CHOOSING MY FAVORITE FIREARMS
by "Doc" O'Meara
When our webmaster asked me to do this story my initial reaction was to simply dust off one like it that I'd done several years ago and let it go at that. But, first I'd have to find it, then translate it from French, because the original English version had been lost in a computer crash a couple of years ago. But, after giving it further thought, I decided to approach it from an entirely different perspective. That earlier story had dealt solely with handguns. While the primary focus of this site is the subject of sixguns, most of us are seriously interested in firearms of all sorts. So it is with me.
I will say from the outset that if I were limited to having only firearms made prior to 1915, I could continue on my way quite happily. Further, if that limitation were reduced to single action revolvers, lever action rifles and either single-shot or side-by-side shotguns, there are some guns I'd miss, but wouldn't miss a beat in terms of rounds fired downrange or in the hunting fields.
In some ways asking one to choose favorite firearms is akin to asking the parent of several children to choose among them. How does one make such a choice? The human heart isn't capable of such division. Nevertheless I will endeavor to apply it to my guns.
Let's start with shotguns. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the scattergun. They are used only for the serious business of hunting. I don't shoot trap or skeet, so with the exception of limited need for CAS competitions, are not for play. There are three in my battery, including a side by side double with barrels cut to 18 1/2-inches; a Smith & Wesson semi-auto M-1000 with slug barrel and a Savage M-444 O/U. All are 12 gauge.
The SxS was purchased nearly 40 years ago to protect the payroll and cash deposits I carried for my employer. It was needed on three occasions, but as with most such incidents, its mere presence was sufficient to defuse the matter. It has also been used to take a few deer, a lot of grouse and quail, and many feral cats. Mostly it is kept in the closet or under the bed for my wife to use should things go bump in the night when I am on the road.
The S&W's use is limited to deer hunting in areas where rifles and shotguns are prohibited. It has done very well in that roll, but I wouldn't miss it much if it weren't there.
My shotgunning being limited for the most part to practical use, I would have to say the Savage, with its modified and improved cylinder bores would get the nod as favorite. It would handle all the upland game and waterfowl hunting chores required of it and, though not ideal for the purpose, work well enough for deer, as well. But, if limited to just one, the CAS factor would make the short barreled double my keeper. Frankly, I'd be more inclined to move them all along and get a longer barreled SxS to handle all those chores.
Rifles are a more specialized tool. They come in such a wide variety of calibers and action types, and are used for so many different purposes, that the process of selecting favorites seems to me better done by purpose.
Let's start with the .22s. There are five from which to choose. Three are Marlin lever actions. One is a Belgian Browning semi-auto that's so old it pre-dates the legal requirement for a serial number. Its condition is rough, but its accuracy is as good as the day it left the plant in Liege. That is to say, excellent. So, too, are the Marlins. But, as much fun and useful as these are, the one quality I want most from any firearm, especially a .22 rifle, is accuracy.
Bigger, heavier and reminiscent in many respects of a sporterized Mauser military rifle, the bolt action CZ Model 452-2E ZKM places its shots with very nearly the precision of an Olympic-grade small bore competition rifle. Its balance belies its weight and, with the 2.5×10 power Sightron compact scope it is nothing less than superb on target or small game.
In the centerfire arena I have three areas of concern; conventional target shooting, medium game hunting of the deer, bear, antelope sort and CAS. Again, handling and accuracy dictate. The Garand speaks for itself. If you have to ask why, you just don't pay attention. So, I'll make things even more cryptic for you by simply stating, Paton was right!
As for hunting, there are several centerfire rifles of which I'm quite fond. Either of my Model Seven Remington's, the .308 Win or the 6mm Rem can handle most chores. The .308 is good, but the 6mm is uncanny in its accuracy. It especially likes 85 grain bullets and will hold groups with loadings it likes as small as 5/8ths of an inch from a firm sandbag rest. The Winchester .30-30 Trapper's Model makes for a very handy woods gun, especially in the thick stuff. I expect great things from my Sedgely .30-06 when its refurbishment is completed, too. But, when it comes down to cases, the best of the lot seems to be the Ruger M-77 chambered for the 7×57 Mauser cartridge.
That rifle has been with me nearly 30 years, and is one of the first experimental run Bill Ruger made in order to determine whether the American market was truly interested in that cartridge and the .257 Roberts. Both lots sold out practically as soon as they hit the street. I never got one of the latter, but the 7mm impressed me from the first. It will hold a minute of angle or better with very nearly anything it's fed. It just isn't at all fickle about its diet. I don't generally keep rifles that aren't accurate, so what sets this one apart is that it doesn't seem to take any effort to make it shoot where I want the round to go. Out to 200 yards it makes off-hand shots seem easy. Using a rest, from there to 400 yards, holding three or four inches high keeps them on a full-size deer silhouette's boiler room. The rifle is one of those that simply makes me feel as one with it.
There is very nearly the same feeling with my final choice in the centerfire rifle lineup. The Marlin Cowboy II in .44-40 caliber had a relatively brief run and has now been discontinued in that chambering. I liked it a lot when using it with the original semi-buckhorn sight, but the addition of a Marble's tang sight that I got from Brownells has turned it into a precision instrument.
The very first centerfire rifle I ever purchased was a Model '92 in .44-40. That was in 1963. I learned a lot with it and one of the many lessons it taught was that the .44-40 is capable of remarkable precision in spite of what users of more modern rounds would consider its obvious limitations. At 100 yards it will stay well under two inches using 200 grain bullets, lead or jacketed. Adjust the tang sight appropriately and even with its rainbow-like trajectory it will ring the 4 inch steel gongs at the range out to 300 yards. Frankly, unless you're really hungry and just have to try such a shot, I wouldn't use it on game at that distance. The .44-40 simply doesn't have what it takes for certain one-shot stops much beyond 100 yards. But, for pure fun, and especially for CAS applications, I'd feel like I was being mighty greedy if I asked for more.
Now we get down to the part I like best; handguns. These, too, break down into three categories; personal defense, target shooting, both formal and informal, and CAS. In terms of personal defense, particularly concealed carry, my first priority is reliability. No matter what, the piece in question must go BANG! when called upon. What is carried is usually dependant upon wardrobe appropriate to the circumstances and perceived threat level.
Sometimes it's an S&W M-640 carried in the hip pocket. Other times it's a Mustang and a .380 Gov't PocketLite in tandem. Mostly, it's an S&W M-3913 LadySmith 9mm or the M-625-3; a 3-inch .45 ACP. Always as backup is the NAA Mini .22. It's the only one of the bunch that's actually been put to use for its intended purpose. Again, I didn't have to shoot it; just stuff it up the left nostril of the knife wielding thug who thought he had the advantage of me. He found himself suddenly and thoroughly disabused of that notion. If reduced to just one of these, it would have to be the 640.
In my Bullseye days, a hardball Gov't Model and a High Standard Supermatic Trophy Model were all I ever used. When well tuned, there's nothing better for that purpose.
Like most of us on this board, my primary interest is in the N-frame S&Ws and single action revolvers. A couple of M-625s, one 5-inch and the other 3 1/2-inch, a 6 1/2-inch 629 Classic DX, an early 610 and a M-28 take care of most of my DA chores, but honorable mention should also go to the 4-inch .38 Trooper, just because it is one of the tightest shooting of an already very accurate lot.
As for the SAs, there's a whole passel of Rugers, and clones from Uberti and Armi San Marco, but there's nothing like the feel of a genuine Colt. Three of my five are 3rd Generation. Two of those are New Frontiers; a 7 1/2-inch .44 Spec and a 4 3/4 .45. The other is a 4 3/4-inch .38-40. There's a 4 3/4-inch blue .357 Mag and a 5 1/2 nickel .45, as well; both 2nd Generation sixguns. The .45 is sometimes referred to as my last gun. That's because it's the last I'd ever consider giving up. I've even told my kids to forget it; that when my time comes I'm taking it with me. Number one son usually replies with a grin that there is such a thing as exhumation. We're both only half joking. Those on this board who have actually seen that revolver in the flesh (so to speak), and watched it perform, will know why.