Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Good Old Days

Here's an ad from the inside back cover of a 1966 issue of The American Rifleman. That was two years before the 1968 GCA, which meant you could order any of those pistols directly from the seller. Granted, $30 in 1966 is not the same as $30 today; adjusted for inflation, that $30 Browning 1910 works out to about $200 today. Still, either of those Browning pistols are worth about $400 today.  And it gets better- or worse, depending on your perspective. How about a nice Enfield in .38 S&W?

$24 in 1966 is about $160 today- still pretty reasonable, as that same gun would sell for $500-600 in NRA Excellent condition. Ever see a Norwegian made WWII era 1911? American Rifleman had a feature on that gun a few months ago. They sell for $1500-2000 today. Back then...

That's about $330 in 2011 dollars. There are also GI M1 carbines for $70, Enfield .303 rifles for $22, P14s and P17s for $24, and unissued Mauser K98s for $22, with the note that they can be easily sporterized.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Chief's Special that wasn't

I spotted what I thought was a Colt [1] Model 36 Chief's Special at a very low price while browsing at a coin and gun shop not far from home. But the name stamped in the side- "Liberty Chief"- wasn't the name of any Colt I was familiar with. I flipped the gun over and looked at the other side:

There was something printed there, and it wasn't Colt, but it was a familiar name:

Any collector or Browning enthusiast will recognize that name immediately, as Miroku is a well known Japanese maker of quality firearms. They've been producing Browning's guns since production was shifted from Belgium in the 1970s, and Winchester lever action and falling block rifles since the 1990s. They also sell O/U shotguns of their own design under the Miroku name and a few others, including Charles Daly.

This pistol and a version with a 4" barrel were initially marketed in the post-WWII years to the Japanese Police force, who were limited under the terms of the surrender documents to revolvers only. (This was probably to their benefit, as the WWII-era Nambu automatic pistols were dangerous, prone to accidental discharge, and fired a relatively ineffectual cartridge.) But the police force chose an S&W instead, and Miroku ended up exporting guns to other Asian countries, and to the US, where they were marketed under the Liberty Chief and E.I.G. names (E.I.G. was Saul Eig, a Florida based  importer of mostly cheap guns in the 1950s through 1970s).

The design is kind of a hybrid of Colt and S&W design elements. The cylinder lock is clearly patterned after the Colt, but the lockworks are more like pre-WWII S&Ws, with leaf springs rather than coil springs and an S&W type hammer and firing pin. Cylinder rotation is clockwise.  The guns are well made overall, with good fit and finish. Googling "Miroku Liberty Chief" returned a lot of stories from those who'd owned them, and one story of an over hardened mainspring that broke; the owner of that gun found an S&W that was a close fit that he ground down to fit the Miroku.

You might be asking at this point, what's it worth? Gander Mountain has one listed for $299, which seems on the high side. A mint example with no cylinder markings might go as high as $400-450 to a collector, but that would be a rare one indeed. A more reasonable price for one like this one, with close to 100% finish, would be in the $200-275 range. If the guns were better known, there might be more collector interest, which would drive prices up.

My feeling is that this gun is perhaps 70-80% of the quality of a pre-WWII Colt or S&W at half the price. It's certainly superior to any Charter Arms revolver I've ever seen, and to earlier Taurus and Rossi revolvers (I'm told the newer ones are much better.) The downside is that there just aren't any repair parts available from the usual sources; I checked Numrich ( and the only Miroku parts they stocked were for Miroku-made Charles Daly shotguns. A good gunsmith could probably adapt a Colt or S&W part to fit. That having been said, I don't think this is a gun that is going to suffer many failures if it's well maintained.

Postscript: The safe was getting crowded as yet another toy came home with me the other day, so this one went on the block. The new owner got a better deal that I got buying it, and I was glad to pass it on to someone who will enjoy it.

[1] Of course I should have typed "Smith and Wesson," not "Colt." Thanks to the anonymous commenter (see below) who caught that.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finding a good .38 spl target load

These are some of the first two batches of .38 special reloads I tried in my new/old S&W 14-3 Masterpiece. The classic target load for the .38 special is 2.7gr of Bullseye behind a 148gr hollow base wadcutter. I've got some Bullseye, but thought I'd try some other loads using both old powders and newer ones.

I first tried Unique, as I had some on hand. I've used it both for shotgun loads and in the past for .38 and .44 Special loads. It's the second oldest powder on the market (Bulleseye is the oldest) and its longevity is due at least in part to the fact that it's still a useful powder.  I also tried a powder I hadn't loaded before, Winchester W231, which many handgun shooters say is the most versatile powder around.

My Unique load was 4.1gr behind a 148gr cast DEWC, seated flush with the case mouth. This is a bit hotter than the typical target load but turned out to be accurate in both the S&W and the Ruger Blackhawk. (I always test new loads in the Blackhawk first, as it's a tremendously strong gun.) While it was accurate, I had trouble getting the Unique to meter accurately in my Lee Disk Measure, even after giving it a good powdered graphite treatment. My weighed charges were as much as .4gr off from what the Lee manual said I should get from a given disk.

The W231 measured perfectly- within .05gr of what the Lee Manual claimed. That's pretty decent. I was using 3.5gr of W231 behind the same Dardas cast double-ended wadcutter bullets, again seated flush. The W231 produced more flash than the Unique, which was surprising, as W231 is a faster burning powder. Interestingly, most of the flash seemed to be coming from the cylinder gap- something other reloaders claimed to have observed in postings I found in various shooting forums.  Accuracy was good, and recoil was mild, but I'm still looking for a milder load.

While the Lee manual listed 3.5gr as the starting charge, I found a number of shooters on line who stated that 3.2gr of W231 was their preferred load for target, plinking, and small game, so I loaded up 25 of those for testing, along with a similar number of cartridges charged with 2.7gr of Bullseye for comparison. In both instances I only seated the bullet to where the crimp groove was just at the case mouth. By having the bullet not seated flush, there's more room in the case for the powder charge, and pressure should be significantly lower.

The most pleasant load I've fired in the .38 special, and one of the most accurate, is the one my friend Ric uses for PPC- 2.2gr of WST behind a 148gr  hollow base wadcutter (HBWC). I may end up getting some WST and loading a few of my own, using the cast wadcutters. I have a few hundred Remington HBWCs, but I haven't had good luck loading them in my press; they seem to all distort, or get shaved on loading by the dies or the case.

Update: I bought a pound of WST at Double Action and loaded 50 rounds with the same 145gr DEWC bullets I've been using. The Lee disks don't go low enough for the load I wanted, so I used the Lee microrometer-adjustable charge bar to get the 2.2gr charge. I had a good deal of difficulty getting this calibrated with the Lee scale, and there was a fair amount of powder leakage I wasn't able to eliminate.

I went back to the range with three loads: 3.2gr W231, 2.2gr WST, and 2.7gr Bullseye, this time crimped on the first groove rather than being seated flush. All were pleasant to shoot, and the 3.2gr W231 load is a big improvement over the 3.5gr load- much less flash and noise and more accurate. The 2.2gr WST load wasn't as accurate as the others, probably because I had so much trouble getting it to meter accurate from the Lee disk measure.  I think I'm going to stick with Bullseye and W231 for my light loads for now.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mounting and levelling a scope

I spotted this BSA 6-24X44 Tactical Rifle Scope on line around a week ago and it occurred to me that it might be a good scope for the Savage-Anschutz Model 10 rifle I purchased last year.  The Model 10 is a single shot .22 intended as an entry level bullseye rifle, but I purchased it as a rimfire benchrest and plinking gun, and that, along with my aging eyes,  means a scope is a must.  I've had good experiences in the past with BSA scopes on air rifles, and this scope looked like it might be a good choice for airgun field target or rimfire use. More on that in a later post. The first thing I do in mounting a scope on any firearm is to line the upper scope ring with a piece of electrical tape. This provides a high-friction surface that will grip without denting the scope tube.

 The next step, leveling the gun, is critical for accuracy. A scope that's not level is going to change the vertical point of impact as you adjust for windage, and vice versa. At 25 yards you might not notice the difference between just eyeballing it and using a level, but at 100 yards you definitely will. Many shooters just eyeball this, but I like to use a level, and not just any level. I have a very old Starret machinist's level of the sort used for setting up machinery. It's very sensitive to small movements, and will quickly reveal any misalignment:

The paint is well worn from decades of use, but the precision ground bottom is still flat to within a few thou:

With the gun clamped in a vice, find a flat spot on the gun to check for level. If your gun- like this one- doesn't have a horizontal surface, use the lower half of the rings as a reference. Once securely mounted to the gun they should establish a level platform.

Once you've established that the gun is level, place the scope in the rings and very loosely fit the upper rings halves. You don't want the scope to fall off, but you want to be able to easily adjust it.  The first adjustment is eye to scope distance- set this for the position you'll be shooting it.

Last, the most critical setting- making sure the scope is level with respect to the gun.

On most scopes, the best horizontal reference point is the top of the elevation adjustment knob or cap, and that's what I'm using here. As you can see, the bubble is just about perfectly centered. Turn the knob 180 degrees and check again. If you don't get the same reading, the cap isn't a level surface, you'll have to sight the scope at the range to finish leveling. If you do get the same reading in both positions, you should still double check it at the range for maximum accuracy.

Set up your rifle in a vice or stand at the range and using a level, set up a target with strong horizontal lines at 25 or 50 yards. Line up your crosshairs on the target, and check the level of your rifle. Still look good? You're done. But if you want the best possible accuracy, you'll need to shoot a few test targets. Zero your rifle at the selected range, and then shoot a few groups centered on the bullseye, and with enough left and right windage dialed in to get groups at either side of the bull. If everything is level, you've got your scope as level as you can.