January 03, 2011
By Jim Wilson
The Sheriff discusses the good guns that have gotten away from his personal arsenal
By Sheriff Jim Wilson
At the 2006 S.H.O.T. Show I was visiting with a reader who had just gotten hold of one of the new Ruger .357 Magnum Flattop revolvers. You might recall that this specially marked Flattop Blackhawk was introduced to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Ruger's centerfire single actions. You might also recall that I reviewed the gun in the pages of Shooting Times last year.
The Sheriff learned the hard way that sometimes good guns can get away from us, and we wish we had them back. One that didn't get away from him is this Kimber Stainless II in .38 Super.
At any rate, my reader friend was extolling the virtues of this fine sixgun while I stood there and nodded my head. I don't know if the S.H.O.T. Show has an official "Amen" section, but I was serving that purpose. The reader then began asking me questions about "my" .357 Flattop and that is when I had to admit the sad truth.
You see, the gun that I tested was one of the early prototypes of this limited-edition model, and I had been forced to return it when my tests were completed. Now, normally, the gun companies are kind enough to allow us writers to purchase our test guns, should we desire to, and add them to our shooting battery. And, normally, that's exactly what I would have done with the .357 Flattop. But, no can do; it was a prototype, and it had to go back to the factory. Naturally, I got busy with other projects and failed to get my order in for one of the production guns.
That's just one of the latest episodes in my long list of good guns that got away. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've vowed to never let another gun get away from me. But, alas, I have a double affliction. I enjoy the fine art of trading just about as much as I do shooting handguns.
When I first went in to law enforcement (never mind exactly how long ago that was) I spent my first paycheck on a 4-inch-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum revolver. And just about my second paycheck was spent on the 21/2-inch version of the same gun. It would serve as my off-duty gun until such time as I would earn a slot in the detective division, whereupon it would become my number one piece.
One of my police buddies slicked up the action on the 2 1/2-inch Model 19, bobbed the hammerspur, and fitted a nice set of smooth ivory grips to it. It was truly one of the nicest guns I've ever owned. And, will wonders never cease, I actually was appointed to the plainclothes assignment that I had desired. With the prestigious job and the slick belly gun, I was stepping in mighty tall cotton.
By and by, I was even able to make a case to my police chief as to why we ought to be allowed to carry autoloading pistols. And the chief actually took me up on it and approved the pistols. In short order I was packing a Colt 1911 and have since never looked back; it is still my all-time choice for a defensive handgun.
But, alas, the lovely little Model 19 2 1/2-inch revolver found a new home in my excitement to own several 1911 pistols. Today, I've got three short-barreled K-Frame guns in the Model 19/66 configuration, but none of them is quite as slick, or has the same feel, as that early Model 19. I was a fool to let it go.
Then there are those times when two, or more, gun traders get together and really mess up the works. Wiley Barnes was sheriff of Denton County, Texas, for nearly 30 years. At the time I knew him, Sheriff Barnes always carried a 21/2-inch-barreled Colt Python. But my informants told me that he used to carry a Colt Lightweight Commander in .38 Super. They said he'd even used it in a gunfight on the courthouse square. When I asked him about it, Sheriff Barnes admitted that he still had the little Colt, and, yes, he would consider selling it to me. I paid what the good sheriff was asking and took possession of a very nice early-production .38 Super Commander.
Now that was a nice pistol, and I'd have it still if I hadn't shown it to my friend Ben Choate. Ben would qualify as a Class A trader in anybody's book, and our resultant trade makes me about a Class Z trader. In short order, Ben had the Colt .38 Super and I honestly don't even remember what I got in the trade. Every time I bring that Colt pistol up to Ben he changes the subject to the weather, current cattle prices, or who the Republicans might run next time. He does, occasionally, remind me that he still has the gun and what a nice gun it is, and, no, it's not for sale.
My final story in this sad confessional is also about a Colt .38 Super, although the yarn begins with a Colt Single Action Army. It was, specifically, a prewar .44-40 with a 43/4-inch barrel and factory ivory grips. The revolver was in very good original condition, and I got it for a song from a friend who was strapped for cash.
A few months after getting the nice .44-40, I attended the Fort Worth gun show and put the single action out on my table, along with the rest of my trading stock. You can imagine that it quickly caught the eye of all of the serious Colt collectors at the show. It was just that nice of a gun.
The second day of the show, a collector from Lubbock wandered by and offered to buy the single action. He would give me most of my asking price in cash and the balance in a Colt Government Model .38 Super. We quickly did the deal.
This Government Model .38 Super turned out to be in very good condition and was wearing the serial number of 1000. When I got home I checked my collector's books to see what I could find out about the pistol.
Colt introduced the .38 Super version of the famous auto pistol at the Camp Perry matches in 1928. Full production was begun in January 1929, and my gun left the factory in April of that year. So what I had was a first-year production .38 Super in excellent condition with a rather unique serial number. Well, that was entirely too good to last. At a subsequent gun show, I located a fellow who specialized in early Colt pistols and sold it to him for cash, lots of cash.
As I sit here and reflect on the guns that got away, I wonder if they were really as nice as I recall. Or are the years, and my memory, playing tricks on me? Actually, I think those gun trades are just a way that a lot of us learn about the various guns that might grab our interest. It may just be the price we pay for this ongoing education into the wonderful world of firearms.
Because of my early trading experiences, there are a few guns in my collection, maybe a half-dozen or more, that will stay with me until the end. And one of them is a .38 Super. This one is the Stainless Target II pistol from Kimber. This target-sighted 1911 is one of the most accurate .38 Supers I've ever fired. It's a const
ant reminder that while the old guns were interesting and nice, gun companies like Kimber are building some of the best handguns that have ever seen the light of day. Every time I run a magazine of ammo through the Stainless Target II .38 Super, I'm convinced that the "good old days" are right here and now.