Favorite Guns Part I

By Terry Murbach

When Jim Taylor asked me to write a bit about my favorite guns I thought, no big deal I could do that in my sleep. Turns out I was wrong. This is one tough assignment.

Well over half a century ago Colonel Townsend Whelen said, "Only accurate rifles are interesting". He was absolutely correct and over the years others have changed his words slightly to "Only accurate guns are interesting".

The odd thing is, in my entire lifetime with hundreds of guns passing through my hands only two did not meet my expectations and I can be down right demanding in those expectations. I didn’t dump either gun; Marlin re-barreled that M39 Mountie and it now thinks it’s the worlds’ only lever action Anschutz .22. The second was a Ruger 3-screw .357 4 5/8" Black Hawk that firmly held down first place as the world’s noisiest slingshot. I spent fifteen years testing loads in that .357 and the best it could ever do was 2.00" at 25 yards. It’s worst was unbelievable. Oddly enough, that .357 was absolutely the tightest fit Black Hawk I’ve ever seen to the very day I write these words. Hamilton Bowen provided the solution. He converted it to 10MM using the original barrel re-bored from 35 to 40 caliber, re-bored and re-chambered the cylinder, refit the action, put in a trigger pull to die for, remarked the frame to the new chamber, then re-blued the gun, hammer sides and all. It now shoots any bullet, any weight, lead or jacketed into itty bitty little groups!

This Bowenized 10MM Black Hawk is one of my favorite guns. I’ve put 7000 rounds through it so far. For my birthday in 1960 my daddy gave me a Colt Huntsman .22 pistol. I couldn’t hit a 3 lb. Coffee can at mere feet with it as I well proved only minutes after getting the pistol. One year later I could hit a Campbell soup cans at the back of our yard, a good 150 feet away. I had put 52,000 rounds through that pistol in one year. I still own it and doubt its been shot in the last 35 years. It’s total rounds fired is 65,000. I still love .22 pistols and revolvers. My favorite big .22 auto is a Ruger MKII 6 7/8" target with a red dot sight. My favorite little .22 auto is a Bersa with 17,000 rounds through it and not one malfunction. My favorite big .22 revolvers are a K22 6" from 1958 and a M617 4" K22. My favorite little .22 revolver is a 1997 Ruger Bearcat that is accurate and incredibly fast. (Like 125-150 fps faster than any 6 ½" Ruger tested by Taffin and me) and that brings me to my favorite medium sized .22 revolver, my H&R M999 Sportsman. In the Past 9 months I’ve put 6500 rounds through it, the majority in DA point shooting. In my odd shaped hands it is the finest point shooter I’ve ever used. Nothing else is even close. This 999’s accuracy is such that 9 shots touching at 25 yards is easy; it can do it at 50 yards too.

I’ve never been dogmatic about cartridges. They all have their place in the scheme of things. That being said the small revolver and pistol cartridges have always held special fascination for me. You can blame Elmer Keith for this. He held the .32 S&W Long in high regard as a small game cartridge and my .32 revolvers are among my favorites. I’ve never seen a Smith or Ruger .32 that didn’t shoot like house a fire. The Ruger .32 Mag sixguns shoot .32 Long handloads with excellent, sometimes exquisite, accuracy. My 2", 4", and 6" .32 Long S&W revolvers, along with the Ruger 6 1/2 " SSM .32 Mag, are among my favorite revolvers.

Few think of .380 pistols as "sporting" guns, but my Astra Constable II has killed small game like a lighting bolt. My Bersa .380’s are great shooting pistols. I’ve run thousands of .380 lead bullet hand loads off my ammo Master Progressive Press and have never had a gun malfunction from a single round of it. My Astra .380 is a favorite gun.

I’ve been shooting 9MM pistols for 40 years. The S&W M39 has been a lifelong favorite but the last 9MM I got a couple years ago may be the best I’ve ever shot, a CZ 85 Combat with full ambidextrous controls and adjustable sights. With an electroless nickel frame and blue slide it looks as great as it handles and shoots. A great 9 and a favorite pistol.

The S&W M19 is the best DA .357 ever made. My 4" M19 has 48,000 rounds through it and is still going strong. The Ruger Black Hawk .357 is the best SA 357 ever made, and maybe the best all round sixgun of all time. That being said I never owned a Black Hawk .357 that wasn’t goofy as a seven dollar bill in one way or the other until April of this last year of the twentieth century. This 1971 issue BH .357 is warn, has a 2 ¼ lb. Trigger and the peaceful security of a permanent home and regular feeding.

The first 38/40 I ever shot is a Cimarron 4 ¾" SAA. It shot groups averaging 1 ¼" at 25 yards and I fell all over myself in love with that sixgun and that caliber. I feel a powerful need for a 7 ½" SA 38/40 and a ’92 lever gun.

I own at least five 41 Mag sixguns. Can’t remember the last time I shot any of them. A great cartridge…ignored by even me. I’m ashamed. My favorite of the guns I have is a first year Ruger Black Hawk 4 5/8" .41 I got from Griffon and Howe years ago. With full loads it beats hell out of me.

My favorite .44 Special is the TLA Skeeter Skelton commemorative, number SS6 of seven ever made. Put over 4500 rounds through it so far. Sometimes use it as my carry gun. I never shoot it without thinking of Skeeter and wondering why he had to leave us so soon. I think of his son Bart too, a fine man I’m privileged to be friends with.

My favorite DA .44 Mag is a 6" nickel S&W M29 with Bear Hug Skeeter Skelton walnut stocks. Shoots great.

The Ruger 5 ½" stainless steel Super Black Hawk is my favorite .44 Mag SA sixgun. It’s XR3-RED grip frame and full SS construction with black sights looks right, feels right, and shoots great. John Taffin made and gave to me a holster/gun belt rig made specifically for this gun. I was humbled.

The .45 ACP is a wonderful cartridge. It handles lead and jacketed bullets equally well. While meant for auto loading pistols starting with the Colt Model 1905, it is also easily at home in revolvers. I own five single action sixguns with .45 ACP cylinders, 2 Rugers, 1 Colt, 2 EMF Hartford and 1 Cimarron. My favorite is a Colt 4 ¾" SAA that was sold as a .45 ACP sixgun with a spare .45 Colt cylinder. This Colt is my favorite SA .45 ACP sixgun.

I own two S&W .45 ACP revolvers, a 6 ½" M25-2 and a M625-4 4". The latter is far better made, much more accurate with a large selection of loads it shoots very well. This 4" S&W Mountain Gun, 1995 issue, is a peach of a favorite.

I’ve never owned a .45 Colt sixgun I didn’t like, and still own all but two of them. My favorite everyday shootin’ gun is a 4 ¾" Cimarron with their high grade custom case hardened frame and deluxe bluing. As of today it has 6236 rounds through it and shoots great. Never have had a problem with it. It looks great, feels great, and pokes 255-260 gr. SWC’s at 950 fps down range in fine style.

The two Ruger Black Hawk on .45 Colt’s plus the Bisley .45 Colt are superbly accurate revolvers. The Bisley gobbles up .45 Colt 300 gr hand loads and shoots them to way out yonder like a junior artillery piece. The Ruger .45 Colts are all favorites. When I want a big sixgun for any reason I always end up reaching for a .45 Colt. In the immortal words of Shootist Extraordinaire Robert Smythe, "The .45 Colt is never a mistake".

I’d figured on stopping this after the .45 Colts but in re-reading it I see where I forgot numerous guns that were favorites but got shunted aside for various reasons, some not all together logical. My S&W M36-1 3" .38 Trail Masterpiece has been a wonderful companion, now un-used for maybe ten years. Haven’t a clue why.

In 1992 also Uberti presented me with a custom SAA sixgun in .357 Mag with Marbled Italian Walnut Stocks. Very accurate out to long distance, I put over 7000 rounds through it in no time flat, used it for .357 Mag ammo testing, and one day took it out of my gun box for some other T&E gun (now long forgotten as to what that was) and this wonderful Uberti .357 disappeared into the catacombs of my gun safe never to be shot since.

Several years ago I found an old Colt SAA .38 Special for sale. I grabbed it and began the task of shooting up all the Cor-Bon .38 SPL+P+Seconds I could lay my hands upon, which is to say every last round in the plant. This old Colt loved’em all and thought it self a target pistol with the .38 SPL 158 grs WC+P+loads we used to make. A lovely sixgun that got set aside for some new flame, never to be seen again. I can’t find it to save my life. I miss this old favorite.

And lastly there is a new favorite in my gun box that’s not even a sixgun. Springfield armory built a lightweight full sized 1911 AI for me in 9X23. Their custom shop built this pistol and it may well be the finest 1911 I’ve ever had. It’s accuracy is exquisite, it’s trigger perfect at 3 ½ lbs, it’s sights black, crisp, and clear, it’s ammo appetite omnivorous with it’s ability to shoot 9X23, .38 Super, .38 ACP, .356 TSW, 9X21, 9X22, 9MM Largo, 9MM Steyr, even 9X19, 9X18 Ultra, and .380 if one doesn’t mind a magazine fed single shot with the latter. With it’s light weight frame it’s a joy to handle and shoot. I’d always wanted a target grade .38 Super; The 9X23 trumps that big time. What a gun! What a cartridge! Wow!