The Browning Conundrum

We all know that I’m a huge fan of the Browning P-35 High Power pistol (despite its piddly Europellet chambering) because to me, it is the absolute zenith of John Moses Browning’s engineering handgun design (albeit with a huge assist from Dieudonné Saive).   It is one of my favorite guns to shoot, and is much easier to disassemble (and reassemble) when it comes to after-action cleaning.

I also love my Browning 1885 High Wall rifle in .45-70 Govt:

That “bank-vault-closing” feel as you pull the lever back up and close the action after reloading:  not much feels and sounds much better in the firearms world.  And the satisfaction one feels when pulling the trigger to send a giant 405-gr bullet downrange… ah, my friends, if you haven’t experienced it, it would be like trying to explain the beauty of a desert sunset to a blind person.

And everyone knows of my love for Browning Auto-5 shotguns like the Sweet 16 or the Light 20:

And yet those are the only three Browning guns I’ve ever owned.

That’s not by design, by the way.  I’ve fired many Browning rifles and shotguns — all belonging to other people, either at the range or while hunting — but for some inexplicable reason, I’ve never felt compelled to own a Browning long gun or pistol in the way that I am drawn to, say, a Mauser 98 or WinMar lever rifle.

It’s inexplicable, really;  there is no reason for me to turn my nose up at, say a Browning lever rifle (BLR), especially when chambered for a manly cartridge like the .308 Win:

…especially when the BLR’s stacked mag allows for spitzer-tipped bullets while the WinMar’s tube mags do not.  Would I feel in any way disadvantaged with the BLR out in the field?  Hell, no;  and yet for some reason, I’m drawn more to the Henry/Winchester/Marlin offerings than to the BLR.

That also goes for Browning’s bolt-action rifles.

Combat Controller uses one of these, an X-Bolt chambered in -300 Win Mag, for his Scotland hunts with Mr. Free Market, has never had a problem with it, and his deer tally over the years would certainly give one no reason not to use one (especially in those difficult conditions).  Yet I’ve never owned one, nor come close to getting one;  and the same is true for the excellent semi-auto BAR / Safari models:

(For some reason, I’m not a fan of hunting with semi-auto rifles, but that has nothing to do with Browning.)

Needless to say, I would never turn down a Browning double-barreled shotgun, except that they make mostly over/under models — but once again, my preference for side-by-side shotguns has nothing to do with Browning.  Their reputation and success in shotguns is very well earned, and thousands of people use them as religiously as I use Mauser rifles or John Moses Browning’s 1911 Government pistol.

This, by the way, is one of my “lottery” shotguns at Steve Barnett’s:  a rare older “BSS” model in 20ga:

…which has absolutely everything I desire in a SxS:  splinter forearm, double triggers and straight “English” stock.  The only thing that has stopped me from getting it is not the fact that it’s old and second-hand:  it’s the price:  $5,750.  Which, for an old secondhand gun, pushes me away a little.

And here, finally, may lie the the answer as to why I’ve never owned many Browning guns:  cost.

Loyal Readers know that I always go for quality in my guns — and nobody seems to have any arguments against Browning guns in that regard — but at the same time, Brownings always seem to cost just a little bit too much when compared with guns which are functionally their equivalent and whose quality is as good or in some cases better.  Once again, I have no problem with quality costing more than average;  where possible, I always go for quality (in all things) even though I know that it does carry a higher cost.  But Browning always seems to be just a tad over that tolerance, and I walk away.

How say you, O My Readers?  Is this your experience too, or am I missing something here?

Why Not The .243?

I was sucked into the Forgotten Weapons Matrix a little while ago, and during Ian McAllum’s dissertation on the Sig-Manhurin 542 rifle, my train of thought went off down a branch line — I’m an old guy, it happens — and I ended up wondering:  why was the .243 Win never adopted as a military cartridge?

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out here that I am a HUGE fan of the .243 Win, especially when loaded with a 90gr bullet.)

Run with me on this one.  The .243 Win is based on a necked-down .308 Win casing so that it can shoot a smaller 6mm (.243″) bullet. Here’s the side-by-side comparison:

That’s a lot of powder (assuming that it stays the same amount as in a .308 Win cartridge) to send a much-smaller bullet downrange, which means of course that there’s a lot of velocity involved — and, as a welcome side-benefit, because there’s less inertia to overcome to get a smaller bullet moving than a bigger one, less recoil.

The latter was given as being one of the reasons that the 5.56mm NATO was adopted, by the way (that and the reduced weight of the cartridges themselves), but it came at the expense of knockdown power.  Also of interest is that the 5.56 NATO generally uses a 55gr bullet — but, for that matter, the .243 can handle a 55gr bullet as well, and it really races out of the barrel.  Once again, a comparison:

The only problem with the 5.56 NATO is that if you try to increase the knockdown power of the poodleshooter by shooting a heavier bullet like (say) one of 90gr, that little casing can’t hold more powder to make up for the severe loss in velocity — whereas in a larger casing like the .308 Win, bullet weight could even be doubled to 110gr without too much effect on velocity, or recoil.

So just as an intellectual question, I ask myself:  why would the .dotmil settle for a hot .22 cartridge when a downloaded .308 would do the same job (at worst), and could easily do a lot more with only a modest increase in bullet weight (say, from 55gr to 75gr)?

If we accept the fact that the earlier .30-06/.308 Win battle cartridges were just Too Much Muscle (or required too much muscle) for our soldiers (as suggested by the military brass), and we ended up adopting a vastly inferior cartridge (the poodleshooter .223);  then why should we not have compromised and used instead a 6x52mm / .243 Win cartridge?  (Of course, I am still of the opinion that the British suggestion of a .276″/6.5mm chambering was the best of all, but let’s not revisit that old story.)

Frankly, I think we missed a good opportunity here, and I think that had we adopted the .243 Win chambering in something like the aforementioned SIG-Manhurin 542 (essentially, a higher-quality AK-47 design) as our mail battle rifle, we would have been a lot better off.

For that matter, the AR-10 (suitably barreled) would have been just as good a choice, if the thought of dumping Eugene Stoner’s rifle for Sergei Kalashnikov’s gives one the vapors.

Either way, the question is this:

Gratuitous Gun Pic: Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon (20ga)

As I grow older, I find myself torn between holding onto what has always worked for me, yet often having said experiential wisdom undermined by pesky things such as facts.

Take shotguns.

As Loyal Readers all know, I prefer side-by-side shotguns to over-and-under shotguns, illustrated by my own maxim:  “Shotgun barrels should be side by side like a man and his dog, and not over and under like a man and his mistress.”  (Yes, I coined that phrase.)

Actually, it’s bullshit.  While I yield to no man for my love of fine side-by-side shotguns, the plain fact of the matter is that when it comes to sustained usage, the old SxS just doesn’t cut it.  No matter how costly the gun, or how hardy, they all break after thousands of rounds;  the much-maligned over-and-unders, much less so.  (Ask yourself why Olympic shotgunners like Kim Rhode have always used over-and-unders — in fact, nobody in serious shotgunning competition uses a side-by-side, and that’s for good reasons.)

Which brings me to today’s gun under discussion, the shotgun which is pretty much the international gold standard for the ordinary shotgunner:  the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon.


From a pricing perspective, it’s always difficult to pin the 686 down, because the addition of different Roman numerals makes the price shoot up faster than the options list on a Porsche 911.  The one in the picture is the bottom-of-the-range “Silver Pigeon I” in 20ga, and it typically retails for around $2,000.  This, by the way, is common in the shotgun business:  adding a couple inches to the barrel can double the price, as can asking for superior wood for the stock.

The dirty little secret about the 686 is that it probably represents the best value for money of any O/U shotgun.  (Its closest rival, sales-wise, is the excellent Browning 725 Citori, which typically retails for nearly a grand more.)  I use as an example Mr. Free Market, who each year shoots thousands of rounds through his 686 (he actually shot out his earlier 686 to the point where it would have cost more to repair than just buying a new one), and despite my constant needling, he steadfastly refuses to change to another brand.  (This post was in fact triggered by me saying to someone that we should learn from others’ mistakes or equally, by the example of others, and in the matter of O/U shotguns, I therefore bow to his experience.  If you wish to do the same, feel free to browse here.)

Where I will not change, however, is in the matter of barrel length.  I’ve always though that the longer the barrel, the better.  A 29″ or 30″ barrel will add many yards to the effective range of a shotgun over a 26″ barrel, and the increased range (and efficacy) far outweighs the weight and handling disadvantages.  Save short barrels for the self-defense pump-actions;  field guns should have longer barrels.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and buy an over-and-under shotgun, by the way.  I don’t shoot clays often enough to warrant a change over to an O/U, so I’ll stick to my side-by-side companion.  Yes, I’m preaching form over function, which should surprise precisely nobody.

But if I was looking to buy an O/U, the 686 would get a very close look.

Gratuitous Gun Pic: Benelli R1 (.30-06 Springfield)

Once again, amidst my occasional ponderings about The Gun Thing, several factors have occurred to me, to whit:

  • There are an awful lot of people who think that the venerable (and venerated) .30-06 cartridge is God’s answer to the question “Are there too many deer in the world?” and/or “How best should I kill that Bad Person?”
  • Most rifles thus chambered are bolt-action, and found everywhere in these United States
  • The non-bolt-action .30-06 rifles are pretty much confined to the venerable (and venerated) WWII-era M1 Garand, and the modern Browning BAR.

Not one of these things is Bad.  The .30-06 is a monster when it comes to dealing death, at pretty much any range, as several thousand WWII-era Kraut- and Jap soldiers would attest (if they were still with us);  there are a jillion-odd bolt-action rifles thus chambered, and therefore cartridge availability passes the “Bubba’s Bait & Ammo Store” criterion;  most semi-auto .30-06 rifles owned are likely to be of the Garand genus — and considering that Gen. George S. Patton once called the M1 Garand “the greatest battle implement ever devised by Man” (or something like that), there are very few knocks you can make against the Garand, either.  Ditto the BAR.

Except for cost.  M1 Garands can be costly, simply because of their pedigree (and therefore collectability), so the cost of entry, so to speak, can be pretty daunting.  Here’s a typical example from Collectors:

…which runs at just under $1,700.  (And if you think that’s expensive, the “National Match” version costs nearly three times as much.)

So what else is out there, for someone who wants a semi-auto rifle chambered in .30-06?  Here’s the Benelli R1, for example, also at Collectors, for just under $1,300 (about the cost of a new unscoped BAR Mk3, incidentally):

and the R1 has a 10-round detachable magazine, to boot.  From the Benelli website:

(Note its current non-availability, but I suspect that this is a temporary situation.)  The price, of course, is nosebleed because Benelli (as anyone who’s ever contemplated buying one of their shotguns can attest);  but you could buy four extra mags for the R1, and still come out around the same cost of a single M1 Garand.

And yes of course, the R1 is a modern rifle, ergo saddled with a poxy (epoxy?) stock, which sets my teeth on edge;  but if you told me I’d have no choice but the R1 to take out into the field — for any purpose — I would not feel myself short-changed at all.   (“Gimme!”  comes to mind.)

Note too that this particular R1 comes with a very toothsome Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x50mm scope — which alone sells for $700-$750 nowadays.

Other than my distaste for Technik durch Plastik  stocks, if I were in the market for a .30-06 rifle, I can’t think of a single reason not to consider this one.

Gratuitous Gun Pic: Mosin-Nagant Rifles

Thinking idly about guns, as I occasionally do [eyecross], I was pondering the current issue of gun / ammo shortages, and while everyone has ideas about handguns, there is always the thought that at some point, one may be asked to shoot something (animal, anarchist, zombie, take your pick) at a distance exceeding comfortable pistol range — say, more than 25 yards.  (Your standard pistol choice of a 1911 .45 ACP or plastic-fantastic Europellet delivery vehicle should be quite adequate at less than 25 yards distance to target, but further out from that, you’re not going to have, shall we say, consistent accuracy grouping to make you confident of taking such a shot.)

And I know:  everyone has their Mattel ARs and what have you, but if you don’t already have one and a sufficient supply of ammo, you’re going to be SOL at your local Merchant Of Death establishment.  And that goes for a lot of guns, yea even unto unfashionable choices like the AK-47.

What I’m saying is that you need a cheap long gun — any gun, really — that can live in your car’s trunk that can be relied upon to work satisfactorily, and for which there is currently ammo available.  And that, for anyone who’s looked at the issue recently, is no longer a given.

Unless, of course, one considers the venerable Russian Mosin-Nagant family of bolt-action rifles, all chambered for the very unfashionable 7.62x54mmR.  Mosins are the Rolls-Royce of bolt-action rifles, in that everything you’ve ever heard about them is true:  you need a hammer to work the bolt, their accuracy is not universally admired, for instance;  but they also work regardless of condition or ill-treatment, and if you do eventually run out of ammo, they make an excellent club or, if you have a bayonet, a wonderful spear, as seen in this old pic of Your Humble Narrator:

As for the Mosin’s boolet, the 7.62x54mmR (rimmed):

…there are millions of German Wehrmacht- and SS soldiers who might attest to its efficacy, but sadly they didn’t survive the Ostfront, so ’nuff said on that score.

Now I see that Century Arms are selling 91/30 rifles for under $400 at the moment — Century Arms guns are very often assembled from surplus parts bins, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to Mosins because there’s almost no such thing as a “collector grade” 91/30 (although the one I’m holding in the picture actually was), so not having matching serial numbers is no big deal.

The one knock on the 91/30 is its length, which can make it quite unwieldy.  Here’s a pic of the so-called “ex-Dragoon” (carbine-length) compared to a “standard” 91/30 (more on that topic here):

But what makes the Mosins so versatile is that because they were Commie rifles, all the Eastern Bloc countries made variants thereof behind the Iron Curtain, most were carbine-length, and many cannot hold a bayonet, if that’s of interest to you.  The M44 carbine does, an integral side-folder (which I also once owned, prior to the Brazos River Canoeing Tragedy):

…and those of Hungarian, Polish and Romanian origin, to name but the more popular ones, are freely available.

Now, as for the ammo:  the 7.62 Russki ammo is not as cheap as it once was, running between 50 cents and a dollar a pop (I know, pick up your jaws), but from what I was able to gather from just a cursory glance, almost all the ammo suppliers have some of the stuff in stock (e.g. here), which is not the case for most of the popular cartridges like 7.62 NATO, 7.62×39 Soviet and 5.56 NATO.  Just remember that the mil-surp Russki ammo is highly corrosive, and you need to clean your guns assiduously very soon after firing — before leaving the range, even.  The modern commercial ammo is much better in that regard, albeit more expensive.  Me, I hate the old corrosive shit like poison and pay the “premium” on non-corrosive ammo cheerfully;  but that’s all a matter of choice.  Note too that many ranges do not allow steel-cased (as opposed to brass) ammo, so make your choices carefully.  From a personal perspective, I’ve always had great results from Wolf, Tula, Prvi Partizan and Brown Bear brands, so be my guest.

As I’ve said many times before in my writings on the topic, I think the M44 is the ultimate “trunk / truck gun”, as it can lie neglected in the back for years, and still be guaranteed to work as promised if needed.  Mine certainly did, whether bouncing around in my F-150 or the Suburban.  In that role, if it’s stolen or (ahem) confiscated, it’s no great loss — and as an added bonus, the Gestapo in places like New York or California will not treat it the same as they would for example, an AK or AR-15.

So there you have it:  relatively cheap, reliable guns which can do the necessary at non-pistol distances, shooting inexpensive, effective (and available!) ammunition.

Every home should have one.

Not That Bad

Via Insty (thankee Squire), I see that our favorite shooting rag has a piece about a new Bond Arms Derringer:

Speaking personally, I think it’s pig-ugly;  but no doubt someone will soon be telling me how matte is the new black, or something, and all the cool kids are carrying it.  Whatever.  I like ’em shiny (and without that sissy trigger guard):

But anyway, it was Insty’s comment which got my attention:


That has not been my experience (remember that I am an infamous recoil wussy).  I’ve had two of these beauties in my time — in .45 Long Colt /.410ga, and in .38 Spec/.357 Mag — and I didn’t find the recoil in any of the four chamberings to be too unpleasant.  Here’s why.

I think that the teeny lil’ barrel helps.  Basically, it seems to me that before the burning powder can get up to full oomph in the chamber, the boolet has already left the building, so to speak.  Even .410 slugs were stout, but quite manageable — especially when you remember that Derringers are “halitosis-range” guns, in that even if the scumbag doesn’t immediately die from the boolet, the muzzle flash should set his fucking clothes on fire to complete the carnage.  And forget the loss of muzzle velocity from the tiny barrel — at 4″ distance from the target, it’s very much a moot point.

I wouldn’t want to let off hundreds of rounds of serious centerfire ammo in a single session at the range with a Bond Arms Derringer, mind — half a dozen would do just fine, thank you — but frankly, even a dozen-odd rounds of .45 ACP wouldn’t be too much of an imposition on one’s shooting hand.

What I’ve always liked about the Bond Arms guns is that they are heavy, baby — which means if you hold it in your hand and give someone a swift smack on the side of the head with it, he is going to go down.

Manly guns.  I love ’em.