Monday, January 30, 2012

Scoping the Ruger Blackhawk

I mentioned in a previous post that after acquiring my K-38 Masterpiece I was thinking about selling my Blackhawk. But on reflection, I decided to keep it since:
  1. It chambers .357 as well as .38 special cartridges
  2. It's probably the strongest .357 revolver ever made
  3. I could use it for handgun silhouette or hunting
  4. and the most important reason:
  5. I'd wanted one for a long time, and would probably regret it if I sold it.
So I kept it. And since it would make a great hunting or silhouette gun, I thought scoping it or adding a red dot sight would make it a better 50 to 100 yard gun, especially given my aging eyes.

After doing some research on various forums I learned that the Weaver mount was reliable and easy to mount, requiring no drilling and tapping. I found a Weaver mount on eBay at an attractive price (about half the new price) complete with rings.

 Installation is a simple affair. First remove the height adjustment screw and tap out the pin that serves as a hinge for the rear sight. If you're careful, the spring won't jump out of your hand and you can put the sight parts away for safekeeping, should you ever sell the gun or decided to return it to iron sight use.

There's a clamp that slides over the barrel and attaches to the front of the mount, and a screw and spacers that attaches the rear of the  rear of the mount. Put a dab of Loctite on the screws (blue in front, purple on the smaller rear screw), tighten both up snug, and you're done.

After first mounting a red dot sight on it I decided that a scope would be better for longer ranges. You can find handgun scopes with magnifications as high as 6x, but the highest power most shooters can reasonable handhold is 2x, so that's what I decided on. My first inclination was to get a Burris, as I've had excellent experiences with Burris scopes on airguns. But a number of reviewers of the Burris 2x scope reported problems with shifting reticles, so I kept looking. There were some good reviews of Nikons, Bushnells (Bushnell made the first scope designed for pistol use), and Leupolds, but the Leupolds were a bit over my budget and I couldn't find the Bushnell and Nikon scopes I was interested in at any of my usual suppliers.

Then I came across a number of Swift pistol scopes. Swift is not a well known brand even though it's been around for a while. It was one of the first quality Japanese scopes, and my local gun shop (the sorely missed Geake's Sporting Goods) were big fans of Swifts.  I found a lot of positive reviews of Swifts, and no negative ones. One owner said his local dealer claimed they were "every bit as good as Leupolds."  I found a 2x20 Swift for only $99.95 at Midway, crossed my fingers, and ordered it. (I see that Amazon now has the same scope in silver for $5 less.)

It arrived today, and my first impression was that this was a solidly made scope, constructed with thick wall tubing. This is not a scope that can easily be dented. I mounted it in the Weaver rings after first lining the upper ring section with a layer of electrical tape-  something I always do. It's a good way to allow the rings to grip the tube solidly without tightening them so much that you run the risk of crushing the tube.

I haven't had the scoped gun to the range yet, and it's still too cold and wet to do any outdoor shooting. But I suspect this will be a very accurate long range setup, once I find a load it likes.

Update: Took it to the indoor range and tested the gun @ 50'with some mild .38 special loads (148gr DEWC over 3.5gr W231). The scope makes putting the shots in the 10 ring easy. We'll have to see how it does at 25-100 yards with some more realistic loads. I don't plan on shooting full-bore .357 loads for silhouette but I'll want to use something a bit stiffer than my indoor .38 loads.

Update II: I later shot it at 50 and 100 yards with commercial and reloaded .357 loads. It took a few shots and some helpful spotting to find the point of impact at 100 yards, but once I did, I was putting them all on target.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Setting up a reloading press

One thing about progressive presses and turret presses- you have to make sure they're properly aligned. I was setting up my new Lee Turret Press, setting the dies to the proper height, setting the bullet seating ram, and so forth before I began loading live rounds. (Notice there's no primer in this case.)  I'm not quite sure how this happened, but it did make me stop and check the advance mechanism and make sure the dies were advancing and indexing properly before I started priming cases.

I'm keeping this on my reloading bench as a reminder ;-)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A good, cheap, reloading stand

It's been two months (!) since I bought my new Lee Turret Press, and I'm finally ready to start reloading again. In the intervening weeks I've scraped all the loose paint off two walls, patched them with hydraulic cement, painted them with Drylok, thrown out several full garbage bags of assorted junk, put up three large shelving units and mopped the floor, none of which is of interest to shooters and reloaders.

What might be of interest is the stand I found for my reloading press. Lee has a well-regarded three-legged stand that comes with their quick-mount system for around $80 plus postage, but I found something cheaper, and perhaps better for my purposes at Harbor Freight. They call it an "Adjustable Height Heavy Duty Workstand," and while it normally sells for $27.99 it's been on sale for $24.99 for some time. It's not really adjustable in height, except while you're building it, but it is pretty heavy duty.

The top is a piece of 3/4" thick MDF, 20-1/8" by 17-3/4", and it's sturdy enough to mount some pretty heavy equipment. HF says the stand has a capacity of 1000 pounds, although I don't know that I'd be comfortable putting that much weight on it. But it is more than sufficient for mounting one or more reloading presses, which is exactly what I did. I've got the Lee Turret press on one side, the quick-mount bracket on the other (I'll be using this for a single stage press), and there's still room for more. There are two shelves underneath where you can keep extra dies and other components.

I actually bought two of these, with the second one now supporting my 4" belt sander. I'm temped to get a third to remount my drill press.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The S&W Model 14-3 K-38 Masterpiece

Being a child of the 1950s, I have more of an affinity to the guns of that era than the new plastic frame DA autos, .40 calibers, AR15 clones and so on. I'm drawn to wood-stocked rifles, single action revolvers and classic autos like the 1911 and my own PPK.

One of my favorite guns has always been the Smith & Wesson Masterpiece. (It's often called the "Target Masterpiece", to distinguish it from the Model 15 Combat Masterpiece, but S&W just called it the Masterpiece.) This is a real target pistol, with a target hammer, target trigger, checkered backstrap and grip, and a matte sight rib. Even without custom tuning this is a very accurate, easy to shoot gun. No one shoots revolvers in serious bullseye competition anymore (everyone's gone over to .32 autos) but I don't plan on doing any serious competitions with it- just paper punching at my own pace.

The basic K-Frame is probably the most successful revolver S&W ever made. It may be the most successful revolver in US history. Introduced as the  38 Hand Ejector in 1899 and renamed the Military and Police in the 1920, it became the most popular police gun in America, with perhaps 80% of all police departments having been armed with K-frame M&Ps at one time. It was a standard sidearm for US and Commonwealth forces in WWII, and with the USAF through Vietnam and beyond. There were eventually target versions in 38spl, .32 and .22, and .357 combat versions.

The Model 14 K-38 dates from 1949, and went out of production around 1999 when S&W modernized their product line. But the people at S&W noticed that the prices of a lot of these discontinued models kept rising, and so they brought back the Model 14 and many other guns in somewhat modified form as "Classics Revolvers," with (for instance) frame mounted firing pins in place of fixed hammer-mounted pins.  You can buy a new K-38 for $909 (list price) although a lot of shooters still prefer the older guns.

I hadn't actually been looking for a new gun, but my friend Ric and I dropped into a a local gun shop on the way to his sporting club and this one- a 1970 14-3- caught my eye immediately. Classic lines, checkered walnut grips, S&W quality, and money in the toy account from the recent sale of other toys. Plenty of bluing wear, but then it's a 40 year old gun. Cylinder and bore were clean and shiny and the cylinder locked up nice and tight.  Ric, who knows a thing or two about S&W revolvers, gave it his approval.  I obviously had to buy it. At the club, I test fired it with Ric's  .38spl wadcutters and found it easy to shoot and very accurate- more so than my Blackhawk. It pointed more naturally, too.

Ric suggests I do a tuneup on it to smooth out the double-action firing behavior, which would turn it into a pretty decent entry level PPC gun. But I don't expect I'll do any PPC competition. As fun as it looks, I have too many other hobbies that take up my time. I think I'll just enjoy casual bullseye shooting, plinking, and maybe even some small game hunting with it.  And maybe the Blackhawk will go up for sale.