*Putting Together a Prepared Firearms Collection*
Chapter 1 - Handguns
By: Tailgunner
01 September 2005

The following is meant as a model of the thought process I used for my choices in a preparedness battery, it is primarily to get you thinking about issues that might influence what you use for preparedness. By all means do not get rid of what you have just because of any comments you read here. Remember this is only my opinion.

Firearms are useful tools in any preparedness program. They can be used for hunting, protection from dangerous animals and of course personal security. The most useful firearm in any given situation is the one at hand. If you donít have one handy when needed, it wonít help. There are those who propose each type as the single most useful, and perhaps for them it is. I have found however, that just like working on a car you canít just do everything with a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman. You can do many things fairly, and some things great, but not everything well. Then again the whole Craftsman Tool box is not easily carried everywhere. Having a number of tools and then carrying the ones that might be used while you are working is best. Handguns, Rifles, Shotguns and combination guns each have a useful purpose. However, not everyone wants to, nor can afford to have 10-20 guns for every possible specific use, so you need to identify those scenarios that you think could happen and then identify those firearms that you would use, ok, maybe some people would like and can afford to have an over abundance of guns. I think I can pare my collection down to seven or eight guns. Of course more is more fun.

Handguns:  In my mind there are multiple uses for handguns. Using a handgun well requires extensive training and practice. A recent trip to the range reminded me that I donít practice enough anymore. With training and practice, a hand gunner with open sights can hit targets out to over 100yards. Some may argue that there is little need for a handgun while carrying a reliable rifle, and for some there may be a lot of wisdom in that. However, I believe in Ďol Mr Murphy, if something can go wrong it will, and at the most inopportune time. So I will continue to carry a handgun and good knife (and of course a lighter and matches) at a bare minimum while in the field and while carrying a rifle or shotgun.

Training or Small Game guns - Handguns are the most difficult to learn to shoot accurately and quickly, a definite benefit is to have someone with skill in handguns or training as a coach to speed up the training curve. As a small arms trainer I would include a quality .22lr pistol which provides a good training tool as well as small game procurement. As a training tool the .22lr pistol is still the best. There is a good variety of guns that are similar in size and weight to full size firearms and you can get a .22lr slide conversion for many of the auto pistols if you want to have a "convertible" pistol. Ammo is relatively inexpensive still, a brick of 500 can be found most times for about $10.00 (or less) and would provide a lot of training time. In 22 pistols my personal favorite is the Ruger line. Either a semi-automatic "Standard" or a single action revolver (with second cylinder in .22mag) would serve well for my needs. If my primary pistol were a double action revolver, my trainer would be a double action revolver preferably with the same type of cylinder release mechanism. I did have a .22lr Smith & Wesson M63 J frame I bought in 1982 that was a lot of fun and shot very well both SA and DA. I canít right now remember why I got rid of it (temp insanity probably).

Conversion kits available to convert your Glock, M1911A1 or M92 semi-auto to a .22LR by changing the slide group and using a different magazine. These kits provide an alternative to having a separate firearm for training. Their main benefit is that you train on one set of controls and one trigger. This can be good, but I like having a separate complete firearm because when I train I like to pick up the 22 and fire it and then set it down and pick up my 1911 and fire it. I alternate between the two, changing slides may take only a minute, but that minute changes things for me, also if I see a grouse next to the trail and have to change the slide group before I can shoot it - I may not get it. These make a lot of sense for many (but not me) having your primary sidearm in a holster and the spare slide in your pack with some .22lr.

I prefer a semi-auto as a trainer for other handguns while I like a revolver for serious camp meat hunting. The revolver has many benefits over an auto in that a larger variety of ammo can be easily fired with out sacrificing reliability, specifically the diminutive CB caps which are quiet enough to not spook other game in the area and would kill a spruce hen or rabbit with head shots but not cycle through a semi-auto at all. An interchangeable cylinder in .22Mag would provide even more flexibility. While hunting I have carried a 22 revolver loaded with CB caps stuck in a cross draw holster (Ruger Single Six 4 5/8) or in my back pocket (Ruger Bearcat).

With a 22 auto I would get at least three spare magazines, more if possible. It would also be a good idea to put away an ammo can of .22lr for a rainy day, along with a few boxes of low report CB caps or similar "quiet" ammo.

Semi-Auto Pistols - In my opinion the old M1911-A1 in .45 ACP has proven capable for a long time and is my standard against which all others are compared. My choice of this old workhorse is primarily from my own experience with it over the past 35+ years. It has a great reputation for reliability and it is easily worked on should the need arise. From a reputable manufacturer it is reliable and will last a long time. While in the Army I was trained as an armorer while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division (as one of my MOSs) and had opportunity to see the kinds of abuse these weapons were subjected to and still keep functioning. I have shot on six different pistol teams during my career in the Army and heard (reliable source, but did not see it myself) of only one .45 failing, that one broke its disconnector and turned into a full auto (indeed exciting for the operator, fortunately he only had three rounds left in the mag when it did so). While an armorer I was only authorized to keep on hand as "basic load" for the M1911A1 a single firing pin and spring along with a single extractor as spare parts for the pistols for the entire company (about 35 pistols then). A note here on military spare parts may be in order. We were authorized to keep on hand a "basic load" of critical spares and then if we had any replaced parts during the previous year we could add to our "basic load" some of those parts based on a formula. The idea was that if we needed any other spare parts we could get them from the Division parts supply point and not have a lot of parts or stuff to carry around. We only had on hand those items that were identified as most important to keep our weapons functional. While I was the unit armorer (just over two years) I did not have to replace a single part on any of the M1911-A1s, not even a magazine spring (yes we did shoot them and haul them into the woods quite a bit).

There are a number of other semi-automatic pistols and calibers that would be useful, a case could be made for many 9mm pistols, the popular .40S&W and the .45ACP as well. All would serve well with the only exception being that some of the pistols are more difficult to work on than others. Ammo availability, or your ability to stock up on your desired caliber should be part of your decision on which pistol you are going to use/carry.

I have a Colt Combat Commander in .45ACP and a Kahr K9 9mm for concealed carry. The Kahr has a DAO trigger action similar to the Glocks but the K9 is made of 100% steel. I am very confident with them as they both shoot well and they conceal well for me. Confidence counts a lot in my book.

I own and have used a few Glocks as well and they seem to be well made and function superbly. One important thing with any weapon is that you should be able to work on it and perform simple repairs at a minimum. The Glocks seem to be pretty easy to disassemble with simple tools to replace parts. The first priority for a handgun or I guess any firearm is that is works every time, all the time, no matter the conditions. Regardless of which pistol you get your hands on shoot at least 200 rounds through it just to see if it will have any problems (course it would give you a good idea of how it shoots and feels too). If it needs repair at all, perform the repairs and start all over with a 200 round exercise. If it wonít do this trade it in on another one or look to a different model.

Double Action Revolvers - I have used a number of double action revolvers over the years. I have shot Smith & Wesson, Colt, Ruger, Taurus, RG (pure junk) and a Dan Wesson. Some were wonderful, some were beautiful pieces and some were just plain junk. In the mid 70's I read Bill Jordanís book "No Second Place Winner" and was influenced to try the double action revolver. I bought a .357 Ruger Security Six and started to learn how to shoot double action by taking up Practical Pistol Course (PPC) shooting at a range south of San Antonio owned and operated by a couple of retired San Antonio Police officers. One had been a training officer and he offered me some hints on shooting DA. I am not competitive in DA, I wanted to learn how to do it well. If you are going to get a DA revolver then you need to devote the time and ammo expenditure to learn how to effectively shoot DA. I was shooting about 250 rounds a week almost every Saturday, I did this for 15 months and felt somewhat comfortable in using DA to hit my targets from 7 yards to 100 yards.

The DA revolvers I have owned over the years have been produced by names such as Smith & Wesson, Colt, Ruger, and Taurus. In the Double Action revolvers, every Smith & Wesson but one little M63 I owned had to be sent back to the factory for tuning and repair. One particularly beautiful S&W M29 Classic refused to lockup properly after only two boxes of .44 mag ammo. Of my Ruger Double Action pistols (which I have owned a Red Hawk, a Super Red Hawk, Security Sixes and a GP 100) only one Security Six, which had fired over 15000 rounds of my magnum reloads and untold factory magnums and .38 special loads during 8-10 years of heavy use and training in PPC, had to be sent back for tune-up. My other Ruger DA pistols shot hundreds of boxes of shells and kept on going.

Single Action Revolvers - I have owned a number of Single Action revolvers produced by Ruger and a number of Colt style Single Action pistols (Haws, Colt clones and Black Powder pistols) almost all of the Colt style required repair of the flat leaf springs in the action, especially the one that actuates the pawl, loading gate and cylinder lock at one time or another. None of the Ruger Single Action pistols has ever been sent back for any repairs. The Rugers use coil springs in their actions that greatly increase the reliability and service life of their pistols. I am very fond of the single action revolvers by Ruger. They are very strong and reliable. For my money putting at least one Ruger Single Action pistol in my kit is like insurance.

What Caliber? - When looking at calibers for handguns I tried to keep my choices to common calibers for logistical purposes. I have a particular favorite in the .45 Colt cartridge and the .44 Remington Magnum. The .45 Colt is very versatile in that I can load the light "Cowboy load" or boost it up to near 44mag power levels. I would be careful to shoot the higher power loads only in my Ruger pistols, other .45colt Cowboy guns are not built as well, with the Rugers I have not had a problem. A Ruger Blackhawk with an interchangeable cylinder in .45ACP would really provide a lot of versatility in a single gun. The .44 Mag has long been a staple of the hiker and hunter in bear country. It supplies good power in factory loadings, (in case you donít reload) and you can use .44 special for training and plinking. Moving on down the power and preferred guns list is the .41 Mag. Though it is an excellent cartridge, it can be difficult to find ammunition for and unless you reload there is not the variety of loadings for it as other cartridges. However, if I owned one I certainly would not give it away. The .357mag/38 special are the next most versatile guns to own and use. The only problem is the lack of power for wild animals.

No matter which handgun you choose be sure to shoot at least 200 rounds through it with the load you plan on using it with. If any problems crop up either get them fixed and start all over again with the 200 rounds or trade it in for another. You should store ammunition for your weapons in the event that you must use it, you will not be able to run down to the store and get a box or two of ammo after something happens. The same goes for reloads and components, you should have a quantity available at all times. I like to have at least 1000 rounds available for each pistol (more for the .22lr).

My choices for handguns for me include:

    General Defense:         M1911-A1 .45 ACP

    Concealed Carry:        Colt Combat Commander .45ACP or Kahr K9

    Working/hunting:         Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Rem Mag

    Training:                      Ruger Standard .22lr

    Small Game:                Ruger Single Six .22 lr/mag convertable.

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