Thursday, September 4, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Snubby Grip - Part II

I've been experimenting with grips once again, and thought it wise to give Stephen A. Camp's suggestion of Precision Gun Specialties' Hideout Grips a try. I ordered up a set of the polymer grips from Midway, and anxiously awaited delivery.

When the package arrived, I tore into it knowing up-front from reading the Hi Powers and Handguns article, that the grips would have to be modified to work with Speedloaders. I usually carry Speedstrips, so I left them "stock" for the time being, and installed them posthaste.

The Hideouts won't win any beauty awards, but I really like the texture and feel of these grips. They fill the hand nicely, offering a firm grip without being either slick or sticky. Since they're black, they do a better job of hiding the butt of the little J-frame when "in pocket" then the stags I removed - a nice touch to be sure.

After giving these grips the good old college try for a few weeks I have to say that (in my humble opinion) they are exceptional pocket revolver grips - bettering any others that I've tried by a healthy margin. They also absorb felt recoil well for a hard-surface grip.

Since any CCW revolver grip absolutely must be able to accept reloads via Speedloader, I broke out the Dremel and a square of 220 grit and went to work. Less than 10-minutes later the left-side grip had been whittled down to an acceptable size. A great thumb rest is an added benefit of the modification. Actually, I realized after using the Dremel, that sandpaper would have sufficed - the polymer is soft enough to modify quite easily.

My 642-1, equipped with Precision Gun Specialties' Hideout grips weighs in at a svelte 14.5 oz. - a weight savings of 1/2 oz. over the standard grips.

Precision Gun Specialties

Midway USA


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Buffalo Bore .38 Special - Redux & Update

Today I fired three rounds of the BB Standard Pressure Short Barrel Heavy .38 Special 158gr. very soft lead cast, SWC-HC (20C/20) into a string of five one-gallon water jugs from my 642-1 at a distance of 10'. Why three rounds? I only had fifteen jugs.

I was pretty surprised by the results.

Round #1 exited the rear of the 4th jug at an upward angle and deflected off of 5th jug, denting it. The bullet started to break apart upon impact with the 1st jug. Small fragments were found in all four jugs.

Rounds #2 & 3 penetrated all of the jugs and left perfect wadcutter-like exit holes out of the back of the 5th jug. Apparently none of the bullets expanded. Small fragments were recovered in the jugs, but I failed to note which jugs they were in.

I would love to show you recovered bullets, but unfortunately, all of them continued on to bury themselves in the dirt backstop. Did they expand upon impact with the dirt? We'll never know. It would be impossible to distinguish recovered bullets from the hundreds of lead bullets in the backstop left from previous practice sessions.

This was by no means a scientific test. I started carrying this ammo a couple of weeks ago and finally had the time to test the Buffalo Bore ammo out for myself. I did not use a chrono, nor did I make provisions to recover bullets that penetrated all of the jugs of water. Truth be told, I expected them to possibly shed large fragments (as they did in brassfetcher's test ) or expand and be recovered in or between the jugs. I was wrong.

I will repeat this test again (with better planning) when I get the chance, but until I can prove that this round will expand reliably out of the 1-7/8" barrel of the 642-1, I'll go back to Speer 135gr GDHP+P's. The Gold Dots I've fired into water and mud have consistently expanded from the little snubbie.

Here's a photo of all of the fragments recovered from three rounds next to an unfired BB round. The three Gold Dots shown for comparison were recovered from water/mud.

Let's try this again.

I used hard white plastic containers for this observation as opposed to soft clear milk jugs. Only three of the containers used this time were of the same size. All of the containers pierced by the four bullets were split from the entry/exit holes to the bottom and only used one time. Speer GDHP's were placed in the photo for comparison.

Round #1 - My bad - I forgot that the first container was a shade taller than the rest. Bullet traveled through 12" of water and was captured at the back of the arresting box. A micro-fragment was found in the first container.

Round #2 - Recovered at the back wall of the second container at 20". No fragments were found.

Round #3 - Recovered between the second and third containers at 22". No fragments were found. Deformation was caused by contact with the wood at the bottom of the containers and the corner of the third container.

Round #4 - Recovered on the surface of the dirt backstop after traveling through 22" of water and the cardboard flap of the arresting box. No fragments were found.

So why the difference between today's and yesterday's results. Hard plastic vs. soft? Did the soft plastic clog the hollow cavity and turn it into a flat-nose? I have no idea. But I am more confident in the load.

Looking back at Brassfetcher's tests and observing the results of my barnyard-science, I've come to this decision on my everyday carry round of choice in my 642-1 and vintage Charter Arms Undercover.

In order of choice.

#1 - Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure (SP) 158gr. SWC-HC Item No. 20C/20
14.5" penetration in gelatin
.41+" average expansion

My experience leads me to believe that if the BB SP bullet does not expand (due to clogging of the hollow point) that it will continue to act as soft lead semi-wadcutter internal wrecking house, with deep penetration. Recoil is fairly soft, a little less than the Speer GDHP short barrel load that I've fired.

#2 - Remington 158gr. LSWCHP Item No. R38S12 (FBI Load)
12.6" penetration in gelatin
.592" average expansion

Brassfetcher's heavy clothing test shows similar expansion, losing approximately 1" in penetration depth. This is the load with a ton of excellent street data, and the choice of more than a few CCL holders. I've found the recoil to be very acceptable and the price is a real hook, especially for any extensive practicing with a carry round.

#3 Is still up for grabs, but the following rounds looks promising. I'll be purchasing some of this to see if the recoil is acceptable. I won't be using this in the CA.

Buffalo Bore Heavy 158 gr. LSWCHP+P Item No. 20A/20

I can only speculate, but traveling just a little less than 200 fps faster than the BB SP load and delivering over 120 ft. lbs. more energy - I can only imagine more of what the Standard Pressure load already offers. This also means a lot more recoil.

I'm also interested in BB's Speer HC (Gold Dot Short Barrel) loads in both standard and heavy versions. Brassfetcher has good results for one of them, but I can't tell which one. The one tested far outperformed Speer's version.

I also want to check out the DoubleTap 125gr .38 Special +P (Gold Dots) suggested in reply to this posting on another forum. They do sound interesting.

First of all -Thanks to Spotteddog from the Smith&Wesson Forum for providing the Buffalo Bore +P's for this Behind the Barn observation.

Alrighty then...let's get to it.

Today I ran a few rounds of BB's finest through my S&W 642-1 and Ruger SP101 2.25" barrel. Once again let me remind y'all that this is an observation, not a scientific test.

With no hard surfaced containers and only water-filled plastic jugs on hand, the bullets should only be compared to each other. In the earlier observation and in Brassfetcher's testing we found that the Standard Pressure round does indeed expand reliably. If it doesn't, it will certainly provide deep penetration. Exactly what I want. YMMV

All energy and velocities are from Buffalo Bore's website. Everything I could find online shows tested velocities to meet or exceed BB's stated velocities. Therefore I have no reason to doubt BB's claims.

642-1 Observations

Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure (SP) 158gr. SWC-HC Item No. 20C/20
854 fps (256 ft. lbs.) from S&W mod. 60, 2 inch barrel

Since I did not have the proper containers on hand for expansion testing, I used the Standard as a base for testing the penetration of the +P round.

- Penetrated 20.5" in water with minimal expansion as expected (see above). Recoil during a five-shot string through the 642-1 was very controllable.

Buffalo Bore +P 158 gr. L.S.W.C.H.P.--G.C. Item #20A/20
1040 fps (379 ft. lbs.)from S&W mod. 60, 2 inch barrel

Penetrated to 30.5" in water. The bullet and shrapnel were recovered in the last jug. Looking at the dent in the back wall of the jug, I would tend to believe that the bullet was expanded and in one piece when it struck the back wall and then lost the thin lead, mushroomed around the core. My opinion of this round offers awesome penetration and expansion. I got real wet when the first jug exploded when hit by this round.

As would be expected, all of this comes with a much heavier felt recoil. The first round clicked off through the 642-1 drew blood and rocked my knuckle pretty good. Maybe a little hand lotion would help.

Being the "giver" that I am, I still ripped off a string of five from seven yards, all landing on a standard one gallon milk jug. While not as controllable as the Standard round, the +P cracks more than it pushes, allowing fairly quick follow up shots.

If I owned a steel .38 special revolver rated +P, I would seriously consider using this round for EDC.

Ruger SP101 Observations

Buffalo Bore .38 special +P 158 gr. L.S.W.C.H.P.--G.C. Item #20A/20
1059 fps (393 ft. lbs.) (2.5" barrel)

Strings of five were simple as pie with this round. The "crack" noted before equates to quick follow up shots out of the heavier Ruger.

Buffalo Bore Tactical Short Barrel, Low Flash, Reduced Recoil 357 Magnum 158gr. Speer Uni-core, (Gold Dot) hollow cavity Item No. 19E/20
1,097 fps (422 ft. lbs.) (2.5" barrel)

Penetrated to 16.5" with full expansion in water.

This is a thumper compared to the 20A above, but still very controllable during five string shots, and spot-on POA.


Performing at low-end .357 magnum velocities, BB's 20A .38 special is something to look at, for sure. The shorter .38 brass ejects well even from shorter barreled .357 revolvers, and penetration is nothing short of awesome.

Left to right - BB Standard Pressure / BB +P / BB .357 magnum GD

If I were carrying a steel snubby I would use the BB +P. But in an Airweight or thank you. My arthritic hands just plain don't like it. YMMV

edited to add - I will experiment with different grips on the 642-1 to see if it softens the recoil of this +P round a bit.


Monday, February 4, 2008

D.M. Bullard Dual Carry Conceal

Last summer, in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the steamy Texas heat, I headed out to the historical town of Mesquite to take in the local gun show. While perusing the isles I ran across the booth of D.M. Bullard Leather Mfg. To be honest, the generous spread of beautifully crafted leather goods actually stopped me in my tracks, mainly because I am a sucker for fine looking leather. I struck up a conversation with owner and maker, David Bullard, who then took the time to show me a few holsters, and explain the what-for behind their design. David was passionate about his work, and I was impressed by the quality. By the end of our conversation I knew that it was inevitable that I would be ordering a holster from him in the future.

A few months after the gun show I purchased a revolver - the Ruger SP101 in .357 magnum - with the intent of making it my daily carry sidearm to compliment my ever-present J-frame, holstered in-pocket. Of course, I needed a concealment holster for everyday wear, but because of comfort concerns had not made up my mind yet if I should go with an inside-the-waistband (IWB), or outside-the-waistband (OWB) model.

While searching the Internet for a new holster, I remembered my conversation with David Bullard, and stopped by his website to refresh my aging memory. Low and behold, one of the holsters, the Dual Carry Conceal could be worn IWB or OWB. Perfect. The holster sounded like a great option given my situation, and the price was right at $69.95, so I ordered one on the spot.

D.M. Bullard stocks several model holsters for quick shipping, and as luck would have it, my holster was in-stock and on my doorstep two days later. David tells me that turnaround time on custom ordered holsters is about 4-6 weeks at the time of this writing. That’s not too shabby considering some of the lead times on custom leather these days.

Bullard uses 100% Herman Oak leather for the standard Dual Carry Conceal. In order to allow for maximum concealment, the holster in unlined, and the mouth of the holster is not reinforced, but the shape and cut still allow a smooth draw. In addition, the inside layer of leather gives much appreciated protection between the hard, steel surfaces of the gun and skin, and the outside layer minimizes printing. The generous distance between the belt clips does an excellent job of pulling the butt of the gun towards the body - a pet peeve of mine. The DCC comes standard with a healthy butt-forward cant, but if the cant isn’t quite your cup of tea, dual positioning holes allow for additional adjustment.

In the past, many of the leather holsters that I’ve worn have taken quite a bit of time to break in. The DDC was pretty good right out of the box, and within three days it was very comfortable with my 2.25’ barreled SP101 on board, and I‘m sure that it would be just as comfortable with the 3 and a smidge inch version too. Gun retention is just right for my purposes - not too tight, but not too loose either. Like I said…just right. Concealment is more than adequate even under a thin t-shirt, and the belt clips do their part in keeping the holster and gun in one place.

While it doesn’t afford as much concealment as an IWB or a pancake style holster, the option of carrying the SP101 outside the waistband does transform the Dual Carry Conceal into a decent belt holster for field, woods, or range use. A nice touch if you can only afford one holster for each handgun. Changing from IWB to OWB is as simple as removing the screws and moving the black steel belt clips from front to back. If you prefer Kydex belt clips to those made of steel, they are available as an option for $15.00.

D.M. Bullard Leather offers several unique holster designs for both revolvers and semi-auto’s, as well as belts, mag holders, knife sheaths, cowboy action rigs and other accessories. Standard holster material is 100% Herman Oak leather, with tooling and lining offered as popular options. For those of you that like your rigs a bit fancier - tiger shark, stingray, alligator, crocodile, lizard, ostrich, and other exotics are also available upon request.

David is a one-man shop, making quality leather craft with a Texas flair for over seventeen years. Heck, he even wears a cowboy hat.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Auction Holster Review Part I

I appreciate custom leather holsters by the big names in the industry as much as the next guy or gal, but the wait (although well worth it) can be months if not years. What if you needed a holster NOW? Recently I found myself in just such a position, but instead of going the pre-owned or temporary route, I decided to try out a new leather holster from a maker that I’d never heard of, found on ebay - and then put it to the test by using it in my everyday carry routine.

I chose a holster made to fit Smith & Wesson’s Model 642, but any J-frame sized revolver with a 2” or less length barrel will fit. The holster tested fit the vintage Charter Arms Undercover I had on hand to a tee.

Caldwell Gun Leather Ozark Carry OWB Holster

When I opened the package my first impression of this holster was that it would probably last forever. In fact, it’s most likely the stoutest holster that I’ve ever laid eyes on. Maker, Shannon Caldwell, is a veteran law enforcement officer of eighteen years with SWAT training, and designs and builds all of his leather goods to perform under high-stress combat conditions. Shannon has nine-years of leather experience and thousands of holsters under his belt (pun intended). Eight of those years were spent making Wilson Combat leather for Rafter S.

Caldwell’s Ozark Carry is a pancake style, hand molded, unlined holster structured from dyed 8-9oz. back / 6-7oz. front cowhide, made for a 1.5" belt. Shannon personally selects each piece of leather for the individual requirement of the piece being made. The outer layer is imprinted and dyed 2-4oz. cowhide imprinted to resemble elephant hide. The artificial elephant hide is then laminated to the holster. Shannon states that artificial elephant hide is not as strong as the real thing, but it is a lot less expensive and wears well. I like the look and the price.

Shannon uses a lockstitch machine with nylon thread and double stitches each holster at all stress points. Edges are hand-rubbed and the holster is sealed with a clear coat finish to protect the holster and your clothes. Caldwell leather is a one-man shop, but Shannon admits that family members do help out from time to time with edge finishing and such.

I’ve worn the Ozark Carry for over two-months now with excellent results. The artificial elephant does show a few very minor scratches from banging on things here on our little ranch, but that’s to be expected from a working holster. Weapon retention is superb and the weapon’s draw is smooth every time. Reholstering is a no-brainer which is of great importance in real world situations whether you’re a CCW holder or an LEO.

I like this little holster from Caldwell Gun Leather and see it staying in my carry routine for a long time. In fact, I like it so much that I’m going to order an IWB holster from Shannon for my Browning Hi-Power soon. YMMV

Caldwell Gun Leather


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In Search of the Perfect Snubby Grip - Part I

Snubby Grips
Unlike most firearm enthusiests my age, I spent the majority of my adult life sans a revolver. In fact, for most of my adult life I was happy as a one-gun, 1911A1 toting guy. The only revolver that I owned was a SA Ruger Blackhawk 3-screw and that wasn't purchased until I had reached the ripe age of 44-and change. Heck, I didn't realize that I needed a snubby!

When I “discovered” snubbies I began a search for as much information that I could gather. In the old days that meant searching back issues of gun rags and books at the local library, but with the advent of the Internet there’s a plethora of facts, figures, real-life stories and individual opinions from which to initially inform one’s self at the touch of a keyboard. The snubby search led me to the discovery of the excellent Snubnose Files, Steven A. Camp’s Hi-Powers and Handguns and finally to The High Road and the incomparable 642 Club. After all this info-gathering I decided on the purchase of a 642 as my first snubnose revolver, a decision I have yet to regret.

S&W 642-1 wearing stock Uncle Mike’s grips in Robert Mika’s superb round-cut pocket holster.

For me the rubber grips that come standard on Smith & Wesson’s line of lightweight wondersnubbies are adequate, but do not allow me a firm enough grip purchase from a pocket holster (the perfect carrying mode for the lightweight revolvers.) When first searching for a 642/442 to purchase I also checked out models equipped with Crimson Trace laser grips. Not enthralled with the laser philosophy or the fit of the grips to my hand I ruled these out too.

I found almost immediately during my search that I liked the visual impact and stylish simplicity of S&W's classic-style grips, but would I be able to shoot them adequately? I ordered a set of black polymers from Sidney Ryan via his auction based website to find out. Sidney’s grips fit with minimal modification right out of the bag. They felt good in the hand, allowed a full grip from either a Mika or Desantis Nemesis pocket holster and looked great in contrast to the matte finish of the 642-1. Unfortunately I quickly discovered during my first 100-round range session that this style of grip did not allow me to sufficiently tame +P rounds in the little snubby - I consistently shot well to the left of aim as the grip frame and grip twisted in my hand while I tried to maintain a good grip during the trigger pull and recoil.

The 642 with Sidney Ryan's black polymer grips and Diane’s leather pouch for the Bianchi Speed Strip.

Tyler T-Grips
I still really liked the ease of concealment and lack of snag-ability during the draw the polymer grips afforded, so I decided to make an additional upgrade to see if I could get them to work for me. A call to Tyler Mfg. netted a shipment of two T-Grips, one in brushed aluminum and one flat black anodized. Mounting the T-Grips is as simple as loosening the grip-screw and sliding the brass tabs under the grip panels.

642-1 poses with classic size-1 T-Grips & HKS speed loader with Speer 135gr GDHP+P‘s.

For my hand size and medium-high gripping style the installation of the T-Grip resulted in an instant and comfortable transformation. At the range the tendency of the snubby to shift position and pull left was replaced by a much more acceptable grip position.

642-1 shares space with the classic mid-seventies Charter Arms Undercover in .38 Special.

For me, the combination of Sidney Ryan's polymer grips and the Tyler T-Grip resulted in an almost perfect grip combination for rapid return to target while still maintaining the narrow profile and slick draw-ability from pocket carry that got me headed in this direction to begin with.

Mika Pocket Holsters
Tyler T-Grip
Hi Powers & Handguns Blog