Saturday, January 07, 2006
A Custom Gun Manifesto, or, I'm Sorry Honey, But We're Going to Have to Sell One of the Kids...
I just got back from filming the "wraparounds" — the intros, the happy talk, etc. — with GUNTALK's Tom Gresham for SHOT SHOW TV, which will be available at all Las Vegas hotels during the Show, then edited into a 1-hour television special and peddled to the smaller cable systems. In other words, my ugly face will be inescapable during SHOT.
I'm not sure whether this is good or bad. Last year, a friend of mine told me he went out partying, came back to his hotel room, turned on the TV and promptly passed out. "I woke up about 4AM and you were on television," he told me. "I thought I'd died and gone to hell!"
Anyhow, Tom and I once again hammered a subject dear to both our hearts — the fact that shooting is fun.
Now, you wouldn't think that would be such a big deal, would you? Over the last decade, though, that simple statement — shooting is fun — has somehow gotten obscured in our own sense of rationalizations. We need this gun for self-defense; we need that gun for hunting; that's our competition gun, and it's not really a weapon at all! Thing of it as a cartridge-based golf club.
Why would any of those statements be a problem? Two primary reasons: 1) It plays into the long-term strategy of our enemies, because it divides guns into "good gun" and "bad gun" categories, just like we saw (and will see again) with "assault weapons." That strategy allows our enemies to attack the "need" rather than directly attack the "gun."
2) Surprisingly, that kind of thinking paints us into a corner in our own use and enjoyment of firearms. It's a question I get all the time — I only want to get what I need for self-defense, for hunting, whatever....I want to be able to say, if challenged, that I need this gun for that purpose!
I've been challenged on every one of those points during interveiws. "I can understand why you might want one gun for hunting, but why do you need so many guns?" My answer to that one, from a woman radio interviewer, was, "Why do you need so many pairs of shoes, or jeans, or more than one breakfast cereal? My answer is the same as your answer would be to my questions...need has nothing to do with it. I like them and I want them."
You're wondering what all this has to do with that picture of the spectacular Hamilton Bowen .44 Special conversion on an Old Model 3-screw Ruger Blackhawk .357?
Well, back in the day, custom guns were a major "gadget driver" for the firearms industry. From Elmer Keith forward, the building of "personal vision" firearms constantly fueled and revived the industry. The single action revolvers; the Frank DeHaas era of converting miltary rifles into hunting guns; the birth of the .44 Magnum and big bore revolvers; the incredible overhauling of the 1911 under the tuteledge of Jeff Cooper all combined to both reinvigorate the firearms field...and peddle a lot of guns.
That's good, because reinvention is always a good thing. Look at today's 1911s. It is absolutely amazing to me what $1,000 will buy — take a Kimber Desert Warrior, a SIG GSR Revolution, or a S&W middle-level gun. Ten years ago it woudl have cost you several thousand dollars to buy a gun like that...actually, you'd have had to buy a much less functional 1911 and have somebody build you a gun. Lots of people did exactly that, and the firearms industry (specifically Kimber) took notice.
The opposite of "want" is "need." Realistically, if you were to take away every gun I own with the exception of a single 1911 .45 or a single .44 Special revolver, I could probably continue doing what I do with handguns — I'd be darned unhappy, though!
To me, though, creating or spec'ing of custom guns is like one of my friend's quest for the perfect 1957 Chevy 2-door, sort of a never-ending journey. Each gun has its own personality, and each one will, over the years, accumulate its own reservoir of special memories (Yes, I do shoot the things! I'm not much of a collector).
I've written about this particular .44 Special before. I was surfing one of the big internet gun sites when I discovered a dirt-cheap beat-to-heck Ruger Blackhawk in the hundred buck plus range. Strangely enough, the seller was my local gunstore! Next time I was in town, I stopped off to take a look at the gun.
The finish looked like someone had poured a quart of Zip-Strip on it; the grips were worn with sweat and mysterious stains...yet the lock-up was bank vault tight and the trigger pull excellent. This old Ruger was, I felt certain, a working cowboy's gun. Its scars were honestly earned. I bought it on the spot, then used it as one of my cowboy action shooting revolvers for a year of competition.
I decided it was time for the old cowboy gun to be reborn, so I shipped it off to Bowen Classic Arms for his classic .44 Special conversion. The small-framed OM Blackhawks were perfect .44 Special guns, but before Bill Ruger could offer the .357 Blackhawk in the classic Elmer Keith caliber, the mighty .44 Magnum rocked the handgun world, and Ruger responded with the larger-framed .44 Maggie.
Hamilton replaced the aluminum gripframe witha steel version, rebored the barrel and cylinder, refitted every part of the little gun, remarked the frame to .44 Special, fitted his perfect sights to replace the old Ruger sights, then sent the gun off to master finisher Doug Turnbull for color-case hardening the frame and rebluing the rest of the gun. He also refinished the old, stained factory grip panels.
The result is this gun, and I like to think the old cowboy who put the use on it would approve. I've shot it with Winchester Cowboy .44 Specials, and it is fiercely accurate.
Do I need a gun like this?