Sunday, April 19, 2015

Notes from the Fun Shop at Wild West.

Spent the last couple days in Anchorage at a conference, and while up there got a chance to stop in at Wild West Guns.  I'm hopeful that this can become my "local" go-to shop for 'smithy work and specialty items;  today's visit was a productive one.

I admit I do still love the idea of the Co-Pilot takedown rifle, although I've little need for one, having built up my own Marlin long before I learned of Jim West's variation on the theme.  The takedown feature would be really nice, but the rest of the concept is still simply outstanding.  (I am not aware of any combination that combines true kerflättenböomer power with such a compact, ergonomic, and pleasant-to-shoot platform as the short-barrelled .45/70 Marlin with ghost-ring sights.)  Still, there's just something about handling one of the WWG guns...and so of course I had to do that.  :-)

But the real treat was getting to meet a Blaser R8 for the first time.  For years I'd read Jeff Cooper fawn over the R93, and when I first saw one I remember being suitably impressed myself.  That was a long time ago, and I've learned a great deal since then--and the R8 is an update on the R93.  Today I noticed the Blaser a bit by accident;  the counter-jockeyette was trying to help a left-handed customer with a left-handed rifle, and after fumbling a bit she wondered aloud if it was "one of those 'pull-straight-back'" bolts.  Having heard that, I took a look and noticed it was a Blaser, said "Ooh, yes it is" with confidence, and he was on his way.  Turns out there was a right-handed R8 in .375 H&H on the rack as well, and I got to see with my own hands.


It's not just that it's beautifully crafted and commensurately expensive.  I have seen plenty of $3000+ rifles that did not impress me at all.  Yes, the Blaser is one of those "fine German craftsmanship" experiences in general, but what really compels about the R8 (and the R93 before it) is the design.  The straight-pull bolt is an absolute sensual joy to run at speed, and the trigger is simply otherworldly.  (The trigger design is very unusual in that there is no sear;  you have to feel it to believe it, right out of the box.)  On these two features alone, I'm not sure the R8 has an equal anywhere, and for a non-fighting rifle (I'm thinking general hunting here) it's arguably the pinnacle of the art.

It's not perfect, though.  Magazines are not only low in capacity (three for magnum case heads and four for standards), but they cannot effectively be extended or modified, either--or even replaced.  What the R8 does to improve on the R93 is that it makes the entire fire-control system quickly removeable--which is great in one way, but it highlights the fact that the trigger group and magazine are bound together.  I don't imagine that people are going to carry spare magazine/trigger groups for "a magazine change" in the way I understand that concept.  Sure, being able to pop out the trigger group/magazine will make it easier to load and unload the magazine, but it still seems like a step backwards from the detachable box magazine system that works so well in other designs.  (The R93, by contrast, has a fixed trigger group and a fixed, "blind" magazine--so the R8 truly is an improvement.)

Extraction and ejection are both my least-favorite possible designs--plunger ejection and a sliding plate, push-feed extractor.  It's not that I've heard of failures in Blasers, but 100+ years of history still suggests that controlled-feed, claw extractors and inertial ejection are simply more robust in heavy use.  Maybe I'm just looking for nits to pick;  recall that even the Steyr Scout uses a plunger ejector and push-feed.  (Still...if the Blaser straight-pull action could be wedded to a traditional detachable magazine box, and somehow use controlled-feed and inertial ejection...well, one could argue we'd have the perfect rifle action.  Yeah, I do think about these things.  :-)

Anyway, I was tickled nearly witless to run across it, and confirm again just how awesome the trigger and bolt-flick really are.  In his last years, Jeff Cooper loved to write that the three most significant pinnacles of rifle design of the 20th Century were the Steyr Scout, the Wild West Co-Pilot takedown, and the R93 Blaser.

I understand.  I get it.  And I can hardly disagree.


Also, while on the way into town, the fam stopped in at the new Cabela's, and I got to meet an item I hadn't seen before there, as well.  However, in general, the store struck me as having a more impressive appearance than content choice;  at least in the gun section, it looked like there was a great deal more on the shelves than there actually was when I started looking closely.  As well, the phenomenon of having lots of stock of what are presumably the most popular models was noticeable, which contributed to the sense of not having nearly as much variety as I would have expected.  (By contrast, the Sportsman's Warehouses in ANC and in Soldotna seem to have conspicuously more choices to look at.  Interesting.)

Anyway, I can now say that I have met a Walther PPS firearm...and frankly, at least based on one  sample, I was not as impressed with it as I wanted to be.  (I was hoping, from the simple spring-piston Airsoft iteration that I actually quite like, that I might find the firearm to be friendly.)  The trigger was meh, the weight seemed distributed a bit awkwardly, the magazine release did not seem accessible, and the grip on the slide seemed more slippery than ergonomic.  I'll look at a few more iterations of course before cementing the opinion, but with others in this space like the Kahr, the Shield, the XD-S and the Kimber Solo, I don't think one has to compromise to this degree.  Bummer;  I was hoping to be more positive about another contender in this space.

More positive was having my 6yo with me, and taking another look at a Browning 1911-22 in her growing hand.  She's so close to there...and with the "Black Label" trim available--including with pink accents--I'm convinced this is the learning gun I want to go with. 

Now this is the way for a small hand to be introduced to the pistol.

With the 'smithy at Wild West explicitly confident that a trigger job is possible, it's now just a matter of affording the piece and that critical mod, a few magazines, and basic leather.  And, of course, acquiring .22LR, which is hardly a trivial matter. 

Still, these are just problems to be solved.

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