THE DRAGON GUN

June 10, 2009

MARC KREBS CREATES A FIRE-SPEWING STEEL DRAGON

By RONI TOLDANES

Drag’on (drag-ɘn) n. [Latin dracon, draco]: A huge serpent; a mythical animal usually represented as a monstrous winged and scaly reptile breathing out fire.

dragongunThe definition above is from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the accepted authority on the language of English. Now, here is a definition from accepted authorities in shooting:

dragon (drag-ɘn) n. [Latin dracon, draco]: A gorgeous animal represented by smooth lines and expansion chambers; breathing out fire and spewing full metal jackets.

To the layman this may be a confusing definition, but it’s the only way we can describe this gun cre­ated by Marc Krebs. Incredible pistol­smithing artistry has made Krebs one of the country’s most popular gunsmiths.

This gun reflects the absolute latest in handgun tech­nology, but we won’t tell you right away what com­ponents were utilized. In order to appreciate this masterpiece, we have to understand the creator and what inspired him to build this fire-breathing steel sculpture.

FAMILY OF ARTISTS

Marc Krebs, 40, came from a family of artists. That explains why most of his customers consider his custom guns as works of art. “I’m a combination of 60% gun­smith, 30% machinist and 10% artist,” he says.

Krebs was born in Seattle, Washington but grew up in Northern California. He admits to having been the “bad kid” on the block. The early chapter of his teenage story, he says, “wasn’t something parents would be totally proud of.”

But despite his early failures in life, Krebs pursued his dreams. “Early in my childhood, I was totally fascinated with dinosaurs and then later on with knights in armor,” he says. “Then I started liking guns.”

Krebs attended a gunsmithing course at Lassen Col­lege in Susanville, California, where he exhibited excep­tional gunsmithing aptitudes. One day, Krebs surprised his teacher with an unusual 9mm semi-auto carbine that he built “from scratch.”

Designed to perform like the famous Israeli-made UZI, the gun was all-original, except for the barrel. “I was thrilled,” he says, “because I thought it was really something that would take the country by storm.”

Krebs lightened the slide for a flawless function even with super-light steel loads. This was accomplished without compromising the slide’s structural integrity. Krebs sliced off nearly an inch of the frontal area to expose the Schuemann hybrid barrel. He then carved the “dragon eyes” on both sides of the slide. Photos by Y.Sued

Krebs lightened the slide for a flawless function even with super-light steel loads. This was accomplished without compromising the slide’s structural integrity. Krebs sliced off nearly an inch of the frontal area to expose the Schuemann hybrid barrel. He then carved the “dragon eyes” on both sides of the slide. Photos by Y.Sued

Like a bubble, however, Krebs’s dream of mass-pro­ducing the carbine burst. He failed to get any financier to fund his ideas, but he didn’t fail his gunsmithing class either. Instead, he received high grades for his ingenuity. And his gun became a portfolio that he presented when applying for work.

Krebs became a gunsmith for a gun store in Illinois until he decided it was time to build his own name. Backed by a $50,000 bank loan, Krebs established his custom gun shop in 1984 with the help of his wife, Virginia. And in just a few years, he was able to build a solid reputation. Like Ferrari sports cars, guns churned out by the Marc Krebs Custom Shop in Vernon Hills, Illinois are not only aerodynamically-designed, but are also reliable speedsters.

We’ve heard so many astonishing stories about Marc Krebs, that one we challenged him to design a special gun. We requested a piece that would allow Krebs to showcase not only his technical grasp of the latest in firearms technol­ogy and fabrication techniques, but also his flair for the artistic and the daring.

Krebs accepted the challenge. He vowed to build a no-holds-barred, to-hell-with-the-cost super steel gun. It had to be a gun the best shooters could confidently use to win world steel-shooting championships. And it had to be different.

“It’s going to be wild, man. Totally extreme,” Krebs promised.

THE MAKING OF A DRAGON

True enough, the Krebs creation is a marvelous sculpture that could only be produced by the most meticulous of arti­sans. A centerfold gun that reflects the finest components in handgun technology as only a master gunsmith could render.

Krebs scalloped the aluminum STI extended-dust-cover frame to form sharp fangs, transforming the dust cover’s front­end into the menacing lower jaw of a carnivorous reptile. What a beast!

Krebs also chopped a sizeable chunk off the top of the STI slide where he machined the dragon’s mouth and engraved the upper teeth with a small chisel. This exposed a portion of the Schuemann hybrid barrel, its top ports resembling dor­sal fins on the head of a mythical creature.

A small pin threads its way under the mouth and pro­ceeds downward into the dustcover’s front-end, where Krebs created a small track. While in battery, the barrel presses down and tracks on the dust cover – an aesthetic design that also enhances accuracy.dragon3

The gunsmith’s exquisite attention to detail is very evi­dent. He engraved the eyes on the slide and punched nos­trils into the hybrid barrel without harming its grooves.

This design tames recoil by working this way: As the pro­jectile exits the barrel, the muzzle-blast gas expands and initially exits from the Schuemann Hybrid’s upper ports before finally jetting out through the left and right nostrils.

This gun is not only functional but also visually appeal­ing.

When the slide is racked back, the front-end provides the appearance of a dragon with its grisly mouth wide open.

For rapid acquisition of targets, Krebs mounted a C-­More red-dot sight, enhancing the gun’s high-tech appeal. The entire gun weighs less than 1.75 pounds and, when held in hand, feels lighter than a coffee cup. The secret to this brew was Kreb’s recipe of light but sturdy materials.

The Caspian grip safety is aluminum, along with the magazine well, which was attached over the existing mag well’s open­ing to increase support for the palm heel. Even the guide rod was fabricated from featherweight Teflon with Shok-buffs on both ends.

To reduce lock-time, Krebs used a Heinie titanium hammer. This material ensures positive ignition, even with the use of old primers. And since the frame rails are also made of aluminum, our featured gunsmith asked Krieger’s Acc­u-Rails to install their system, which ensures a consistent and tight slide-to-frame fit – a necessity to maintaining accu­racy in competition guns with red-dot sights.

The barrel tracks on the extended dust cover, instead of the front of the slide. When the barrel moves back during cycling, it slides with the tooth assembly that is attached to the rail below the dust cover. Photos by Y.Sued

The barrel tracks on the extended dust cover, instead of the front of the slide. When the barrel moves back during cycling, it slides with the tooth assembly that is attached to the rail below the dust cover. Photos by Y.Sued

Krebs lightened the rear portion of the slide with ser­rations cut at a 20-degree angle. This does not affect the overall capacity of the gun to handle steel loads. Trigger pull is light and very crisp, and does not sacrifice the igni­tion reliability of each hammer strike. The entire gun was finished in super-hard, super-durable Metaloy plating for long-lasting protection.

As a superb finishing touch, Krebs wedged a small piece of metal under the dust cover, making this dragon appear to be sticking our his two-pronged tongue.

This steel gun is very accurate and can hold “groups of under an inch at 25 yards,” Krebs assures us. It’s the kind of gun that doesn’t only offer you the racer’s edge, it also gives you a hyper degree of excitement.

You’ll be overcome by a burning desire to show this rare breed of steel animal to your friends at the range. They might even say that this beauty is the product of a man with a fertile imagination. And it’s true.

As a child, Marc Krebs played with plastic dinosaurs. As a grown man, he plays with steel dragons – fire-spew­ing steel dragons.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)

KREBS GUNSMITHING, INC.

940 Forest Edge Drive, Vernon Hills, IL 60061

(847) 821-7763


Poetry in Cold Steel

June 10, 2009

‘THE EDGE’ RACE RIFLE

By Roni Toldanes

RND-rifleLloyd De Santis watched as a shooter lifted the rifle from the display table during a recent gun show.

“I’ve heard many good things about this .223,” said the shooter, gently rubbing his left hand on the colorful and smooth receiver of the new rifle called The Edge. “So when is the new .308 version coming out?”

De Santis flashed a smile and replied, “You’re holding it.”

As owner of the Colorado-based RND Manufacturing, De Santis is accustomed to this reaction toward his race rifles. For several years his company has established a reputation for churning out high-quality .223 rifles. They are the kind of rifles that top shooters use in 3-Gun action shooting tournaments.

Competition shooters are known to be a picky bunch. They buy factory-produced rifles only to bring them to a custom riflesmith for a complete re-work and installation of aftermarket race parts. RND guns are designed just for that meticulous clientele. Each part that must be replaced and every “accurizing” necessary for improved performance have already been blended into the rifle before it leaves the factory.

In 1995, IPSC Grandmaster Benny Hill won the rifle champi­onship at the USPSA 3-Gun Nationals with a .223-chambered The Edge. A year later, top shooter Michael Voigt won the overall national championship also using an RND rifle. At the 1996 Masters’ Long Range Rifle event, The Edge was again the victorious gun in the capable hands of Team Caspian’s Bruce Piatt.

Most 3-Gun action shooters prefer the .223 caliber because its lighter recoil allows them to fire faster shots during timed events. But for high-power rifle competitions, the .223 is not the ideal caliber. So De Santis faced the challenge of building another rifle capable of handling bigger ammo similar to the .308 but with proven features like its .223 predecessor. He went back to the drawing board and, after a few months, finally produced his .308 version.

“We actually started from zero,” says De Santis. “The only things that we didn’t manufacture were the trigger group and the barrel.”

Produced by the Oregon-based Pac-nor, the barrel features button rifling, the method of choice in the accuracy arena. Unlike the three other methods of making barrels (broach, cut and ham­mer forged), button rifling produces a mirror-like internal finish that gives the bullet a smooth travel area. This results in consis­tent and accurate hits.

Pac-nor handlapped the massive 20-inch barrel to produce an outstanding surface finish and uniform groove dimensions prior to shipping it to the RND plant, where it was then cham­bered and throated.

The huge tube originally measured one-inch at the muzzle end. De Santis fluted the barrel to reduce weight, improve cooling and maintain rigidity. And because the .308 barrel is heavier than its .223 counterpart, De Santis designed a stronger hexag­onal receiver.

The RND rifle’s upper and lower receivers were machined from a solid piece of aluminum to achieve tight tolerances. The two parts underwent handfitting, preventing unwanted movement that might distract the shooter when the rifle is fired.

Internally, De Santis attacked the trigger assembly by setting it at 3-pounds. While top shooters prefer a light two-pound trigger, he chose a slightly heavier pull to prevent any acci­dental discharge. Despite this setting, the trigger breaks without take-up or over-travel.

Externally, the .308 version is almost identical to its .223 coun­terpart. This offers the multi-gun shooter a unique advantage. He can shoot the .223 rifle and the .308 rifle at different shoot­ing events using the same shooting style and stance. While other shooters would have to learn how to shoot a .223 AR-15 and a .308 bolt-action rifle, RND gun owners don’t have to because their two guns have almost identical dimensions.

Mike Voigt, winner of the 1996 USPSA 3-Gun Nationals, says that among the potpourri of features in this rifle are the handguard vents that allow the barrel’s heat to dissipate under the gun. The vents, Voigt says, reduce the possibility of having a “mirage effect” that may irk the shooter while peeping through his scope, thereby producing inaccurate hits.

Voigt singled out the straight line movement of the RND’s semi-auto bolt as the ideal configuration for high-power shoot­ing. Unlike other .308 rifles such as the M1A and the M-14, the RND rifle produces less muzzle flip because the gun recoils in a straight line directly towards the shoulder.

“Because this gun doesn’t kick as hard, you can spend more time ‘reading the wind’ and trying to achieve better shots,” Voigt says. “And since you don’t have to work the bolt, you can shoot the gun faster when wind conditions are most favorable.”

De Santis knows that a good part of the equation to achieve an accurate rifle is selecting an appropriate handle, or stock, that fits the shooter. He installed an adjustable butt stock, allowing shoot­ers with long arms to extend the butt by an inch and a half. With a perfect fit, the user gets better hits. There’s no pulling of the shoulders that can cause muscle tension and inaccurate shots.

The butt plate comes with a Pachmayr rubber stock to help cush­ion recoil. It was installed on a dovetail that allows it to be moved up and down. It’s a great advantage for shooters who intend to use the rifle for both offhand and prone shooting. The camber is also adjustable to accommodate both the southpaws and right­handed shooters. And for additional comfort, De Santis installed a polyurethane rubber grip from Stock Options.

De Santis manufactured a higher and thicker charging handle to give the shooter a full-knuckle finger grip. He also created a flat-top Weaver mount, which he elevated, making it eas­ier for the shooter to position his eye relative to the eyepiece. Extractor and ejector parts have been polished and fitted, as are all other contact surfaces. And an RND titanium firing pin was installed to provide more reliable ignition and a slight edge in lock-time

De Santis lightened the hammer for faster travel. He created several slots on the handguard, allowing the shooter to install a bipod without any restriction on the adjustment level.

Another excellent feature was the removal of the roll pin that holds both ends of the lever and the bolt catch release. It was replaced with a set screw that permits the user to remove the bolt without “beating up” the gun.

After the internal modifications were completed, De Santis gave the gun a racy external look with different colors, mainly “to get away from the nasty assault rifle look.”

Bruce Piatt, the 1996 Masters Long Range Rifle champion, says RND rifles “function flawlessly every time” during the heat of competition. “And they look like high-tech mountain bikes.”

You can clearly see the blue, black and silver colors so you probably think this rifle was painted, right? Wrong. Those col­orful parts, made of hard aluminum, were subjected to a process called “oxidalic plating.”

“The colors were grown from the metal through oxidation,” says Piers Wiggett of PK Selective Metal Plating in Santa Clara, California. “The colors have become part of the metal so you can’t rub ‘em off.”

“I call this my urban camouflage,” De Santis says with an imp­ish smile. “When it’s inside a car, no one will think it’s a real gun.”

This handsome rifle, indeed, is poetry in cold steel.

De Santis dreams of the day when someone will eventually conquer Camp Perry, the world’s most prestigious long-range rifle tournament, using The Edge rifle.

The .223 version has proven itself as a successful rifle in the world’s toughest action shooting events. And most of the country’s top shooters agree that it’s only a matter of time before the .308 starts winning at major long-range rifle shooting tournaments.

Champion rifle shooter Benny Hill compares his experience of shooting other high-power rifles to the severe torture one gets from driving a dilapidated Volkswagen Beetle that failed to pass the California emission tests. “But shooting an RND rifle is like cruising around the city on board a sleek Mercedes Benz,” Hill says with a grin.

We must agree. Like a luxury car, this RND race rifle delivers unparalleled performance, comfort and reliability in one neat package – straight from the factory.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


An Old West Stunner

June 10, 2009

OGLESBY’S RUGER VAQUERO

By RONI TOLDANES

A true artist is not bound by his materials. Someone with gen­uine artistic talent can make something exquisite using lack­luster pieces, but he can also take something that’s beauti­ful to start with and turn it into an even more breathtaking piece of art.

That is especially true with those artists who dabble in steel. Bill Oglesby is one of those artists. He builds single-action guns that would make every Old West aficionado proud.

Oglesby’s thoroughbreds take life as inexpensive fac­tory guns.

Under Oglesby’s hands, single-actions are cus­tom-tuned and transformed into pistols that are indeed fun to show off to friends or for shooting in Cowboy Action tournaments.

When we commissioned Oglesby to build a centerfold gun, he picked the popular Ruger Vaquero. Sin­gle-actions bearing the Ruger brand are great for cowboy shooting because of their inherent safety features, includ­ing the company’s patented transfer bar mechanism that prevents accidental discharge.

The single-action’s mys­tique is such that it brings to mind images of cattle drives, gamblers wearing Stetson hats, and gunslingers on Main Street.

oglesbyfinalMore than a century after its invention, the revolv­ing pistol’s appeal remains an enigma. Experts say this appeal lies in its extreme sim­plicity, its appearance and its nice feel in the hand.

As legend has it, Samuel Colt designed his first sin­gle-action revolver as a mid­shipman aboard the brig Corvo, which set sail for Cal­cutta, India, from Boston in August of 1830. During the long voyage home, the 17­year-old boy noticed the ship’s wheel and windlass. In the operation of both devices, movement is sometimes halted and the equipment secured by special locking devices. Colt realized that these revolving and locking features could be adapted to a revolving-cylinder firearm with a single, fixed barrel.

After years of experimentation, Colt received his first patent on February 25,1836. He then enlisted investors and formed a man­ufacturing company in Paterson, New Jersey. About one year after Colt’s company began operations, Paterson models hit the market. From that day on, single-actions have always been carried with five rounds loaded, with the hammer resting on an empty chamber.

The world of single-actions began to change in 1973 when Sturm, Ruger & Co., Colt’s major competitor in the U.S., introduced its Blackhawk models, which were equipped with transfer bars. Previously, all Rugers operated the same as the Colt Single Action. The Ruger transfer bar mechanism made it safe to carry a single-action with a full complement of six rounds in the cylinders.

The Vaquero shown here was also based on the mech­anism of the Ruger New Model Blackhawk. Oglesby enhanced this Vaquero’s per­formance by lightening its trigger to provide a 2.5­-lb. trigger pull. Smooth as only a fine single-action can be hand-fitted.

Oglesby adjusted the loading gate, hand-polished the cylinder stop leads, lapped the barrel and installed an extra-power cylinder stop spring.

Oglesby hand-lapped and sized the pistol’s chambers. He replaced the Ruger fac­tory leaf-type springs with his own variable rate springs. With the factory hammer and bolt springs replaced, cocking the hammer suddenly felt as smooth as slicing butter with a sharp knife.

Those custom improve­ments are included in the Los Vaqueros Package offered by the Oglesby shop in Spring­field, Illinois. Oglesby makes three sets of modifications on the stock Ruger Vaquero.

You can go up to the elegant Signature Grade Package, which includes check­erings on the ejector rod and the pistol’s loading gate. The top-of-­the-line package comes with a custom cryo-accurized barrel.

The principle behind the mechanism of a revolver is quite sim­ple. Multiple chambers turn around an axis and are aligned with the barrel.

Early revolvers were generally rotated and locked by hand, but virtually all revolvers since the Colt Paterson design operate in the following fashion: While the hammer is being pulled back — either manually or by compression on the trigger — a hand or pawl extends from the frame and makes contact with a ratchet-like star at the rear of the cylin­der.

This turns the cylinder to align the next chamber with the barrel. With most fac­tory single-actions, however, perfect and consistent align­ment between each of the several chambers and the barrel is almost impossible to achieve.

That’s why Oglesby’s cus­tom improvements, includ­ing the lapping work on cylinders, make single-actions much more reliable. Oglesby fitted and hardened and cus­tom-timed the cylinder stop of this centerfold Vaquero to ensure consistent align­ment between each of the chambers and the barrel.

Oglesby, a well-known exhibition shooter, also offers several custom parts for the Ruger Vaquero, including a competition-grade strut assembly, adjustable over­travel on the hammer and on the trigger, and a speed bolt.

Straight from the factory, this Ruger Vaquero came in stainless steel. The Vaquero’s stainless model has the appearance of a classic nickel­-plated pistol. Early versions were sort of satiny, instead of showing a nickel-plated fin­ish. The only difference you can tell between a nickel fin­ish and Ruger’s new stain­less is a slight nuance of color; one is more silvery than the other. But the only time you can see the difference is by putting them side by side.

With Ruger’s new polish, there’s no problem of flaking, a distinct weakness with nickel plating. Ruger Vaqueros pass the strict rules imposed in Cowboy Action Shooting.

Vaquero revolvers have been equipped with a rounded blade front sight with no ramp and a fixed notch rear sight in a groove on the top strap. The Vaquero is available in two classic calibers – .44-40 Win. and .45 Long Colt – but is also offered in .44 Magnum caliber.

The .44-Magnum was Oglesby’s caliber of choice as it provides an option for the shooter to load the gun with the lighter-kicking .44-Special ammunition.

To complete his custom work, Oglesby replaced the factory rosewood grips with stag horn grips, which blended well with the shiny stainless finish.

Oglesby assigned Larry Hopewell of Taos, New Mex­ico, to transform the revolver into a museum-quality pis­tol. Hopewell, 60, has been an engraver for 28 years and has also done engraving work for knife collectors. Hopewell recently weaved his masterful artwork on a new model Colt, which went on the auction block at the Golden Boot Awards in Hol­lywood for $11,400.

While most people would not consider a rifle, shotgun, or pistol a piece of art, when these items pass through the hands of master engravers they become more than the sum of their parts. With engraving, guns can be admired, not for what they are fundamentally, but rather for having risen above their intended purpose.

Hopewell engraved this gun with half-coverage classic Colt Single Action design. The engraving wrapped half of the 7 ½-inch barrel, includ­ing its muzzle end. This embellishment gave justice to the pistol’s accuracy.

Bill Oglesby’s custom Ruger Vaquero consistently fires groups of within an inch at 50 yards. It’s a quick-shootin’ single-action that’s not only utterly gorgeous. It’s “the gun that would have won the West.”

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


SMITH & WESSON’S EIGHT OUTGUNS SIX

June 10, 2009

Performance Center’s Model 627 8-shot .357-Magnum

By RONI TOLDANES

When people at cock­tail parties discuss alco­holic beverages and mention the word Mag­num, they mean a very large wine bottle. But when they talk about guns and drop the same word, they usually mean the big-bore wheelgun with a thundering blast.

That’s the stereotyped image of the .357-Magnum, a reputation that could have been brought about in recent years by the “Dirty Harry” go-­ahead-make-my-day movies.

Smith&WessonfinalAnd this reputation isn’t entirely without basis.

Smith & Wesson developed the .357-Magnum in 1935. Its first pro­duction revolver for the cartridge was given to J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The manu­facturer promoted the .357-Magnum then as “the most important hand­gun caliber developed in the 20th century … because it introduced the higher power that were unknown before in handguns.”

During the past 60 years, .357-Magnum revolvers ranked among the top choices for home defense and were mainly carried by law enforcement officers who disliked semi-autos. Since then, the gun’s design and features have virtually remained the same.

As the shooting circuit matured through the years, custom-made revolvers that looked like space guns began appearing at major tour­naments. Custom gunsmiths took advantage of the absence of factory-­produced competition revolvers and began crafting their own wheelgun designs based on stock revolvers.

This formed the groundwork for a new project by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center. They aimed to produce a modern version of the revolver that would finally quench the thirst of competition shooters. It needed to have more than six rounds in the cylinder.

The result is the Model 627, the hottest competition revolver to ever come out of the Smith & Wesson Performance Center.

The Model 627 is a .357-Magnum based on the venerable N-frame. It comes in two models: An “Open” version that includes a built­-in compensator and red-dot optics and a “Limited” version for those who want to race without all the bells and whistles. In car racing they would be the Formula One and the Stock Car versions.

Competition shooters discovered many years ago that the .357-Mag­num revolver, when loaded with .38 Special ammunition, was ideal for action shooting tournaments.

But why .38 Special? Well, because it offers the speed shooter the ability to perform a faster reload in the heat of competition. Other loads such as the .38-Super jiggle when mounted on moonclips, while .38 Special ammo fit rigidly. Without this undesirable jiggling, the shooter can line up his ammunition into the charge holes faster when he per­forms his speed reloads. And this is where the Model 627 becomes really handy.

The 627 accepts moonclips, an indispensable equipment for competitive shooters who appreciate the significance of saving precious microseconds during speed reloads.

Competition shooters also realize that while the .357 Magnum is a great load for self-defense, it is way too powerful for the ballistic require­ments of sports shooting. The .38 Special’s case is more than adequate to handle the elevated pressure requirements necessary to drive the hottest revolver compensators in the shooting circuit today.smith&wesson8bb

Since the Model 627 was built to withstand sizzling Magnum loads, it should have no problem firing even the hottest high-performance .38 Special reloads.

But it is the 627′s eight-shot configuration that makes many revolver action shooters salivate. Eight shots provide the extra fire­power they need to be competitive in action shooting tournaments.

In matches organized by the International Practical Shooting Con­federation (IPSC), where courses of fire are traditionally designed with 8-round strings per shooting location, an eight-shot revolver sets the wheelgunner on almost equal footing with competitors who use semi-autos.

Gone are the days of time-consuming standing reloads. Just like his semi-auto competitors, the revolver shooter can now perform his reloads as he moves from one shooting box to another instead of performing it while in a fixed position.

In Steel Challenge competition, where revolver shooters shoot at five steel targets per run, the Model 627 allows the shooter to recover his misses with three extra rounds in the cylinder. This definitely lev­els the playing field between revolver and semi-auto steel shooters.

The Performance Center knows that the shooting sports arena is the racetrack of future street guns. This is where radical firearms concepts are designed and tested before they reach the blueprint stage of the manufacturing process. So when the Performance Cen­ter decided to build this gun, they consulted several people, includ­ing World Revolver Speed Shooting Champion Jerry Miculek and Ken Jorgensen, S & W’s public relations manager.

Jorgensen is an active revolver shooter and he hangs around with the world’s fastest wheel­gunners. He understands the meaning of cutting-edge technology in the revolver world.

The three-man team involved in the Performance Center’s pro­ject to build the Model 627 were chief designer Paul Liebenberg, project coordinator Jimmy Ray and engineer Dick Mochak.

Liebenberg, an immigrant from South Africa, became one of the country’s most popular gunsmiths when he opened his Pistol Dynam­ics custom shop in Southern California in the late 1970s. is radical yet tasteful designs have been featured in various gun magazines around the world. He was the natural choice to head the design aspect when Smith & Wesson decided to open its Performance Center in 1990 to cater to custom needs of its distributors and select clientele.

When Liebenberg began working on this new project, he veered away from the traditional method of the manufacturing process. Usually, the blueprint is made before the gun parts are produced. This time, Liebenberg did the opposite.

“We started cutting metal even without the blueprint,” says Jimmy Ray, who has been with Smith & Wesson for 25 years. “We did it by feel.”

Ray said the most challenging part of the building process was the creation of the 8-shot cylinder. To design this cylinder they had to spread out the charge holes and make space for eight rounds of a big caliber. By spreading the charge holes, they had to change the cylinder-to-barrel alignment. No problem. The Performance Center team simply raised the barrel lineup by 0.035 of an inch compared to the standard configuration. The position of the firing pin was also adjusted to conform with the new centerline.

The charge holes in the cylinder were also chamfered and beveled to enhance the speed of loading and extracting spent shells. This cuts the reloading time, much like the function of an enlarged magwell in semi-auto pistols.

The cylinder latch thumb piece was ergonomically designed to give the shooter quick access, allowing him to open the cylinder faster. That design has recently been adopted by Smith & Wesson for all their revolvers.

The people at Smith & Wesson know that revolvers haven’t changed much over the last fifty years. The challenge was to pro­duce a gun with a distinctive look while maintaining the traditional appeal.

It should have a perfect blend of the old world charm and the functional beauty of modern technology. And it should not have the appearance of a funny-looking space gun.

Liebenberg’s aesthetic influence is evident in the flowing lines and angles this model.

The team initially worked on the major parts, such as the barrel. For a faster draw from the holster, they lightened the barrel by flat­tening both sides, making it look like a slide for semi-autos. It was also swept up at the bottom to further reduce its weight, “without affecting the barrel’s overall strength,” Ray says.

The downside to a .357 magnum is that recoil can be pretty nasty.

This is not true if you have an effective compensator, like in the case of the Open category revolver: Two trapezoidal ports on each side of the 6-inch revolver are said to be much more effective at reduc­ing recoil without sacrificing velocity. The Limited category gun does­n’t have the ports and features a shorter 5-inch barrel. The Open gun has been tapped and drilled to accept Weaver-type scope mounts. Besides these differences, the two stainless steel guns are identical.

A Tasco PDP3, one of the most popular red-dot scopes on the cir­cuit today, crowns the Open revolver. With this optical set-up, the gun is ready to battle with the fastest blasters on the speed shooting circuit.

Hogue rubber grips were used for the Limited centerfold gun and wood grips for the Open, but Ray said the final productions guns for both models will come with exotic wood grips.

Both guns will leave the factory with 3.5 to 4 lbs. of trigger pull when in the single action mode and 9 lbs when used in double action. Does that ring a bell in your brain? It should, if you’re used to shoot­ing custom semi-autos with very light triggers.

As a company policy, Smith & Wesson revolvers come with “generic” factory triggers.

If you live in the United States, you should understand why. Americans actively exercise their right to bear arms and their freedom to call their attorneys. For the Performance Cen­ter, the trigger pull is a delicate liability issue. So the standard factory triggers were meant to avoid accidental discharges – and lawsuits.

Lighter, custom trigger pulls, however, can be arranged from the S&W Performance Center as an after-market job. They know the needs of competition shooters and, Ray said, they would be more than happy to accommodate experienced action shooters who desire very light and crisp trigger pulls.

With almost a century and a half of experience making revolvers, the people at Smith & Wesson should know how to make a pretty good one by now. The Model 627 triggers no disappointment. Fit­ting and metalwork is very well executed.

Before each Model 627 leaves the factory, it will be manually pol­ished by hand using Arkansas polishing stones to take out the machin­ing marks and provide a smooth transition among metal parts, said Ray, the project coordinator.

Ray said Lew Horton Distributing Co., would market the Lim­ited guns while the Open revolvers would be available through the Per­formance Center. The retail prices on these guns have not been set, but we hear it will be priced lower than the most popular custom revolvers in the circuit today. If you don’t have the budget to buy both ver­sions, it’s going to be very difficult to decide which one to bring home.

Both guns are impeccably engineered to perform their required tasks. But if you decide to get the Limited gun, check the iron sights. It should have an adjustable black blade sight and a front sight which Smith & Wesson calls McGivern gold bead. It was named after Ed McGivern, who was considered the fastest shooter alive in 1955 after he put five shots into a half dollar-sized group in less than 9/20 of a second using a Smith & Wesson revolver. He did it without any help from the purveyors of race guns – the Smith & Wesson Perfor­mance Center.

Imagine how fast McGivern could have fired those five shots if he had the S&W Model 627.

He could have even fired eight shots.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


KIM STROUD’S BIANCHI CUP PISTOL: SWEET ACCURACY

June 10, 2009

By RONI TOLDANES

It was love at first sight. Literally.

Kim Stroud built a high-capacity pistol with a red-dot sight several years ago, shot her first Practical Shooting tournament and felt her heart melt. By her own account, that began her love affair with shooting – and guns.

“It’s addicting,” Stroud says, “because it’s a very competitive sport ‘that requires a combination of speed and accuracy. It’s really very challenging.”

kimstroudStroud, 34, began shooting action pistol tournaments only in 1992, but she started building guns in 1988. She was the first woman accepted into the American Pistolsmith Guild (APG), the most prestigious associa­tion of gunsmiths in the United States. She’s also a member of the American Handgunner Club 100, considered “a roster of the best and the brightest in the pistolsmithing profession.” Those honors help her quickly eradicate doubts about her ability.

When she became a full-time gunsmith at Gun Craft eight years ago, Stroud initially received mixed reactions from her customers. Even now, new customers roll their eyes as soon as she intro­duces herself as the gunsmith who would be working on their guns. “They come up and ask you so many questions,” Stroud recalls. “They want to find out if you know what you are talking about.” After firing off a staccato burst of technical questions, the loquacious customers get impressive answers and discover that Stroud is one heckuva gunsmith. “When they realize you have the answer for everything,” she says, “they relax. They are actually tickled by the fact that their guns would be built by a woman.”

Stroud says that building guns was not one of her original goals in life. She was working for a precision med­ical supply company when her father, Ben Jones, who owns Gun Craft, prodded her to give pistolsmithing a try.

Stroud’s father didn’t encounter much difficulty convincing her, even though she jokingly says “my dad chained me to the bench” to force her to work on guns.

She was work­ing for what she called “a dead­-end company” and she knew it would be the height of silli­ness for someone not to consider other professional avenues.

Guided by her fellow gunsmith Dave Smith, Stroud joined Gun Craft in 1989 and started out with the basics – cleaning and assem­bling pistols. She began her shoot­ing career when her father and Smith pointed out that joining tour­naments would help her better understand what her customers needed. In 1993, she joined the USPSA Open Nationals as a B-Class shooter.

Despite several penalties for not following the course descrip­tion, she says she had fun.

A year later, she bagged the Top Lady trophy at the Florida Invita­tional Pistol Tournament (FIPT) and today, she is “just about a half-­inch away” from being classified as a Master Class shooter.

Then Stroud joined the Bianchi Cup for the second time and took third place in the Ladies division.

When Stroud talks about shoot­ing, her voice backfires with excite­ment. She says her dedication paid off.

Her consistent shooting per­formance has attracted several spon­sors, including Vihta Vuori, STI, Rndolph Engineering, which man­ufacturers shooting glasses; and “mom and dad,” her biggest fans and sponsors.

Stroud’s insatiable appetite to learn and her exemplary ways of dealing with her customers formed part of the basis for her acceptance into the APG in April 1992.

The quality of her work, of course, was the main reason. Each pistol pro­duced by Kim Stroud evinces a gun­smith’s artistry. Her custom pistols are functional, yet they show no exaggerated design.

“We try our absolute best to make the appear­ance of the gun as exceptional as its ability,” Stroud says in a quiet voice. “The finished product reflects your craftsmanship. You have to take pride in what you do.”

Kim Stroud’s refined taste shows even in a firearm equipped with the latest technological gizmos. She builds guns that look extraordi­nary but not bizarre.

Stroud’s broad list of customers – doctors, lawyers, rock stars, among others – doesn’t purvey a concrete clue about her reputation.

Several years ago, however, she was commissioned to build a custom Para rdnance pistol that was pre­sented to the President of Austria. Now that’s what even the most deft of hands in the gunsmithing pro­fession would call prestige.

Usually, two simple but very sig­nificant words – reliability and accu­racy – sum up the leitmotiv of praises heaped on Stroud by her satisfied customers.

This Bianchi Cup gun explains why.

We asked Stroud to build a work­ing gun. When you look closely at the pictures of this gun, you will notice scratches, smudges and even powder residue. That’s because we specifically asked for the type of gun that shooters use in competition.

In fact, Stroud went to battle with this gun at the Sports­man’s Team Challenge, in which her team won the Ladies division; and the Bianchi Cup, where she placed third overall in her category.

Stroud created this centerfold gem using a single-stack frame and slide from Caspian Arms of Hard­wick, Vermont. While other shoot­ing events offer a plethora of advan­tages for shooters with high-capacity guns, single-stack pistols are pre­ferred by top shooters at the Bianchi Cup, where courses of fire require only six rounds. More ammo in the magazine increases the risk of receiv­ing penalties for firing extra rounds.

The Caspian frame’s slim grip makes it easier to control during recoil, but Stroud further improved the grip surface with her hand-check­ering, creating 20-lines-per-inch of diamonds on the gun’s front strap.

Trigger poundage ticks the 2­-something level, but the actual felt trigger pull for this centerfold gun is around 1 ½ pounds. The trigger action, compared to standard 1911 pistols, allows the shooter to “swing” his finger instead of letting it “slide.” This is because of Gun Craft’s pro­prietary pivoting trigger system.

The increased mechanical lever­age provided by this trigger system lightens the felt poundage without the need for super-thin hammer hooks. The separate, lightweight, one-piece bow has an oversize pad and was fitted for the exact length of travel and minimum take-up.

With the pivoting trigger sys­tem, the gunsmith can produce a super-light trigger pull without worrying about hammer follow, which, for the benefit of gun owners with­out sufficient technical knowledge, simply means that there’s no pos­sibility for this gun to accidentally go into full-auto mode.

Stroud expounds on the virtue of having a smooth trigger job set to the shooter’s preference. “I don’t like a super-light trigger pull,” she says. “For me, around 2 pounds is preferable so I don’t have to worry about an accidental discharge.”

From what looked like an ordi­nary pistol, Stroud gave the Caspian gun a sweeping transformation by topping it with a Bushnell HoloSight and a Gilmore shroud, a vital acces­sory for Bianchi competitors who prefer propping their pistol against the barricade in the Barricade Event.

The shroud completely encases the frontal area of the slide. The “wings” on both sides of the shroud allow the shooter to press the gun against the barricade, steadying each shot for pinpoint accuracy.

This gun also features the HoloSight’s “Tombstone” reticle pattern. It was designed for Bushnell by Bruce Piatt, who won the Bianchi Cup using the same reticle. The electronic sight uses holographic technology. The shooter simply looks through the heads-up display window to see a bright red image of a reticle pat­tern projected onto the target plane.

The “Tombstone” reticle, which retails for around $79.00, comes with an outline of a tombstone­-shaped target as a sighting system. Three dots are positioned in a hor­izontal line in the center.

At 25 yards, the reticle’s tombstone pat­tern fits perfectly on the outer edges of the tombstone-shaped brown paper target. The middle dot is used when aiming at stationary targets, much like an ordinary red-dot scope. The right and left dots are used to estimate leads when shooting moving targets at the Bianchi Cup’s nerve-wracking Mover stage.

Stroud says guns for Bianchi competition require utmost accu­racy. “The important thing,” she says, “is to have reliable sights, a smooth trigger job and outstanding barrel fit.”

Our featured gunsmith certainly knows what she’s talking about. Having shot it in practice and at the Bianchi Cup, she proudly claims that this  gun, when fed with light .38-Super loads, holds consistent shot groups of 0.75 of an inch at 50 yards.

She achieved that amazing accuracy using the new Sierra 125-grain bul­lets, VihtaVuori powder, Winches­ter brass and Federal primers.

Stroud built a gun that’s heavier than pistols used in steel shooting tournaments because the extra weight is necessary at the Bianchi Cup.

There are four events in Bianchi tournaments; Mover, Plates, Prac­tical and Barricade. Except for the Plates event, where a lighter gun is advantageous for faster target-to-­target swing, all the other events would require a heavier and more stable gun.

“But you have to find a happy medium,” Stroud explains. “You don’t want something that’s too heavy or too light because you’re not allowed to change guns at the Bianchi Cup.”

Asked if she’s not intimidated when her works are compared to her male counterparts, Stroud’s reply exudes the confidence of a maestro: She says her colleagues look up to her with respect because of the quality of her work and her ethics towards her customers. Impressive guns are based on those standards, not gender, she declares.

Stroud welcomes the idea of hav­ing more women joining her profes­sion. It might be an impossible task for others but, waxing a little bit philosophical, she says women should think of the case of the bumblebee.

“Based on its weight, its wingspan, its energy capacity, and its strength, according to the laws of aerody­namics, the bumblebee is incapable of flying,” she explains. “But you see, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, and so it flies anyhow.” That’s Stroud’s favorite way of thinking about the problems facing anyone who goes off into the impossible.

Men who’ve doubted a woman’s ability to succeed in the macho world of shooting and gunsmithing should look at Kim Stroud, a woman who likes to face spectacular challenges.

“Until you try, you will never know that you can always do more – much more – than you think you can. Never say you can’t. Just do it.”

Just like the bumblebee.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


A RIFLE THAT INTIMIDATES THE COMPETITION

June 10, 2009

AMT CUSTOM SHOP’S .22-CALIBER LONG RIFLE

By RONI TOLDANES

It was a whimsical project, the sort of idea that’s dreamed up when the snow is flying and the guns are locked away for the season. If you were designing a hot-rod 10/22 competition rifle, what would it look like? No budget restrictions. Just start with a clean sheet of paper.

AMTAfter we’ve set the parameters for a centerfold project, gunsmiths Ron Herbertson and Sam Paredes of the AMT Custom Shop joined forces with Arizona gunsmith Frank Glenn in crafting a championship 10/22 rifle. The result is a rifle that is both mesmerizing and astonishingly accurate.

This rifle started life as a stainless steel AMT action. Even before it was blended with other major com­ponents, Herbertson and Paredes have already decided that the crit­ical considerations in building this rifle were accuracy and overall appearance. They chose McMil­lan’s fiberglass “Intimidator” stock and a Lilja 20-inch bull barrel.

“Performance was the hook,” said Herbertson, explaining the decision to use Lilja barrels. “We can’t compromise accuracy.”

Lilja Precision Rifle Barrels, Inc., based in Plains, Montana, produce stainless match barrels that are truly drop-in, requiring no gun­smithing. Lilja barrels leave the fac­tory already with muzzles crowned and chambered. They are button-rifled, stress relieved and hand-­lapped and they come with a 16″ twist rate, with internal diameters on the tight side that contribute to their extreme accuracy.

Meanwhile, McMillan’s “Intim­idator” fiberglass stock with molded marble blue color was chosen for its extra rigidity and stability, besides the attractive appearance that comes without the drawbacks of a painted finish. It is also imper­vious to weather.

Specifically designed for the Sportsman Team Challenge, the “Intimidator” features an adjustable comb that gives both vertical and horizontal adjustments, allowing the shooter to set the rifle to his own physiological requirements.

It also comes with a butt plate that provides adjustments for length of pull, vertical and cant. It has a ver­tical fore-end grip for those who shoot “action style” and a 3-inch belly for those who shoot “posi­tion style.” To allow easy access in tournaments like the Team Chal­lenge, both its fore-end grip and its vertical “open thumbhole” pis­tol grip have parallel bottom sur­faces, so the stock stands upright on the table. McMillan, which began producing “Intimidator” stocks about five months ago, also offers other stocks that vary in weight from 2.5-6 pounds to meet each shooter’s needs.

The stock’s 90-degree “soft cor­ner” on the adjustable comb allows for positive and consistent cheek weld. There’s also a decreased depth through the fore-end to create less drag in windy conditions.

As a standard factory offering, the McMillan “Intimidator” includes an extended magazine release, a safety extension, aluminum magazine liners and an attachment for two magazines.

The main components were shipped to Frank Glenn, a former Masters shooting champion. Glenn said this centerfold rifle used the AMT Custom Shop’s factory trig­ger with a trigger pull set at 1.75 lbs. The AMT Custom shop, how­ever, does not offer factory triggers anymore to their customers. Instead, actions and complete rifles from the custom shop come with Jewell triggers, which can be pre-set down to about 6 ounces (0.5-lb).

Glenn, 54, said some centerfire rifles do not appear to be sensitive to brand and load. Those rifles nor­mally shot well, regardless of what ammunition was used. With this rim-fire rifle, however, you cannot use cheap ammo and expect it to perform at its best.

Lapua is the ammo of choice for this gun. Lapua, in terms of ballistics performance, is far superior to other com­mercial .22 ammo, providing better wind deflection resistance and a flatter trajectory.

Glenn said he glass-bedded the action and the trigger work into the stock. He used two Allen wrench screws to hold the gun stock instead of the original screws. He also drilled and tapped a Weigand weaver-style scope mount on top of the barrel.

When the gun is due for cleaning and needs to be disassembled, the scope base comes off together with the barrel without obliterating the scope’s zero.

Finally, the rifle was fully-dressed with a Burris Signature Series 4x­16x-44mm Fine Plex scope. This scope, which retails for $700.00, comes with a feature called “light collector.”

When you turn it wide open during a twilight setting, you’ll get sufficient light for better images. When shooting in a bright envi­ronment or in snowy conditions, you can close it down to get less eye fatigue and an increased depth of focus. It has internal lenses that are 40 percent larger than most scopes and features four times mag­nification range (4-16) rather than the conventional 4-12. It comes with parallax adjustments from 50 yards to infinity, a full wide field of view and 3 ½ inches of eye relief.

A motivated shooter is not going to be satisfied with average capa­bilities, but this gun was built to please. In rim-fire rifle shoot­ing, all things have to work together to produce a good shot. It requires blending of good equipment, watch­ing conditions and a refined tech­nique. The requirements are reduced when an AMT Custom Shop rifle is added into the equation.

The range results on this gun jus­tify AMT Custom Shop’s claims for producing super-accurate .22 rifles. At 50 yards, this masterful creation consistently scores 5-shot groups of quarter of an inch. It’s truly a 10/22 rifle that would satisfy every Team Challenge shooter’s dream.

Assembled to match specifica­tions by a champion shooter using only the finest parts and components money can buy, don’t you think this rifle is trying to tell you something?

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


NEIL KELLER’S 9×23 AVENGER RACEGUN

June 10, 2009


By RONI TOLDANES

Once in a while, a gun will come along that not only stands out from the crowd by virtue of its remarkable per­formance, but also due to its sheer visceral appeal. A gun that, when fired even once at the range, not only causes the shooter’s pulse to quicken, but those behind him as well. A gun that basically grabs you by the throat, slaps you in the face a few times, and stamps the words “ABSOLUTE HIGH PER­FORMANCE: CAN YOU HANDLE IT?” indelibly across your forehead each time you rapid-fire the trigger.

The Avenger 9×23 is one of those guns.

Here is a gun that threatens to win the championship trophy by looks alone. And check the range performance-the accuracy and reliability. The caliber gives you a full­-throttle boom without the punishing recoil.neilkeller1

It’s a worn-out word used by almost every self-proclaimed accuracy freak, but this one really shoots flat.

It can only be likened to a supercharged locomotive running on nitromethane, minus the vibration. And for those with even a hint of racing or perfor­mance in their blood, this pistol’s raucous bark is music to the ears. It slams hot lead onto the targets fast.

When you think of speed and guns, one name quickly comes to mind: Neil Keller.

The man who has quickly forged a reputa­tion for extracting winning performance from guns is an authority on racing. When Keller speaks performance, people listen.

Keller, 60, was a General Electric engineer for 33 years. During his stint with G.E., he was also involved in the motorbike busi­ness, building flawless two-stroke engines for kart racing. Keller was a tool maker. He was one of those guys with a deep knowl­edge on how metals are forged, created and shaped using precision machines involving close tolerances.

We’ve heard a few things about Keller’s background, bur when we commissioned him to build a gun, we never expected he would build one that fits his character. The gun clearly shows a master­ful work of a man with great experience.

Keller selected STI International’s frame and slide to weave his particular brand of magic into the gun, embellishing it with his chosen parts from other custom makers. He opted not to open up the slide by cutting holes on top, saying such designs attract foreign particles and dust and would only make the gun less reliable on certain ranges. Instead, Keller shortened the slide, sliced radial cuts in front and chopped off some metal in the area behind the breach face, which he lowered by almost 1/8 of an inch.

To further lighten the slide, Keller com­pletely opened up the recoil spring plug housing and drilled a hole into the guide rod. For both the tapered cone bushing and plug, he utilized Amploy 10, an extremely hard bronze material used in the bearings of high-speed punch presses.

Keller built a compensator from 4140 steel and chose a flat bottom design. Compared to the more common round design, the flat bottom gave him an addi­tional 18 percent of the frontal area inside the compensator which he used to create thicker walls. The four exhaust ports, forward­-angled to prevent heated gasses from fogging the lens of the electronic sight, feature thick walls that progressively get smaller towards the bullet’s final exit.

“As the gases are depleted going through the compensator, this downward progres­sion maintains constant pressure against the frontal walls,” Keller says.

As an additional insurance against torque and muzzle flip, Keller cut two small baf­fle holes on both sides of the compensator. Keller applied the same principles that he had learned from building race bikes.

The shortened slide allowed the port­ing of the barrel through the back end of the compensator.

“This porting gives us a pattern very similar to the ones we used when we were building high-revving two­stroke racing engines,” says Keller, the man who developed the popular gun oil Kel­lube. “We used exhaust systems which had converging cones flowing into diverging cones to control the developed gases. Con­verging aides in pulling the gases; diverg­ing controls the total flow.”

Neil Keller is one of America's most respected gunsmiths.

Neil Keller, one of America's most respected gunsmiths, strikes a pose with his Pistolsmith of the Year award.

Many of you might be wondering: just what the heck was he talking about? You’d have to be some kind of a racegun geek to understand things like that. But Keller’s point was simple: the Avenger was built to race.

If you’ve seen great-looking guns like this one at your favorite gun shop, you should know that you can’t simply buy cus­tom parts and build your own. Thus, per­formance isn’t the only aspect of this gun, it’s also exclusivity. It’s a true custom gun.

To reduce lock-time, a small amount of material was removed from the hammer, creating radial slots on either side. Both the hammer and sear are made of steel instead of the lighter tita­nium which requires constant refinishing to maintain a crisp trigger drop. The trig­ger pull was set at less than 2 lbs.

Considering this gun’s in-your-face per­sona, Keller inlaid his Taurus zodiac sign in the form of gold emblems on both sides of the grip, which has been painted to match the color of the anodized red-dot sight. Special paint was used to ensure a longer life of the painted surfaces.

For the accuracy report, here’s what wit­nessed: At 40 yards off a sandbag rest, the 9×23 Avenger stamped a five-shot group of 5/8 of an inch. Its Bar-Sto barrel quickly gobbled up super-hot Winchester 9×23 fac­tory loads. If you whack the trigger fast, you’ll find yourself pointing at various cloud formations around your targets downrange.

In this age of ever-increasing performance from raceguns, there’s something to be said for a gun that combines speed, exclusivity and trickiness with a raw, muscular appeal that can’t be matched.

For many, a Neil Keller racegun like this one with a four-­digit price tag may seem lofty. But for those interested in a gun that not only possesses cutthroat performance, but communicates that message to the shooter in a way that transcends all other guns, it’s worth it.

Definitely worth it.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


Wayne Bergquist’s custom 1911 .45 pistol

June 10, 2009

bergquist1By RONI TOLDANES

It all started as a joke. Fourteen years ago, Wayne Bergquist per­formed his first gunsmithing job. He blew dust from a rusty Colt .45 that he had owned for many years, and checkered its front strap.

Totally inexperienced, it took him several hours to complete the job. He was mes­merized by his handiwork and stared at the finished product for minutes. He always had a fascination for guns but this was the first time he actually had the chance to tin­ker with a pistol.

Bergquist boarded a bus to visit his friend, a noted gunsmith in Florida. Like a proud boy showing his dad his first medal of merit, Bergquist handed the pistol to the gunsmith asking him to check out his mas­terpiece. The amused gunsmith gave the gun a fleeting glance and, with raised eye­brows, asked, “Who did that?” Bergquist replied with the obvious, and the gunsmith burst into laughter. “Good, maybe someday you’ll make money doing this.”

The comment was a flattery. You see, the checkering lines on Bergquist’s were crooked, its peaks and valleys uneven. And the gunsmith humor­ously treated the entire thing as a joke. “But I took the joke seri­ously,” Bergquist said. “And I took it as a challenge.”

Wayne Bergquist worked hard and exchanged notes with experts. Fourteen years after he accepted the challenge, he is now recognized as among the most popular gunsmiths in America. When we asked him to build this single-stack .45 semi-auto, Bergquist emphasized that we pay attention to the detailed work in his checkering.

It was, indeed, mesmerizing. The 20 ­lines-per-inch hand-checkering job on the front strap sparkled like tiny diamonds. The Caspian frame came from the factory with checkering on the front strap, but he manually polished it for a touch of finesse. He also hand-checkered the trigger guard and produced an astonishing 40-lines-per-inch.

The entire gun, built on a Caspian 6-­inch slide and oversized frame, was cleanly crafted. The slide’s high-polish hard chrome finish from Checkmate is so shiny you can practically use it as a mirror.

Three handsome notches were cut under the slide’s front portion. These blended nicely with the Schuemann “Ultimatch” .45ACP bull barrel and the two-piece Clark guide rod. A series of long serrations were machined on the slide’s front panel. It gave the gun a sleek, race-ready look. The serrations, as well as the notches cut on the slide, increases slide velocity during battery and reduces the gun’s lock-time. They also help enhance the hot­-rod look of this tactical speedster.

The “racing stripes” machined into the top of the slide augment this gun’s aesthetic appeal. And they also assist in minimizing the sun’s glare. “But sometimes I tell my customers that if they can see glare, that means they are not focusing on their sights,” Bergquist says with a chuckle.

A Bo-Mar adjustable rear sight comes as a standard feature in Bergquist’s tactical pistols, as well as a Smith & Alexander beavertail grip safety with a “palmswell” that helps promote a positive grip. Caspian or Ed Brown grip safeties are also available.

Bergquist re-shaped, contoured and raised the rear portion of the single-stack Caspian frame to expose a big­ger chunk of the beavertail. He also cut a 90-degree angle under the trigger guard for a perfect anatomical hold. These modifi­cations allow the shooter to achieve a higher grip on the gun, thereby reducing muzzle jump. He also installed a “wide-ride” King’s thumb safety, which eliminated the need for a thumb shield.

Bergquist laughed when asked about the technical specifications of his single-stack masterpiece. While other gunsmiths rattle-off technical specs, such as “0.0005-inch critical lock-up achieved by the full-length rail engagement … etc.,” Bergquist merely says his slide and frame were hand-fitted. “I do it mostly by feel. I’m not a very technical person, but I’m sure other gunsmiths also do it that way, no matter what they say.”

With a smooth 2.25-lb trigger pull pro­vided by its light, aluminum Videki speed trig­ger, Bergquist says this pistol will achieve groups of O.75-inch at 25 yards and will shoot all types of .4S ACP ammunition without a bobble.

IMMIGRANT ROOTS

The grandson of Scandinavian immi­grants with humble beginnings, Wayne Bergquist has come a long, long way.

Bergquist, 46, began shooting IPSC matches in 1981. Back then, the hotshots were Mickey Fowler and Mike Plaxco. He was a Class-B shooter when he decided to become a full-time gunsmith.

In 1989, Bergquist established Glades Gunworks in Florida, but eventually sold it to an inventor and became its manager. “But I wasn’t a happy camper, so I left them and started my own shop based on my reputation.” Bergquist then sought the help of his wife, Kathie, to help manage the new shop. He invited gunsmith Jimmy Brock to serve as his assistant. In just a few weeks, orders began pouring in.

Today, if you don’t see Wayne at his gunshop, he’s most probably outside, puttering with his classic ’67 Mustang or buffing his sleek Harley Davidson. “You have to have other toys besides guns,” he says with a boyish smile.

The Bergquist shop churns out at least 16 Limited and Open raceguns monthly and also accepts gunsmithing jobs, such as trigger pull adjustments, sight installation, and fitting of custom magazine wells and other accessories. Delivery time is around 12 to 14 weeks, but it’s always worth the wait.

Wayne Bergquist spends a liberal amount of time on each firearm that passes through the shop. And that’s what makes him and his work a notch above other custom shops.

“I work a lot of weekends and even late nights for my customers,” Bergquist says. “I think they deserve to get what they pay for.” Every pistol stamped with the initials W.B. doesn’t have to be “broken in.”

When he hands you your gun, you’re ready to race.

Wayne Bergquist says he would like to be known as a friendly person and a good gunsmith. A very good gunsmith. “I’m that kind of guy,” he says. “Yes, sir, unlike other gunsmiths, any of my customers can call me anytime. I mean anytime.”

He was not joking.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


The Exotic WildCat

June 10, 2009

Photo by Y.Sued

By RONI TOLDANES

By definition, exotic is something that distinguishes itself in a strik­ing, fascinating, strangely beauti­ful, or alluring way. So what’s an exotic gun? It’s all of the above, of course. It’s also exclusive, spe­cial, and very, very dramatic. You know you’re in the presence of exoticism when you feel a ripple of excitement. If you’re watching someone holding it, you may also experience pangs of envy.

This pistol is a classic exam­ple of that definition. Created by Lim­Cat Custom in Fremont, California, this .40-caliber semi-auto, identified as the WildCat, performs like a Lamborghini Diablo – the sports car that exceeds the 55 mph speed limit in first gear and runs to its red line in second.

Like a Lamborghini, the WildCat deliv­ers an intoxicating roar. Yet it doesn’t seem to have the snooty appeal of your father’s gun.

Unlike the original John Browning cre­ation, this fiery 1911 pistol purports to be fun, youthful and approachable. It attracts adoring crowds, it shoots smoother and is more accurate than its owner can ever imagine. And with only a few guns like this manually produced by LimCat, you prob­ably won’t see anoother one like it at your local retail store.

Not all pistolsmiths are fussy about their creations, but LimCat Custom’s Johnny Lim is. He is a young artisan with a mission. He wants to be known for creating not only the most crowd-pleas­ing guns, but also the top-performing racers that shoot straight. Lim has an unmatched gift for creating tantalizing hot-rod guns.

Even the most jaded gun collector will agree from these pictures that the WildCat is something special, that it’s something out of the ordinary. That it is, well, exotic. But how do you define exotic in practi­cal gun terms?

The creator should have bestowed upon the firearm a fastidious attention to fit, finish and function. His gun should boast of a sweet accuracy that consis­tently drives jacketed hollow-point bul­lets into one-inch groups at 25 yards. It should radiate a sleek appearance in tan­dem with a supercharged, jam-free per­formance. All that translates into a shoot­ing profile of the WildCat.

Starting with a clean sheet, Lim set out to do things differently. Always auda­ciously bidding to upend his hard-earned reputation as a purveyor of stylish guns, he created his own design of exhaust ports called Tri-Clops. Hey, don’t bother to check the dictionary. No such word.

Knowing a bit of Greek mythology, Lim says that each hole in his porting system looks like that of a cyclops, a giant with a single eye in the middle of the fore­head. For lack of a better term, Lim says the three holes in the gun’s slide should be identified as Tri-Clops.

The Tri-Clops system goes all the way through the barrel. During each cycle, the ports expel the gases upwards, push­ing the barrel downwards and reducing muzzle climb. As a result, the gun tends to stay on target for a faster second shot.

This configuration, however, is not similar to the patented Hybrid barrels with ports that require a portion of the slide to be sliced off.

Lim knows that a small part of the WildCat’s ported barrel may be covered by the slide in each cycle, resulting in slight carbon fouling. He min­imized this possibility by machining big­ger holes on the slide and positioning them slightly offset against the barrel’s ports. Lim then threaded into the barrel a one-inch compensator with three exhaust ports, venting most of the combustion gases horizontally and vertically for a flatter muzzle movement on ignition.

Lim prepared two top-ends for this .40­caliber WildCat. Simply slide on any of the two top-ends to the STI frame to assem­ble the gun you want to shoot for the specific Practical Shooting division you plan to join. You have two guns in one frame.

With a magazine seated in the mag well, either gun fits within the confines of the official International Practical Shoot­ing Confederation (IPSC) box that mea­sures 225mm x 150mm x 45mm. The gun with the compensated top-end is legal for the Modified Division of the IPSC. When fitted with the non-ported slide assembly, the gun can be used to com­pete in both the Standard Division of the IPSC and the Limited Division of the U.S. Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).LimcatWildCat3

Both top-ends come with tungsten guide rods and cocking serrations in the front and rear of the slide in a style that is distinctively LimCat’s. The frame bears the serial number WILDCAT.

Johnny Lim has set himself as a style trendsetter in modern semi-autos. He draws a younger clientele of shooters who order his prized guns as an alter­native to gunsmiths who take years to produce a custom gun.

For his top racers, Lim uses mostly STI International frames. The STI’s roots stretch back to the late ’80s when the prototype of the “Modular” frame was released. Made of durable polymer-plas­tic, the frame became de rigueur in action shooting competitions because it offered lighter weight and higher capacity than the old single-stack, all-steel pistols.

The new STI frame of our centerfold gun uses the same sturdy material, but it has come a long way from its prototype design. STI frames are now available in different colors – green, red, blue, pur­ple and the original black. There’s even a new design with a longer dust cover for better shooting stability, and that’s what Lim used to create the WildCat.

Lim enhanced the gun’s overall appear­ance by creating horizontal serrations in the extended dust cover. The gun does­n’t really need those extra shaved ounces. Lim’s top-ends feature heavy bull barrels. Lim chose the STI grip in blazing red to grab the attention of adventurous shooters.LimCatWildcat6

The STI grip leaves the factory with all the custom modifications that usually have to be done by a custom gunsmith. Its front panel, mainspring housing and even the front of the trigger guard have been checkered. Lim installed an aluminum Hot Shots magazine well, which effec­tively doubled the magazine entry area.

On top of each slide, Lim machined fine stripes that not only streamline the WildCat’s sleek appearance, but also eradicate glare when shooting under direct sunlight.

The first impression one gets when shooting the “Modified” WildCat is that the gun shoots flat, really flat. The com­pensated slide offers a felt recoil that is somewhere in between a .32 caliber and a 9mm, even though the WildCat is not a pip-squeak gun. It propels a .40-cal. bullet at supersonic muzzle velocities reaching a major 180 power factor suf­ficient for Practical Shooting tournaments.LimCatWildcat5

With the added fillip of the LimCat name, a WildCat pistol does not only project an adventuresome image but it also delivers flawless function. If you are what you shoot, a WildCat gives this profile about your personality: stylish and performance-oriented.

Audacious and outrageously accurate, the WildCat parts a crowd of lesser guns like Moses parted the Red Sea.

It’s not exaggeration when adoring shooters say this centerfold gun should become the benchmark of pistol excellence. After all, it delivers performance and panache that experienced pistoleros have always sought. And it exemplifies the definition of an exotic – both in the dictionary and on the shooting range.

If you want to know the definition of an exotic gun, look no further.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)

LIMCAT CUSTOM

(510) 252-9255

PARTS LIST

Tungsten Guide Rod – LimCat

Adjustable Rear Sights –  Bo-Mar

.40-cal. Bull Barrels   –  LimCat

Magazine Well –  Hot Shots

2011 frame & Slide – STI

Mainspring Mousing – STI

Beavertail Grip Safety – STI

Ambidextrous Thumb Safety – STI

Hammer – STI

Trigger – STI

CONTACT COMPANIES:

Bo-Mar Sight

Route 08, Box 401,

Longview, Texas 75604

(903) 759-9141

STI International
114 Halmar Cove
Georgetown, TX 78628

(521) 819-0656

www.stiguns.com


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