Sunday, June 24, 2012

The EPA and Shooting Ranges

I usually restrict my posts to writing about specific guns and related matters, but this story is something all gun owners, shooters, competitors and hunters should be aware of- an EPA move to shut down a shooting range in Illinois. If they're successful here, you can expect them to move against ranges everywhere:

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Ruger LCP

The other day I was window shopping at Guns Galore in Fenton, MI, looking at various toys I couldn't afford, like a really nice replica Sharps rifle in .45-70, and checking out a number of what are sometimes called "mouse pistols."  I was handling a used NAA Guardian in .32, appreciating its small size, when I noticed this used LCP at an extremely attractive price. I asked the clerk if I could compare the two, and he obliged. My immediate impression was that while the LCP was larger than the Guardian, it was not significantly wider, and it was significantly lighter. It was also $50 cheaper, came with a Fobus holster, and I already had a good collection of .380 ammunition at home.  As an added bonus, it was the green model that Ruger doesn't make anymore. I thought about it for about fifteen seconds, and decided to buy it.

I also bought a box of 50 Sellier and Bellot .380 (I believe I paid $15.95) on the advice of the sales clerk, as I was on my way with a shooting buddy to the Island Lake outdoor range. (As a side note, Island Lake is one of the nicer places to shoot in Southeast Michigan.) Although the LCP is strictly a close-up, defensive arm with primitive fixed sights, I decided to test it at 25 yards to see how accurate it was at that range. I set up a pair of 16"x16" Champion Redfield Style Precision Sight-In Targets on the backstop, one above the other. I figured I could keep the horizontal dispersion pretty much under control, but I didn't know how well the elevation of the sights corresponded to the actual trajectory.

The LCP is a double-action-only (DOA) pistol with a half-inch long trigger pull, half of which is very light. The last bit is stiff, but it's smooth. It's actually smoother and lighter than the PPKJ in double action mode. Accuracy at 25 yards was decent for this kind of pistol. All my shots hit the target I was aiming at, which is to say just about all of them all fell within a 16" square. That's not bad for a gun designed to be used at distances more like 7 yards, and I suspect I could do much better with practice. Just extrapolating from the 25 yard results implies I could keep most of my my shots in a 4.5" square at 7 yards.

I'd read enough about the LCP that I was curious as to how it would compare with my Walther PPK, a gun I've written about previously. The LCP is slightly less than half the weight of the Walther (9.5 ounces versus 22), so you'd expect that recoil would be much worse with the lighter gun. Surprisingly, the LCP is a much more pleasant gun to shoot. Part of the reason is the polymer frame of the LCP, which, but the biggest reason is the action. The PPK uses a fixed barrel, straight blowback action. This contributes to the accuracy of the PPK, but in a cartridge as powerful as the .380, straight blowback requires a heavy bolt and spring to prevent the breech from opening until the pressure in the chamber has dropped to a safe level for extraction of the spent cartridge. The momentum of that heavy chunk of steel creates a very sharp and unpleasant kick when it stops in its rearward movment.

The LCP relies on a more sophisticated  design, the locked breech action found in the classic Browning 1911. The barrel is initially locked to the slide via a series of interlocking grooves. On firing, the barrel and slide move backwards as a unit, the additional mass of the barrel slowing the movement of both and delaying the opening of the breech until the pressure has dropped somewhat. After the two have moved a short distance, the barrel hinges downward, unlocking the slide, allowing it to retract further and extract the spent cartridge. The advantage compared to straight blowback is that the slide and spring can be much lighter, and the recoil can be milder. While the LCP is still not a gun you'd want too shoot all day, it's nowhere as unpleasant as the PPK.

Back home, I also compared the LCP to my other "James Bond" pistol, the Beretta 21A bobcat.  The LCP is only 5% longer (5.16" versus 4.9"), but it's 22% lighter that the Bobcat and 25% narrower. Given that the the .22 stingers that cycle best in the Beretta have an ME of between 80 and 90 foot-pounds, and the .380 produces in excess of 200, the LCP appears to be the better self-defense gun. I'm not selling the Beretta, though, as it's still a neat little pistol, especially with the custom engraved Altamont grips I added. But I think the PPK is going to be heading out the door. As much as I appreciate it from a historical (and literary) point of view, and as well made as it is, I just don't have any real use for it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The M1895 Nagant Revolver

I do have a preference for revolvers, especially old ones1. When it comes to actually shooting, I prefer something reliable and rugged, like a Smith & Wesson, Colt or Ruger. But when it comes to collectables, I have a real affinity for the unusual and the baroque. For instance: I'd really like a .455 Webley (or better yet, a Webley-Folksberry semi-automatic revolver!) But those can get expensive. 

For the fan of unusual, complicated, obsolete revolvers on a budget, there's always the M1895 Nagant.  This is one of the worst sidearms ever issued to regular troops. It's slow to load (and unload), and has the heaviest double-action pull of any revolver I've ever come across. It uses a very unusual design, with a brass cartridge that actually protrudes beyond the front of the cylinder. When the gun is cocked, or the trigger is pulled, the cylinder moves forward until it touches the forcing cone of the barrel. The front of the cartridge is inserted into the barrel, and when fired, it expands, making a gas seal. This feature adds a lot of complexity to the design without providing much of an advantage for the regular soldiers who carried them, although it does make the 1895 Nagant one of the very few revolvers that can be silenced. 

There's a good deal of original Russian 7.62 Nagant ammunition to be had, priced anywhere from $0.35/round to as high as $0.80. Enough of these are in circulation that you can also buy newly made ammunition for them from Prvi Partizan for $21.95/50. Reloaders can buy dies that will allow them to load .32-20 cartridges to fit, although such cartridges won't have the gas seal feature. There are even newly-made cylinders available that will allow you to fire .32 S&W or .32 ACP cartridges in your M1895- if you really want to.

Originally issued to the Imperial Russian Army, it was later used by Soviet troops, and in shortened version is was a favorite of various secret police units, from the Cheka to the NKVD. Despite the availability of better designs (and the Soviets were not shy about copying weapons that worked well) it stayed in production all the way through WWII. On the plus side, it's a very rugged gun. Firing a low-pressure cartridge and being heavily overbuilt, it was reliable, if not terribly accurate. For back of the head executions in the basement of the Lubianka prison it was accurate enough. 

I came very close to buying an example I saw at Gander Mountain today. It was $149, which didn't seem high, as distributors like J&G Sales are selling similar arsenal refinished models with dark bores for $99. (Most also have select bores for $20 more.) I walked around the store for a while, thinking it over, but decided to hold out for a better example with a shiny bore.  There are a lot of them around, and I'm sure I'll find a nice example before too long. Of course, if I'd kept my C&R license (I let it lapse years ago without ever having used it) I could order one direct. Hmm.

Followup: I eventually did buy one, and I've since learned that there were also .22 caliber models and a target model!

1 Seen on the Internet: 
"With a revolver in hand, I feel like Eliot Ness pursuing Al Capone, or Indiana Jones chasing a Nazi tank on horseback, or Phillip Marlowe going down the mean streets of L.A. With a semiauto in hand, I feel like I'm holding a hair dryer."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The H&R Buffalo Classic

I really like early cartridge firearms- particularly the ones used for long range target shooting. Unfortunately, I don't really have the budget for one of those nice Sharps replicas that sell for anywhere from $1500 and up. But H&R makes a beauty they call the Buffalo Classic in .45-70. It's the same simple break open action they've been selling in various shotgun gauges and rifle calibers for decades, dressed up with a nicely sculpted stock, a globe front sight, and a rear receiver sights, and it can be had for well under $400.

Initially it was sold in .38-55 as well, but that's been discontinued. I've been looking around for a used one in either caliber, though I'd prefer the .38-55. There's not a lot of .38-55 ammunition available, but you can get brass, and with a rifle like this I'd want to shoot hand loads that simulated the 19th Century loads, either with black powder or with a modern substitute or perhaps with Trail Boss powder.

The stock sight is mounted on the receiver (older guns used a tang mounted sight) and is only good to to about 100 yards or so, according to various forums I checked, but my current club only has a 100 yard range, so it would be more than adequate. You can get as fancy with this gun as you can with the more expensive ones, and I've seen models on the web that have been highly modified, with period scopes and sights from Montana Vintage Arms that costs far more than the rifle itself. But you can also get reasonably priced accessories from other companies. Buffalo Arms, for instance, has a wide range of affordable peep sights, and period telescopic sights for under $200.