Interview with Charlton Heston

April 17, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: Charlton Heston died April 5, 2008 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. Lydia, his wife of 64 years, was by his side. Heston was president of the National Rifle Association, America’s most powerful lobbying organization, from 1998 until he resigned in 2003 when his health began faltering due to Alzheimer’s. At the 2000 NRA convention, Heston raised a flintlock rifle over his head and yelled that a potential Democratic presidency could take away his gun rights only from his “cold, dead hands.”

Here’s an interview with Charlton Heston in 1997. This interview won first prize in “The $21,000 Great Stories Contest,” a nationwide writing competition sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Outdoor Writers Association of America:

Charlton Heston led the NRA from 1998 to 2003. Photo courtesy of Heston’s PR agency. Image used with permission


‘MOSES’ LEADS THE PRO-GUN CHARGE

By RONI TOLDANES

He is known worldwide for his magnificent portrayals of remarkable men. He has portrayed presidents, generals and statesmen; even win­ning an Academy Award for playing the title character in one of Hollywood’s greatest epics, Ben-Hur. But for millions of his movie fans around the world, Charlton Heston is Moses, the scepter-wielding prophet who led his people to freedom from the tyrannical grip of a despotic pharaoh in the blockbuster film The Ten Commandments.

Now, looking back over a career that has spanned half a century and more than 70 motion pictures, Hes­ton shares his views about gun ownership and his active par­ticipation in the defense of the Second Amendment. He is back in the limelight after his election as president of the beleaguered National Rifle Association, a key position in the fight of Americans to pre­serve their right to bear arms. He has become a real-life Moses for gun owners.

Heston, who said he learned to use a shotgun at age 10 in rural Michigan and prides himself on a personal collection of at least 30 firearms at his Beverly Hills home, said he figured his best asset to the NRA was his fame. “I have my access in Congress because I’m so pretty,” he quipped. “That counts.”

Even those who disagree with Heston acknowledge that his dramatic role as “Moses” in The Ten Commandments is difficult to erase from the pub­lic’s mind. “It’s somewhat flattering to lose to Moses, the voice of God,” said Neal Knox, explaining why Heston was able to sweep onto the NRA board and defeat him.

Heston himself is eager to oblige to that notion, which he described in his recent autobiography as “my expanded persona, riding the tiger.” With his image as Moses, he said he gets invited to dinners with powerful politicians and influential world fig­ures. Before his interview with this writer, he trav­eled to Washington, D.C., for political kibitzing and to New York for a dinner with Prince Andrew hon­oring the American Air Museum in Britain.

A few years ago, Heston was busy promoting his book To Be a Man, which he dedicated to his grandson, Jack.  Thousands queued for his book signing. One of the memorable comments he’d received was from an elderly woman who said, “I quit the NRA because of its bad image. I’m joining again because I know you can straighten things out.”

Photo provided by Charlton Heston. Image used with permission

Both gun lobbyists and gun control advocates say that Heston provided the kind of shot-in-the-arm desperately needed by the NRA and all American gun owners. His primary value lies in being a credible conservative. “Heston can make sure that people understand that the NRA is a mainstream organization,” Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said. “He can deflect some of this criticism that the NRA represents the fringe elements of society. Charl­ton Heston is not a fringe person. ”

Observers attribute the scope of Heston’s appeal not only to his stardom but to a reputation untarnished by the sexual and drug-related peccadilloes that dog so many celebrities. “Charlton Heston is a man motivated by commitment,” said Washington-based political consultant Tony Makris. “He’s been married to the same woman, Lydia, for 63 years – his first and only love, the first woman he ever dated.”

RAP CONTROVERSY

In conversation, Heston was his usual affable self – a kind of old-school combination of court­liness, disarming self-mockery and perfect dic­tion. He took advantage of that diction in 1992 when Time-Warner was under attack for releas­ing rapper Ice-T’s controversial “Cop Killer” CD.

Heston, who owned several hundred shares of Time-Warner stock, barged into the stock­holders’ meeting in Beverly Hills that summer and condemned the company for putting out an anti-police album.

With about 1,000 stockholders intently lis­tening, Heston stood up and, with this sonorous voice, read the profane lyrics of “Cop Killer,” which almost no one in the room had heard or seen. The lyrics began with “F—k the police.” Heston’s move startled the stockholders and company executives. It was reminiscent of the movie scene when Moses raised his scepter and parted the Red Sea.

Time-Warner executives defended the album in terms of the First Amendment, but Heston told them, “Let me ask you: If this piece were titled ‘Fag Killer,’ or if the lyrics went ‘Die, die, kike, die!,’ would you still peddle it? It’s often been said that if Adolf Hitler came back with a dynamite treatment for a film, every studio in town would be after it. Would Warner be among them?”

Heston left the room in an echoing silence.

Several weeks later, Time-Warner caved in to crit­icism and intense national pressure, announc­ing that it had parted ways with Ice-T due to a dispute over album artwork. Industry observers credit Heston for the company’s decision.

“I’m proud of what I did, though now I’ll surely never be offered another film by Warner, nor get a good review from Time magazine,” Heston says. “On the other hand, I doubt I’ll get a traffic ticket very soon.” Heston has since sold his Time-Warner shares of stock.

OUTSPOKEN BELIEFS

Heston has devoted a great amount of his energy to causes in which he has strong and outspoken beliefs. He was an active supporter of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. in the early days of the strug­gle for civil rights in America, “long before it became fashionable.”

His unsullied reputation brought him respect and admiration from his colleagues in Hollywood. He was elected pres­ident of the Screen Actors Guild and served six terms on the board of directors; and was appointed co-chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 task force examining the fiscal worthiness of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Like most men in his generation, Heston learned about firearms at a young age because he often accompanied his dad hunting in the Michigan woods. Heston didn’t hunt for trophies but for the meat, mostly partridge. “Hunting requires patience and concentration,” he says. “Life has lent me these qualities since, but I lacked them as a boy.”

Heston believes that the media, in general, are mistaken for saying that the public is anti-gun and anti-NRA. “We’re not a lonely band. We represent mainstream America. Gun owner­ship is too deep a part of our culture.”

He recalled his recent appearance on the TV show Late Night with Conan O’Brien, on NBC. “When Conan mentioned the NRA and my participation in it, the audience cheered,” Heston says. “And this show was taped in New York City, the heart of Liberalville.”

SHIFTING PUBLIC OPINION

Public opinion on firearms, Heston says, seems to be shifting in the face of recent violent inci­dents. He recalled the Los Angeles riots in 1992, which helped many Hollywood folks change their views on gun ownership. As smoke from burning buildings smudged the skyline and the TV news showed vivid images of laughing loot­ers smashing windows and carting off boom boxes and booze, Heston got a few phone calls from firmly anti-gun friends. One conversation went this way:

“Umm, Chuck, you have quite a few … ah, guns, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Shotguns and … like that?”

“Indeed.”

“Could you lend me one for a day or so? I tried to buy one, but they have this waiting period … ”

“Yeah, I know; I remember you voted for that. Do you know how to use a shotgun?”

“No, I thought maybe you could teach me. This is getting a little scary.”

“I noticed. I could teach you, but not in an hour. You might shoot yourself instead of the bad guys. The Marines are coming up from Pendleton; that’ll end it. When it does, go buy yourself a good shotgun and take some lessons. It doesn’t get so scary then.”

Heston said his friend writer-director John Milius had more calls. His answer was more forthright: “Sorry. They’re all being used.”

Heston identified several famous Holly­wood people who own guns, including Steven Spielberg who owns one of the finest gun col­lections in California, but never refers to it, and never shoots publicly. Spielberg, who pro­duced the all-time blockbuster film The Lost Word – Jurassic Park, has been photographed shooting a shotgun at a Trap and Sporting Clays range in California, but asked the photogra­pher not to release his picture to the media. “Can you imagine the most famous filmmaker in town worried about his reputation?” Heston says, chuckling.

Charlton Heston’s letter to Roni Toldanes.

“There are numbers of gun owners, ­collectors, hunters, sport shooters in the film community, plus many more who keep firearms for protection,” Heston reveals. “I suspect, in fact, there are more Hollywood filmmakers who are closet gun enthusiasts than there are closet homosexuals.”

Can responsible gun owners really turn the tide of anti-gun sen­timent in this country? Heston’s answer: “I think we’re doing that now. You won’t get another anti-gun bill approved in this Congress.”

SHOWING THE FUN SIDE

These days, Heston also shoots Sporting Clays when his hectic schedule permits it. By hosting celebrity sports shooting tournaments near Dana Point, California, Hes­ton hopes to turn the tide of public opinion and encourage more Hollywood people to come out in the open in favor of responsible gun owner­ship. The competitions continue to attract more movie personalities each year, some of them coming from as far as New York.

Hollywood personalities, says Heston, are reluctant to come out in support of the Second Amendment “because they fear unemployment.” Heston hopes that by showing them that guns are not just for self defense, and people can actually have fun with guns at the shooting range, he could reverse their unfounded opinion.

Charlton Heston doesn’t need Moses’ scepter to do that. But his sporting shotgun would come in handy.

Editor’s Note: Managing Editor Roni Toldanes interviewed Charlton Heston in 1997. His feature story won first prize in “The $21,000 Great Stories Contest,” a nationwide writing contest sponsored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Toldanes received a standing ovation from more than 850 writers and editors during the OWAA national conference in Redding, California. Charlton Heston died on April 5, 2008 at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 84

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AN INCREDIBLE PASSION FOR GUNS

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Photo courtesy of Lou Ferrigno

 

By Roni Toldanes

As dramatic biographies go, this one sounds like it came straight from the soap opera archives: 12-year-old boy earns a few dollars after a nine-hour shift delivering groceries, goes home and puts all the money on the kitchen table. His father snatches his earnings despite his protests. “I worked hard for that money, Dad,” he bellowed indignantly, “what did you earn this morning?” His scowling father grabs a butcher knife and hurls it directly at him. It whistles past his face.

Fast forward 33 years. That boy is now a 45-year-old Lou Ferrigno, one of the world’s most successful bodybuilders and star of the 1980s TV series “The Incredible Hulk.”

Ferrigno, in a two-hour interview with this writer at his home in Santa Monica, California, avoided talking about his bleak childhood. Instead, he spoke enthusiastically about guns, his movie career, and his plan to introduce his two sons, Lou, Jr; and Brent, to the shooting sports.

“I like target shooting because it’s fun,” Ferrigno said in his baritone voice. “And it’s a good thing for a father to enjoy with his children.” His wife, Carla, also participates in the shotgun sports.

Ferrigno said he discovered the shooting sports last year and enjoyed the joshing and camaraderie at the firing range. He found the experience quite pleasant that in less than a year, his two glossy Fort Knox gun safes already contain at least 16 competition rifles, mostly equipped with long-range scopes; several shotguns and more than a dozen handguns.

Ferrigno’s enthusiasm towards introducing his sports to his children was in stark contrast with the emotional turmoil inflicted upon him by his father when he was a young boy in Brooklyn, New York.

At age 2, Ferrigno lost his hearing as a result of a severe inner-ear infection. His affliction made him reluctant to speak with people and his speech was somewhat askew.

Because of his handicap, Ferrigno was often ridiculed by his classmates. But he managed to take things in stride. That is, until the day he gathered enough courage to tell his father, a police lieutenant, of his dream to grow up just like Dad. His father shot down that dream with a terse comment: “The police department will never take a deaf kid onto the force. … The only thing that you’ll be able to do is drive a cab.”

With tears flowing down his cheeks, Ferrigno gathered his books and went to school with a heavy heart. From that day on, he promised himself that he would someday become a “big” person, someone bigger than a regular cop.

MARVELOUS COMICS

Ferrigno was always an action fan. As pictures served to stimulate and fire-up his imagination, he enjoyed reading comic books. His favorite was Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk. But his interest on comic books was changed when he saw a bodybuilding magazine at a newsstand on his way to school. Soon, huge men with swollen biceps and flaring quadriceps became his heroes.

Ferrigno took bodybuilding lessons, working out at nights in the family basement and pushing himself to the limit. Within a few years, Ferrigno brought home some of the most prestigious titles in bodybuilding, including Mr. Teenage America, Mr. America and Mr. International. At age 21, he became the youngest athlete ever to win the Mr. Universe title.

But Ferrigno’s hearing problem would continue to hound him. After winning the Mr. Universe title, he was interviewed by the ABC television network which promised to broadcast the contest on their popular Wide World of Sports program. His father went to the ABS studios in New York and viewed an advanced copy of the tape. As soon as his father arrived, Ferrigno inquired what happened at the TV station. His father looked at him coldly and said, “You know something? They can’t use your interview because we can’t understand your speech! Your speech was awful!”

Ferrigno was absolutely defenseless for his father’s final shot:” You’re a misfit!”

“I was shocked, horrified, hurt and stunned into total silence,” Ferrigno said. “I’d gone from a world champion with a bright future to the lowest piece of trash on the planet.”

A PHONE CALL FROM JOE WEIDER

Ferrigno’s melancholic life would change after his bravura performance at the Mr. Universe contest captivated Joe Weider, the magazine publisher who had trained very major star in bodybuilding since the 1940s. Weider telephoned Ferrigno’s house in Brooklyn, expressing interest in having Lou move out to California to pursue his body career. But his father answered the call. “No, he’s not interested, Mr. Weider,” his father said and hung up the phone.

Ferrigno eventually realized that his father viewed him as his own “personal plough horse.” Every penny that he earned went to his father, he said. As a result, he had no motivation to work hard at any vocation — except bodybuilding.

CHANCE TO ESCAPE

In 1976, Ferrigno’s opportunity to escape presented itself when he was invited to guest pose in California. He encountered no resistance from his father, who was offered $200 for Lou’s public appearance. In one short stroke, Ferrigno’s vicarious sacrifice for his father would come to an end. He did what most other young men would have done in similar situations: He stayed in California and never again returned home. And the rest, as some writers would often say, is history.

With his 23-inch arms and a bodyweight that fluctuates between 290 and 310 pounds of grade-A muscle and standing 6 feet 5 inches, Ferrigno transformed himself into a TV hero. Over the years, he took lead roles in several action films, including Hercules, Cage and Desert Warrior.

Ferrigno has finished Stand Tall, the sequel to the classic bodybuilding film Pumping Iron. He has also appeared on several stage productions and provided the voice for the Incredible Hulk in a TV animated series.

Gale Anne Hurd, producer of such recent blockbuster films as Terminator and Relic, considered Ferrigno’s appearance on the TV series Incredible Hulk so pivotal that she decided to give him a role in the $100-million movie version of the Hulk.

Ferrigno wants to improve his knowledge of guns and shooting. He said he would soon attend the Gunsite training camp in Arizona.

“I want to portray guns in the movies in a very sophisticated way,” he said, as he laughed at a recent top-grossing film that showed a sniper firing-off rapid shots from a chopper. “Do you know how difficult it is to shoot a sniper’s rifle from a helicopter?”

Ferrigno knows what he’s talking about. Inside cabinets that were positioned near his dining room were stacks of gun magazines. On top of his TV are gun videos, including a set of tapes produced by David Tubb, the world’s most successful high-power rifle shooter.

Despite his late entry in the shooting field, which began after a friend gifted him a large-frame Desert Eagle pistol, Ferrigno’s gun collection is already quite impressive. Name your favorite caliber and, chances are, he’s got it. From Stoner rifles to Springfield M-1A long-range rifles to magnaported .454 Casulls. They’re all unloaded and secured.

Magazine editor Roni Toldanes interviews "The Incredible Hulk" Lou Ferrigno at his home in Santa Monica, Calif.

Magazine editor Roni Toldanes interviews “The Incredible Hulk” Lou Ferrigno at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. Photo by Y.Sued

“Other men like to visit bars and drink,” he said, “while others like to blow their money on cars. But I’d rather buy guns that I can shoot.”

Ferrigno strongly supports the Second Amendment, the constitutional right to bear arms. “You have the right to own a firearm for self-protection or to shoot for fun, but you have to learn how to use it properly and respect all the rules.” He said his children, including his daughter, Shanna, understand the basic firearm safety rules. They’ve been told that if they see a gun at another home, they should walk away and immediately inform an adult.

Ferrigno spoke with particular intensity about acting and shooting. Acting, he said, offers him a chance to play diversified characters and show a different dimension of himself. Shooting, on the other hand, gives him the thrill.

SHOOTING FOR SCORE

Each time he discussed the shooting sports, Ferrigno was impassioned. He was moving. He was possessed with fervor. “Shooting is a mental challenge,” he said. “It forces you to focus. And it’s very relaxing.” He said he found it “fascinating” to be able to pull the trigger, drive a bullet 400 yards downrange and see a tight cluster of hits. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s one of the phenomenal things in life.”

Even at his age, Ferrigno is still a sight to behold. Whenever he goes to shopping malls, heads turn to glimpse the muscles. And there is the sound of a wolf whistle, distant but distinct.

In 1994, Ferrigno joined the Masters Olympia — 19 years after retiring from his last competition — and finished among the top 10 winners. His “praying mantis” pose, with his powerful right arm cocked behind his ear, appeared to unleash all the fury of a crackling lightning bolt.

Ferrigno said his schedule may soon allow him to actively participate in the shooting sports. Because of his huge hands, however, Ferrigno can’t use out-of-the-box guns. When he held his compact Lock 26 pistol, even with its 30-round magazine, it looked like a lollipop. When he clutched a single-stack 1911, his trigger finger extended all the way to the compensator. Despite this, Ferrigno expressed confidence he can succeed on the shooting circuit.

“I have the passion and I’m self-driven,” he said, recalling his bodybuilding triumph against younger men after nearly two decades of retiring from competition. “That’s why I want to take that energy now to the shooting sports.”

Letter from "The Incredible Hulk" to Roni Toldanes after the SHOT SHOW in Las Vegas

With his stamina, tenacity, and a powerful grip that can easily tame recoil, muscleman Lou Ferrigno should find it easy to hit his goal — and his targets.

After all, the Hulk’s shooting ability was already impressive enough that some spectators, who saw him recently at a firing range, exclaimed in unison: “That’s Incredible!”

Letter from “The Incredible Hulk” to Roni Toldanes after the SHOT SHOW in Las Vegas

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THE LOST WORLD OF STEVEN SPIELBERG

 

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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.”

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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.)