During one of my rare sojourns away from Castle Doghair, I was privileged to encounter an old First Model Iver Johnson Owl Head revolver in caliber .38 S&W that was still actually functional…which means that it wasn’t fired very much in the last hundred or so years.

With wrought iron frames and low carbon steel cylinders and barrels the Iver Johnson Owl Heads weren’t very strong or durable, but they were cheap. In 1914, the year my salty old pappy was born, they could be purchased from a local hardware or feed store for less than three US dollars, and the proprietor would often throw in a 40-cent box of ammunition to cinch the deal.

While three dollars in 1914 was a considerable sum to a man who earned a whole dollar a day digging coal or laboring on a farm, it was a smoking deal when a Colt or a Smith & Wesson would set you back 25 or 30 dollars.

With the Owl Head, Iver Johnson made it possible for people of limited means to have a reliable revolver for personal defense without having to forego eating for a month.

No, they weren’t very durable, and they didn’t stand up well to a lot of use, but with ammunition so frightfully expensive…nobody could afford to shoot for recreation and they weren’t especially accurate anyway.

No, these weren’t big boy toys. These charming little guns were strictly business, and they filled that niche very well. Today, finding a working example of a 1st or 2nd Model is rare, but it’s also moot because proper ammunition loaded with black powder is scarce, and most of the stuff loaded with modern smokeless powder is hard to come by and expensive as well as being unsafe to fire in the 1st and 2nd Models. The 3rd Models were proofed for smokeless powders, but weren’t much more durable than their two older cousins. They just wouldn’t come apart in your hand when fired with smokeless ammunition.

Neither were the two most popular calibers…namely .32 S&W Long, and .38 S&W…very powerful by today’s standards. What they were was nasty to get shot with. The outside lubed lead bullets picked up everything except women and money, and even a superficial wound almost guaranteed a raging infection, if not outright sepsis, which…in the days before effective, broad-spectrum antibiotics…sentenced many people to a slow, agonizing death.

Everyone understood this, and they were rightfully afraid of being on the wrong end of an Owl Head, which made them an effective deterrent to any foolishness. If a farmer or shopkeeper was known to carry an Owl Head, nobody was in an itching hurry to push his buttons.

The cheap, low-tech Owl Head was a raging success for its intended purpose. We will never see its like again.

18 thoughts on “Iver Johnson Owl Head revolver, justifying the inexpensive firearm”
  1. A well-conceived article that expresses some important truths that many of us gun & shooting hobbyists ignore or forget.

    We may see guns as works of art and mechanical wonder, to be treasured as such. If we focus too hard on those aspects, however, we lose sight of the fact that guns are tools. To the old-time farmer or tradesman of the break-top revolver era, a gun was a necessary tool with a specific purpose unlike any other. The old .32 S&W (not .32 S&W Long) and .38 S&W were not for sporting or hunting purposes primarily, although sport was to be had–if funds allowed–shooting at cans, bottles, or marks on a tree. “Hunting” also was possible, only if you counted shooting an occasional varmint you couldn’t knock over the head with a stick or ax handle.

    These cartridges, and the compact and inexpensive Iver Johnsons, Harrington & Richardsons, and various trade brand guns that chambered them, were for carry and self-defense above all else. Defense of the farmstead against robber, fox, and coyote was the province of the shotgun, primarily. Town-dwellers had limited flexibility to use a long-barreled shotgun, and were unlikely to cut them down and turn them into man-killers. The IJ’s and H&Rs and others fulfilled that role, from the nightstand, dresser, under the pillow, or the trouser or coat pocket. Their opponent was the fist, knife, brass knuckles, or another inexpensive pistol.

    The well-dressed man with money to buy dress attire was liable to buy a small pistol to be worn unobtrusively in more form-fitting clothes, but the farmer or tradesman generally wore baggy, comfortable work trousers or overalls, and what was called a “sack coat” was a cheaply-made, loose-fitting predecessor of today’s sport coat. In that era, no man was considered decently dressed if he was in shirt sleeves, so the sack coat was normal garb.

    The pocket guns these men carried were for self-protection against the tramps, thieves, and mean drunks encountered in saloons and pool halls, which were not proper places for a woman to go. The .32 S&W would poke a hole in a man’s guts, and a .38 S&W would poke a bigger, deeper, dirtier one. Neither was likely to penetrate through-and-through, a more fortunate circumstance leaving a cleaner wound from which dirty clothing, tobacco, watch-fobs, jackknives, matches, newspaper, coins, and string could be removed more readily. The bullet could be left in the body in some circumstances, especially hits in the extremities, but commonly had to be probed for and then gouged out with surgeon’s knife and forceps–if one could afford a doctor’s treatment–for a shot “in the body.” Or, it was simply bound up as “too deep,” and you hoped for the best and awaited the worst. Good time to dictate your will and have it witnessed and recorded!

    If the intestines were perforated in a “gut-shot,” a three-day lingering, feverish death from peritonitis was to be expected. These pocket guns were used one-handed, up close & personal, so sights were practically an afterthought. I imagine they prevented a lot of assaults in the first place, had spotty success in stopping an extremely personal and violently murderous assault with knife, sap or club, but did a pretty good job of preventing a gut-shot attacker from going on to anybody else in the day(s) left to him.

    My great-uncle Urquhart (“Erk-wet”) was a mean-‘un, known locally to carry a set of brass knucks, and eventually was shot in the heart by his partner in west Georgia about 1930, in a business argument over a mule. In his death agony, Uncle U. blindly emptied his gun into the ground before falling dead. My grandpa picked up B-i-L’s Urquhart’s gun afterwards, and later commented to his boy (my father) that the gun “was falling apart in my hands.”

    It was 60 years later that my father supplemented his rifle and shotgun with his first-ever pistol, a M92FS Beretta 9mm. My, how times had changed! If Uncle Urquhart had carried such a gun, perhaps he could have put 15 shots into the Georgia dirt before falling dead, and maybe your humble correspondent would have inherited it in serviceable condition!

    1. The 3rd model IJ 38 with the 6″ barrel were extremely popular among Maine residents and sportsmen. In 1969-70 you could walk into any second hand or trading post and buy top break handguns and ammo under $20 with the same scrutiny as buying a screwdriver. It was the height of cold War. Most men and contemporaries were WW1 & 2, Korea, Vietnam veterans. 2500 bombs by Communists in the USA were set off, yet no one lost rights,no Cash payoffs by Harvard Jewbouys to Boston bombing victims. Muslim were out friends and guaranteed cheap oil. I can see no way out but Civil War and written confessions.

  2. Interestingly…or maybe sadly…the whole shooting community seems to have lost sight of what a belly gun is, and what it’s designed for. This includes the industry.

    They take a perfectly workable J-Frame sized snub nosed revolver and stick a set of stocks on them that properly belong on a 4-inch K Frame, which defeats the purpose of a hideout. Then the buyers complain that they don’t deliver suitable accuracy at 25 yards…with a gun that is by design and intent…meant to be used at bad breath distances. They’re colloquially known as “Belly Guns” because at the ranges and circumstances they’re intended for…the recipient is most often shot in the belly.

    I suppose we can lay the blame at the feet of Smith & Wesson for marketing the Model 19 “Combat” Masterpiece with target stocks and relatively fragile adjustable sights…revolvers more suited for playing “Let’s pretend we’re in a gunfight” on Saturday afternoons than for actual fighting.

    And the band played on.

    1. I had to reply. I love Modl.19 S&W. I am about to come into possession of 1 or 2 Iver Johnsons..5 shot .38 S&W Top Breaks. My friend for 56 years is slowly dying of a cancerous brain tumor. It is so sad. I overed more than they are worth..$500. for both…now, I just want the one in best shape (the best “owl heads”) and go from there. I used to have a Mdl. 1/2 S&W (“Gambler Gun”) 5 shot .32 cal. In any event , when I see people think they have to find old black powder to enjoy their piece; they do not. My gunsmith(RIP) Grabbed a box of modern smokeless .32 S&W , loaded my pistol and fired it into a metal 5 gal. pale. “It’s all about the energy” he told me. So, just check. You don’t have a good gunsmith…Get One.

  3. John,
    I couldn’t agree more!

    Every indication we ever get is that the overwhelming majority of self-defense shooting is face-to-face, or nearly so. Home defense shootings range from struggling over the gun, to shooting through a door or window from a couple of feet away. Concealed carry shooting events rarely involve bystanders taking shots in today’s litigious society, but when they do, they seem to be in very close.

    I don’t read all the gun magazines anymore, but have read plenty of them. Other sources, too. Plus common sense observation in nearly 6 decades walking this earth. The unmistakable, unavoidable conclusion from every source is that an armed civilian’s combat is at extremely close distances. Military and police requirements dictate greater range requirements, but civilian encounters simply don’t, except in unicorn-rare incidents.

    Now competition shooting calls for long shots, odd angles, rapid reloading and torrents of fire while “moving, shooting, and communicating” with the intensity of the final stages of an infantry assault. So, big sights, large & heavy magazines, and the latest & greatest accuracy aids are all at a premium. People argue vociferously about the adequacy of a four-inch group at 25 yards! Almost all shooting is two-handed fire delivered with use of the sights and rifle-like stances (Weaver, etc.) wherever possible to improve shot groups and score more points.

    I am not saying these skills and abilities are bad, but men such as Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate were apparently involved in more gunfights than anybody living today. And in “Shooting to Live with the One-Hand Gun,” published in 1940 to help train the British Army’s mass of conscripts who had little time for pistol training, Sykes emphasized the absolutely primary importance of getting off the first shot in a close-range fight. Nothing was to be allowed to interfere with that imperative. And while Sykes paid due homage to the sport of target pistol shooting using precise sight alignment and shooting techniques, he declared that its similarity to live combat shooting was “as chalk is to cheese.” In other words, slow fire based on precise accuracy would tend to get you killed in a gunfight, because a pistol range in daylight is not a dark alleyway or parking lot, bar room or bedroom.

    Granted, modern style shooting is far different than the bullseye shooting of old. Nonetheless, there are widespread indications that huge percentages of self defense gunfights do NOT involve the use of the sights, and police records indicate that LEO’s very often disregard their sights in the furious speed of close-up shooting. (Again, I realize there are exceptions.) This is what F/A/S emphasized back in 1940! Most gunfights, in their wide and intense experience, took place with men crouched, facing their foe squarely, and firing from below eye level. It was their fixed opinion that these observations were based in human nature, and were essentially immutable, instinctive, unchanging. And again, that firing first and with extreme speed was the primary requirement, when up close.

    They also clearly understood that “bursts” of 2-3 quick shots, delivered with an iron grip that helped ensure multiple body hits just inches apart with utmost rapidity, was the best way to survive. Just a guess, but I suspect what they were noticing was that such shooting gave results more similar to their preferred shotgun or submachinegun, which chopped up opponents in ways that slower pistol shots simply didn’t do. My guess? Temporary stretch cavities hit again and again with shots that struck before the temporary cavity settled down fully, equals exponential increase in tissue damage. It also seems plausible that neural functioning in the body takes a beating that increases exponentially with rapidity of hits, as signals are being transmitted to the brain at a speed difficult to process simultaneously, over and over. Just speculation on my part.

    So that’s my take. It is NOT based on personal experience of gunfights, but I also have never grabbed an oven burner element with my bare hand, and I still KNOW it hurts!

    So, many of our defense pistols are Mercedes, Ferrari, or Maserati, although we use them in real life like Fords and Chevys. Complex mechanisms, fine motor skills, eyesight, hearing–all are understood to be degraded badly in a close range shooting. The more they are degraded, the more we need guns that are simple and reflexive to operate under ultimate stress, natural to point with one hand from below eye level, fast to fire, and as powerful as the shooter can control with speed and these other characteristics being paramount.

    Thus, we need skimpy sights visible in low light to help pointability (Sykes recommended a silver bead like a shotgun); grips that allow concealment, fit naturally to help speed, and offer controllability adequate to pump out several rounds FAST and hit a big target (torso) up close, preferably with rounds impacting very close to each other. But their ultimate bottom line? Put a couple of shots into your opponent’s body before he shoots you, and the outcome will generally “be adequate to the purpose in view.” Oh, and be prepared to shoot and fight as aggressively as you know how, because you’re basically at grips with your opponent, and they essentially never witnessed instant incapacitation, whether the ammo was light & fast or slow & heavy.

    F/A/S had to use solid lead or FMJ bullets in their police service, but would have preferred an expanding bullet. They didn’t address expansion vs. penetration, because penetration was their only option–surely they would have been thrilled with HST ammo and the like.

    Their gun recommendations? The 1911 .45 Auto for uniformed police, partly for its “hard hitting” qualities and largely from an ammunition management and maintenance perspective. For a plainclothes officer, a Fitz Special cut down in .45 Colt, bobbed hammer and open trigger guard for speed, hand-carved finger grooves for natural fit, pointability, controllability, and raw power of a big bullet.

    For us CC types, there are more modern solutions available, and few would feel comfortable with a trigger guard cut out like a Fitz. Nonetheless, the gun they basically described for CC-type use was a snubby of heavy caliber and sleek build, aka a “belly gun.” Sykes specified up front that his recommendations applied to .32, .38, .44, and .45 calibers, not .22 and .25.

    In my Army career, the general mantra was “train as you will fight.” It seems to me, watching ranges full of two-hand holds and use of sights, etc., that we are selling “fight as you train.” And yet, almost all evidence seems to be that UP CLOSE, a human being will revert to the same basic instincts observed and embraced by Sykes, Fairbairn, and Applegate. (Obvious exceptions are SEALS, Delta, etc., who train non-stop with ultimate intensity.)

    Sorry for long post, but I agree that the belly gun concept and uses are what most civilians actually need, yet not what we sell, buy, or train with. Also, if anybody knows of “regular officers or people” (i.e., not SEALS, Delta) with gunfighting experience remotely close to Sykes, Fairbairn and Applegate, please let me know what they think and why. Since at least Fairbairn and Sykes were each involved in more than 100 gun battles involving handguns, it will be a tall order to find anyone living who has such experience, but I would welcome the chance to benefit from it.

    1. Bravo! I have used the “Weaver Stance” since reading his book before I had pubic hair! A soft lead bullett “Puts Ya Down!” I am a revolver man for that very reason.

  4. LaMan…It looks like we’ve been on the same page for a long time.

    I’ve often referenced the natural human response to a sudden attack crouch and punch the gun out in one hand somewhere between belt and shoulder level, and to train to get rapid hits that way…and I’ve just as often been vilified and even attacked for suggesting such foolishness.

    I used to correspond with a man who knew Charles Askins personally. A few months before Askins’ death, he invited him to come and observe an action-type match, and some of the nation’s top shooters would be there to compete. Askins had never seen one, and he readily accepted.

    Askins watched intently in silence, and when it concluded, he asked him what he thought. His reply, verbatim:

    “Looks like a lotta fun. Those boys are shooters, for sure…but if those had been real gunfights, there ain’t a damn one of’em would still be alive.”

    But, of course, men like Charles Askins and Jelly Bryce simply didn’t understand that they were doing it all wrong.

  5. John,
    Now that Askins quote is both an eye-opener and a keeper, isn’t it? *Really* makes a man think.

    I’m no expert on Askins, either, but some years ago I became interested in the .38 caliber, 200g bullet. It was partly because of an on-line correspondence with a man who apparently had quite a bit of “relevant experience,” and partly because I knew the British Army had adopted it in a particularly slow-moving form before WWII. Most on-line discussion of the matter was a completely dismissive rejection of the British Army of that era as a medley of fools, yet I knew that many of those same men had spent years in the trenches facing the Germans a very short time previously. I knew that the officers and men who formed volunteer trench-raid formations sometimes survived a few, got really good at it, and developed a taste for it that very few others had.

    It made me wonder if men like that were behind the British Army’s adoption of the .38-200, and of course it also led me to the “news” that the .38 Super Police cartridge of yesteryear practically was a duplicate of it, or vice versa. On-line opinion of it, and its .38 Special Super Police “cousin,” generally was dismissive as well, with common reference being made to it as a “paint scratcher” when fired at automobiles. Several tales floated (and still float) around about the British bullet–actually in its subsequent Mk 2 178g FMJ form–failing to penetrate a German overcoat, and other such show-stoppers.

    I was in the US Army for a couple of dozen years, and was certainly aware that armies could make mistakes in choosing equipment! But…unable to penetrate an overcoat??? Didn’t seem possible, yet I actually came across several seemingly dependable personal accounts of men who had fired it in Mk 2 FMJ form and failed to penetrate into a book on a shelf; another whose experience included Mk 2 bullets being unable, or only barely able, to get out of the barrel, often failing to even *reach* a range target! More stories of Canadian cops in the 1970’s, disgusted with its inability to damage a car full of escaping criminals; a man who shot a 55-gallon drum with the original Super Police and had it bounce off; American cops underwhelmed by the 200g load, etc. etc.

    Yet Hatcher, Askins, Gaylord (OK, holstermaker, but apparently was tight with the NYPD back in the day), all had some very good things to say about the .38-200. Others referred to its superior knockdown power, attested to by various cops. Another source, I’ve forgotten which, spoke of shooting .38 Special 158g LRN and .38 Special Super Police 200g LRN bullets at bundles of soaked newspaper. He opened the bundle shot with 158’s and measured the depth of penetration…then opened the bundle shot with 200’s and was stunned to find “terrific damage,” such that he could not shoot more than 2-3x at an individual bundle, rather than his usual 4 shots.

    Colonel Askins described an encounter with a German rifleman holed up in a house in 1944 or 1945. Askins hooked around back and took cover, while his jeep driver kicked in the front door and went in blasting with his carbine. The German was flushed out the back way, sprinting for cover, and Askins fired a single “creakingly slow” .38 Special 200g bullet coated with some gold-colored stuff (Lubaloy, no doubt, which resembles a gilding metal jacket) that somehow made it “legal” according to the Conventions. A puzzle to Askins.

    The German was “knocked heels over jockstrap” by Askins’s shot, and it turned out the bullet had penetrated a leather equipment strap, entered the German’s side, and exited behind the opposite shoulder blade. The motionless German “was in a dying condition” when Askins left. (Elsewhere he referred to the man as dead.) Askins had typically carried a .45, and couldn’t even recall how he had come to be carrying a .38 in a shoulder holster at the time.

    Having myself been a US Army Ordnance ammunition officer (even though I was stuck in nukes, then conventional logistics); having taught History at West Point; having been a lifelong hobby shooter, now living far outside city limits; how to reconcile all the conflicting evidence from sources that appeared from impossible to plausible to highly reliable?

    Bought some pistols, 200g molds, dug up some load data, and found some surplus Mk 2Z 178g
    ball ammo. Found out…everybody was right!

    Down around 600 fps, the long 200g soft lead, bottlenosed bullet (i.e. Brit Mk 1 or American .38 Super Police, .38 S&W) is stable in flight for a ways, but typically will destabilize quickly and tumble violently after penetrating a soft target (water jugs for me, human cadavers and livestock testing for the 1920-30’s Brits!) Up at 700 or 730, loaded like the old .38 Special Super Police, or with a sharper ogive like some Remingtons, the bullet tended to drill straight through water (and tissue) with minimal target disruption like a 158g LRN of 1960’s police service infamy. But if those faster 200’s hit something solid like a human pelvis, shoulder, or femur, it often would get pulverized. Hard like a car door or auto glass = possible penetration at 90 degrees, likely only a paint scratch at acute angles.

    Turned out the 178g ball ammo was much the same story, different way. Fired from larger Smith & Wesson or Enfield chambers and barrels, it would loaf along at low 600’s and destabilize to beat the band, blowing through water jug 1, blowing up violently water jugs 2 and 3, and penetrating 2 or 3 additional jugs in a row, or a row over (!), before stopping. Fired into a rolled up overcoat, it stopped in layer 13 of wool coat and polyester lining. From a tighter Colt or Ruger Indian contract gun, it got 50-100 fps higher velocity and remained stable, drilling straight holes in wood, water, and overcoats. In 6-8 attempts where I recovered bullets, they were engraved by rifling but otherwise looked reloadable!

    What about the disastrous bullet-in-bore episodes with the Mk 2 FMJ? Learned subsequently from Ed Harris, former Ruger testing engineer, about “tolerance stacking.” Take max tolerance Enfield or Webley chambers and bores, and already wide break-open cylinder gaps at or near max tolerance, and jacketed bullets either of max tolerance diameter, minimum powder volume, extreme temperature storage, or all of the above, and you have a recipe for a bullet-in-bore situation. Loafing out of the bore at about 600 as designed, it can be tough on soft targets, but will ricochet off of most hard targets, especially at acute angles of incidence.

    I’ve never done exhaustive testing with the typical .38 S&W bullet in 145g soft LRN form, but do remember noticing that a fired one had…tumbled…inside a bundle of paper and was found pointing vertically, whereas 9mm and .45 FMJ was found point-forward, somewhat deeper in the bundle.

    So, in pocket top-break revolver, snub-nosed belly gun, or service revolver, original, 200g, or FMJ forms, the .38 S&W in its widely varying forms represents a tune to which we’ve almost lost the words. Each design had distinct merits, to include low recoil and quick shot recovery, but they’re almost lost to time in an era of high velocity JHP’s of advanced design…that open wide and typically stop in the 2nd, perhaps 3rd water jug. (Latest versions often do better.) Everybody “learned the lesson” of the late-60’s and early-’70’s: self-defense with any .38 and LRN bullets was barely better than suicide. And those who knew of the British conversion from .455 to .380/200 (one of several designations enjoyed by the .38 S&W over time), scorned them as complete dolts for considering it an acceptable substitute. All of which is right…except when it’s wrong!

    I found modern-era, solid J frame Smiths in caliber .38 S&W had last been made in 2″ and 4″ barrels as the Mod. 32-1 and 33-1 up to 1974. They descended from the pre-WWII I frame Terrier and Regulation Police models, respectively. Turns out Ed McGivern carried the latter in a suspender holster in his nice clothes, and a “hard-hitting and plenty accurate!” break-top Smith 2″ whenever it suited his purposes. I’ve found the solid frames were fine for my wife and daughters who were not into flash, blast, and recoil. Loads are chosen with all the aforementioned in mind, and now they have identical actions for 4″ house guns and 2″ carry guns. Their relatively light loads all put .380 FMJ in the shade, and we know that the ammo companies are still struggling to find JHP’s that both expand and penetrate “adequately.”

    I typically carry either snub, 4″, or combinations thereof for CCW, with 200g slow LRN’s in the I frame snub, faster-moving 200g LSWC in the Improved I frame and J frame snubs. Any will penetrate 5-6 jugs of water, or one of today’s 300-pounders probably from stem to stern or port to starboard.

    My 4″ guns are loaded with 150g LHP’s at 825 or 135g GDHP at 860, opening to .60″+ and penetrating into jug 4 (18-24″ of water). I use .44 SPL 200g GDHP handloads in a Pug (truck) and a 1911 and Security-Six + 20 ga. pump at bedside. With all handguns, 80+% of my practice is at 3′-21′ shooting F/A/S style, almost all one-handed. Another 10% is at 21-35′ in that style, the rest is sighted fire. Most of my variation concentrates on F/S 1/4 hip, 1/2 hip, 3/4 hip, and extended arm (Applegate’s “pump handle”) stances. The first day I ever really practiced point-shooting was with a Mod 10 and Mod 15, both 4″ .38 SPL. Using the pump-handle style, after a couple hundred practice rounds, I was getting 3-5 hits per cylinder into a torso-sized box at 20 yards when it was too dark to see the sights.

  6. We are on the same page.

    The long .38-200 bullet’s tendency to tumble was also seen in the 9mm Parabellum with the original 124 grain bullet, but wasn’t observed with the faster “high energy” 115 grain version.

    The British “idiots” had the answer to incapacitating a man over 250 years ago with the original .75 caliber Brown Bess and their “Heavy ball /Light charge” approach to battlefield effectiveness. They understood that mass and momentum was the key to putting a man down for the count, and…lacking that…using the bullet’s length to twist rate ratio to make it yaw and tumble after hitting meat was a pretty good substitute. It’s no coincidence that the Mark IV .303 bullet had a fearful reputation for tumbling and creating wounds far out of proportion to the caliber.

  7. This will be a two-part post because it addresses separate aspects of the discussion.

    When you wrote:

    It seems to me, watching ranges full of two-hand holds and use of sights, etc., that we are selling “fight as you train.”

    You hit the nail square on the hittin’ spot.

    I’ve long been a practitioner of “point” or instinctive shooting for serious purposes, and I’ve had several gamesmen offer to “school” me on the modern techniques, which I politely decline…mostly because I already understand how it works.

    Of course you should use sights and a two-hand stance if you have the time, distance, and opportunity. The problem is that everyone believes that they’ll have those options. They believe that they WILL get the perfect grip and the believe that they WILL get into a rock-solid stance and they WILL prevail because of their superior skills…and because they came in 3rd in the last IDPA/USPSA match.

    But, statistically, the odds are against it, and if they only learn to shoot one way…when the day comes that they DON’T have the time and the distance and the opportunity to play the game their way…they’ll probably die. Even somebody who does everything wrong can kill you, especially if he have a gun. You have to get lucky every time he pulls the trigger. He only has to get lucky once.

    I’ve also learned to take advantage of the Smith & Wesson’s grip frame shape and its natural pointability. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it wasn’t an accident. I believe that it was a carefully considered design that works with the natural human response to a sudden frontal attack as long as Smith’s Magna Stocks or even the original “short” stocks are kept on the gun. The Magna Stocks do offer a slight advantage, but either will work.

    Everybody lauds the pointing characteristics of the 1873 SAA…but the old Peacemaker ain’t got nothin’ on the Smith K-Frame. Everything about that grip frame is geared toward positioning the gun in the hand…locking it in…and recoil control and recovery. A little too involved to describe here, I generally have to explain it and demonstrate it visually.

    The people I’ve coached who have watched, listened and tried it for themselves instead of rejecting it out of hand have consistently said something on the order of:

    “Oh. My. God! Why does nobody know about this? Why wasn’t I told? Where have we all been?”

    One Charlotte NC police officer…the younger brother of an old friend and now retired…credits it with saving his life when he first signed on and Charlotte Metro was issuing Model 10s.

    But, our fathers and grandfathers knew about it and understood it.

    It’s amusing whenever I hear somebody laugh over an old photo of early agents firing from the FBI Crouch and calling it stupid. No, they weren’t stupid. They simply understood the dynamics of a gunfight and the natural human stress response…so they had their agents practice firing from that position.

  8. On my way to someplace else I stumbled this article on the IJ Owlheads and find it to be much more entertaining and insightful than articles on current handguns. They may have been made of wrought iron and primitive steels then, but hey, they’re making them out of plastic now. Also discovered LouisianaMan expertly replying to this article and gleefully read what he has to say. He’s always good.

    Many seem to think that the self-defense handgun must be able rend an assailant, leaving his smoking torso in two pieces on the floor or else it is unworthy. One could mount a spirited defense though with the .32 and .38 caliber cartridges the old top-break revolvers. One could be said to be having a bad day if fairly struck with either a .32 S&W or .38 S&W. Landing blows with the Owlhead would be a much more expedient way to fend off an assailant then closing with him in order to land blows with one’s fists. Whether or not the Owlhead is better than a base ball bat or a sheleighly is open to debate however all could be effectively employed for defensive purposes.

    I might prefer my beloved .38 Specials and .45 automatics, but sure would put up an enthusiastic fight with one of the old cartridges popular in the old top-breaks of yore if that’s what was available to me.

    I enjoyed your article John Travis. You’re worth looking in on from time to time.

  9. John,
    Funny you mention the K frame! When I took the skimpy wartime stocks off of my Victory Model and substituted a worn pair of Magna grips, suddenly that gun and its 5″ barrel became like an extension of my hand! Seemed to hit wherever I looked! Better than the 4″ Mod 15 and even the 4″ Mod 10, which seemed impossible.

    Have long been tempted to remove my 1911 and Security-Six from the nightstand in favor of the Victory for that very reason. Think I’ll simply add it in the first spot, hahaha! Load it with 200g SWCs, 28″ meplat (which I can “smush” in a blind die to .31 or .32″), loaded to about 675 fps. May download it 50 fps, as penetration will be more than adequate. Need my gunsmith to very slightly adjust timing on 3 chambers (although they work fine when hammer is cocked at any normal speed, and in DA), and check the hammer block mechanism to make sure it’s fully functional and drop-safe.

    Yes, it’s interesting that the Boer War, Spanish-American War, and especially WWI saw surgeons learn with certitude that high velocity .28-.30 caliber spitzer bullets tended to swing around base-first inside a man, and leave horrifying exit wounds. Fackler later confirmed this specific attribute above a certain vel., around 2400 fps depending on specifics. I believe, but have not researched, that the periodic “dum-dum bullet” scares of WWI were actually caused by this phenomenon.

    Do you happen to know whether the .455 Mk II 262g conical bullet was a tumbler? At 600 fps, I suppose it was. I’ve tentatively concluded that the Brits determined the tumbling .380/200, fired more quickly and with more-closely spaced hits due to lower recoil, gave a similar lethality to the tumbling .455/262, fired more slowly and/or with more widely-spaced hits. Not only was the gun lighter and handier for spottily-trained troops and off-balance men in a trench melée, but “combat lethality” actually was a comparison of 2-3 .38/200 shots fired in a burst. vs. 1 or maybe 2 shots fired from a .455. And the lethality of 2-3 vs. 1-2 hits, plus the blunt, soft lead composition vs. a jacketed, pointy form, was in fact “approximately equivalent in “stopping power.” Thompson-LaGarde in 1904 also concluded that soft lead tended to meld against bone and crush its way through, whereas jacketed or hardcast were more likely to glance off or drill rather neatly through. Not sure what the Brits inserved shooring cadavers and animals in their later .38/200 trials.

    BTW, back to pointability: I found the Enfield very, very good, surprisingly so. And although DAO, its lock time is amazingly swift. May need to go back and pick up one again!

  10. I don’t know about the .455 Webley, but the semi-pointy nose suggests that it’s a tumbler. That was a big part of the reason that the 9mm/124 did.

    The “K” grip frame was so nearly perfect for the average hand, that Smith & Wesson used it on their L Frame revolvers, and Ruger copied it and the Magna stocks on their old “Six” series with very little change.

    My first gun was a 4-inch Victory Model that I bought through a straw buyer…my father…before I started Jr. high school. It had the original skimpy stocks and I got so used to’em that I added a set of small N Frame set to my Model 58, and…like the K Frames…is like part of my hand.

    My personal carry gun is a 3-inch round butt Model 13. Its balance is very close to the “pencil” barrel Model 10, and I carry it with my home-rolled ammunition…a Speer158 grain LSWCHP loaded with Unique to provide an honest 950-960 fps from the short barrel, and breaks a thousand in my 4-inch 13.

    It’s not full-throttle 357 which makes it easy to control, easy on the guns, and it’s wicked accurate…a happy coincidence because I don’t put great store in target accuracy in a belly gun, but if it happens to work out that way, all the better. Basically, it matches the advertised velocity of the .38 +P 158 LSWCHP loading which doesn’t usually come to within 50 fps of the claimed velocities. The most interesting thing is that…at those speeds…the bullet upsets and literally turns into a full wadcutter in a ham hock when clogged with
    denim…and to 50 caliber without the clog. Clogged, wadcutter, it’ll penetrate from here to breakfast and smashes through heavy bone. Expanded, it penetrates 14 inches of ballistic gel and shatters heavy bone.

  11. Sorry! I think your first comment was held in moderation…you must have used to many big words and my system imploded. I pushed it live and forgot to delete the other. Oh well. At least now everyone can know all about ” the bankruptcy!”

    1. No worries. I get a tremendous amount of spam comments so all comments go to moderation to cut down on spam links. That is dones through the server security and I have no control over that. Sorry but I have replied to your other comments. I hope that helps and if you have any more questions, please ask.

  12. I just inherited one and it shoots true and straight. I’m enjoying the way it feels in my hand. It was my mother-in-laws. She was born in 1921 and she told me it was her grandmothers for when she was out on the farm “just in case”….. The .38 S&W’s are easy to come by around my town. I went to 4 ammo stores and 3 of the 4 had it in stock.

  13. Hello, I have this gun that a old friend of mine had just gave me. it was taken to a gun shop and I was told it is in good shape and ok to fire. I have not bought any shells or tried it yes. was wondering what years these were made? Can one tell by the serial number stamped on the bottom of the trigger guard? Mine is 66951..or is the first one a G? hard to tell.. What does S&W mean? I am not very knowledgeable in guns. Appreciate and info. Thank You

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