Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Gun Tests Tuesday!

So I raced back into town yesterday and...went to the range! There were several guns I needed to put some rounds through, and it's taken me awhile to get a new private range dialed in since the scumbags in the Forest Service shut down shooting in the Front Range.

First up was the Taurus THUNDERBOLT. Essentially, the Thunderbolt, made in Brazil, is externally a copy of the ill-fated Colt Lightning rifle (here's Kim du Toit's short take on 'em), a pump-action rifle in pistol cartridges aimed at the Cowboy Action Shooting market. The gun was announced a year or so ago, but it has taken a bit of time to get it to the arket. In fact, the blue-steel .45 Colt Gaucho I have is the ONLY one presently in the country and was overnighted to me by Taurus head honcho Bob Morrison.

The Lightning was originally made in the mid-1880s to compete with those pesky lever-action Winchesters, which were in the process of Winning the West. There were two main problems with the original Lightning — it featured a Rube Goldberg pump linkage that was virtually guaranteed to fail under use, and, more importantly, it seriously pissed off Winchester. The (possibly apochraphal) story's told in Hartford CT of how Winchester execs showed up at Colt's doorstep with three really nice single-action revolvers that Winchester was "considering" producing. The Colt Lightning quickly vanished.

Flash forward to CAS, where speed is everything. On paper, a pump rifle could indeed run with the short-stroked Winchester 1873s, with the added benefit of the shooter only having to contend with two, rather than three, types of firearms (pump shotgun and pum rifle rather than lever rifle and pump shotgun). There have been a couple of Lightning revivals, most notably the beautiful U.S. Firearms version, but they all suffered from being copies of a flawed original.

Enter Taurus, primarily a handgun manufacturer who just started dabbling in long guns. Taurus' first long gun, interestingly enough, was a copy of the venerable Winchester M62 "gallery gun" .22 LR pump. The 62 was one of the first guns I ever shot (along with several generations of kids), and I spent a fortune in quarters on various carnival midways winning teddy bears with gallery guns. The opening sequence of SHOOTING GALLERY, by the way, features a Taurus gallery gun...

With a single action revolver in the works, Taurus already had the SASS market in their sights. Rather than enter the already crowded lever action sweepstakes, Taurus took an innovative path. First, remember that SASS is primarily interested in how guns look as opposed to how guns work. To wit, the Ruger New Vaquero is a modern design made with modern tooling to current standards, but it looks like an old Colt. And, realistically, all modern guns must be made to modern safety standards if you plan to keep your company longer than the length of the first lawsuit!

So Taurus created a gun that is a letter-perfect duplicate of the Lightning, but, internally is a beefed up M62, probably the most tested and perfected pump gun in existance. My test gun is, as I said, a blue .45 Colt with a 26-inch barrel and a 14-round capacity. Finish and fit is uniformally excellent — the blue is a deep blue/black, much like the original Colt blue on the Lightning. The hardwood stock (looks like walnut to me) and forend are excellent, with good pressed checkering on the stubby little forend. The wood-to-metal fit on the stock is EXCELLENT, and the curved metal buttplate is a really nice touch. The gun features Taurus' signature locking system on the back of the hammer, but it's unobtrusive. Sights are a Marble-styled buckhorn and a neat dovetailed-in half-moon front with a "bump" on top...gives an excellent sight picture. I'd like a gold bead, but I'm pissy about stuff like that.

The Thunderbolt has a side loading gate just like a lever gun — pull the pump all the way back. It opens the top-ejecting action and let's you feed the rounds in. The feed angle for the fat .45 Colts seemed a little steeper than on a lever gun, but in about 20-30 rounds you get the hang of it. I had to remind myself that I've been feeding rounds into a Winchester since I was, like 6 years-old...anything else seems abnormal!

Trigger is about 5 pounds (no, I didn't measure it). Let's put it like this...it's crisp, clean and light enough that I wouldn't bother sending this off to Steve Young! One thing I like about the Thunderbolt is, in keeping with its period flavor, the absence of external controls — work the pump; pull the trigger. What else do you need?

I took this sucker to the range with a bunch of Winchester Cowboy .45 Colt ammo. I don't shoot a lot of .45 Colt, but my experience with Winchester's Cowboy .44s has been that it's about as accurate as you can get...a boatload more accurate than my sloppy practice handloads!

First...THIS THING IS FAST FAST FAST! The pump stroke is about 2 inches, as opposed to four inches on my Remington 870 for example. You seem to barely have to move your arm to run the gun. My pal Mark Stringfellow, an IPSC A-level shooter, were loading 10 rounds in the tube, when WHIPPING through them.

The Thunderbolt will SLAM-FIRE, that is, hold the trigger down and work the pump, and it'll fire every time. This has some interesting implications for CAS shooting, especially on some of the larger, close-up rifle targets. I believe a master shooter could make this thing run like a Thompson on close-up steel — I'll find out this weekend, when I hand it over to Tequila, host of COWBOYS and 5-time World Champion, to wring out. Yes, of course we'll be filming it!

I shot it for accuracy at 12 yards, putting 10 shots into one ragged hole. Then we backed up to 20 yards and had no trouble holding similar-sized groups. The gun is a shooter! Part of that is because of its fit and balance...at the risk of sounding stoopid, the gun wants to stay snugged on your shoulder, and the short pump stroke allows you maintain your cheek weld easily. The little bump on the front sight does an admirable job of collecting light, which makes the front sight really stand out. That surprised me.

Mark and I ran a bunch of multi-target drills. We finally stoppped because we ran out of ammo. I had to pry the little Taurus out of Mark's hands.

Okay, here's the bottom line...this is the first gun in the country. It was superbly accurate right out of the box. We had ZERO malfunctions. It was disgustingly fun to shoot. It does not need to go to a gunsmith to be dinked. It's MSRP is less than $500. You do the math.

Taurus is getting scary.

I have a .357 version on order and plan to use it in competition.

If they decide to make this sucker in .44 Magnum carbine, you'll see deer hunters sitting up and barking like seals.

In other quickie gun test...I took out that Fitz Special I picked up a while back. Offhand, I'd say it's a 1917 S&W Canadian contract gun in .45 ACP that was professionally cut down into a Fitz. The barrel is 2.5 inches with a really slick ramped front sight; it has been re-rolled marked S&W DA .45 centered on the shorter barrel. The hammer's been bobbed and the action is shortened and slicked. The action is bank-vault tight (why I bought the gun in the first place). The butt has also been rounded and fitted with a really nice set of custom grips. The whole thing is finished in a flat black phosphated finish.

Using S&W full moon clips, I ran a couple of boxes of Winchester white box 230-grain ball through the gun. The grips did an excellent job of taking the edge off the ball. I shot forst for function, then into a variety of IDPA drills. The thing ran like a top, and the front sight was perfectly regulated for the ball (another sign that this gun was professionally redone).

Loved it!

Ordered an IWB holster for the Fitz from Hoffners today and I'll give it a try at an IDPA match.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, I got a SIG 226 9mm from my ACE EL PREEMO SPONSORS SIGARMS for use on the show.

I haven't had a 226 in about a decade — I lost my last one in "the settlement" with my ex, who was, unfortunately, a gun person so I couldn't convince her that the SIGs were el-junko. She took everything that could be turned for a quick buck.

Because I haven't had a 226 recently, I had forgotten JUST HOW DAMN GOOD THESE GUNS ARE! Wipe off the grease, back up 20 yards, and boringly crank off A-zone hits as fast as you can pull the trigger. I also did IDPA drills slick as goose grease.

Give me bagful of 20-round magazines, and I'd go to war with this SIG tomorrow!!!


Anonymous said...

Glad you like the SIG. We'll search for some spare 20-round mags in case that war comes along.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to link this in the next Carnival of Cordite.

Michael Bane said...

Thanks, Gullyborg! I'd appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Great review on the Thunderbolt. Any idea when they will show up in th U.S. ? At $500.00 a copy they will sell everyone they import within a week.

On the SIG 226, same experience. This is the only auto that I can hit the broad-side of a barn with.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Winchester revolver story. 20 Years ago a Winchester marked SA was displayed at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, WY with a card telling that story. Those folks tend to get their history straight. Can't wait to get my mits on that Thunderbolt.

Michael Bane said...

Thunderbolts are in full production. I'm hearing September/October in the pipeline.


Anonymous said...

Love the show!

I am confused, a normal state for most, over the recent shift in attitudes among gunwriters over the 9mm for ANY use but especially for combat or defense.

One writer alleged he took a mule deer at over 100 yards with his Glock 9mm with the new Hornday loads...but his past recorded writings have him as a firece .45 man.

Jeff Cooper is alleged to contend he would rather have a hatchet than stuck with a 9mm.

You did a wonderful show on a GA shooting school run by an Ex -FBI guy which used Glocks which appeared to be 9mm.

So, what gives? I am considering a new Beretta Storm Carbine in 9mm since you can get those lovely large clips for it BUT will go to either 40 cal or .45 if the 9mm is a poor choice to keep us alive.

Thanks and keep the shows coming.

Hiawassee, GA

GUNS said...

LOVE YOUR SHOW! Keep 'em coming!

I remain confused, a natural state.

Some gun writers appears to have shifted opinion on the 9mm for defense.

One writer alleged he took a mule deer at over 100 yards with his Glock 9mm with new Hornady ammo while his prior writings damned the 9mm to hell.

Jeff Cooper alleges he would rather have a hatchet than a 9mm.

You did a show on an Ex-FBI man running a shooting school here in GA which appeared to use Glock 9mm pistols.

I am considering a new Beretta Storm Carbine since they have those lovely LARGE CAP CLIPS but will leave the 9mm and go 40 or 45 if the 9mm is too poor a performer.

Suggestions and comments are welcomed.


Anonymous said...

How hard would it be to clean if one was to shoot the Thunderbolt with GOEX FF. Just wondering.

Greg Carolina Lead Foot

John226 said...

Hey Mike, I've had the same experience with my older P226. Mine works every time I pull the trigger and it hits where I'm aiming. It just feels right in my hand. I've got several 15 round mags and 1 of those nice 20rnd mags you mentioned as well. This is the gun I wore on my hip in a Galco padal holster when I worked in a friends gun store a decade ago. Not too long after his shop closed up due to his untimely death in an accident one of the workers in another local shop was killed in a robbery attempt by a couple of 20 year olds.

I recently ordered a P220R to add to my battery. My family and I recently moved out to a house we built in the country and I wanted a pistol with a rail for a light in case something happens to go bump in the night. I keep all my guns locked up in a safe but I do have a quick access safe in our master bedroom. I've got smaller hands and just didn't feel totally comfortable using the techniques with the handheld lights so I decided to look for a gun with a rail. I also decided that if something did go bump in the night and my only light source was on the gun that would obviously mean whatever the light was pointed at the gun is pointed at so I wanted the added safety factor of having the first shot be double action.

Well, with my requirements being to find a double action auto with a rail along with my previous good experience with my P226 it didn't take a lot of brain power to lead me to buying a new Sig Sauer.

I decided on the P220R for a couple reasons. The first was kind of was a gun nut reason, I already have a P226 in 9mm so I wanted a different caliber. Second, realisticly if the gun is ever used for it's intended purpose in the dark of night the odds are only a few shots will be fired so I think the added stopping power of the 45ACP out weighs the added capacity of the 9mm in this instance.

I plan on adding the new Surefire X200A to my P220R when it arives.


It's too bad the Sig Sauers are as photographic as 1911s seem to be, it seems that even though most shooters know how good Sigs are they are still way underrated.

Thanks for the great show Michael, I don't know how a big goomba (said with a smile) like you gets in with such outstanding industry leaders to bring us the wonderful, indepth shows but what ever you're doing, keep it up.


Michael Bane said...

Dude! Goomba! Cool!

You know, it's an odd thing about the 9mm. I personally believe that BULLET DESIGN has narrowed the difference between the .45, the .40 and the 9mm.

I was never a huge huge fan of the .40, because of the pressure spikes when the bullet is hammered back into the case. Yeah, it's rare, but there's enough KABOOMs to give one pause. I've also found the .40 to be more finicky accuracy wise then the .45 or 9mm.

A few years back, I put my money where my ass was and went from .45 carry guns to 9mms, first to an STI LS-9 (a small 1911-type gun), then to a SIG 225. My carry guns get beat up, and in that respect the SIG is bulletproof. You could run a train over it, and it's already ugly.

I started out using Hornady 125-gr JHPs and various Cor-Bon 124/125 grain loads. My current carry load is Hornady TAP 124-grainers, although I would not feel spooked with any of Federal or Winchester's personal protection loads.

How compfortable am I with 9mm personal protection loads? Comfortable enough to have ordered my Sweetie a 9mm "Instant Backup" Taurus revolver to replace her .38 J-frame, and I like her a LOT more than I do everybody else!

OTOH, if I was in IRAQ or AFGHANISTAN, by all means give me a .45 with 230-grain BALL ammo!!! And lots of it!!! War is different than your local supermarket. In war, I WANT penetration, and too much is not enough. Ain't an issue when facing your basic Denver car-jacker. I want the zippy little nine ot penetrate his (or her) t-shirt and go on to expand expand expand.

Bottom line — I can deliver more accurate rounds faster in 9mm than in .45, and I shoot a lot!

Many other former 1911 .45 groupies are coming over to my side of the fence.

Michael B

PS: Dumb gunwriter story from a few years back. I'm atr dinner with maybe a dozen other gunwriters, who are ragging my butt because I'm a "competition shooter" instead of a stealthy ninja killer type. Just for the heck of it, I asked who at the table was actually carrying a gun? Me and one, count 'em, other writer were the only ones heeled at the table. I had my "competition" .40 Novak Hi-Power in my tetching "Rasta" bicycle bag. Go figure!

Anonymous said...

I heard that the SEALs don't get rid of their SIG pistols they just replace a part or two and through them back in the armory - Good to Go. I bet you could beat the crap out of it with a brick and load it up and run and gun. I think of it as the Original Black Gun. Keep up the great work on the show. Watch it as much as possible. Are you going back to the steel challenge?

Michael Bane said...

We're doing our regular two parter on the Steel Challenge...with a twist:

Us and SIGARMS are giving away $20,000 to anyone who can beat 72 seconds overall time (if 2 people two it, fast time gets the cash!!!!).


I promise a spectacular job filming, too! Hopefully, I can whine the Powers-That-Be into letting me offer a 2-hour recut version, too.


Michael Bane said...

RE: Thunderbolt and black powder...I would only shoot black powder (or substitute) in a DISWASHER-SAFE gun...


PS: We're off the to SASS Black Powder Championships this weekend for COWBOYS. I'm taking the Thunderbolt...maybe I'll run some BP through it and see what happens!

John226 said...

Mickael, I totally agree with you about the gap between the 9mm and 45acp being narrowed. I would have felt totally at ease with a new P226R in 9mm with a rail, I think it just came down to the fact that I already have a P226 and just wanted a different Sig to go with it. I currently have simple Federal 9BP in my P226. I'm not sure what I'll put into the P220R yet, any suggestions?

We both know that a handgun in any caliber is not the ideal stopper. If things really did get ugly the Sig would be used only until I could get to my 870 in the large gun safe. It's the only other gun I keep loaded in the house. I keep a big piece of blaze orange duct tape on the forearm as a big reminder that it IS loaded, not to say that we don't handle all the guns in the safe as if they were. I don't think there is anything on two feet that wouldn't be put down by that big 12ga load of 4 buck.

Michael Bane said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the Thunderbolt review.
Any idea if this rifle will handle 45 Schofiled as OK?

Anonymous said...

$20K? That's like a ton of money in shooting. Holy crap! Who do you think will win if anybody? Please make the outdoor channel give you 2 hours. You knock the pants of the other shows when it comes to guns and competition in particular. You really seem to know all the players and the different sports. I loved the IDPA show with Walt Raush. Will you shoot the steel challenge?

Firehand said...

Difference between 9mm and .45 ain't what it was, true enough. With premium hollowpoints 9's are not bad anymore. I'm still a lot more comfortable with a larger, heavier bullet for self-defense.

Anonymous said...

After local hodlums forced my hand in self-defense, I recently applied for and received a permit to carry a concealed weapon in California. At this time I'm only permitted one -- and the P-226 was the easy choice to make. I have a couple of 20 rounders (actually holds 21) and several 15 'ers to get me thru my next close encounter.

Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kirk said...

I really, REALLY want to see a photo of the Fitz!!

John226 said...

Well, I got my new P220R last Friday. It came in a nice blue case with 2 8-rnd magazines. The finish on the gun was outstanding, just what you'd expect from Sig Sauer. I purchased a Surefire X200A to go on the rail and I also picked up a third 8rnd magazine.

When I got it home I did a quick strip and clean session. Since the P220R has a smooth front strap I took off the grips and cut a piece of black skateboard tape to put there on the front strap. I then loaded up the magazines and took it to the range (my back yard, we live in the country) and gave it an initial workout. Ammo used was 50rnds Winchester USA 230gr FMJ, 100rnds Federal American Eagle 230gr TMJ and 50rnds of Remington UMC 230gr JHP. So far, functioning has been perfect with good groups that are all centered up and down and about 4 inches left of center at 20 yards. I'll drift the rear sight over as soon as I'm able to center the groups left to right.

The double action trigger is very good right out of the box, it was a smooth pull all the way to break. The single action trigger is a bit heavier and has a little creep though compared to my P226. This may have contributed to my groups going a bit left??? I bet several hundred rounds through the gun will clean that up for the most part.

The Surefire X200A 65 lummen LED went right on the rail and the end of the light sticks out about 1/2 an inch farther then the end of the barrel of the P220R. The blueish light forms a distinct diamond with a lite, round corona around that. The light is centered perfectly when mounted on the gun. You can push forward on the switch of the light for momenatary light or push the switch up or down for constant on. When the light is used in a dark room the sights of the pistol silhouette very nicely.

All shooting so far has been done with the light attatched by the way. The lens gets a bit dirty from powder residue but it wipes right off and shouldn't be a problem at all.

So far I have been very pleased with the Sig P220R and Surefire X200A. Now I suppose if I could add a few digital pictures I'd have the start of a good article here.

Anonymous said...

I love how all the wannabes talk about what they would "take to war'. Right.

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget that while the 9mm has come a long way, so has the .45. You can get penetration and/or expansion with either.

I was raised on the belief that minumum weight for defense ammo is 125gr. The look on my uncle's face when I told him they make a hot 9mm at about that weight. Though he was going to have a stroke.

The 125gr rule applying, I would be comfortable using a 9mm as long as it was an hp and hotter'n the blue blazes.

But I feel best with a 230gr hp at over 1000fps out of my old Colt Combat Commander. Not only am I fairly experienced with it (only 12 years actually shooting, I admit), but I kinda like the idea of a round almost twice as heavy as the biggest, meanest 9mm out there.

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