Monday, May 29, 2006

Up The Hill

We got up early, like six AM and drove up the hill, almost to Prescott. It's an interesting drive, from Phoenix it's uphill all the way. It was a pretty morning and the road was full of motorcyclists, getting some sun and air. The road from Wickenberg to Prescott goes through some steep mountains and the temp was some twenty-five degrees cooler up there than in Phoenix and the rest of the Valley of the Sun. We got to the range, the feller that wrote the directions was just about exactly right, in about two hours from leaving the house.

The Cowboy Club, the High Country Cowboys shares the range with an IPSC outfit so the shooting bays are more set up for the autoloader boys than us, it works pretty well, though. This outfit runs it's shoots a little different than my home club, it has smaller posses for one thing. Still, it was close enough to what I'm used to that I was not lost. The slope was steeper and the range more spread out, I thought I was going to have a heart attack dragging my gun cart back to the car.

At the shooters meeting, before the Pledge of Allegiance, we had a moment of silence for Memorial Day. Then we broke into the posses and got started. The shoot started really well, I shot the first two stages clean, meaning no misses. I'm still slow, there is no hope for that, not after the stroke, but I am pretty accurate. The third stage, though, was my downfall. It had the first Texas Star I have ever seen, much less shot at. The Texas Star is an interesting target, a large, five pointed star. At each point is a six inch steel circle. You hit the circle, it falls off the star. Then the star starts to spin, it then slows and stops, until the next circle is shot off, the star spins some more, etc. There were more than a couple ugly words used during this stage. Worse, this wqas the firt time this club had ever used the Texas Star with only five shots to remove all five "points" There were two other targets for the second handgun. Needless to say, there went my clean match. The Texas Star is not a real common target yet, they are very expensive, for one thing. The difficulty makes them sort of unpopular, too. I have somewhat mixed emotions, myself. I think a few practice sessions and I would be able to hold my own on one. It would take a little practice before I got used to the spinning. So, three misses.

Worse, this was my first shoot wearing the new leather and I "missed the bucket". I went to put my left hand gun in the new holster and missed. A dropped empty gun is a stage disqualification so, instead of three misses, I had a complete blank. That is no way to win the Cadillac. It could have been worse, a dropped loaded gun is a match DQ. I knew to look the gun into the holster, I was trying to figure out if I could salvage a decent score.

With the exception of that dropped gun, the rest of the match went well, five clean stages. It was not easy shooting those last three and kicking myself at the same time. I did not kick myself too hard, it is a common happening, dropping a shootin' iron. Having to draw and reholster two revolvers, plus having to handle two long guns through six different stages in a one day shoot gives plenty of chances to screw the pooch.

This was my first (Cowboy Action) shoot away from home, there were a couple of differences. For one thing the Arizona air is a whole lot drier than that of northeast Texas. This makes a huge difference with black powder, there was very little smoke. I am used to big clouds, except for the smell and the BOOM! instead of the bang I wouldn't have known I was shootin' the Holy Black. There is no mistaking that smell, though. Note to those not familiar with Black Powder...the more humidity, the more smoke, if you want huge clouds, shoot in the rain.

I don't know how much the altitude affected me, I could blame droppin' the gun on that but it seems I don't really need altitude for doing something stupid. I will blame the altitude on the trouble I had dragging the guncart. I was really dragging by the end of the match.

I regret not having the right software installed on this little vacation laptop as I have a whole passel o' pictures, I really want to show my new leather. The irons came out of the holsters like they had rockets attatched. There is no fast draw connected with SASS shooting but these holsters are downright quick.

Well, we won't be leaving Phoenix until Sunday, then we will enter the People's Republic of California for a month. Be still my beating heart.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend

It's Memorial Day weekend again. The older I get, the closer these holidays come together.
I don't have much planned this year, being far from home and all. I shall just say a prayer for those who have gone before and for those who still stand on the ramparts.

In the morning we shall drive up the hill to a cowboy action club's range near Prestcott for a shoot. I have never been to that part of Arizona before, from what the Pards say it is just over a mile in elevation and there is supposed to be some very pretty country.

A strange thing happened to me last week, Jim Simmons, aka Brazos Jack, the boss of Etowah River Leather sent me a big box. My gun leather was just a bunch of assorted gear, mostly the inexpensive massed produced stuff. I had one good holster with another on order. None particularly matched, which can be a cowboy faux pas, though depending on the "persona" it does not have to be. Well, I opened the box and it was full of crumpled up newspaper and brown paper bags. Each bag contained one item, like a gunbelt, a shotshell holder, a right hand holster, a left hand holster and a shell and empty box, all brand new. Each item is lined and border tooled. Each item matches, too. I do not have the right software in this little laptop we take on trips but I will take a lot of pictures for when we get home and give a full write up then. Until then, just imagine top quality leather, dry molded to the gun, hand sewn and tooled. Retail value? At least the cost of a new revolver.

It's a lucky thing the "good" aliases were all taken, the one I chose can be anyone. When we recover from the cost of this trip I shall have to buy some "town clothes" and dress like a successful gambler or wealthy rancher so I will match my new gunleather.

I'll let y'all know how the shoot went. Linda Lou and Sluggo, my oldest grandson are coming so we will have lots of pictures. Trouble is, it will be July sometime before I post them, unless my sister has that software in her computer.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Border Patrol

I don't know what it means but I have seen more activity from the Border Patrol on this trip though the southwest than in all my previous trips. Perhaps the additions to the personell since 9/11 is finally paying off. Or maybe Washington is actually listening...nah, that can't be right.

At any rate we have seen more patrol vehicles out than I have ever seen, plus twice I've seen Patrol Officers on overpasses watching the trains move under, looking for the wetbacks hiding on the freight cars.

I also saw a couple of BP Stations with their flags at half mast, though I have heard nothing about why.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Old Bisbee, Hippy-Dippy Headquarters

We got up early and rolled out of Tombstone toward Bisbee. The reader should understand that I had never been to Bisbee and only knew three things about the place. The first is that it was big in the copper mine biz. The second is that Bisbee was where Doc Holliday was playing poker when the Tombstone Stage was held up and Philpot killed. The third thing is that the streets of old Bisbee are canyons and are steep and narrow.

We got to old Bisbee, the name gives me the idea that there is a new Bisbee someplace near, we did not see it. The old buildings are still there, they are now mostly art galleries, antique stores and jewlers. I saw no old cowboys or miners, it was all artsy fartsy long hairs. Somehow I got the impression that the local weekly Republican club meeting is a lonely place. We drove up and down a couple of canyons, er streets, and then parked. Naturally, I forgot to get the camera out of the car but then, I usually do.

Tombstone is a shopping center disguised as an old town, mostly old west stuff. Bisbee is the same only geared toward the upscale jewelry and arts type stuff, plus a lot of antique furniture.

The nice thing about Bisbee is that it's a mile up in elevation so it was cooler than I'm used to in Arizona. Still, we were pleased enough to leave. Instead of going back through Tombstone we drove through Sierra Vista and past Fort Huachuca on the way back to the Interstate. Fort Huachuca is an old Buffalo Soldier post, it's one of the forts that defeated the Apache. It is still an active duty Army post, it is the home of Military Intelligence and certain Signal Corps units. It is a pretty good place if one wants to keep things secret. I don't think it is a good post for a single soldier, though.

Anyhow, we are safe in Phoenix, we will hang out here until around Memorial Day, then on to California.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


We are spending the night in Tombstone, Arizona. We will drive down to Bisbee in the morning, just to see another old frontier town, then back up to Phoenix.

We had to drop by to see one of the top holstermakers in the cowboy action field, Big Ed of San Pedro Saddlery. Big Ed is making the holster for my left hand gun and he never answered my last E-mail telling him that I needed my order changed from a four and three quarter inch barrel to a five and a half inch. Turned out that his E-mail server was down for a while so it is lucky that we drove south. This time I had my rig together so we had a good chance to match colors. It is going to be an odd looking rig, though. My right hand holster is a border tooled two loop holster, it was made by the craftsmen of Old El Paso Saddlery. This will be Ed's Gunfighter Holster. This is a single loop design with a much abbreviated skirt. The two holsters won't look much alike, except they will both be leather. Well, I can live with that, few of the real old west types wore two guns and those that did seldom had matched pairs. Shootin' irons were expensive.

Anyhow, having done our business we wanted to eat dinner and look around, again. Historic Tombstone is now a place of shops and boutiques, along with a couple of nice restaurants. So we walked up and down Allen Street, past the site of that famous gunfight, we wandered in to the old Oriental Saloon, where Wyatt Earp owned the Faro tables, we went into the shop that was once the billiard Hall where Morgan Earp was murdered, stood where Virgil was shot and crippled.

The trip to Bisbee was a spur of the moment idea. Our kids in Phoenix work very early so by fooling around in Tombstone it would have been a pain for them. So we'll drive to Bisbee in the morning, spend a couple hours and then hit Phoenix just after the kids get home from work. I'll let you know what Bisbee is like. I think they still mine copper there. If there is anything worth taking pictures of I'll shoot a few.

Monday, May 08, 2006


We called the phone company and complained, they got rid of the static and improved the connection. Maybe I can post a few pictures.

Here you see my new revolver, coupled with my old one. They are exactly alike except in finish, the new one is stainless steel, the old is blue/casehardened. Well, the old one has the Buffalo Brothers grips, too.

You can also see the new holster, the lighter one. I had put out a want to buy add on the SASS wire and the guy in charge of Etowah River Leather sent me an old prototype he had cluttering up a drawer in his shop. It was actually made for an old style Ruger Vaquero and, as such, is somewhat larger than my iron needs. The oversize holster does not hurt anything, it would slow down my draw if I was into fast draw but since I'm not, it just sits a little deeper, more well protected. As if I could draw fast from a left hand holster.

My little digital camera will not show the quality of the workmanship on this holster. It has been sitting in the bottom of a drawer, with other stuff on top. With that in mind, it has not been smushed, it is still very solid. The owner, Jim Simmons, known as Brazos Jack among us cowpokes, not only makes some very fine holsters but has patterns for holsters and gunbelts for the do it yourself crowd. These patterns are available at Hidecrafters.

Anyone interested in the actual leather, crafted by Jim should look right here at Etowah River Leather. I wish I had known about this outfit before I ordered my holster from Big Ed at San Pedro Saddlery. I don't know that Jim does better work, or worse, than Big Ed. I think when we get among the top craftsmen than the quality is more or less equal, it is just that Big Ed is very well established while Jim is still a bit smaller. When I see Big Ed in Tombstone sometime next week, I am going to see if he will craft the holster I have on order much like the one Jim has made. Then, when I collect the nickels and dimes together I can order a belt and right-hand holster from Jim and have things looking more or less alike. Or at least close enough to look like a set through smudged glasses.

My old holster, the one with the conchos and tooling is pretty, unfortunately it's leather is not as stiff and it doesn't work as slick. Too bad I wasn't born rich instead of so good looking, I could have a set of holsters that is nicely tooled, and good, thick leather, too.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Range Day, Again.

It rained all night Friday so no Cowboy Action Shoot. Too bad, I was loaded for bear. Instead I went to the range today, Tuesday, my old range day for years.
If anyone cares I skipped work Monday, oh wait, I skip work every day. Sweet retirement. I did go spend a little money, though, just to show the illegals that I care. Just a note here, I grew up in a state that borders Mexico, all my life I've had Mexican friends, still do. The operative word in the whole affair is illegal. Follow the rules, wait your turn, come in legally, welcome.

Anyhow, I was eager to get to the range, I had a new shootin' iron to check out and a new kind of bullets, plus those heavily loaded Hornaday XTP Hollowpoints to check in the rifle. We will start with them. Those few who follow this blog regularly know that I chose a clone of the '92 Winchester for my Cowboy Action rifle. Most successful competitors choose a clone on the '73 Winchester, they usually operate a little faster. Tell the truth, if the Rockefellers called me up when they ran a little short, I would have a '73 too. Trouble is, the '73s are a weak action, they can't take the loads the '92 handles with aplomb. Given the world I live in a rifle that serves two purposes is better than a pure competition rifle. This one can serve three purposes, close range light and medium big game, defense and competition.

I had two boxes of loads with the Hornadays, both near max loads. One was Hodgdons Lil Gun and the other Hodgdon's H110. I did not bring the chronograph so I can't give the velocity although both loads are said to give some 1150-1200 fps from a revolver barrel. Add some 600-800 fps for the 24 inch rifle barrel. This is an accurate load, both powders shot to the same point of impact. Had I not marked each shot from the Lil Gun loads I would have been quite happy with one ten shot group instead of two five shot groups. I had the usual trouble trying to get the elevation right with that brass bead front sight, my group was like an inch and a half wide and four inches tall. I was right, though, those big loads and that steel crescent buttplate got my attention. Fortunately, that steering wheel that removed so many of my teeth means that I had no fillings to knock out. Oh well, it isn't a benchrest load and once I got off the bench after sighting it in, it was fine. With that rifle and load anything within a hundred and fifty yards or so lives because I prefer it to. For now.

Now the fun part, the new revolver and the Big Lube Boolits. Actually I had all the revolvers, and the rifle. That new revolver isn't just a gun, it's a long distance drill until I started getting tired and shakey, anything I looked at I hit. At ten yards, a pretty common range for Cowboy Action handgun work, I had a couple five shot groups in the inch and a half range, more with four shots close and one pulled. Oh to be a thirty-five year old kid again. Sigh. Better yet, these black powder loads didn't begin to tie up the guns. Instead of a lube star on the muzzle of the guns I had a complete circle, and the fouling was wet and soft. Even on the rifle.

Bear in mind, now, that these loads had only the lube in the bullets lube groove, no grease cookie or greased wad. I did not even have a card wad under the bullet, excuse me, boolit. I was aiming for about 28 grains of BP behind the 250 grain bullet. I had my little Lee Autodisc measure set up with the double disc kit and I got it throwing 24.5 grains, close enough for this experiment, I shall go a little bigger next time. At any rate I was close to the old Cavalry load of 28 grains behind a 230 grain bullet. This was GOEX FFG powder.

Note...There are those who say that it is dangerous to throw black powder charges through a plastic powder measure. They worry about static electricity. Please understand that I am describing what I did, taking a risk I am willing to take. I am not telling you to take that risk. I am not blown up. Your mileage may vary. If you blow yourself up messing with black power, or that newfangled heathen smokeless stuff, for that matter, do not come crying to me. If you are the kind of person that runs around suing folks, don't mess with gunpowder. If you do, it's not my fault.

At any rate I put in the charge of powder and followed it up with a .7 cc scoop of dry grits, do not use cooked grits, dry grits. The dry grits are merely to take up space as most black powder loads prefer to be slightly compressed. Some loads actually prefer heavy compression. At any rate a good rule of thumb is no airspace in the cartridge. There is actually some argument about this in the BP Websites, seems some of the factories loaded ammo with airspace back in the day. Of course, they had different powder back then, too. And testing equipment that the private shooter does not have, we test our loads in our guns, right there in our hands. I'll stick with the no airspace rule.

Oddly, the Big Lube Boolits shot very poorly in the rifle do not think that was the fault of the bullet, though bought these bullets from a Cowboy Action Shooter who was quitting Black Powder. He had two batches of bullets, one batch sized at .452 and the other at .454. I was too slow to get the .454 bullets. The chamber in my rifle is pretty good sized, bigger than my revolver chambers. These loads were quite light was not enough pressure for the cases to completely obdurate the chamber, the outside of my cases were pretty black from powder smoke. If the truth were known, I bought these because the Pard was sellin' them for half price. Next month when I'm in California I will buy some of the .454-.455 bullets from Springfield Slim. Until then, I'll load up some of these .452s with more powder and see if the higher pressure seals the chamber better. Oh, and I'll load a batch of the .455 Remington bullets with a grease cookie, I know my rifle likes those. If these .452 bullets only shoot in my handguns, well, I've got handguns and they need ammo. I'll bet a nickel, cash, that the .454s will be accurate in the rifle. The group was spread all over but I looked carefully at the bullet holes, they were all nice and round with no evidence of keyholing. I had the same problem with some Meister cast bullets at .452, poor accuracy. The .454s shot well.

I doubt that I will have my loading press along on this trip so it will be sometime in July, maybe even August before I can report on the .454s in the rifle. I can say that the basic premise is good. My first wet cleaning patch looked like a coal miner's work glove, then the dry patch, the next wet patch had some gray. After four patches I left the rifle in the cleaning cradle with the bore soaking in moose milk. In the morning I'll patch that out and load it up with the hollowpoints in case the mad Mullahs try to invade Lake Tawakoni.

If you feel like coming over to the Dark Side, check out Dick Dastardly's website. He's got the stuff that will have you making smoke. He's got the bullet molds and the websites of those who cast the bullets and he's got Pearl Lube which seems to be considerable cheaper than my concoction, plus he gives out the recipe .If the .454s shoot as well in my rifle as the .452s do in my revolvers I will be buying a mold and be out of the grease cookie buisiness.