Sunday, May 31, 2015

Product Review: Tapco Mini-14 Magazines

Proprietary magazines are the bane of the firearms hobby. Generally the factory ones are the best to use, but wouldn't it be nice if all guns were like AR-15 style rifles? Imagine having your choice of several brands of high quality, low priced magazines, instead of being stuck buying what the factory offers.
I have hoped for a while now that Magpul would develop a PMAG for the Mini-14. Those hopes have been buoyed recently by the introduction of PMAGs for the AK variant rifles, the HK G36 rifles and  the AICS bolt action rifle platforms Remington 700 style). The Mini-14 is far more popular than the G36 in the U.S. so why not the Mini-14 Magpul?

Ruger's factory magazines for the Mini-14 are of excellent quality, but (and this is a big but...) they are heavy and expensive ($30+ for the 20 rounders and $40+ for the 30 rounders). The factory magazines weigh in at roughly 9 ounces.
The Tapco ones below are almost exactly half that weight (4.4 oz), similarly their cost is roughly half what the factory ones sell for. I paid $17 for this .30 round Gen2 Tapco magazine at the gun show. Looking online I found Midway USA has them for $15.49.
If you know the history of the Mini-14 you will remember that the factory high capacity magazines were once available only to the military and law enforcement crowd (thanks to a policy by Bill Ruger). He once said on national TV that "No honest man needs more than 10 rounds in any gun". He went on to say: "I never meant for "simple civilians" to have my 20 or 30 round mags..." gee, thanks Bill.....

Well thank goodness that policy was changed shortly after William Ruger passed. He was a brilliant business man and an excellent firearms inventor, but like many brilliant people he had plenty of bad ideas to go along with his good ones.

I had purchased a Tapco Gen1 magazine a few years ago. I made my decision to buy the Tapco based on my experience using them in my Romanian AK-variant rifle and I assumed their Mini-14 magazines would work as well in my Ruger....not so much. 
The problem (with the Gen1) was with the feeding of the rounds into the breech area. The cartridges would get stuck. I believe the cause of this was the weak polymer formulation allowing the magazine body to stretch laterally instead of keeping the cartridges in line.
Tapco took the criticism to heart and went back to the drawing board to redesign the magazine.

Tapco added a metal plate to reinforce the hole that locks the magazine into place, they changed the formulation of both the magazine body and the follower. They also increased the spring pressure while shortening the overall spring length.
I have heard that there have been continual refinements to the Gen2 since they were introduced (makes me glad I waited a while to do this review).

So onto the review. I bought this new magazine at the gun show this last weekend and decided to compare it with the original one that I had already attempted to make use of.
At 1st glace you might not be able to tell the magazines apart.

From the front you can see the metal reinforcement plate added to the lock up hole. You may also note that the original one has a distorted hole, this magazine was only used a few times!
You can see the new magazine has a different color follower. It also appears to be made of a different polymer than the original, it appears to have an impregnated lubricant, it has a "waxy" feel to it.

So I took them apart to see if there were any obvious differences inside. The magazine bodies look and feel identical, except for one important thing: The new ones feel stronger. The polymer is different, but the look, size, thickness of the body and external texture is the same on both.
The Gen 2 magazine springs are slightly shorter, but have a stiffer spring rate. This may have been part of the problem with the Gen 1 magazine.

When assembled you can really tell the difference in the strength of the magazine body, the feed lips on the Gen1 mags flex considerably more than the Gen2 mags do.

I decided to measure them empty, then load them to see if I could measure any stretching of the magazine body. During this I noticed the Gen1 mag was easier to load with its lighter weight spring.
They both measured .831" when empty, the Gen1 magazine measured .860" when loaded and the Gen2 measured .844". Proof positive that the Gen1 mags stretch more when loaded than the Gen2 ones.

So the only thing left to do was try out the new magazine and see if it will function. 
We brought two Mini-14s for the test. One is my 580 prefix stainless Ranch Rifle and the other is a new, fresh out of the box, 583 prefix gun.

First we tried my gun, The first 4 fired without a hitch, then a failure to feed, then two more rounds, another failure, then 4 more rounds and another failure. Then I had a failure to eject.
All told 5 FTF and 1 FTE, it was not looking good for these mags.
Here is a picture of one of the failure to feed, the cartridges were not being presented to the bolt, they would lie just below where the bolt could pick them up.
 Next we tried the other Mini-14. We noticed that the mag wobbled a lot more on the new gun with the factory stock, than it does on the older gun with an aftermarket Butler Creek folding stock

In the new Mini-14 the magazine seemed to work better, only one failure to feed on the 1st 30 rounds. We ran another 30 rounds through the magazine and had three more failures with feeding.

Overall I would say that these still need work. The Tapco engineers either have a test gun that is not very picky or they need to back to the drawing board.

 Anyone interested in buying some slightly used Tapco Mini-14 magazines?

Keep and Bear Arms 
Best Mags for Mini-14 by Nutnfancy 
Midway USA

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Buntline Special

The Buntline Special....An embellishment about a known liar giving away a gun that didn't exist...... 

I covered this legend briefly in my previous post Gun Myths and Legends and decided it needed a more in depth look.

I know this story has been covered by numerous authors, but few of them ever ask the question of why. 

The story of the Buntline Special starts with a little lie told by author Stuart Lake. Mr. Lake wrote a not so accurate biography about the life and times of Wyatt Earp

The book was called: Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal.

From what I know of Wyatt Earp's life, he was a pretty interesting fellow, so I am not sure why Mr. Lake took so much liberty with the truth.

The story contained within the book tells about some gifts bestowed upon Wyatt Earp, Charlie Basset, Bat Masterson, Neal Brown and Bill Tilghman. According to Lake, a writer by the name of Mr. Ned Buntline ordered a quantity of five Colt Single Action Army model of 1873 revolvers, chambered in 45 Colt outfitted with 12 inch barrels and clamp on wood butt stocks, something like the one below. The frames had special knobs for attaching the upper part of the stock.

The grips were adorned with three letters: "Ned". The guns were supposedly given freely as gifts to the five men.

So who was Ned Buntline? For starters his real name was not Ned Buntline, it was Edward Zane Carroll Judson. Mr Judson was a writer of "dime novels" (what could be considered the tabloids of the time), in 1844 he adopted the nom de plume of Ned Buntline. 
Where he picked up his new pseudonym is not known but being a former sailor may have influenced it. A "buntline" is the rope found at the bottom of a square sail.
Introducing Mr. Ned Buntline

Why did Ned supposedly spend a healthy some of money to buy five custom Colt Single Action Army Revolvers for these men? According to Lake it was to "repay" them for adding "color" to his stories.
The problem with that explanation is that not one of these men ever appeared in Buntline's stories, most of his characters were fictional. The second problem is that Ned Buntline died three years before Stuart Lake was born, meaning that any information about this gifting of the revolvers had to have come from someone other than Buntline.

The third problem with the story is that there is no record of anyone ordering these guns. A custom order for five identical 12" barreled guns with custom engraved grips would not have gone unnoticed at Colt, they kept pretty detailed records. 
So where did Lake get the idea that Buntline (or someone else) gifted these Colts (or perhaps a different gun) to these men (or perhaps some other well known western characters)?

Colt did indeed make some long barreled revolvers and carbines. According to experts they made somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 of the long barreled guns in 1876. However.....they came in 9, 10 and 16" lengths...not the 12 inch length reported by Lake. Perhaps Lake got the barrel length wrong and they were actually 10" barreled guns?

Colt called these "Buggy Guns" and all of them ended up in the hands of Colt executives and other "friends" of the company. None were sold to members of the general public.

A Colt like the one below was on display at the 1876 World's Fair (with a 16" barrel).

To further muddy the waters is the belief by many that Wyatt Earp used this non-existent 12" barreled Colt in the famous Shootout at the OK Corral (which happened in 1881). This belief stems from nearly 70 years of "Hollywood Propaganda", but it just isn't true.

To add more mystery to the story, the 1993 movie Tombstone shows Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russel) retrieving his 12" barreled Buntline Colt from a handsome felt lined walnut case. The camera clearly shows a silver (or brass?) plaque on the grip which makes it appear the gun was a gift from the "grateful people" of Dodge City, with the date of April 8, 1878. The gun is not shown with the shoulder stock and the frame of the movie gun does not have the provisions for mounting the stock.

Were the "people of Dodge City" actually Ned Buntline?

While there is proof that Ned traveled throughout the West, I found nothing about him living in or staying in Dodge City. Furthermore, Wyatt had not yet moved to Dodge City in April of 1878, he was still living in Wichita at that time.

....poetic license I suppose: a screen grab from the movie Tombstone:
A clearer picture of the plaque, from a Cimarron copy of the movie gun.
Kurt Russel as Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral Shootout with the Buntline Colt from the movie Tombstone

The issue was further muddied when some enterprising collector put a Colt Single Action Army up for sale at an auction, claiming it was the gun used by Earp at the famous gun battle. 
The gun (pictured below) is a common 7.5" Calvary model. The serial numbers had been obliterated, but were recoverable. Colt records indicated that the gun was purchased by Wyatt Earp, but no proof exists that this was the gun he used on that fateful day in Tombstone, in fact evidence shows it was not the gun he was armed with.....

This happens a lot with old west guns, it seems everyone has a gun that was once owned by a famous gunslinger. 
The mother of Jesse James is famous for having offered guns for sale that she claimed once belonged to her infamous son. In reality they were second hand relics she purchased just to make a few bucks off of gullible tourists.

As as side note, there is a tavern in New Mexico that once had a rifle mounted over the bar with a sign that said, "This is the only gun in New Mexico that was NOT owned by Billy the Kid"......

So is there any truth to Lake's story? Actually there is, at least a little bit.

Wyatt Earp DID carry a long barreled revolver at the OK Corral gunfight, but it was NOT a Colt. It was an 8" barreled Smith & Wesson model 3 (see below) that WAS given to him by friend: John Clum, who happened to be the mayor of Tombstone at the time.....

Wyatt was given a long barreled revolver, He did use that long barreled revolver at the Shootout at the OK Coral..but it was not a Colt, did not have a 12" barrel and it was not given to him by Ned Buntline.

The S&W model 3 with an 8" barrel

Perhaps Stuart Lake heard about the gift of the long barreled revolver, but did not have the specifics of which gun and who gave it to Earp, so he "filled in the blanks" (pardon the firearm pun), added the extra recipients and a unknowingly created a legend. Hollywood ran with the story and history, as we know it, was rewritten.

Ned Buntline and the five supposed recipients of the guns were dead at the time Lake wrote his book, I suppose he could have checked with Josie (Wyatt Earp's widow), but from what I have read the only help she provided the biographer was in making sure Wyatt was made a hero, not much in the way of specific details. 

Now we know where the legend came from and why the guns are popular. Here is the rest of the story.

Following the re-introduction of the Colt Single Action Army in 1956, Colt added the 12" barrel as an option. Hollywood's portrayal of Wyatt Earp along with Stuart Lake's book (published in 1931, two years after Wyatt Earp passed) no doubt made buyers clamor for the option.

What then, is the definition of a "Buntline Special"? Does it have to have a 12" barrel? Does it even have to be a Colt?
Seeing as the real "Buntline Special" was actually a Smith & Wesson and only had an 8" barrel, your guess is as good as mine.

Many companies produce long barreled revolvers, some even provide stocks for them (I'm a little fuzzy on the legality of this, I think Thompson/Center Arms sued the BATF about this??.....). 
Some even use the name "Buntline" to describe the guns. I don't believe Colt or anyone else ever trademarked the name.

I think a safe definition would be any revolver (preferably single action, but not necessarily so) that has a barrel of 8 inches or longer. I don't know who created the graphic below but it makes sense....

A guide line of Single Action Army models?
Sheriff's model/Shop Keeper = 2" - 3.5" barrel
Gunfighter = 4" - 4.75" barrel
Artillery = 5.5" barrel
Calvary = 7.5" barrel
Buntline Special = 8" - 16" barrel
One thing not often talked about is the difficulty in shooting a revolver with a barrel that long, adding the shoulder stock would not necessarily help as you have no forearm (and for good reason) to support the weight.

Regardless of the origin of the model, it remains popular today.

Uberti offers their Buntline as a revolver or a rifle (note the finger rest at the bottom of the trigger guard....a smart shooter never supports the barrel with their other hand for two reasons: 1. It gets hot real quick and 2. the hot gases & burning powder coming from the cylinder gap will cause a nasty burn and could catch clothes on fire.

Cimarron Arms offers their copy of the Tombstone movie gun
Turnbull manufacturing has offered high quality tribute guns as well

Ruger has offered their Single Six revolver with a 9.5" barrel for a long time now
Ruger's .44 Super Blackhawk also comes with a long barrel, except it is 10.5" long:
Ruger also offered a 9.5" barreld version of their Super Redhawk revolver.
Magnum  Research makes a 10" barreled version of their BFR
While not currently in their catalog, I would venture to guess that the Colt Custom Shop could build you a 12" barreled Buntline Special
(a 3rd gen Colt Single Action Army)
Smith & Wesson at one time offered their Schofield revolver in a Buntline confirguration

 Hollywood has used the Buntline Special in a number of movies that weren't necessarily westerns

Joe Piscapo as Danny Vermin with his "88 Magnum" from the movie Johnny Dangerously
Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier AKA the "Joker" with his 21" barreled S&W model 15 revolver from the 1989 version of Batman

Judge Doom aims a nickle plated Colt Buntline from behind  the curtain in the movie Who Framed Rodger Rabbit

Clint Eastwood with his Colt Buntline from the movie City Heat

Here is a collection of pictures of other long barreled "Buntline Specials"

The pictures above were found freely on the world wide web and are used under the guidelines of Fair Use, per Title 17 of the U.S. Code. Where possible the source has been credited.
If you own the copyright to any of these images and wish them to be credited or removed, please contact me immediately.

Guns - Turnbull
Guns - Buntline Special
CAS City
Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Turnbull Mfg
Cimarron F.A.
Rock Island Auction
Internet Movie Firearms Database 
Magnum Research 
Internet Movie Firearms Database
Kansas Historical Society