My first handgun was a reproduction 1851 Navy .36 caliber black powder revolver. I was sixteen years old, I didn’t take it to school, and I grew up to become a productive law-abiding member of society. At least as productive as a fifteen-year to date professional military officer can be.
When I turned eighteen, I bought my second handgun, a Ruger New Model Super Single Six. This six and a half-inch barrel, blue steel, single action revolver in .22 LR also came with a .22 WMR cylinder. My friends and I shot almost daily, and we each very regularly went through a 500 round brick of .22 ammunition weekly. I learned tremendous lessons about handguns with those two revolvers, and developed a deep love for shooting them.
My three friends and I, we jokingly referred to ourselves as the "four pistoleros" for lack of a better moniker, grew up in rural West Tennessee where no-one thought it strange for a group of young men take gun in hand and disappear after school. We walked acres and acres of cotton and soybean fields, wandered aimlessly through as much river-bottom woodsland, drove miles of gravel back-roads, and we fished the nearby creeks and ponds. But mostly we shot our .22 pistols. We shot squirrels and rabbits, turtles and snakes. We shot cans and bottles, occasionally we even shot paper targets, and somewhere along the way we learned timeless lessons of woodscraft and marksmanship, comradery and firearms safety. We poured through the pages of "Guns and Ammo" and "The American Rifleman" for anything we could glean from those pages that would further our quest for firearms knowledge and proficiency.
One of my buddy’s father had an old Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 Special. Shooting this revolver really focused my affections onto Smith & Wesson double action revolvers. They were smooth and accurate, much quicker to reload than the single action, and an absolute beauty to behold. I eventually acquired a little-used six-inch Model 17 .22 LR and then a four-inch Model 15 .38 Special. Of course I also had a 12 gauge pump shotgun, a .30-30 Winchester, and a couple of .22 rifles too. That’s quite an arsenal for a nineteen or twenty year old young man, and yet I was not a threat to the security and well being of my community. Perhaps it had something to do with the morals and values I was raised with, but I never even contemplated shooting up my school. Curious, isn’t it?
Only shortly after I had whetted my immediate appetite for Smith & Wesson revolvers, I noticed the Colt M1911 .45 ACP. I found and struck upon a deal for a parts gun, built up by a local gunsmith, which consisted of an Essex frame and a GI surplus Remington Rand slide. The gun rattled when you shook it and it had a dull parkerized finish. This gave it all the right attributes to stir thoughts of combat situations with John Browning’s "old slabsides." Surplus GI ball ammunition was readily available and I began shooting the .45 as much or more than my revolvers. Of course I could hardly hit the ground with it at first, but I learned through much practice the proper grip and trigger control to place my rounds rather precisely.
In the twenty plus years since my first handgun, I have owned and shot a multitude of others, but my true loyalty is still with the Smith & Wesson double action revolver and the Colt .45 automatic pistol. All the other pistols cannot draw my eye away from the deep blue of an early S&W Model 27 or 29, or the accuracy and smooth function of a Colt Series 70 Gold Cup. I realize these guns are no longer manufactured with the same exacting craftsmanship as they were thirty years ago, but I dream that the manufacturers will recognize there is demand for the highest quality in fine firearms and return to producing handguns of this caliber.
Of the other handguns I’ve fired, I have to admit several do have interesting qualities that pique the imagination. The heritage and beauty of the Colt Single Action Army revolver fascinates me. In its four and three quarters-inch barrel length, Mr. John Taffin calls it the "best balanced and most eye-pleasing revolver ever made." It has clean and simple lines that stir the soul. To thumb the hammer back through its long arc brings images of a dusty cattle-drive to mind as clear and sharp as if you were there. As the big .45 Colt round fires and the smooth curved backstrap presses firmly into your hand, you can smell saloon whiskey in the smoke drifting past. You can hear a piano playing in the roar as the big heavy slug drives toward its target.
I respect the sheer strength and design genius of the Ruger revolvers. I once had a blue Super Blackhawk seven and a half-inch gun Magna-ported and proceeded to shoot 300 grain Sierra JSP bullets over absolute max loads of 2400 powder from the Sierra Handgun Reloading Manual. I didn’t have a chronograph so I don’t know what the velocity was, but the revolver would rotate under recoil and the fallen hammer would come to rest in the web of my hand and thumb. Again I could hardly hit the ground at first, but it sure was fun. A bit painful too, until I learned that other hand wasn’t just to swat flies. I eventually reduced my loads to a more enjoyable level, perhaps I matured a bit or maybe I just got tired of being battered by my sixgun. Whatever the case, it led to a couple of Ruger Vaqueros in .45 Colt in my gunsafe. These are also a pleasure to shoot, but the grip is a bit thicker than the emotion stirring Colt and annoyingly flared at the bottom. The hammer lacks all those clicks and half cock notches, it just isn’t quite the same for me.
The reliability and ergonomics of the newer, polymer-framed autopistols is truly a marvel. These guns are not at all emotion stirring beauties, unless you look at them from the perspective that they are an extremely efficient, effective defensive tool that just absolutely works every time. The best of the lot is undoubtedly the Glock. Shoot it all day and throw it in the dishwasher when you get home. The grip is comfortable for most size hands and affords a very secure, non-slip grip. I find it instinctively points a bit high for me, but that’s because the grip angle is not the same as the Colt M1911. The high grip position allowed by the novel design puts the bore-line very low in the hand. This greatly reduces muzzle rise in recoil, places the impulse more straight back into your hand, and enables quicker follow-up shots on target. I find the little "tink" that reverberates through your arm when the trigger bar releases the striker to be disconcerting. It just feels strange even through recoil, but again, probably because it is different than the venerable old Colt I’ve grown so comfortable with. I greatly respect the Glock family of pistols because they work, all the time, every time.
What are my favorite sixguns, well they are detailed on this web page, S&W revolvers with relatively short barrels. My new Rock River Arms .45 ACP is absolutely astounding. It is tight, accurate, and utterly reliable. I had to wait nine months for it to be built, but now that I have it the wait was worth it. My goal for the new century is to locate an area to hunt near my home in Northern Virginia and get back into handgun hunting for deer and maybe black bear with a Ruger Super Blackhawk.
Jeff Taylor, 2000