Sometimes you have to cull the herd. Maybe you’re on hard times and have to sell your superfluous guns. Or, having finally retired and finding that that Tahiti doesn’t have an IPSC club, you have to settle for someplace else but don’t want to move the entire tonnage. We’ve all bought something because it was a great deal or we thought it would be cool. Heck, on one occasion I almost bought a left-handed Weatherby Mark V in .300 Weatherby Magnum, even though I’m right-handed, see no need for a .300 anything and wasn’t hunting at the time. I almost bought it because it was a beautiful rifle. If you stick in this biz, or just hang around gun clubs enough, you’ll end up with a rack of “When did I last use that?” firearms.
Sometimes you’ve got to lower the inventory. That’s what I’m talking about here. The ones that are left, the ones I’ll keep even if it means I have to walk the roads picking up deposit bottles and cans for cash. Or to put in another way, these are the handguns I want on the boat with me if I opt for a Viking funeral.
Custom Ithaca 1911
I bought my first 1911—a 1943-vintage Ithaca—in 1978 for $179. It didn’t take me long to discover that Jeff Cooper was right. It had its shortcomings, but I quickly had it built up by the late Frank Paris for IPSC competition. It’s now on its second slide, second compensator and third barrel. I used it for more than a decade of weekly IPSC, Steel Challenge and local indoor league competitions. I took it with me for 13 of my 14 trips to Second Chance, where it won me more than my fair share of loot and glory. It went with me to IPSC and USPSA Nationals eight times. The rear sight is a tough-as-nails Bo-Mar (the sights lasted longer than the company). The barrel is my personal gold standard—Bar-Sto—and this one was fitted by Dan McDonald, the gunsmith who taught me the basics. A build of the early 1980s, it is not as well fitted as modern custom 1911s and lacks some refinements. And along the way, one of the mag funnel well additions fell off. (I’ll have to have Stan Chen fit a new one one of these days.) But it has served me well, reliably and long. Alone among my 1911s, this is the one I protect as much as it protected me.
Colt Lightweight Commander
I got my Colt Lightweight Commander when the weight of bigger 1911s was beginning to wear on me. I did a few light modifications to it and began packing it. It rode on my belt through four classes at Gunsite, three for “E” tickets. It was in my hands when we had to call the local PD because of the would-be thief we were detaining in the gun shop seemed as if he needed a bit of persuasion to stay put. And it was on my belt the day I got hit by a car while crossing the street (with the light) when the driver in the left-turn lane opposite me suddenly woke up and realized that the light had changed. She accelerated and turned, and I had no time to do more than ready myself. After bouncing off the windshield, I found myself sitting on the pavement, with pocket change and my Swiss army knife on the pavement with me, but the LWC was still on my hip. I’d been carrying it in a Gordon Davis IWB (his clone of the Summer Special), along with a spare magazine (still secure). I had a slight bruise on my left leg, was otherwise uninjured, and I had a hot date for the evening, so I didn’t bother to wait for the police. If when I die it is such that there will be a funeral, if my LWC isn’t in the coffin with me, it’s because someone has stolen it. Search all the mourners before you start the wake.
Smith & Wesson M28
Working as a gunsmith back in the mid-1980s, I scored an unfired 6 1/2-inch S&W 25-2 barrel in .45 ACP for $20 at a gun show. Amazingly, S&W sold cylinders then for a mere $52 plus shipping. So I rang up Jack First and bought one of his police trade-in S&W M28s ($100) and settled down to the task of learning even more about revolver ’smithing. I soon had a slick .45 ACP revolver just when S&W stopped making them. It saw lots of use in our club matches. Back then, our club allowed shooters multiple entries. We’d sign up for Stock, Open, Revolver, and if there were enough of us, we’d shoot compact carry guns. When I was up to it, I started taking that revolver to Second Chance. Along the way it received a hard-chrome job and found itself the subject of multiple trips to Mag-na-Port, where it finally ended up with seven porting slots. Ultimately, it earned me a ton of loot in competition. The trigger is a bit heavier than is common in competition revolvers these days, but it goes bang with everything. If bowling-pin shooting ever makes a comeback, this one comes out of the safe.
Smith & Wesson 25-2
I also have a “real” 25-2. When the USPSA finally acknowledged Revolver as a Division, I had none that fit the rules. So I found one of our club members who had one and prevailed upon him to sell it to me. Where most of the revolver competitors use stainless M625s, my 6 1/2-inch blued 25-2 stands out. It also stands out because I’ve taken it to a number of USPSA Nationals. My best finish was second, behind Jerry Miculek. I’ve also hauled it halfway around the world twice to IPSC World Shoots. Both times I came back with Team Gold and, in Ecuador, Bronze for Individual Senior, aka “Crusty Old Guy” Division. It is stock according to the rules, but has long passed beyond “as made.” It has a titanium cylinder, installed by S&W. It’s been blueprinted by Mag-na-Port and had the action tuned by Randy Lee. Even in double action, it keeps all shots inside the IPSC target A-zone out to 50 meters. I only thought I knew how to run a double-action revolver, but practicing with this one taught me more. If I somehow get buried with this revolver, make sure those medals get in the casket, too.
Custom Ruger Vaquero
Another custom gun is my Ruger Vaquero in .45 Colt. I prevailed upon Hamilton Bowen to fit a conversion cylinder to it, one chambered in .45 ACP, and to machine the back of the new cylinder to accept .45 Auto Rim. I now have a four-caliber, anvil-tough revolver. Four calibers? Yes: .45 Auto Rim, .45 ACP, .45 Colt and .45 Colt with bear-stomper loads. Alas, despite Hamilton’s gunsmithing wizardry, he could not make it work with .45 GAP. The cases are just too short. That means I can’t take advantage of the glut of that Glock-oriented caliber. While there is a limited number of revolvers that can stand up to a diet of 325-grain Wide Flat Nose bullets at 1,000 fps, the Ruger Vaquero can do it far longer than you or I can. If I ever need a heavy-hitting handgun for hunting or fishing in Alaska, this is the one I’d pack.
I have to include my first Ruger, an utterly bone-stock .41 Magnum Blackhawk. Its four-digit serial number, lacking a prefix, tells me that it’s from the first year of .41 Magnum production. Since it’s a Blackhawk—not a Super Blackhawk—recoil is fierce with full-house loads. I learned a lot about magnum reloading by feeding it. One thing I learned was that a single-stage press was not the best choice if you wanted a volume of practice ammo. Plus, even with carbide dies, full-house loads benefit in the resizing step from a bit of case lube. I also learned that I really didn’t like shooting full-house magnum loads out of revolvers that are too small or light for the horsepower generated. Growing up, I’d learned to shoot with the family Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum. But my brother has that one now, so my .41 will stand in for it. It also serves to remind me that if I really need that much horsepower, I’d best go get a rifle. Or a handgun with more mass to it.
Not all handguns to which I’m attached are ones that I’ve used in competition. One is my Titanium 9mm Commander (with apologies to Colt for temporarily appropriating the trademarked name). Built for me by Ned Christiansen, it features a custom serial number from Caspian (which made the main parts)—Sweeneys9. It is light, durable, accurate and such a rarity that I hesitate to carry it. But it fits my hand like a glove, and I used it to pass the rifle qualification course we teach.
Custom Hi Power
Another noncompetition gun is a Hi Power, built by Wayne Novak. He took one of FN’s third-generation 9mm P-35s with a cast frame and built his Operator package on it. It’s basically what the FBI Hostage Rescue Team used back in the 1980s. In testing it, I put 23,000-plus rounds through it for a grand total of two malfunctions—both magazine-created. Thanks to its Spiegel grips, picking up this tricked-out Hi Power is like being seduced by a redhead. And the cast frame makes it as durable as we always wished the Hi Power to be.
I have to include my Colt Diamondback. It was the first handgun that was mine, not a loaner or family gun. It’s a plain, four-inch blued model made in 1976. I learned how to reload in order to feed it, and thankfully, I never succumbed to the temptation to make it more than it was. (I have a distinct recollection of loading ammo for it in the basement, on an RCBS Junior, to the sounds of David Soul’s Don’t Give Up On Us on the radio). I only ever fed it standard-pressure .38 Special loads, and as a result, while the bluing is a bit thin, it still locks up tight and times properly. Despite my affection for it, I realized early on that the Colt design—from the Official Police through the Python—was fragile, so I treated the Diamondback accordingly.
Finally, there’s my pocket rocket. Well, semi-rocket. An unloved Colt Agent, it showed up at the gun shop back in the 1980s as part of a bulk purchase. Sometimes, to get the guns we wanted, we had to buy everything someone had brought in for sale. The Agent was one of the “extras.” With its unpolished, toolmark-marred aluminum, roughly anodized frame and chambered “only” in .38 Special, no one else wanted it. But I did. I had a Colt hammer shroud in the parts bin, a Tyler T-grip that fit and a burning desire for a lightweight snubbie. Once I had it together, I had it Mag-na-Ported because it was a sharp handful with +Ps (I later learned that +P was not a wise choice and since then have fed it only regular-pressure ammo). It also got shipped off to Armoloy for plating. So why the love, why personal Top 10 ranking for a lightweight snubbie, especially one that, if it ever breaks, can never be fixed? Four times in my life I have come to within a hair’s breadth of a shooting altercation. Three of those times, the Colt Agent was the firearm that was with me, in an upside-down shoulder hoslter. I’m not one to believe in luck, destiny, magic talismans or other such fripperies. But I do know statistics. Having that revolver, for reasons unknown, has kept me upright and ambulatory.