Sarges Roll Call

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Monday, February 06, 2012

We're Moving!

We recently moved The Sixgun Journal to a WordPress-based page and eventually some or all of the content here will be moved to that location. The combined effort will centrally locate the content at both sites. This will simplify web maintenance and take a load off Peggi, who has done her usual fantastic job of webwork and design. (Thanks, Sweetheart!) 

Watch for the Roll Call menu bar at Sixgun Journal and Thank You for your continued interest in these sites.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sight Work
Some days I could shoot the Rock Island’s nickel sights just fine and other days, I couldn’t. It’s getting a set of high hardball sights at minimum, maybe a glow dot up front; but I haven’t settled on them yet and I wanted something usable on it for the time being. So I dug through my parts box and found a half-dozen blue GI rear sights, some of which are new. Next up was to cut heavy cardboard strips pad the jaws of my 6” drill press vice, to avoid marring the slide’s finish.  Since I was going to use a hammer, punch and potentially a file, I covered the slide in a double layer of masking tape right up to the edges of the sights. With that all done, I carefully mounted the slide in the vise and set to work.

The 1911’s rear sight drifts out from the left, looking down the sights, and a few light raps on the punch brought it right out. I measured its height and selected the replacement with the cleanest notch, which was still within 0.005”of the original. Here’s where it got interesting because the replacement wouldn’t even start in the dovetail. So out comes the file and I started by removing material off the bottom of the sight. Once it started in the dovetail, I removed equal amounts off the sight’s dovetail about eight file strokes at a time until it went about halfway in. Normally, you’d touch it up with cold blue at this point. Since this was all experimental, I centered it as best I could and touched it up with a marker. I also very carefully serrated the front sight with a small triangular file, which turned out to be an exercise in futility. In fitting the rear sight, I had shortened it and later had to shorten the front sight anyway. Such is life.

I did at least kill the glare and end up with something more akin to a normal, GI .45 sight picture.

Today was ‘zero day’ so I loaded up the folding table, hunting chair, gun tool box, vise, range bag and ammo and headed down to the log pile. I always zero service pistols at 50 yards, for a couple of reasons. First, I’d like to be able to punch some lowlife through the gourd at 50 paces, if that’s all he gives me to shoot at. Second, I like to play at bullseye shooting occasionally and a 50 yard zero is necessary. When I’m zeroing, I shoot from the table with the gun held normally and my hands rested over the range bag. This is to remove as much human error as possible and focus on where the gun is printing.

Early shooting proved it was low-left; so I pulled off the slide, mounted it in the padded vise and tapped the rear sight over just a froghair. This had to be repeated once and when the windage was set, I re-masked the slide again and carefully applied ten light file strokes to the top of the front sight, keeping it as square as possible. The point of impact moved right where it belonged and the last 50 yard group was 3 rounds of Tula hardball, topped off with a couple of Remington 230 grain Golden Sabers. I was pretty happy to see this when I walked down to check it.

Success- and not a single scratch on the finish. This will hold me until the permanent sights are decided upon. I’m also please to report that the gun chugged through another 100 or so rounds of mixed hardball, JHP’s and a few 200 grain semi-wadcutters I’d loaded over four grains of W231 for 626 feet per second- cat loads. It plugged the SWC's into over-lapping holes, right on the front sight, shooting two-hand unsupported at 25 yards. Now to get busy reloading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rock Island Armory Customer Service:  A+

On January 2nd I traded for a new Rock Island 1911A1FS with their nickel finish. Feeding problems commenced immediately, primarily due to an undersized and too short chamber. I called Rock Island and explained the situation to Shawn in RIA’s gunsmithing section. I also emailed photos and a synopsis and included a copy with the barrel, which I shipped on January 10th. In a phone conversation later that week, Shawn assured me if he received the barrel by Friday, he’d ream it or replace it and get it out ASAP.

My barrel arrived on January 17th. Its chamber was reamed to 0.482” which is, coincidentally, roughly the maximum dimension per the blueprint. The chamber was nicely polished and a perfect wadcutter throat has also been added. Any and all loads dropped easily into the chamber, and they drop right back out when the barrel is inverted. Further, the ‘breakover point’ at the bottom of the chamber has been perfectly radiused.

This is exactly the chamber and throat I would have produced, if I had two uninterrupted hours and tools already on the bench. This significance of this, from a customer service standpoint, cannot be overstated. These results are not possible unless the service representative is knowledgeable, skilled at his trade, and pays close attention to the service problem and is motivated to make it right- ASAP.

The fact that the barrel was back in my hands in seven calendar days—during a week with a holiday and RIA’s Shot Show preps—is nothing short of amazing. It speaks volumes about Rock Island Armory’s commitment to customer service. To Shawn and Rock Island Armory- thank you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rock Island Armory’s Nickel GI M1911-A1FS

I should know, by now, that there are just some guns I can't get along without. A good Winchester 94, .45 Colt  Single Action and caplock rife are necessary personal effects. So it goes with the 1911A1- and I'd been a couple of years without one. So I loaded the mule with trade goods and headed off to the rendezvous. A new Rock Island ‘GI’ in bright nickel scratched my '1911 Itch' this time. The shiny sumbuck just about defies photography, at least at my skill level. As it came from the box:

…and here, with the slick OEM grips swapped out for some GI brown plastic. Not so pretty, but much easier to shoot well.

Bumper-Chrome 1911’s

When I was a kid, you'd occasionally see USGI surplus .45's which at some point, had been handed off to cousin Larry who worked at Acme Chrome Plating. Larry would sneak it into work and plate it with the next batch of bumpers that went through. Eventually these pistols ended up gunshops, where kids like me would slobber all over the display case until somebody ran us off. I think I am genetically predisposed toward redheads and nickel plated handguns.

Shots Fired! Well, sort of…

Got a box of 'Precision Cartridge' 45 ACP with the gun and ran a couple of mags through it this afternoon. Or tried to. Banga-choke-banga-banga-choke-choke. Failure to return to battery combined with push-feeding ahead of the extractor- which was obviously tensioned way too tight. The RIA factory 'ACT' (up) mag also does not impress, and presents the round low into the feedramp. I was getting pissed… it was cold, windy and yet another brand-new 1911 had failed to function well enough to empty a magazine. I fired one ‘single feed’ 20 yard group. Looks like it shoots a tad right.

Or not... Speaking of sights, the guy who polished this pistol missed the flaw on the front strap; but he thoughtfully turned the front sight into something resembling those mirrored-ball pedestal ornaments  you see in little old ladies' yards. I shot it again the next day, with the sun directly overhead, it printed right on the sight. A little careful file work on the front sight eliminated the glare problem. Function was still lousy, but I single-loaded the piece and shot a couple of standing unsupported groups at 25 yards, about like one pictured. This with a 7 pound (scaled) trigger, nonetheless.

Under the Hood

Even with CMC Powermags and different ammo, I got a number of FTRB's as soon as the gun got a trifle dirty. I googled around a bit and it seems that a number of barrels with tight chambers slipped through QC. This Rock Island’s chamber doesn't even mike a full .480 at the rear, so my usual luck is holding. Lordy, I should open a lemonade stand. I certainly have a gift for finding raw material.

There are other gremlins in the shiny corn-sheller, which became apparent upon disassembly. The extractor was so tight in its tunnel I that I had to drive it out with an old aluminum cleaning rod. Perhaps they didn't account for surface build-up from the plating on both parts. Regardless- instead of correcting an obvious problem, the assembly-chimp just pounded the extractor into place with his little leather hammer.

I freed the offending part, worked the shank down on a 400 grit diamond stone and reset the tension. Ball and 230 Golden Saber hand-cycled ‘just OK’ when fed from a decent magazine. A second tune-up of the extractor involved filing proper feed and clearance bevels on its nose and groove; this helped a bunch and hand-cycling became downright slick. The extractor itself seems to be of good quality steel and judging from the effort taken to reset it, I’d say the heat-treating is excellent. I generally replace low-buck extractors with an Ed Brown unit, for peace of mind.

When your new pistol has problems, it would be easy to overlook its good points; so let's touch on some of those. To Rock Island’s credit, the firing pin stop plate is literally perfect. I’ve fitted many an oversize stop plate and they simply nailed this one. This is desirable because when properly fitted, this part stabilizes the extractor itself and promotes good, consistent extraction and ejection. It is refreshing to see this in a budget 1911A1. Random micrometer readings around the frame, slide and internals indicate a commendable effort to follow the blueprint. The slide to frame fit is considerably tighter than your typical 1911 knock-off. I'd rate this one as good or better than the last few Springfields I've had in my hands. In parts of the slide and frame you don't see, when the gun is assembled, this Rock Island blows Springfield out of the water. These surfaces are literally finished as well as any production 1911 I've ever seen- and that says something.

Outwardly, the Rock Island barrel is excellent. It mics a proper and perfectly-round 0.580” at the muzzle and reduces to 0.575” about three-quarters of an inch back; essentially ‘match’ barrel external dimensions. Internal and external finish, lugs the upper and lower lugs are very well executed. The rifling is a tad shallow- our only clue that we aren’t looking at a match barrel, after all.  The ‘wadcutter throat’ on this barrel is odd, running up the impact surfaces of the barrel further than it needs to; it also stops short of the bottom of the barrel. But the bore is very well finished and doesn't look like it will collect lead. I see nothing in the barrel that says it won't meet my personal ‘carry gun accuracy standard’ of 4” @ 50 yards.

I’ve mentioned this gun’s sluggishness, in failing to return to battery. Even sparkling clean, this was evident in hand cycling certain ball rounds.  I originally attributed this to excessive extractor tension, but I was only partially correct.

I also noted that the chamber dimensions were tight, but even a tight-chambered 1911 will usually run for 200 rounds or so before it gets sluggish. My old ’45 Ithaca had a tight-chambered, 7-digit stainless National Match barrel, yet in four days I burned over 700 rounds of 200 LSWC reloads through it at NRA LE Instructor School (Topeka, 1991) in near 100 degree temps, with no malfunctions at all. That particular gun had the full AMTU treatment at some point in its life. I did a similar rebuild on a Colt Combat Commander in the late 70’s; fitted Bar-Sto barrel, tightened rails, the works. This was back when I still had eagle-eyes and that gun produced more than a few 5-shot, 2 ½”50 yard rested groups. It ran great, too. So I know that ‘tight’ guns can be reliable.

Something else was going on here and in an effort to identify ‘what’, I dug out an old Auto Ordnance barrel I’ve had laying around for years. It ran like a top, but had chatter marks in the rifling so I’ve never used it for serious shooting. Take a look at the front of the chambers on both barrels. The Rock Island barrel is on the right:

As mentioned, I think A/O did a much better job with their ‘wadcutter throat’; but I digress. A closer look at the Rock Island chamber, here:

There is next to NO leade into the rifling, which is bad ju-ju for the wadcutter loads I shoot by the bucket-fulls. I grabbed a few oddball rounds which include Winchester USA, Winchester SXT Federal FMJ and Wolf FMJ, all of which are 230 grain. I also added my 200 LSWC reload (1.250” OAL) and a reload using a 255 grain semi-wadcutter intended for the .45 Colt, loaded to 1.175” OAL. ALL these loads have proven reliable in various 1911’s I’ve had.

I began by measuring the length of the barrel, including the hood. I then dropped each of aforementioned rounds lightly into the chamber, and measured the barrel again. A properly-cut chamber will admit in-spec .45 ACP ammo dropped into it and the case head will be flush with or at most, 2-3  thousandths below the hood. This barrel is short-chambered and various loads protruded 15 to 30 thousandths ABOVE the barrel hood.

The final confirmation of this materialized when pushing the ‘high’ rounds on into the chamber, flush who the hood. Resistance was felt as they seated and it was necessary to pluck them from the barrel. This was particularly apparent with the 200 grain LSWC load and the leading shoulder of the bullet showed bright marks where in encountered the sharp edge of the chamber. These loads in particular have proved reliable in other 1911’s I’ve owned.

The ‘Fix’

I plugged the Auto Ordnance barrel into the Rock Island and shot three 8 round CMC mags of Federal ball through it. It is the first three magazines the pistol has cycled without failing to feed. At a little over 50 yards, they were all over an ‘Osama’ target- but at least they were feeding and firing. I’m confident that the bad chamber in the OEM barrel was 95% of this gun’s problems.

So what to do? First, I have the old Auto Ord barrel plugged into the gun; so I’m not stuck with a pistol I can’t shoot. Second, the gun was sold through Davidsons and I’m told it can be exchanged through them without problems. Finally, Rock Island’s customer service is said to be good and I could probably return the gun to them for correction.

Actual Customer Service!

I’m choosing ‘none of the above’. I don’t buy guns to ship them all over the country. I phoned Rock Island and after short wait, was transferred to Shawn in the gunsmithing department. I explained the problem and was pleased to find I was speaking with someone who fully understood my explanation of the chamber problems. He was polite and downright anxious to resolve the matter; even offered to look my slide over and correct any other deficiencies he found. I opted for sending only the barrel. I also emailed Shawn a detailed explanation with photos and enclosed a printed copy with the barrel, before I boxed it up.

I’m anxious to get a good barrel in this gun. I googled all over creation for “Rock Island 50 yard Group” and found practically nothing. That deficiency will be corrected at the first opportunity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Every Man Needs a Tractor…

About a month ago, we moved back onto Peg’s old home place, AKA the “Three Ninety Eight Ranch” which is 40 acres of crop & pasture in Central Missouri. We needed a small tractor for it and a few weeks ago I found a 1955 Ford Model 640 for sale by an old gentleman I’ve known for a while. I also knew he hadn’t hurt it any. The 600 Series was the first substantial step up from the old Ns and Jubilees; with a 134 CID ‘Red Tiger OHV, side-mounted distributor engine and enough power to easily handle a two-bottom plow. 


Negotiations were opened and before long, I had myself a tractor, Dual Model 100 loader-stacker and a Howse 6’ rotary mower. So it was time to get busy. I have been working hell out of this little 640... mowed the old 16 acre crop field, behind the house, and pushed a big stand of brush back at the east end of the waterway. I wanted to mow it early, to keep the weeds from going to seed- and so I didn't have to wade brush to pick up my doves and quail. 


Since the field was cut, I’ve dinged a coyote with my .40 Smith and we’ve watched our little herd of deer from the backyard, perhaps 350 yards out. That means it’s time to set up the range. 

An old pile of logs, that was too rotten for firewood, is going in stack at the end of the waterway. That's going to be the back-stop for the range, which will be at least 200 yards across the crop-field. We can probably stretch that out to 300 diagonally, if we're real careful. This will be a back-saver when it comes to getting in the winter’s firewood. 


The great news is that in several days of full-throttle mowing in 100 degree heat, this little guy used a grand total of ONE PINT of oil! Being  about the same age, we’re both ready for a break at the same time. This keeps either one of us from hurting the other one much.

Everybody wants to drive it… even pretty girls. 


Which ain’t such a bad thing, really.

And finally- even the dog approves! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kudos to Charter Arms…

Awhile back I picked up an old Charter Arms Undercover .38 Special, made about 1965. It was in good shape, worked OK, and it showed promise as a pocket gun.  It also shot pretty well with a good plinking/small game reload, using W231 and a 158 grain Hornady bullet.

Some 200 rounds later, it started developing misfires with CCI primers; admittedly the hardest primers out there. I checked the firing pin protrusion and got a shade over 0.040” which is well under industry standard. So I called Charter, explained the problem and asked to purchase some replacement parts. They eventually sent me a new mainspring assembly, extra-length firing pin and spring and they didn’t charge me a dime for any of it. This breathed new life into a decent little 38 snub.

Given the horror stories we hear of handgun manufacturers who blame service problems on the customer, demand the gun be shipped back on your dime--then return your gun with problem unsolved—this is exemplary service by Charter Arms, for a gun they made FORTY FIVE YEARS ago.

Some of Charter’s competition could take a lesson from them, on how to treat customers.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Simply Rugged’s ‘Range Master’: A Solid Working Holster

For anyone not familiar with the company, Simply Rugged is an Arizona holster outfit owned and operated by Rob Leahy . Rob has solid background in actually carrying guns and his designs reflect a practical approach to keeping a heavy sixgun within easy reach, keeping it secure and accomplishing it all with comfort and style.

In early 2010, Rob and I discussed the perfect working holster for single actions, via email. To my thinking, a working holster should cover enough of the trigger guard to prevent brush, etc. from getting into/under it when cutting brush, etc. or plowing dirt, if you get tossed by a pony or dirt bike.

Retention is also important and I got reminded of this awhile back. While clearing fence rows and piling brush, I hooked my plowhandle and flipped it out nose-first, right into the mud. You'd always rather not do that but I had to laugh a little as I stopped, poured some motor oil on an old napkin and poked it down the bore with a green sprig. A rawhide hammer loop solves this problem perfectly and I have yet to see a field holster retention device that I like better. A tug on the bottom adjusts it, the gun is held securely, yet it is easily and silently brushed off by the thumb when drawing.

The belt loop is a critical element of a hard-use working holster. It should snug the gun into the body with the cylinder centered on the belt, keeping the gun up out of the way but still allowing fairly quick access. At this height, a 5 ½” SA is easily covered by a barn coat or medium-length jacket.

My short-list list of good working-holster attributes is embodied in the Range Master. I made my usual adjustments, as I do with any new holster. I wet-mold them to whatever I’m going to carry in them, so the gun can be drawn quietly by simply lifting it out. I also roll a slight flare in the outer edge, so the gun can be replaced with equal ease. Good quality leather lends itself well to these improvements and the leather used in the Range Master is top-notch. Afterward, the holster got put right to work. Here are a few photos of it after a full day of chores & mowing. 

As friend and fellow blogger Hobie has noted, Rob’s work just keeps getting better and better. The value/price ratio of his leathergoods is high in favor of the consumer, particularly considering the quality of the product. I recommend his holsters heartily and suggest you visit at your first opportunity.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Full Circle...

My tag-along gun for the day was my Old Vaquero in .45 Colt. Almost as an afterthought, I realized I hadn’t shot it much since the previous fall, when I killed the last of its ‘zero gremlins’. So after mowing was done, I walked down to the backstop to discover my hard-used target board had succumbed to the last wind storm. Great… I grabbed the biggest chunk, stapled a target to it (none too neatly I might add) and walked back to the 50 yard stake to confirm this old .45 was shooting where it looked with my most used load; a Missouri Bullet 250 grain RNFP over 7.2 grains of W231, for about 825 fps.

Lacking a suitable rest, I plunked down on the ground and shot the six loads in the gun from sitting, rested over one rickety knee and pressing the trigger when the front sight touched the little red dot in the middle of the target. In retrospect, I probably should have held six o’clock.

Now gentlemen, I realize in the grand scheme of accurate sixguns a four-inch group won’t start any ticker-tape parades. The shooter, as usual, is the weak link in this chain because the Vaquero will hold under an inch at 25 with loads it likes. Still, I am pleased as can be. I take much comfort in a fixed sight .45 Colt I can shoot this well after ignoring it for six months, from a not particularly solid position and taking no great care to produce a photogenic group. This old Ruger is the one handgun that would stay, if all the rest of them had to go.

I guess that makes me a single-action man and I’m good with that, too. It’s where I started out and there’s worse things in life than coming full circle to something really good.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The 'Short-Block' Maverick 88

At Sarge's Roll Call and The Sixgun Journal, we have always been about 'working guns'. We're also very much about getting the most gun for your money. Most of my Gun and Pawn Shop cruising is done with those concepts in mind. It was just such a foray that produced an excellent working shotgun.

One of my favorite haunts is Muttly's Gun & Pawn of Knob Noster, MO. The manager, Joe Slater, is a first class guy and a number of the guns featured on this site were bought or traded from him. So while picking up my Charter Arms Undercover, I asked Joe to keep his eye peeled for a used 12 gauge Mossberg 500. Joe mentioned that he had the back half of a Maverick 88, which came in without a barrel. He got into it right and shortly thereafter, so did I.

For those unfamiliar with the Maverick 88, it is a product of Mossberg Arms. The Maverick is essentially a Mossberg 500A with a few cost-saving measures implemented to keep the price down. The essential difference between them is that the Maverick features a crossbolt safety mounted ahead of the trigger, whereas the 500's safety sits atop the receiver for easy access by left-handed shooters. An excellent, photo-rich review of the 8-shot Maverick can also be found here.

So what to do with my back-half of a shotgun? Well first, I inspected its action components. It was not only sound- it had hardly been fired at all. I'm guessing the original owner moved at some point and the OEM barrel got lost, but whatever they case I needed another one. I originally intended to slap an 18 ½“ barrel on it, but after pricing around I discovered I could buy a 20” bead sighted barrel and 7-shot mag tube direct from Mossberg, for very little more money. The deal was done and while waiting for delivery, I gave the OEM tube a few shots of PB Blaster. I'd read Internet tales of woe from several others who swapped out mag tubes, finding the OEM component quite difficult to remove. 

When the barrel & mag tube arrived three weeks later, changing out mags tubes was accomplished without grief. The 7-shot tube came with the proper spring and the OEM shell follower was simply re-used for the conversion. I was relieved to discover that follower was made of metal instead of plastic.

The finished product appears below; it is essentially an 8-shot Maverick with the 'field' style forearm.

The first outing proved the gun reliable, feeding and ejecting field loads as fast as they could be cycled, from the hip.  Deliberate shooting produced some really good results with 2 ¾” Super-X slugs and 00 Buck; so good, in fact, I thought they were a fluke. Today, it proved otherwise, keeping all nine pellets of 00 in the chest of a B27 at a measured 25 yards- and all but two of those in the 7 ring. I can't tell you how many police shotguns I've fired over the years and most of them won't do this. My 870 Special Purpose, with the improved cylinder tube installed, still wouldn't pattern 00 buck this well. I was also elated to discover that the bead-sighted barrel was regulated perfectly for Super-X slugs.

And just to make sure THAT wasn't a fluke, I fired another Super-X slug from 50 yards. That shot is highlighted in red.

These are splendid results from a 'price point' shotgun.

Comparisons are inevitable and fortunately, I've had a number of Mossberg 500's and 590's through my hands.

My first thought is that Mossberg's barrels are getting better. I bought a half-dozen 590-A1's for a little Sheriff's Dept., 20 years ago, and spent an afternoon zeroing them at 50 yards with 2 3/4" Super X slugs. None of them shot a bit better than this shotgun- and none of them would pattern as well with buckshot.

Second, the actions on Mossberg's pumps have gotten better. This 88 don't rattle much and I'm convinced it has a shorter stroke--and cycles faster--than the 870's I've become so accustomed to.

At six pounds, the 88 is light for an 8-shot 12 Gauge shotgun. This is a two edged sword. It makes the Maverick handle much better than a $225.00 shotgun should. When fired with high-brass shells, you can certainly tell when it goes off.

Finally- Mossberg is flat stocking them better these days. Those damn 590's all had a sharp mould line down the top of the stock and in 15 minutes I looked like I'd been boxing with Sugar Ray Leonard. The synthetic stock on this Maverick 88 is smooth and when mounted, the bead appears precisely centered on the sighting plane for an instant hit on anything unfortunate enough to be behind it. The forend falls under the leading hand and feels good to it. These are superbly thought-out, practical shotguns.

There are a couple of things about the 88 that run contrary to my tastes. While they've become common, I do not like plastic trigger housings. I had durability concerns about these, somewhat allayed by the fact that problems with them seem to be few. The recoil pad could be better, but this is an easy fix. The safety on the Maverick is small, slick and just might be easy to miss under stress. I expect that sooner or later, an enterprising individual will offer a 'big button' replacement. There are lots of these guns in circulation and a market almost certainly exists.

The Maverick is a well-engineered shotgun from a major manufacturer, at a price that's hard to beat.

Monday, March 14, 2011

'Old Pickup Trucks': The 1986 Dodge W250  4x4

I like old trucks and especially those that haven’t been neutered with EPA garbage. They are gutsy old workhorses from a time when pulling power and payload were the prime desideratum. You can still find them in usable condition; this old 86 W250 (¾ ton) has a carbureted 318, 4 speed and NP-205 transfer case. Front diff is a Dana 44 and the rear is a 60. Anyhow, here’s ‘Old Blackie’. I stand just short of six feet and my nose just misses the top of the side mirror. The 35” BFG A/T’s & 4” body lift stand it up pretty good.

The old 318 is real healthy and thankfully, doesn’t use oil. Lawdy... the abuse we heaped upon 318s as teenagers was awful and the victims were usually old 59-65 Mopar's, often with push-button trannies. We'd goose them backwards for 50 feet, then punch the L button and just stand on it. Chrysler built some bomb-proof stuff over the years and the 318 is a prime example. This one has an Edelbrock four-barrel, hi-rise intake & chrome valve covers…

Someone added in buckets, tach & dig that hot-rod steering wheel!

And finally… ‘surfer sitckers’… we’re only about 600 miles from the nearest saltwater!

Kids have had ahold of it and needless to say, I’ve found a few things I’ll be fixing- but it’s also nice to see of kids taking interest in old iron. Blackie is a tough old truck  that spews enough carbon to make Al Gore cry, each time the secondaries on that Edelbrock s kick open.

An early February blizzard provided some snow-wheelin’, and Blackie ain't a-skeered of no snow. We still had over a foot on the ground at the time of this photo, and with the few days we had above freezing, it was hard on top and powdery underneath. Now I had a perfectly valid reason to venture off down below the range... the burn barrel needed dumped.

I knew it was would get interesting when I had to lean on the throttle a little going downhill--and it got real interesting coming back up--but in second gear at about 3200 rpm all four of those 35's were throwing snow and we came right back out. This is the fourth set of Goodrich A/T's I've had and I remain seriously impressed... I've used several other brands with supposedly more aggressive tread and I don't think they would have chewed uphill through this mess.

Improvements to the old truck are underway. Wiper arms/bushings have been rebuilt/replaced and I'm almost done sorting out the wiring abortions committed over the years. A general ignition tune-up and fine tuning of the Edelbrock are also in the works.

To eliminate steering slop, I installed a Borgeson Steering shaft (Part# 000940), new ragjoint and adjusted the steering box slack, all of which helped immensely. Dodge's pre-94 OEM steering shaft 'universal' was a design screw-up and only good for about 4000 miles when brand-spanking new. The other justification for the Borgeson was this- you never know what you're going to find, when a bunch of kids decide to do a body-lift.

The Borgeson shaft as 4" of flex to accommodate  those body lifts, and is exactly what Dodge should have used in the first place. 

I've gotten Ol' Blackie off in the boonies a few times and it's proving to be a tank. Washed out creek crossings were easily handled. The trick is make sure you get up on what's left of the slab, after chugging across the gravel bar.. 

Mileage is holding around 17-18 mpg so long as you stay out of the 4 barrel and hold highway driving to about 2000 rpm.  In this the big tires are a help. Next up are creature-comfort improvements to the cockpit, which is also short of suitable places to stow firearms... all in good time. I'm having a ball with this old beater and liking it better all the time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Updated: Charter Arms ‘Undercover’ .38 Special

I scarfed  up an old 1960's Charter Undercover .38 last Friday. The gun was in near-new condition and the 'turn line' on the cylinder appeared only after the weekend's shooting. Please excuse the poor photography; time and weather have been uncooperative.

It has the Bridgeport address which, according to some sources, indicates 1960’s production. I count this as a plus. I've had a couple of .44 Bulldogs over the years, both Bridgeport guns and both excellent in every respect. The second one was utterly dead-nuts on the money at 25 yards with Federal's 200 grain .44 Special lead hollowpoint load. My general opinion of the little guns has been this- Given a choice between a Charter and Chief's Special, I'd take the S&W every time; but the Charters were 'good enough' and a lot of gun for the money. Charter has also consistently offered guns not available elsewhere, like their .44 snubs, and continued to undersell the competition.

I dug out some primed .38 brass and loaded about up 30 rounds, with Hornady’s 158 grain swaged SWC and 3.4 grains of W231. I shot ten of them at 25 yards and I suspect the soft bullets and shallow rifling were a poor match. While I got a few keyholes--and a few high-left flyers--I won't have any trouble qualifying at 25 yards with it. As is, it still shoots well enough to put a hurtin' on Joe Felon at 25 steps.

Smaller holes are from a snake load at about ten feet.

Later, I loaded a few 158 grain jacketed HP's over the same charge of W231 I used with the soft lead bullets; the 'keyholing' disappeared and five shot groups are just under four inches. This is shooting two-hand unsupported at 25 yards. I reckon that is good enough given the application.

If a DA revolver is going to exhibit light strikes, lead-spitting etc. they will generally do it when run hard in double action. So I ripped off a few five shot strings from the hip, as fast as I could. Primer hits remained good & deep. The little gun points well and it was no work at all to stitch-up torso-sized targets at 5 yards.

The little .38 needs only minor improvements. It shoots two to three inches left at 25 yards, but the front sight is plenty fat enough to shave 0.030" off the right side and that should pretty near correct it. Why, you might ask, even worry about it? Because pistol bullets aren't magic and they need to go in the right spot to work. Heck, I might even want to shoot a groundhog or bucktooth little garden thief with it. If you own a gun it ought to be zeroed.

It also needs some grips. I'd forgotten how poorly Charter's 70-era wood combat grips fit my hand- and that the damn things loosen up in about 25 rounds. It looks like current choices are Pachmayr Compacs or Charter's current 'boot' grip.

This will make a useful addition to the armory and it goes to work real soon.

03/18/11 Update: I took a file to the right side of the front sight and knocked off a total of about 0.040".  The next batch or reloads were loaded with the Hornady 158 SWCHP, seated out to 1.510" to cut down on bullet jump. Zero is much better, the keyholing is gone and accuracy improved some. Shot this sitting on the ground and shooting over one knee this afternoon; distance was 25 yards. Got four in 2 1/2" but tossed one right for 3 1/2" total. Not match accuracy, but not shabby for a snubnose either:

Don't know if it'll hang around long or not... I'm starting to wish it was a J frame. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A 'Handgunner's Diagnostic Target' for the New Age!

I have penned a few articles covering the Basics of Marksmanship, the Importance of Zero and selecting a grip that works for you, regardless of what’s popular at any given moment. I’ve covered the accuracy we should expect from a service pistol and our rightful expectations that such an implement should require no ‘Break In’. I hammer this stuff out because deep in my heart, I genuinely believe that an armed and proficient American populace enhances not only its own security- but the security of the nation as well.

To gain that proficiency, there are absolutes:

  • If If you aren't zeroed, you ain't hitting anything. 
  • If you aren't using a proper sight picture, expect the same result.
  • A firm, consistent grip and solid shooting stance are required to maintain 1 & 2, and
  • You can still screw it all up by yanking the trigger! 

Of course all this requires work, commitment and some genuine effort on the shooter's part. Oddly, this don't sit well with many contemporary shooters. These poor souls jump on the internet, post tales of their accuracy woes- and they want to hear anything except basic marksmanship principles.

Some of the advice they’re getting makes me scratch my head, too. One good Samaritan replied that poor accuracy (at maybe ten yards) could be cured by taking awhile “to let the gun ‘break-in’ and naturally find its own impact point.” I guess that gun was just wishing the shots around and then one day, as if by magic, it starts cooperating? Silly me.  All these years, I believed you had to confirm zero, align the sights correctly on the target and then press the trigger straight back without disturbing them.

Another favorite bit of 'expert advice' is to post a ‘Shooter Error Correction Chart’. These are useful in diagnosing problems with one-hand, precision shooting at 25 and 50 yards; but in my experience they are irrelevant for two-hand shooting at any distance. And of course, we don’t have a clue if subject pistol is zeroed- or the errant shooter is using a proper sight picture, grip or trigger technique. 

But nobody wants to hear that. Today, shooters want a graph, chart or webpage to solve all their marksmanship deficiencies in 5 seconds or less. So in keeping with the times, I offer the following:

Feel free to print it, share it or shoot it. Judging from what I read in the Idiotnet- it certainly can't hurt.