ensure activation.
Magazines are stainless with visible slots on each side to see remaining rounds. The magwell is also beveled for fast reloads. The checkered mag release is located in the usual position.
The thumb safety on each has a wide shelf and worked properly, with a distinct click. The slide stop is extended rearward for easier right-handed thumb activation. Many will still have to shift their grip, though, to reach it. But most top-tier schools teach students to rack the slide if it’s locked back rather than press the slide stop. While pulling the slide to the rear and releasing it worked on the Classic, it didn’t on the Compact. The slide stop had to be manually pressed.
Instead of a trigger that moves fore and aft in a straight line as on a traditional 1911, Coonan’s trigger pivots from the top. It worked well, with both guns exhibiting a bit of take-up and a clean break. The Classic’s trigger had a small bit of creep and no overtravel, while the Compact’s had no creep and a bit of overtravel. Neither proved to hinder good shooting.
The slides are slab-sided with a rounded top, just like Browning’s design. At the rear are serrations that permit a solid grip when racking the slide. Up top, Coonan has used black three-dot sights that are drift adjustable for windage and equipped with set-screws to hold them in place. They afford an efficient sight picture.
With a 4-inch barrel on the Compact model, as compared to a 5-inch barrel on the Classic, some changes needed to be made in the recoil spring assembly. While the Classic’s recoil spring guide rod, spring, retention plug and bushing resemble those of standard 1911s, the Compact uses a full-length guide rod and no bushing. So, to disassemble the Compact, a bent paper clip or similar piece of wire must be inserted into a small hole in the guide rod to retain the spring during disassembly. After the recoil spring assembly is removed, the spring bushing, guide rod and spring can be carefully disassembled for cleaning.
The Bottom Line Both guns proved accurate off the bench at 25 yards, with the Classic besting the Compact by a small bit.
Of equal importance, no malfunctions occurred in testing. These were used guns, so it’s possible deficiencies were uncovered in prior use and corrected before being sent for review. That said, there’s no point in trying to find a problem where there isn’t one.
The Coonan Classic and Compact 1911s chambered in .357 Magnum are pleasant-shooting guns despite the magnum chambering, and each could serve a number of roles, including self defense, hunting and just having fun at the range. And in diminished light, they will certainly attract attention with the fireball emitted from the muzzle.
This article originally appeared in the Concealed Carry 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
The U.S. has had a love of the .45-caliber cartridge for many years. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the enduring popularity of the .45 ACP, and its earlier predecessor, the .45 Colt.
How did the .45 Auto, or .45 ACP, cartridge come into being?
The U.S. adopted the .45 Colt in 1873, pairing it with Colt's Single Action Army revolver.
It served for almost two decades before replacement by the .38 Long Colt.
Complaints were made during the Phillipine Insurrection about the .38's stopping power.
The .45 Colt was reissued, and it remained in service until the .45 ACP's adoption.
The .45 ACP was adopted in Browning's M1911.
However, it first saw action in World War I in a double-action revolver.
To celebrate the .45-caliber handgun cartridge, a group of writers recently met at Gunsite Academy to experience shooting semi-automatics, and single-action and double-action revolvers all chambered in .45.
Contact range to long-range shooting and training was conducted using a Ruger New Blackhawk single-action revolver, a Smith & Wesson Model 25 Classic double-action revolver with Pachmayr Decelerator Grips — both in .45 Colt — and a Nighthawk Custom 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. Black Hills supplied ammunition, and Galco provided holsters. Everything worked flawlessly, with each gun representing a step in the evolution of the .45.
In 1873 the U.S. Government adopted the .45 Colt cartridge for its new standard sidearm, the Single Action Army revolver. It fired a 250-grain lead bullet that left the muzzle at about 900 feet per second (fps), making it a powerful handgun round that soon gained a good reputation for protection.
For nearly two decades, the Single Action Army in its .45-caliber chambering remained the official government sidearm, but about 1890 it was replaced with a revolver chambered in .38 Long Colt. The new cartridge proved to be inadequate though for stopping Moro fighters during the Philippine Insurrection, so the 1873 Single Action Army revolver chambered in .45 Colt was quickly reissued. The .45 Colt cartridge remained in government use then until John Browning’s M1911 that chambered the .45 ACP was adopted in 1911.
Even though the government had adopted the semi-auto 1911, a double-action revolver chambered in .45 ACP was pressed into use during World War I. At Gunsite, the M25 Classic represented this class of guns, although it was not one that was used during WWI.
The .45 Colt and the .45 ACP have about the same ballistics, so the .45 could be called “America’s handgun caliber.” It has served our military, police and law-abiding citizens well for more than a century, and, to some people, challenging its supremacy is heresy.
ROBAR Guns helps to revive and revitalize a standard surplus Browning Hi Power, and the result is a beautiful, functional pistol.
Some classic or historical firearms of value probably shouldn't be customized, but if you do want to go that route with a standard surplus Browning Hi Power, here are some options:
Upgrading the sights, stippling the front strap, installing an extended safety and adding quality grip panels are a few basic ways to improve the gun.
More in-depth customizations can include extending the beavertail and enhancing the trigger.
With the help of ROBAR Guns, you can also have them apply a variety of durable and lubricating finishes — Teflon, Roguard and NP3 finishes were applied to parts of this gun.
How many times has the following statement been made? “I wish this gun could talk. Think of the stories it could tell.” There’s a mystique about a well-used, old gun that spurs the imagination. Where was this gun during its service? Who carried it? Has it been fired in combat? Those are just some of the questions such a gun evokes.
While some wish to keep a vintage gun in its aged condition, others want more. So some firearms with a history, however obscure the history may be, are reworked to bring them back to even better condition than when they left the factory. Doing such work on a gun with a verifiable connection to a particular historical event or famous person is probably not a wise choice, but taking a run-of-the-mill old firearm, resurrecting it and turning it into a work of beauty is sometimes a worthwhile pursuit.
The Browning-designed Hi-Power, or High Power, was adopted as a military sidearm by Belgium in 1935. Originally built by Farbrique Nationale (FN) and eventually called the Grande Puissance (High Power), it was also manufactured in the U.S. by Browning Arms Company.
To avoid confusion with Browning’s High-Power rifle, Browning called its pistol the Hi Power. So technically, a gun made by FN is a High Power and one made by Browning Arms Company is a Hi Power. Because most readers are used to the name Hi Power, that will be used here.
In continuous production somewhere in the world since 1935, it has been adopted for use by military and police units around the globe. And as older Hi-Powers are replaced, they often find their way into the U.S. surplus market, like the one featured here that was purchased from AIM Surplus (AIMSurplus.com).
It is a Mark II version, and according to the serial number decoder found on the Browning website (Browning.com), it was originally built in Belgium by FN in 1985. AIM Surplus’ price was $430. Not bad for a functioning handgun made by FN.
The Before In full working condition when received, it had obviously led a rough life as evidenced by scratches and gouges on the surface. The trigger broke at about 6 pounds after a bit of creep, followed by some overtravel. It was not a really bad trigger, but the shooter needed to concentrate carefully on the press to obtain good results. Groups at 25 yards from a rest averaged from just less than 5 inches to a little more than 9 inches. The gun was reliable and adequate, with no malfunctions encountered in testing.
But the gun could be improved, so it was taken to ROBAR (ROBARGuns.com), a specialty gunsmithing company located in Phoenix, Ariz. Among other areas of expertise, ROBAR can take a well-used Hi Power and make it into a like-new gun that’s a better shooter than when it left the factory. ROBAR’s Hi Power specialist is gunsmith Jodi Gritus.
Despite the rough appearance of the gun when turned over to ROBAR, Gritus displayed no hesitation in taking on the task of turning the vintage Hi Power into a gun its owner would be proud to display and that could be used in confidence for self defense.
Upgrading A Classic Sights on the Mk II Hi Power are less than optimal, so a set of three-dot LoMount Carry tritium night sights were obtained from Novak (NovakSights.com). These are superb sights that have become an industry standard but required ROBAR to cut dovetails into the slide in order to install them.
To give the gun a truly custom look, other features were added. Hi Powers have a small beavertail, allowing the hammer spur to bite some shooters, so ROBAR extended the beavertail, shaping it to accommodate the custom Cylinder & Slide Type 2 hammer with its skeletonized spur. Despite welding additional metal to the frame and then shaping by hand, the frame appears to have left the factory with the extended beavertail.
Another unique custom feature is the lanyard ring. Lanyards served a valuable purpose years ago, and kept a dropped gun from disappearing. They lost favor for a period but have seen a comeback. Many original Hi Powers had a lanyard ring, and the ring on the surplus gun featured here was misshapen and of little value. But ROBAR designed a new one that fits sleekly into the heel of the gun.
ROBAR lightly stippled the frontstrap to provide a more secure gripping surface. Light stippling was chosen because heavy stippling can abrade the hand, especially during extended training sessions where the gun is drawn and holstered repeatedly.
Light stippling on the frontstrap provides just enough friction for a solid grip without drawing blood. Nicely checkered Cocobolo panels were installed and also improve the grip. And the beautiful grain compliments the gun’s two-tone finish.
ROBAR is well known for metal finishes; its sister company, Coating Technologies, Inc., specializes in that field and is located in the same building. Three finishes were applied to the Hi Power.
The frame was coated with OD Green Poly-T2, which is a modified epoxy coating that is embedded with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) — commonly known by the trademarked name of Teflon. Available in different colors, Poly-T2 provides both lubricity and corrosion resistance, being able to withstand over 1,000 hours of salt spray.
The slide was finished with black Roguard, a tough molybdenum-disulfide based polymer finish that also provides lubricity and is corrosion resistant. It is very thin, about .0005 inch, so it does not significantly change the dimensions of gun parts. Like the Poly-T2, it has a lifetime warranty.
Internal parts and the magazine were finished with NP3, an electroless nickel finish, which is very hard, corrosion resistant and is embedded with small particles of PTFE to provide lubricity. NP3 is so slick that most residue from shooting wipes off with a soft cloth. Incidentally, NP3 is used on critical parts of the International Space Station. Even the outside of the new, match-grade Bar-Sto barrel was finished with NP3.
ROBAR also performed a trigger job, removed the bothersome magazine disconnector, polished and installed a new sear and installed a Cylinder & Slide trigger pull reduction spring kit. Those new parts and the NP3 finish resulted in a much better trigger pull. Although the pull weight is only a little less than the original, the creep has disappeared and the break is very crisp.
A Cylinder & Slide extended strong side safety replaced the old stock safety, making activation much easier and more positive. Dings and dents acquired over the years were removed, and the feed ramp and breach face were polished to improve feeding.
The After Range testing was done using two holsters available off-the-shelf from Comp-Tac (Comp-Tac.com) and Blade-Tech (Blade-Tech.com), into which the customized Hi-Power fit despite the installation of the larger Novak sights. The customized gun now displays much better handling characteristics, and accuracy off the bench has improved dramatically — from the previously mentioned 5 to 9 inches to about 3 to 4 inches.
The price for customization depends on the parts and features ordered, but retail for the test gun, including the cost of the original surplus gun, was just under $3,000. Sure, a new Hi Power will cost less, and not everyone can afford the custom touches, but for others, the end result is worth it. And the gun is impressive.
For more information, contact ROBAR Companies, 623-581-2648, ROBARGuns.com.
This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
The Smith & Wesson Model 629 is a heavy duty .44 Magnum revolver that's the perfect protection for city and country.
Smith & Wesson Model 629 Review Snapshot:
A stainless steel .44 Magnum revolver, the Model 629 is based on the earlier Model 29
The potent Model 629 offers users protection from bears and other predators
The Model 629 produced adequate accuracy, with groups around 2 inches at 25 yards
Rugged and dependable, the 629 provides what users need in a .44 Magnum revolver
For many years after its introduction in 1955, the .44 Magnum was often referred to as the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world. Several other handgun cartridges have exceeded its power since then, but it still remains a powerful round that is capable of taking most North American big game.
Smith & Wesson’s Model 29 was the first production revolver chambered for the .44 Magnum, and sales skyrocketed after Clint Eastwood’s portrayal on the big screen of Inspector Harry Callahan, aka “Dirty Harry,” who dispatched the bad guys with one. Stories still circulate about movie fans buying a Model 29 and a box of cartridges, then after shooting one cylinder full of six, selling the gun and the remaining cartridges because of the sobering recoil.
The Model 29 beget the Model 629, which is a stainless steel version of the gun. Both guns, the 29 and 629, have been in the S&W inventory for many years and continue to be excellent choices for the shooter who is seeking a recreational revolver that can also serve as protection against dangerous game, wild predators or humans intent on causing bodily harm or death. So, the Model 629 reviewed here is a versatile choice.
One feature that makes the Model 629 so versatile is that not only will it handle the most powerful .44 Magnum loads, it can also safely fire .44 Special cartridges because that round is less powerful, is .125 inches shorter than the Magnum and comfortably fits in the chamber. The .44 Special not only generates considerably less recoil, making it pleasant to shoot for fun or practice, it is also a popular self-defense round with ballistics about the same as those of the revered .45 ACP. And because it is less powerful than the .44 Magnum, it generates less muzzle rise, allowing the shooter to get back on target faster for follow-up shots.
Some people want that extra magnum power though for personal defense against human predators, and carry the Model 629 loaded with .44 Magnum rounds. Generally, the ammunition chosen is a hollow point design with a projectile weight of 180 to 240 grains. At the speeds generated by the magnum load, expansion and penetration both combine to deliver serious damage on the receiving end in order to stop felonious behavior.
But the 629 offers even more versatility. When loaded with heavy, hard-hitting, solid projectiles, it is an effective defense against bears and other wild predators. So why not use hollow point expanding projectiles against bears? The answer is lack of penetration.
Bears are big animals with thick hides that are much tougher than the human skin. Bears also have massive bone structures and tough muscles that work together to protect the animal and make it more difficult to reach vital organs. And doing damage to vital organs is necessary to stop a bear in the midst of a charge. A hard cast 300-grain or heavier bullet has the energy to penetrate hide, bone and muscle and do serious damage to internal organs, where a hollow point bullet is more likely to begin expanding on impact, which slows it down and reduces penetration, so it may not go deep enough to inflict charge-stopping damage.
“Penetration is key, so hard cast or solid bullets are recommended for bear defense,” says Il Ling New, professional hunting guide and Gunsite Instructor who teaches, among other classes, Predator Defense. She adds, “At Gunsite, we recommend that a charging bear be shot in the face—ideally between the eyes and nose—to stop a charge as soon as possible. Other shots may take too long to stop the bear before it can do damage.”
Many ammunition manufacturers produce .44 Magnum and .44 Special loads with a variety of bullets suitable for anything from punching paper to dropping big, tough game. So obtaining ammo is not difficult. Ammunition is supplied by major manufactures and smaller specialty manufacturers who specialize in certain loads and cater to select clientele. And the S&W Model 629 will handle them all.
While the Model 629 is available in a variety of versions with different features, a 4-inch barreled standard version was evaluated for this article. The 629 is a large frame revolver built on S&W’s N frame, which is well suited for the recoil and pressures associated with the .44 Magnum. The gun has a bright, polished stainless steel finish with the familiar Smith & Wesson logo on the left side just below the cylinder catch.
Up front, the gun sports a blued steel ramp sight with a bright orange insert that demands attention when aiming. The rear sight is also blued steel and is adjustable for both windage and elevation by turning adjustment screws. It has a white outline to aid in acquisition when in a hurry. Since the gun can accommodate so many different .44 Special and .44 Magnum loads, an adjustable sight is an excellent feature because changing loads invariably shifts the point of impact. And an accurate zero is necessary, especially if using the gun for self defense or defense against wild predators.
The underlug beneath the barrel extends about two thirds of the distance to the muzzle. The hammer and trigger appear to be made of carbon steel, and the hammer spur is aggressively checkered for good purchase if the shooter chooses to thumb cock the revolver. The trigger has a polished, wide face that encourages a smooth, consistent trigger press when shooting the revolver double action. The double-action trigger pull on the test gun measures 13.5 pounds, whereas the single action breaks crisply at just under 4 pounds with a bit of overtravel.
A fluted cylinder on a swing-out crane has a six-round capacity, and the cylinder catch is easily activated to release the cylinder by pushing it forward. Older versions of the Model 629 were equipped with one-piece synthetic grips featuring a stippled texture and distinct finger grooves to anchor the gun in the hand. However, the newest model has a slightly different grip with less pronounced finger grooves and a cushioned backstrap to help reduce the effects of the stout recoil that the .44 Magnum can generate with heavy loads.
Shooting the Model 629 can be a pleasant experience or, depending on the shooter’s tolerance for recoil, a bit distressing. Because the gun weighs 41.5 ounces, which is about 2.5 pounds—more for those with longer barrels—most shooters can comfortably handle shooting light .44 Special loads. The traditional 240-grain .44 Magnum loads are manageable by many shooters unless a large number are fired in a single session. The heavy loads made for hunting or predator defense, those around 300 grains or more, generate what most shooters would call punishing recoil, and firing a few rounds in a session will satisfy them. Of course, there are shooters with a higher tolerance for recoil.
The Model 629 can be a very accurate gun in the right hands and is capable of delivering tight groups. The test gun delivered groups at 25 yards averaging just over 2 inches, and shooters with very sharp vision and the proper technique can probably get better results.
Adding Crimson Trace’s Laserguard Pro and other accessories to a Springfield XD-S makes a good gun great.
Times change, as do consumer preferences. Many, many years ago, the most popular handguns for self-defense were single-action revolvers. They gave way to double-action revolvers with swing-out cylinders that made reloading faster. Then semi-automatic pistols came to be the handgun of choice for many, including some law enforcement agencies. Most fed from a single-stack magazine, while some were single action and others were double action.
In the last half of the 20th century, double-stack 9mm handguns began to be seen everywhere with improvements being made to make them more reliable and user friendly. As concealed carry became lawful in more and more states, consumers tended to want smaller semi-automatic handguns, often chambered in .380 ACP.
Then single-stack, compact and sub-compact 9mm handguns became popular, especially with non-sworn civilians who could legally carry a gun discreetly for self-defense. Many manufacturers introduced their own versions, often based on a larger double-stack design.
One of those was Springfield Armory, which had been producing the successful double-stack XD line for quite a few years. So while no gun is the perfect choice for every shooter, the single-stack XD-S gained a strong following, resulting in the introduction of different calibers as well as a 4-inch barrel version.
Features Although the XD-S is not fully ambidextrous, it does have a checkered magazine release that can be activated from either side. The slide catch is protected by a fence to prevent accidental engagement yet is large enough to activate easily. There is no thumb safety, but the gun is equipped with Springfield Armory’s Ultra Safety Assurance (USA) Action Trigger System that prevents the trigger from moving fully to the rear unless it is first pressed.
The lightweight polymer frame has an accessory rail beneath the barrel on the dust cover, and the backstrap as well as the front and sides of the grip have large vertical and horizontal grooves for positive purchase. Additionally, the backstrap can be removed and replaced with either a large or small version to best fit the shooter’s hand.
The 3.3-inch barrel version is available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, while the 4-inch gun is available in 9mm and .45 ACP. Nine-millimeter stainless steel single-stack magazines can be had in flush-fitting, seven-round capacity or extended eight- or nine-round versions with grip extensions. Magazines for .45 ACP are available in five-, six- and seven-round capacities while six- and seven-round magazines are made for the .40 S&W gun.
The hammer-forged barrel and steel slide have a very hard and corrosion-resistant black Melonite finish, but the slide is also available in stainless steel. The recoil spring assembly cannot be disassembled and consists of a full-length guide rod with dual recoil springs.
The slide has deep cocking serrations at the rear on both sides. Atop, a square notch rear sight with two white dots works with a front sight fitted with a fiber optic to funnel existing light toward the shooter, drawing the eye. Springfield Armory supplies a green and a red fiber optic that can be easily changed by the owner.
An important feature of the XD series of guns is the grip safety. Unintentional discharges happen. And they generally happen when the trigger is moved to the rear.
Sometimes that happens during the act of holstering the gun when an untucked shirt, a strap or even the edge of the holster itself works its way inside the trigger guard and engages the trigger. Then, as the shooter inserts the gun into the holster, the trigger is pushed to the rear, discharging the gun.
However, if the grip safety is not depressed and is working properly, the trigger will not move all the way to the rear, preventing the gun from discharging. A holstering technique taught at some of the best shooting schools has the shooter move the thumb of the gripping hand to the back of the slide when holstering to release the grip safety, blocking rearward movement of the trigger.
Accessories and Improvements No gun is perfect and some gun owners — despite loving the gun — wish that some features could be improved or made a little different. And aftermarket manufacturers are ready to supply the XD-S owner with options.
Crimson Trace, famous for its line of laser sighting systems, recently released the XD-S Laserguard Pro, a combination 150-lumen tactical flashlight and laser. It’s a compact unit that is activated by a pressure switch on the front strap that is instinctively pressed when the gun is held. Modes of operation include light and laser off, light only, laser only, both light and laser on, or laser with strobe light.
Lights and lasers are not gimmicks, and can be very useful in a life-or-death situation. The Laserguard Pro is available with a red or more easily seen green laser like that used in testing.
Lasers do not take the place of iron sights; even Crimson Trace personnel will tell you that. And while XD-S sights are serviceable, night sights like those from Trijicon that can be seen in low light where most self-defense encounters take place are a valuable enhancement. They are fitted with tiny vials of tritium gas that glow in the dark for many years.
Truglo also makes a set of replacement night sights. The Tritium Fiber Optic Xtreme Handgun Sight is a three-dot setup like the ones from Trijicon, but in addition to tritium filled vials, the sights are fitted with green fiber optics. Not only do these sights glow in the dark, they also pick up ambient light, attracting the shooter’s eye even in bright sunlight.
The XD-S is not known for a great trigger. Both the 3.3-inch and 4-inch test guns had trigger pulls with considerable take-up, followed by spongy resistance, some gritty stacking, and finally a break of between 7.25 and almost 8 pounds.
Fortunately, both Galloway Precision and Powder River Precision make trigger kits. Installation is not simple, so some owners may want to use a gunsmith. Both kits reduced the break weight to a little over 5.5 pounds, making trigger control much, much easier.
Incidentally, Powder River Precision also makes an extended grip safety with a palm bump to assure activation, and a magazine release that protrudes a bit further to the left.
But there are shooters who don’t want to deal with buying and adding accessories to the gun, and instead are willing to pay for someone else to do the work. Fortunately, ROBAR Companies has them covered.
The XD-S package includes, among other treatments, an extended beavertail, grip texturing, trigger job, night sights and refinishing with NP3. ROBAR will also take special orders for customizing a gun to the user’s taste.
Whenever a light or other rail-mounted accessory is added to a handgun, finding holsters can be a problem. Crossbreed Holsters is ready though with a variety designed to fit the XD-S equipped with the Laserguard Pro.
Blade-Tech also reportedly has holsters ready. And for those who do not want to use the Laserguard Pro, a variety of makers, including Galco and Alien Gear Holsters have XD-S holsters.
Regardless of the holster, a sturdy belt is a must. A new design by Nexbelt has a unique ratcheting system allowing the belt to be adjusted in ¼-inch increments for more comfort. It not only looks good, it has an internal liner giving it the strength needed to securely support a holstered gun.
When selecting a gun for self-defense, do the research necessary, choose wisely and consider aftermarket accessories to make a good choice even better.
The Uberti 1875 Top Break No. 3 is a working replica of the famous Schofield revolver. It's a faithful rendition and great fun to shoot.
Shooters are fortunate to live now because they have not only modern, state-of-the-art guns to shoot for recreation – and self defense – but also because they have access to guns from the past. Some very old guns that were manufactured over 100 years ago are still working and being used today for hunting and to protect the homestead, but they are not common. Use and neglect over the years eventually wears them out.
Those who know and shoot the old guns have an enjoyment of the shooting sports that others sadly miss. Shooting them slows the pace and creates an appreciation of the workmanship and old technology inherent in the vintage pieces. And shooting them gives the shooter an insight into the challenges faced by those of the past who used those guns – guns that were modern in their day – for serious pursuits like putting meat on the table or protecting themselves and loved ones from evil-doers.
Not everyone has access to a real antique, but some companies like A. Uberti of Italy make working replicas of the old guns that are very nearly identical to the originals. Much of the demand for these guns comes from participants in Single Action Shooting Society matches, but a great number are sold to people who appreciate the old designs and want to experience shooting them.
Made with modern equipment, Uberti’s 1875 Top Break No. 3 2nd Model is very close to the original Schofield revolver from the mid-1870s. The most notable feature of the No. 3 is the top break design that permitted the simultaneous ejection of all fired cases from the cylinder. When the latch was manipulated and the barrel and cylinder pivoted away from the frame and grip, the ejector was activated.
All the cases being ejected at the same time with one motion made reloading under stress faster than with a Single Action Army. Hopeful for a government contract, Smith & Wesson submitted the No. 3 to the Army Ordnance Board for testing, and while the board liked it, a centerfire version was requested to replace the original .44 Henry rimfire chambering. So S&W offered the gun in .44/100, which eventually became known as the .44 American, as well as .44 Henry.
Eventually, Major George Schofield, serving with the 10th Cavalry in Kansas, learned of the No. 3 and became S&W’s sales agent for Colorado and Kansas. He then later made some design changes and was granted patents that included a different latch and an improved extraction system.
The original latch was pushed up to operate, which is very difficult to do with one hand while holding the gun and riding a horse. Schofield’s latch was pulled backwards and down, requiring only one hand, making it easier for a mounted trooper to operate. Even though the Army adopted the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) in .45 Colt instead, Schofield kept pushing the Army to try his Schofield design and finally persuaded it to buy 3,000. Other purchases followed that initial one, but the SAA was still the main service handgun.
Two versions of the Schofield were made, the 1st and 2nd models. There were some minor mechanical differences, but the main difference was that the latch on the 1st model had a smooth top surface and, on the 2nd, had a knurled one for better purchase.
The Schofield required a different cartridge than the SAA due to the length of the cylinder chambers and the extraction method. So the Army approved what was essentially a modified .45 Colt cartridge for the Schofield and called it the .45 S&W Schofield. Both rounds could be fired in the SAA, but the .45 Colt could not be fired in the Schofield. This is probably what caused the Schofield to eventually be set aside by the Army in favor of the SAA.
By 1880, the Schofields were declared surplus by the Army and were sold to the civilian market. Wells, Fargo & Company bought many of them and shortened the 7-inch barrels to 5 inches. Many individuals also carried Model No. 3s, making them very popular in the Old West, and several notables, including Jesse James and Buffalo Bill, carried them.
The sample 1875 Top Break No. 3 is closest in design to the 2nd model Schofield because of the serrated latch. The barrel, cylinder and frame are very nicely finished in a lustrous blue, and the hammer, trigger guard, ejector lever and latch are nicely color case hardened with good amber, brown and blue coloring in interesting patterns.
The front blade sight, which is pinned to the barrel, appears to be made of brass. The rear sight is a V notch cut into the top of the latch, and while not easily acquired by today’s standards, the sights did work and were regulated to the point of impact. Glare off the front and rear sight may cause some difficulty in aiming if the light source is in the right – or wrong – place. The gun has a 7-inch barrel, but various barrel lengths are available depending on the model selected.
The hammer has a broad spur that is checkered after a fashion but provides a slip-resistant surface for cocking. There are four hammer positions. After pulling the trigger, the hammer is all the way forward at rest with the integral firing pin protruding from the breech face. Pulling the hammer back to the first click withdraws the firing pin, but the cylinder remains locked. Another click back unlocks the cylinder so that it rotates freely. In either one of the first two partially cocked positions, the latch can be activated and the barrel and cylinder rotated down to eject the shells. The fully cocked hammer position is all the way back and is self-explanatory.
When the latch is pulled backwards and down, the barrel and cylinder pivot down, and at the same time, the ejector is raised away from the cylinder, ejecting the cartridges. Continuing to rotate the barrel down allows the ejector to snap back into the cylinder, allowing fresh cartridges to be inserted. Once loaded, the barrel can be pushed up and locked into place. When doing so, the shooter must pay attention that, for safety reasons, an empty chamber rests and is locked in place beneath the hammer. That may require cocking the hammer and while restraining it, allowing it to go forward on an empty chamber.
The walnut grip panels, or stocks, on the test gun were nicely executed with a dull, oil type finish, which afforded a solid grip while shooting. The trigger broke cleanly at a little more than 4 pounds after some slight creep. The fluted cylinder held six rounds of .38 Special, but the gun is also available in .45 Colt, .44 Russian and .44-40.
The S&W Model No. 3 was the first American made large-frame revolver built specifically to shoot self-contained metallic cartridge ammunition. It has a rich history despite the small production numbers, and shooting a replica brings to mind a time when things moved more slowly and self-reliance was more highly valued.
For more information, visit Uberti.com or contact Stoeger Industries at 800-264-4962.
Uberti 1875 Top Break No. 3 Caliber: .38 Special Barrel Length: 7 in. Overall Length: 12.5 in. Weight: 3 lbs. Stock/Grip: Walnut Sights: Fixed rear notch and front blade Action: Single action, break open Finish: Blued Capacity: 6 Price: $1,079
CZ's new Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine is a slick, user-friendly firearm that's well suited as a serious home defender or as a fun plinker at the range.
Many readers have heard of the Skorpion vz.61. A small, easily carried machine pistol with a wire buttstock and chambered in 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP), the gun has a mystique about it that fascinates many. After development was completed in 1961, the gun was first adopted by the Czechoslovak State Police and then the Czech Army.
The original blowback-action Skorpion was fed from a detachable box magazine that was located in front of the trigger, and the gun fired from a closed bolt, permitting more accurate single-round fire. After the fall of the iron curtain, production of the Skorpion continued off and on by Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ) until the last unit was produced in 1994.
Early on in the life of the Skorpion, it was recognized that a major flaw was the low-powered .32 ACP chambering, so development began on new chamberings like 9mm Makarov, .380 ACP and 9mm Luger. Various commercial versions were offered, but all failed in the marketplace.
The Same, Only Different
The name and basic concept of the Skorpion lived on at CZ, and in 2005, the company produced a prototype submachine gun called the XCZ 868. While there were a few subtle similarities to the original vz.61 Skorpion, the new prototype design had little in common with it. Nevertheless, the new prototype led to the 2009 introduction of the Scorpion EVO 3 A1, a select-fire submachine gun chambered in 9mm Luger.
The new gun caught on, perhaps partially because of its namesake, but more probably because of its features and usefulness. While it is a blowback-operated, magazine-fed submachine gun, it is chambered in the much more reasonably powered 9mm Luger instead of the .32 ACP. It also has a collapsible buttstock that can be folded to the side and a handguard to which a vertical foregrip can be attached.
With the success of the Scorpion EVO 3 A1, CZ decided to make a semi-automatic commercial version, and designated it the Scorpion EVO 3 S1. Originally introduced in the US as a pistol with no buttstock, CZ now has made available a carbine version that is the subject of this review.
Chambered in 9mm Luger, the Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine is supplied with two 20-round polymer magazines. Thirty-round magazines are also available. The magazine well is beveled to encourage fast reloads, and the ambidextrous magazine latch is a lever located on the front of the trigger guard that can be activated by pushing it forward with the trigger finger or with the thumb of the offhand while removing the magazine. Magazines did not always drop free on the test gun.
The trigger guard is generously sized to accommodate a gloved finger, and the single-stage trigger on the sample broke at about 9 pounds after some creep. The pistol grip can be moved fore or aft to adjust the distance the trigger finger must reach.
The handguard and upper and lower receivers are polymer. And running from the rear of the upper receiver to the front of the handguard is a polymer Picatinny-style rail to which can be attached an optic. The gun comes with an elevation-adjustable post front sight and a windage-adjustable aperture rear sight. CZ even supplies a tool for sight adjustments. There are actually four apertures, each of a different size so the shooter can choose between fast target acquisition and a more precise sight picture. Just rotating the aperture toward the front or rear brings the next aperture into alignment.
The handguard features Magpul M-LOK attachment points along the bottom and on both sides for the addition of accessories such as lights, lasers or vertical foregrips. And since the handguard is polymer, it did a good job of insulating the hand from barrel heat. The barrel measures 16.2 inches in length, has a black finish and 1/2×28 threads at the business end. A brake is installed at the muzzle and was effective in reducing muzzle rise.
A collapsible polymer buttstock can be folded to the right for transport and storage. Grasping the butt from the rear and squeezing a large lever just forward of the buttpad releases the lock to allow a change in length. By pushing a large button on the left side of the gun at the junction of the receiver and buttstock, the buttstock can be folded to the right. In an emergency, the gun can be fired with the buttstock folded.
There are two eyelets for the attachment of a sling, one at the front and one at the rear, on both sides of the upper receiver. Also, at the rear of the upper receiver on the left side is a slot through which a sling can be threaded.
Disassembly for cleaning is straightforward. After double checking to make sure the gun is not loaded, the charging handle is retracted and pushed up to lock it to the rear. Then disengage the pin that secures the lower receiver to the upper. Pull the lower receiver to the rear and down to separate it from the upper. Next, with the thumb, grasp the bolt from the bottom and pull it to the rear and away from the upper. The recoil spring assembly is captured by the bolt. No further disassembly is recommended. Assembly, as they say, is in reverse order.
Running the gun is simple. The charging handle located on the left side of the gun forward of the receiver, can be switched to the right side if desired. It is non-reciprocating, but can be locked to the rear by retracting it and pushing upward, catching it in a slot. Releasing it to go forward requires merely slapping it down.
After the last round is fired, the bolt is held to the rear. Once a fresh magazine is inserted, the charging handle can be pulled all the way to the rear and released, or the bolt release, located on the left side of the receiver just above and forward of the trigger, can be pressed down. Either allows the bolt to go forward into battery, feeding a round into the chamber.
The ambidextrous safety selector has two positions, safe and fire, denoted by a red and white icon. The safety on the sample gun was stiff, but not unusable, and may become easier to manipulate over time. However, it was difficult for some shooters to reach with the thumb of the firing hand when holding the pistol grip.
Additionally, the first knuckle of the trigger finger of some shooters was bumped by the lever during recoil. Fortunately, Apex Tactical makes an aftermarket safety selector that solves the problem. It is easy to install and requires no modifications to the gun.
The Scorpion carbine was pleasant to shoot, and no malfunctions whatsoever were experienced with the sample gun. At 50 yards, a reasonable range for a pistol-caliber carbine accuracy test, the gun consistently printed groups just over an inch. That’s respectable.
CZ may have a winner with the Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine. For more information, contact CZ-USA, 800- 955-4486, CZ-USA.com.
CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 Carbine Type: Semi-auto, blowback Caliber: 9mm Luger Barrel Length: 16.2 in. Overall Length: 36 in. Weight: 6.06 lbs. Stock: Synthetic collapsible and folding Sights: Windage- and elevation-adjustable rear aperture and front post Finish: Black Capacity: 20 or 30 rounds MSRP: $999
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the July 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
One of SIG Sauer's most iconic 9mm pistol designs for discreet carry is back in the form of the P225-A1.
Classics always seem to survive despite changes in style and taste. And the SIG P225 was, and still is, a classic handgun that the Swiss created in the 1970s as a compact companion to the SIG Sauer P220. It was adopted as the law enforcement sidearm by several nations, most notably the West Germans, who designated it as the P6. As time passed, the West Germans transitioned to a different sidearm, and surplus P225s began to arrive in the US.
These single-stack 9mm imports gained a loyal following and were prized by many as a gun for discreet carry even though the striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol trend had begun. Now, as more states make lawful, discreet carry easier, the trend is toward smaller, single-stack handguns. All the major handgun manufacturers recognize this, but not all have a classic like the P225 in their heritage.
Although the original SIG P225 was made only in Europe, the new and improved SIG P225-A1 is made in the U.S. According to SIG, the gun is essentially the same as the P225 but has been made better by the use of the enhanced Short Reset Trigger (SRT), slight changes in design and new manufacturing methods that permit parts to be made to more precise tolerances and standards.
SIG Sauer has developed a reputation for making high quality firearms, but high quality does not come cheaply. So with an MSRP of $1,122–$1,236 with SIGLITE Night Sights, the P225-A1 cannot be classified as inexpensive. However, that is not going to deter those buyers who value high quality, especially in a classic design that has been enhanced by modern manufacturing methods and technology.
This gun is not going to be for everyone. In addition to the price, the trigger action is traditional SIG, with a double-action stroke for the first shot that transitions to single action for following shots. Compared to a single-action or striker-fired gun, the action is more difficult to master, but for those who take the time to train, it is quite satisfactory. A competent shooter can hold his own with a double-action/single-action (DA/SA) handgun against any other shooter of a similar skill level using a single-action or striker-fired handgun.
Details Unlike striker-fired pistols, the P225-A1 has an exposed hammer. When the hammer is in its resting position, the initial stroke of the trigger retracts the hammer to the cocked position before it is released to strike the firing pin. This first stroke requires more force than subsequent strokes because, after firing the first round, the action of the slide cocks the hammer and prepares it for the next round. Subsequent shots require only a shorter and lighter press of the trigger to release the hammer.
The first double-action stroke on the test pistol measured about 14 pounds, and single-action pulls measured about 6 pounds. The double-action pull was smooth and exhibited no perceived stacking, while the single-action pull had a short take-up, some creep, but a crisp let-off. Reset was distinct and indeed short as is implied by the Short Reset Trigger’s name.
Controls Controls are distinctly SIG. There is no external safety, but the gun has a firing pin safety that prevents the firing pin from moving forward to strike the primer unless the trigger is pulled. There is also a rebounding hammer that is blocked from contacting the firing pin until the trigger is pressed all the way to the rear. Additionally, the gun is equipped with a decocking lever on the left side just forward of the grip panel. Stroking it down when the pistol is cocked safely releases the hammer to fall without striking the firing pin and prepares it for a long, double-action pull. However, safety dictates that when using the decocking lever, the gun be pointed in a safe direction.
The slide catch is located above the left grip panel just to the rear of the decocking lever where it is easy to engage with the thumb of the right hand when retracting the slide. The magazine catch is also located on the left side of the frame at the junction of the trigger guard and front strap. It, too, is easy to reach.
The trigger guard is generously sized and is undercut at the front strap to allow the shooter to get a higher hold on the gun. This will help to control recoil, although with the weight of the gun, the 9mm chambering and a proper hold, recoil is quite manageable allowing for rapid follow up shots.
The alloy frame is nicely finished with a black hard coat anodizing. The two-piece grip panels are black G-10 manufactured for SIG by Hogue. Fastened by two screws on each side, they feature aggressive checkering on the sides and backstrap, and they are inlaid with an attractive silver SIG medallion on each side. The front strap has fine checkering, and most people will find the gun easy to grip firmly for good control.
The gun is supplied with two matte black steel eight-round single-stack magazines with witness holes. The magazines have a steel follower and a polymer base that sits nearly flush with the bottom of the grip when inserted. The magazine well is considerably wider at the base than the width of the magazine and is then tapered to form a funnel. This encourages rapid magazine changes.
The stainless steel slide has an evenly applied flat black Nitron finish. Deep serrations at the rear help the shooter obtain a firm grip on the slide when cycling the action by hand. The slide has the familiar SIG contours that have been around for decades and are pleasing to most eyes, and atop the slide are three-dot sights that are drift adjustable for windage. SIG also offers SIGLITE Night Sights with three tritium dots that glow in the dark, which help solve the serious problem of trying to find the sights in dim light. They are a good investment, especially considering that most lethal confrontations take place in diminished light where predators like to operate.
Test Fire The P225-A1 received for testing was an accurate gun and proved to be enjoyable to shoot. At 7 yards, a reasonable distance to test a short-barreled compact handgun, groups averaged 1 inch or less, with the best group delivered by Asym Match ammo at .39 inch. Obviously, at longer ranges, groups would widen, partially due to the challenge of aiming an iron-sighted handgun with a short sight radius.
Some observers have questioned why SIG would reintroduce the P225 when the company already makes the P239, which is almost identical and costs about $130 less. The P225-A1 is 1 ounce heavier than the P239, and the guns are about the same size. The grip panels are slightly different, but the controls are the same. SIG obviously believes there is enough demand for the classic design to make producing it a profitable venture. And SIG makes few mistakes, so only time will tell. For more information, go to SIGSauer.com or call 866-345-6744.
SIG Sauer P225-A1 Type: Semi-auto, double action, locked breech Caliber: 9mm Parabellum Barrel: 3.6 in. Overall Length: 6.9 in. Weight: 30.5 oz. Grips: Black checkered G10 Sights: SIGLITE night sights, or contrast sights Finish: Nitron and hard-coat anodizing Capacity: 8+1 MSRP: $1,236 (night sights), ($1,122 (contrast sights) Manufacturer: SIG Sauer