August 2002

Firing Line: 08/02

Integrity
Re July 2002 issue: I wanted to write you and say I am a big fan of your publication. I read other gun magazines, and they have steadily gotten worse and worse. It is more or less a kind of payola. I am sure this is not news to you. I still read them, because I love to read and I love guns, but it’s hard not to notice the lack of journalistic integrity. (I am a former journalist — worked at the NY Daily News and a lot of papers in Maine). I have always been a big fan of Consumer Reports, and when they polled readers lately for ideas, I suggested they do what you do, but said you sure do it well enough right now!

When you see a review and then an ad right alongside it, virtually, it is sad. Seems they never met a gun they didn’t like, which is fine, but to never meet a gun that doesn’t work? That is the problem. I have had very bad luck with many of the high-end guns I have purchased. In fact, when I buy a gun, I expect to return it for some kind of adjustment or repair.

I am a master Maine guide, and the first thing I do with a client’s gun is drop it on the ground. Well, not really, but that’s what I feel like doing. They are going to drop it sooner or later, trust me. When I see a client with a brand-new gun, I often wonder how much real hunting they have done. When I see a client with a gun with some character to it, I am almost instantly respectful. It hardly ever fails as a litmus test. I often see clients take a 200-yard shot at a deer when they have never tried such a shot at that range. And I am not happy with gun magazines that always tout long shots. I don’t like to shoot at a deer that is more than 75 yards out, though I have made longer shots.

But you have provided me with lots and lots of good solid reporting and testing. Thank you. With no bias from advertisers, no manufacturers to suck up to, well, it is damned refreshing. Keep up the good work. I give my old copies to friends and they are all similarly impressed. I just re-upped for a subscription. I would like to suggest you come up with a way to test the service capabilities of companies. I particularly loathe the letters in other gun magazines that laud the great service they got!

-Thomas Damian Hanrahan
Whitefield, ME

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Getting A Grip
Re July 2002 issue: The criteria that you judge a gun by, a combination of objective and personal, works very well for me. But there is one aspect that I have become aware of, once again, that is most important in my view — how the gun fits in your hand.

There are seemingly few guns that fit well in my relatively small hands. I used to think the 1860 Army was the most beautiful gun ever made and that I just had to have one. Several weeks ago I tried on an Uberti 1860 for size, and it was a “wobbly” fit, loose in my hand. A Uberti 1851 fit like it was custom made. The Ruger Vaquero with the birds-head grip was one I had almost decided to buy. By now I know that Rugers of all kinds just don’t fit me well. A Cimarron/Uberti .357 fits like it is custom made.

I guess it’s not enough that manufacturers have size to deal with, like a pair of shoes, but if it doesn’t fit how can I wear it? Is there any way that this sort of information can be conveyed in future tests? It really does make a difference.

-Joe Dantone
Austin, TX


We try to concentrate on the functional areas that we deem most important in a gun’s performance when we do a review. Trigger response, accuracy, and human interface — more simply called fit — are at the top of the list. But we can’t always generalize how a handgun, rifle, or shotgun grip will work for all shooters. —Todd Woodard

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Carbon 15 Flaws
Re June 2002 Firing Line “Update”: I read the comments about problems with the Carbon 15. I own one of these rifles and have had no trouble. To get to the bottom of this, I suggest that one of the first places to look is in the cleaning and lubrication of the gun. I like the rifle and have had good service from the company, but I think they did a terrible job of providing instructions on how to disassemble and lubricate the gun.

There was a thought you don’t have to lube as much because of the carbon fiber. You should only lube the bolt and nothing else, don’t lube too much, etc. The company should put out very specific instructions on what to do, how often, and with what. There should be a video available that goes over every step of disassembly, lube and reassembly. If we could all get on the same page I think some of these problems would go away. Maybe you can get the company to do something like this.

-Larry Chase
Springfield, OR

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More On Carbon 15
Re June 2002 Firing Line “Update”: Apparently you’ve already seen a lot of mail regarding Professional Ordnance and the Carbon-15 rifles. It seems that there’s tremendous variability in the quality of their rifles. I have one myself, and have had absolutely no problems at all; others report nothing but problems.

If you log into www.ar15.com and search the industry forums, you’ll find many complaints about both the company and its products. Their failure rate seems much higher than average for this industry, and means it’s very difficult to draw conclusions based on a single sample.

-Don Selesky
@ma.ultranet.com

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Swiss Report
Re May 2002, “Surplus Showdown: Swiss K-31 Carbine vs. the Swedish M-96”: I would like to point out one minor error and one very serious error in the S/R K31 review. You state: “The new design of the K-31 bolt had two major advantages over the prior 1911 design. It was far stronger and had half the bolt-throw length of the M1911.” The bolt-throw of the 1911 is actually shorter than that of the K31. It’s the length of the K31’s bolt assembly that is shorter. Since there is no forward locking lug recess area on the 1911s, the bolt handle doesn’t have to travel as far to fully cycle.

A much more serious issue was when you stated, “Also, we suppose the gun could be carried with a round in the chamber and the bolt uncocked. It would be simple and fast to pull the cocking pin back manually and fire the first round.” This is extremely unsafe and should never, ever be done under normal circumstances. Carrying a chambered round with the pin mechanism uncocked leaves the pin resting against the cartridge primer. A blow to the butt or even the receiver could easily cause the pin to move against the primer. If you are going to carry the K31 chambered, it should be cocked and the firing-pin safety engaged, not uncocked. The firing-pin safety on the K31 blocks the pin from any movement when the rifle is cocked, which means the shooter pulls the cocking ring and rotates it anticlockwise.

-Izaak B.
New York, NY

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Rewelded Garands
Re June 2002, “Getting A Garand Deal: Choose Marksmanship Program Surplus”: You might mention in your next issue that in buying a Garand at a gun show, to carefully check to see if it might be a re-weld of one of the rifles de-milled earlier and sold as scrap. Some of these receivers have been welded back to make a normal looking receiver, but usually you can tell by close examination.

-Richard Kelley
Tulsa, OK

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FEG Complaints
Re March 2002, “9mm Surplus Pistols: FEG, Carpati, And a Bulgarian Makarov All Fail”: With respect to the FEG PA63, I have to tell you as an FEG owner, that every bit of your criticism is well deserved.

I would like to add one thing for those readers who ignored your advice and purchased one. While the DA trigger pull is abysmal, the FEG is a faithful enough copy of the Walther PPK that you can actually use some Walther parts to improve the gun’s “fun” factor. I have replaced the hammer spring with a reduced power one from Wolff Springs intended for use in a PPK. This alone significantly improved the DA pull.

-Steven Crummy
Alpine, CA

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Covering The Landscape
Re February 2002: On the new Triple Locks, one shouldn’t have to put up with the “Squeezed-Bore Syndrome.” The .44 Special you lapped shot much better and cleaner than its original incarnation and the untreated .45’s. With regard to placing unclipped .45 ACP’s into the New M1917, for some time S&W has been cutting the chambers too deep on the Model 25s in this caliber. Acquired in 1958, my WWI M1917 had it right and was a joy to use in every way.

Moving along to the Ballester-Molinas, they’re really a version of the Spanish Star rather than the 1911: pinned trigger, no grip safety, and all. Years ago, observers considered the Star more modern precisely because of the pinned trigger. It gave improved leverage in comparison to the 1911’s trigger, which really is a type of plunger.

Warts and all, you got better trigger pulls and accuracy with the Ballester-Molinas than with the Sistema Colt 1927, a very fine version of the M1911-A1, should you get a good one.

Concerning your warning to use light loads in the Winchester M97s, probably most would be better off with such cartridges anyway. However, my M97, ordered new from the factory in 1954, had no such caveats, giving good service with any and everything for years. The M93, the predecessor, is one to watch out for because it was made for 2-5/8 inch shells, not 2-3/4 inch shells.

-Lou Riggio
Executive Director
Accuracy Associates International
Hollywood, FL

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Triple Lock Tripe?
Re February 2002, “S&W Triple Locks: Three New Tack-Driving, ‘Ancient’ Revolvers”: Your articles about the Heritage Series revolvers by S&W seemed to be a little too enthusiastic. Although I’m sure that these are well built revolvers, their resemblance to the real thing has missed the mark considerably. I will not claim to be an expert, but I have been a student of firearms for over thirty years. To see these N-frame revolvers with the round butt has much the same effect as seeing my favorite voluptuous women having had some disfiguring operation and only requiring an A-cup now. I suspect that when S&W tooled to put the rubber grips on the N-frames, it was too much bother to build them with the square butt for this series. When S&W manufactured the Triple Lock before WWI, the company’s staffers truly were making objects of perfection, and the third lock was their way of showing off. This ball detent on the new model does not resemble that mechanism. That would be like the car dealer telling you that four-wheel drum brakes are just like four wheel disc brakes.

The new 1917 doesn’t even headspace on the cylinder for the .45 ACP. I can’t believe that S&W wants the customer to spend four figures on a handgun, while they can’t be bothered with a simple piece of machining that was done on all the rest. For the price, I would go out and buy the real thing instead.

-Thad Thompson
Odebolt, IA

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Finish Flaws
Re February 2002, “12-Gauge Pump Actions: 1897s From Winchester—and Norinco?”: About the Model 97 Norinco 12 gauge shotgun, there are a few things you should know about the long-term use of this gun.

The finish on my gun flaked badly and started peeling after being caught in the rain. The screws are rough and burred and will not stay tight. I have not staked or applied any Loc-Tite, but I have been very tempted.

I also own a Winchester 1897, and I agree with the majority of your findings when the two are compared. I also agree that the Norinco is the better gun for something like cowboy action shooting, in which the gun is going to be used a lot. By the way, if you start with the action open, you don’t need to push the bolt release to open the gun. If you start with the action closed, if you have the hammer all the way forward, all you need to do to open the action is pump it.

-W.N. Skinner
@yahoo.com

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Scope Mount for FN rifle
Re December 2001 “Precision Test: FN Puts Robar, Dakota, and Autauga To Shame”: Gun Tests has come through for me again. Your review of the FN Special Police Rifle could not have been more timely. I do have a question, however, regarding a suitable scope mount for this highly accurate rifle.

In discussing this with Fulton Armory, I was informed that they would recommend a solid steel, one-piece mount like the one manufactured by Badger Ordnance. This type of mount and rings as supplied by Badger and other manufacturers costs approximately $300, about one third the cost of the FN SPR itself. Rather pricey, I thought.

Is there a difference between a one-piece, all-steel scope mount and any number of less expensive two-mount systems significant enough to justify the greater cost?

-Jim Palka
@aol.com


Although I have no personal experience with the Badger mount, I would completely trust the judgment of Clint McKee at Fulton Armory. Yet that doesn’t mean you have to use that setup.

A careful look at your expected shooting conditions will tell you more about your scope-mounting needs than we ever could. If you will always be in a situation where you can handle your rifle with care, a common two-piece mount will probably suffice. That is what we used to evaluate the rifle. But if you’re going to be in situations where the rifle or its scope may be subject to major bumps and dings, you’ll want to have the strongest scope mount available on it. A one-piece steel base does not rely as much on the scope body for strength or stability as two-piece bases do.

However, any scope mount is dependent on the means by which it is fastened to the rifle. There are only four small screws holding the base to the rifle, so unless you modify the rifle to include larger-diameter fasteners, the strength of the mount comes down to the strength of those four screws.

The stoutest mount I’ve seen for any rifle was the Brookfield, for the M14 rifle. It attached to the rifle by means of a big bolt. It was very costly also. -Ray Ordorica

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Titanium Warning
Re March 2002, “We Test Ultra-Lightweight 7-Shot .357 Magnum Revolvers”: I purchased an S&W 386PD a few days after this issue arrived. In the case was a bright orange card warning that use of ammo with bullet weights of less than 125 grains could damage the titanium cylinder. This warning is also included in the generic owners manual referencing other revolvers with titanium cylinders.

-Roman Pryszlak
@hotmail.com

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Happy Buyer
Re March 2002, “We Test Ultra-Lightweight 7-Shot .357 Magnum Revolvers”: I was the purchaser of the S&W 386SC from your recent test. I want to thank you and your associate Ben Brooks for the opportunity to buy this pistol and your attention to detail that made the process pleasurable.

I took this pistol to my indoor range and my impressions are similar to yours. At 21 feet and 45 feet, it must be held a ring low to impact near the bullseye, unless the rear sight is moved to its highest point. Using 158-grain 38 Special rounds, recoil is acceptable, and return to the target is quick with one hand. But .357 ammo is quite a different story. One-hand firing is a handful, and is painful after two to three cylinders are fired. Time will tell if I can adapt to the recoil or if porting will be required.

As a note, only one company I called, Mag-Na-Port, was willing to port this pistol. The reason given was the barrel insert and the frame surrounding it have an air gap between them, to allow for expansion. Porting could possibly distort the insert or frame. Also, porting for this pistol requires a premium of about 50 percent over standard pricing.

For now I am just enjoying the light weight and ease of operation the pistol allows. I hope we are successful here in passing a concealed weapon law, as this would make an outstanding carry weapon.

-Russell Toalson
Mexico, MO