Thursday, January 28, 2010

A fine range day

OK, it was seriously cold out there, but that just meant that I had the range to myself.

This time, I went out with my old reliable Smith and Wesson Model 66 .357 revolver and my newest acquisition--a Marlin 1894 rifle chambered for the same caliber.
Now many years ago, I had a .357 Magnum rifle and pistol combo comprised of that same revolver and a Rossi lever-action rifle that I'd bought from a friend. I spent a fantastic summer roaming the mountains of Colorado with that pair, and it was great to be able to just plink around with light .38 Special loads from either one, or fire some serious .357 Magnum heat downrange if the situation called for it. And standardizing the rifle and pistol meant that I only had to pack two types of ammo--light loads and heavy loads--and while they were completely interchangeable between the two firearms, the longer barrel of the rifle really brought out maximum performance from the cartridges, boosting the muzzle velocity and effective range significantly. The pistol was concealable and convenient in it's holster or next to my bedroll at night (often actually inside my sleeping bag) and the rifle gave me enhanced power and accuracy at longer ranges.

Sadly, I sold that rifle years ago after having a falling-out with the friend that I'd bought it from. And of course that was around the time when these rifles became popular with the Cowboy Action shooters and prices shot up on the few that you could still find on the market. Then the ambulance-chasing tort lawyers convinced the firearms industry that even lever guns should have safety catches so the gun companies all started making these rifles with ugly--and unnecessary--safeties that did little more than destroy the clean lines of these slim and graceful guns. (Seriously, the rifles have external hammers that can be lowered until just prior to firing. That's all the safety that a competent shooter needs on a firearm like this.) I vowed that I would never buy a lever gun with a safety and I meant it. I'd always meant to get a replacement .357 Magnum rifle (without a safety) but could never find an affordable one at a time when I had the money in hand until just recently. A neighbor had a few guns that he was looking to sell, and damned if one of them wasn't a .357 magnum rifle.

So I snapped it up at a more-than-fair price and took it home. I cleaned it and oiled it and waited for a day like this when I could take it out and put it through it's paces. And it definitely did not disappoint. I zeroed it at 25 yards then moved it out and set it up with a 100 yard zero and after a bit of adjustment to the rear sight with a hammer to drift it to where it should have been from where it was, it's dead nuts accurate and will put ten .357 rounds on target as quick as I can work the lever.

And just for grins, after shooting my standard self-defense practice course on the 25 yard range with the revolver, I tried it on the 100 yard range along with the rifle and was quite pleased to find out that I could keep almost every round within a six-inch circle at that distance. It wasn't quite as accurate as the rifle at that range, but I'm confident that I can put consistent torso hits on person-sized targets at that distance, and that's not something I'd try to do with the typical 9mm or .45 pistol.

Of course the .357 Magnum was made to deliver more performance at longer ranges than the typical pistol caliber; that's what it's for. And that's why if I had to choose between all of my pistols and could only take one with me for the rest of my life, it'd probably be this Model 66, just because it's so versatile and because it's built solidly enough that it will probably outlast me.

So once again, I'm set up with a reliable and effective rifle/pistol combo that I can go back into the high country with. Perhaps this summer will see another backpacking trip and for reasons I've previously explained, these two guns will accompany me, just like the old days. AR-15's are great, but when it's time to hike the mountains, nothing beats a good lever-action rifle/revolver combo.


  1. Amen. I've been adding levers to my collection for the last few years now. Model 94 in 30-30, 1895 in 45-70, 336 in 30-30 and an 1894 in 45 LC to go along with the sweet New Model Blackhawk I just bought.
    I'm keeping them all forever.

  2. Anonymous9:07 PM

    An E-clip on the crossbolt safety takes care of the safety issue, or an o-ring in a pinch

  3. Yeah, but the safety--or it's hole--is still going to be there. Unacceptable.

  4. That reminds me....I gotta get out to the range here sometime soon and do a bunch of shooting. I have thousands of rounds just sitting around, begging to be shot. :)

  5. A hundred yards, a 4" barrel and All rounds in 6" Wow, Show me the target

  6. It's a 4" barrel all right. Target was a paper plate with one of those 6" reactive target disc stickers on it--the black ones that show a green circle around your bullet holes. Pistol was fired single-action from the bench (because that's all this range allows at 100 yards) and rested on my gear bag. And it was "almost all" on the 6" disc. 12 shots fired, 9 hit the disc, two hit the outer edge of the plate, and one went winging off into the cornfield somewhere. Rounds were my own manufacture--158 grain Hornady XTP's over 15.4 gr. of H110 and Win Small Magnum primers.

    Like I said--I wouldn't count on making head shots with it but torso hits...

  7. Well come visit and bring the ammo with ya!

  8. For the high country, what are your thoughts on the .357Mag v .44Mag? I'm thinking about large hairy 4-legged critters particularly, whose relatives work for the US Forest Service.

    BTW - I like your combo!

  9. Scott,

    I haven't done much with the .44 Magnums. I've had a lever gun in that caliber once but couldn't do a thing with it past 50 yards or so so I sold it on. And personally, that's too much for me in a pistol.

    I like the ballistics of the .44 Magnum but the .357 just fits my own preferences better. I'm looking into the .41 now as a possible option though.

    That said, I'd not care to try a bear with a .357, but then I've never hunted a bear and the only one that I've ever drawn down on in the wild--a young and probably curious black bear that I met up with by accident one night--wasn't impressed by my .45 1911 at all. But he did amble off when I yelled at him.

  10. Anonymous5:46 PM

    A more permanent solution for the safety is to remove the buttstock, clean out the filler that covers the safety detent allen screw. remove the allen screw, spring and detent ball. Pitch the spring. reinstall the ball and allen screw. Grind off the offending part of the safety that sticks out on the left side, reblue and voila, permanent fire position. Or go to the Marlin Owners forum and find a user there who makes a saddle ring replacement.