Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Handguns From My Past.

Where were we?  Oh, the Ruger.  That little Ruger didn't stay with me for long, only a year or so.  After I had been a parole officer for a while, working a rural caseload in Chinquapin parish, I started getting to know the local cops, and started watching what they carried.  Almost to a man (and there were very few women in police work those days) the Smith and Wesson K-frame dominated police work.  Specifically, the Model 66.  Smith and Wesson started making handguns from stainless steel in 1960 with their Model 60,  The Model 60 is a J-Frame five shot revolver, generally with a 2.5 inch barrel and it was beloved of plainclothes officers.

The Model 66

In 1970, Big Blue came out with their Model 66, the stainless version of the K-frame Model 19.  A six shot revolver in .357 magnum, by the early '80s the Model 66 was almost a universal sidearm for police officers.  You'll recall that the "wondernines" didn't come out until the late '80s and weren't widely accepted until the early '90s.  You might also remember that Gaston Glock hadn't develop his pistol until the early '80s and the Austrian army didn't adopt them until 1982.

Back in the '80s the revolver still dominated police work, either as a duty gun or a plainclothes gun, and Smith and Wesson was the leading manufactory.

Sometime about 1983 or '84, my department bought a bunch of SW 66 pistols on contract.  These were identical stainless pistols with round butts and 2.5 inch barrels.  They were roll-marked LAPP on the water table, under the cylinder on the left side of the handgun.  We were told that these were the handguns we'd use for duty work, and that was that.  No matter that each of us had heretofore purchased our own handguns, the department was now issuing them, and no argument.

My Ruger represented a week's groceries and the department had issued me a pistol.  The Ruger was excess inventory and I had kids at home, so it went on the block.  I got $100 for it.  I still regret selling that handgun, one of only four firearms I've ever sold.  But, that Ruger and the subseqent Smiths began my love affair with the .357 magnum.  Even today, I consider the .357 magmum cartridge one of the most versatile handgun cartridges ever developed.

If I had to limit myself to one handgun cartridge, the .357 magnum would get the nod.  Loaded with light charges of fast powder and lead bullets it takes small game with authority.  Loaded with a good flat point harcast bullet, it is the bees knees for medium game up close.  In a carbine, it shines out past 100 yards, the limit of much of my shooting in the piney woods.  With good expanding ammo, it's just right for holstering and rural law enforcement.  I carried a Model 66 for well over 20 years in rural law enforcement and never considered myself under-gunned.

In the mid '80s, a good family friend came by and asked me to hold a near-mint Model 66.  This one had a 4" barrel.  She was in an abusive relationship, was going through a divorce, was afraid of her soon-to-be ex, and asked me to hold the revolver.  I cleaned it, wrapped it in denim, and hid it in my closet.  A year or so later, I asked her about it, and she told me to keep the gun.  She didn't want it. Too many bad memories.  I didn't ask any questions, but told her I appreciated it.

Woot! I suddenly had a 4" Model 66, probably the perfect woods cruising revolver, and a damn fine service revolver.  I had just begun reloading and I settled on a practice load of Lee's great little tumble-lube 158 grain semi wadcutter over 4.3 grains of Unique and anybody's small pistol primer.  Even today, 30 years later, that's still my favorite .38 special load.  It gives me about 800 fps, is wonderfully accurate and very mild.

Over the next several years, the department started letting us use our personally owned revolvers, if we could qualify with them.  I qualified with my 4" gun and got a leather rig for it.  Over the years I won several department matches with that revolver and consider it one of my very favorite pieces.  The only thing I didn't like about that gun was the square butt, but a new set of Pachmayr Signature grips and a half-hour on a belt sander, and I had a revolver that fit me like a glove.  The grips look like hell, but they fit my hand.  That gun served me for almost 20 years before I retired it, and it's got more stories than I can tell here.  - - Well, maybe one.

One day in the late '80s I was hunting deer as part of a large group of folks in Red River parish, north of Coushatta, LA.  We  were "running dogs" across timber tracts late in the season.  We'd ring a section  of woods with standers, turn loose the dogs, and try to shoot the deer as they came out.

If your dog ran a rabbit, that was considered poor form, and the hunt-master that day swore that his dongs didn't run rabbits.  They put me on a small utility cut in the middle of the damndest thicket you've ever seen and told me to watch one particular hole in the brush.  They were going around to the other side of the woods, about a mile away and turn the dogs loose.  "If a deer comes through that hole, shoot it.  If you miss, catch the dogs, because there's nothing behind you but pine forest."

So, I found a convenient place to watch that hole and got comfortable.  After just a little while, I heard the dogs "jump" and it sounded like they were heading straight for me.  So, I hunkered down and watched that hole.  The dogs got closer, and I tightened the grip on the shotgun.  The dogs kept coming, and I shouldered the shotgun waiting for a deer to fill that hole.  Suddenly, I could see dogs about 40 yards down the lane, hot on the trail of a big ol' cottontail rabbit.

The rabbit came out that hole into the utility cut and squatted down.  I drew my revolver and shot the rabbit's head off from a range of about 15 feet.  That same load of Unique with a 158 bullet.  I caught the dogs and tied them before they could get across the cut, then waited for the driver.  He was considerably dismayed that his dogs ran a rabbit, and I was considerably pleased that I could prove it to him.  He took a lot of ribbing about that for the remainder of the weekend.

I retired that revolver in 2003 after 20 years of honorable service.  I loaned it to a daughter-in-law to use for her concealed carry class, and it still lives in my elder son's gun safe.  That old Model 66 is one of my very favorite revolvers.  It may serve the family for another generation at least.


Old NFO said...

Great story, and probably 2-3 more generations! :-)

Ryan said...

I am pretty full up on revolvers; well unless I get a place in Grizzly country at which point I will need a .44 mag. That being said one of my 'grail guns' is a 4" model 66 .357 mag. I need another revolver slightly less than a new hole in my head but darn sure want one. Also I love 6" half lug .357's and am partial to stainless ones. Maybe I'll end up with 2 more revolvers in the next couple years.

Anonymous said...

I have a 2.5 inch M66-5.

Very nice gun that I think was a police
trade-in although it is not so marked.
Bought a blued 2.5 inch M19 a few months
before I found the M66 because I had
given up on finding one.

So, now I have both and would not
turn loose of either.

SPMack said...

Pops recently gifted me his Model 66-2.

Shooting .38 Spl 158 grn LSWC out of it is enough to make a man feel like he has a chance on making the All Army, or atleast National Guard Bureau pistol team.