Category Archives: Technical

The IWI Tavor TAR-21 Part I: Out In The Cold

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I’m a traditionalist, when the Keltec KSG was first sent to me for a review I wasn’t immediately smitten. I like wood and steel guns still, and I’m making quite a departure moving into the modern realm of bullpups full of polymer. I ended up liking the KSG, much to my surprise, just as I’m also finding myself extremely fond of the Tavor. The number one question I had, and that I hear from others, with modern polymer guns and especially bullpups is just how reliable, and sturdy are they. To me in Northern Canada, that means cold. I stuck the Tavor out in the cold in an open cardboard box last night, and let it cold soak down to -31C at 0600 this morning when I checked it. I then posted my intentions on a forum I frequent, and received a suggestion to ice spray it. It sounded like a very good bad idea, and I increased the level of questionable choices by snow packing the rifle, tossing it multiple times into a snow bank following the ice spray.

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I sprayed the rifle with water from a spray bottle, focusing extra ice on the bolt / ejection port, magazine release and catch assembly, bolt catch, and trigger, ultimately coating the entire rifle with ice on the exterior. Then just prior to shooting, I tossed it in a snow bank, photographed it, and went straight to this video. Function was flawless, I continued to fire after the video and it even grouped just as well as usual. I was impressed, the amount of snow in the action doesn’t show, but it was an awful lot, and it didn’t bother the Tavor one bit. All polymer bits proved strong, and I fiddled hard with them at -31C, no concerns. The trigger photo above is after it was fired, you can see the ice broke away at the top of the trigger.

Sauer 202 Forest Takedown 9.3×62 & .30-06 Review

 

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I have an oft mentioned Kalahari Lion hunt rapidly approaching, and I decided it was time to switch to a takedown after loading my .375 H&H Ruger RSM and its giant Pelican case on countless aircraft. I secretly pined for the small cases of the wealthy hunters travelling on the same aircraft as me, seeing all those sweet, briefcase-esque little cases in the special firearms pick up area while I retrieved what could be a dead body in a box. Granted, my Pelican was sized big enough for two full length guns, my rifle and my assembled Ruger Gold Label side by side shotgun, making matters worse. The change I sought was drastic however, as for my third departure for the dark continent I bring far more than the usual backpack, boots, and guns; my wife and two young sons accompany this time. That will add significant luggage burden, which no doubt I’ll be expected to shoulder and pack being the lightest traveller of the bunch. Solution? Ask head office’s permission for a travel rifle. Permission was granted after effusive explanation of the benefits and increased ease of travel, and I purchased two competing designs to see which suited me more. Never could determine what I liked in ten minutes at the gun counter.

First purchase and applicant for the new job of right hand rifle was this, the first push feed of my modern era, having been an ardent and even belligerent proponent of controlled round feed in every bolt action I bought for a good while now. Figuring it was time I sample the future, as items like the IWI Tavor and Keltec KSG arrived in the mail for testing for this site and I found to my surprise I actually liked them and saw legitimate merit in new designs, I broke out of my comfort zone and ordered. It was also a departure from my favourite chambering, the venerable and multitalented .375 H&H, for something just a bit less effective but not prohibitively so, and milder. I had been meaning to give the 9.3×62 a good workout for some time as well.

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Chief reason for purchasing this Sauer Forest Takedown however, was its versatility, as I bought it with more than one barrel. Indeed, the Sauer 202 like many true takedowns can be assembled with various “front ends”. The Sauer 202 uses a barrel extension machined integral to the barrel with the lug recesses neatly machined inside, ala AR10 / AR15 design, this allows perfect pre-headspacing of multiple barrels if desired. The 202 uses a three lug bolt, featuring two rows of lugs, for a total of six lugs- very strong. Extraction is accomplished via a Sako style hook, and ejection a standard push feed spring loaded plunger. Three lugs means a 60 degree bolt lift, something I have yet to find appreciably different from the 90 degree Mauser style bolt lift I’m so very familiar with, though many will appreciate the more truncated travel of the bolt handle in a three lug system.

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I gravitated towards the Sauer 202 Forest Takedown because it is a true takedown, unlike the standard 202 and Mauser M03, among others in the class. The others, and standard 202, simply separate barrel from stock or variations on this theme, leaving you with a full length stock and a rifle perhaps a foot shorter than it was initially, but not half the length like a true takedown where the stock splits as well. I chose the Forest in particular due to its 20″ barrel, and proven hard hitting chambering of 9.3×62. It is a trim, handy little package that handles a lot like a heavy Model 94 Winchester carbine. Heavy, I should note, it certainly is, at 9 pounds even as a .30-06 and 9 1/4 pounds as a 9.3×62. The flip side of this, is the weight is back and “in the hands” thanks to the trim 20″ 9.3 barrel, and recoil is so mild you’d assume you’re shooting the .30-06 when it’s actually the 9.3 barrel in place. Speaking of weights, I didn’t scale the trigger, but it was superb and crisp at about 4 pounds.

The sights for the 9.3 Forest barrel befit the Forest moniker, they are extremely large, with a dayglo yellow marked rear blade and a red fibre optic front post. I’m an iron sight guy, have hunted using them exclusively now for approaching a decade, and I found them far too coarse. Decent for saving your bacon up close, but for sharp shot placement further out, seriously lacking. The .30-06 barrel sights were better and more traditional, with a gold blade up front and a cleaner dark steel rear blade. Finish on all of the Forest metal is Ilaflon, an extremely durable and 100% waterproof metal coating that renders the 202 Forrest essentially weatherproof; a very handy and nice touch in fine rifles. I’m as guilty as any of rust specking pricey guns because I have a nasty habit of using them in the field. I wish more fine makers added such common sense features, I may have one of the first Cerakoted double rifles soon, but that’s another matter.

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Now to change barrels on the 202 Takedown, you simply depress the front fore end sling swivel stud, a slick and perfectly integrated catch for the fore end you don’t even notice is there until you use it. As a side note the rear sling swivel can be removed in a very German engineered manner the same way, push the centre of the stud down, and pull it out. With the front swivel stud depressed, you pull the fore end forward and away from the barrelled action. With the bolt open, the barrel is free to be pulled out the receiver, being only a friction fit in the receiver. It is quite a tight fit that requires a strong pull to separate, it’s a good idea to have a film of oil on the near mirror finished barrel shank. The very tight fit is a good thing as there is no slop as a result, and very German in its fit and precision, as mentioned the shank is almost mirror smooth. There is an integrally machined key on the underside of the barrel and matching keyway in the receiver, that ensures the barrel stays timed perfectly, and can’t rotate.

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The barrels are retained chiefly by the bolt, as the lug recesses as mentioned are machined right into a ring on the breech end of the barrel, which the bolt lugs engage to lock up the action for firing and always ensuring barrel, bolt, and receiver are tightly bound as a single unit. Secondary barrel retainment, such as when the action is open for bolt cycling to chamber a new round, is achieved by the tight friction fit of the barrel in the receiver ring and ultimately the tapered fore end barrel channel and tension rearward on the fore end provided by the takedown mechanism. The channel’s taper combined with the tension from the takedown assembly ensures the barrel is held back in the receiver even under severe jolts. You can change chamberings, or barrels rather, in the 202 Takedown in five seconds if well practiced, it is slick, and simple. You need to stay within the family of cartridges to avoid requiring a second bolt and magazine, for instance 9.3×62 and .30-06 share essentially a common case, you could also have .270, or .25-06 and 9.3×62. If you have a magnum 202, you can run any manner of spare barrels within that range, but not 9.3×62  or .30-06 or the like without a second bolt and magazine, not cheap.

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One aesthetic feature I appreciated, and rare in firearms, is all the controls are matching. Both safety buttons, yes there are two and I’ll get to their operation shortly, the magazine release, and the swivel studs both the fore end release and the rear all work by depressing a button. All take approximately the same force, and are approximately the same size. The safety buttons and mag release are all absolutely identical in appearance, ringed low buttons about 3/8″ in diameter. The safety is interesting, and I really liked it. There is a button in the trigger guard, in front of the trigger, which you press up to go to “FIRE”, a connected button behind the bolt rises to expose a red ring, indicating ready to fire. There is also a red cocking indicator that peeks out the back of the bolt when the rifle is cocked on a closed bolt. To turn the safety back on, depress the button behind the bolt to hide the red ring. It is extremely fast and intuitive in use, and I never put my finger in the trigger guard unless intending to fire, so the position in the trigger guard suits me just fine. It is really nice not having to shift your grip in the slightest to silently operate the safety. For the magazine release, mags will cleanly drop free with gusto in a way reminiscent of a black rifle, thanks to a spring on the edge of the magazine well that keeps the mag under positive spring pressure. This ensures there is no rattling, a well thought out, and again very German touch, and it also drops the spent mag out quickly and cleanly.

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I did experience an issue I had read about, and that was the first shot flier after assembly of the rifle, all successive rounds grouped very tightly. I presume this is a result of slop being taken up, and barrel / bolt / receiver being jarred into proper alignment on the first firing. The flier was close enough to still hit home at hunting ranges, staying well on an 8.5″x11″ target at 100 yards relative to the following “good” rounds, I’d say average 3-4″ from the others, but it is still a curious and slightly disconcerting trait. Following advice I had been offered online, I found thumping the butt of the rifle against solid ground or a bench fixed this, so after changing barrels or assembling, give the rifle a rap on the butt pad against a firm surface and it will from then group tightly from round 1. Following assembly and use I did not however handle it as aggressively as I would hunting in Africa for weeks, and I wonder if all the time in a Land Cruiser’s gun rack jostling about, climbing steep granite gomas for views, dropping the rifle and so forth could work the tolerances open again to the point you’d get the flier without having disassembled it. I would thump the butt on the ground every morning as a precaution, not a procedure I would like to see being necessary unfortunately however. My double rifle, notably, does not suffer from this reassembly flier.

The rifle, really through no fault of its own, is also extremely susceptible to the classic push feed jam, or double feed. It was extremely easy to jam the action when purposely running a “bolt stutter”, that is to go forward partway, bring the bolt back, and go forward again as in a panic situation or when working the rifle at an awkward angle. It was quite a chore actually to attempt to clear the jam I induced through the small port offered for ejection on the 202, compared to the massive ports I’m accustomed to on American rifles and Mausers where essentially half the action is open to air. This, combined with my slower performance, and poorer hits by far, on 25 yard and closer speed drills versus the more powerful double rifle quickly made the decision for me with which I’ll hunt Lion. The slower nature in which I worked the 202 but more importantly the poorer hits, despite the lighter recoil of the 9.3×62 versus the .375 double, has everything to do with my preferences and practices and not the rifle, I’m just stating what I found in use. The ease of jamming the rifle solid reaffirmed my earlier notions on controlled round feed and dangerous game rifles.

A Classic Push Feed Jam, The Double Feed, not Sauer’s Fault but a Reality

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Would I recommend this to a friend? No.

I’m afraid that the cost, at about $6,500+ retail in the US, over $7,000 in Canada plus spare barrels makes this slick, but still push feed, fairly standard rifle cost prohibitive. The trouble is there are so few takedown, quality bolt actions available period, so if it’s something you need these are well thought out, solid rifles. I just didn’t find them appreciably different, and actually found it lacking in ways compared to even just my Ruger. The checkering, clearly manually done and that I appreciate, was quite rough with uneven checking and overruns, in fact a friend I helped learn to checker did a better job on his first stock, I expected better at this price point. You can see what I mean in some of the safety button photos, and I’ve added a checkering specific photo below, this checkering would be swell on a Ruger but at on a rifle that retails at $7,000+ here… Anyhow, the rifles’ big trick, the takedown feature and main reason I bought it really, just isn’t worth the $5,000 more over my Ruger RSM to me when I can invest in a double rifle instead, that does something appreciably different from my Ruger and still breaks down just as easily. That is the path I took, and I will review the Merkel 140AE .375 I chose shortly.

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Reaching Out The Old Fashioned Way: Iron Sights to 1,000 Yards

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If you’re like me, and if you’re interested in long range shooting, you may have fallen into a trap at one point where you were led to believe you needed a heavy, specialty precision rifle rig to be able to reliably make the fabled 1,000 yard shots. 1,000 yards at one time seemed so distant and impossible to me I thought I needed the absolute best gear to be able to get there. I built those fifteen pound rigs, many of them, and used them very successfully, running through the gamut of brands at the time; Remington 700′s and a 40X packaged in several successive forms of the AICS, Leupold Mark IVs, IOR Valdada glass, barrels by Lothar Walther, Krieger in multiple, Shilen, and Pac-Nor polygonal and standard all tried. I designed my own wildcats and tested for countless hours dreaming up concoctions throwing Bergers and AMAXs far down range. It became a money and technical game I didn’t enjoy for several reasons:

1. I despised how much gear, and how heavy and long it was, I was packing to my shooting spots had become. No more scabbards or soft case, a simple slim rifle of eight or nine pounds. I found myself hauling Pelican cases, portable reloading gear, wind gear, shooting mats, and all manner of things afield. It had become a shooting expedition, not a pleasant range afternoon.

2. The amount of time I spent doing things other than shooting, like loading wildcat rounds in small lots making countless tweaks, waiting for parts, contemplating builds was getting to be extreme. I much prefer just shooting, and you don’t need the best gear to do that, in fact you may find you have more fun without it. You’ll also find you shoot a lot better using a inferior rig more, than a perfect rig less. By the end I was shooting 1,000 yards as well with an iron sighted Garand than the beginning with a 15lb, wildcat chambered, Mark IV wearing monster.

3. Cost. Like all things in life, if you get into bigger is better, the returns diminish to a point it can become frivolous. I stepped out early, in reality, before really going off the deep end. Not to worry, I now do that in antiques, doubles rifles, and hunting. However I enjoy those a lot more.

Now, those who enjoy the technical side of long range shooting, the ultimate precision, take no offence. For me, it is simply not my focus, hunting is and always will be. I thoroughly enjoy 1,000 yard shooting, and all long range shooting for that matter, but I am very content with a few MOA out there; those who take it more seriously likely won’t be. And there’s nothing wrong with that! This brings me to when I started picking up my basic rifles, and just trying them, really far. I’ve always enjoyed milsurp shooting, and run a match based around them once a year. We shoot a postal tournament consisting of a common target at 100, 200, 300, 500, and 1,000 yards. I have shot every range now, still only failing to succeed at 1,000 by mere inches. Next year. The match requires you to hit a standard piece of printer paper, 8.5×11″, and scores points based on how close you are to bull, with basic points scored for simply hitting the sheet of paper, which becomes important at 300, 500, and 1,000 yards.

The Milsurp Match Target, and Five Very Close 1,000 Yard Holes

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We built our own personal 1,000 yard range, and I set the a goal of posting the first milsurp 1,000 yard score, hoping for 5 points (paper hit). I failed literally by mere inches- but we’re getting there. Tricks I’ve learned along the path I’ll share here, one of the most common things I hear about shooting beyond 300 yards with iron sights is disbelief, many it seems consider irons 100 or 200 yard implements. With excellent sights like the Garand’s and M14′s, with practice you can match your scoped friend’s performance beside you, to their utter astonishment. First time I shot 500 yards beside a good friend of mine with irons, he was shooting a Remington 700 Police .308, I rang the 6″ by 12″ 500 yard steel comfortably and repeatedly with the iron sights, and on our leaving the range he said to me, “I’ve seen impressive, but that was unbelievable.” Wouldn’t you know it later that week he was doing it too, and the first time he saw it, it seemed absolutely impossible. I assured him by the end we’ll be connecting twice that far, 1,000 yards, with the same sights.

One of the most important things people don’t often know about irons and long range is you don’t need to hold for centre on the target, this is why so many people say “I can’t see anything past 200″ or the like with irons. Once you obscure the bull on the target with the irons and muddy things up, it gets a lot harder to be precise. I find it much more efficient to dial in extra elevation, and hold for the bottom edge of the target, adjusting my sights for my rounds to hit centre. With a white target, you can get perfect elevation holds everything using irons if sighted for the bottom of the paper. This works on any manner of target as well, it is just particularly easy on a white piece of paper. Simply rest the target on top of the front sight post, no more wobbling about the obscured middle of blurry bull hundreds of yards away, now the target is in full view no different than a scope. Functionally, this way irons are little different than a 1X scope- until the light fades.

I use this same technique at 1,000 yards. Our target board at 1,000 is six feet by six feet square, and appears close to the width of a .062″ NM front sight blade on my Garand. I rest the entire target board on top of the post, as the printer paper target is almost invisible at that range, and I also find windage very easy to judge as you simply centre the target on top of you blade windage wise as well as elevation. Ultimately, it allowed my Krieger barrelled Garand to put five rounds of M118 Special Ball (Lake City Match) into jut over 2MOA out there on the first attempt on the new board, missing my milsurp match target by inches. I’ve accepted a deposit on my Garand, and will be building likely a Mauser based rifle with a Lyman rear aperture sight for the same purpose. Hopefully, it will put me on the 1,000 target for the first time before anyone else does- especially my friend mentioned above who now knows it’s not witchcraft. So pick up whatever you have, even a hunting rifle in .270, and reach out- you’ll be surprised what can be done. We were even connecting with 500 yard steel with an SKS, so don’t bother yourself with the assumptions you need the best gear to even have a chance, it’s simply not true. And if you’re like me, you’ll have more fun long ranging on the cheap anyhow.

Almost Feel Bad Shooting This Stuff… But it Works. 

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James River Armory M1 Garand: A Curt Review.

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Recently I had a James River Armory M1 Garand home, and I’ll be frank I was expecting a lot. I had read posts from a few of the circle of military collectors I associate with saying things like, “Looking for all original M1 Garand, will consider James River guns as well.” Expecting literal period correct freshness, like unpacking a Garand in 1943 for the first time, I’ll come right off the bat and say this was not the case entirely, though there is a lot of good as well. This is a bit of a tough review for me as generally, I only like to review products I’m favourable of, this is my hobby and positivity is something I enjoy in it. With that said, I still appreciated the James River Armory Garand, but I did have some serious reservations, and that’s I suppose what a true review is all about so I’ll share them here.

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The wood is beautiful, the cartouches whatever your opinion of the reproductions sharp and the tone and finish of everything very nice, the stain very military. I really appreciated how James River used what appears to be the early, slimmer contour stock lines, when you’ve handled James River’s pattern beside a Boyds or later original stock you do gain a fond appreciation for the slim lines. I also appreciated that James River makes no bones about the fact their guns are reproductions, stamping such inside the stock. Barrels on many are new Criterion, but not on the example in this review, it was original military so James River has thresholds it appears for replacement. This was a bit of a let down for me, as given I was accepting a fresh Garand and understood it was not original, I was hoping for as fresh as possible, not a paint job on an old car so to speak. Granted, some would argue having an original barrel, even if imperfect, denotes a higher value than a modern Criterion. I can see their point, but again would argue, since the stock’s replaced, and the gun’s refinished, why not a fresh barrel too?

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In Canada, pricing for all James River Armory Garands is the same, new barrel, old barrel, regardless. I have not researched every angle on the US side whether pricing varies depending on originality and components replaced, this is very much a Canadian perspective where “James River” means one high level of anticipated quality at one price. I add this as a caveat to explain my dissatisfaction with the old barrel, which as we’ll see below, had some very notable finished over pitting and the bore while good was certainly not in keeping with the exterior appearance of the rifle. The entire rifle was reparkerized, in a light gray that looks “fresh” compared to seeing the remnants of 60 year old parkerizing on the same rifles for decades. The finish was even, with colour variance between the barrel and smaller components. The receiver, op rod, and trigger group are the same light grey, and the barrel and gas cylinder a darker grey, I understand this is very likely correct and is simply an observation. All in all I’d call it very good- as good as you’d get from a good shop’s work if you sent it off, the pitting shown is deeper than can be expected to be removed in the refinish. Below you’ll see the first photo of the pitting, on the barrel over the gas cylinder. Following that is the muzzle, and receiver pitting with cross hatched sanding marks, refinished over.

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As I’m sure you’ve deduced, I expected more from the fairly highly regarded James River Armory. What I found was simply a refinished Garand of mediocre condition in a very nice replacement stock, with what appears to have been aggressive sanding used on the receiver, and must admit in general collector’s considerations I’ve been familiar with through the years all destroy value not increase it. The stock, again, is extremely nice and the high point of the rifle to me. Perhaps James River is rescuing rifles and giving them a new life, but I must admit concern this restoration program is consuming serviceable original Garands, like this one given the barrel and all is original, giving it a hard sanding and refinishing, new stock, and reselling for a premium. Now, I have to admit I’m pleased to see they’re using rougher condition Garands, it would be a shock and a shame to be restocking and refinishing decent condition guns, plus price prohibitive surely for James River Armory as well. So maybe it’s not a bad thing, seeing these imperfections, perhaps they’re the hallmarks of rescued rifles; they’re just not for me, I’ll shop for good originals still. If there were a sliding price scale on them, depending on what has been done and original condition, and perhaps this is possible in the US, I would be more favourable. Boutique style, priced per particular item sales would be far more appropriate than the same price tag on this aggressively restored rifle as one with no receiver pitting and a fresh Criterion barrel in my opinion. Ultimately, it’s up to the buyers, and the James River Armory guns are certainly selling.

 

 

The Kimber Mountain Ascent, The Lightest Production Rifle

I’ll be honest, it’s pretty rare for a new hunting rifle offering to raise my pulse ever so slightly these days. In fact it seems as if we’re losing some of the gems to blandly featured, mass production optimized, ever more budget driven hunting rifles. RIP Ruger RSM, but I digress. It seems as if everything has been done, originality in guns and gun designs waning, and then something like Kimber’s Mountain Ascent is thrust upon the scene. Eschewing the norms in nearly every way from features to appearance, the 4lb 15oz. (in .308 trim) Mountain Ascent is a fairly radical departure from the mind numbing lack of imagination one can find on nearly any gun shop’s rack. Before this the last thing that started the tingle for me was a combination of stainless steel and walnut Ruger offered, which while I’m a staunch fan of Ruger’s classy offerings, it is ignificantly lower in originality and performance offered than this new Kimber.

Where this rather edgy styled Kimber makes its name isn’t in its wild looks, but rather its weight; 4lbs 15oz. It’s not going to win on price point, nor even styling and beauty although the machining is wonderful for a factory offering, but on the solid basis of being the lightest production rifle currently offered. I covet my standing within my circle as a mule, and have hauled a 9 1/2lb rifle to places and altitudes wholly unsuited to it, namely to just under or over 10,000′. All the while I claimed it was a piece of cake. Here now, without having to keep up appearances among associates, I will admit you feel every ounce in the mountains terribly. Even my spork is titanium. The critical importance of weight reduction has been etched into me on climbs, one to just shy of 20,000 feet in the Andes, along with very modest experience in technical climbs abroad and too much simpler trekking abroad and at home.

I work in aviation, and good working aircraft reduce every ounce possible, even on what sometimes appear the most curious of components, such as screws being made of titanium and costing $60 or more a piece. Surely the aircraft could handle the extra pound for steel screws in that particular area, reducing cost and hardly affecting performance; breakfast weighs more! But that’s not the point, the point is to squeeze the maximum in performance possible from a particular machine’s available power, stress it that little bit less, and ultimately build a better tool for the job. This is what Kimber has done, just our powerplant isn’t a Lycoming, Allison, or Turbomeca but our meagre human bodies. That pound saved means so much more to us than any helicopter, for we are, in the animal kingdom, among the weakest of the weak. We are also some of the only animals who need to haul gear and implements to not only hunt successfully but to survive the hunt period. To what I would like to consider my more informed as of late thinking, light gear means everything, if the quality can be preserved; Kimber did it. If I can get to the game with less exertion, I’ll both shoot better, and enjoy the experience more, no matter how good of shape I think I’m in.

The little Kimber 84M was introduced to me by a Professional Hunter’s recommendation deep in Zimbabwe, his opinion held enough weight for me I immediately went home and purchased an 84M Stainless Classic .308, a walnut stocked stainless beauty pictured below. It was ridiculously light, in fact I could scarcely imagine a lighter rifle having lugged my 9 1/2lb .375 H&H hundreds of kilometres on foot cumulatively, and it shot very well despite the odd reports to the contrary I read on the internet forums. While lovely, it was however in the end rather vanilla- just another pretty face in my cabinet, and not strong enough in any specification to permanently win a slot in my surprisingly small battery. I did regret that sale, but that’s not the first time I’ve regretted a sale and got over it. My time with that Kimber was however a lovely introduction to one of the physically smallest actions I’ve enjoyed using, certainly among those with controlled round feed. The little 84M was so trim and slim it almost didn’t seem as if it would be strong enough for real cartridges, but it certainly is. Performance was also superb for a hunting rifle, grouping in the standard MOA / 1″ bracket so many demand today.

A couple years passed, and the Mountain Ascent came to my attention. I was initially blasé about the hoopla, still not having the great appreciation I now have for light rifles hammered in, until I hunted Hawaii this past March. Climbing to the neighbourhood of 10,000′ on Mauna Kea chasing Sheep, my beloved .375 on my shoulder, I immediately resolved to seek out a rifle a third lighter. I ended up finding one half the weight in the Mountain Ascent. The chambering, .308, while admittedly vanilla was an easy choice for me due to the plethora of components I have for it and its proven well rounded performance. It also was the lightest of the Mountain Ascent models offered, in addition to .308 it is offered in .270 Win, .280 AI, and .30-06 in the 84L (long action) rendition which tips the scales a bit heavier. Weight was everything in this purchase, or rather a lack of it. The others weren’t even considered as I’ve yet to meet an animal a .270, .280, or .30-06 will kill a .308 won’t, and the extra ounces were more than unwelcome. A friend pointed me to a good Alberta shop with stock who had a .308 in my hands in three days, $2,300 including taxes and delivery. Pretty cheap if you consider the cost of having a rifle built for you to the same specs, let alone stainless and controlled round feed.

Opening the box, I was immediately impressed by the fact they included Talley aluminum rings, and a pair of socks. Yes, you get a pair of those nice $30 hiking socks, branded Kimber, with your Mountain Ascent at present. I’ll take a rosy angle on it and assume it means they know these rifles are hitting the hills on foot, in reality they’re just nice schwag. I weighed it, and it came in at 4lbs 15oz including the muzzle brake. I’ve read 4lbs 13oz quite a bit and assume this is taken without the muzzle brake, a thread protector and tool for removing the brake are included with the rifle so it is your option. Going in rather anti-brake, this brake I ended up having to shoot as I forgot both the thread protector and tool at home when I hauled this rifle to our range, and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. It is quite a quiet brake, I presume due to it’s extremely small size, and the holes in the brake have bevel cuts on the forward edge, seemingly directing gas slightly more forward for a brake than usual. So it’s likely not the most effective brake either, but the rifle is a pussy cat and entirely mild recoil wise at least to a fellow accustomed to .375s for everything. I’ll have to try it without the brake as well.

I almost held off on writing this article, as we are getting to the shooting part, a part I didn’t feel yet prepared for as I’ve only shot this rifle on steel at 100 yards for one magazine to sight in, then straight to 500 yards. It was 500 day on our private range and that’s all we set up for, with steel in dimensions of 12″ circle, and 6″x12″ rectangles. I mounted a 3-9x40X Leupold Mark AR with turrets, yes not the lightest scope but this rifle still comes in under 6lbs with this scope. Heck that’s still lighter than almost all “Featherweight” and “Lightweight” models by good measure, before they even have their scopes and mounts on. We walked in the first couple rounds and quickly started smacking steel, to the point hits were easy on the 2.2MOA 12″ circle even with a rapidly warming barrel, and the 6″x12″ standing steel was easily knocked over. Quite frankly it was a boring outing with the Mountain Ascent as it proved just as accurate as any hunting rifle I own, and we switched quickly to our iron sighted M1 Garand and M14 to have a more challenging evening at 500 on the steel. Plans were to do formal grouping at 100, but I can already tell it will also be a boring outing merely to satisfy those who assume Kimbers can’t shoot. I’ll still do it, just not rushed to, and my results will doubtless be the same as Boddington’s with the rifle, 1″ or standard if you will for rifles today. This sort of accuracy from a rifle under 5lbs does indeed start to raise eyebrows however.

All in all, I am highly impressed with the Mountain Ascent, a rifle I want to call “The little Kimber” but I can’t. It’s a full size, controlled round feed .308 with a 22″ barrel, it just happens to be as light as a pellet gun. Every friend I’ve tossed it to has exclaimed shock at the weight, you get that feeling when your body anticipates something heavier, and when you pick it up and it weighs nothing and almost jumps up in your hands. I’ve even come to like the stock finish, aptly called “Optifade” by the manufacturer. It is a rubbery textured coating made by the folks who make Gore-Tex in a pattern I’ve seen endearingly referred to as “Yeti puke”, a colour and pattern I initially wasn’t sure about. I came to realise Yeti puke would be hard to spot in the mountains, and like the rest of this rifle right down to its weight, it’s all about function. My only teething moment with this rifle was upon my first handling, being new to spiral fluted bolts. The initial working of the bolt, while low on effort required, gave you a jitter in the feel in that you could feel the spiral flutes passing the bearing surfaces. I wasn’t used to those bumps, but after that first range trip I realised I had forgotten about them, and didn’t even remember the feeling even on fast bolt work. Just something new to get used to. So, what we have is an absolutely all weather, ultralight rifle with no drawbacks to my mind compared to a traditional 6 1/2lb before scope “lightweight”, I’m officially converted on light mountain rifles. Thanks Kimber, too neat.

The .41 Colt Part I

 

The .41 Colt Part I

For probably the better part of three years now I’ve had a lingering interest in “fixing” the old .41 Colt. The .41 Colt is a really lovely old cartridge, and in its later longer-cased, inside lubricated bullet form, a true .38 with a .386” bullet (unlike the .38 Special, which uses .357/358” bullets). Curiously, once fired it becomes a true .40, but more on that in a moment. The version I’ll be discussing is known colloquially as the .41 Long Colt to separate it from an earlier shorter cased, heel based bullet loading that dates from 1877. The original .41 Colt used a bullet the same diameter as the case with a reduced “heel” to crimp into the case, just like the .22 rimfire, the .22 as an aside is also the only surviving heel base cartridge in manufacture today. This was already a design that was behind the times the moment it was released, with the .44 Russian of 1870 having featured an inside lubricated bullet (modern, the bullet being smaller diameter than the case and fitting inside it) for the better part of a decade already. Colt themselves had the inside lubricated .45 Colt of 1872, though the .41 didn’t benefit from this experience.

Trends in the industry inevitably moved away from outside lubricated bullets, the heel-based bullet designs where bullet lubricant was outside the case and prone to picking up grit and dirt, as well as gumming up anything it was carried in. By the mid 1890’s the .41 was still selling strong despite its drawbacks, ultimately it would become the fourth most produced Single Action Army revolver chambering, and Colt finally decided to modernize it; slightly anyhow. The original heel-based bullet had a .406”-408” diameter bullet, the same diameter as the case hence the “.41” designation with a roughly .386” heel to crimp into the case. Colt lengthened the case, and made the entire bullet .386” to fit inside the case, finally rendering the .41 an inside lubricated cartridge. Overall length was essentially the same as the earlier load, as the longer case simply enveloped more bullet. It really didn’t have much to hang its hat on calling itself a .41 anymore, however it would grow from a true .38 to a .40 on firing. Reason being, Colt never developed a proper bore of the .41’s own, mid-1890’s the ~.406-408” groove diameter barrels were discontinued and the ~.401” groove diameter of the .38-40 Winchester was adopted. This was likely to streamline production concerns seeing as no other cartridge uses a .385” groove barrel, which would be proper groove diameter for the inside lubricated .41 Colt.

The final challenge the .41 Colt faced was its chambers. The chambers were bored straight through at ~.412”, this is the chamber dimension of all three of the .41 Colt SAAs I’ve owned anyhow. The .41 never benefited from modern chamber design, with throats sized to the bullet (not that Colt is known for bullet-sized throats, bless them). The poor hollow base just discussed, sized at .386”, was required to jump up in diameter all the way to .412” to first fill the chamber, then swage down to .401” in the bore. Relying on very soft lead bullets with a massive hollow base, this strikingly farm-engineered process worked fairly well. As a stopgap measure, it kept the .41 in the running and they sold well into the 20th century, ammunition wouldn’t dwindle away until the Second World War. The .41 was popular on its merits: mild recoil, good penetration. Accuracy was never one of those merits, and would likely be the .41’s downfall, it seems nobody wished to adopt it and develop .385” groove barrels.

As mentioned, for several years, the thought of finally giving the .41 Colt its fair shake has been lingering in the back of my mind. The .41 has proven to me, as will be shown below, it can really shoot as you would expect a mild mannered, .38 Special-esque cartridge to. It is not however, easy to make that accuracy come about, and that is not the .41’s fault. First, I started my thinking expedition with bullet design. I reckoned by combining the features of the heel base bullet and the hollow base, using a thin .411” driving band up front outside the case, combined with the .386” hollow base bullet body and tail behind it I could improve things considerably. NEI Molds agreed to make my design should I desire it and was very helpful in chatting out the details. I held off on ordering as it still just didn’t feel like the solution I wanted, it was yet another stopgap measure for the .41. I also wasn’t the first to have this thought I later learned, having picked up chatter of such a custom mold on US forums.

Next I started fishing for a barrel maker who could cut me a custom .385” groove barrel, and found one; that barrel is on order. I am looking for a .38 Special cylinder to ream, with a custom reamer I have yet to design and order to give the .41 proper throats at .385”. The beauty, in my mind, of this system is the standard Rapine style hollow base .386” bullets I’m already using will work perfectly, and it will be safe to fire with any .41 Colt ammunition dating after the heel base era- not that you run into much! Just as these thoughts all came together, tinkering with my 1897 Colt Single Action Army .41, I struck a load that shoots like hell on fire despite all the short comings of the .41 as described above. I now find myself in the awkward position of refusing to touch this great .41 SAA that I have shooting so well, as it is completely original, and not particularly excited to go to all this effort on a non-antique SAA frame.

You see, Canada’s laws are peculiar when it comes to legal antique handguns, they must be in a non-prescribed chambering. The .45 Colt, .44-40, .38-40, both the -20’s, and more are all out and are treated as modern, registration-requiring, paperwork bound pistols regardless if they were made when Ulysses S. Grant was President and Jesse James had just robbed his very first train. That’s not a joke; a .45 Colt made in 1873 when Jesse James had barely cut his teeth as a bandit requires authorization to transport paperwork, a gun range membership (that’s the only place it can be “authorized” to travel too, as well), and owner licensing. .41’s gratefully, do not. This brings about a particular fondness for .41 in Canada, as we can own them with far less restriction than more common chamberings. It also spurs my interest in “fixing” the old .41. We’ll rewind to the very old present however with shooting my 1897 Single Action Army, as that interest in “fixing” it has now been challenged.

 

Handloading the .41

 

Trying five different powders and two bullets with a multitude of seating depth and crimp variations, I was searching for a load that would make the .41 do the impossible; shoot like a properly designed cartridge, smokeless. 6”-12” groups at 25 yards were the norm, from the curiously good condition SAA of mine over Titegroup, Universal, Trail Boss, Triple 7, and FFFg Goex. Yes, it would hit the bipedal and otherwise threats it was designed to stop even at 25 yards, but this revolver was in too good of shape to shoot like that, even though common sense told me that was as good as it gets and to be pleased with the 6” group loads with black powder. I was not pleased however, and wanted a smokeless load, so I mined my excel spreadsheet chronograph data for theories on improvements. I focused in on IMR Trail Boss, reasoning that I knew it had a rapid pressure spike to hopefully bump up the bullet diameter as required, and I guessed that its higher load density being a “fluffy” powder would assist somehow. Call me old fashioned but black powder expanded the hollow base to bore diameter reliably with a full case, so my cockeyed reasoning stood that more volume in the case was better. Yes… black powder and smokeless of any load densities share nearly nothing in common, still, it was the only theory I had.

20 grains of Goex FFFg under the 185 grain Rapine makes for a show.

My first attempt, shooting 185 grain bullets, didn’t work; 12” groups. Erratic velocities… almost certainly due to inconsistently expanding hollow bases: I had lows from 500 FPS to highs of 800 FPS with carefully individually measured powder charges over a few three cartridge test groups with minor tweaks between each. The next several variations by way of three cartridge experimental loading sessions also failed, though glimmers of hope were showing. I was evening out my velocities, as on a hunch I had focused on crimp, having found Trail Boss to be extremely crimp sensitive in the past; it needs a heavy one! I could barely ignite the stuff in hard-to-crimp round ball .455 Colt loads for another antique SAA but that’s another story. I had produced a single good mid-600’s FPS shot string over my preferred weight of Trail Boss, using the 185 grain Rapine hollow base in soft lead. Velocity was too low, and I wasn’t expecting much from the group. I was pleasantly surprised however to find the tightest 25 yard group yet. I always shoot handguns at 25 yards when testing for accuracy, anything closer seems a lot like a waste of time for me unless we’re talking pocket pistols, but as my Beretta 950 review shows I even test those at 25 yards! Reason being, if you can shoot it accurately at 25 yards, you can at 7. The inverse is not nearly as often true.

Next I decided a shorter overall length / deeper seating depth was likely to help me, as it increases pressure, and I hoped higher initial pressure combined with the aggressive crimp you can achieve crimping over the bullet ogive might just get those bullets to reliably bump up to .412” over smokeless. The .41 Colt, nearly always chambered in very fragile guns with the slight exception of the SAA (antique SAA’s still aren’t strong, they’re just much stronger than the other antique .41’s) is very low pressure by virtue of its large .412” throats and soft lead bullets. The main pressure spike after initial ignition of the powder would occur as the bullet swages down to .401” in the forcing cone (as another aside, many .41’s don’t have true forcing cones, just a chamfered barrel) and fortunately the barrel-cylinder gap provides a pressure vent soon as the tail of the bullet leaves the cylinder. This by no means is to say the .41 is user friendly with pressure or you don’t need to worry about it, but it is a help to those of us loading the sparsely data-trailed old girl in SAAs. Back to the point, a short seating depth- very short, and a heavy over the ogive crimp evened velocities out at the 750 FPS mark and provided a stunning 1 ½” 25 yard group that dropped my jaw. Walking up to the target board, I was in shock seeing a cluster the size of a golf ball after days of 6 and 12” patterns, and it happened so quickly.

 

Recovered .41 Colt bullets bumped up full-length, even the frontal bearing area, to my bore’s .402″ from .386″.

Further testing would show crimp was the answer, and this was as much a function of the powder I chose to experiment further with as the .41 Colt itself. A fan of the 202 grain bullet, I experimented the same way with it and found stellar accuracy there as well, but with a more conventional looking cartridge as the slightly longer bullet makes the seating depth appear less drastic. While the 202 grain would not match the deep seated 185 grain’s stellar accuracy, it provided tight groups of its own and more consistent velocities. I found I could seat the bullet further out as well, likely due to the slight weight increase increasing pressure (I run the 202 grain over the same powder charge as the 185 grain) even with a less drastic seating depth. Pressure is definitely higher, as the 202 grain ran the same velocity over the same powder charge as the 185 grain in my load and gun, 750 FPS or a tad more. As mentioned the velocities were much more consistent than the 185 grain however, indicating better powder burn. I stuck with the 202 grain loading as consistency means a good deal to me in a load and the accuracy is plenty good enough, beating many of the modern handguns I do and have owned. Plus, it’s more powerful.

Now with fifty loaded cartridges of a specification my gun really likes, and performance as good as I can ask of any revolver I am at an awkward crossroads with my project. I will still make the “.41 done right”, but just the same I’m enjoying how a cartridge with so much going against it can be made to work so well. I will need to locate a rough shape SAA for the frame, perhaps a second generation, and screw on my “fixed” .385” groove diameter barrel and install my custom reamed cylinder. The results will be interesting and I’ll no doubt write about them. I’m still struggling with the name for the new version of the .41 Colt, as it really won’t be anything near a .41 anymore. Current front running ideas for the name of my project are .38-41 Colt, .385 Colt, and .41 M-Colt (for Morrison / Modified). We’ll see which I settle on when my parts come together and what designation the barrel wears, I’m partial to the names that keep “41” in , and three digits of caliber in a designation is for rifles in my mind with regards to the .385. The only drain on my enthusiasm for the project is it is no longer likely to shoot any better than my original .41 Colt! Never thought that would happen.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LOAD DATA, THESE ARE SIMPLY THE RESULTS OF MY EXPERIMENTS IN MY GUN, AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS ADVICE OR SUGGESTION FOR YOUR USE. WHAT YOU DO WITH YOUR GUN IS BEYOND MY CONTROL, BUT FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES HERE IS WHAT I DID WITH MINE.

 

IMR Trail Boss, 1.325” OAL with heavy roll crimp – Very Accurate, Very Consistent

202 grain Rapine soft lead

4.0 grains

750 FPS

 

IMR Trail Boss, VERY short OAL / deep seat – Superbly Accurate, Moderate Consistency

185 grain Rapine soft lead

4.0 grains

750 FPS

 

Hodgdon Titegroup, 1.35” OAL moderate roll crimp – Moderate Accuracy, Consistent

185 grain Rapine soft lead

4.0 grains

700 FPS

 

Omitted are the other three powders that I found unsuitable, and all the “bad” loads, whether that be inconsistent or inaccurate, it was usually both. Surprisingly I had poor performance from Hodgdon Triple 7 black FFFg powder substitute , with very inconsistent velocities.

The Keltec KSG Review: A PDW For Canada?

The Keltec KSG: A PDW for Canada?

Keltec of Florida’s KSG (simply short for Keltec, Shot Gun) has surged onto the scene and garnered impressive attention, with prices for the shotgun soaring hundreds above retail for used examples. The fervor is based upon how innovative this 14+1 capacity, 26.1” long bullpup shotgun is and the massive departure it makes from the norms. In the US, where shotgun barrels under 18” require a special tax stamp and application, reducing the overall length of a defence shotgun by more than a foot is huge. The Mossberg 590A1 18.5”, which will be used as a comparison in this article, measures 38” overall with the Speedfeed stock; 14” longer than the KSG which holds more than double the shells and weighs less. Short overall length is very beneficial in a defensive firearm, as its use in close quarters is optimized and portability means it is more likely to be on hand when required.

As mentioned in previous articles, I work remote in Northern Canada, and defensive shotguns are dear to me. The versatility of a 12 Gauge as a survival and defence tool is unparalleled. One can employ birdshot for filling the pot, even take down a moose if required with a slug, signal for help with a flare, or stop a bear or other predators with equal aplomb. The beauty of the KSG is you don’t even need to pack more ammunition with the gun if you don’t want to: fourteen shells ready to go, chamber unloaded, will get you through a lot of tough times in a clean one-piece survival package. The overall length of 26.1” means it will fit in a backpack or duffle bag slung on your back, or into a canoe or aircraft so you are likely to have it with you. I’m guilty of plenty of “quick trips” into backcountry where I eye my 40” long 12 Gauge and decide I’ll be fine without it, a 26” package would influence that decision some. The short overall length and bullpup arrangment also means you have one hand free if needed for bush / debris / doors/ flashlight and the ability to still fire accurately, I tried and one hand operation differed little in accuracy from two, you simply don’t get the chamber reload until the support hand comes back.

KSG Versus a Conventional “Defender”: A 18.5″ Mossberg 590A1

Like most radically new designs, opinions on the KSG have been mixed. I’m going to try and leave all preconceptions behind me on shotguns and shotgun layout and just see how this gun works. No attention will be paid to looks, it’s all about function; many even find the KSG attractive anyhow. The example I’m testing weighs 7 pounds 8 ounces empty with Magpul BUIS sights and AFG (Angled Fore Grip). It is interesting to note that the KSG gains a full pound when fully loaded, a very notable difference, as no other shotgun I’ve fired and used holds this many shells. Even fully loaded however, balance is wonderful due to typically bullpup handling characteristics, even heavy bullpups (this is not, just skookum) balance nicely due to their “weight in the hands” layout. Pointing is incredibly natural, and we took the KSG to our informal clay range just for kicks; it scored very well! Dusted the first clay no drama, a tough right descending target I usually have trouble with at that. It continued to hit after that as well, and function was perfect.

Controls are straightforward, the safety is a two position bar at the center of the top of the grip. It is easily manipulated from “Safe” to “Fire” with your shooting hand’s thumb (for right handed folks, anyhow), you push it through to the other side of the grip. It’s a bit gritty, and feels plastic, but it certainly works and snaps smartly to the other position. Lefties will be using their trigger finger to move the safety to “Fire”, ala Remington 870. The bolt release is located at the forward edge of the trigger guard, and is a simple ambidextrous pull down arrangement that can be manipulated easily with the trigger finger for left, or right handers. If you have short fingers, it may be a stretch, but works perfectly for average folks. Finally the magazine select, a very interesting feature included to both allow California legality and the ability to select ammunition tubes if you load one with say slugs and the other buckshot, a brilliant capability of this gun. It is an aluminum lever at the front of the loading / ejection port, swing it in the opposite direction of the tube you want to select. Its function is smooth and crisp, it also features a smart central position that locks out both tubes, not a bad idea if the gun is being carried in a bag loaded, chamber empty.

Speaking of carrying in a bag, the KSG has blissfully few sharp corners. In an era of wonder-ARs with a gazillion protrusions, hooks, and edges (not to count those users add later themselves) this clean package is a relief. When I get mine, and I will be buying one, it will remain “clean”. This is a shotgun after all not a heat seeking long range super tank buster, and I actually have to work with it and I will set it up exactly as pictured here. BUIS sights that flip down and are snag free, and the Magpul AFG is perfection for me on this gun. The AFG is an excellent choice for a fore end accessory, a vertical grip both catches on gear and anything else possible, and there are numerous reports out of the states of breaking KSG fore end rails from the torque and leverage applied to the rail by vertical grips. That won’t be a problem with the AFG, and it provides a very positive grip for cycling the fore end. I’ve shot a lot of pumps and I “chased” a rapidly dropping clay with the KSG, managing four shells in shorter time than any other pump I’ve tried. Only the Winchester 1300 could come close for me and I don’t particularly like that shotgun. This is a fast and smooth pump.

The action has quite a bit in common with the Ithaca 37 and Browning BPS, featuring spreading spring steel bars for the shell lifter, when the bolt is pulled rearward the bars swing down and come together to accept a shell from either magazine. When the bolt is pulled forward the lifter bars bring the shell to the chamber, then are spread and flex to either side of the bolt and are stowed. Loading and ejecting are both from the bottom port, spent shells shuck straight down with gusto.The mechanism is housed in a triangular, open bottom receiver module that is steel. In fact, there is a lot more steel in this gun than I anticipated, both from my preconceptions of Keltec and from notions I’d come by from pictures. This appears to be a tougher gun than I had judged it to be, fore end rail cracking issues aside; that can be dealt with through choice of fore end accessories. I’m definitely not a plastic gun guy, many would call me a Fudd even, and I really like this gun. Trigger pull on this test gun is different than anything I can compare it to. The pull, when measured, was far heavier than I judged it to be; 8 pounds. This didn’t make sense to me at all, as the trigger pull felt effortless in testing. It is sort of a striker-fired feel, with moderate travel before it releases. Quick, shotgun like pulls couldn’t be registered on my scale, but I’m convinced the release weight is lower in actual use due to the way you pull the trigger, rather than a static pull test with a scale. I hope that makes sense, likely not. Anyhow, I rate the trigger very good for a bullpup.

Loading is actually quite conventional despite the very unconventional appearance of the KSG. Magazine tubes are charged one at a time from the bottom positioned, wide action port, and the magazine selector is swung to the other tube once the first is loaded, then you fill tube 2. One thing I have to mention is it is much harder to load on the fly than a conventional action, topping up would be a serious challenge for this shooter without further practice. This is due to the far rear port, and two magazine tubes closely side by side, and the tube selector can also be hard to wrangle by when loading in a hurry. At present I have to flip the shotgun upside down to reload. Realistically however, if you can’t fix the problem with 14+1 12 gauge shells, the problem just isn’t likely to be fixed. Production models of the KSG such as this one also feature handy slots cut in the magazine tubes to allow a rapid gauge of ammunition quantities in the magazines.

The KSG’s twin magazine tubes, viewed from the action port, and tube selector lever.

Action operation is much smoother than I anticipated, I am guilty of presuming there would be more plastic bearing surfaces making it gritty but there really aren’t. This gun functions metal on metal and feels like it, it’s also likely the fastest pump I’ve fired or ties for the honour as mentioned. Not the silky “Schuk, Schuk” of a Browning BPS, but low effort and fast. One curious thing the two of us testing both found was early on we were guilty of not bringing the bolt fully rearward. There is a tiny “false stop” feel at the back of the fore end travel where the bolt isn’t quite far enough back to raise the next shell, shooters new to the KSG like me might misinterpret that resistance and push the fore end forward early failing to chamber a shell. Aside from that initial learning curve, despite being a radical departure from what most of us are used to shooting, nothing about this gun is confounding; it’s easy to shoot and use from the get go.

Accuracy with 2 ¾” Federal 1oz. slugs was outstanding, I managed a 2 ¾” three shot group oddly enough, the length of the shell’s hull, at 50 yards rested. Real BUIS sights help with accuracy a lot compared to beads or other typical shotgun sights. Federal 00 and 000 2 ¾” buckshot loads patterned right on top of the slugs, and I enjoyed ringing steel changing between slugs and buck with a flick of the magazine selector lever. The gun cycled and fired slugs, buckshot, and birdshot flawlessly, 2 3/4″ and 3″ shells and from what I can see with a dental mirror, the chamber is very smooth. Recoil was very light and comfortable, it’s a solid gun at seven and a half pounds, and the bore axis being level with the comb of the stock means very level, straight back recoil.

 

In summary, I feel the Keltec KSG is a great “PDW” for the real world and wilderness. Personal Defence Weapon means more to me than a micro-carbine for tank and aircraft crews and rear support personnel in combat. There is a genuine need for small, powerful, easily transportable wilderness arms in this country for the people that work and spend time in the backcountry. 12 Gauge makes a lot of sense for those of us out here, ammunition selection and variety is so vast it seems infinite: from rifled slugs, to buckshot of a multitude of different pellet sizes and counts, to birdshot for small game, to flares, bear-scare cracker shells, pepper shells, and bean bag shells there’s a load for any occasion. The KSG, being a size you’ll actually bring with you and not too pretty to dirty up, strikes me as the perfect vehicle for that versatility. I’m buying one.

 

I may be fortunate enough to hunt with the KSG soon and test it in action, and will update with the results if it works out.

 

Cheers folks.

A Live Shoot of the Lovely Old .32 Rimfire

 

A Live Shoot of the Lovely Old .32 Rimfire

In my basement I came across a stash of twenty some-odd rounds of old .32 Rimfire, mostly shorts and a smattering or Longs, all Dominion brand except for two Henry Shorts which research shows were Winchesters, but more on that later. I had long since given up my antique Forehand & Wadsworth nickel-plated .32 Rimfire double action revolver, and initially listed the ammunition for trade. Trade offers quickly rolled in, however I dodged some offers and forgot about others until the time came to accept a fair offer and I couldn’t. I just knew I had to shoot it. Running the old cartridges over the chronograph through a gun that may never be fired again was too tempting. Even if the old guns see more rounds, which I suppose is likely enough here and there, every time you fire an original obsolete cartridge it is a very special occasion. Akin to opening an old bottle, vintage stuff the like of which for better or worse is not readily available today, and once enjoyed simply a fond memory. I preferred to convert these cartridges from the basement into memories, rather than newer cartridges.

The last regular production North American .32 Rimfire came from Dominion here in Canada as I understand it, with production ceasing just under forty years ago in the 1970’s. Most of the ammunition I had was undoubtably much older, as some proved to contain Black Powder. A generous and trusting collector, a Mr. Bill Rea of central Alberta, kindly offered an assortment of Antique .32 Rimfires for the test. I expressed my interest in testing two of his Smith & Wessons, a 3 1/2” barrel No. 1 1/2 and a 6” barrel No. 2, to get a good idea what barrel length does for the little old .32RF in a pistol. Only a few days later a brace of gorgeous old ‘Smith .32s arrived in the mail. Shortly thereafter, I started testing, and discovered some very interesting things.

The ammunition was still quite reliable, with two duds on account of priming, both being ancient Dominion Longs containing black powder. All of the smokeless rounds fired very well, though somewhat erratically with regards to velocity. The powder charge of one of the black powder “duds” still readily ignited when exposed to flame and is pictured later in this article. I pulled the dud round apart and weighed the powder charge and bullet, along with a more modern Dominion Long containing smokeless and a Dominion Short smokeless to gain a better understanding of the cartridge. Surprisingly, the more modern Dominion Long and Short contained the same powder charge of apparently identical flake smokeless, and the same 80 grain soft lead heel-based bullet.

The only ammunition outside these three types tested was the two Henry Shorts, which also proved to be black powder, and they provided the only real velocity difference seen in the test between the 6” and 3 1/2” barrels. The Henry’s are Winchesters, it seems Winchester headstamped all their rimfire “H” for years in honour of Benjamin T. Henry, an early pioneer with Winchester and designer of the first reliable repeating rifle. The two Winchester-Henry rimfire rounds were perfectly reliable, I wish I had more samples to see if all would shoot so well. I was able to smack a torso-sized steel plate at just over 30 yards with the Winchester-Henry Short fired from the 3 1/2” Smith No. 1 1/2. As a note on long range (relative) accuracy in general, a 40 yard shot on a cardboard torso-sized target with the 3 1/2″ No. 1 1/2 resulted in 7 1/2″ high and right of the bullseye; I wouldn’t want it pointed at me even from that range.

Accuracy on the whole, at 15 yards, averaged about 6” groups for a cylinder full from either the 3 1/2” barrel or the 6”. The 6” as expected grouped slightly tighter likely due to sight radius and weight, but a couple fliers caused groups nearly equal to the 3 1/2”. I found this extremely acceptable, as for these guns’ intended purposes back when they were made, this is more than satisfactory- especially considering the age of the guns and ammunition now. Velocities were more consistent from the 3 1/2”, I believe due to better ignition from the No. 1 1/2’s crisper lockwork, strikes were slightly harder on the spent case rims out of the No. 1 1/2. Recoil is nearly non-existent, reminiscent of .22’s, and the report very mild for a pistol. Considering the most potent round run over the chronograph only made 72 Ft-lbs of energy, .22-esque recoil is to be expected. I would likely pick one of the “good” .32 rounds over a .22 if my posterior depended on it despite lower than .22LR energy levels, given double the bullet weight, but not by much.

The .32 Rimfire in “full recoil”.

 

The nifty ejector rod slung under barrel on the Smith & Wessons and its operation.

 

A cylinder full of Dominion, a snapshot of The Good ‘Ole Days.

The thought of using these old timers for anything important brings me to the consideration that time was not kind to the rounds. While all but two fired when the trigger was pulled, a half dozen of the rounds clocked under 250 feet per second- a couple of those were even under 100 feet per second! While the ammunition was for the most part reliable even the best of these rounds, which were likely operating to full as manufactured specifications, were extremely weak. Shooting targets on an old doghouse sheeted with 3/8” plywood, all rounds penetrated the front sheet of plywood, but only two of the more than a dozen rounds fired into the doghouse exited the back through the second sheet of 3/8” plywood when even a .22 Short did it no problem. 5/8” OSB was also shot, and only one round penetrated through the second board in the stack, a Dominion smokeless Short from the 6” clocking 584 feet per second.

3 1/2” Barrel No. 1 1/2 6” Barrel No. 2
Shorts 80gr Dom. FPS Shorts 80gr Dom. FPS
593.0 203.9
489.3 153.5
447.0 456.9
636.9 584.9
625.1 621.2
613.6 584.0
375 Henry BP 490.1 Henry BP
540 FPS Average 442 FPS Average

 

3 1/2” Barrel No. 1 1/2 6” Barrel No. 2
Longs 90gr Dom. FPS Longs 90gr Dom. FPS
518.4 249.7
199.2 96.29
———————————– 97.51
359 FPS Average 148 FPS Average

 

Composition of the rounds was as follows, one round each of the Dominion Short smokeless, Dominion Long smokeless, and Dominion Long black powder were broken down.

 

Dominion Short Smokeless

 

Overall Length: 1.0”

Case Length: 0.61”

Bullet Weight: 80.4 grains

Powder Charge: 2.0 grains smokeless, flake, dark grey

Total Weight: 98.3 grains

 

Dominion Long Smokeless

 

Overall Length: 1.16”

Case Length: 0.792”

Bullet Weight: 79.5 grains

Powder Charge: 1.9 grains smokeless, flake, dark grey

Total Weight: 101.5 grains

 

Dominion Long Black Powder

 

Overall Length: 1.22”

Case Length: 0.797”

Bullet Weight: 89.2 grains

Powder Charge: 10.4 grains black powder, about FFFg

Total Weight: 120.2 grains

 

1. Smokeless Dominion Long (left) beside black powder Dominion Long (right)

 

2. .32 Rimfire Long beside .22 LR, and .32 Rimfire Short beside .22 Short

 

3. Powder Charges, left to right: Dominion Short Smokeless (2.0grs), Dominion Long Smokeless (1.9grs), Dominion Long Black Powder (10.4grs)

 

4. 5/8″ OSB Penetration- Modest.

It appears the Dominion Short and Long smokeless are identical aside from case length, and if choosing between them I’d select the shorts for better ignition and likely better efficiency though I did not fire a smokeless Dominion Long, as I only had the one. The Shorts overall were also much more consistent than the Longs, and even provided more energy, and would be my pick off gunshow tables. I doubt the Longs would have been such dogs when new, but time has taken its toll. It’s a shame nobody is importing the CBC .32 Rimfire Long rounds from Brazil* (*contacted CBC and confirmed no longer produced since this article was written), if they’re even still made there, as these guns were an absolute pleasure to shoot even if rather “gentle” on both ends. It has often struck me as incredible the pistol cartridges chosen for war and defence a hundred or so years ago, with notable exceptions like the .45 Colt, today we’d consider many of them small game rounds. .22 Velo Dog, .32 Rimfire, .41 Rimfire… all midget rounds by today’s standards but thoroughly enjoyable to shoot. I quite enjoyed “cracking” these particular little “old bottles” and look forward to the next obsolete gem to cross my bench, the .41 Long Colt in an antique Colt Single Action Army.

A huge thanks to Bill Rea for making this test and shoot possible, I enjoyed your guns immensely and the sight of them puffing smoke in the Northern sunshine warmed several hearts there to see it.

 

 

Bill’s beauties, the 1 1/2 and 2 ‘Smiths and what is likely one of the last piles of ‘copper they’ll make.

 

.22LR Pistol Barrel Length Test: 4.75″ Vs. 10″ For Velocity & Penetration With 12 Different Loads

 

 

A Tale of Two Rugers: The Biggest, and the Smallest Canadian Versions of Ruger’s Ubiquitous .22 Automatic Pistol

Found in several guises differing only in cosmetics, the Ruger .22 Automatic is one of the true classics of the American firearms world. The flagship pistol was the founding product of Sturm Ruger & Co., and has proven so good almost nothing has changed since its introduction in 1949. A simple blowback action with a tubular receiver and Luger P08 inspired grip angle, the Ruger pistol was a storming success thanks to bulletproof reliability, natural ergonomics, quality manufacture and tasteful styling. It is the Pre-64 Model 70 of the rimfire pistol world, and in this article I examine two of its more interesting variations; the smallest and largest Canadian legal versions of it in the guise of a pair of stainless Mark II’s. Velocities and accuracy were extensively tested for each with more than ten different loads, including some exotics for good measure. The role barrel length plays in the .22LR’s performance from pistols produced some surprising results, first however, the guns.

Ruger .22 Pistols Overview

Mark I- The original that founded the entire enterprise of Sturm Ruger, inspired by Bill Ruger’s forays into copying a Marine’s Japanese Baby Nambu pistol from WWII. Designed for mass production, it remains essentially unchanged in design today as the Mark III.

Mark II- Offered several improvements over the Mark I, including the addition of a bolt hold open on the last shot, and one extra round in the magazine for ten instead of nine rounds.

Mark III- Modernized by adding several features to the same pistol in function and design. Added are a magazine disconnect preventing firing without a magazine, a loaded chamber indicator, an internal security lock, and new conventional “American” release magazines removed by depressing a button where the trigger guard meets the frame, instead of the previous heel release of the Mark I & II. The bolt ears were also shortened, and the ejection port contoured.

22/45- A polymer grip framed version mimicking the 1911 grip, upper receiver and function unchanged.

Of these variations, this test covers two rather interesting Mark II’s: The smallest and largest Canadian variants of the Ruger pistol. On the short end, a 4.75” slim barreled stainless steel Mark II with fixed sights, and on the long end a rare 10” bull barreled, adjustable target sight model. Of the three generations of pistols the Mark II is my favourite version, the last shot hold open causes me to favour it over the Mark I, and I do not appreciate all the safety doodads added to the Mark III. It is needless complexity in my eyes, though I have to admit envy regarding the Mark III’s magazine release and I’ve ordered the new Volquartsen VC Target Grip Frame for just that reason. It will allow me to assemble a Mark II, safety-doodadless receiver to a grip frame that allows Mark III magazines. In addition to the Mark III button magazine release the VC grip frame is aluminum, tackling a weakness of the Mark I, II, & III; weight. Even the slim barreled 4.75” version weighs in at a hefty 0.97kg, or 34.1ozs, almost 1911 weight. The 10” bull barreled version weighs in at 1.4kgs, or 49.8ozs, a hefty though as I found very accurate and functional package. I’ll be sure to review the VC Frame when it arrives, it comes complete with a match trigger installed and I’m looking forward to testing it.

The aim of this shoot was to gain a well rounded overview of how what roughly parallels the two extremes of typical barrel lengths found in Canada for a .22 pistol react to different ammunition. Some loads gained less than expected, others perhaps more, and one in particular loved the short barrel except for one particularly glaring shortfall. Shot strings of ten rounds were fired over the chronograph for each load, and grouped at 25 yards. The information collected was used to determine Extreme Spread (ES), Standard Deviation (SD), and average velocity for the load. Some loads lived up to their marketing; Winchester T22 proved extremely consistent and accurate, and curiously, only slightly more consistent than Winchester’s bulk Dynapoint, also extremely consistent. Some did not, with Remington Yellow Jackets proving both the most accurate and the least reliable. I’m not sure what has been happening in Remington’s priming house as of late but their recent rimfire fodder has proven less reliable than all other brands tested combined, and it was both the Remington lines tested as the Subsonic had many duds as well. Another category surprised on all fronts, delivery stunning performance when least expected, such as Aguila 60 grain Super Sniper Subsonic which shot beautifully from the 10”. Curious things occurred with it in the short barrel too.

Penetration was tested by firing each round into a 3” Spruce plank from 6” range, rounds that penetrated the plank completely from both the 4.75” and the 10” were tested again, by firing into a 3” Spruce plank, backed by a 1” Spruce plank, in turn backed by a 2” Spruce plank. Only one load would make it into the third plank. One exception was made to the rule that each round selected for additional penetration testing must have penetrated the initial 3” plank completely from both the short and long barrel, that being CCI Velocitors. On the initial test they failed to penetrate the 3” plank completely from the 4.75” barrel, when weaker rounds over the chrono, including other hollow points even of lighter bullet weight, did. This result was curious, so the Velocitor was tested a second time in the 3”, 1”, 2” plank stack test.

Ammunition Tested

1 – Winchester T22

2 – Winchester Dynapoint

3 – Remington Yellowjacket

4 – Remington Subsonic

5 – CCI Stinger

6 – CCI Velocitor

7 – CCI Standard

8 – CCI Minimag

9 – CCI Long

10 – Aguila Super Sniper Subsonic (SSS) 60gr

11 – Winchester Shotshell

12 – CCI CB Short

 

Data

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

10″ Barrel

Win T22

Win Dyna

Rem YJ

Reb Sub

CCI Sting

CCI Veloc

Average

1187.0

1084.0

1272.0

965.1

1433.0

1247.0

ES

31.2

43.3

123.0

67.3

102.2

148.0

SD

11.2

12.4

31.7

21.5

32.2

43.8

Ft-lbs

125.0

104.0

118.0

78.0

145.0

138.0

3″ Spruce

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

1″ Spruce

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

In 1″

Surface

2″ Spruce

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Dent

No

1

2

3

4

5

6

4.75″ Barrel

Win T22

Win Dyna

Rem YJ

Reb Sub

CCI Sting

CCI Veloc

Average

1045.0

981.1

1116.0

825.7

1257.0

1079.0

ES

51.1

98.6

86.8

160.7

46.4

117.1

SD

14.3

28.4

28.7

56.7

17.1

33.2

Ft-lbs

96.0

85.0

91.0

57.0

112.0

103.0

3″ Spruce

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

No

1″ Spruce

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Surface

No

2″ Spruce

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

No

No

FPS Gain

142.0

102.9

156.0

139.4

176.0

168.0

Ft-lbs Gain

29.0

19.0

27.0

21.0

33.0

35.0

 

Data Continued

 

7

8

9

10

11

12

10″ Barrel

CCI Std

CCI Mini

CCI Long

SSS 60gr

Shotshell

CCI CB

Average

992.7

1251.0

1153.0

840.1

875.0

705.1

ES

52.0

90.6

95.0

95.0

N/A

204.4

SD

15.5

29.4

37.6

30.1

N/A

70.0

Ft-lbs

87.0

125.0

85.0

94.0

42.0

32.0

3″ Spruce

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

N/A

No

1″ Spruce

In 1″

In 1″

Dent

Yes

N/A

N/A

2″ Spruce

No

No

No

In 3/4″

N/A

N/A

7

8

9

10

11

12

4.75″ Barrel

CCI Std

CCI Mini

CCI Long

SSS 60gr

Shotshell

CCI CB

Average

903.0

1115.0

1043.0

783.5

817.0

610.9

ES

74.4

78.7

91.0

24.5

N/A

249.1

SD

19.7

26.6

32.8

6.3

N/A

67.9

Ft-lbs

72.0

99.0

70.0

81.0

37.0

24.0

3″ Spruce

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

N/A

No

1″ Spruce

No

No

No

Dent

N/A

N/A

2″ Spruce

No

No

No

No

N/A

N/A

FPS Gain

89.7

136.0

110.0

56.6

58.0

94.2

Ft-lbs Gain

15.0

26.0

15.0

13.0

5.0

8.0

 

Fast Facts:

 

119.1 FPS – The average velocity gain for all cartridges tested combined for the 10″ barrel over the 4.75″.

20.5 Ft-lbs – The average energy gain for all cartridges tested combined for the 10″ barrel over the 4.75″.

1083.8 FPS – The average velocity for all cartridges tested combined from the 10″ barrel.

964.7 FPS – The average velocity for all cartridges tested combined from the 4.75″ barrel.

97.8 Ft-lbs – The average energy for all cartridges tested combined from the 10″ barrel.

77.3 Ft-lbs – The average energy for all cartridges tested combined from the 4.75″ barrel.

 

Standard Deviation (SD) and Extreme Spread (ES) were literally identical for the 4.75″ and 10″ barrels; SD for the 10″ barrel was 30.5 FPS, for the 4.75″ barrel 30.1 FPS, and ES for the 10″ barrel was 95.6 FPS, and ES for the 4.75″ barrel was 98.0 FPS. Apparently if a round is going to be erratic in the short barrel, it will be just as erratic from the longer barrel. It seems the source of the inconsistencies has had its full effect by 4.75″, and even more than doubling the barrel length doesn’t have any effect. I found this interesting, as powder is clearly still burning and creating pressure past 4.75″ given the velocity increases. So the inconsistency in .22LR either stems from rapidly burning powders of which different charge weights will already have had their full effect by 4.75″ (plausible), or from priming. I suspect priming, as I assume, perhaps wrongly, that since powder is still burning well past 4.75″ a heavier powder charge for instance would be magnified by producing more velocity out of a long barrel than would the same cartridge with a lighter charge. This would cause the Extreme Spread to be greater from the 10″ barrel for this hypothetical, powder charge inconsistent load, if my theory is correct. Priming variations however will have had their full effect almost immediately, and should thus provide the same ES and SD from a short or long barrel. It’s a theory anyhow…

Another thing I learned, is the .22LR likes short barrels just fine thank you. With an average velocity of almost 1,000fps for all the loads combined, the 4.75″ barrel is no slouch. Put into perspective with other centerfire handgun rounds, keeping in mind it is only throwing 40 grain bullets typically, it looks rather speedy really, and at the very least typical. Not bad for a cartridge typically loaded to be a jack of all trades with a rifle barrel mostly in mind. I recently tested the much larger and obselete .32 Rimfire, and even the mere CCI Standard Velocity matched the most potent .32 Rimfire 80 grain bullet round tested in energy precisely from the lowly 4.75″ barrel. From the 10″ barrel CCI Stingers produced a screaming average of 1,433 FPS, trumping most .357 Magnum fodder for pure speed (though definitely not energy!). Nonetheless, the 145 Ft-lbs of energy the Stingers produced is admirable. In my opinion the .22LR probably doesn’t get a fair shake, it’s a respectable little round for what it does from a rimfire case. The wood penetration backs that assertion up.

The 10″ barrel won on the velocity front, though honestly slightly more modestly than I anticipated, and downright trumped on accuracy. The 10″ Ruger Mark II is a tack driver. The weight, combined with the long sight radious made 100 yard plinking possible, with a startling amount of hits on cans and small gongs at that range. At the same range, the 4.75″ was the chubby cousin at the local street hockey game. You know there’s a difference when your heart jumps at the sound of “ping” at 100 yards with the 4.75″ and with the 10″ you almost expect to hear the ping. At 25 yards, the 10″ produced groups on average about 50% or more tighter than the 4.75″, both pistols rested. The 10″ was dangerous with Remington Yellow Jackets, producing the tightest group of the test- when it could get them to fire! The aforementioned terrible Remington priming was very frustrating with as many as a couple duds per magazine. The 10″ seemed to like the fast stuff, with one notable exception; Aguila 60 grain Super Sniper Subsonic! Not only did it group it extremely well, the odd long bullet, short cased ammuntion cycled perfectly in both the 4.75″ and 10″. The Aguila ammuntion also proved the most consistent load of the test from the 4.75″ barrel with a Standard Deviation of 6 FPS! Curiously, it even grouped well at 25 yards from the 4.75″… sideways. The bullets keyholed their way through the target and made a decent group as they did so, bizarre. Obviously I can’t recommend it for the 4.75″, but through the 10″ it could be a heck of a silhouette hammer. The Aguila 60gr was also the only round to pass through the 3″ plank, then the 1″ plank, and sink itself handily into the 2″ plank, it also damn near matched the Remington Yellow Jacket accuracy with fewer duds. CCI CBs were tried just out of personal interest, and it confirmed my prior suspicions of them. They are horribly inconsistent, with an Extreme Spread of 204.f FPS from the 10″ and 249.1 FPS from the 4.75″, and this comes as an extreme detriment to their accuracy. A shame, as the consistent CB rounds actually grouped quite well, that is the ones that ran around 700 FPS.

Remington Yellowjacket Group, 10″ Mark II 25 yards Informally Rested

My only regret is not running each round through a rifle for velocity, though figures would likely just match the published velocities for the rounds there. I had a lot of fun running these two pistols, and if you find a 10″ Ruger Mark II, I suggest you buy it. It’s a shame more weren’t made. That said, I still think my favourite is the 4.75″ slim barrel Mark II, it’s just a lively little pistol that balances nicely back in your hand and inside 50 yards is surprisingly accurate. It just can’t keep up with the big boys past that.

The (Very) Little Beretta 950 Jetfire

The Little Beretta 950 Jetfire

 Picking up a Beretta 950, something I never thought I would do with my own thanks to Canada’s laws, one can’t help but be impressed by how sturdy this (very) little pistol is. Weighing in at 10.9oz or 0.32kgs it certainly isn’t a heavyweight, but packing just under 11oz into this little palm filling wonder leaves a sturdy little impression. Debuted in 1952 and in typical 1950’s design style, everything is metal except the grip scales. The slide, and all elements except the aluminum frame are carbon steel. The pistol is single action, in contrast with later Beretta double action offerings of the series in the form of the 21A Bobcat, introduced in 1984. Frankly I greatly prefer the single action operation and looks, the appearance of this mini-pistol series took a significant downturn with the 21A double action in my opinion. The open top slide and exposed barrel are a spitting, miniature image of the Beretta 92 / M9, though this is a blowback of course.

My version is a .22 Short, the 950 was offered as a .25 ACP as well and curiously not to my knowledge as a .22 LR, despite an action and magazine that could handle it. The later 21A comes in .22 LR or .25 ACP. The magazine is an odd contraption that is .25 ACP magazine well sized, with a .22 Short accommodating undersized cartridge column. Loading the magazine takes some getting used to, but once you figure out the first round goes in conventionally, and it is easiest to then pull down the tiny follower with your fingernail by way of a little screw stud through a witness slit on the side and drop the other five rounds in it is quite easy. It is a high quality, and extremely reliable little rimfire magazine, and I need to order some more as you go through six plus one rounds far too fast. I’ve actually become fond of the little .22 Short chambering in this pistol, initially a bit grievous that the pistol wasn’t a .22 LR. Turns out as we’ll see further on the .22 Short is a “hot” pistol performer and very accurate. Plus I enjoy things that are just a bit different, and tiny pistol, tiny cartridge seems a natural mix to me  now in reflection.

 

Everything about this pistol is simple. There are two controls, excluding the trigger and hammer: a barrel release to allow the barrel to tip up for loading, and a button magazine release on the bottom of the left grip panel. The tip up barrel allows you to load the barrel without having to cycle the slide. Given a 950 Jetfire of mine’s vintage has no manual safety, it was intended to be carried hammer down on a round in the chamber as its safe mode of carry. This is very effective, and since the barrel can be loaded directly without cycling the slide, there is no thumbing down the hammer on a live round. It should be noted the pistol is striker fired, rendering hammer-down on a live round safe, apparently the manual states not to carry at half-cock; there was no manual with my pistol. Cocking the hammer is easy even for fat thumbs, and is a natural step before shooting just as flicking down the slide stop safety on a 1911 is.

Operation of the little 950 has proven flawless, and it shot 500 rounds at the range. I envisioned a quick test of perhaps fifty or a hundred rounds, a few magazines over the chrono, and a couple different ranges attempted. However, I was quickly headed back for the rest of the .22 Short ammunition, despite the itty bitty 6 round magazine. Ballistically, one may sniff at the .22 Short, especially from pistol, but I wouldn’t stand in front of it. The 4.25” barrel threw Winchester 29 grain Super X round nose at an average 987 FPS, and CCI 27 grain hollow points at an average 983 FPS. The Winchester shot string was drawn down on average by a single 878 FPS low, most ran around 1,000 FPS. That is incredibly efficient performance given CCI claims less than 150 FPS more from a full rifle barrel for their load.

The action uses no extractor, kicking out the cases by gas pressure. While extremely simple and reliable, it won’t allow for clearing a misfire by cycling the slide. The H&K P7M8 will also function without an extractor, however it does carry one for the reason of clearing stoppages and potentially sticky dirtied chambers. While it posed zero issue in the test, it would be nice to have an extractor, however I acknowledge there isn’t exactly a lot of room for one even if Beretta desired it. At any rate, kicking the barrel open by pushing the tip up barrel release will usually huck a live round you decided you didn’t want to fire (or a dud) out by centrifugal force. The tip up barrel is under spring pressure and pops up with reasonable gusto, oddly enough the spring powering it is the trigger guard.

Fit and finish are very good, it’s a tight little gun. Handling, for such a small grip, is natural and comfortable and it points very well. Hammer bite is an unfortunate nasty habit of the 950, it nips me here and there even with my being aware of its habit, and drew blood on one occasion.  It’s just too hard to keep the meat of your hand low enough on the tiny grip. Sights are rudimentary, and reminiscent of a Colt Single Action Army to anyone familiar. They are tough, and low profile however and I found them plenty precise. Given the designers intended this little pistol to be carried in pockets and purses they are perfect for their task, as there is nothing to snag and nothing to be knocked out of alignment. Form following function.

There is an argument the Beretta 950 and 21A are good choices in places that allow pistols for defence for those with weaker hands such as the elderly or those of slight construction, given there is no racking the slide. I wouldn’t disagree, but I also wouldn’t call it too great a benefit, a revolver shares the same benefits. One still needs to understand the operation of automatic pistols in general, and if you’re unable to rack the slide, you’ll have all sorts of fun trying to load the miniature magazine. Accuracy however, was astounding. I really expected almost nothing from a  3 1/2” sight radius, mini-pistol; I was wrong. At 10 yards you can shoot golf balls, and even at a full 25 yards you’ll hit a 6” gong most of the time- that’s a range far and beyond anything this little pistol was designed for, but it does it well.

 

Standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ printer paper target from 25 yards

Now, for the fortunate circumstances leading to my ownership of a little 950. Perusing a for sale forum, I stumbled across the tail ends of a large sale of these little gems, that had been lined to longer “Restricted” category for Canada barrels (barrels under 4.13” in Canada are “Prohibited”, though you can own pistols wearing them if grandfathered). A pint sized dream came true. Like many boys interested in the shooting sports, and I say interested strongly, I was fascinated by the “little guns” we couldn’t own as a boy, the mini-pistols seemed to fit a boy’s imagination. The Beretta itself I had drooled over in old catalogs. Well, not anymore, thanks to some enterprising gunsmith bringing the joy to those of us no longer young but still too young to be grandfathered. No sporting purpose for short barrels eh… I beg to differ. This day was great sport, some of the most fun I’ve had in awhile at the range.