Friday, May 6, 2011

The 1911

I pretty much owe it to the venerable 1911, not to let the 100 year anniversary of the Army's adoption of this fine old firearm pass unremarked.

I met my first M1911A1 as I was wooing the love of my life.  Her father had brought back a better than average specimen from the battlefields of Germany in 1945.  He shot it rarely over the years, letting it rest on the shelf in his closet in the Hoyt 1918-production GI issue leather flap holster it had probably been issued in, fully loaded, cocked and locked.  As you might surmise, he was slow to let this wiry teenager after his daughter have anything to do with his guns until it became apparent that I wasn't going away.  After going off to military school, learning a bit about safe gun handling, and proposing to his daughter, I finally got my hands on it.  I remember it being challenging to shoot at first, with a bit of kick, and a LOT of noise.  No one wore hearing protection back then and my sensitive little musical ears felt every bit of it.  The thing I remember most about that pistol was the only shot my father-in-law ever took with it with me watching.  He hit a foot long 2x4 floating down the Nottaway river at 50 plus yards dead center.  I suspected a lucky shot until years later when I first saw his expert qualification badge on his WWII dress blouse hanging among some old clothes in the attic and heard some of the stories of the black GIs in the labor service company he commanded.

Army issue 1911s were fascinating.  They were pieces of history in many ways, many so old, used and loose as to be inaccurate and unreliable.  (Keep in mind, in the modern Army, the pistol is viewed a not much better than a rock as an actual combat tool.)  And as with all Army issue gear, 'improvement' was officially frowned upon.  But one could occassionally go through a rack of 1911s to pick out the best one, and if you were in the right position, you might even be able to replace a few parts to deal with any obvious problems.  This is how I wound up with a better than average pistol in most of my assignments to combat units.

Since retirement from the Army, I've tried out a number of different pistols built on the 1911 design, and by many different manufacturers.  Colt, Springfield Armory, Kimber, Dan Wesson, Para Ordnance, and even Taurus 1911 designs have been in my gun safe from time to time.  Several other high end manufacturers produce quality machines (Caspian, STI, Wilson Combat, Ed Brown, S&W, SIG-Sauer), and actually, for around $400 you can now purchase a good basic 1911 made by ATI, Armscorp, or Rock Island Armory, all of Phillipine production.  If you decide to get into 1911s. the place to start is and check out the many postings on manual of arms, maintaining and shooting 1911s.

My most recent 1911 was the new Ruger SR1911.  It is similar to the design of the Army M1911A1 I used while on active duty, but had added features I like: significantly more visible sights, an extended beavertail, a skeletonized hammer, and an full length trigger.  Ruger really got it right on this one.

I might have paid a little more for mine than they will eventually sell for ($701) but I consider that a fair price for the gun.  To date, I have fired 275 rounds through it, with narry a hitch.  No failure to fire, no failures to extract or eject, no failures of any kind.  And the pistol is ACCURATE. 

Oh,... there was one flaw.  I found the grip screws loosened after about 150 rounds requiring me to tighten them with an allen wrench.  That may be enough to keep some of you from buying one, but let that bide.  If that's a problem for you, you don't deserve to own the best 1911 I've ever had, since my father-in-law's, of course.

Okay, 2014 update:  I sold my SR1911 (gasp!)  Yes, but I only did it to replace it with an SR1911 CMD, the 4" barrel version of the same pistol.  I've found it to be just as accurate and reliable as the original full-size gun, but a bit easier to carry and conceal.  Still highly recommended!

.22 rifles

A friend recently asked me to be on the lookout for a good .22 rifle.  This isn't the first time I've had that question, but with my lifelong experience with these devices, I have a lot of opinion on the subject.
Dad's rifle had a shorter barrel than this example

The first .22 rifle I shot was my dad's old 'shooting-rats-in-the-dump' gun.  It was a Page-Lewis single-shot lever rifle that took only .22 Shorts, one of the classic early 20th century so-called "boy's rifles."  Unfortunately no one in our family knows what became of it.  It would have been a great teaching tool for my grandsons.  This is one of the classics I'm always on the lookout for, though I have never seen another one anywhere despite haunting gunstores and gunshows all over the country for years now.

The Marlin 81D from Sears
By my teen years, my dad bought a Marlin 81D from good ole Sears Roebuck.  It's a tube fed, bolt action rifle with a heavy walnut stock and solid construction that takes .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle ammunition.  That one we still have, or at least my little brother has it.  I've fired hundreds of rounds through it, and really learned to shoot a rifle with that gun.  I've dispatched many a squirrel with it down along the Nottoway River and our whole family has enjoyed shooting it for years now.
Over the years I've come in contact with, fired and learned to use many different .22 rifle designs.  The Mossbergs come to mind, notably the 152 with it's fold down stock, the Remington bolts, Winchester bolts and pumps, and the famous Ruger 10-22.

As I've grown older and both more able to research and buy the options, I have become a fan of CZs .22 rifles.  My recent favorites include a CZ-452 Full Stock rifle, a CZ 452 Lux (with the 24.5" barrel) which have the quality CZ bolt action and takes .22 Long Rifle ammo only fed in magazines of 5 or 10 rounds.  At the moment, I have a CZ-452 Scout that is for my grandboys when they're old enough to learn to shoot as well as my own main .22 rifle, a CZ-452ZKM "Special Training" rifle.

CZ-452 Scout waiting for Marshall and Calvin to grow up

All of the .22 rifles I've been discussing so far are what I would call general purpose or field use rifles.  They're suitable for teaching, training, hunting small game, and general target shooting.  Although they are all inherently accurate, none are as specialized as the purpose built competition rifles, like the Anshutz.

So with all this as background, I'd like to return to the original topic here--what's a good .22 rifle?  Since almost no one who asks that questions is looking to become an Olympic competitor, I always recommend keeping the cost down and getting something that is reliable and can be shot a lot without needing constant repair or adjustment.

There is an excellent series of .22 rifles being sold under the Mossberg name called the "Plinkster."  The model 702 is the semi-auto version, and the model 802 is a bolt-action.  Both rifles take 5 or 10 round magazines and have synthetic stocks (many are black, but several new models with camoflage pattern stocks in a wide variety of colors have recently appeared).  I've only seen these rifles with a blued metal finish, but I'm informed they can also be found in stainless.  They can be found for $100 to $200 at Walmart, Bass Pro, Dicks, Gander Mountain, as well as many gunstores.  I've owned and used several examples of this gun and find it a fun, accurate, easy to use rifle, it's main feature being it's low price.  The semi-auto version can jam or misfeed from time to time, and as with the Ruger 10-22, maintaining the magazine is important to keeping the gun running well, but the Plinkster is the rifle I recommend as a good low-cost entry level rifle in .22LR.

One note on action types: I like bolt action rifles for most purposes since they are simple to learn, reliable, and easier to maintain and keep clean.  Semi-autos are fun because you can shoot a lot quickly, but I find that they encourage the shooter to be less attentive to fundamentals as well as shooting up too much ammunition.  Other actions such as lever, pump or slide action, etc., are preferable to semi-autos for learning to shoot, but tend to be a little more expensive.

So my recommendation:  If you want to spend less than $150.  Get a Mossberg bolt action rifle and six bulk boxes of ammo (that's 3300 rounds).  If you want a high quality, classy rifle, (i.e. $500 or so) buy a CZ-452 or a Ruger 77-22 bolt. 

Which ever gun you get, shoot it extensively without a scope so you really learn to shoot well.  Then, if you really need one, add a scope later.  That's only a $25 expense if you go to Walmart.