Sunday, February 23, 2014

On gun shows and things that go bang at the range

So, the half-mill project is finally going out the door.  I'd like to hope my insistence that we hold it back until everything was 100% correct contributed to a totally unremarkable initial roll-out.  Now if it will stay that way throughout all the roll-out stages, we're going to be looking real good in the IT world.

The sick thing is not going out the door.  I hate upper respiratory crap, and as I get older, I hate it more and more.  This winter I no sooner get to feeling decent and then I don't feel decent any more.  At least the neurologist's latest efforts are bearing fruit and the migraines are back in their cage, mostly.

However, I got lucky last Saturday.  I felt decent, the latest Southern Snowmageddeon had melted (mostly) and there was a gun show in Charlotte.  Having been stuck at home, stuck at work and generally feeling stuck, that combination was more than enough to get me motivated and on the road.  I tried my best to get someone to come along, but apparently being stuck at home for the last three days was not enough motivation to force someone to endure my presence to entice someone to make the trip along with me.  No matter, I've been comfortable on my own for a long time now, so I packed up what I need tor a short road trip, raided my inheritance and pointed the nose of the car towards Charlotte.

If you've never attended the C&E Charlotte show, it's 700+ tables of crowded.  I've never been to one that wasn't crowded.  An this isn't a "Gee, there's a lot of folks here today" kind of crowded, but more of a "What the heck has Obama said about banning guns this time" kind of crowded--and it's like that just about every time.  Beats me.  Parking was a mess as well, because the snow melt had turned the grassed parking areas in to mud that rivaled the Italian peninsula in World War II.  Thank you Subaru and all-wheel drive.

At any rate, while this was meant to be a fun outing, there was a purpose, as I had determined that I needed one thing and wanted two others.  The need was for a small pocket pistol, and by small I mean Ruger LCP small.  The motivation for the purchase is manifold, but it revolves around my desire to be in compliance with Rule 1 of Gunfighting more often--"Have a Gun".  While I have plenty of pistols, even the smallest of them are large enough that they are uncomfortable in an easy chair when carried in the traditional OWB holster at 4 o'clock.  I was after something that I could pick up in it's scabbard of a holster, and literally drop in my pocket when I get home and have handy the remainder of the evening.  Additionally, it would also make a handy backup gun should I chose to carry one or feel the need for one in the future.

The wants were for a .44 Magnum pistol and a .44 Magnum carbine of some description to accompany it.  (I have a tendency to have either multiple pistols in a given caliber or a pistol and a carbine in the same caliber, or often, both.  Call it a personality disorder, but it makes me feel better about the investment.)  I have no real need for either, but for a year or so an itch has been building for .44 Magnum, and I finally decided that I could scratch the damn thing.  So I was hoping for a Smith and Wesson Model 29.  Yes, a Dirty Harry gun--stop hating.  I knew it would be difficult; they are not something you normally find many of here in North Carolina.  But I figured that I could look, and since my heart wasn't set on one, I might be able to settle for a nice Colt Python that someone had seriously mispriced.

So, I waited through the 20 minute line to get in and I start my mosey through 700 plus tables of earthly delights.  I saw .22 LR ammo at breath-taking prices (Federal milk cartons for $60-$75, CCI Stingers at $27-$30 per hundred), Stag ARs for $900 (tempting, but I already have two), Daniel Defense ARs for $1500 (nice guns, but I do have to wonder if they are that nice--I'd love to try one out sometime and see for myself) and many other interesting items--but nothing in .44 Magnum.  Lots of .357 Magnum, but no .44. WTF?

5.56, 9mm, .40 and .45 ACP for almost pre-panic prices.  A lovely Remington 870 in 20 gauge with 3 barrels.  An entire display of .50 BMG rifles (Get thee behind me Satan!).  And lookits, lookits, lookits everywhere, but no .44 Magnum.  Did I drive all the down here just to buy an LCP?  I could have done that at home.

So I kept pricing LCPs (with the Crimson Trace Laser Guard, since everyone seemed to be just about giving those away) and working my way through the crowds.  I bought raffle tickets from the retired Marines for a nice .308, proceeds going to Wounded Warrior Project.  I bought raffle tickets from a local Navy JROTC battalion for a nice Beretta shotgun, proceeds going to something or other they are doing.  I bought some beef jerky because beef jerky.  Still no .44s.

I finally stumble upon a guy who apparently specializes in buying the weirdest things in the Smith and Wesson catalog.  (A 12" barreled .17 HMR with a compensator?  Really?)  He had a 2014 Model 69 Combat Series in one of his cases. (I'm guessing he transposed a digit or something on that last order.)  I had a longish look at it and told him I'd bear it in mind.  What I really wanted to do was check it out online, which I did using the magic iThing.  None on GunBroker; Gallery of Guns shows them on allocation.  Not good signs when it comes to pricing or negotiating price.

Apparently this find broke the logjam.  Shortly after this I found an attractive Ruger Super Blackhawk and then a not so attractive Smith Model 686 that had apparently been forgotten in the floorboards of the dealer's truck for a year or so and found bouncing around just in time for this show.  Pity he was asking full list for a gun that looked well used.

Being that the Super Blackhawk is a single action and more of a hunting gun, I ruled it out.  The 686 I ruled out because I wasn't going to try to negotiate a used price for a gun the dealer obviously considered new. So back to the Model 69.

Along the way, I picked up the Ruger LCP with the laser from the dealer that had the cheapest price I could find.  And a spare magazine from another dealer who had one.  Who in the world thought it was a good idea to ship semi-auto pistols--even inexpensive ones--with a single magazine?  Although given the prices of spares, I have to wonder if the manufacturers are viewing this as a "revenue enhancement opportunity".  I tried for some .380 FMJ ammo, but a buck a round?  That's made of Nope.

So I finally make my way back to the table of oddities.  At first I thought the 69 was gone, but no, it was still there--just moved.  I had talked to the dealer at some length, and he seemed like a relatively reasonable guy, plus I knew what the list was for the gun and that there were none easily available.  So once I got to his attention, I decided to try the straight up approach--"Since it's getting late, give me your best cash price out the door."  He nodded, grabbed a calculator and named me a price that was higher than I liked and considerably lower than I expected since he had 95% of retail on the tag.  Knowing that I could look for Model 29s in this part of the country forever and not find one I liked, I decided that a bird in the hand--especially a brand new bird--was definitely better than two that might not even be in the bush to start with and bought the gun.

During the entire time, I had not seen a .44 Mag carbine, nor had I seen much in the way of .44 Magnum ammo, with what their was of it going for well over $1 per round.  I figured on the way out (it really was late) I would hit a couple of large ammo dealers I had bypassed earlier and my go-to holster supplier, MTR Custom Leather, for some leather for the new guns.  MTR was closer, so I hit them first (and they were nice enough to throw in a free shirt; being a repeat customer helps sometimes) and got a nice leather pocket holster for the LCP and a nicer full-size for the Smith that goes by the name of the "Quick-Snap".  (Can't link directly to it, but go here and search for "A-5" and you'll get there.)

Then it was the ammo dealers.  Dealer one had no .44 Magnum or .380 from any manufacturer or in description.  He had sold out early.  The other dealer was North Georgia Reloading.  I'd seen them at some shows but had never tried any of their reloaded ammo.  I knew a few folks who had and loved it.  They had no .44 left, but they did have .380 FMJ at $20 for 50 rounds.  I bought two, just to have something to try the LCP out with.  I wasn't as concerned with .44, since I knew the Walmarts in the area generally had a few boxes of it most of the time.

All that in hand, I decided to depart, only to see a Ruger Deerfield carbine on the last table before the door.  Well, damn, let's have a look.  Nice gun, very good condition.  Price is higher than it ought to be, or at least I think it ought to be.  For the asking price, I can have a new Henry Big Boy.  But still, the asking price is where we start negotiating, so let's see.  When his first offer is $25 off and he's something of a smartass to boot, I decide that I'm tired and it's late, so I thank him and leave.  The Henry holds twice the number of rounds for that price and is a much more attractive gun anyway.

And let's not forget the Girl Scouts and their cookies in the parking lot.  While not as good a location as outside a pot shop, a gun show is still prime real estate for food, and most of us are suckers for kids.  So five boxes of Girl Scout Cookies later I'm a free man.

That was last weekend.  This weekend, Daughter, Boyfriend, Son and I went to the range with these and some other firearms.  I won't bore you talking about guns we've talked about before, this post is long enough as it is.  Let's talk about the LCP and the Model 69.

The LCP is a very small gun.  As such, it is harder to shoot than the untutored expect.  There is little weight to absorb the recoil impulse and not a lot of gun to hang onto.  It is, however, quite shootable even given all that.  As a matter of fact, I would go so far as saying the gun is pleasant to shoot.  While we didn't go through the 100 rounds of ammo due to time constraints, we could have with no problem.

The sights, however, do not suit me, or at least they do not suit my old eyes.  Judging from my targets, they are nearly invisible.  Good thing I got the laser, or I would be better off throwing the thing at a bad guy.  I'm going to try some color on the front sight to see it that helps.  It better; the sights are neither adjustable nor replaceable.  We were able to confirm it was the shooter by having Son shot a perfectly fine group next to one of his old man's patterns.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.

A further issue, and a dangerous one, also goes back to the size of the gun, and it involves the peculiarities of my firing grip in semi-autos.  As a right-handed shooter, I have been taught to rotate my left thumb forward until it extends in a direct line along the frame axis, through my lower arm, my upper arm and into my shoulder, all in order to better control recoil.  It works really well.  However, if you care for the thumb on that left hand, just don't use it on an LCP.  You're going to stick that thumb an inch or so in front of the muzzle.  I was lucky, I was a bit off on my grip due to the small size of the gun  and a lack of recent practice, so I only had maybe an 1/8" sticking out there.  Didn't lose anything except a layer or two of skin, but it's still sore.

The Smith and Wesson Model 69 is another subject.  An L frame, the gun is big and heavy and soaks up the recoil, mostly.  .44 Special is a lot of fun to shoot, while .44 Magnum tests your skill as a pistol shooter, especially in the recoil management department.  I think I need to work on strengthening my wrists a bit.  I came a little further off target than I would have liked to, but still went 4 of 5 with my first cylinders of .44 Special and .44 Magnum.

I blame my performance on the trigger, which is amazing.  It's by far the best double action trigger on any gun I own.  Shooting single action it feels like my Ruger Vaqueros, and they've had trigger jobs.  And this is an out-of-the-box factory stock trigger.  I'd love to see what their Custom Shop could do with it, but I'm afraid to try for fear it would be wasted effort.

The sights are also much better suited to old eyes.  The red ramp front is complemented by a white outlined rear notch (adjustable) and was very easy to pick up.  Point of impact was right where the sights said it would be.

The gun may have been expensive, but I got what I paid for.

Daughter and Son also tried out the 69 with both loads.  Both approved of it with the .44 Specials.  Son had a big smile on his face after a cylinder of magnums, while Daughter was more of the opinion that we were probably insane, since velociraptors were provably extinct and we had no reason to shoot a pistol capable of killing one.

I swear, I don't know where I have gone wrong.

At any rate, there you have it, two more weekends in the life of a gun nut.  Stay tuned, because me and the eye doc are going to have a heart to heart Real Soon Now.  I may have a date with a different kind of laser.

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