IN DEFENSE OF THE SIXGUN
(or SIXGUNS IN THE DAY OF THE SEMI-AUTO)
It had to happen. It was just a matter of time. After all, good things come to those that wait don't they? Well I waited. And waited. And waited. And lo and behold it really did happen! THE major proponent of the semi-automatic made this statement: "We conclude after years of careful study, that the best service sidearm for a policeman is a double action revolver in caliber .44 Special."
Now if I told you that such a statement came from Elmer Keith you would not be surprised. Keith carried a four-inch .44 caliber sixgun daily from his acquisition of a S&W 1950 Target .44 Special in the early 1950's, and then for three decades afterwards he carried his beloved Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. Year after year in his many articles and books he offered that such a sixgun was the perfect peace officer's weapon. No, it would not be surprising if Keith made the statement. Keith's spirit lives on but Keith himself has been gone from our midst for nine years now. No it wasn't him.
Skeeter Skelton also often proposed the double action sixgun as the perfect weapon for the peace officer. Throughout his law enforcement career he carried, at various times, a four-inch .44 Special, a five-inch .357 Magnum, and a four-inch .357 Combat Magnum. The latter two are now known as the Model 27 and Model 19 respectively. Yes, Skeeter could be counted on to advance such a theory and he did study law enforcement weapons for decades. But we lost Skeeter five years ago, and though he would have made such a statement happily, he did not.
No this profound truth came from a most unexpected source. A man who espoused the Model 1911 .45 ACP as the perfect weapon decades ago and has taught its use both in printed form and in classes on his ranch. The Chairman himself, the Master Guru of the .45 ACP Government Model has, after all these years, stated the double action revolver in .44 Special is the perfect choice! Now, if I were a typical network reporter, I would be happy to have made my case and just leave it at that, fairness and truth to the contrary. In all fairness to Colonel Cooper, a man whom I respect very much, I will give you the rest of the quote:"Class A cops are naturally best equipped with the 1911 .45 Automatic or one of its clones, but how many Class A cops have we got?"
So Cooper hasn't abandoned his semi-automatic stand of many years after much careful study. What he is saying is that the semi-automatic is for experts, those willing to really discipline themselves to learn how to use one superbly. The double action revolver, on the other hand, is the simplest, and safest weapon of choice. And therein lies the beauty of the sixgun. It is the simplest weapon to operate safely. It may not be the easiest to master, but it is the safest in the hands of most people, both peace officers and otherwise.
Semi-automatics are wonderful tools, but sixguns go beyond that with the best of them being veritable works of art. Yes, I will agree that there is one, perhaps two semi-automatics that approach the esthetic qualities so easily found in sixguns. The Colt Government Model and the Browning Hi-Power come most readily to mind. And many of the newer models will probably be looked upon in the future just as reverently as these two pre-War designs, but for now at least, it is the sixgun that is the most soul and spirit stirring for this sixgunner.
And lest one thinks I am completely biased, I will readily admit that there are some areas that are just naturally dominated by the semi-auto. Action shooting is one. Most of the top competitors use the semi-automatic and yet in the midst of myriads of competition shooters, there is Jerry Miculek continuing to prove the sixgun really is king as he beats the best of them often using a .357 sixgun, namely an eight and three-eighth's inch barreled Smith & Wesson Model 27.
When it comes to .22's, it just doesn't get any better than semi-auto style. The Ruger's, Brownings, and Smith & Wesson's will shoot veritable rings around the average .22 sixgun and they are flat and easy to pack and carry ten rounds instead of the normal five or six. They also are easily scoped and 500 rounds of .22 ammunition and a scoped semi-automatic is perfect for trying to put a small dent in the Southwestern Idaho varmint population.
For concealment use, on my body at least, semi-automatics work best. The little 9MM Smith & Wesson Model 3913, rides so easy inside my waistband that I hardly know it is there. A .380 AMT/iAi is among the easiest of guns to conceal, and a fourteen shot Bersa .380 fits readily inside my shirt defying detection. A sixgun stuck in the waistband always feels like it is going to slip south; the semi-autos stay put.
I must admit to having some difficulty with so called pocket pistols. I cannot carry a Chief's Special in the front pocket of my jeans without being read unless I also wear a jacket or windbreaker that covers most of the pocket. That precludes the J-frame revolver as a warm weather gun for me. One does ride nicely in the front pocket of my jeans as I take my daily walk in the late fall/early spring and is covered from view by the tail of my windbreaker. It is also perfect for carrying in the pocket of an insulated vest or insulated coveralls in cold weather. I cannot however carry one of these little guns in my waistband without the feeling that I am about to loose it. This is one method of carry that belongs exclusively to semi-autos on my body at least.
The revolver in the hammerless Centennial Airweight mode is a true pocket pistol. There are no sharp corners anywhere to catch on clothing or pocket linings and just as with the original Safety Hammerless in an emergency this little .38 Special can be fired through a jacket pocket. Try that with any unconcealed hammer revolver or semi-auto and in all probability the gun will be tied up and tangled up with material.
Since the Centennial can be fired through a pocket, one can always be ready in any situation with gun in hand without ever drawing and showing a gun. Even when legally licensed to carry a concealed weapon, one does not have the right to be flashing such gun. With the Centennial one simply needs to carry this .38 Special in a pocket that allows one to grasp and fire the gun if necessary without ever drawing it from the pocket. This precludes carrying it a front jeans pocket as there is no room to maneuver even a gun this small, but carried in a front jacket pocket, or insulated vest, or coveralls gives plenty of room to operate without ever drawing the gun from its hiding place. This capability could see one through any number of tight spots quite inconspicuously. And a lot of comfort can be garnered from the fact that one can be carrying a gun in hand without anyone ever being the wiser.
For the uniformed peace officer, I do not believe there is a better choice than a double action only semi-automatic with a safety carried in a snatch proof holster. I've chuckled over the many pages that have been written to explain just what double action and double action only means. Most simply confuse the issue in an effort to be somewhat terminology correct. Double action only means exactly what it says: the gun can be fired by using the trigger to both cock and fire the gun and this is the only way it can be fired. The DAO makes the handgun safer under stress than a typical semi-automatic and the safety and the special holster give the peace officer some advantage should one of the bad guys try to seize the weapon.
Forty years ago it was easy to trash semi-automatics with one simple statement: "They are unreliable and inaccurate!" This is no longer true. The Third Generation Smith & Wessons and the Ruger P-series of semi-automatics are totally reliable and do not need the old standby `hard-ball style' ammo to function. With the coming of all of these future hall-of-famers in the handgun world, has also come great strides in ammunition that renders them efficient and trouble free when it comes to functioning. Most semi-automatics will do two-inches or less with a magazine full at 25 yards with the proper ammunition. I do not intend to trash semi-automatics at all. I just like sixguns better.
During the 1980's seemingly everyone discovered the virtues of the wonder-nine, and the race was on to see who could build the greatest capacity nine millimeter. Then came the .40 S&W/10MM tide and the spotlight switched from one crest to another. During all this time, sixguns just sort of bided their time and now we see the spotlight has switched back to the original packin' pistol, the sixgun.
What then are the advantages of the sixgun over the semi-automatic? I've already mentioned a most important one. Aesthetics. Artistry. Many sixguns have such soul-stirring beautiful lines that they had to be discovered rather than designed. The Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, .357 Combat Magnum Model 19; the Colt Single Action Army, .357 Python; the Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk, the Bisley; the Freedom Arms Casull; all virtual works of art. These sixguns are miles above the level of a working tool and yet they serve their owners quite well when called upon in such a situation.
What could be a more appropriate first gun than a double action sixgun? My grandchildren know which sixgun of all of my guns is theirs. It stays with Paw-paw but it belongs to them. We use it as a single -shot for now until they are a little older. The sixgun that they are learning with is a Smith & Wesson Kit Gun, the Model 63 .22 Long Rifle. It is perfect for little hands and they do not get tired holding it on target. Some day they will graduate to bigger sixguns. For now they are learning the basics of shooting and the all important, most important, aspect of shooting, safety with this grand little .22 sixgun.
The best semi-automatics are sixguns! That may sound strange but it is definitely true. When I shoot a sixgun, I can usually block out recoil and have but one thing on my mind, namely where that bullet is going to hit. With a semi-automatic, no matter how hard I try, there are always two things on my mind. Where the bullet is going to hit and also, as a reloader, where the brass is going to land. The simple solution is to shoot sixgun semi-automatics. That is sixguns chambered for semi-automatic cartridges.
The Smith & Wesson Model 610 handles both .40 S&W and 10MM cartridges with the use of full moon clips, the Smith & Wesson Model 625 does the same with .45 ACP's and both 10MM's and .45's can be used in an emergency without the clips. Both of these sixguns will outshoot their semi-automatic counterparts by a wide margin and the brass is not scattered hither and yon. As an extra added bonus, a full moon clip equipped sixgun chambered for a semi-automatic gives the user the fastest possible reload and the full moon clips are a lot less bulky and easier to pack than speedloaders. What could be a better defensive sixgun than a four-inch barreled revolver chambered for .45 ACP and used with full moon clips?
Handgun hunting has grown tremendously in the past ten years or so. The premier hunting handgun, single-shots notwithstanding, is the sixgun. There are a few semi-automatics suited for hunting such as the Desert Eagle .44 Magnum and the LAR Grizzly .45 Win Mag. But the selection of fine scope-ready sixguns is long and varied. From Ruger, the Super Blackhawk Hunter Model, the Redhawk, and the Super Redhawk are all scope ready and for iron-sight fanciers there is the regular Super Blackhawk, the Bisley, and the Redhawk. Smith & Wesson now offers the Classic DX .44 Magnum scope ready or with some of the finest sights ever offered whether one chooses the gold bead front sight or opts for the total target shooting package which is an excellent hunting option.
Wesson offers their Dan Wesson sixguns in a hunting package with an extra shroud that carries a Burris scope in calibers from varmint shooting .32 Magnum and .32-20 up through .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, and .445 SuperMag calibers. Colt waited a long time to offer a big bore double action sixgun but the Anaconda is now here in stainless steel and in both .44 Magnum and .45 Colt chamberings and the rib on the barrel can be used with a B-Square scope mount.
Perhaps the finest sixgun ever offered is really a fivegun, the Freedom Arms Casull revolver. Offered in both Premier Grade or the less finely polished Field Grade (perfect for hunting), the Freedom Arms adjustable sighted models are designed so the rear sight assembly removes and the resulting trough accepts a Leupold, Buehler or MaxiMount for scoping. The Casull is also a perfect match with the SSK T'SOB mount. Freedom Arms covers the hunting field quite well with chamberings in .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, 353 Casull (.357 Magnum), and 252 Casull (.22 LR and/or .22 RFM).
Mag-Na-Port offers a whole line of Stalker hunting sixguns. These are custom tuned by Kelly and company and consist of a T'SOB rib and scope, sling and swivels and are available in the Freedom Arms Casull in .454 or .44 Magnum, the Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum, and Rugers in Super Blackhawk, Redhawk, or Super Redhawk form.
For long-range shooting in general or silhouetting in particular the sixgun has it all over the semi-automatic. The long range courses under both NRA and IHMSA silhouetting are ruled by the Wesson .357 SuperMag and the Freedom Arms .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum chamberings. Close behind come the Dan Wesson and Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum. It is strange to this writer that no semi-automatic is offered to really challenge the long-range rule of the sixgun. A Grizzly or Desert Eagle with a ten-inch barrel, top quality sights, and a bottle-necked cartridge could be made to shoot rings around the sixgun, but no one has seen fit to produce such a semi-automatic.
The Long Range phase of The Master's in which targets are fired rapidly at different ranges would be a perfect testing ground for such a semi-automatic in a .30 or 7MM chambering on the .44 Magnum or .45 Win Mag case. The sixgun cannot compete in this game; a semi-automatic could.
Point shooting, or shooting instinctively without sights, is a serious game designed for saving one's hide. The handgun is drawn smoothly and quickly and the gun is pointed at the close-range target which is threatening bodily harm or death. A sixgun, be it double action or single action persuasion, drawn from a proper holster and equipped with grips that fit the user's hand perfectly, will come on target like radar with serious practice. After the first shot, the four-inch double action sixgun is in a class all by itself. Semi-automatics simply do not point nearly as well as sixguns in this regard, neither do they balance in the hand as well. My choice is a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum K-frame, or N-frame in .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum (both properly loaded with reasonable loads), .44 Special, or .45 Colt. For a holster, a Tom Threepersons style and grips for me are the BearHug or BluMagnum Skeeter Skelton style.
In a class all by itself is an old Smith & Wesson pre-N-frame .38-44 Heavy Duty four-inch barreled sixgun. The heavy weight dampens recoil of .38 Specials tremendously and the old long action is smooooth. This is the sixgun that was built as the forerunner to the .357 Magnum.
If power is the number one reason for selecting a handgun, sixguns and semi-automatics run neck and neck for awhile with the .44 Magnum in sixguns and .44 Magnum, .45 Win Mag, and .50 Action Express in semi-automatics. The .50 looks big and sounds big but can accomplish nothing that cannot be accomplished with 300 grain bullets in a heavy-frame .44 Magnum sixgun. Where penetration is the number one requirement, the .44 Magnum/hard cast 300 grain bullet will leave the .50 in the dust.
Reaching out for real power one finds the sixgun is the king. The .445 SuperMag, the .454 Casull, the .475 Linebaugh, the .500 Linebaugh, the .475 Maximum, the .500 Maximum, these are all found only in sixguns. I shudder to think about the size of a semi-automatic that would be required to safely house these big brutes.
Finally, the sixgun is the perfect handgun for the reloader and experimenter. We have already mentioned the fact that the sixgun does not spray its brass all over the sagebrush, nor does it mutilate the brass in the process as semi-automatics often do. Semi-automatics operate in a very narrow frame of reference or the action will not function. Overall cartridge length is usually critical and some require the use of jacketed bullets only. Not so the revolver. If the cartridge will fit the chamber and it has enough powder to move the bullet up the barrel, the sixgun will function.
The .44 Magnum will handle loads from 500 feet per second up and bullet weights from 180 to 350 grains in weight and cares little if the bullet material is jacketed or cast. One can even forget about bullets and use shotshells in special situations such as snake eradication or teaching youngsters to shoot big bores with confidence on close up tin cans.
We have not yet mentioned the grand versatility of the revolver in general and the single action in particular. The cylinder on the single action is held in place by an easily removable base pin which allows was Ruger has called their Convertible series of sixguns, that is sixguns with more than one cylinder. The first such Ruger offered had two cylinders in .22 LR and .22 RFM. Then came Blackhawks in .357 Magnum/9MM, .45 Colt/.45 ACP, .44 Magnum/.44-40, .32-20/.32 Magnum, .38-40/10MM, and now the BearCat is coming back as a dual cylindered .22/.22 Magnum.
Freedom Arms offers auxiliary cylinders for its .454 Casull in both .45 Colt and .45 ACP, my .401 PowerMag has an extra .38-40 cylinder, and I also New Frontier's in .44 Special/ .44-40 and .45 Colt/.45ACP. If one wanted to go the ultimate route and get the most possible out of one sixgun, a .38-40 Ruger Blackhawk could have three extra cylinders in .401, 10MM, and .40 S&W.
The sixgun has been around since 1836. As we rapidly approach the twenty-first century it is still the weapon of choice for more situations than not. Long may it reign.