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.)


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.)


SINBAD: Funny man and gun enthusiast

June 9, 2009

Photo by Y. Sued

Photo by Y.Sued

By Roni Toldanes

America loves funny guys. Sinbad is living proof.

Born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Sinbad grew up telling jokes to his three brothers and two sisters. His first love, however, was basketball, and becoming a Harlem Globetrotter was a childhood dream. He earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Denver and was convinced that college basketball was his ticket to the NBA. “I had flaming red hair and they called me Red Chamberlain.”

But the satisfaction from being able to make people laugh was irresistible. In 1983 he embarked on his “Poverty Tour,” going from city to city on a Greyhound bus, from comedy club to comedy club, working for meals and changing out of hotel restrooms.

He got his big break when he became a finalist in the top-rated TV show Star Search. This led to a TV movie and a role as Redd Foxx’s son on The New Redd Foxx Show. Then Bill Cosby invited him to join A Different World. And the rest, as the worn-out cliché goes, is history.

Today, Sinbad is one of the hottest comedians in Hollywood. He starred in the movie First Kid as Sam Simms, a fun-loving Secret Service agent assigned to protect the son of the U.S. President. He has appeared on a western action movie for HBO, Cherokee Kid. He also starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way.

While filming Cherokee Kid Sinbad received his first formal firearms instruction. Hollywood gun guru Thell Reed and mounted cowboy shooting champion Billy Lang were commissioned by HBO to be his gun coaches. Reed and Lang taught Sinbad the mechanics of shooting fast and accurate. They also trained him on the basics of correct and safe gun handling. Sinbad came out of Cherokee Kid with a deep respect for firearms and great fascination for the many fun activities one can have with guns.

“Until I met Thell and Billy, I never even knew there were places where you can go out and have fun with guns,” he said. “I want to try them all, Cowboy Action, Mounted Cowboy Shooting, Fast Draw — all of them!”

When we met him for our photo shoot, Sinbad showed off his gun-twirling skills and his sub-one second thumbing draws. He says he can even spin-cock a Winchester lever-action rifle, in true John Wayne fashion, and hit a playing card 100 yards away on demand!

Like all responsible parents with guns, Sinbad has passed the legacy of safe gunhandling on to his two young children. He purchased a .22-caliber Colt single action for his son, who is now proficient in safe gunhandling.

Sinbad reloads his own ammo and says he plans to join the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). His participation in the shooting sports will give recreational shooting a tremendous boost.

“He is just the right man to promote sports shooting,” says gun instructor Billy Lang. “Sinbad makes people feel good. He’s always smiling and he’s always making everybody happy. That’s why America loves him.”


The ‘lost world’ of Steven Spielberg

June 9, 2009
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Photo courtesy of Steven Spielberg's PR agency. Image used with permission.

HIS GUNS AND HIS SECRET LIFE AS A SHOOTER

By Roni Toldanes

It’s impossible not to mention the fairy tale character Peter Pan when writ­ing about Steven Spielberg. After all, the lonely and precocious son of a broken home himself said in 1985, “I have always felt like Peter Pan. I still feel like Peter Pan.”

It was difficult for Spielberg to “grow up” — both as a man and as a filmmaker.

For 20 years, Spielberg had Hollywood’s most profound and profitable case of arrested development. Critics condescendingly regarded him as a child-man fixated on the toys of moviemaking and incapable of dealing maturely with the darker side of life. In many of his films, Spielberg indulged his boyish fondness for pulp adventure, infantile humor and special-effects fantasy extravaganzas.

But, in reality, Spielberg was misunder­stood. The fellow who makes movies every­one wants to see was simply not like every­one else. “People like Steven don’t come along every day,” says his friend and fre­quent collaborator George Lucas, “and when they do, it’s an amazing thing. It’s like talk­ing about Einstein or Babe Ruth or Tiger Woods. He’s not in a group of filmmakers his age; he’s far, far away.”

Still, one can ask how a half-century of living and nearly a quarter-century’s reign as the most successful moviemaker in his­tory affect the man who took out a patent on perennial childhood.

From the short feature film he made as a 13-year-old (Escape to Nowhere), through a string of blockbusters such as E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Jaws and the con­tinuing adventures of Indiana Jones, Spiel­berg has explored primeval fears, expressed children’s loneliness and tested their inno­cence. Even his version of Peter Pan in the movie Hook was sprinkled with childlike fantasy.

In 1993, however, moviedom’s Peter Pan finally “grew up.” Spielberg silenced many of his detractors with Schindler’s List, his masterful drama about a gentile business­man who saved 1,100 Jews from the Plaszow death camp during World War II. The film was the culmination of a long personal strug­gle with Spielberg’s Jewish identity, a plea by a preeminent popular artist that to remem­ber is to speed up the healing.

“I was so ashamed of being a Jew, and now I’m filled with pride,” he said in inter­views at the time the movie was released. “This film has kind of come along with me on this journey from shame to honor.” For that film with a wrenching theme, Spielberg would receive two Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture. The film also won five other Oscars.

With Schindler’s List, Spielberg became a proselytizer for a spiritual unification of Germans and Jews. “I feel it is time in Germany for this generation to teach its children,” he said. “Education is the way to stop another Holocaust from happening.”

Following the emotional pulse of Schindler’s List, Spielberg also directed Amistad, a film about a Spanish ship that brought 53 abducted Africans to the U.S. in 1839 and provoked a slave revolt and a trial in which the slaves’ case was argued by former President John Quincy Adams.

To an extent, most of Spielberg’s films were identical to certain cliff-hanging chapters of his life.

Steven Allan Spielberg’s ancestors were among the 2 million Jews who fled Russia and Eastern Europe for the United States between 1881 and 1914, settling in Cincinnati, where he was born on Dec. 18, 1946. Some of his relatives remained in Russia for generations to come, and some eventually went to Israel, but many of those who did not emigrate were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust.

Spielberg was raised in the suburbs of Haddonfield, New Jersey and Phoenix, Arizona, where the elder Spielbergs and their four kids — Steven and his three younger sisters — lived from 1957 to 1964. As a child growing up in Haddonfield, where archaeologists found the first virtually complete dinosaur skeleton, Spielberg became fascinated with dinosaurs.

In Phoenix, he was a one-man commando unit against neighbors who made anti-Semitic slurs, sneaking up and smearing their windows with peanut butter.

It was in Arizona where Spielberg started making amateur films while still in his teens, later studying at California State University, Long Beach. In 1969, Spielberg’s 22-minute short feature Amblin was shown at the Atlanta Film Festival. It made him the youngest director ever to be signed to a long-term deal with a major Hollywood studio.

Four years later, he directed the suspense-filled telefilm Duel. He made his feature film directorial debut on The Sugarland Express, from a screenplay he co-wrote. His additional film credits include the Back to the Future trilogy, Always and The Color Purple. His film Saving Private Ryan, a World War II saga starring Tom Hanks, also landed on the blockbuster records.

Through the years, Steven Spielberg has directed, produced or executive produced eight of the top grossing films of all time. He had back-to-back block-buster hits with The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which he directed, and Men in Black, which he executive produced.

Steven Spielberg is, indeed, the most successful moviemaker in history. In 1996, Forbes Magazine estimated his net worth at $1 billion. Not bad for a kid who “felt like an alien” in America, and who turned to making movies as a way of finding social acceptance.

Observers say that Spielberg’s emotional isolation during his childhood may have helped delay his own maturation process. His parents, Leah and Arnold, divorced when he was 19. Steven remained close to his mother and her new husband Bernie Adler, who passed away several years ago.

Adler’s death shocked Steven into seeing the fragility of people’s lives. It also brought him closer to his father and to his growing family.

Spielberg shoots Sporting Clays in Europe with Harrison Ford.

Spielberg shoots Sporting Clays in Europe with Harrison Ford. Image used with photographer's permission.

Like almost every American boy growing up in the 1950s, Spielberg received guidance about matters such as gun safety from his father, Arnold Spielberg. And he pictured himself doing the same thing, besides other fatherly duties, even before his first child (with his first wife Amy Irving), Max, was born. “The child was going to change my life … I want to be like most parents.”

When Max Samuel Spielberg was born on June 13, 1985 at the Santa Monica Hospital, the exultant father described his son as “my best production yet.”

Today, Spielberg spends more time with his burgeoning family. With Kate Capshaw, whom he married in 1991, Spielberg has a brood of seven: Max (whose custody he shares with Irving); Jessica, (from Capshaw’s first marriage); Theo, Sasha, Sawyer, Mikaela and Destry.

It was Spielberg’s father, an electrical engineer and amateur film buff, who spurred his interest in movie-making. It was also his dad, a World War II Air Force sharpshooter, who taught Steven his gun-handling skills.

As someone who never enjoyed much of the regular sports during his childhood, Steven Spielberg introduced his son Max, in 1995, to the sport he knows best — Sporting Clays.

Screenwriter and director John Milius (Apocalypse Now and Clear and Present Danger) describes Steven Spielberg as a sharpshooter. Spielberg, he said, regularly shoots an Italian over/under Fabri shotgun, an engraved model of which costs in the neighborhood of $85,000.

Milius said he began shooting sporting clays with Spielberg in the late 1960s at the Oak Tree Gun Club in southern California. During their younger days, Milius said, they used to play at least once a week. “We call it red-neck golf,” Milius said, “just like golf, you either like it or you don’t.”

Explaining Spielberg’s passion for collecting top-of-the-line shotguns, Milius told this writer, “They are just beautiful things. How many beautiful works of art can you take out and use?”

Milius would often shoot Sporting Clays with Spielberg. He admits having lost “a few times” to Spielberg, who actually received some shooting lessons from him in the past. “I’m the teacher and he’s the student, but on a good day he’s really good.”

Art Bright, manager of the Pachmayr Range in southern California, remembers giving Spielberg and young Max a few shooting tips. “Steven Spielberg is a pretty good shot,” Bright says. “He’s probably a solid B-class shooter.”

Rifle maker Butch Searcy confirmed having built two big-bore rifles that were used as props in the movie Jurassic Park. The .600 Nitro rifles, bearing the serial numbers Lost World 1 and Lost World 2, are valued at $40,000 each, Searcy said, adding that Spielberg’s aides had told him that one of the rifles became a part of the director’s collection.

Once upon a shooting star, there was a lonely young boy who aimed for success and social acceptance. That boy, Steven Spielberg, is now an adult. But is he completely grown up? “Sometimes he’ll howl with glee after breaking some of his clay targets,” a Sporting Clays champion, who requested anonymity, said. “Sometimes when he gets excited, he just can’t control himself. At times, he’s just like a little kid.”


Obama and guns

June 8, 2009
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Olympic trap shooting gold medalist Kim Rhode. Photo provided by Kim Rhode.

Around 11 years ago, a Democratic presidency triggered a rift in the firearms industry. Many company CEOs struggled with the financial ramifications of Bill Clinton’s presence at the White House. Some industry executives committed major blunders. Smith & Wesson, for example, caught the ire of gun owners across the country after it signed an agreement with the administration. The company agreed to numerous safety and design standards to avoid federal lawsuits. But gun-rights advocates described the agreement essentially as equivalent to gun rationing. Gun clubs launched large-scale boycotts and dealers stopped selling Smith & Wesson products. In 2001, the company built in 1855 by Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson — one of America’s largest firearms manufacturers — was sold to Saf-T-Hammer Corporation, a relatively new kid in the industry. The company’s leaders, like fast-draw shooters, quickly denounced the agreement. That move was received positively by gun owners. Today, such political kibitzing is not necessary. Even under a recession, gun sales are brisk. The rush to buy firearms is more intense than in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Managers at gun stores report selling out of long guns the day after Obama was elected. Many dealers have a long waiting list of rifle buyers.

Let’s look back at the firearms industry under Bill Clinton. Here’s a full-page Opinion feature published on No. 9, 1997 in Southern California by The Press-Enterprise, a 160,000-daily owned by The Dallas Morning News:

LOADED FOR SPORT

By Roni Toldanes

When 17-year-old Kim Rhode aimed her shotgun, fired astonishing shots and seized an Olympic gold medal in 1996, the entire firearms indus­try cheered, heralding her victory as a “shot in the arm” pro-gun advocates desperately needed.

Rhode’s shots continue to reverberate one year after her triumph.

The petite girl’s record-breaking Olym­pic performance injected excitement in the shooting sports and provided positive media image for American gun owners. Most important of all, it triggered a debate in the board rooms of firearms companies on how guns should be marketed to the public. Today, the double-barreled ques­tion is: Is it time for the firearm industry to become politically correct?

Just like the tobacco industry, firearm companies are reeling under a series of negative media reports, mostly due to horrible gun-related (and sometimes gang-related) crimes that usually hit the front pages of newspapers, plus the persis­tent media blitzkrieg launched by gun control groups.

Indeed, firearms industry executives acknowledge that under no administration in modern American political history has there been as much concern about the future of gun ownership as under the leadership of President Clinton.

This concern was underlined by a rare meeting last month at the White House. Executives representing 18 major gun manufacturers shook hands and had their pic­tures taken with Clinton, the person they’ve always joked about, caricatured and portrayed in industry cocktail parties as an utter buffoon.

From all indications, however, that meeting was a “savvy political move.” It sidestepped a potential showdown in Con­gress and preempted the likelihood of facing tougher gun legislation.

Industry analysts say the firearms in­dustry apparently made the move as an initial step towards public acceptance. Wally Arida, publisher of a shooting sports mag­azine, said firearms executives now real­ize that firearms, with a proper marketing campaign could become as acceptable as cigars.

As in the past few years, the debate on guns in the U.S. immerses the public in a discussion with the fervency and absolut­ism of a debate over religion. Opponents speak of guns as if they were satanic instruments, innately evil; gun fanciers wave copies of the Second Amendment as if it were a chapter from the Bible.

Firearms industry executives admit that crimes involving guns have hurt the public’s perception of gun owners. Even hunting, once considered part of Ameri­can tradition, has become repulsive for many people.

With attacks against gun ownership from both the domestic and international fronts, the firearms industry has started adjusting its sights.

Citing Rhode’s exam­ple, gun executives noted that the industry can gain an upper hand in the publicity war by marketing guns as sports shooting equipment, not tools for self-defense or weapons for mass destruction.

Rhode, of El Monte, has been described as the modern-day version of the legendary Old West sharpshooter Annie Oakley. She has appeared – while holding her shotgun  –  on numerous TV talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, has graced the cover of several magazines and has been interviewed by scores of major newspapers. “Since the Olympics, I have collected 3,000 square feet of printed articles about her,” said Kim’s father and coach, Richard Rhode.

After Rhode’s Olympic performance, the shooting sports experienced an up­surge in membership as firearm companies threw in their support and started promoting the shooting sports as a whole­some family activity. More shooting disci­plines also began sprouting all over the country.

There’s a new gun game called Cowboy Action Shooting, which has attracted thousands of shooters. It gives men, women and children a chance to relive the past, wearing Old West clothing while shooting replica shotguns, revolvers and rifles.

Since last year, thousands of gun owners have also dusted off their pistols to join International Practical Shooting Confed­eration, a handgun tournament, after the International Olympic committee finally recognized it as a legitimate sport.

Several shooting organizations have also begun actively campaigning to intro­duce new gun owners to the shooting sports. The National Shooting Sports Foun­dation (NSSF) has embarked on several promos to attract writers in mainstream media, offering a $21,000 cash prize in a writing competition. It has also announced $60,000 in cash prizes for individuals who develop new shooting games this year.

Marketing toward women is a major focus. For example, when the first issue of Sports for Women Magazine hits the newsstands this month, Colt, one of the world’s biggest firearms companies, will sport in it a full-color ad featuring women who compete in shooting sports. It’s a signal that more and more women are joining the once male-dominated target sports and a new market is burgeoning.

“We predict that more shooters will visit target shooting facilities this year than ever before, fueled by an increase in first-­time shooters and women,” said Bob Delfay, president of the NSSF.

While range shooting opens up an incredible market, one firearm company CEO sees increased sales another way: “That’s an indication that guns are taking a positive turn towards political correctness.

LOADED FOR SPORtnnn

Roni Toldanes wrote columns for The Press-Enterprise, a major daily owned by The Dallas Morning News

(Roni Toldanes is the editor of GunGames, a nationally circulated shooting sports magazine)