Section 1 Handguns
- By Pete Moore
- 77 Comments
- Last updated: 27/01/2017
I was an avid handgunner and like most of us found the handgun ban a devastating body blow to my sport. However there was not a lot that could be done so we just got on with it. At the time I shot British Western Shooting Society competitions and bought a pair of muzzle-loading Uberti Cattlemen revolvers, thinking it would give me back a degree of what I had lost.
I’ll be honest I do not like the hassle of muzzle-loading (ML) revolvers! I knew what to do and how to make them shoot but it was just too much work! I think many ex-pistol owners were of that opinion too. So in a Britain bereft of real handguns was there any future? Well yes, as the new laws concerning what we could and could not own decided on a new specification in that any firearm (with a few notable exceptions) had to conform to the 12/24” rule. In that the minimum barrel length was 12” and the minimum overall length was 24”. Which was known as a Large Firearm, which excluding the already banned self-loading centrefire kit opened up a deal of possibilities for the more inventive!
ML revolvers aside, which were not affected by the 12/24 rule what could we expect? Well revolvers were not banned as long as they complied, equally 22 rimfire, semi-autos. But they had to be manufactured from factory in this condition, or modified in such a way that did not take them out of the Large Firearm class. This lead to some interesting equipment appearing and also some dissatisfaction from the law makers!
I feel that the 12/24” law was envisaged as the ultimate sanction and those that created it must have sat back and thought that’ll teach them! However, if you look at it in a different way there was room for manoeuvre and what follows is our way of getting back to a degree to what we had by the exact application of the law and some very creative engineering. However, the authorities felt/feel what was created was not in the spirit of the act that banned handguns. Ridiculous; as there is no such thing as the spirit of the law as it’s absolute and we were merely working legally inside it!
However, saying that, I do recall just after the ban when this equipment started to appear some gun clubs banned their ownership feeling that is was better to eradicate these abominations before the government took measures against the shooting community in general. It’s no wonder we have lost so many gun types over the years; as the worst rot is often within at times! Personally I do not like any of these hybrid guns and don’t choose to
own one as they are not the equipment I remember and loved! However, I would defend to the last people’s rights to own and use them. I have tested plenty and I can see why they are growing popular and I say more power to you if that’s your poison!
I think it’s time to look at the classifications of these various gun types as they cover a number of designs. The Long Barrelled Revolver (LBR) is simply that a standard wheelgun (any calibre) be it single or double action (S/A or D/A) with a fixed or swing-out cylinder. The barrel needs to be long enough in conjunction with the grip frame to exceed 24”; if that sounds mad it is.
Next Long Barrelled Pistols (LBPs) which are a bit different as this design splits the differences to make a far more balanced package. They split into D/A centrefire and rimfire revolvers and 22 semi-auto pistols. They are made at source with a 12”+ barrel and a fixed, grip extension at the rear to make the 24”. The new butt often called a coat hanger or wrist brace is vestigial and offers the minimum size and shape allowable.
It’s also possible to own normal handguns (for that read sensible lengths) within certain requirements and restrictions. The first was a deal with the devil struck with the Government by the Historical Breechloaders Shooting Association (HBSA) at the time of the ban that allowed owners of handguns of historical significance to store and use their beloved classics at certain approved ranges. In effect the guns were in an open prison with visiting and shooting rights. Pity that did not extend to the rest of us!
Also if you are a deer stalker you can apply for a deer destruction pistol for the times when dispatching a wounded animal cannot be done with your fullbore rifle safely or easily. In general most consist of a revolver converted to only load two rounds; usually in 38 Spl/357 Magnum or a Derringer (double barrelled pistol). The idea I suppose we don’t get carried away and abuse the privilege! As I said you can apply for such a firearm but you will need to demonstrate good reason, I have been hunting deer for many years and never found the need!
On that point we must not forget muzzle loaders - the classic cap and ball revolvers of the early/middle 1800s and names like Colt and Remington, spring to mind. These cap and ball guns were and are not the most efficient designs, but elegant and many reproductions abound to suit all pockets. Running on blackpowder they foul up easily and require rigorous cleaning and maintenance and if you are not prepared to do that then don’t bother! However, there are other interpretations on this theme for those who want modern handguns but running on the more efficient smokeless pistol powders and ignited by powerful and consistent shotgun primers as opposed to the fragile and unreliable copper percussion cap.
Westlake Engineering offers modern, hi-strength double action target revolvers with decent sights but in muzzle-loading format. Clean to run, precise and consistent they offer a dedicated, ML cylinder that’s removed for loading. In this way you can compete in competitions where more than six shots are required. Uberti started this with their Cattleman (Colt 1873 Peacemaker) revolver but with a frontloading cylinder, which came with a rig for off-gun recharging, though it is now discontinued!
Finally we have the single shot pistols, which are broken down into purpose-built, Long Range competition guns and the classic period target and standard pistols offered by the likes of Pedersoli. The former are breech-loading in calibres like 357 and 44 Magnum and are capable of 300 yard performance and can be encountered in both revolver and single shot formats. The classics can be percussion or flintlock and used for casual shooting or pure target and you might be surprised at the accuracy something like Pedersoli’s Le Page can offer in the right hands.
Take a trip to the Phoenix meeting at Bisley and you will see most of this equipment being used for the old pre-ban competitions like Police Pistol, Bianchi, Practical, Service etc plus newer disciplines too. For me the growth area is without doubt the 22 semi-auto LBPs, as to a greater degree they recreate all the fun and excitement of Practical and Action shooting and similar. Yes they have to be 24” long and are certainly less handy than say my 4” Glock Model 20, but with a belt full of spare magazines and a rig not a lot has really changed. Plus as can be seen the choice of kit is getting better and I think it will not be long before we see many more popular modern handguns for the UK market.
One final aside and one that makes me feel old is the fact that the majority of ex-handgunners are mostly in their 40s and above. Some have made the transition to the new handguns others like me have not. But what I find uplifting is younger and newer shooters into the sport have probably never touched or shot a real handgun. These people are lucky as they carry none of the baggage around that we old guys do, so can take a fresh and uncluttered approach to shooting today. They also do not see this equipment as a stop gap but as the way forward, so the balls in your court now guys!
So what have we got? All the .22 LBPs will come with the obligatory butt extension and are threaded for a dummy moderator. After-market accessories might be available such as scope mounts, holsters etc. Prices will vary as to make and model but they range from around £600 up to £2000+ for the more serious stuff. I have included information on makes that are no longer in production as they are around and doubtless with some research available as a second hand buy.
The GSG is based on the Colt 1911 A1 but with an ambidextrous safety, bobbed commander hammer and upswept grip safety. The capacity is 10-shots and the trigger pull is adjustable. It offers a single-action mechanism as in the hammer must be manually cocked for the first shot. Being a Colt clone most of the go faster bits – extended controls and scope mounts can be fitted. Priced at around £500 they offer great value for money!
Ideal for humane dispatch the Bond Arms Ranger II handgun is a doublebarrelled, single-action, break-open pistol. The CNC-machined it features interchangeable barrels, automatic extraction, rebounding hammer, retracting firing pins, cross bolt safety catch and comes with a leather holster. It’s available in .357 Mag/.38 Special which is highly suited to dispatch of injured large animals, such as deer.Also in .22 WMR and a .410 version is imminent.
Be warned these small guns can be a bit barky in 357 Magnum which in truth is not really needed as 38 Special will do the business admirably and I would say learn how to use one accurately. Equally think about when you carry it, it’s not a toy to show off; I would recommend a sensible holster that keeps it out of sight and maybe even a lanyard so it can’t be lost!
Czech-made the K22 uses a polymer grip frame and is a sort of cross between a CZ75 and a Beretta 92F. The K22 has an open slide with basic iron sights and the X-Trim a closed design with lightening cuts, adjustable rear sight and extended controls. Both come with a spare magazine (12-shot). The mechanism is D/A & S/A without a de-cocker. Unusual is the fact they also offer a proper moderated version - the Whisper - set up for sub-sonics.
Well more a Glock-U-like as the slide is made by Tac-Sol with a non-glock alloy lowes. The design does not have a manual safety and offers a sort of double-action (D/A) pull for every shot; though a trigger blade safety is incorporated that is operated as the finger makes contact. Original frames were polymer but the finished LBP will have an aluminium alloy frame and feels and shoots the better for it. We should be seeing example by the end of the year with prices of a grand ball park.
Like the Glock another modern pistol manufactured as a dedicated LBP. The 226 does not have a safety and can be fired for the first shot D/A as in the hammer is down and you pull the trigger to cock and release it, then it reverts to S/A operation. It features a de-cocking lever so you can drop the hammer on a loaded chamber.
As the name suggests this is a Colt 1911 A1 made by Ivor Johnson. Low Mill offers two versions; the standard 1911 without the dummy can and the Bianchi Cup in stainless with dummy moddy, scope base, barricade wings and all the go faster controls and features. Capacity is good at 15. Both versions come with wooden grip panels, adjustable triggers and adjustable sights. As ever any 1911 accessories will fit.
Volquartson offers a custom version of Ruger’s Mk III .22 semi-auto pistol. Through Stockade Products they build a UK-spec gun for top end competition use in either the full lug, stainless V6 or the carbonfibre wrapped Carbon and Match models. Options include Picatinny base and or iron sights and everything is tuned and tweaked as you might imagine. These are no military look-a-likes but the real deal for ultimate performance. Prices - well think about £2K as entry level, but if you want pre performance and not a shooting look-a-like then this is the real deal!
Alan Westlake is a talented engineer and has been offering his .22 Browning Buckmark LBP which is a modified version of the 18” Buckmark semi-auto rifle. Available in a number of options – grips, barrel and finish it’s topped and tailed to conform to the 12/24 requirement and is a shootable piece. He also produces a pair of muzzle-loading, nitro-powered, DA revolvers, which run on modern pistol powders ignited by shotgun primers. The Armscor is a more entry level gun but a shooter none the less and the Alpha a much more competition-based design with full under lug barrel, target sights, anatomical grips etc if you prefer. Very much one for the serious competitor!
A near identical version the Alpha Pro is sold by Merseyside Armoury (07702 277791), who in fact worked with Westlake and Alpha to produce this hi-tech take on the old ML revolver.
The Uberti Buntline LBR is their Cattleman (Colt 1873 Peacemaker) S/A revolver, with a 19” barrel and more target-orientated sights. It’s a gate loading, hand ejecting (one at a time) build with wood grips, good blueing and a colour case-hardened frame. The S/A mechanism means thumb cocking the hammer for every shot but the trigger pull is good.
Uberti also offers a wide range of the more popular reproduction cap & ball revolvers of the mid-1800s. Colt Dragoon, Walker Navy, Army and Pocket models, Remington New Model Army (NMA) in traditional blue, case hardened finishes and stainless steel, which is a better material to resist corrosion. Though many calibre are on offer stick with .36” and .44”. They also offer the 1873 Revolving Carbine which could be cut down to a 12/24” spec too.
Though the Colts are more elegant, if you want a stronger and more rigid build I’d recommend the NMA as it has a fixed frame with top strap as opposed to the Colts open-topped design. It also makes cylinder removal easier and some models have adjustable sights, which is a plus. Pedersoli who are best known for their rifles offer an NMA and a Rogers & Spencer; both of excellent quality and ability. Also the percussion, Le Page target pistol. Pietta shows a selection of M/L revolvers as described and also a Colt 1873 Peace Maker with removable cylinder like Uberti used to. Euro Arms do a Rogers & Spencer and Ardesa a modern-style single shot, 50 cal pistol - the Vortek.
Here are a few models that you might come across though they are currently no longer in production:
Research shows that these are no longer made but they did offer a mid/large frame LBP with a wrist brace, which does give more support in the aim. Gun Shop Barnet showed a 45ACP gun as second hand and a call to them indicated that the guns are no longer in production currently. They also have a 44 Magnum, as with the Ruger examples are around and possibly available.
This is the ultimate in madness and was produced by Ruger specifically for the UK market. It uses a standard Ruger Super Redhawk double-action frame in 44 Magnum mated to a 19” barrel to make the required 24” overall. Long and massively heavy they are so unwieldy that I always think of them as boat anchors due to their size and weight. However, they are at their best as long range guns and in that role, shot off a rest do the business well enough. Staff writer Wheelwrite uses one in that role and rates it.
The Competitor is a single-shot handgun built specifically for long range pistol events. Chambered in 44 Magnum it uses a twist breach and can mount a scope as well as coming with iron sights. On a recent visit to Southern Gun Co I spoke to Bob Clark and he says they are no longer made but they do have spares for them. In use they are a far more balanced design as the grip frame sits about 1/3 away from the rear-loading breach.