Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tactical vs Traditional; Can I love both?

For quite some time I have had an internal battle going on inside me. A struggle if you will. Yes, it seems my very soul has been bisected and if I do not get behind one side or the other, the tumult and chaos will soon lead to my demise. The war must stop, but the outcome is far from decided. (How is that for faux dramatic effect?)

The struggle I face may be something that you battle as well. The battle between my love for my traditional firearms, and the new (to me anyway) word of tactical arms.

To give a little background, I grew up in the country, on a cattle ranch. My first firearm was my father's 1966 Canadian Centennial Ruger 10/22. 

Not that he was collector; it was probably just what they had on the shelf when he bought it. From the time my hands first embraced the walnut stock of that rifle, I was hooked. I will never forget the words he said as he handed me that rifle at the ripe old age of 10. As he sent me out the door he gave me a 50 round box of Winchester Wildcats and said, "Don't kill yourself."

Luckily for the world, I did not kill myself, or anyone else, but I did have to learn a lot of safety lessons the hard way. This method of firearms training by osmosis is one I would not recommend to anyone. I think the main reason I became a firearms instructor was the lack of instruction I received as a young shooter. I love teaching young and new shooters how to be safe, and how to have fun.

My first center fire rifle was a Marlin 94 in 30-30. My dad kept his Winchester 94 in 32 Special in the closet away from my grubby little fingers. As for my Marlin, many a muskrat met their demise at the front end of that lever action rifle. Eventually, when I was 13 or so, my father gave me his Remington 700 in .243 Winchester. I loved that rifle. I took my very first deer with it, and about a dozen more until I bought my own Model 700 in .270.

Growing up, I thought guns should be made of blued steel and a nice piece of wood. My first pistol was a blued, six inch Colt Trooper in .357 and I shot that pistol for years until I saved up enough money to buy a real, honest to goodness, Colt Series 70 1911. I still own that Series 70 and it is one of the guns I would run back into my burning house to save. The dark blued slide with the rampant colt logo, the sweeping curved lines of the Ed Brown beavertail safety, and the checkered walnut grips; it’s a beautiful thing to behold. I digress.

After buying, selling and trading a few dozen firearms, (yes you could once do that here in California) I had a nice little collection. The folks at the local gun shows would lick their chops every time I came through the doors. I am not a good trader. The Native Americans who traded Manhattan for a basket of beads where wheeler-dealers compared to me. I'm surprised I didn't trade that Trooper for some magic beans and a Stevens single shot .410.

I eventually came to love Smith & Wesson revolvers, along with my fondness of Colt 1911s, Remington rifles and Browning shotguns. Like most men, I like to tinker with stuff.  Before long I started to refinish guns and do a little customizing.  Through some twist and turns I found my way into the world of sporterized Mausers. This is not an inexpensive hobby. I have a few VZ-24s that I have turned into nice little hunting rifles. I also had a friend transform an $80 VZ-24 from Big-5 sporting goods into a beautiful elk rifle in 338-06. It is the finest looking firearm I own. 

Somewhere in the early '90s, a small hiccup hit my world of warm wood tones, color case hardening, and rich bluing. A tremor in The Force if you will. It was a rather unattractive, blocky, flat black pistol made of plastic. Well, the majority of the slide was polymer; the rest was made of steel. It was a first generation Glock 23.

What had just happened? Why did I have this sinister, black, boxy looking thing in my safe along side my lovely guns? Well, I guess the reason was one of my friends had a Glock, and thing seemed to work every time you pulled the trigger. My Glock was no different; it just worked. Factory ammo, reloads, full metal jackets, hollow points, hard cast lead bullets, it didn't matter, it would go bang every time.

Glocks, in case you didn't know, are the gateway gun to the tactical world. Damn you Gaston Glock, damn you and your ugly plastic pistols that work!

Soon, most police departments were trading in their Smith & Wesson revolvers for these new fangled wonder guns. The Glock Safe Action system, with its three passive mechanical safeties, gave people the high capacity, semi-auto action they wanted, along with the 'pull the trigger and shoot' simplicity of a revolver. 

I now had one toe over the line, into the dark side, the tactical dark side that is.

Many of my friends are police officers and military veterans; many of them work or had lived in the tactical world. After a bit of resistance, I finally gave in to peer pressure, and bought an AR-15 lower. 

Well, peer pressure and the fact that the government in all its infinite wisdom decided that I didn't 'need' one, so I bought one. This stripped lower receiver was relatively inexpensive, just over $160 with all the paper work and fees. I now had a new tactical 'firearm' even though the lower is just an aluminum paperweight by itself. It sat on my desk, mocking me. I could not take it any longer.

The expenses started to add up fast. A lower parts kit, a complete upper receiver, magazines, sights, etc. My $160 had turned into something north of $800, but I now had a fully functional AR-15 in .223. I though that would be the end, I had an AR-15. It was fun to shoot, but it was not 'my kind of gun'. The matte black anodized finish, the sharp lines of the rails, the click and clack of aluminum and plastic, my AR did not seem to be alive, it didn't seem to have a soul. Maybe that is the point. After a while, I heard the not so quiet call from the dark side.

Every time I had some extra fun money come in, the dark side would call to me. "You know you don't need to buy another complete AR, you could just get another upper, maybe a bull barrel varmint upper, or one in a different caliber!" 

In a few years my safe was full of upper receivers, for my AR-15. I can now put together a lower receiver kit in my sleep. I am always customizing my tactical guns, free floating hand guards, match triggers, etc. I also broke down and bought another lower receiver so I could take the family out shooting. This is where the lure of the dark side started to reach out to my children. 

Not my children! Have you no shame! They are far too young to be turned from the world of English walnut stocks and double-action revolvers to your corrupt, cold, matte black world! 

In the end, the dark side won. My 13-year-old daughter loves nothing more than to send me to the poor house by endlessly emptying magazine after magazine of .223 at the orange self-healing targets she shoots at. My wife is a bit of a purist and will only shoot the AR with iron sights, as she says, "Scopes are cheating." Every person I take shooting wants to shoot the 'black guns.' I am now getting all the gear I need to start Defensive 3-Gun shooting this year. I even bought a tactical shotgun. I had been turned. I was now fully involved in the tactical world. 

As a side note, I have never been one of the "tactical range warriors" you see in all the gun shops and at the range. If you work behind the counter of you local gun shop, why you feel the need to wear a plate carrier adorned with patches with your 'tactical name" on them is beyond me. If you are going out to the hill shooting squirrels, or punching holes in paper targets, a molle chest rig, a tactical thigh holster, and your concealed cary pants are a bit much if you ask me. Even with my all my 'black' arms, I refuse to give in. I am proudly un-tactical. 

As the years have passed, I have noticed a distinct change in the way I view firearms. Much of it was driven by the appeal of tactical shooting. However, to be honest, with all the talk of banning this type of pistol or that type of rifle, I did buy a few firearms for fear I would be unable to buy them in the future. The last few years of gun bans, magazine bans, and calls for registration have driven up gun sales like no other time I can remember. 

It seems all the major firearms manufacturers are bringing out new tactical lines of pistols, rifles and shotguns. While I do enjoy shooting and customizing my tactical arms, I do miss the craftsmanship of a finely made wood and steel bolt-action rifle, or a single action pistol. 

I stopped Cowboy Action Shooting years ago. I cannot remember the last time I took my 1866 Navy lever action out to the range. My set of Ruger Vaqueros in .45 Long Colt get a gentle wipe down from a silicone cloth every so often, but that is about it. I have a reproduction 1886 Winchester takedown in 45-70 that is loads of fun to shoot with hard cast bullets. I never seem to reach for those guns any more. They have worked their way to the back of my gun safe. Along with my M1 Garand, and my fathers 32 Special. 

The other day I was thinking about putting some money aside for a new pistol, maybe an ultra compact 40S&W or 9mm. Then for some reason I started thinking about a pistol that I have always wanted. A Colt Combat Commander. The beauty of that pistol, with a four-inch barrel, blued steel, and walnut grips speaks to me in a way that the more practical and tactical pistol does not. It is more than a tool, more than a purpose driven piece of functionality, it is a piece of art. 

If function wins the day, the modern tactical arms are the clear winners. Much as a new, smaller, modern four cylinder, fuel injected sports car would beat a 1969 Corvette Stingray with a 400 horse power L86 engine in a race, the new tactical pistols and rifles are technological wonders. However, given my choice, I would take the primitive, old-fashioned Corvette any day. 

Why? Well if you don’t understand, you probably don’t have any lever action rifles in your safe.