September 1998

Rex Applegate Passes

Col. Rex Applegate died in San Diego on 14 July, 1998, of a stroke complicated by pneumonia. He was 84. Many of you may not be aware of Applegate’s immense contributions to the firearms industry and to shooters. A brief discussion here can’t cover them all, but we can touch the highlights.

During World War II, Applegate was responsible for setting up the combat training for the U.S. OSS (Office of Strategic Services). The OSS eventually became today’s CIA. During that war, Applegate trained in England with Commandos and Special Operations forces. He went on combat operations with them on the Continent, without the knowledge or approval of his U.S. superiors. What better way to learn a craft than to immerse yourself in it.

He made friends with E.A. Sykes and William Fairbairn, who had spent years learning and perfecting close-quarters combat techniques in Shanghai (they developed the Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife). That alliance increased Applegate’s skills and knowledge and eventually led to his becoming Fairbairn’s assistant in teaching close-quarters combat to OSS personnel. Applegate eventually put what he had learned into a book, still in print through Paladin Press of Boulder, Colorado, called “Kill or Get Killed.”

Applegate eventually became the chief close-quarters combat instructor for Army Intelligence training at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Applegate’s combat school became one of the best ever conceived, and included a “fun house” that only recently has been equaled.

Rex Applegate was the 1996 recipient of the Outstanding American Handgunner Award, pistol shooting’s highest honor. He was a strong and outspoken proponent of shoulder-point handgun shooting, which he felt was the quickest and best way to train inexperienced personnel self-defense shooting.

Black Powder Revolvers
Most of our testing here involves modern firearms, and they are, of course, vast improvements over percussion handguns. However, that is not to say if all you have is a Colt 1851 Navy or 1860 Army you’re unarmed. We’ve been shooting both at our Idaho ranch and have gained great respect for these old weapons. Properly loaded and sighted-in, these Civil War era sixguns are quite effective. Nor is it slow or messy to load them, given the right stuff. The usual complaint about lengthy cleanup isn’t exactly correct, either.

We shot a 148-grain ball from the 1860 into the muddy bank of our irrigation ditch and blew a half-pound glob of mud twenty feet. The splatter, and more big chunks of mud, hit the gable of the house 15 feet high and 20 feet to the side of the impact point. The cavity left by the bullet would easily hold both our fists. We then did nearly as good a job of plastering the house with the 1851 Navy. We were impressed.

We charge the guns with FFFg GOEX and top that with a Wonder Wad and a swaged lead ball. That’s it. No grease. The Wonder Wads (or their equivalent) prevent cross-firing, vastly speed up the loading process, and let us shoot as much as we want at a session with no loss of performance.

Cleanup takes five minutes using Mike Venturino’s recipe of commercial window cleaner that contains vinegar, mixed half and half with water. A wet patch through the bore and another into the cylinder, followed by a hot water rinse and a blast of WD-40, and the job is done. Caplock pistols are lots of fun.

-Ray Ordorica