Walther P99

As handguns go, the Walther P99 is something of an odd duck - the magazine release is strangely placed for those of us accustomed to a thumb button (or a European heel-mounted catch) the multi-stage trigger is awkward if you shoot a double-action or striker pistol, magazines are nowhere near as common as those of the competition, and the earlier models employ a proprietary rail for which adapters or accessories are few and far between.

By accounts those three hitches would knock a pistol out of the running as a serious carry/zombie/match gun.  The saving grace of the P99, however, is in the grip.  In all the handguns I've picked up over the years, none sits half as comfortable as Walther's little pistol that could.  Close your fingers around it and the P99 feels like it was poured in place.

Not owning one personally, I also think they look neat.  Sort of that business/classy look that the Germans pull off with such aplomb.

Smith & Wesson M&P 40

The first revolver I ever owned was a Model 10 Smith & Wesson, chambered in the ubiquitous .38 special.  It was an older model with the tapered barrel, engraved down the backstrap for the Royal Hong Kong Police, and drilled at the bottom of the frame for a (missing) lanyard ring.  Once outfitted with a set of beater wooden grips, it was in my estimation a neat fit for what's broadly considered one of THE service handguns of the 20th century. 

Around 2005 or so I began to hear rumblings of a new Military & Police model.  Later, working at a gun and pawn joint, I got my first look.

I was decidedly unimpressed.

Being a twenty-something luddite, I took umbrage at this new form of marketing witchcraft.  An M&P, in my way of thinking, was a six-shot .38 special.  It could come in any number of configurations - fat barrel, skinny barrel, round or square butt, any general length - but was at heart a chunk of blued forged steel with a pedigree stretching back over a century.  Generations of police had carried one.  The American GI might have taken an M&P up the black sand beach at Iwo Jima or on cold high-altitude bombing runs over Germany.  Umpteen hundreds of thousands of Americans owned one, whether on their bedside table or in a shoebox in the closet.  The Military & Police name had a history

And this new model was none of that.  Rather, it was some kind of automatic, a polymer horror of all things, chambered for 9mm and 40 S&W, and replete with all manner of gimmicks.  Accessory rails!  Internal locks!  Multiple backstraps!  High-capacity magazines!


But in fairness the new M&P really wasn't that bad.  For a usurper to the name it really did bring a lot to the table.  People who didn't like the shape and size of a Glock seemed to take to it well.  It pointed more naturally for some.  The trigger wasn't great; mostly early models were gritty and somewhat uneven, but in time those would smooth out.  And no matter my opinion of the 9mm (or inexperience with .40 S&W) there was something to be said for that extra capacity. 

I still toy with the idea of getting one in .45ACP. 

Mossberg 500 Cruiser

There exists some debate as to the feasibility of a shotgun with a pistol grip as opposed to a conventional stock, especially for prolonged use.  My personal experience is that no, you really don't want to be shooting one for more than a couple of rounds, counter to what the latest zombie movie or the gloriously over-the-top action movies may imply.  They do look pretty cool, though.

The big advantage of a pistol grip on a shotgun is one of maneuverability.  With roughly a foot gone from the back end you generally don't run into as many obstacles, which is great if you're doing the kind of shooting that involves confined spaces and short range - say, across an average room, or hunting rats in an air duct, or fending off zombies from the comfort of a dumpster - and doesn't place a great deal of importance on accuracy. 

They're also a good way to tenderize the wedge between thumb and forefinger on your dominant hand, which after a while can diminish the accuracy of what one of my friends generously calls 'more a hand-held claymore mine than a firearm'.

But for shooting minute-of-Volkswagen across the range of an average barroom?  Pure epic fun.  I hear the intimidation factor can be pretty high, too, although I don't care to check personally. 

The animal here is the fairly commonplace Mossberg Cruiser model which, along with its breacher-model cousin, is as short as you can get a shotgun without venturing into NFA territory.  The 500/590 series are the company's counterpart to the Remington 870 and - to a much lesser extent - the Winchester 1200/1300 family.  The Cruiser designation implies the pistol grip, shorter magazine, and 18-inch barrel, while the heat shield seems to be optional.  Either way, it's a shotgun built for the purpose of being easily handled inside a close environment (such as a patrol car, if the name is any indication). 

Not something that much appeals to me (I'm an 870 fan, and I much prefer a Speedfeed birdshead as an alternative) but probably one of the more recognizable whippet guns out there.

Winchester M1897 Trench Gun (1918)

There is perhaps no other weapon in the conscious of the public that can command the respect of a 12-gauge shotgun.  A riot-length model (most commonly fitted with a 20" barrel but more broadly interpreted to include any length between 21" and the legal minimum at 18 ½") is about as readily apparent in function as a double-bit ax or a shovel; a man carrying the former is looking to cut timber, a man carrying the latter is looking to dig, and presumably a man carrying a riot gun is looking to join a fight or put an end to one.

Today, advances in firearms technology have put the shotgun into a tenuous position. A good percentage of men who regularly go armed for the purpose of close-in work prefer the higher rates of fire, larger capacities, and lower recoil of intermediate-caliber carbines, fifty yards (with practice) is not an unreasonable distance for handgun work, and outside the pastime of breaking clays or hunting game birds the shotgun seems to have slipped into the unenviable position of being the jack of all trades and the master of none.

But it was not always thus. In the era before wide presence of semi-automatics, detachable magazines, and all manner of whiz-bang gadgetry available to the contemporary shooter the shotgun was the the tool of choice for a man expecting trouble. The spread of shot meant he was more likely to put lead on target. In doubles, the presence of a second barrel meant another shell ready in case of misfire (or determined miscreants).  Likewise, early autoloaders and pumpguns without a trigger disconnect allowed a single shooter to put a good deal of lead in the air in a hurry.  Moreover, a shotgun is an imposing specimen - and this goes especially for the view from the business end.

The double gun being a perfectly adequate choice of the era (and still today, in practiced hands) the dedicated fighting shotgun couldn't truly come about without two crucial developments.  The first was that of cased ammunition.  The second, the growing prevalence of repeating arms which began appearing in the boom following the American Civil War.

Introduced in 1882, the Spencer repeating shotgun was the first commercially viable pump action to appear on the market. Somewhat ungainly, it was slow to catch on and not produced in great numbers. Five years later Winchester introduced their Model 1887, a lever-action design from a Utahn by the name John Moses Browning. Even at the height the levergun's popularity the 1887 was not the smashing commercial success the powers at Winchester might have hoped.  It did, however, demonstrate the advantages of a single-barrel design feeding from an underslung tubular magazine.

This carried over some six years later when Winchester - again producing a Browning design - first began offering the Model 1893, a pump chambered for 2½" shells. Sales were generally good, but in comparatively short order the 1893 was dropped from the catalogue in favor of the improved Model 1897, now in the familiar 2¾" chambering and featuring numerous tweaks and refinements in respect to its predecessor.

The timing was fortuitous. With the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 the United States found itself taking the first halting steps into the limelight as a world power. Upon the cessation of hostilities America made its first territorial gains in the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, and soon thereafter began coming to grips with the hard truths of being a colonial power; Filipinos, expecting recognition of their independence per a pre-war agreement, rose violently when denied after the fact.

The dustup that came to be known as the Philippine Insurrection revealed any number of shortcomings in the U.S. military. Famously, the .38 Colt revolvers issued to occupation troops proven unequal to the task of putting down a doped-to-the-gills Moro warrior emerging from the jungle waving a machete, who often succumbed to his wounds after killing the hapless shooter. This led first to the re-issue of the heavier Single Action Army in .45 Colt; Stateside, it prompted development on what were to become the 1911 service pistol and the 1903 rifle (and, respectively, the .45ACP and .30-06 rounds). Meantime, it was decided that if two rounds of double-ought buckshot were good for stopping a fight, then five must be even better. The U.S. government began acquiring the new Winchester shotguns, and the 1897's legacy as a martial arm was off to a credible start.

This reputation was alive and well in 1917 when the first men of the American Expeditionary Force set foot in France. Then in its third year, the Great War was long since established as a static conflict. Once the grand Napoleonic formations of men met and promptly shot each other to bloody rags in 1914, battle lines settled and and grew stagnant. It was a misery unlike any seen before - no longer a rifleman's fight, conducted at range and firing in ordered volleys, but a fixed killing ground ruled by artillery, gas, and chattering machine guns.  Exchanges of lead at close quarters were sudden and fierce, often a result of nighttime trench raids with small teams infiltrating neighboring enemy positions in search of prisoners and intelligence.

With rifles too ungainly in the confines of a trench and most machine guns too heavy to move rapidly as support, trench fighting devolved into a brutish short-range affair. Pistols, grenades, knives, and clubs that harkened more to the medieval era than the contemporary times were weapons of choice.  It was in this type of combat that a short-barreled shotgun would prove invaluable, and as the AEF arrived in-theater so too did a uniquely American solution: a standard Winchester riot gun, outfitted with perforated barrel shroud and lug to accept the same bayonet as the U.S. 1917 rifle.  Thus refitted for modern war, shotguns in this configuration entered the doughboy parlance as 'trench guns'. 

In this guise the Winchester served with distinction, being used to good effect by Army and Marine Corps units through the end of the war and well beyond (to include limited service as late as Viet Nam). So effective was the weapon that it was deemed cruel and offensive and thereafter formally protested by the Germans...those delightful people who introduced the world to poison gas, unrestricted u-boat warfare, and zeppelin raids on English population centers.

Hell...a recommendation like that's got to count for something.

U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1917

As seems to be a recurring theme in history, when the United States jumped into Europe's bloody family feud in 1917 it did so with a critical shortage of war material - save, perhaps, manpower.  In fairly quick order the ranks of what was to become the Allied Expeditionary Force swelled with almost 3,000,000 fresh recruits.

The trouble then became the matter of arming and equipping said recruits; the United States Army and Marine Corps in particular having been comparatively small before the opening of hostilities, America very quickly found herself behind the supply curve.  Existing stocks of small arms were insufficient to outfit a force of any appreciable size; supplies of both Colt's 1911 and the Model of 1903 Springfield, primary weapons for the infantry, were dismally short.  The Winchester 1897 riot gun, in service since the turn of the century, was on the registers but not suitable for mass issue.  Despite two homegrown and more modern designs (the Maxim and the Lewis) the United States had not adopted a machine gun since the Spanish-American War.

The solution came in several stages.  Additional manufacturers entered the field to take up some of the slack - Remington Arms tooled up to produce rifles and pistols, Smith & Wesson and Colt introduced their respective 1917 revolvers, and production at Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal kicked into overdrive.  Meanwhile, John Browning got to work building what was to become a light, man-portable automatic rifle eventually known as the BAR. Still, the lag in the supply chain was formidable.

And, as has happened frequently through American history, fortune smiled.  Early in the war, in the days of American neutrality, the British government had found itself under similar circumstance.  Their native arms industry unable to meet demand, the Crown contracted with American companies to produce their Pattern 1914 Enfield, itself a supplement (and planned successor) to the Lee-Enfield series of rifles.   By 1917 the contracts were fulfilled and no further orders placed.  This left Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone (the latter at Remington operation established within the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennylvania) with the machinery and skilled labor on hand to produce an American version.  With a change in barrel and bolt assembly to chamber the .30-06 Springfield cartridge the U.S. Rifle, M1917 was born.

Given three factories turning out 1917s (to the two producing the 1903) the new rifle quickly became the predominant long arm of the U.S. Army - the Marines, by and large, held onto their Springfields - and by war's end as much as three quarters of the AEF was equipped with an American-made Enfield.  Despite the surge in numbers and widespread use, the 1917s never achieved the mythical status and admiration as their native cousin.  Whether because it was an inferior rifle (debatable) or mistrust of a foreign design (possible) or merely too new and different (likely) the signing of the Armistice saw the 1917s into storage or public hands, the U.S. military resuming its love affair with the 1903, and the Enfield quietly fading to near obscurity.  It emerged briefly in the next world war as a weapon for second-line troops unlikely to see combat only to disappear again with the cessation of hostilities in 1945.

Today, the 1917 Enfield is a fairly sought-after collectors' item.  By accounts they make good shooters once one becomes accustomed to a bolt-action that cocks on the forward movement and are every inch the match of an '03 in the right hands.  They are also markedly less common and tend to command a premium over Springfields in similar condition - an interesting turn for a former redheaded stepchild.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting holdover from the war to them all and one to which history has done a considerable disservice.   

U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1903

Here, a rifle can claim a good half-century on the firing line.  More if you count the legions of fans who collect and still actively shoot one (or several).  Of course in those days a rifle with a fifty-year service life was no great trick, but I digress.

Perhaps the consummate American rifle, the 1903 Springfield  is somewhat ironically a copy.  In the early years of the 20th century the U.S. Government looked to standardize a rifle and cartridge for use in all branches of the armed services; by and large the Army issued the various models of Krag and the antiquated heavy Trapdoor Springfield, the Navy and Marines the straight-pull 6mm Lee.  

Experience in Cuba in the Spanish-American War showed the way.  The answer was the Model of 1903, a licensed version of the then-recent Mauser action.  Initial production rifles were chambered in the short-lived .30-03 cartridge and fitted with an even shorter-lived rod bayonet, famously noted to be useless and stupid by none other than Theodore Roosevelt.  By around 1905 the design was finalized into the rifle we all know and love, and once in circulation accompanied the American serviceman to Mexico with Pershing, China with the Marines, and ultimately through the Bois de Belleau, the Meuse-Argonne, the Philippines, Pearl Habor, Guadualcanal, North Africa, and eventually to the desolate hills along the 38th Parallel.

The 1903 family is also devilishly addictive to collect.  A hundred-odd years on, pristine examples are getting scarce and rebuilds are the norm.  A matching-parts rifle falls into the realm of a pipe dream, but for the enthusiast who doesn't mind putting a little extra cash into one the occasional good deal can be found on gently sporterized examples.  

This rifle pictured is representative of the standard at the time of the United States' entry into the First World War.  It wears a Type S stock with a single reinforcement below the reciever, a bolt with an early straight (unswept) handle, and a front sight protector as seems to be favored by the U.S. Marine Corps.  The Army appears to have had less enthusiasm for the device; a small point of consequence as a minority of doughboys carried the '03 to the Western Front, supplied as they were with the upcoming 1917 Enfield.

Given time and a cooperative internet provider I may return and add an accoutrement card as displayed with the M1 rifle a few posts down. 

Smith & Wesson Model of 1917

Heeeeeeeeeey we're on a World War I kick lately.  Because why not. 

First up, the 1917, an animal built by both Smith & Wesson and Colt as a response to the U.S. entry into the First World War and the U.S. Government's call for a handgun to counteract the short supply of 1911s already on hand.  The move at Colt was to chamber their existing New Service in .45 ACP; Smith & Wesson did likewise with their heavy-framed line of Hand Ejectors.

Collecting the S&W M1917 can be an adventure in itself.  In early 1918 the U.S. government took over control of the plant in order to speed production, and as with any government takeover disorder ensued.  Until January of that year examples were marked high on the right side of the frame with the initials of inspector Gilbert H. Stewart.  Beyond that time the GHS stamp was replaced with an flaming bomb.  Additionally, the dishing on the upper grip panels was deleted, and guns from the period can be found with a variety of markings (and lack thereof). 

Through only produced for two years as a military arm, the 1917 would remain in service until the end of the Second World War.  Two special orders were placed by the Brazilian goverment in 1937 and 1945 in an effort to standardize their armaments.  The tops of first-shipment Brazilian frames are square, the second shipment (being assembled from surplus older frames) are round.  Both are distinguished by the Brazilian crest over the sideplate.  For a while a Brazilian model could be found for a decent price (I gave $400 for mine) this is no longer the case, with U.S. examples commanding a higher premium still. 

In theory Smith & Wesson offers a 'new' 1917 in their Classic line...in theory.  Having inspected such an offering, any shooter who's spent time with an original can spot the fallacy in that claim.  The new models lack the heft of the old, the feel is otherwise off (an associate of mine purchased one and sold me the grips...which fit a K-frame M&P but not my Brazilian contract) and the less said about that infernal zit above the cylinder release the better. 

At any rate, the piece depicted here is an example of an early military run sent out from the factory before the government expedient measures took effect.  A Colt may be forthcoming at some point, along with a Brazilian Contract 1937/1945 and hopefully, someday, we'll see about adding .44 Hand Ejector to the lineup.