Monday, September 16, 2013

And then there is the .460 Rowland.

Even before yesterday's renewed examination of .45 wheelguns for big critters, I got to talking with my neighbor a bit about his .460 Rowland, which is what he intends for bruin repellent.  

I remember running across reports of this cartridge a while back, and I kinda wrote them off;  at the time, my thinking was that guns tend to work best with the cartridges they were designed around, especially auto pistols, and at any rate I was figuring that I'd invest in the Rolls-Royce of big wheelguns, a Bowen Arms Nimrod, for all things bear, and be done with it.

This was before moving to Alaska, however, and now I'm thinking about the Rowland idea again.

In a nutshell, the Rowland is an elongated .45ACP case that operates at 40,000psi, as opposed to 21,000psi.  Jim Clark makes a drop-in kit for 1911s that is simply a compensated barrel, bushing, guide rod, 20 and 24 pound Wolff recoil springs, and instructions, and it sounds like the expansion port compensator and heavy recoil springs are enough to keep slide velocity low enough that it doesn't batter the gun.  It's been around long enough now that we can say that it works.

And the power level seems to be mid-level .44 Magnum performance.  Buffalo Bore claims, out of one of the Clark kits, 230 grains at 1350fps, and 255 at 1300.  Consider that when most people considered the .44 the "most powerful handgun in the world", the load it had made its name on was a 240 grain bullet at a listed 1500fps.  (Well, from 8" and longer test barrels, that is.  In the 4" and 6" barrels of most people's working guns, actual velocities were probably closer to Elmer Keith's original development envelope of 1,200fps.)  And of course now, we know that the .44 can be loaded to much greater performance levels...but still, 255 grains at 1300, especially with a good bullet design, is pretty impressive...and that performance from what's effectively a 6" 1911? 

Wow, that really is something.  At the penalty of requiring either a new holster or an existing one with open muzzle...that's the gun you already know, the one you might already wear on a regular basis, luxuriously slim and comfortable, with eight or nine full-house .44 Mag loads on tap, and a slim reload faster than any rimmed-round wheelgun.  This is an idea which may be worth revisiting.

My neighbor bought his already converted;  it's a Dan Wesson base gun with the Clark kit installed, and probably fitted by someone--the lockup seems pretty tight.  The only thing I'd change is the sights, but that's a personal preference--I get distracted by all the white on a Millett-style rear sight, and for a field gun I want the front sight to be plain black, either with serrations or an undercut.

He seems amenable to some joint testing at the range, so I'll see if I can score a box of Buffalo Bore's 255s for him (not cheap, but a worthy experiment) and bring chronograph and some penetration testing materials;  maybe we can see how they perform next to BB's 325-grain .45 Colt.

Fun times ahead.  :-)

There are .45s and then there are .45s.

As part of yesterday's delightful range experience with a new father-son team, I got my first chance to shoot a Smith X-frame in .460 S&W Mag.  When I found out that the dad was going to bring this, I figured I'd show some solidarity and try out the new Buffalo Bore load I had picked up for my Ruger Blackhawk some time ago.  As it turned out, this was a very smart move on my part.

He had acquired the huge Smith as a recommended bear backup, and had only put a few rounds through it thus far;  he was interested in my opinion on it, and was happy to let me shoot it with the full-house loads.  Curiously, the load recommended to him was a 200-grain expanding bullet with the sort of pointed polymer tip that Hornady first developed for leverguns;  we didn't have a chronograph to verify this, but the box claims--get this--2200fps velocity for this load.  Sectional density aside (and that's a very real consideration with really big critters, not a trivial attribute that you can ignore), that is hard on the heels of the .308 rifle round, for 200 grains of bullet.

As Jeff Cooper would say, that is indeed much gun, especially in beltgun format.

The dad also had brought some Federal hollowpoint .45 Colt loads, 225 grain, clearly antipersonnel in design;  they're probably running somewhere between 800 and 950fps.  He admitted to being a bit intimidated by the giant loads, and figured (correctly) that being confident and sure of placing the shot was a more important consideration than all that extra power.  His question to me was, would the lesser load be okay in the bear-protection role?

And suddenly I had the "duh" moment...yes, Smith's .460 Mag is simply an elongated .45 Colt, by design.  That meant he could safely chamber and shoot my Buffalo Bore loads, as well

Instantly I knew that was the right answer.  The whole reason I got that load myself was for bear protection, after all;  I'd followed raptly along as Ross Seyfried went through his experiments in the 1980s with heavy cast bullet loads in custom five-round .45 Colts...experiments which culminated in successful Cape buffalo hits that broke shoulders and otherwise penetrated like big-bore stopping rifles.  Seyfried's hunting load, IIRC, was a bullet of about 410 grains, running at a measured 1200fps.  Buffalo Bore's load claims 1325fps for a bullet of very similar design, at 325 grains weight, and from what I gather from others, Buffalo Bore often does actually hit their velocity claims in real, everyday guns.  Bears around here are big, but Cape buffalo are bigger, with thicker skin and heavier bones.  The short answer seemed to be:  this load should be nearly as good as anything you can carry on your belt, and crazy as it may seem, it's rated for my six-shot, box-stock Ruger Blackhawk.

So!  Experiment time.  The 460V revolver itself is certainly a beautiful work of metal;  its principal drawbacks for me are that it is so large and heavy (just shy of four pounds empty) that it would probably be a true nuisance on the belt--I'd probably invest in one of the specialized "Alaska-style" chest rigs to carry it--and that the DA trigger is noticeably heavy.  Stock is comfortable, balance with the 5" compensated barrel is actually pretty good, and the SA trigger is just what it should be.  The weirdest part about handling the piece, for me, wasn't the conspicuously long cylinder, but rather the comitant length of the ejector rod.  This ain't no stubby J-frame!  :-)

Click to embiggenate

I loaded two of the "regular" .45 Colt rounds into the big Smith, and of course they were complete pussycats in a gun of that weight, sporting an aggressive compensator.  (Interestingly, in a perfectly clean gun, the cases dragged moderately during extraction, and primers appeared slightly flattened.)  Next I loaded two of my Buffalo Bore rounds into the same two chambers, and the step up in power was obvious.  I had no idea what to expect here, and must confess that my trigger control was probably at least a bit...anticipatory.  Despite that, the two shots at 10 yards landed within a couple inches of each other, and I'm happy to report that the cases pretty much fell out of the chambers afterward, with no visual evidence of overheating at the primer, pocket, or the web of the case head.  (It's a "+P" load, after all, and one should always be careful to look and see how it does in one's own piece.)

Finally, two of the full-house 200-grain .460 rounds, this time in two unfired chambers.  Again, honesty compels me to admit that I did not achieve an instructor-quality surprise break on either shot, but I'm happy to say that, whatever the quality of compressed surprise break that actually occurred, still caused both shots to land within three inches of one another, centered on the target.  Case extraction was almost alarmingly tight (and remember these were deliberately clean chambers) and primers showed enough flattening that I'd back off if it were a handload.  Now I realize full well that most bear encounters that degenerate to gunfire will probably be decided within a five-shot cylinder, but I for one will not take the field without a reload, and iffy extraction is a big deal to me.  I'm already predisposed against this round for bear because it's the wrong bullet design and too light for caliber;  sticky extraction and signs of overpressure simply confirm that further.

As far as the sense at firing the .460, yes, it was much gun;  distinctly less pleasant than the Buffalo Bore load, with all the impressive flash and blast I'd expect with a light-bullet, high-velocity, heavy-charge-weight load going through an expansion port compensator.  Muzzle jump was noticeable even with a high grip and a strong Weaver stance, but it would be workable in action, especially with a little practice.  All in all, and granting that this load is not everything that the round is capable of, I think the piece is less fearsome than I was anticipating.

We had the dad try a couple of the Buffalo Bore rounds himself, in his Smith, and he seemed satisfied that they were less intimidating enough that he would be happy carrying them.  So I essentially insisted that he do that.  Everyone seemed much happier about this.   :-)

I think it's a much better bear-load anyway, than the fire-belching big brother.  A wide-meplat hard-cast bullet of 325 grains, at an adequate velocity, is going to penetrate Big Critter better than an expanding bullet of 200 grains in the same caliber, at nearly any velocity.  And at 325 grains, 1300fps, at last-ditch bear engagement distances, is as "adequate" as anything I've yet heard of.  In the unlikely event that he needs to use this against a bruin, if he keeps his head, things should turn out fine.

But my last test, to my considerable pleasure, confirmed for me again that the road I took myself is one I don't feel any need to stray from.  I put two more Buffalo Bore rounds through my box-stock, 4-5/8" Ruger Blackhawk.

Again, click and embiggen.

Again, a couple inches apart at 10 yards, centered, for two less-than-perfect test shots.  Cases fell out of chambers with no visible signs of overpressure.  Recoil was definitely heavier than anything I've put through this gun, but the hogleg gripframe design mitigates a whole lot of that, and I will be happy to balance the recoil with that power level.  

Comparing the Blackhawk to the big Smith tells most of my story nearly by itself.  The Blackhawk lists at 39 ounces, compared to 61 for the Smith.  That's over twenty ounces less to absorb recoil (and no compensator), but also over twenty ounces less on the belt;  the Ruger is a trim, comfortable beltgun that will be there when I need it.  The power level seems to be as effective as anything you can wear on your belt, and it seems to be a power level that can be applied effectively.

It was interesting to compare the DA design and the SA design side-by-side.  Muzzle rise in the Smith, even with the Buffalo Bore load and certainly with the full-house 460, was great enough that I don't think the DA trigger option is any sort of advantage.  The SA gripframe, in recoil, "rolls up" in the hand, which both mitigates heavy recoil and also presents the hammer into an excellent location for recocking a follow-up shot.  By the time I get either piece down from recoil, I can have that Ruger recocked and ready to go just as fast as the Smith.

So, I'm once again happy with my choices.  Now I need to acquire a usable stock of that ammo (yeeks, not cheap) and dial myself in to it.

Very well then!  :-)

Glorious day. Much learned.

By happy chain of happenstance, I got a range introduction to a local dad and his 13-year-old son, preparing for their first Alaska hunt and generally wanting to learn more about their equipment, knowledge and skills.

They are very much "in the right place".  And by that I'm not speaking about me (I'm little good at at tooting my own horn);  I mean their minds are in the right place, they're receptive to learning, and they already are doing many things well.  It's a pleasure to work with people like this, because they can be their own teachers, while I can be an effective guide.  I do think I can help them, and suspect they may have left feeling the same way.  (I hope so.  The list of things I love to do more than this is very, very short.)

They've only been shooting for about a year, and I understand that it is the son's initiative and interest that is fuelling them both.  This strikes a significant chord with me;  it was my interest in hunting and shooting that caused my own father to take those things back up after...focusing on being a dad for quite a while. 

The short story is that we got to their primary goal for the day (adjusting optics on hunting rifles with a minimum of ammunition expended) with plenty of further time to discuss stretch goals and next steps.  Based on their stated interests, if I don't chase them away, I think there is a lot more here we could do together.  (My first job, in understanding that, will of course be to limit the size of the information pipe.  You don't have to grok it all at once, and if I do things well it may still take a great deal less time than it took me to get to the same place.)  The critical elements--no serious safety infractions and a willingness to listen--are there already.

And the journey is marvelous.  There's no reason not to enjoy it.  :-)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quiz: how can you identify the one guy in the room...

...who has never before seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

Answer:  after seeing this, he is the one guy in the room who is not on the floor in an uncontrollable fit of hysterical laughter.

Repeat that:  fits of laughter so uncontrollable as to cause a poor victim to personally wet himself.  (Me, I soiled my armor I was laughing so hard.  And a moment later I done it again...)


The...ah..."modern trailer" (snicker) may have a functional use, as well.  It's another excellent example of the impact of creative editing--in fact could be used as the sole basis for a short course or workshop.  For a while now I have leaned on the "Gummi Venus de Milo" sequence in The Simpsons episode Homer Badman as a humorous illustration that lots of people can identify with.  Gunnies in particular can identify with the before-and-after of the full interview with suspect Homer vs. the edit that appears on the boob tube later.  It seems likely that the show's creators might not appreciate the generalization of this perfect-presentation-of-the-skillful-edit to illustrate the demonization of gunnies (a barrel into which they have repeatedly reached), but there are lots of people who grew up seeing just this sort of thing applied relentlessly to gunnies all the time, and the example holds up well.

This Holy Grail trailer might be the flip side of the same idea...and is arguably an even more accurate representation of how things work.  Think about it:  a slickly-produced, creatively-edited, straight-faced ad for an underlying product whose primary value is the sheer depth of its own absurdity...

The delicious difference then, as you watch the next impassioned Bloomie/Chucky/DiFi/Horwitz/Brady production (in support of whatever their next ridiculous idea is), is simply this:  unlike the Holy Grail trailer, they offer their edits--and their absurdities--un-ironically.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Seen on Facebook...

Too bad Israel isn't a United State 'cause they could only have 2 senators then.


(And:  feel free to swap out whatever influence peddler you like;  the joke remains the same.)