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Handguns Historical

Favorite Guns I Never Shoot

by James Tarr   |  June 21st, 2017 0

There are several subspecies of gun owners. Many avid hunters and competition shooters are flip-sides to the same coin; they only own those guns they use doing what they love.

Gun collectors buy for the sheer joy of owning, and some (if not most) of those guns they never intend to shoot. Some gun owners only ever buy one gun, intended for self-defense, and stick that somewhere safe.

I belong to what I believe is one of the larger gun owner subspecies—namely, those gun owners who aren’t technically collectors and yet own more guns that they can or do shoot. I don’t make enough money to ever buy a gun I don’t intend to shoot, and yet over the years, I have acquired certain guns that for one reason or another I don’t shoot anymore, and yet would never sell. There are three of those on my list, all handguns, and each one has a story to tell.

Beretta84FBeretta 84 F
This is a pistol that I see everywhere referred to as the Cheetah. Most of the models out there seem to be the 84 FS, and I have the less common 84 F. A thorough search of the internet shows me that the 84 F features a “combat” trigger guard with a squared-off front. It has a Bruniton finish and a chrome-lined chamber and barrel. This is a .380 ACP semi auto that is no longer in production, and I purchased mine circa 1992.

In 1992 I was a relative newlywed. My wife and I had just bought a house and I was working as a rookie police officer—which meant I was stuck with weekend, holiday, and midnight shifts, and gone from home a lot.

I wanted to buy a pistol for my wife, an idea to which she was not opposed. I can’t remember where I purchased this pistol, one of the local gun stores I assume… but I didn’t have my wife along. On the surface, it seemed like a very solid choice, but by not bringing my wife along,
I ended up buying a pistol only one of us liked, and it wasn’t her.

The Beretta 84 F is a 13-shot DA/SA .380 ACP with an aluminum frame and black plastic grips. It has a 3.81 inch barrel, which means compared to modern .380s, it is rather big.

Two magazines came with the pistol. It has a magazine disconnect safety, which I don’t like, but remember that I wasn’t buying this pistol for me.

At the time I bought it, there were not a lot of reliable .380s on the market, and none of them were the light polymer-framed models leading the category today. In design and operation, the 84 F is little more than a reduced 92/M9, which means it is very reliable. The top of the slide is completely open, and as it is styled like the 92, the slide is a bit wide.

The pistol has an ambidextrous decocker/safety that works a lot like the thumb safety on a 1911, only with the 84 F, when you push the safety up, it also decocks the pistol. I like this decock up operation, because it means I can ride the safety with a thumb-high hold (like on a
1911) without decocking the pistol, although I can’t carry it cocked and locked.

Sights are smaller, with two white dots, one front, one back at the bottom of the notch. The front sight is integral to the slide. At one point, not long after buying the pistol, I used a hand file to bevel the magazine well on the frame, as it was a little tight and the edges were sharp. I touched up the filed areas with aluminum black.

Between the double-stack magazine and the somewhat thick walls of the grip frame, this ends up being a little chunk of a pistol. At the time, I thought about buying the 8-shot single-stack version of this gun, the 85 F, but being young and inexperienced, I thought more bullets = more
better.

As a result, I bought a .380 that is far too big to stick in a pocket. And yet putting a .380 in a belt holster seems a bit like redoubling the effort after you’ve lost sight of the goal.
This is a .380 that has some weight and size to it, and a low bore — I like shooting it. I can do full mag dumps as fast as I can pull the trigger and keep all the rounds in a six-inch circle out past seven yards.

However, this is a blowback operated pistol, which means that the recoil spring is strong. My wife had trouble both racking the slide and pulling the trigger in double action mode, even though the double action pull is very smooth.

The blowback action meant there was a sharp impulse to the recoil, although it wasn’t too bad and it was almost straight back into the hand because of the low bore. But my wife didn’t like it at all.

I also thought the trigger pull was very nice—9 pounds double-action, and smooth, with a 5-pound single-action pull. However, my wife thought the double action trigger pull was too heavy for her.

Let this be a lesson to you—if you’re buying a gun for that special someone, have her along or you might just be buying something that doesn’t fit her at all. So my wife rejected this pistol like a redheaded step child, but I grew to like it a lot.

Fast-forward 25 years and I am now divorced, although I still have custody of this pistol. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of the history we have together. I never carry it, as it’s only incrementally smaller or lighter than a Glock 19, but because I like it so much and can shoot it so well, I keep it loaded and in a handy place in the house.

It’s been well over five years since I’ve fired it, but because of the history I have with this pistol, I’ll never sell it. When I first bought the 84 FS, I had it loaded with Glaser Safety Slugs, as I didn’t know any better. Currently, it is loaded with Federal 90-grain JHPs, but I think I’ll swap those out for the new Black Hills Xtreme Defense loads.

While Beretta isn’t making any more of these pistols, I have recently seen used models for sale from J&G Sales or AIM Surplus or somebody. These were European law enforcement trade-ins in good shape, some with plastic grips and some wood, and I was very tempted to buy one. However, two things stopped me:

1. This pistol is still very much in demand, and the used guns cost what I think I paid for mine new, and
2. I don’t shoot the pistol I own! Buying a second seems… gluttonous? Ill-advised? Still—

Springfield1911A1_DefenderSpringfield Armory 1911A1 Defender
This model is no longer in Springfield’s lineup, but it would most closely resemble their current Mil-Spec model. This was a basic 5-inch barreled Government model with a blued finish, chambered in .45 ACP.

I started shooting competitively in 1993. For that I had a local gunsmith customize a Series ‘80 Colt 1911. The resulting pistol didn’t suck, in fact I still have it, but the more I shot it, the more I wanted something more, a “full house custom” 1911.

Remember, that in those days, no major gun manufacturer offered a 1911 with what are now considered standard features. Checkered mainspring housings, extended thumb safeties, or properly fit beavertail grip safeties were found only on custom guns. Forget about checkered
frames; back then the only way to get those was gunsmith hand checkering.

My plan was to buy a used 1911 and give it to my gunsmith, as well as long list of custom work, with the result being the closest thing to perfection in a 1911 I could envision.

That involved not just handing him the gun but a thick stack of cash, as well as many of the parts I wanted him to install on the gun. I found the Springfield Armory for sale used at a local gun store for $350. The list of work I wanted done on the pistol added up to $1,100 or so (in 1995 dollars).

My gunsmith, the late Russ Carniak, knew I planned to carry the pistol as well as shoot it competitively, so he didn’t ratchet down the slide to frame fit as tight as he did my first Colt… but the result was a pistol that never jammed on me. Ever. It would even feed empty cases.

It had a factory barrel, but with a match bushing, which gave me all the accuracy I needed. A full length stainless steel guide rod had a Wolff 16-pound recoil spring, replaced every 2,000 rounds or so.

Heinie front and rear sights, with a tritium insert in the front. The Ed Brown beavertail grip safety was adjusted by me to stick out as far as possible, because I have issues deactivating grip safeties with my flat hands.

Nobody made a thumb safety to the dimensions I wanted, so I took a King’s single-sided safety (which is gas pedal huge) and filed it down by hand until I was happy. That included filing all the edges off the rear of the safety that dig into your hand.

With the provided fire control parts, what I got was a 3.5-pound trigger pull, which after several thousand rounds and a bunch of dry-firing worked its way down to 3.25 lbs.

I had 20 x 30 lpi checkering on the frontstrap, done by hand. Why 20 x 30? The front of the frame was serrated 30 lpi, so Russ had to work with that. He undercut the trigger guard as much as possible.

And while I have since swapped them out, this pistol originally wore Hogue double diamond checkered cocobolo grips, as they were the prettiest and most functional grips on the market at the time.

The rear of the slide is serrated as well, ostensibly to reduce glare, but also because it looks cool. The rear of the original extractor was serrated at the time as well, but that sucker broke on me during the last stage of the first day of the 1997 USPSA National Championships in Fredericksburg, Va.

Luckily, well-known gunsmith Wayne Berquist was in attendance, and he fitted a new extractor to the gun, and that’s what you’ll see in this pistol.

Perhaps the most distinctive thing on this pistol will be the squared and checkered trigger guard. I shoot with my left forefinger wrapped around the trigger guard of pistols, usually, and wanted that checkered. I also prefer the looks of a squared trigger guard, so since I was sparing no expense, I had Russ cut off the round factory trigger guard and he welded on what you see here.

The magazine well was beveled, and that’s how I shot it for a few years. Then I added the inexpensive steel bolt-on mag well made by Wilson Combat, and it improved the speed of my reloads so much I attribute my jumping up a class (to B) in USPSA solely to that mag well.

1911s are a pain to reload quickly if you don’t have an oversize magazine well. Currently the pistol sports a TechWell “Carry” mag well and G-10 grips that I think are from them as well.

The best 1911 magazines at the time, and perhaps ever, were the Mag-Pak magazines, and that’s what I carried. Jeff Cooper liked them so much they were standard with the Gunsite Service Pistols of the era. Unfortunately, they are no longer available, but the PSI ACT mags today seem very similar and just as good.

I carried that pistol every day for over five years… and have a lot of memories. I made Master Class in USPSA’s Limited Division circa 1999 shooting that pistol, drawing it from a Kramer horsehide Vertical Scabbard, reloading from a Galco leather double magazine pouch, in an era when nobody was shooting single stacks in Limited Division, much less .45s (they’d all moved on to .40s), or drawing them from holsters made of dead animal flesh.

But I shot in competition what I carried every day, gun and holster, and I still do. My carry ammo back in the day was 230-grain Federal Hydra-Shoks. 8+1 in the gun, plus two spare mags on the belt.

Bluing as a firearm finish is better than bare steel, but just barely. I practiced my draw so much with that pistol that I wore the bluing off everywhere it touched my hand or my body. The bluing is worn off the front strap in the silhouette of my fingers.

Deciding I was handicapping myself with a singlestack, sometime in late 1999 or early 2000 I had Russ build me a hi-cap .45 ACP on an STI frame. I liked that gun, but it didn’t have the same place in my heart as the Springfield. Then I decided that shooting a .45 was handicapping me both in magazine capacity in recoil, so I moved to a hi-capacity 10mm.

After not quite two years of that, I was exhausted from reloading 10mm and the equipment race in USPSA’s Limited Division, and started eyeballing the new Production Division, where you could shoot factory 9mm ammo and guns without being handicapped.

I bought my first Glock 34 and never looked back, but that Springfield still has an honored place in my heart. I’ll never sell it, although after I’m gone neither of my boys will appreciate it the way I do. What I need to do is get it re-blued, as it looks somewhat worn, but then again, that worn bluing tells a story.

S_W_Model13Smith & Wesson Model 13
While they edited it out of the televised version of the Guns & Ammo TV show, I’m a bit famous (infamous?) among our camera guys and the executive producer for saying, during a segment on Smith & Wesson Performance Center guns, “I used to own a Performance Center Carry-Comp .357 Mag., but that was before I realized revolvers are stupid.”

Think about it. They’re 150-year-old technology. In this era of high-capacity wondernines and smart phones and the internet, owning a revolver makes as much sense as trying to send email with a manual typewriter.

And yet one of my three favorite guns that I never will sell is just that, an obsolete overweight low-capacity chunk of steel otherwise known as a Smith & Wesson Model 13 .357 Mag.

I have bad luck when it comes to buying used pistols, but have had nothing but good luck buying revolvers. Which is weird, considering how much I don’t care for revolvers. This particular S&W came to my attention circa 2001.

At the time, I was working for a local Sheriff ’s Department, serving civil (non-criminal) legal paperwork such as court hearing notices, summons, and restraining orders (and yes, all of those were considered non-criminal in the county).

One of my co-workers was looking to sell a handgun — the S&W Model 13 in question, for an even $250. I’m not a revolver guy, and had no intentions of carrying it, but the S&W seemed like such a solid value for the money that I handed over the cash. I’ve never regretted the purchase.

The Smith & Wesson Model 13 is a steel-framed 6-shot .357 Mag. revolver with fixed sights. On my pistol, the front sight is a serrated ramp machined all of one piece with the 4-inch barrel. The rear sight is a fixed notch machined into the frame. These streamlined fixed sights are all you need in a fighting gun.

Steve had treated the portion of the front sight’s ramp that showed through the rear notch with hunter’s orange nail polish, which worked very well for quick acquisition.

The gun wore rubber Pachmayr finger-groove grips that didn’t quite fit my hand, being a bit too large. The pistol had been refinished at some point and had a matte blued exterior that was businesslike but attractive.

But best of the all, this revolver had been given a trigger job. Its double-action pull was barely 8 pounds, and smooth. Single-action was three pounds, but so crisp it felt half that. Sold. Shut up and take my money.

The first handgun I ever bought was a Smith & Wesson Model 586, a 4-inch lugged barrel .357 Mag. with a rubber Pachmayr grip. The first handgun I ever carried as a cop was a Smith & Wesson Model 681, a 4-inch barreled stainless steel revolver with a rubber Pachmayr grip. Notice a pattern? For a guy who doesn’t like revolvers, I had some serious time behind pistols very similar to my new purchase.

I don’t know when this pistol was made. I do know that if I sent the serial number to Smith & Wesson, one of the services they offer is tracking down the history of your firearm — when and where sold, and to whom. One day I might do that.

All I know is that this pistol is old enough that it doesn’t have that stupid internal frame lock all new S&W revolvers are burdened with. I suspect it was used when Steve bought it, probably traded-in by a police department switching over to semi-autos.

After buying it, I had neither the time nor the inclination to buy new grips for the pistol, so I cut and ground on the Pachmayr grips until I was happy with them. The grips were cut level with the bottom of the frame using a pocket knife, and the finger grooves filed down by hand. The result isn’t pretty, but I like the way it feels in my hand.

This is a somewhat big and heavy pistol, weighing 37 ounces empty. Between that weight and feeding it .38 Spl. +P ammo (I learned early on in life to hate the blast of .357 Mags.) it is very controllable.

So a guy who doesn’t like revolvers buys a revolver. A .357 Mag. Which he then loads with .38 Spls. Some of you may be wondering if I was dropped on my head as a child. Maybe, I don’t remember. But there is a method to my madness.

This Model 13 isn’t a safe queen; it is a shelf gun. It lives out of sight on a shelf in a busy area of my house,
accessible to everyone who lives in my house, which includes two teenage boys who are both taller than me and good shots, and my fiancé who in high school excelled at two things — volleyball and punching cheerleaders.

If I’m not there and any of them need a gun in an emergency, they know it’s there and this Model 13 is
ready to go—no safeties to work, no slides to rack, nothing. Just point and pull the trigger. And loading it with .38 Special +P ammo means the blast and recoil will not be bad at all.

To feed this old-school gun, I have gone old school — it is stuffed with the original FBI load. This .38 Spl. load is a 158-grain lead hollow-point loaded to +P velocities, which out of a 4-inch barrel will be roughly 900 fps. The ammo I have in the gun is Federal, and old, but I know at least one major ammunition company (Remington) is currently making this exact load.

Why a lead hollow point? Back in the day, the .38 Spl. +P just didn’t have the velocity to reliably expand a jacketed hollow point. However, when there is no jacket anywhere on the bullet, even out of snub-nosed wheelguns, these lead hollow-point bullets had a very successful track record. Gel tests have shown that out of snubbies, this load will penetrate a gel block more than 10 inches and expand to .60″.

If I wanted to sell this gun I don’t know how much I could get for it. What I do know is the sense of security it provides sitting there on that shelf is worth more to me than whatever I could get for it.

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