Ruger Super Blackhawk: singularly unsubtle .44 Magnum

I’ve long been a fan of .44 Magnum revolvers. Like many of us, I first saw one of these in the Dirty Harry movies. The venerable Model 29 carried by Inspector Callahan had been around almost two decades before the first film but what most people don’t know is that it was not in fact the first .44 Magnum on the market. It was beaten to market by several months in 1956 by Bill Ruger’s Blackhawk. The story of how this happened remains shrouded in mystery but the commonly-held assumption is that a Ruger employee found some brass on the range where the round was being tested and brought it back to the armory. Regardless of its genesis, the Blackhawk has secured a place in American firearms history that is still being written.

When Kevin told me he was going to sell his New Model Super Blackhawk, I knew I had to have it. I had already shot it many times and given its history I could not resist. From what I can tell the pistol was manufactured in 1987. The gun is very rugged. The frame is extremely solid and is built to shoot full-power .44 Magnum loads all day long. This was in fact Kevin’s “Bush Gun” when he lived in Alaska. There are not many pistols in the world that can be depended on to stop a Brown Bear but with 300gr FMJ bullets traveling at 1,200 fps, the only real question is “can I make the shot?”

The pistol has a really beefy cylinder too, which it needs of course to handle the high pressures of the round. It also has an adjustable rear sight and a scope rail on top. For safety there is a trigger bar separating the hammer and firing pin, protecting against impact-related accidental discharge. Being a single-action-only pistol and with a one-round-at-a-time loading and unloading scheme, it is not a gun for rapid firing and reloading, although I’ve seen Cowboy shooters do an impressive job while “fanning” the hammer.

I have to say that this is in fact one of my favorite guns. There’s just something about shooting it that is very gratifying. The trigger is light and crisp. The recoil of full-power loads is considerable but the results are equally impressive. From a home defense perspective this pistol is outstanding, provided you can become comfortable handling it. It is small enough to wield in close quarters but powerful enough to stop any threat. In fact, the sight of the weapon alone would give most intruders pause. The fireball from the muzzle blast is also spectacular, especially in low/no light.

Arguably the best feature of this revolver is that it is inexpensive. It is also very accurate, reliable and durable. And you never know when you might run into a Cape Buffalo in your yard 😉

Jack Meets a Bad End

AP Wire:

Mr. Jack O. Lantern was the unfortunate victim of a brutal attack perpetrated by two assailants who were thought to be known by him. Several bystanders were also injured, some seriously. 😉

WARNING: this video is rated “P” for extreme Pumpkin Gore and Violence.

If you don’t enjoy this video, you’re just not right.

Dashiell and I do know how to have fun, don’t we?

USPSA Pistol Shooting: How’s My Grip?

I have benefited greatly by watching Todd Jarret’s Youtube video on pistol shooting tips. I think his explanation of the placement of the pistol within the strong hand and the grip of the weak hand is outstanding. I have followed the guidance regarding the use of the pad of the trigger finger, the alignment of the pistol and the forearm and the 360-degree grip contact for a long time. Interestingly enough, after watching the videos of my shooting at the last match I realized I was missing a key point he makes: the placement and direction of the weak-hand thumb.

I have apparently been letting my weak-hand thumb come to rest along the left side of the slide in a near vertical position. With the black slide on my M&P, this really stands out in the videos (as opposed to the stainless slide of my SR9). This past week I have begun to really look at this issue. If you notice towards the end of the video Todd shows the student how you can check your grip by looking down at the top of the slide and checking to insure that both the trigger finger and the weak-side thumb are the same distance from the front of the slide. This of course is done while the trigger finger is resting along the right side of the slide.

In order for me to get the weak thumb in this orientation I have had to rotate my weak hand forward significantly. While this may sound like a simple, perhaps insignificant change, it has created a very different feel to my pistol shooting. It is very awkward at this point but I have to say that I can feel more positive control and recoil mitigation with this different grip.

I recently read a blog post by Brad Engmann, a USPSA Grand Master in Production division. Most people know Brad from his appearance on the first season of the History Channel’s Top Shot program. He received a lot of criticism for some of his perceived whining about the Beretta 92FS and its grip angle, compared to the Glock he shoots in Production. As most people know, the producers of these shows are trying to use footage to create drama rather than to show educational information. Emotion tends to sell more than knowledge I guess. Anyway, in his post Brad talks about the long climb to top-level pistol shooting in USPSA. He points out that the road to success is not easy and that each time a new area of our technique is adjusted our performance goes off. This dip is inevitable but must be experienced if we are to improve. If the adjustment is a good one, the change becomes comfortable and the performance dip is followed by better shooting than before.Those of us who can tolerate the discomfort and short-term drop in our shooting can continue to improve and ultimately reach the highest level we can personally achieve.

I think the thing that really makes Practical Shooting so unique is that we are moving at speeds that make the shooting entirely dependent on our training. There simply is no time to contemplate. If my grip adjustment is going to work, I must draw to it hundreds of times during practice at home, dry-firing and just doing draws and mag changes. That lays the foundation for live-fire practice which lets me really feel the new grip in action. Once the technique change has become fully integrated then I can see how it really works. So far I’ve only had a few tweaks that have not worked out. This one I think is destined to stay.

A final note: There really is no substitute for watching video tape of yourself shooting, especially at matches. If you can arrange it, have someone tape you from the strong side on some stages and weak side on the others. This will allow you to see your draw, grip, mag draws, mag insertions, recoil management, general grip geometry, etc. from all possible angles. Try and capture footwork on stages with movement but don’t zoom out unnecessarily. Remember: there’s no real point in having the targets in the picture. Paper hits are invisible and hits on steel can be heard distinctly in the videos. When reviewing stages it is important to have your scores readily viewable also since the best looking run in the world is pointless if you weren’t accurate. We try and get a shot of the score sheet at the end of our practice sessions and match scores are posted on the USPSA site. This way you can compare technique with results.

So, my grip is under construction…again. How’s yours?

S&W M&P 9 – Part VII: Update

Well, it’s been a couple of months now with the M&P9. Let’s review where we are so far:

  • Apex Tactical “Competition Action Enhancement Kit”
  • Dawson sights (fiber 1.25 red front/ black serrated wide rear)
  • Black Diamond grip tape
  • stainless guide rod
  • ISMI 13lb spring
  • Polished the bearing surfaces on the trigger bar, striker block plunger and the sear.

That’s everything that’s been done to the pistol other than shoot it and clean it. As you may recall in Part VI, I didn’t have a great experience at my first match with this setup but this past weekend saw much improvement.

Since the September match I have put about 2.5k rounds through the gun. As you can see in the videos of the match the true character of this pistol is being revealed. I came in 2nd in production, winning the longest stage of the match outright. Additionally GMPS calculates combined scores across all divisions, which isn’t valid as far as USPSA is concerned but it’s a nice set of data to compare overall placement. Even with minor PF and 10-round mags, I was 6th overall. This is the best I’ve shot at a GMPS match by a good margin. The biggest change was in my accuracy. If you watch the Part IV video my run was under 40 seconds, due in large part to the fact that I cleared the Texas Star in six shots (one miss). Granted it wasn’t far away but it did have two no-shoot poppers sitting at the 5 and 7 o’clock positions, which made it pretty difficult. Also my A-hit ratio for the match was my highest ever.

During the course of the match I had one failure to feed after a mag change but I couldn’t tell what happened and you can’t see in the video. That was almost certainly not the fault of the pistol so I have to give it a perfect score on that account.

So this is much more the kind of result I expected from this platform. I think it will only get better. Hats off to the fine folks at Smith & Wesson for producing this outstanding pistol. Thanks also to Dawson Precision for those great sights and of course, thanks to Apex Tactical for the action kit which makes this easily the best competition pistol I’ve ever shot by a wide margin.

Maku Mozo!