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Scott Freigh

Pinning Down Firing Pins

It’s worth disassembling any gun you might buy to check the condition of the firing pin.
It’s worth disassembling any gun you might buy to check the condition of the firing pin.

It would seem that the mechanism that makes your gun go bang should be simple to understand and evaluate. But the various types of firing pins cause a lot of confusion among gun buyers. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.

Virtually everyone knows that a firing pin hits a primer to set a cartridge off, and there are a lot of methods in getting that operation done. There are too many designs to list them all here, but it’s worth looking at the types you’ll likely run into when you’re considering a gun purchase.


There are usually quite a few parts to a firing pin, but a few parts are more visible and important than others. The nose is part of the firing pin that hits the primer. The pin has a shoulder, which is the larger diameter from the nose of the pin to the main bulk of the pin. The spring recess is the hollow portion of the striker body that holds the firing-pin spring.

Revolver Firing Pins

Most wheelguns use passive or active firing pins. If the hammer is exposed, the firing pin is passive. It remains in the frame and is struck by the hammer or a hammer-transfer mechanism.

If a hammer needs another fixed firing pin, take extra care to see why the thing broke in the first place because it shouldn’t happen under normal circumstances. If the hammer has a hole in the front or a cross-pinning hole in its side, it has an active design.

Active firing pins are usually integral (built into or fixed to the front of the hammer) or swiveling (with a pivot pin through it). Curiously, some S&W models have sprung, pivoting firing pins, while some are unsprung.

Either way, the nose of the pin has to be cammed so it doesn’t hit on the firing pin clearance hole. I prefer the springing style, since it doesn’t involve an impact or scuffing as does the camming method. The latter tends to rupture and tear primers, I’ve found.

Other Common Pin Types

Strikers, commonly found on Mauser bolts, usually have a spring inside the body. The 700 Remington has what looks like a striker, but it is really a quasi-striker system because the firing pin is released by a camming action and not the sear. The transfer-bar system includes a bar or other mechanism to transfer the hammer’s momentum to the firing pin only when the trigger was pulled.

In revolvers, this is usually a bar that lifts up when the trigger is pulled. Some manufacturers place blocking devices directly in contact with the firing pins, notably in the Colt Series 80.

This firing-pin locking-pin style means that several levers must be moved by the trigger before they raise a spring-loaded blocking pin out of the locking notch in the firing pin.

Before You Buy

At some point, someone will show you a gun that needs a firing-pin replacement, but the pin will be missing. Check exploded views of the action to see the complexity of the pin itself.

Even a basic drawing can suggest the pin’s relative size, the number of pieces it has, if it has a retaining pin or screw, and if it works with a return/rebound spring. All those will influence the design and dimensions of the pin and give you a preview of how difficult it might be to get the gun back in service.

If a gun you’re examining needs a firing pin that’s the striker type, make the deal only if the pin is available from your parts sources. Only a very experienced gunsmith, one who is also a good machinist, can make a good striker.

Scott Freigh’s “Before You Buy” column appears periodically in Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Remington 1100

Broken forearms are common on the Remington 1100 due to the thin wall of the stock, so check things over before you buy.
Broken forearms are common on the Remington 1100 due to the thin wall of the stock, so check things over before you buy.

Hundreds of thousands of these popular shotguns have been sold over the decades, and the reason for that is simple: they are good guns. But is that used Remington 1100 being sold for a song, or to a sucker? Here are a few things to check.

Remington’s 1100 self-loading shotgun has seen a lot of changes over the years, some fairly major and some minor, though important nonetheless. If you’re in the market for a used one during the current Obama-pression, it’s a good idea to check on a few things before you hand over portraits of my favorite president, Ben Franklin.

Here’s what to look for Before You Buy:

Getting Started

As you unscrew the magazine cap, always be prepared for the magazine-spring retainer to be missing. If it is, the magazine spring can shoot the cap more than 20 feet and damage whatever it hits. Even if the retainer is in place, the spring has been known to come out on its own after the cap is removed. Something to watch for.

Rust in the extractor-plunger hole can create ejection problems and ultimately cause the destruction of the breech bolt. It’s worth checking early in the evaluation process. Rust doesn’t mean the gun is a dud, but it is a concern.

A Hard Kicker?

Excessive recoil from an 1100 can be a sign of improper mating between the barrel and the rest of the gas system. The problem can be caused by either too much gas pressure or too little.

Excessive pressure will open the breech too quickly while there is too much pressure still in the barrel, allowing the breech to blow back so hard that it gives excessive kick. Swelling of the fired shell is a sign of the breech’s opening early and showing excessive gas flow.

Insufficient gas pressure allows the breech to remain locked too long, giving the shooter the same recoil of a pump or other locked-breech shotgun. Low pressure often leads to a short stroke of the action. This will show up as improper or soft ejection and other feeding problems. Cleaning the gas ports will sometimes take care of this.

Seal Check

Always check the barrel seal to be sure the piston and piston seal are on right. The piston seal goes on first, with the flat base fitting snug against the front face of the action-bar assembly and the angle cut facing the muzzle.

The gas piston goes on next, with its angle cut facing into the matching angle of its seal. The rubber barrel seal then goes on, and should fit the magazine tube tightly. When slipped down to the notch in the magazine tube, it will still be tight. These seals need to be replaced if they are frayed, flattened, or stretched. Many owners will stretch these onto the front flat edge of the piston, or put them on in the wrong assembly order.

Check the Operating Handle

A common complaint of 1100 owners is that the operating handle comes out too easily and gets lost, or that it sometimes is too hard to get out. It is the operating-handle plunger that holds it, and this is part of the action bar.

Make sure the operating handle is cut or slotted to fit the bar; it may have been changed. Next, check the slots or cup-shaped hole in the bottom of the operating handle to make sure they are clear and clean.

Slip the handle into the action bar and see how much play it has. If it is too loose, it will need to be replaced with a thicker one. If it is tight, but still comes out too easily, the operating-handle plunger is not holding it tightly enough. The cup-shaped hole will need to be cleaned.

Doggin’ It

Some of the more common problems are stuck carrier-dog followers, which will lead to failures to feed. A bent carrier latch will not lift a second shell to the chamber when the shotgun is fired, even though it may work fine while working it by hand.

When the carrier dog is worn or loose on the base of the carrier, it will get the shotgun out of proper cycle and jam the action. If the front edge is worn excessively or bent, it will keep the trigger from engaging as it is supposed to, and will create jams.

Taking Stock of the Gun

The 1100 generally has the same types of external features as other shotguns and its ribs, beads, stocks, and forearms need the same maintenance and care.

Stocks are often replaced on these shotguns without the stock-bearing plate being properly reinstalled between the receiver and the stock. This creates chipped or broken stocks that must be repaired or replaced. Leaving off the action-tube spring nut washer or lock washer prevents the stock from properly fitting.

Before You Buy: Two Oddball Revolvers

Oddballs like myself are drawn to oddball guns. Two of the most interesting revolvers I’ve ever shot have been the 40 S&W/10mm Model 610 revolver from Smith & Wesson, which had an MSRP of $661 when I bought one 10 years ago, and a Freedom Arms’ Premier-grade single-action 5-shooter in .41 Magnum, which was listed at $1,673 in 1998.

Various versions of this pair have been listed in GDTM’s pages over the past few months, but never in much volume. That’s not surprising, since both wheelguns are oddball chamberings for revolvers. But to its credit, Smith still lists the 610, though its MSRP has jumped almost 50 percent, to $980 for either the 4- or 6.5-inch-barrel model, the latter of which is like my former gun. The current version of the 6.5-inch gun is No. 150278 in S&W’s catalog.

Freedom Arms likewise still catalogs a 41 Remington Magnum, and its price hasn’t gone up much in the last decade. The Model 97 No. 905-17 comes in three barrel lengths (4.25, 5.5, and 7.5 inch), and all three sell for $1772.

If you’re an oddball, too, and you would consider buying either of these guns, here’s what you need to know.

Ammo Shortage

Though the S&W 610 is a modern single-action/double-action design and the Freedom Arms .41 mag is single-action only, both guns suffer from a lack of available commercial ammunition, despite the 610 shooting both the .40 S&W round and 10mm cartridges. Certainly, these guns would benefit from handloaded ammunition.

Velocities from the .41 Magnum rounds were impressive. The Federal Hunting 250-grain Castcore ran 1,258 fps, but it was topped (naturally) by the lighter Federal Classic 210-grain Hi-Shok jacketed hollowpoints at 1,466 fps and Winchester 175-grain Silvertip hollowpoints at 1,384 fps.

The 40s and 10mms weren’t bad. Winchester 180-grain full-metal-jacket 40 S&Ws traveled 1,035 fps, similar to the Black Hills 180-grain JHP 40 S&W at 1,032 fps. Hornady 155-grain JHP 10mms were the fastest at 1,389 fps, followed by American Eagle 180-grain 10mm lead bullets (1,072 fps), Blazer 200-grain TMJ 10mms (1,045 fps), and Eldorado Starfire 180-grain JHP 10mm, (956 fps).

S&W 610 Details

The 610 was a handsome stainless-steel six-shooter. Despite its 6.5-inch barrel with full underlug, it had a compact, solid feel. The double-action pull was too heavy for rapid-fire situations, but the Smiths are famous for responding to the gunsmith’s touch. The 610 was a moon-clip gun, that is, the ammunition is held together by a steel clip that contacts the cylinder in front of the breech face.

I thought the Hogue Mono-grip with finger grooves was excellent for double-action use. The gun’s front sight was a serrated ramp with orange insert and the rear was a white-outlined rear notch. Together, they could be confusing.

The single-action trigger was excellent. Its feel was heavy but consistent at 4.5 pounds. Fifty-yard groups for the 610 in 40 S&W averaged just below 5 inches. This same gun was, on average, 1 inch per group more accurate when shooting 10mm ammo. Best groups were obtained with the Hornady 155-grain XTP jacketed hollowpoint in the 10mm case. The 10mm and 40-caliber rounds didn’t cause as much recoil as did the 41 Magnum.

Freedom Arms Premier 41 Magnum

Recoil from the 210-grain Federal Classic 41 Magnums was painful. If I hadn’t used gloves back in the day, sharp edges at the top of the backstrap and under the trigger guard would have sliced my skin.

The Freedom 41 Magnum yielded exceptional results at 50 yards. Two out of the three rounds I fired produced groups of less than 3 inches. Federal Classic 210-grain Hi-Shok JHPs shot 5.0-inch groups, but Winchester 175-grain Silvertip HPs went 3.0 inches and Federal Hunting 250-grain Castcore rounds shot the best groups, 2.9 inches.

Elsewhere, the rosewood grips were blended exquisitely into the brushed stainless-steel frame. The cylinder was left without flutes for extra strength, which we think adds to the overall appearance. The barrel was also brushed stainless, and lettering on the side was tastefully executed. I found the sights offered a clean definition of the desired point of aim.

To load it, the shooter pulled the hammer back to a half-cock position and opened the loading gate on the right side. The cylinder rotated clockwise. Ejection was accomplished by pushing out spent shells with the spring-loaded ejector rod riding along the bottom right side of the barrel. The gate can be closed, the hammer pulled back, or dropped into a safe position all with one hand, adding to the impression of a classic firearm.

Attention to detail on this gun was flawless, and the materials were first rate.

My only complaint was that while crisp edges on the gun look good, but they might cut the shooter’s hands. On a gun with such extraordinary machining, breaking the edges on the backstrap, trigger guard, and loading gate would make the gun more comfortable to shoot.

Gun Review: H&R Ultra Rifle

Learn more about HR firearms at Gun Digest Research. Click Here.Shooters normally associate sub-MOA accuracy with above-average cost, but in the case of this single-shot chambered for .25-06, that wasn't the case. And, even better in the past decade, the price of the H&R Ultra Rifle hasn't changed much at all.

Is the single-shot H&R Ultra Rifle lightweight? Not really. The thick barrel, big laminated wood stock, and a 50mm scope put the package at more than nine pounds.

Most people would agree that it’s better to have a good-shooting rifle that’s also easy on the eyes, but few of us would choose to carry a rifle that looked great, but couldn’t hit the side of a barn.

Some years ago I owned an inexpensive single-shot .25-06 single-shot rifle, a $250 Harrington & Richardson Ultra Rifle. It shot well and operated cleanly, and I still consider it to be a bargain.

Though there are several more models in the line now than when I tested, the basics of the Ultra Rifle remain the same. They are break-action designs with a spring-loaded extractor/ejector. The action is released by pushing a lever on the right side of the external hammer, allowing the barrel to pivot down.

There’s basic bluing, a laminated wood stock, and 26-inch-long barrels on the long-action units. The stock featured a one-inch ventilated recoil pad, and the gun came with swivels installed. I liked the cut checkering on the fore end and the buttstock, and I thought its weight and well-proportioned buttpad made the rifle a joy to shoot.

A recent price check in these pages and in the GDTM online classifieds showed a remarkable fact—these guns still sell for around $250. Here’s more you need to know about these guns, before you buy.

Field Use

Overall, this gun handles well in the field. It is well balanced and shoots well from a woods rest as well as offhand. You’d think that a single-shot would be slim and lightweight, but the thick barrel, large stock of laminated wood, and a 2.5- to 10-power 50-mm scope made the H&R gun tip the scales at 9.3 pounds. It measured 41.4 inches in OAL, but still felt like a manageable field rifle.

The trigger as I received it needed work. It broke at more than six pounds and was grainy. An affordable $75 trigger job changed that to a trigger than broke crisply at 2.8 pounds.

Accuracy Testing

The basics of the Ultra Rifle are a break-action design with a spring-loaded extractor/ejector. Push a lever on the right side of the external hammer, and the barrel pivots down.
The basics of the Ultra Rifle are a break-action design with a spring-loaded extractor/ejector. Push a lever on the right side of the external hammer, and the barrel pivots down.

From the bench, I shot three-round groups with Federal Premium 115-grain Trophy Bonded loads, Federal Premium 90-grain HP Varmint loads, and Federal Classic 117-grain loads. All groups were shot at 100 yards and measured center-to-center to the nearest 0.1 inch.

The groups were fired in rapid succession before the rifle was allowed to cool to see the rifle’s reaction to barrel heating. The short version is that I didn’t see accuracy variations because of heating of the 26-inch barrel, which was 0.7 inch thick at the muzzle.

The best group with the 115-grain Trophy Bondeds was 1.6 inches. The 90-grain Varmint loads shot best groups of 1.4 inches. But the best in the test were the 117-grain soft points, which averaged 0.7-inch group sizes and a best three-shot group of 0.62 inch.

Before You Buy

My experience with the H&R Ultra Rifle is easy to express: It’s a perfectly satisfactory field tool. When you factor in price, the H&R has an unqualified edge over many other guns.

Do I think the lack of magazine capacity (that is, one shot) is a detriment? Of course. But I never lost a deer or coyote I shot with the gun, in part because I was extremely careful with the one shot I did have. The real issue with the single-shot isn’t speed of loading, I found.

It was that I had to take my head off the stock to operate the mechanism and reload, which meant I had to relocate the game in the scope. But that happened only once, and the spike I had to shoot twice was already Dead Man Running—he just didn’t know it yet.

Certainly, a repeater has an advantage, but for the money, if you need only one shot, then the Ultra Rifle is probably worth $250.