Ruger-57™ — 2020 Handgun of the Year

The day my Ruger-57™arrived in it’s beautiful black box with red trimmings and the Ruger logo in red on its top, a press release announced the Ruger-57™had been awarded the Caliber Award in the Best Overall New Product category by the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers (NASGW) in partnership with the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). I could see why, even though I had not yet shot the gun. The 57 is beautifully made and in a caliber that’s unique and very interesting.

The Case for the Ruger-57 Complements the Looks of the Gun

One of my sons has an FN HERSTAL Five-seveN and we’ve all enjoyed shooting it. He got his when they were in high demand and short supply and has always treasured it as a unique piece of handgun history. Now Ruger has acknowledged the caliber with a handgun that’s more affordable than the FN gun, yet with the typical Ruger ruggedness enhanced with features and handling that make it a standout in any gun collection. When I opened the box, before ever touching the gun, I was impressed. It just looks really cool.

The Ruger-57 has a 5-inch Barrel Making it Long, But it is Not Heavy

I knew it would be light, so picking it up wasn’t a surprise in that category, but the way it felt in my hands was more in keeping with a heavier gun. I think it’s the length of the slide and barrel that give it that feel. It’s a 5″ barrel, with a long slide to match. The slide has a lightening cut at the top, a green fiber-optic sight at the front and a fully adjustable all black sight at the rear. There are cocking serrations front and rear and much to my delight the top of the slide is predrilled for a mounting plate that will accommodate most of the common red dot sights. I wasted no time ordering a mounting plate from ShopRuger.com as I had a red dot sight looking for a home. The slide is also contoured nicely on the front and top to aid in holstering and concealment. This is a gun lots of owners will decide to carry because of it’s capacity, lightweight and overall thinness. The 57 is long, 8.5″ front to rear, and it’s 5.5″ tall. The width is 1.5″ and the weight is 24.5 oz. Sure it’s going to stick down in or outside your pants a little further than most carry guns, but the weight isn’t an issue and carrying 21 lethal rounds is nothing to sneeze at.

The Ruger-57™is internally hammer-fired with a trigger known as the Secure Action fire control system. It’s similar to the action on the LCP II and Security-9 pistols. The Secure Action fire control provides the feel of a short, crisp single-action trigger that consistently breaks around 5.5 lbs.

The Controls are in all the Right Places With an Ambidextrous Thumb Safety Plus a Trigger Safety

Controls on the Ruger-57™are easy to operate and located where you’d expect to find them. There is an ambidextrous external safety to go along with the blade safety in the trigger. The slide lock is only on the left side, but the magazine release button is easily switched to the right side if that’s that you’d like. The ejection port is rather long to accommodate the length of the 5.7x28mm brass. The takedown lever rotates 90 degrees counter-clockwise after being pushed out slightly by pressing a button on the right side of the frame. I found the button a little difficult to press, but the manual recommends using the bottom of one of the magazines or some other non-marring surface to push on the button, rather than your fingers. Once you’ve rotated the lever, takedown on this pistol is different. You move the slide forward about 1/4″ then just lift it off. Removal of the recoil spring and barrel is then done just like you’d do on any other centerfire semi-automatic pistol.

Takedown is a Little Different for the Ruger-57 But Easy Following Instructions in the Manual

The grip is textured and fills the hand more front-to-rear than side-to-side. That nicely shaped and textured grip makes handling the long slide and barrel seem natural. It’s a hoot to shoot. When my mounting plate arrived from Ruger I installed an Ade Advanced Optics RD3 that I bought on Amazon. Mounting the optic with Ruger’s mounting plate was an easy task. Before going to shoot, I used my Firefield Red Laser Universal Boresight to get a starting alignment, which turned out to be right on target when I got to the range.

After Installing an ADE Red Dot Sight I Played around With it at Targets Up to 25-yards (shown here)

I’d love to tell you about all the different types of ammo I tried but the real story in this time of unprecedented gun buying and ammo shortages I was lucky to find any 5.7 x 28mm ammunition at all.  Palmetto State Armory had some American Eagle 40 grain FMJ in 50 round boxes for $50 so that’s what I shot. The gun seemed to like it and shooting it was pure delight. My friend and fellow gunwriter, Will Dabbs M.D., who beat me to posting a Ruger-57™ review in both GUNS and American Handgunner magazines wrote about a love affair with the gun. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but when you’ve got a Ruger that spits fire, makes a loud boom, puts the holes where you want them every time you pull the trigger and doesn’t have much recoil, it would be dang near impossible not to really like the gun.

Is it the right gun for concealed carry or home defense? I could be. It’s light, though kind of big, especially with the red dot sight on it. The bullets travel really fast, like 2250 fps, so there’s no doubt they’ll wreak havoc on a flesh and blood target. Compared to its only real competitor, the FN HERSTAL Five-seveN, The Ruger-57™ is a real bargain. Ruger set the MSRP for their 57 at $799 while the FN HERSTAL Five-seveN’s MSRP is $1,199.

GSG Firefly — A Fun .22 Pistol

Several years ago, Sig Sauer had a .22 pistol called the Mosquito in its product line. The Mosquito was very similar in appearance and operation to the P226. Sig no longer produces the Mosquito, choosing instead to concentrate on the Law Enforcement and Personal Protection markets. However; the enjoyment found in shooting the Mosquito is not lost as German Sports Guns and American Tactical, Inc. have brought it back. GSG’s relationship with Sig involves creating realistic licensed air gun replicas of several Sig Sauer pistols, including the P226. After working with Sig on the specs, GSG developed a Mosquito knock-off called the FireFly. Still an insect, but with a little more spark. American Tactical, Inc. imports the FireFly with several color schemes, with and without threaded barrel and with an optional Bridgemounted Duosight Red/Green Dot sight.

The FireFly is Built by German Sports Guns and Imported to the US by American Tactical, Inc.

I’m a sucker for .22 pistols, especially ones that emulate my centerfire pistols. Lots of cheap shooting helps me maintain my proficiency, plus it’s just plain fun to go plinkin’ with a .22. Right now anything that qualifies as a handgun is scarce, but I was able to get my hands on a tan, non-threaded barrel version of the FireFly. In normal times the other colors available are: black, green, pink and purple. I probably would have chosen tan regardless of the other colors being available.

The Controls on the FireFly Mimic Those of the Sig Sauer P226

The FireFly has an alloy-frame with an integrated accessory rail. The slide features adjustable sights, cocking serrations and a slide mounted ambidextrous thumb safety. The three-dot sights look like Trijicon night sights, but they don’t glow in the dark. The frame has a fixed barrel that operates with a blowback system. It also has an ergonomic grip that feels excellent in my medium-sized hands. Like the Sig P226 it emulates, the FireFly is a DA/SA hammer-fired pistol with a decocking lever. It is equipped with a magazine safety which means with a magazine removed the trigger won’t operate. The single-action trigger pull is slightly over 8 lbs. and the double-action pull a little over 12 lbs. There’s a clean break for either one. There’s almost no slack before the double-action trigger is engaged and the stacking distance works out to about .5″. The single-action trigger moves almost .5″ before engaging but the break is immediate. None of this is out-of-line for a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The FireFly is a 95% scale of the P226 but weighs considerably less — 24.6 oz. compared to the P226’s 34.4 oz. The alloy frame overmolded with polymer makes the difference.

The FireFly is Designed to Look and Feel Like a Sig Sauer P226
The FireFly Ships With a 2nd Recoil Spring for Using Standard Velocity Ammo, Extra Front Sight Posts for Raising or Lowering the Front Sight, a Tool for Removing and Installing the Sight Posts and a Dummy Cartridge to Allow to Facilitate Dry Fire Practice

The key to making this gun run is choosing the right ammo. The printed manual that came with my sample gun only warned about using good factory ammo and did not mention the two recoil springs that shipped with the gun. Having had previous experience with the Sig Mosquito, I knew there had to be more to it. I went to the ATI website (americantactical.us) and located the FireFly manual that was online and it included the following information, obviously translated from German:

According to updated knowledge of modern gun manufacturing for caliber .22. We have therefore decided to make an adjustment to the loads that have priority for use with the FireFly, which are the two major groups, utility and high-speed rounds. So to increase the round compatibility, we provide two slide springs for every pistol. The bigger bored version is designed for high-speed loads and is fitted in the pistol with delivery. The simple coiled smaller spring (marked white) is for standard loads and is supplied with the pistol. Tip: It has been proven that many types of utility rounds function more smoothly if the rounds are lightly oiled.

Take a tip from this old gunwriter and longtime shooter of .22s. Stick with the recoil spring that was in the gun when you got it (should be the larger one) and shoot only high-velocity ammo (1200 fps and above) and you’ll have a grand time with the FireFly. High velocity ammo is as easy to find and generally cost no more than standard. My favorites are Aguila Super Extra HPs, Blazer 22 Long Rifle, CCI Stingers, CCI Mini-Mag High Velocity, Eley High Velocity Hollow Points, Federal Game Shok, Federal Premium HV Match, Remington Yellow Jackets, Remington Golden Bullets and Winchester Super X High Velocity. I was having so much fun shooting the FireFly I tried all of these and had zero issues with feeding and ejecting ammo.

Disassembling the FireFly for cleaning is simple, but not like a centerfire handgun. Remove the magazine and lock the slide back. Rotate the takedown lever on the left side of the slide 180 degrees. Pull the slide back slightly and lift the back of it before pushing the slide forward off the barrel. Be careful to remove the recoil spring and guide rod so you can get them in the right place before reassembly. After cleaning and oiling make sure the guide rod and spring are seated then reinstall the slide. The slide needs to be in the forward position before rotating the takedown lever back to its operating position.

The FireFly is Easily Disassembled for Cleaning

The FireFly can provide hours of enjoyment, whether popping aluminum cans or putting holes in paper. I didn’t do any accuracy comparisons between different rounds as I was mostly checking to see if there were any high velocity rounds that didn’t work in the gun. I didn’t find any. My shots pretty much went where I wanted them to, but I was shooting at close ranges, typically ten yards.

This is a Typical Target at a Distance of 10-Yards

I haven’t found anything not to like about the Firefly and at an MSRP of $349 for the base model, you’re likely to find them priced around or just under $300 when supplies are once again available. I think you would enjoy the FireFly and certainly get a lot of utility out of it you own or plan to own a Sig Sauer P226 or P229 pistol.

Self-Taught or Trained?

We Can All Benefit from Training
Regardless of Our Experience Level

One of the chief concerns we trainers have is: People don’t know what they don’t know. When it comes to guns, for many, they have been so ingrained in our culture folks just assume they know what to do and how to do it. Often what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies is not a good example of safe and proficient gun handling.

In most states, the training required for carrying a handgun on your person, concealed or open is minimal. While in my heart I’m a firm believer that a right shouldn’t be legislated, my experience as a License to Carry Instructor has taught me people need training, and if they won’t get it on their own, maybe it should be required, like Driver’s Ed. Almost daily I watch people handle guns like they were a set of keys or a monkey wrench, with no regard for where they are pointed and with their finger on the bang lever. Scary.

IT ALL STARTS WITH SAFETY

The title of this article promises training can help you at any level, so let’s start with the basics. Your initial training should cover the well-established safety rules. They may be worded differently and the order may be changed slightly, but these rules start with 1) always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, 2) keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and 3) always treat every gun as if it were loaded. There are additional rules such as knowing your target and what’s in front of and beyond it; knowing your gun and ammunition; being healthy, alert and sober when shooting and others that may be related to where you shoot.

Self-Taught Gun Handling
Trained Gun Handling

Telling someone the safety rules usually doesn’t sink in for a while. For the first hour or two of instruction we’re constantly having to remind people to keep their gun pointed in a safe direction and to keep their finger off the trigger. When they finally get it, I often wonder if they really got it or they just want the instructor to stop bugging them about it. Seriously, it takes concentration until the habit is learned and ingrained in your muscle memory. This rarely happens without some instruction. The safety rules associated with handling firearms are listed, usually in red letters, in every firearm instruction manual on the planet, but, who reads instructions?

GUN HANDLING

Any gun has parts that move during shooting. Especially on semi-automatic handguns these parts have pinch and scrape zones that can do considerable damage to your hands if you don’t know how to properly hold the gun and execute the required movements.  There are parts that must be loaded and parts that must be put in the proper starting position before firing. There are parts that move rapidly during shooting.

A basic course is where you should learn how to load and operate your gun, how to stand comfortably, how to grip the gun for maximum control and to mitigate recoil, how to align the sights, how to smoothly operate the trigger, how to breathe and follow through to get the next shot on target. Many people assume they know these things, but in class or at the range we see a wide variety of positions and grips that are not very effective and some which can get you hurt.  

One Way Many Put a Semi-Automatic into Battery
A Better Way to Put a Semi-Automatic into Battery

HITTING THE TARGET

Accuracy doesn’t come about by instinct or luck. It’s a process of learning to align the front sight properly with the rear sight, point the aligned sights at the target and smoothly move the trigger straight back until the shot is fired. If we all did that correctly on every shot, we’d all be world champion shooters with very tight groups around the aiming point. That’s not what we usually see, is it? Mastering the sight alignment and smooth trigger pull is facilitated by learning to stand comfortably, holding the gun correctly, positioning your finger on the trigger correctly and moving it smoothly straight back instead of pushing or pulling it to one side or the other or jerking the gun so that the shots go wide. Good technique also involves follow through that helps get you back on target and ready for the next shot.

Without training people develop a variety of ways to hold a gun, but rarely do they discover on their own what a little time with a qualified and experienced instructor can teach them.

Self-Taught Gun Handling
Trained Gun Handling

If you took the step to get some basic training, good for you. Let’s say you passed the proficiency test, if one was required in your state, and got your permit. If your training stops there, you should probably make an honest assessment about whether or not you’re really ready to defend yourself with your handgun under the pressure of a surprise attack. How can you tell?  Find an instructor who can teach you to draw from a holster or purse, move to cover while having to defend yourself and reload when you’re under fire. You should learn to clear a jam quickly and under pressure.  The same goes for engaging multiple targets, targets converging on you or moving laterally to you. For most of us, initial exposure to this type of training is a real eye-opener. I know it was for me, and I not only played army when I was a kid, I was in the Army, in a war with a job that got me shot at, but oh how much I’ve forgotten.

Self-Taught
Trained

PERFORMING UNDER PRESSURE

The first thing you learn during intermediate training is often, “I was not ready to defend myself!” Okay, buckle down and learn. You’ll sweat, you’ll get frustrated, then you’ll get better. You’ll learn, you’ll become more confident and hopefully you will realize the skills you develop here must be practiced and practiced often enough they become automatic.

I’m not talking about training for SWAT, Personal Protection Details or SEAL Teams. I’m talking about training for ordinary people like you and me. I’m a Granddad who gets around on a mobility scooter, but I intend to be ready and competent should the need arise. My family also expects this of me.

Even though I’d grown up owning and shooting guns, when I got serious about being armed in a daily basis, I did some training and I was confident. I practiced my newly learned skills concerning stance, grip, aiming, breathing and trigger control until I could consistently put all my shots within a small group. But this was shooting at paper targets at relatively close range at my own pace.

Recently I had the opportunity to try another type of training at a live fire indoor shooting cinema. This is not Simunition training; all shooting is done with live ammo. The targets are projected onto a large white screen. Cameras and microphones triangulate and capture your shots electronically. You see your hits and misses and the simulator produces responses based on where your shots land. The response may be a visible hole or the target may fall, disappear or spin, depending on the programming.

I started my session shooting at fixed silhouette targets to insure I was aiming and grouping correctly and the computer was picking up my shots. Then I moved to a projected version of steel plates that I knocked over easily. Next came moving silhouette targets at various ranges coming in from the left and right. I nailed them. Then onto targets mounted on spinning wheels–one going clockwise, the other counter-clockwise. Missed a few. Then timed targets, pop-up targets, shoot-don’t shoot scenarios, and I was missing all over the place. The instructor knew I was an experienced shooter, so he gave me some latitude to figure it out myself. I didn’t. When he told me to look at my grip, I couldn’t believe it. I know the basics of how to grip a gun. I teach the basics of how to grip a gun. When the pressure was on, I had loosened my grip, opening it up and therefore allowing my shots to go wide.

I determined to practice every week until I got it right. The next week I started off doing better, so the instructor cranked up the speed and sure enough I started forgetting the basics again.

The basics do matter. This I learned through advanced training. That’s not all I learned. I have several “favorite” handguns. My first choice for a carry gun is typically a Commander-sized 1911. I have several and usually shoot them all well. One of them is 9mm, but I’m really a .45 ACP guy. Let me rephrase that. I was a .45 ACP guy but sometimes the arthritis in my thumbs, wrist and shoulders whispers 9mm to me, and on those days I carry a Ruger LW Commander 9mm or one of my other favorites–a Sig 229 or an M&P, both 9mm. Guess what I learned as the shooting challenges got faster and faster? The width of the grip does matter. One of the instructors running the Cinema range held my hand up and said, “short, stubby fingers.”  I said, “Yes, that’s what I’ve always been told and why I don’t play the piano.” To which he responded, “I’m not talking about music, I’m talking about shooting a gun that fits your hand, so you can keep your grip closed and your wrist behind the gun.

I’m an experienced instructor, but every time I train under another instructor, I learn, I get better. Practicing with an experienced eye to provide insight and instruction is even more beneficial. Try it and you’ll be amazed.

Tisas Regent BR-9 — Keeping the Hi Power Alive

You could almost hear the mourning when Browning announced last year the P35 Hi Power was no longer in production and had been removed from their catalog. I learned through a little research the production line, which had been operating by FN Herstal in Portugal for almost 50 years, was actually shut down and disassembled in 2015. It took until this year for Browning to run out of guns, which is an indication of how slow sales had been for this iconic pre-WWII design.

The Tisas Regent BR-9 keeps the iconic Browning Hi Power alive as a brand new gun.

Most of us know at least some of the P35’s history. John Moses Browning started the design but died before completing it. Belgian designer Dieudonné Saive completed the design and FN Herstal began manufacturing Hi Powers just in time for Germany to take over their country and their arms production. During the war, the German military made use of Hi Powers. Meanwhile a Canadian firm, John Inglis and Company, made Hi Powers that were used by some Allies, including Canada, Great Britain and China.

Just as the 1911 became America’s best-loved handgun, the Hi Power has worn that title in many other parts of the world and has had its own following here at home. Somehow, gun guy that I am, I’ve never owned one and rarely had a chance to shoot one. That’s why I welcomed the opportunity to explore a Turkish-made clone of the P35, the Tisas Regent BR-9, compliments of Brownells. The BR-9 is offered in two finishes, black and stainless steel. My review copy is a beautifully finished black example which arrived in a very nice case with two magazines, a cleaning brush and rod and the mandatory gun lock. Everything about its appearance and packaging impressed me as being worthy of the gun’s P35 heritage. It is an all-steel gun that weights 29.5 ounces. Barrel length is 4.6″. I’m sure Hi Powers have been configured with many different sights over the years. This one has Novak-style white dot sights mounted via dovetails. The rear sight can be drifted to adjust windage. There is a spur-style hammer, which cocks into the tiniest of beavertails. I immediately wondered if I was going to experience the reputed hammer bite for which early Hi Powers are known.

The design shares a profile in common with the 1911 with some noted differences. It has a hinged trigger. There is no grip safety, but the thumb safety is reminiscent of the 1911, though smaller. There are two notches on the slide into which the thumb safety can be inserted. The forward notch assists in takedown. There is no checkering, serrations, grooves or stippling anywhere on the grip frame. The grips themselves are wooden and pretty basic. I’m sure many owners will replace them with aftermarket grips, but to me the factory grips seem to support the historic effect of the gun. The slide has small serrations at the rear to facilitate racking. The 13-round magazines are made by Mec-Gar. There is a magazine disconnector inherited from the original Hi Power.

The Hi Power’s single-action system utilizes a tilt-barrel locking system that differs from that of the 1911 in several ways. The lug is one piece with the barrel. The slide is machined to fit the barrel so there is no barrel bushing. Takedown is more like a modern double-stack nine than a 1911. After insuring the gun is empty, move the slide back until the safety slips into the forward notch. Push the slide stop and barrel catch lever through from the right side and remove it just like on a 1911. Move the slide forward off the frame, compress the recoil spring and lifted it out, followed by the barrel.

Takedown on the BR-9 is pure old-school, almost like a 1911, but with a few notable differences.

After taking the gun apart, I took some photos, oiled it up a bit and put it back together, anxious to try it out. As it turned out, the most fun of the day was watching Hi Power fans, both young and old, look at and handle the gun with appreciation. The Range Safety Officer was a big Hi Power fan. I wanted him to shoot the Regent, but he said he couldn’t while on duty.

When I got behind the trigger, I was a little disappointed. The take-up part of the trigger pull was very gritty and the break was so tough I flinched a few times when the effort was much more than I expected from a single-action pistol. I managed to put at least fifty rounds through it, but accuracy was nothing to brag about because of the trigger pull. There were two positives, however. There was no hammer bite and no malfunctions of any kind.

On the way home, I happened to catch His Editorship Roy Huntington on the phone and discussed the trigger issue with him. Roy suggested I dry-fire the gun a bunch before my next range trip. He shared with me a tip he and his buddies used when breaking in double-action revolvers back during his police days. He suggested that while dry firing push forward on the hammer just as the break occurs. This could put some extra polishing action on the sear. Seems like it did, because after doing that no more than ten times, the grittiness was gone and the break was much smoother. According to my Lyman trigger pull gauge it averaged just above 8 lbs. which is livable. I have several striker-fired polymer guns with trigger pulls that measure in that range, and I never think of them as hard to shoot.

My second trip to the range was to shoot the heck out of it, thinking it is just one of those guns that needs a good break-in period. I ran a box of 50 Armscor 9mm FMJ through it and some assorted JHP rounds and was getting decent-sized groups out to 15 yards. The Range Safety Officer on duty this time was a young guy who is a Hi Power fan. When he and I were the only ones on the range for a few minutes, he took the Regent and shot twenty or so rounds. To him the trigger seemed normal. I noticed his shots were impacting down and to the left just like mine. That confirmed this gun needed a slight sight adjustment, but since it wasn’t my gun, I left the sights alone. My time ran out before I got a chance to do accuracy comparisons with different personal defense loads, but that was all right because I already knew I wanted to shoot the gun again.

When I did get a chance to shoot for groups, I was totally satisfied with the outcome. Five targets, five different loads, all worth bragging on. Technically, Winchester’s 115 grain Train and Defend JHP was the tightest, but Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Sig Sauer V-Crown and the recently revived Super Vel® Solid Copper Hollow Point all made a decent showing, grouping within 4″ handheld at 15 yards. All loads impacted slightly down and to the left. A slight shifting of the rear sight up and to the right would correct that problem.

This group shot with Winchester Train & Defend was typical of the results using a variety of defensive ammunition brands.

Three different range trips, multiple rounds fired with several types of ammunition and I experienced no malfunctions of any kind. If you are in the market for a modern version of a historical firearm, this is an attractive, well-built and a splendid example of what owning and shooting a Browning Hi Power is like. The price at Brownells is $529.99 for the black model and $569.99 for the stainless steel model. I compared this to prices found online for used Browning Hi Powers. I found some old surplus imports for around $500, but newer models in good condition are going for $1,000–$1,200 and up. The Tisas Regent BR-9 is an excellent value in my book.

Family Life Before Brady

Young Americans have no way of knowing how much we have given up in the way of freedoms due to the never-ending propensity of Congress to pass laws as if they were the answer to everything. One law that radically changed how firearms are bought and sold in America was the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act enacted in November 1993.

Federal laws were already on the books prohibiting certain classes of people from owning firearms, but the Brady Act brought us background checks. Among those prohibited from owning or even having guns after implementation of the Brady Act were those under 18 years of age. When I wanted to give my grandsons shotguns, like my father and grandfathers did me, I had to give them to their fathers with a federal form recording each transaction.

My family life may not have been typical throughout the United States, but it certainly wasn’t exceptional outside of the major metropolitan areas. I know we old guys like to talk about the “good ole days” so you’ve probably heard some of this, but I like to remind people how important it is to at least slow down, if not stop, the erosion of freedoms we experience at the hands of progressives.

The summer I was seven years old my family moved onto a small farm that had a 3-acre pond filled with bass and bluegills surrounded by a wooded area full of squirrels. The whole family fished that pond every Saturday and we had fish fries every Saturday night. When summer ended, and hunting season began Dad gave me the shotgun that was his as a little boy and began patiently teaching me to hunt squirrels. I say patiently, because the key to hunting squirrels without a dog is finding a good spot and being very still until the squirrels start stirring.

David’s First Shotgun

That first year I only hunted with Dad. But when the next season rolled around I was trusted to hunt alone. I was eight years old. That single shot .410 shotgun was the only gun I had until I was 11, but that year I acquired not one, but two, .22 rifles. I spent part of that summer on the rifle range at boy scout camp earning NRA junior marksmanship awards. As the camp season ended some of the camp’s aging rifles were offered for sale as surplus. I bought two of the rifles I had been using for my qualifications, a Remington 514, bolt-action single-shot and a magazine-fed Marlin 70. No adult was required for this transaction and the cost was a whopping $2 for the Remington and $4 for the Marlin. I still have both of those guns today and enjoyed practicing my gunsmith skills replacing lost or worn parts to make them excellent shooters.

David Bought These Two 22s From Camp Yocona When He Was 11

That same October Dad gave me his Winchester Model 12 16-gauge pump. I was in the 5th grade. Dad simply said I’d use it more than he would so I might as well start taking care of it. My cousins and I hunted squirrel, dove, quail, duck and deer. Two of my uncles had bird dogs, one a pointer and the other a setter. Both men were cotton farmers and cattlemen. Between “laying by” and picking time, hunting was a priority to put meat on the table. I hunted with my Winchester pump, one of my cousins had a 20-gauge Franchi, the other two had Sears and Roebuck double barrels. My uncles both owned Browning A5s which to us were known simply as Browning Automatics. That was the shotgun the adults had and the kids longed for. I didn’t get mine until I was well over 60.

Popular Bird Hunting Shotguns – The Browning A5 Semi-automatic and Winchester Model 12 Pump

The first gun I bought myself was .22 High-Standard Double-Nine revolver. I started working at an early age and at 15 had earned enough money to walk into the local hardware store and plunk down $45 to make that gun mine. No kidding. No paperwork. No questions, not even, “Does your Dad know you’re buying this gun?” Of course he did. What kid would try to hide something like that from his father?

We didn’t have gun stores in the small towns. We bought guns at hardware stores, Sears or the Bait Shop, which was a general-purpose sportsman’s hangout with a coffee bar/lunch counter for bragging and tall tales plus minnows, worms, rods, reels, ammo and a few guns for sale.

David Bought a Hi-Standard Double Nine .22 Revolver Like This When He Was 15

Hunting to put food on the table wasn’t the only thing my cousins and I did with our guns. We shot Crows and Blue Jays that attacked my grandmother’s pecan trees.  Christmas time always came with a special request to gather Mistletoe for decorations. Gathering Mistletoe was done by shooting it out of trees with a .22. The trick is to aim carefully at the base of the Mistletoe sprout and if you place your shot correctly, the parasitic plant comes tumbling down.

Shooting a .22 into the trees required great care and even as youngsters we were taught we were responsible for every shot fired and warned that a .22 round could travel a mile or more. We knew to never fire a rifle or pistol without a suitable backstop. Most of us youngsters dreamed of owning a Savage 24 over/under with a .22 barrel on top and a .410 barrel on the bottom. If the squirrel was out on a limb with no suitable backstop, we could shoot him with the .410 barrel. But if he was in front of a good backstop, you could save a lot of meat by a clean .22 shot to the head. Well, we all believed we could do that, but buying that over/under was out of reach for most of us.

Every family I knew owned a shotgun for every male member of the family, and most families had a .22 rifle. If they were serious deer hunters, they would own some type of centerfire rifle. My dad didn’t hunt deer so instead of a rifle I hunted deer with slugs in my shotgun.

Practically Every Boy In David’s Class Belonged to the Rod & Gun Club at School

One of the badges of manhood for a young man was a pickup truck with a gun rack in the back window. Mine was a 1950 Ford F1 and my gun rack held one of the .22s and the 16-gauge pump. We drove these trucks to school with guns in the rack and parked them unlocked with the windows down and the key in the ignition. There was a Gun and Rod Club at school and if a kid was lucky enough to have acquired a new hunting gun he was expected to bring it to school and show it off during the Gun and Rod Club meeting.

Plinking was a favorite pastime and something I often did with my girlfriend who enjoyed shooting as much as I did, but had no guns in her family. Finding shooting places was never a problem. You could drive out of town on any road and within a mile or two you could find a place to pull off and shoot against a solid clay bank or into a sand ditch or gully. The northeast section of our county was mostly National Forest, which at that time had no rules against shooting anywhere. After all, it was public land. Ammo was cheap, 50 cents for a box of 22 short, 55 cents for a box of long and 60 cents for long rifle.

My mother’s family were all cattlemen and farmers with adjacent farms, so I could walk out the back door and walk or ride a horse all day and never leave land that I wasn’t welcome to shoot or hunt on. We hunted when the seasons were open, other times we shot for fun. One favorite pastime was dropping soda cans or lightweight bottles from the upstream side of a bridge over a creek or small river then going across the bridge to the downstream side and shooting to sink the cans as bottles as they floated past.

My dad had a Smith and Wesson Model 10 which he kept in his sock drawer. He got it because he was empowered to enforce game laws in the state, but he never carried it. I knew where it was and felt free to take it on hunting, fishing, camping, or just rambling trips for snake protection or for a bit of higher powered plinking.

Those of you reading this who take today’s environment in stride may think it would be dangerous to return to a lifestyle as I’ve described it. Others who live in rural areas may still be able to experience a lot of what I’m describing. Thank God we still have some open lands and places to shoot. When I moved to the city 40 years ago, the fact that I had to pay to find a place to shoot was a shock. Now there are two gun ranges back in my small town in Mississippi. National Grasslands and National Forests have rules and limits on where you can shoot. Landowners lease their land for hunting rights.

Buy some land if you can. Teach your kids to respect and use firearms and vote to protect our freedoms, especially the first and second amendments.