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A Sportsmen's Handgun

I've never subscribed to the whole one gun theory, or the well known quote "beware of the man who carries only one gun because he probably knows how to use it." I've known plenty of better than fair shots in my time and none of them were one-gun-men. If there is any other reason life is too short and there is many a fine gun to be had out there.

I've kept a list of guns that I'd like to own scrawled on an old piece of paper and every once in a while I get to scratch a line through one of them. For years I had wanted perhaps one of the easiest guns to find, the Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver chambered in .38 Special. The old policeman's gun. It is to this day seen carried in many a security guards holster, and is a more than proven handgun. Every bit as famous as its more relished and famous counter parts like the Colt Single Action Army or the 1911, it is readily dismissed by modern arm chair experts as not a real gun fighters gun (what ever that means anyway).

As I live in the mid-west and the chance of encountering Ursus arctos horribilis when I'm in the great outdoors is non-existant I'm freed not to carry a large hand canon. Missouri does have its share of black bears and even mountain lions that rove not just the Ozark mountains, and six rounds of good quality ammo fired into the puss of any marauding creature be it four legged or two is just the bill for the sale. Yet this old war horse of a gun transcends that point.

Loaded with wad cutter target ammo I can teach a new shooter how to use a very contending handgun and turn around and use the exact same load to hunt rabbits on a snowy winters hike without the large concussion of a shotgun disturbing the winters peace. It does something else very nice in the winter time that most auto loaders don't do. It allows me to shoot with gloves on due to its large trigger guard and double action trigger that I don't have to worry about firing until I'm ready. I can not say the same about my beloved 1911.

The first spring after we were married the Wife and I took our recent addition to the Family (the Dog) out for a hike. As we cut up a wooded hillside I just happen to look down at my feet to see a nicely coiled copper head laying in a sunny spot. From a yards range I was able to deliver two fast shots of snake shot from a four inch barrel gun that sent the belly crawler onto his reward (and I have no guilt about it what-so-ever).

Consequently I have shot snakes with one of my 1911s loaded with snake shot but the pistol renders itself a single shot and the slide has to be racked due to the low power of the loads not cycling the gun. When I owned my NAA mini-mag, shooting snakes required that I have all five chambers loaded with snake medicine to semi-effectively kill one decent size snake because the barrel was so short and the powder charge was l-i-g-h-t.

The auto gun loaded with snake shot also leaves me at a tactical disadvantage. If I would encounter two legged predators on my hike and a melee should ensue I am force to fire once and clear the slide or clear the slide once or twice depending on how the magazine is loaded and then engage those who have come to do me harm. Not a situation I would want to be in if the drop was got on me and I was one handed for any reason.

The venerable Model 10 can be carried to the deer stand in accompaniment of the rifle. Loaded with stout rounds should Mr. Buck arrive within conversation distance where a rifle couldn't be gotten into play or a coup-de-grace need be delivered the 4 inch Smith will put venison into the deep freeze for the coming year.

There are social advantages to a trusty old six shooter. It's appearance is looked at somewhat benignly by all but the most aggravating of gun haters. After all didn't Barney Fife carry one?

Yet many still look at the .38 special as a cartridge time has passed by as a man stopper. The truth is that it will always be the man fighting and not the caliber that matters, and history validates this through many examples but I will give you one example of one legend.

Wild Bill Hickock

On July 21, 1865 in Springfield, Missouri Hickock engaged Dave Tutt in a psudeo gun fight. I say psudeo because Tutt fired at Hickock one or two times and Hickock turned and fired once striking Tutt through the heart and the fight was over as Tutt would die moments later. There are two signicant points to be made here.

One is that Hickock was armed with cap-n-ball revolvers (some sources say a .44 Dragoon while most contend that he was carrying a pair of his beloved .36 Navy Colts). Ballistically speaking the .36 would fall some where around a .380 ACP by modern standards while the .44 Dragoon would have be similar to a hot loaded .38 Special.

The second point. Hickock shot Tutt from seventy-five yards away.

Even after the cartridge pistols became widely available Hickock still carried his beloved .36 Navy Colts because he had looked the devil in the face and survived on numerous occasions up until the day he was assassinated by Phil Coe who shot him in the back of the head with a .45.

Another example that exemplifies a man and his personal choice of armament.

Ed McGivern.

McGivern was and still is renowned as one of the best handgunners that ever lived. His Guinness world record for "The greatest rapid-fire feat" (set on August 20, 1932 at the) still stands. This feat consisted of firing five shots from 15 feet which could be covered by a silver half-dollar piece in 45/100's of a second.

His other shooting feats were:
  • He could break six simultaneously hand thrown clay pigeons (standard trap targets) in the air before they hit the ground.
  • He could hit a tin can hand thrown 20 ft. in the air six times before it hit the ground.
  • He could shoot-drive a tack or nail into wood.
  • He could shoot the spots out of playing cards, or even split a playing card edge on.
  • He could shoot a dime on the fly.
McGivern's gun of choice was not a shotgun,or a semi-automatic .22, or even the mighty 1911. Rather his choice for shooting was none other than a pair of Smith & Wesson Model 10s in .38 Special (known in those days as the Model M & P for Military and Police).

There is little doubt that any man armed with a modern master blaster 6000 would have been greatly out matched regardless of magazine capacity had he encountered McGivern and his pair of .38 double action Smiths.

Jim Cirillo of the infamous NYPD's Roving Stakeout Squad in the 1960s and 1970s carried a pair of Smith .38s. He survived and thrived through seventeen gun fights in his thirty year law enforcement career and never felt under armed by his choice. Not to mention a couple of presidential citations for marksmanship.

The .38 Special is still the most popular cartridge for hand loading ones own ammunition, and remains one of the most popular choices for bulls-eye shooters, rank and file outdoorsmen, to the first time handgun owner. Having traveled from Mexico to India I have yet to see a country where at least several policemen or security officers are not armed with a six shot .38 Special, with its only rival being the 9mm.

As I write this my own 4 inch pencil barreled Model 10 Smith stoked with +P hollow points sits secreted away in a quick access location ready to defend my home. My wife sleeps securely when I am away because there is a handgun that requires no magazine to insert or safety catch flip in order to make the gun go.

Some say the revolver in general is dead but I would have to disagree. If left with only one handgun to choose I'm not sure what I would pick for several different reasons left to consider but a .38 Special in some consideration would make it into the top 3.

When I bought mine in the Spring 2006 I paid the very light weight price of $279.00 which in a world of $1500 in house custom 1911s (which is my favorite handgun by the way) $1221.00 would buy a lot of ammo, holsters and reloading equipment and maybe even some training to boot.


threadbndr said…
I'm a revolver gal all the way. And the .38 is my round of choice as well. It may be because a vintage M&P was the first handgun I ever shot (and I have not QUITE forgiven my grandpa for willing it to my cousin instead of me. I certainly have not forgiven the cousin for selling outside the family instead of giving me a chance to buy it from him.)

Loving your blog - started with the 'dark arts' series and I'm working my way back. I'm not even sure how I got here - but you are bookmarked now.
Anonymous said…
Love the blog and this post. I own, shoot, and would rely on any caliber from .380 to .45 (the larger caliber obviously being preferred when available/practical). This isn't meant to become some sort of caliber wars debate, I just thought you'd be interested to know that Jim Cirillo and his partner Bill Allard (himself a serious shooter and survivor of a few gunfights) were prone to carrying .45s once they became widely available. In one instance (denoted as the "Hotel Lobby" in the piece below) Cirillo's own life was saved by his partner's .45 and he stated plainly that a bullet with less expansion wouldn't have done the trick.