...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

September 04, 2005

New Gun Nut Progress Report II

Me and my roommate Megan tried two more pistols today, both Smith & Wesson. Here's my novice review.

progress report

The first was the venerable Smith & Wesson Military and Police .38 special. The particular model we rented was the Model 64. Someone told me that this gun is used by California prison guards, but i have not been able to verify that information.

sw64.jpgi chose this revolver because it's what i always pictured when i thought of the word "gun." The design dates back to 1899. It's simple to operate and easy to shoot, but i didn't like the sights. The rear sight is really a groove along the top of the cylinder. i had trouble lining it up with the front sight in the low light of the range, and consequently i shot worse with the .38 than i have with any other gun.

The S&W 64 retails for $583, but i wouldn't buy it. Here's what Dirty Harry said about .38 calibers in The Enforcer:

Kate: You're 'cold bold Callahan with his great big .44'. Every other cop is satisfied with a .38 or a .357. Why do you have to carry that cannon for?

Harry: So I hit what I aim at, that's why.

Kate: Oh I see. So that's for the penetration.

Harry: Does everything have a sexual connotation with you?

Kate: Only sometimes.

Harry: The .357's a good weapon, but i've seen .38 slugs bounce off of windshields. That's no good in a town like this.

i heard somewhere else that the .38 special cartridge is really good for punching holes in paper, but not much else. The casing is the same size as a .357 magnum, except it's full of wadding, according to the range dude i talked to. i know because some wadding flew up and landed on my head. i thought it was a bug at first, but when i put my hand through my hair it was like a gray powdery chunk of dust. Gross.

The next gun we tried was the Smith & Wesson 4006TSW, which shot the .40 S&W cartridge. Now this was more like it. i had been curious about the .40 S&W round, because i'd been told that it had more power to stop an attacker than a 9mm, while still being easy on the arm. i found the kick of this gun comparable to the Sig and Browning 9 millimeters i loved so much.

sw4004.jpgi also like the fact that it had an actual safety, unlike the Sig Sauers, which have none.

Megan and i split a box of 50 bullets, and i shot 17 rounds at ranges of 7 and 15 yards. i kept all but three inside the 9 ring, which for me is okay. Then i switched to the head at 25 yards for the last eight rounds, and missed only once. So i'd say this is a pretty accurate pistol.

Another neat feature of this weapon was the rack on the bottom of the barrel, which can be used to attach a flashlight or a laser sight. i love accessories!

This might be the all around defensive weapon for me. It satisfies a number of requirements i have. Good power, reliable (it jammed only once), it has a safety, it's accurate, not too much recoil, has a comfortable grip, and holds at least ten rounds. i also like that it's made in America, and the stainless steel is supposed to resist corrosion.

i don't like the sights as much as the Sig Sauer's three dot system, which is really easy for me to see. The Smith & Wesson has a white dot on the front sight, but the rear sight is all black. i like the three dot system better because i can tell whether the gun is lined up from left to right by judging if the three dots are equally spaced apart. i can't do that on the 4006 because i only see one dot.

i don't think they make this model anymore. i picked up a Smith and Wesson catalog for 2005 and the closest thing they had with a 4 inch barrel was the model 410, which doesn't come in stainless steel. But i'm not ready to buy anything yet anyway. There's plenty of other pistols i need to sample first.

Update: Boone Country wrote a spirited defense of the .38 special way back in 2003 that is worth reading.

Posted by annika, Sep. 4, 2005 | TrackBack (1)
Rubric: New Gun Nut Stuff


Nice range report. I'm impressed by your extended range work before buying. (I'm also impressed by the time you have for blogging and the range while in law school. When I was a Baylor, I hardly had time for breathing.) You'd be surprised how many people impulse-buy a pistol. My wife and I have his-and-hers Springfield XDs in .40 S&W, which we're quite happy with. When we tried it at the range before buying, the grin on her face said, "Yeah. This is the one."

Posted by: Bryan on Sep. 4, 2005

Don't buy without taking the Glock 9 MM for a test drive...

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 5, 2005

The .38 Special case is a little over a tenth of an inch shorter than its predecessor; the .357 Magnum (actually .135" shorter). I don't know what the hell this "wadding" thing is all about, but I wouldn't trust strange range dudes if they're telling you things like that.

No idea what is was that landed in your hair though. The only thing that possibly makes sense...if the range reloads their ammo (which a lot of ranges do) they may have used a filler. What a filler does is take up space between the base of the bullet & the powder charge in the case. The idea is if you use a low powder charge it keeps it from shifting around, thereby providing more consistent ignition of the powder. Component media like the stuff in a bean bag only smaller can be used, as can little felt wads. So if they're using light loads with fillers that may be where he got the "wad" stuff from. If not he just didn't know what he was talking about. Course I will admit revolvers aren't my forte' but I know he was mistaken about the case lengths therefore I'm hesistant to trust him on anything else.

The .38 Spl is similar to the 9mm in stopping power. Both are usually considered minimum for self defense against bipeds.

The .40 S&W - well you know I like it. Odds are you were shooting 180 grain bullets moving at around 1000 fps. That's not a full power load. Buffalo Bore makes a 180 grain load that clocks at 100 fps. Cor-Bon makes 135 grain loads that move at 1325 fps. Their 165 grainer move at 1150 fps. (Course you shouldn't use the really powerful stuff in a Glock because of its unsupported chamber.) Next time you rent a .40 see if they have any Buffalo Bore or Cor-bon ammo. It's a whole new world compared to what I presume you shot. Course with handloads you can improve on that, but I'll wait till you get a firearm before I start pushing that on ya :P

But for more choices in .40 (or 9mm) that would fit your criteria: Para Ordnance makes a 1911 in .40S&W. So does Springfield.
Don't neglect the Hi-Power, & you simply must try an EAA Witness sometime. Any of those should fit the bill, ecept the comfortable grip part - that's a perception thing & I'm afraid you're going to have to try out all of them to figure out what you prefer. :D

Oh, for the sights - most common commercial pistols have at least a few options for aftermarket sights, so if you do find a pistol you like but aren't crazy about the sights you can always have them modified to suit your needs. & it's not that expensive either, depending upon what you want done. Gang banger sights (on the side of the frame) are usually pricey though. :)

Posted by: Publicola on Sep. 5, 2005

I believe that the ammo they sell you at the range are called "wadcutters", for the very reason that all they need to do is make holes in paper.

All of the above stuff is true, but you will note that ranges do not allow you to bring your own ammo.

Take a walk in a quiet part of the country, away from where people live, and some tin cans or other type targets and see the difference between the wadcutters and the real thing.

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 5, 2005

If you like .40's you should really give the Glock 23 a try. It is chambered for the .40 but has a small enough frame to be easy on folks with small hands. I'm not a huge fan of S&W for Auto's ( they seem to jam more than other's for me ) although some people swear by them. My choices in order of brand for 40 would be Glock 23, H&K USP chambered for .40, Sig Sauer P229, and only as a last resort I would go with a S&W or Ruger P94. I like auto's but not nearly as much as I love my true passion which is large bore revolvers. My current favorite is my .454 Casull. I hunted with it a while back and took a nice deer with it. You really can't beat it for reach out and touch something power. For personal defense though it would be a bit much ;) So give the Glock 23 a chance if you can and let us know what you think. Also steer clear of 9mm they simply don't have enough knock down power unless the round hits in exactly the right spot which can be hard to do under pressure even for people who have been well trained. In school they told us most urban gunfire exchanges take place at under 7 yards and 90 percent of all shots are missed. Not sure if it's true or not but that is what our instructors told us. ( Marine Corps. CQB training Chesapeak Va. ) So even more important than knock down power is that you have to be able to hit something when that something is trying to kill you.

Posted by: Andy on Sep. 5, 2005

Shelly, most ranges let you use any ammo you want in your guns. There's one around here that insists you buy their ammo for anything you shoot & I avoid that place. Most all ranges do make you buy their ammo for rentals.

& wadcutters are a type of ammo that is sold at ranges (usually) but it's not 'the" kind, just "a" kind.

Glocks - feh. If anyone likes them so be it. But with glocks two things come to mind - they have an unsupported chamber which means using really high pressured rounds might not be a good idea. The other is more common - they have polygonal rifled barrels. More or less this means using eposed lead (i.e. no jacket) ammo is discouraged. An aftermarket barrel takes care of both of those problems but still - no, I won't go into it. It's just a matter of preference. But glocks never fascinated me. Then again I never cared for any pistol w/o an exposed hammer.

Posted by: Publicola on Sep. 5, 2005

Never heard of the Casull, but my brother had a 454 Chevy that he absolutely loved.

Posted by: annika on Sep. 5, 2005

As Publicola rightly pointed out, the .357 is longer than the .38 Spl. If Range Dude isn't aware of that simple, well-known fact, Range Dude is not someone from whom you should take advice on firearms.

I won't get into the specific of these particular pistols. (I do second the suggestion that you should check out a Glock or two.) Generally speaking, though, I recommend that anyone interested in buying only one handgun for self-defense and general plinking choose a revolver, unless he/she plans to do a great deal of practicing. Semi-autos are just plain harder to learn to use effectively; there's more than can go wrong with them and it takes a fair amount of training and practice to learn to deal effectively with potential problems -- especially under stress.

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 6, 2005

course the counter argument is that with some training (not quite as much as I think you're implying) those potential problems with semi's can be solved on the spot with minimal fuss. With revolvers a problem usually involves tools & a set of schematics to sort out (granted such problems are rare but it wouldn't be an argument if it was nonexistent). :P

Revolvers are great & I don't mean to knock them at all but I don't think it's that much harder to learn to work a semi.

Now a good argument in favor of revolvers would be that they're omnivorous. A semi needs a certain power level of ammo to work reliably. A revolver can shoot a full power cartridge right after a subsonic target round followed by a shot round with just a pull of the trigger (course the shot round may bind - best to try those out in each revolver to be sure).

& there's always the tried & true argument my grandfather used on me when I tried to talk him into getting a semi - if ya can't hit it with 6 shots you need to be running. :D

But in the end it's a matter of preference. If a person feels more comfy with a semi, cool. Ditto for revolvers.

Course I am surprised that miss Annika took Range Dude at his word when he said that his (.38 Spl) was just as long as the other one (.357 Magnum) was. I thought all women, especially California women weren't that trusting when it came to a guy's sense of measurement...Or maybe size doesn't really matter after all? :D

Posted by: Publicola on Sep. 6, 2005

"reliable (it jammed only once)"

That is NOT reliable for a carry gun. Though I do understand you are using range guns, which you should not hold it against them if they jam because normally the guns are not well cared for.

Though if you find a range gun that you like and it jams, try to find another example of it owned by a person. Also read about it on the net and take a look at the customer service and see how good it is.

Posted by: cube on Sep. 6, 2005

you guys are harshing on the nice range dude so much, i have to come to his defense. due to my sloppy sentence structure it looks like i attributed that statement about the cartridges being the same size to him. Actually the only thing he said was about the wadding. What happened was that he showed me a .357 cartridge and put it next to a .38 cartridge to compare. It was i who thought the cases were the same size (although i did notice a difference in length, which i attributed to the bullet) My bad.

Posted by: annika on Sep. 6, 2005

There is very little I can add to the current debate waging in here other than this. For home defense, the best weapon you will ever buy will be a shotgun. The pistols work great when you're out and about, but when you are stumbling around in the dark at 3:00am, the best way to hit your target is with a 12 gauge and a full choke.

Posted by: Charlie Gordon on Sep. 6, 2005

Charlie is absolutely right. If you are buying only one gun, and it's for self-defense, and you don't care about being able to carry it concealed, a shotgun (and here I prefer the semi-autos to pumps because of the high probability of short-stroking under stress [get your minds out of the gutter!]) is very, very hard to beat. And it's cheap. And it's only slightly less destructive than a tactical nuclear weapon.

Now we can have a lengthy, spirited debate about the proper choice of shot size for said shotgun. This place is starting to remind me of some of the shooting boards I used to frequent!


I love semi-autos -- some of my favorite handguns are semi-autos -- and lean heavily toward them, but I stand by my recommendation of revolvers for relatively unpracticed shooters. Here's why.

If you have a misfire with a revolver (and of course I'm assuming we're talking a DA revolver, here), the immediate action is simple: Pull the trigger again. That's it. Whatever was wrong with the last cartridge is now irrelevant, because the simple, reflexive act of pulling the trigger cycles that cartridge out of the way and gives you a second chance almost instantly. (Of course if your firing pin is broken you're screwed, but that could happen with a semi-auto, too.) If you have a misfire with a semi-auto, your pistol is out of action until you clear the chamber and get a fresh round in there. You will, if you've been properly trained and have practiced until it has become second nature, remember to execute "tap-rack-bang." If that doesn't solve the problem, you'll hopefully remember to hunker down behind cover and execute the much longer procedure for that situation. If you haven't been properly trained, or haven't practiced until it has become second nature, you'll pull the trigger real hard once or twice more, realize that Bessy ain't gonna go boom, turn her sideways and look dumbly at her for a second or so, and then start trying to remember/figure out your immediate action. (Of course if you have a truly DA semi-auto, or one with an external hammer that can be thumbed back, you can try a quick follow-up with the same cartridge. That may do the trick, but it may not. If seconds count, I'd prefer not to waste time fiddling with a cartridge that's already screwed me once.)

A revolver will never stovepipe, fail to extract, fail to eject, double feed, or do nearly any of the other nasty, ammo-related things that our beloved semis sometimes do. (Or if it does fail to extract for some reason, it'll only be an issue after you've emptied the cylinder at the bad guys. That's a lot better than having it happen after the first round.)

A revolver has no magazines that can become dented, or whose lips can get bent, or whose follower spring can become anemic -- all of which can take a magazine and thus the entire gun out of action.

A revolver doesn't care if you stuff it with some weird hollow-point that would never work reliably in your semi-auto of choice without a massive reconfiguration of the feed ramp. In fact, as you pointed out a revolver doesn't much care what the hell you feed it, as long as it's of the appropriate caliber.

A revolver will never need its feed ramp or throat polished in order to function reliably.

A revolver doesn't have a safety that you'll forget to flip to "fire" under stress. (Of course, to be fair, some modern semi-autos don't have external safeties, either. But they usually have much shorter trigger pulls than revolvers and, as a result, are apt to go bang if you get careless with your trigger finger -- which, again, people tend to do under stress.) Speaking from personal experience in situations much less stressful than actual threats to life and limb, the typical reaction when one forgets that the safety's on is -- again -- to pull the trigger real hard once or twice. This practically never makes a semi-auto go bang, at least if it's a quality firearm that hasn't been monkeyed with. It will almost always make a revolver go bang.

By definition, the chamber on a revolver is always fully supported. It is relatively hard to blow up a revolver, even if you handload carelessly. (Of course it can be done -- it's just harder than with most semi-autos.) This should not be an issue for a shooter using factory ammo and a quality, modern handgun designed for that ammunition, but it's worth mentioning.

These are the main reasons I recommend revolvers for shooters who don't practice a great deal and/or haven't received much training with semi-autos.

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 6, 2005

Matt, you don't comment here enough. have i ever told you that?

: )

Anyways, if i was a smartass, or if i really had more experience with the things, i might say that all of the above problems you mentioned with semi-autos could be solved by simply purchasing a Sig Sauer.

i should also alert you shotgun fans that your arguments have merit. However, you may not know (how could you, i didn't know until three weeks ago) that i absolutely love target shooting. i really do. i can't imagine buying a shotgun and just letting it sit in the closet for that rainy day when i could be over at my favorite range cutting pretty patterns in a piece of paper.

Oh i could take up trap shooting, but i'm juggling too many hobbies as it is. Besides, i should brief cases once in a while, don't you think?

Please stay tuned for upcoming "New Gun Nut Progress Reports." On deck is a post entitled: "The Becker Stance?" and "Reasons Why i Want... errrr... Need Three Guns."

Posted by: annie on Sep. 6, 2005

You clearly are a smartass, but that's part of what makes you the Annie we know and love.

I ne'er speak ill of the Swiss or Germans (SIG-Sauer is both, actually; SIG was Swiss, Sauer was German) when it comes to chocolate or fine machinery, including guns. (I'd add beer, but I've had a couple of really horrible Swiss beers.) That said, their semi-autos are vulnerable to the same general problems as the rest of the class; they're just not as vulnerable as most.

Staying tuned . . .

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 6, 2005