Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The .22 Short

The .22 Short is the oldest of the .22 rounds being made today. In fact, it's the oldest American metallic cartridge. It was invented in 1857 by Smith & Wesson for their #1 revolver:

S&W developed the #1 revolver and the .22 Short for personal defense, which might surprise the modern reader, as the original short used a 30 grain bullet and just 4 grains of black powder. Muzzle energy of the original #1 was probably in the range of 40 foot-pounds. Not much of a self-defense caliber from the point of view of today's shooters, but as it is often said, no one wants to be shot, even with a .22 short. And as an ER doctor told me, every gunshot is potentially fatal, even one from a .22 short.

There was a time when the .22 short made sense. Guns were chambered for it, and it was popular with those looking to pot small game at short distances or plink at targets as it's a relatively quiet round when fired from a rifle, especially in standard  velocity versions. (A fellow once told me how he used to bag pigeons on the roof of his college dorm in the 1960s with a .22 short rifle!) Olympic .22 pistols used in rapid fire competition were chambered for it, since it was the lowest recoiling cartridge made.

Today there's only one .22 I know of that's chambered for the short- the tiny North American Arms revolver in .22 Short- and that's more of a novelty than a practical gun. Everything else in .22 is chambered for the .22 LR, and while you can shoot a .22 short from a gun chambered for .22 LR, accuracy suffers from the bullet having to make the long jump through the chamber before it hits the rifled section of the barrel. If you want a quiet, subsonic, load in .22 there are plenty of low-powered .22LR rounds that duplicate the ballistics of the Short.

It still survives and is made in a limited number of loadings by CCI, Aquila, Remington,  and probably some more European manufacturers I'm not aware of, so those with older guns can still shoot and enjoy them.

Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum, Part I

Back in the 1980s I had a pair of Dan Wesson revolvers in .357 and .44 Magnum. Both were superbly accurate, superbly well made revolvers and I wish I'd hung on to them. .357 and .44 are fun calibers to reload, with a wide range of powders and bullet combinations possible. I started out loading hot loads using 2400 that generated a three foot tongue of flame, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly and I started loading rounds that were more like what people were shooting in the late 19th and early 20thC, typically modest loads of Unique- a powder that was available back then, as it turns out.

A few years ago I got back into centerfire shooting and reloading again and bought a Ruger Blackhawk in .357. I've always liked single actions, and especially Ruger single actions. The Blackhawk led to the purchase of a Single Six, and now, a .44 Super Blackhawk to fill out the collection. 

According to the serial number, it's 1974 production, making it an even 40 years old this year. Condition is a touch rough, cosmetically, with some scratches, holster wear, and a tiny bit of rust on the backstrap.  The bores and cylinder were pretty dirty, too. The last owner of this gun was someone who didn't really take very good care of it- it looks like it was fired, shoved in the holster, and left there for a long time. (Tip: NEVER store a gun in a leather holster. It'll rust.) At first I thought I saw signs of heavy leading (which I used to help negotiate price) but turned out it was just big chunks of powder residue. But it locked up solid, and was in generally VG condition, with well over 90% of the blue, so I bought it. When I got home I stripped it, gave it a very thorough clean and lube, and a coat of polarized oil for rust protection. I also worked on the scratched areas and where the bluing had been rubbed off with a bottle of Oxpho-Blue and 0000 steel wool, which made an improvement. Next, I may work on those grips- or buy new ones, as these have a chip missing.

I have in my safe one box of brand-new Federal JHP loads in .44 Mag, purchased in the late 1980s, with a price tag on them that reads "$8.95." How much more could they be now? A lot more, as it turns out. The shop where I bought this revolver had one box of 50 American Eagle for $54.95! Even Midway gets $49.49 for the AE. The cheapest they carry is Prvi Partisan at $36.99. Some of the custom loads from outfits like Buffalo Bore go for $35/20, which works out to $87.50/50. (Correction: Buffalo Bore has .44 mag rounds with solid brass 300gr bullets that sell for about $80/20 rounds. That's $4/each!)

No matter. I'd planned to reload for this gun. I've got a few cans of powder appropriate to the .44, including Unique, 2400, and Trail Boss. But of course I also need large pistol primers ($32-40/1000, plus HAZMAT shipping), cases (found some Starlines for $39/100, shipped) and bullets ($15/150 plus postage from Dardas for 240gr hard cast) and last, but hardly least, a set of dies. I went with Lee as they're compatible with everything else I use. With postage, the dies ran $47.

So that's my birthday present to myself this year, although I may yet sell a few under-used toys from the safe to balance the hobby spending accounts. More after everything arrives and I start loading.