Ballistics by the inch

Review: S333 Thunderstruck.

This is the Standard Manufacturing S333 Thunderstruck revolver:

Thunder 1

It’s an innovative, 8-round revolver which fires two rounds of .22WMR (.22mag) with one pull of the trigger.

OK, if you like this not-so-little handgun, you might not want to read this review. Just move along and save yourself some time.

No, really.

If you have to think about it, here’s another pic to give you some time:

Thunder 2

The actual S333

* * *

For those who’ve stuck around …

… good lord, don’t buy one of these things as a self/home defense gun. If you want it just because it’s kinda geeky and weird, then cool. If you want to actually use it, go spend your money on almost anything else. Seriously.

Why do I say this?

Because, for the ostensible use of the gun as a self/home defense tool, it is almost entirely unsuited. Yeah, that’s my biased opinion, on having shot the thing.

Oh, you want details? Reasons for this opinion? Fair enough.

When I first heard of it, I saw that it was .22WMR, out of a 1.25″ barrel. Now, since it is being shot out of a revolver, you can add in the length of the cylinder, and come up with an overall barrel length of about 3″.

.22WMR out of a 3″ barrel isn’t exactly useless. I mean, it beats harsh words. And, in fairness, it beats your typical .22lr. A little. You can expect about 100-110ft/lbs of energy from it. The best-performing .22lr from the same length barrel is about 90ft/lbs. Same for .25ACP.

And, if you think in terms of having two such bullets fired simultaneously, that gets you up to about 200-220ft/lbs of energy. Not impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be shot by it. I mean, it’s better than .32ACP.

Well, it would be if for one big problem: keyholing.

See, with such a very short barrel, the .22WMR bullets aren’t stabilized. They come out of the barrel, and tumble. If the bullet tumbles upon leaving the barrel, it will quickly lose energy to aerodynamic forces. And likewise, if it hits something more solid, it will also lose energy more quickly. Which will really mess up their effectiveness in penetrating deep enough into an attacker in order to be effective. Because, remember, this is supposed to be a self/home defense gun.

See for yourself:

Thunder 3


Yeah, of the 8 bullets I fired (from about 5 yards, aiming at the center of the target), 7 have keyholed.

This is something that almost every review video I watched also noted. The S333 keyholes at least 50% of the time, and usually more.

So let’s go back to the comparison with .32ACP. Keyholing can happen with any caliber and almost any gun, but it tends to be rare in well-designed guns and properly matched ammunition. So, usually, you can rely on fairly consistent penetration out of .32ACP. Which, according to independent testing by Brass Fetcher, will give you 7-10″ of penetration in 20% ballistic gel. And .22WMR will do about as well.

But not if it keyholes. Which it does, out of the S333.

Now, Standard Manufacturing has said that this is something that they’re working to correct. So perhaps later versions of the gun will not have this problem.

I still wouldn’t want it. Why?

The S333 is as large and weighs (18oz) as much as many common compact 9mm semi-auto handguns. It’s larger and weighs more than most small .380 semi-auto handguns. It’s larger and weighs more than most small frame .38/.357 revolvers. Any of those alternatives offer much more potent cartridges, even in comparison to two simultaneous .22WMR rounds. And with the S333, you have four shots — your typical small revolver will be 5 or 6, and small semi-auto guns are typically 6 or more.

The S333 is also awkward and difficult to shoot. The unusual “two finger” trigger really changes how you can grip the revolver, changing how you aim and control it. It’s also a very long and very hard trigger pull — something in excess of 12 pounds, by most reports. If, like most people, you want to use a second hand to support your shooting hand (which is even more necessary when you only hold the gun with your thumb and two small fingers), about the best thing you can do is grip the wrist of the shooting hand in a modified “cup & saucer” style grip. Otherwise, the fingers of your supporting hand will be in the way of the trigger coming all the way back, which is necessary for it to fire.

Here, see what I mean with this short video of me shooting it:


I think the awkwardness of the grip and the two-finger trigger explains why most people tend to shoot the revolver high and to the right when they first encounter it. All three of us at BBTI did. Almost every review video I watched had the same thing.

I’m sure you could learn to adapt to this, and develop a secure and reliable method of shooting the gun with practice. But as a “grab it and use it” self-defense gun, it’s a problem.

One minor note while the video above is fresh in mind: did you notice the amount of flash in two of the shots? Yeah, that’s another factor of such short barrels with the .22WMR. That was while shooting it on a typical partly cloudy day in the middle of the morning. Not a major problem, but something to register.

One last thing: price. As you can see on the first pic, this particular S333 sold for $419.99, which is just under the MSRP. So while it isn’t really pricey, it isn’t cheap. In fact, it seems to be a very solid and well-made gun. The fit and finish were good. The minor problems we had with it were probably just because it was brand new (it hadn’t been fired previously). The trigger is, as noted, long and very heavy, but reasonably smooth if a little mushy. So, overall, if you wanted one of these just because it’s unique and quirky, then I think it’s a reasonably-priced gun.

But if you are looking at it as a self/home defense gun? Or even as a “back-up” for that use?

I think you have much better options.

Jim Downey


September 1, 2020 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .380 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I really didn’t want to write this post.

It’s been a kind of rough year, what with the Covid-19 pandemic and all. So I’ve been inclined to cut people some extra slack. Because normal business operations have been disrupted, everyone is dealing with a lot more unexpected stress in their lives, et cetera. But after five months of back & forth, of repeated promises unfulfilled, and a complete failure to respond to reasonable requests, I feel like I need to let the shooting community know about a major disappointment I’ve experienced with an ammo manufacturer.

At the end of February I wrote about a problem I’d discovered with some Corbon .44 magnum ammo. You can find the entire post here:

What a difference just an eighth of an inch makes.

Well, as I said in that post:

Now, the folks at Corbon are smart. I’m sure their engineers actually tested this ammo in some typical .44magnum revolvers. But all it would take is for slight differences (think a couple thousandths of an inch) in the rate or position of that chamber tapering from manufacturer to manufacturer to cause this problem. Chances are, they just didn’t test it in a Taurus .44 of this model, or a Colt Anaconda. It is also possible that this batch of bullets (all five boxes I got are from the same lot — I checked) is just slightly out of spec, but no one has yet noticed it in their guns, because the tolerances in other manufacturers are a little bit different.

Either way, I’m fairly sure that I could just take some sandpaper or a fine file to that slight swelling on the bullets, and they’d fit right into my gun. But first I’m going to wait and see whether I hear back from Corbon about this issue (yeah, I sent them an explanatory email a couple days ago).

I heard back from them shortly after that. I sent them the blog post.  We talked. They asked me to return the entire batch of ammo (a total of 5 boxes) so they could examine it, and sent me a shipping label. I did so in the beginning of March.

They got the ammo. I called them again, and they said that they were going to check it all against their quality control protocols, and promised to get me replacement ammo ASAP.

Well, then things went to hell with Covid. Next time I chatted with them, I was told that they needed to see if they had a different lot of that particular cartridge they could send me as a replacement, but that someone would be in touch with me within a few days.

Well, I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. So I followed up. After some more back & forth I was again promised that I would soon get replacement ammo.

Again, I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks, and no replacement ammo was sent. I tried calling and leaving messages. I used the “contact us” feature off the Corbon website. I emailed. No response.

I waited another five or six weeks. Finally, the beginning of June I sent an email to the contact person, and here’s the relevant excerpt:

I wanted to follow up to this with an email, because while we’ve talked about the matter multiple times over the intervening three months, each time I’ve been promised someone will get back to me with either information or replacement ammo, nothing has happened. I understand that the disruptions caused by Covid-19 have thrown a lot of things off schedule, but I would like to get this resolved.
As we’ve discussed, I returned five boxes of Corbon 165gr .44mag ammunition in March for your examination as to why the ammo would not properly load in either a Taurus or Colt Anaconda .44mag revolver. Full details on the problem I encountered is discussed in the blog post linked in my original email below.
At this point I’m no longer concerned with replacement of the exact type of ammo. If you’ll just ship me five boxes of your premium defensive ammo in any of the following calibers, that will be satisfactory enough:
  • 9mm
  • .357 magnum
  • .44 magnum
  • .45 Super

Well, I’ve never heard back from them.

And that surprises me. Because I identified that I was with Ballistics By The Inch, which is kinda well known in the firearms/ammunition industry. So while I don’t expect special treatment, it’d be foolish for them to treat me poorly. But they have.

And if they’re going to treat me that way, how do you think they’ll treat you? I sent them the ammo and information so that they could improve their product, possibly avoid a lawsuit related to manufacturing flaws, and they stiff me on the replacement ammunition.

Please share this information with others who maybe want to know that. Thanks.


Jim Downey



July 25, 2020 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Super, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What a difference just an eighth of an inch makes.

Recently I came across on a surprisingly good deal on a Taurus Tracker .44mag snubnose. This one:

Taurus isn’t my first choice of firearm brands, but I’ve owned them and generally liked them, and the price on this one was a little too good to pass up. So I got it, figuring that it would be an interesting addition to my collection, occasionally using it as a carry gun.

After shooting it with a variety of .44special and .44mag loads that I had on hand, I decided that what I wanted to use as a carry ammo was something we’d tested: Corbon’s 165gr JHP.  The lighter weight bullet would mean a lower felt recoil. And I knew how it would perform out of a short barrel, and estimated that I would get about 1150fps and just under 500ft/lbs of muzzle energy from the round. I checked locally, and the ammo wasn’t available, so I ordered in five boxes from a source online.

When it arrived, I did the logical thing and inserted five rounds into the Taurus, then closed the cylinder.

Er, make that I *tried* to close the cylinder. Because it wouldn’t. Huh?

I examined the gun. I had not noticed that the cartridges hadn’t gone completely into the chambers. The rims of the cartridges were all about 1/16th inch out.  Oops. That was a mistake on my part — I should have been paying closer attention when handling the new untested ammo, rather than just assuming that it would load properly. This is what it looked like after I removed one cartridge for contrast:


Even lightly tapping the cartridges wouldn’t get them to load properly (where the rim is down on the rear cylinder face). I removed the rest of the cartridges, examined the gun to make sure everything was otherwise functioning properly. It seemed to be. I looked over the cartridges, and they seemed to be fine, as well. So I got a couple of different .44 loads — a mix of .44sp and .44mag — and put them into the cylinder. They all loaded just fine, the cylinder closed, and there were no problems. Here are a Hornady and a Winchester .44mag round in the cylinder, with one of the Corbon; note the difference:



Next, I got my Colt Anaconda .44 out of the safe. I tried the same ammo in it, and this is what I found:

Exact same problem. So, presumably, it was the Corbon ammo. I removed the rounds from the gun.

And grabbed my digital calipers. I started checking all the dimensions on the Corbon ammo. In fact, I went through and checked several sample cartridges from all five boxes. As far as I could tell, everything was in spec. The cases were the exact correct length. And width, both at the mouth of the case, along the body, and just above the rim. The bullets were the correct diameter. And the over length of the cartridges was well within the normal range of .44magnum rounds.


I set the conundrum aside, so my subconscious could chew it over for a few hours. The likely explanation hit me while taking a shower the next morning. Here, look at the images of the three different rounds mentioned above, and see if you can spot it:

Here’s a hint: the Corbon cartridge is in the center.

Got it?

Yeah, if you look very carefully, you’ll see that the SHAPE of the Corbon bullet is different than the others. Note how it almost swells a bit, going up from the mouth of the case, to about an eighth of an inch, before narrowing down. Whereas the Winchester (on the left) and the Hornady (on the right) both have a smooth ogive right from the mouth of the case until coming to a flat nose (actually, the Hornady, like the Corbon, is a hollow point, but you can’t see that from this image).

So why did this cause the problem?

The explanation requires a bit of detailed knowledge about how a revolver works. If you already know all this, my apologies. For those who may not …

Each chamber in a revolver has to be big enough to accommodate the case of the cartridge. But the bullet is slightly smaller than that, so that it fits inside the cartridge case.

Now, when a chamber on a revolver rotates into position aligned with the barrel, there’s always a chance that it might not be perfectly aligned. Just a few thousandths of an inch misalignment can lead to all kinds of bad things happening, from parts of the bullet being shaved off and spit out the sides of the ‘cylinder gap‘ to the gun going KABOOM in your hand. So revolver manufacturers have come up with two nifty ways to deal with this:

  1. Narrowing the chamber in front of the cartridge case slightly by tapering it.
  2. Having a ‘forcing cone‘ before the barrel that is just a little bit bigger than the bullet, to funnel it into the barrel.

So, the problem with the Corbon ammo was that shape of the bullet in the pic above. Note how it doesn’t smoothly curve in like the other two bullets. Rather, that slight swelling is probably hitting the taper inside the chambers, stopping the cartridge from seating properly.

And before you say that this is a problem with the Taurus being poorly made, note that I ran into the exact same problem with my Anaconda — widely considered a very good quality gun.

Now, the folks at Corbon are smart. I’m sure their engineers actually tested this ammo in some typical .44magnum revolvers. But all it would take is for slight differences (think a couple thousandths of an inch) in the rate or position of that chamber tapering from manufacturer to manufacturer to cause this problem. Chances are, they just didn’t test it in a Taurus .44 of this model, or a Colt Anaconda. It is also possible that this batch of bullets (all five boxes I got are from the same lot — I checked) is just slightly out of spec, but no one has yet noticed it in their guns, because the tolerances in other manufacturers are a little bit different.

Either way, I’m fairly sure that I could just take some sandpaper or a fine file to that slight swelling on the bullets, and they’d fit right into my gun. But first I’m going to wait and see whether I hear back from Corbon about this issue (yeah, I sent them an explanatory email a couple days ago).

Oh, one last thing: in the process of going through all of this, I noticed that the cylinder length (from the front face to the rear face of the cylinder) on the Taurus was 1.625″, or 1 5/8″, whereas the cylinder length on my Anaconda is 1.75″, or 1 3/4″ — an eighth of an inch difference. As I recall, 1.75″ is standard for .44magnum revolvers. Interesting that the Taurus is slightly shorter, and that may indeed have had something to do with the shape of the chambers on the gun.

Edited, 2/27: Just a quick note. I’ve had some friends check other brands of .44mag revolvers. Seems that Smith & Wesson makes theirs with a cylinder length of 1.6875″ (1 11/16th”), and Ruger 1.75″ (1 3/4″). So there’s more variation than I thought.


Jim Downey

February 26, 2020 Posted by | .44 Magnum, .44 Special, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Cunningham Speed Strip

Anyone who has considered a revolver as a self-defense option has confronted the question of whether, and how, to carry spare ammunition for it. Loose cartridges are just a pain to deal with, and take forever to reload. Speedloaders are great, but more than a little bulky. Commercial ‘speed strips’ are less bulky, are commonly available at a reasonable price, and are a big improvement over fumbling with loose rounds, but can still be awkward for reloading quickly. That’s because while they hold six cartridges, they’re difficult to position such that you can load an empty cylinder quickly — the close-packed cartridges actually get in the way. One common trick for using a speed strip is to only put two pairs of cartridges in it, with a gap between the two sets and the last position empty — that way, you can always quickly load two sets of two adjacent chambers in the cylinder of your revolver. This technique is perhaps best known due to defensive revolver guru Grant Cunningham.

Well, after recently taking a class with Grant, and learning this technique, I set out to make a more functional speed strip which would completely and quickly reload any revolver. One that almost anyone can make on their own, with minimal tools and expense, and customized to their revolver, whatever cartridge it shoots and whatever the capacity of the cylinder. I jokingly call it the Cunningham Perfect & Adaptable Speed Strip for Any Revolver regardless of Caliber or Capacity.  More seriously, I’ll refer to it as the Cunningham Speed Strip, (CSS for short.)

Here some pics of what it can look like:

Bianci Speed Strip and custom homemade CSS (for a J-frame).


6 rounds of .38sp.


5 rounds of .38sp and 6 rounds of .44mag.


And this is how you make it.




  • A pair of common pliers
  • A hammer of almost any type
  • A pair of scissors or utility knife

You’ll also need

  • A Heat Source (just about anything from a hair dryer to a blowtorch will do — you’ll see)
  • An empty cartridge case for your revolver
  • A pen or pencil
  • A sheet of paper (really, just a scrap)
  • A scrap piece of heavy cardboard or wood
  • Suitable piece of inexpensive common vinyl (more on this to come)



Select your vinyl. A wide variety of commonly available types of vinyl will work. If you look at the examples above you’ll see a piece from a 1/2″ ID vinyl tube, a piece of vinyl floor runner, and a piece of vinyl sheet used to cover food for microwaving. In other words, a wide variety of vinyl materials are likely to work.

So experiment a little. What you want is to find a vinyl which is flexible (not rigid/brittle) and sufficiently thick to hold cartridges in position, but will easily pull away when you have the cartridges in the chambers of the cylinder. The vinyl tubing is the one I like the most, and is 1/16″ thick. It has a slight tackiness to the surface I like because it makes it easier to use. The vinyl sheet is about one-third that thick, and the vinyl floor runner is somewhere between the two (though a little too flexible for my tastes).

Now, realize that it’s likely that any of these materials will tear after repeated use. These aren’t meant to last forever … but each of my prototypes have held up to at least a dozen uses so far. The idea is that they’re cheap and easy to make and replace.


Cut the vinyl to rough size. You want a working piece that you can trim later. Here’s what the tubing looks like when cutting:

About a 6″ piece of tubing.


Slit along the sides.


Flat section cut out.


Make a paper template. It’s difficult to mark most kinds of vinyl. So the easy thing to do is to make a paper template of what you want. For a J-frame, you want two sets of paired cartridges and one solo, with gaps in between the sets (as shown). For other guns, you may want a different arrangement. But in each case you want to use your empty cartridge case to draw the position of the circles on the paper.  Like so:

Paper template.


Also note that I have a couple of marks showing the approximate ends of the strip. You want a bit of a tab on either end, to make it easy to grab and use the strip. But the final amount (and whether square or rounded off) is entirely up to your preference.


Position the template and vinyl for punching.  Here I recommend that you use either a piece of dense cardboard or a scrap piece of wood. You can tape down the template if you want. But position the template, then lay the strip of vinyl on top of it in alignment with the template.

Position the template.


Heat up the case and/or strip. Again, the source of the heat really won’t matter. It can be a heat gun. Or a warm brick. Or a hair dryer. Whatever you have handy. Now, this may not be necessary. With some vinyls, you don’t need to really heat them up. But I have found that it makes things easier if you do, as the vinyl becomes softer and more pliable. And you can see in the image above that I have a .38sp case positioned in front of a heat gun, to make it even easier.


Position the case and strike with a hammer. If you have heated up the case, or if you’re worried about smacking your fingers with the hammer, the easy thing to do is to pick up the case with a common pair of pliers and then hold it in position. Put the mouth of the case over the vinyl/template in the correct position, then hit the case with the hammer.

How hard to hit, or how many times, will depend. But ideally, you want to have the case punch through the vinyl in a clean and complete way, so you have a small disk of removed vinyl left. This is the advantage of using the case instead of trying to cut the vinyl with a knife or drill bit: you wind up with a good clean cut the *exact* size of the cartridge.


Clean through!


Repeat as many times as necessary. Until you have all the holes punched out.


J-frame layout.


Anaconda layout.


Then trim the strip as desired. Once done, insert loaded cartridges and it’s ready to use.

5 rounds of .38sp and 6 rounds of .44mag.


That’s it!

I thought about patenting this idea, or seeing if I could sell it to some manufacturer. But it seemed like a good thing to just share as an ‘open source’ idea with the firearms/self-defense community so it could be used widely. If you found this instructional post useful in making your own customized speed strips, and would like to contribute a couple of bucks, just send a PayPal donation here:  Proceeds will be shared with Grant Cunningham, who inspired this design.


Jim Downey


December 29, 2019 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .44 Special, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Reprise: The Dark Side of the Force? Black Guns vs. Classic Wood & Steel Models

Caution: this is somewhat political. Again.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for, and it originally ran 3/22/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.


I was having a Facebook chat with a non-shooter friend and at one point I mentioned something to her about firearms. The conversation that ensued got me thinking about the strange emotional divide that exists between “classic” guns made of wood & steel and “black guns” made of polymer, and then ultimately about how the aesthetic appeal of a weapon really influences the public perception of firearms (even helping to dictate public policy in the form of gun control).  Here is an excerpt from our chat that illustrates a bit better exactly what I’m talking about:

Me: I’ve doing the Ballistics by the Inch project for some time now but I’ve also been writing for

FB Friend: O yeah, I forgot you are a gun person. I think guns are lovely.

Yeah, that’s a big aspect of why I’m into them: an appreciation of the engineering and innovation that went into making them.

FB: lol. I meant more than that. But sure.  I think guns bring something gratifying to the table, and I don’t mean in some lame Freudian way. They feel good in the hand, like their heft is sensual almost. They look pretty.  Even the way they come apart and reassemble is also pleasing in a way that’s not only aesthetic, it’s almost physically gratifying.

Me: All true. I think that may be one of the reasons that some people don’t like the so called ‘plastic’ guns. Hmm. Food for thought.

Yeah, metal and wood feels much better than plastic.

There was a time not that long ago when all guns were pretty much one-of-a-kind works of art, created by highly skilled craftsmen for clients willing to pay for their quality.  That is to say, at one time guns were really tools or toys for those Americans with substantial means. In the US, these cottage gunmakers were often located in Pennsylvania or Kentucky, hence the name Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle.

File:John Spitzer - Kentucky Rifle - Walters 511434 - Side B.jpg

This price point exclusivity changed drastically though when the confluence of two major events—the settlement of North America and advent of industrialization—presented a blossoming firearms industry with both the demand for affordable and functional small arms and the means to lower costs and increase production rates.  The resulting market surge flooded the United States with firearms (and gun tycoons’ bank accounts with profits).  It also made American makers like Colt, Winchester, Browning, and Smith & Wesson household names and perhaps represents the genesis of when firearms and American culture and iconography first became enmeshed in the imaginations of so many around the world.

However, not withstanding these historical factors, I think one reason why guns were so readily accepted (and remain largely accepted) by the public, was because, even though 19th and early 20th gun manufacturers experimented widely with design, they still incorporated the older cottage industry thinking when it came to both the level of craftsmanship and the material selection.  After generations of watching small arms “evolve” into something personalized and beautifully crafted, the average person expected guns to have a look that complemented the deadly seriousness of what the weapon was capable of (i.e. killing people) and this meant finer materials and engineering.

Consider this: even the mass-produced Colt Peacekeepers had an elegance and beauty about them with their rounded edges, high quality ornaments and ergonomic versatility. Today revolvers have been generally relegated to role of concealed carry guns and become plainer and more utilitarian—designed for specific function rather than general use by the shooter that owns it.

S&W29 gravé.JPG

It also seems to me that our emotional attachment to wood and steel charts much of our basic firearms vocabulary.  For example, if I say “Dirty Harry” or even just “.44 Magnum” most people will envision something like the S&W Model 29 with a long barrel.  If I say “Tommy Gun,” almost anybody would be able to conjure up an image of a classic Thompson submachine gun.  Even if you say something a little more vague like “hunting rifle,” chances are folks will picture a bolt-action gun, something along the lines of a Remington Model 700.

All of these iconic guns have classic lines and wood stocks. And I would bet most anybody would be able to recognize them to some degree.  This familiarity works to make them “warm,” almost “friendly” in people’s minds.


Now, say “black rifle” and what mental image do you think most people have? Rarely a comforting one.  It’s usually a generic AR-15 or M16, and associated with military weapons (though the term “modern sporting rifle” is how many gun owners refer to them). How about the name “Glock”—which has almost become a generic term for ‘any plastic gun’?  I can tell you with all the bad press Glocks get, the homely little gun doesn’t generate much warmth on looks alone.

Don’t think it’s only people who don’t shoot who are susceptible to these aesthetic judgments. Hell, most gun writers and even owners call Glocks “ugly” – as in “ugly as sin, but very functional.” I’ve done that (see just above) and I’ve even taken the position many times before that I dislike polymer stocks of almost any sort, while I have gone out of my way to praise wood stocks on many guns.

And why not?  If you were planning on buying supposedly a high-end gun, wouldn’t you expect that it would have a nice wood stock? I do. In fact, many premier gun manufacturers offer different quality levels for their wood stocks, with fancy or exotic wood commanding a higher price. And there’s a huge number of after-market manufacturers of grips for all manner of revolvers, not to mention 1911s.

As my Facebook friend said: “Metal and wood feels much better than plastic.”

Overall, this thinking is pretty harmless; most people are smart enough to recognize their aesthetic bias and not import it to other areas of their life. However, in the case of firearms the bias has been, well, weaponized.

One excellent example of this is the absurdity of the Assault Weapons Ban in the early ’90s.  To the thinking of many gun owners, this ban effectively criminalized a certain aesthetic – polymer functionality – while ignoring the more genteel “steel and wood” guns that were no different in terms of firepower or effectiveness.  People who actually understand guns were appalled by the ridiculousness of the AWB’s emphasis on superficial features, but it was passed because of how easy it was to garner support “against these evil (looking) weapons.” Another example was the bullshit stories about a “ceramic Glock” which didn’t contain enough steel parts to be detectable by X-ray machine or metal-detectors.

I’m not saying that firearms manufacturers should get away from the use of polymers. I own a number of guns with polymer stocks, and think that it is decidedly superior for many applications, not the least of which is helping to keep the cost down on many firearms. But I still love the warmth and familiarity of wood stocks, and I think that it is understandable that many people who don’t understand guns, who don’t own them, feel the same way. Historically, that’s what they’re used to.


I’m not going to step any further into the political debate about guns here, and I’m turning comments off for this post.

But I thought that it was important to point out that some of that debate is driven by the aesthetics of guns, and our aesthetic bias is rooted in history and class perceptions. Perceptions that people may not even realize that they hold.


Jim Downey

February 18, 2018 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Review of the finest revolver ever made — the Colt Python

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for, and it originally ran 1/12/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.


Who in their right mind would pay $1,200 . . . $1,500 . . . $2,000 . . . or more for a used production revolver? Lots of people – if it is a Colt Python.

There’s a reason for this. The Colt Python may have been a production revolver, but it was arguably the finest revolver ever made, and had more than a little hand-fitting and tender loving care from craftsmen at the height of their skill in the Colt Custom Shop.

OK, I will admit it – I’m a Python fanboy. I own one with a six-inch barrel, which was made in the early 1980s. And I fell in love with these guns the first time I shot one, back in the early 1970s. That’s my bias. Here’s my gun:


But the Python has generally been considered exceptional by shooters, collectors, and writers for at least a generation. Introduced in 1955, it was intended from the start to be a premium revolver – the top of the line for Colt. Initially designed to be a .38 Special target revolver, Colt decided instead to chamber it for the .357 Magnum cartridge, and history was made.

What is exceptional about the Python? A number of different factors.

First is the look of the gun. Offered originally in what Colt called Royal Blue and nickel plating (later replaced by a polished stainless steel), the finish was incredible. The bluing was very deep and rich, and still holds a luster on guns 40 to 50 years old. The nickel plating was brilliant and durable, much more so than most guns of that era. The vent rib on top of the barrel, as well as the full-lug under, gave the Python a distinctive look (as well as contributing to the stability of shooting the gun). It had excellent target sights, pinned in front (but adjustable) and fully adjustable in the rear.

The accuracy of the Python was due to a number of factors. The barrel was bored with a very slight taper towards the muzzle, which helped add to accuracy. The way the cylinder locks up on a (properly functioning) Python meant that there was no ‘play’ in the relationship between the chamber and the barrel. The additional weight of the Python (it was built on a .41 Magnum frame for strength) helped tame recoil. And the trigger was phenomenally smooth in either double or single action. Seriously, the trigger is like butter, with no staging or roughness whatsoever – it is so good that this is frequently the thing that people remember most about shooting a Python.

The Python had minimal changes through the entire production run (it was discontinued effectively in 1999, though some custom guns were sold into this century). It was primarily offered in four barrel lengths: 2.5-, 4-, 6-, and 8-inch, though there were some special productions runs with a three-inch barrel. Likewise, it was primarily chambered in .357 Magnum, though there were some special runs made in .38 Special and .22 Long Rifle.

The original grips were checkered walnut. Later models had Pachmayr rubber grips. Custom grips are widely available, and very common on used Pythons (such as the cocobolo grips seen on mine).

The Python was not universally praised. The flip side of the cylinder lock-up mechanism was that it would wear and get slightly out-of-time (where the chamber alignment was no longer perfect), necessitating gunsmith work. Mine needs this treatment, and I need to ship it off to Colt to have the work done. And the high level of hand-finishing meant that the Python was always expensive, and the reason why Colt eventually discontinued the line.

If you have never had a chance to handle or shoot a Python, and the opportunity ever presents itself, jump on it. Seriously. There are very few guns that I think measure up to the Python, and here I include even most of the mostly- or fully-custom guns I have had the pleasure of shooting. It really is a gun from a different era, a manifestation of what is possible when craftsmanship and quality are given highest priority. After you’ve had a chance to try one of these guns, I think you’ll begin to understand why they have held their value to a seemingly irrational degree.


On average, for online gun sellers, the Colt Python sells for more than $2,000, but there are occasions where you’ll find it for less than a grand.


The value of the Pythons has continued to rise in the almost six years since I wrote that, and I’m just glad I got it before the market went nuts. I haven’t seen one sell for less than a thousand bucks in years.

I did send my Python off to Colt to have it re-timed before the last of the smiths who had originally worked on the guns retired, and it came back in wonderful condition. I don’t know what all they did to it, but it cost me a ridiculously modest amount of money — like under $100. It was clear that there was still a lot of pride in that product.

Whenever I get together with a group of people to do some shooting, I usually take the Python along and encourage people to give it a try. More than a few folks have told me that it was one of their “Firearms bucket list” items, and I have been happy to give them a chance to check it off. Because, really, everyone who appreciates firearms should have a chance to shoot one of these guns at some point in their lives — it’d be a shame to just leave such a gun in the safe.


Jim Downey

November 7, 2017 Posted by | .22, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Share and share alike — swapping weapons at the range.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for, and it originally ran 6/09/2011. Some additional observations at the end.


Colt Anaconda

“Wow! What the hell was that?”

I smiled, looked over at the young guys two lanes over at the public range. They had been shooting one guy’s Glock 19. I’d kept an eye on them, as I do whenever anyone else is there the same time I am. They’d been safe in how they had handled the gun, how they conducted themselves. “.44 Magnum. Wanna try it?”

“Really?” asked the one guy while the other cleared the Glock, set it down on the bench with the slide open . We were the only people on the pistol side of the range. They came walking over.

I popped the spent casings from the cylinder, dropped them in a plastic bag. Leaving the cylinder open, I handed my Anaconda to the first guy. “Sure. Ever shot a revolver?”

* * * * * * *

I don’t often go shooting at the public range. Oh, it’s close to my house and therefore convenient, but I also belong to a private club about the same distance away. However, now and then I’ll want to get out to do some shooting, but the private club will be reserved for training/classes, so I’ll slip out to the State range for a bit of recoil therapy. It’s a nice set-up, with concrete paving and nice large concrete shooting benches/tables under protection from the weather.

When I do go there, in addition to what I want to get some practice with, I’ll usually take along something a little bit unusual. Maybe a flintlock. Or the Anaconda. A derringer. My Sub2000. Something most people don’t see regularly.

It gives me an excuse to talk to people, if they express an interest in whatever it is I have with me.

* * * * * * *

“Ever shot a revolver?”

“Um, no,” said the first guy. He looked at his buddy. His buddy looked at me, shook his head.

“Well,” I said, “they’re old-school, but a lot of people still like ‘em. They’re simpler to shoot in some ways, and you can get more power in a revolver than most semis. ”

“Is this the gun that Dirty Harry used?” asked the second guy, holding the gun that his buddy had passed to him.

“Close. This is a Colt Anaconda. Dirty Harry had a Smith & Wesson Model 29. But they’re the same caliber – both .44 Magnums – and about the same size.” I took the gun back, gave them a quick lesson in how it worked, how to shoot it safely. I started ‘em with light practice loads, then a cylinder of full magnums.

A few minutes later they were both grinning like kids on Christmas.

* * * * * * *

It’s not so much that I want to meet people. There are plenty of ways to do that, and I have a lot of friends and acquaintances.

Rather, it’s a way of sharing something I know about and enjoy. Maybe do a little teaching. Maybe do a little learning. I do know a bit about guns, but there’s always more to learn.

And usually I find that if I offer to let people try my guns out, they’ll return the favor. I don’t care how good a collection you have – no one has everything.

* * * * * * *

The boom of the last full-house .44 Magnum echoed around us as the fellow opened the cylinder and handed my gun back to me. Like I said, he and his buddy were grinning like crazy.

“Man, that was great! Thanks!”


“Wanna try my Glock?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.” I’ve shot plenty of Glocks before, and own a couple in .45 ACP, so this was nothing new to me. But it was a way of showing my respect for these guys.

We walked over to their lane. He handed me the third-generation Glock 19. It’d been well used, but seemed to be in pretty good shape. “It’s my concealed carry gun.”

“Nice. Good gun for that.”

“Thanks,” he said. I swear, he stood a little taller.

* * * * * * *

Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. I haven’t been to shooting ranges at a lot of places elsewhere in the country. But here, whenever you go out shooting with people, everyone has to try everything. And if people seem sane at the range, many times I’ve seen folks share guns with strangers. Yeah, you wanna be a bit careful about who you hand your guns over to, but if they’ve been dangerous or inept, I’ll usually find a reason to not stick around the range very long anyway.

I’m curious – how is it in your neck of the woods? Do people share? Do you offer to let others try your guns, or ask to try theirs?


When I originally wrote this, I hadn’t yet been to New Zealand. But as noted in this series I did for, I discovered that sharing guns with strangers is common there as well. And since then I have also been out to other parts of the US, and seen much the same. It’s not always the case, and as noted above you have to exercise some judgment, but it seems to be a fairly widespread practice. I consider this to be a good thing.

Jim Downey

July 2, 2017 Posted by | .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: It’s Not the Length of Your Barrel, It’s How You Use It

My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. This is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for, and it originally ran 3/7/2011. Some additional observations at the end.


“What is the best barrel length?”

It’s a question I get a lot, thanks to my involvement in Ballistics By The Inch. And invariably, I say in response: “it depends.” As in, it depends on what you’re going to use it for.

OK, first thing: I’m talking about pistol cartridges, not rifle cartridges. Got that? Pistol cartridges.

That’s what we studied with our BBTI project (actually, continue to study, since we’ve done several expansions of the cartridges and ammunition tested already, and have another big expansion coming up the beginning of May.) Now that we’ve cleared that up . . .

Different barrel lengths are good for different purposes. The longer the barrel, the longer the sight radius, and so the easier it is to be accurate with the gun. The shorter the barrel, the easier it is to conceal.

And barrel length has an effect on the velocity of a bullet (and hence the power of that bullet.) How much of an effect? Well, it depends.

No, seriously, it depends. Do not believe it when someone tells you “oh, the rule of thumb is about 75 (or 25 or 100 or any other number) feet per second for each inch of barrel.” That number may be right for one given ammunition in one given gun for one given inch of barrel length – but it will not hold true as a general case. Don’t just take my word on this – look at the actual numbers from tests we conducted, using almost 10,000 rounds of ammunition. You can go to the BBTI site and see the data for yourself (it’s all free, with no advertising or anything), but here are two examples:

Cor Bon 165gr JHP +P .45 ACP ammo was tested at 1001 fps with a 2″ barrel. That jumps to 1050 fps with a 3″ barrel, or an increase of about 50 fps. Going to a 4″ barrel you get 1163 fps, or an increase of 113 fps. But when you go from an 10″ barrel to a 11″ barrel, you only get an increase of 23 fps.

Let’s look at Federal Hydra-Shok 230gr JHP .45 ACP. It starts at 754 fps with a 2″ barrel, and jumps to 787 fps out of a 3″ barrel – an increase of 33 fps.  Go to the 4″ barrel and it tested at 865 fps – an increase of 78 fps. And when you go from an 10″ barrel to a 11″ barrel, you only get an increase of 4 fps.

Do you see my point? It not only varies by ammunition, it also varies by which inch of the barrel you are talking about – the inch between 3 and 4 sees a lot more increase than the inch between 10 and 11.

Almost all handgun cartridges show this effect, and it makes sense: pistol cartridges use a fast burning powder, but it still needs a little bit of time to completely combust. The highest acceleration comes at first, and then usually handgun bullets plateau out somewhere between 6″ and 10″, with little additional velocity with longer barrels past that point. The graph of our first example shows this very well:

Some cartridges even show velocity starting to drop off with longer barrels, as the friction of the bullet passing through the barrel overcomes any additional boost from the gunpowder. Notably, the “magnum” cartridges (.327, .357, .41, and .44) all show a continued climb in velocity/power all the way out to 18″ of barrel length (the maximum we test), though the amount of increase tends to get smaller and smaller the longer the barrel.

So, back to “it depends”: if you want a lever-gun or carbine, which uses a pistol cartridge, you’re best off using one of the magnums if you want maximum power. If, however, you want to use a carbine for an additional power boost and better aiming, one with a barrel length somewhere in the “plateau” for a given cartridge makes sense (and this is why subguns typically have barrels in the 8 – 10″ range).

For a hunting pistol, you probably want to have a barrel of 6″ to 8″ to get a lot of the additional power and still have it manageable. This barrel length will also give you a nice big sight radius for accuracy, making it good for hunting or target shooting.

How about for concealed carry? The shorter the barrel, the better, right? Well, if you look through all our data, you’ll see that usually, most cartridges see the greatest jump in velocity (and hence power) from 2″ to 4″. Now, the smaller the caliber and the lighter the bullet, the more the big jump tends to come right up front – from 2″ to 3″. The larger the caliber and the heavier the bullet, the more it tends to come a little later, from 3″ to 4″. Still, you can decide for yourself whether the trade-off in less power for ease of carry is worth it.

And good news for the revolver fans: because the cylinder basically functions to extend the barrel, your 2″ snubby actually functions more like a gun with a 3.5″ – 4″ barrel. Though there is some velocity/power loss due to the cylinder gap. How much loss? That is actually the next thing we’ll be testing, but I’d bet that . . . it depends.


Since I wrote that six years ago, we’ve done a LOT more testing at BBTI, and have now shot more than 25,000 rounds and greatly expanded our data. The cylinder gap tests mentioned above did indeed show that the amount of loss did vary according to a number of factors, but for the most part established that the effect wasn’t as large as many people thought. And we found an interesting exception to the “magnum” rule in one of our most recent tests: it turns out that the .45 Super cartridge behaves like a true magnum, by continuing to gain more power the longer the barrel, until at carbine lengths it is on a par with (or even exceeds) the .460 Rowland cartridge. Since the .45 Super is based on the .45 ACP cartridge, we expected it to perform like that cartridge and level off at about 10″, but it clearly continues to gain out to at least 18″.

I also want to add a couple of quick comments about how concealed-carry guns have changed, though this is more just personal observation than any kind of rigorous research. I think that as concealed-carry has continued to expand, more gear is on the market to make it easier to do, and I think for that reason some people are able to carry slightly larger guns and there are more guns available with barrel length in the 4″ – 5″ range. In addition, sight/optics/laser options have continued to improve, making simple sight radius less of a factor — meaning that for those who do want to carry a smaller gun, it is easier to use it well (though having better sights/optics/lasers is NOT a substitute for practice!) I expect that both these trends will continue.

Jim Downey

March 26, 2017 Posted by | .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Security on a budget.

If you’ve got a couple thousand dollars available, it’s relatively easy to select one or more firearms for home defense, or for your bug-out bag, or what have you. You’ve got plenty of choices, and just need to sort through the options available and find the gun(s) which best fit your needs.

But what if you only have a couple hundred bucks?

A good used pump shotgun will serve most people pretty well for home defense. But what if you want something more compact for your bug-out bag or emergency kit? Then your options are much more limited, and you have to prioritize. You have to decide just what you want your firearm to be able to do, and then see what is available to best meet those goals.

This is one such solution. By no means do I think that it is the only solution. But how I went through the decision-making process and then how I put it into practice might provide some insights.

I wanted a fairly versatile firearm for an emergency kit, the sort of thing which could get taken along on a long drive, or to have when vacationing away from home. I wasn’t thinking of the firearm as a combat weapon, but something which would be suitable for emergency hunting or self-defense. I wanted it to be compact, reliable, and with a wide enough selection of loadings* (whether factory or my own reloads) to meet a range of uses from hunting small game to protecting against large predators.

After thinking it over, I decided to look for a good used .357 magnum revolver, with a 3 – 5″ barrel. I didn’t already have such a handgun, so it would also give me a chance to fill in a gap in my collection. After some shopping around, I found a 40 year-old Ruger Security Six with a 4″ barrel in my price range. The gun looked and felt mechanically sound, but was kinda beat-up. There was a fair amount of holster wear on the bluing. The walnut grips had been abused, with scratches and part of the bottom finger groove broken away. The bore looked fine, but there was a lot of built-up lead around the forcing cone, and the trigger and cylinder barely moved from what felt like built-up gunk.

I decided to take a chance, and brought it home. Yesterday I had the time to take it apart and completely rework it. What I found was that while the gun had been reasonably well cared-for, seemingly no one had ever bothered to do more than just a basic quick cleaning. I pried out/off about a 1/16″ layer of accumulated dirt, burnt powder residue, and old oil from most of the internal surfaces, particularly around the trigger assembly. Little wonder it felt almost frozen in place. I went ahead and did a thorough cleaning of the rest of the gun, and was even able to remove the lead deposits with minimal work.

The grips were first slightly reconfigured with a wood file then sanded thoroughly. I refinished them to a satin finish for slightly better tactile control.

Here’s how the gun looks now:



It’s not gorgeous. It could certainly stand to be reblued, or at least have the bluing touched-up. But I’m not going to worry about it — for my needs, it’s just fine as it is now.

The moral of the story is to think through what you want your firearm to do, then do your research to see what the range of choices are. Shop around. If you have modest skills with hand tools, you should be able to make dramatic improvements in the performance & appearance of a gun (perhaps with some help from online videos and instruction).

Good luck!


Jim Downey

*Ammo Selection I will keep on hand for this gun in the emergency kit (representative examples):



June 5, 2016 Posted by | .357 Magnum, Discussion., Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment