Things One Learns at a Bowling Pin Match

The first bowling pin match of the 2013 season – at the Four Rivers Sportsman’s Club – was held this morning, Saturday 27th April A. D. 2013. I was there. I shot four different handguns in three events. I learned a little something in all three attempts.

A pair of Military and Police .38 Special revolvers

A pair of Military and Police .38 Special revolvers


The first handgun I fired was actually a pair of Smith & Wesson Military & Police .38 Special revolvers with two-inch barrels. They are both in the ‘D’ prefix serial number range which puts them between the end of the Second World War and about 1952 or so. I used target type ammunition (148 grain hollow base wadcutter bullets with 2.2 grains of Clays propellant) for this session. (I haven’t chronographed this load from the two inch revolvers yet, but from a four inch revolver, they move at 720 feet per second.

Here’s what I found out. Properly placed upper center hits with wadcutter ammo from a two inch gun will move a bowling pin right off the table. They don’t launch, as if kicked by the Jolly Green Giant, but they fall fast and skid right off the back of the table. I also found they have just enough penetration to bury themselves into a bowling pin to the base of the bullet. (Picture included.)

Two wadcutter bullets in bowling pin.  Nicely centered, if I do say so myself.

Two wadcutter bullets in bowling pin. Nicely centered, if I do say so myself.


I also found both these revolvers shoot very close to the same point of impact with this ammunition at the distance of eight to nine yards. If I held on the upper third of the wide, center portion of the pin, the pin would go off the table: With both revolvers. (I am really going to have to shoot them both on paper targets and make sure about this – it seems too good to be true.)
The down side is I found these revolvers do not work like I would wish with speedloaders of the HKS persuasion. I have some competition type speedloaders that may do a better job and I’ll have to try them as well. As is well known, the extractor rod on these short barreled revolvers is just shy of long enough to fully remove the spent cases from the cylinder. One adapts. (As may two or three.)
Once again, I was pleasantly surprised at the quickness and forgiving nature of the Smith & Wesson double action function. Much reminiscent of shifting gears in a well-designed sports car. Simple pleasures.

The second handgun I shot was my daily carry pistol, a Heckler and Koch USPc 40. I shot some practice type ammunition this time; a handload of just over five grains of W231 pushing a 180 grain lead bullet.
The bullets however, are a rounded shape with a flat meplat (the very front of the bullet). They feed through the mechanism well, but I found out when they hit a bowling pin, if they don’t hit right square at a more or less right angle to the pin, they tend to deflect to the side and send the pin the opposite direction instead of pushing it back off the table. Sort of like when a bowling ball hits a pin on one side. Sigh… I’m going to have to find some flat fronted, square sided bullets.

I also found something less than pleasant. But I’m not sure what happened fully – yet.

One of my .40 S&W rounds blew up. Not catastrophically, not even spectacularly; rather subtly, in fact. I fired a shot – my last of that pistol for the day, as it happens – I think the pin went down and I felt the pistol jam. The slide didn’t close. When I fired that round, I also noted something flew from the pistol and hit me in the face. (I just went and examined my manly countenance: I’m as homely as ever, without any new marks, scars, tattoos, gouges, bruises, burns or other indications of injury. I do need a shave, which I shall accomplish on the morrow, prior to church attendance.) After I realized the pistol had jammed, I exercised immediate action to keep knocking down pins… and found I could not. After the briefest of inspections, I noted the presence of the shell case, minus the base and rim, still in the chamber.

Happily, this was a friendly match and no one was attempting to change my life status. Having a case stuck in the chamber is bad juju in a gun fight.

Out of temporal sequence, I did get the case out of the chamber. That bit that hit me in the face earlier? It was the base of the shell case which ripped off the case during the event. (It was on the deck, I found it quite easily.) I have included a photo of the remains of said case.

.40 S&W caliber case with separated head

.40 S&W caliber case with separated head

Case separation showing clean break and no ragged tearing.

Case separation showing clean break and no ragged tearing.

The rupture is so clean and tidy I suspect a defect in the structure of the shell case. That case was fired at least once prior, I reloaded it myself and saw no obvious flaw in the handling of the case.

Observing the main body of the case, the brass flowed into the unsupported section of the chamber at the top of the feed ramp. Normally, I would suspect an over pressure charge, except for a couple of observations. One, when the round fired, it seemed normal. I’ve been shooting next to bullseye competitors who have had rounds ‘explode’ (a rather excessive term at times). In both instances, the magazine blew out of the pistol, in one instance the grips came off. Both instances were marked by stout recoil, a greater than usual amount of smoke and a shocked look on the face of the shooter. In neither case was the pistol actually damaged (the grips went back on and the shooter finished the match in both instances.) (In fact, after blowing up his gun, the ratfink outshot me in the match!) Also, the blow up cases looked much more ‘ragged’ around the tear in the case than this instant matter.

None of that happened in my instant case. There are no grips to blow off, but the magazine was not ejected, and no visible damage accrued to the pistol. The case seems to have given way just prior to the pressure level being high enough for a serious detonation. I suppose this could be a case of Divine Providence, but the Lord typically works through the laws of nature (physics) in my experience.

I do not think this was a matter of a double charge in the case. That could be my ego refusing to admit such a mistake, but it just didn’t rattle my cage like the competitor next to me did. The event was not as ‘violent’ as other blow ups I have witnessed. Yes, I’ll admit that is subjective.

Again out of temporal sequence, when I returned home and cleaned the H&K pistol, I noted something ‘odd’ with the extractor. It was broken. The rear section of the extractor – the part which is pushed by the spring underneath to put inward pressure on the extractor hook – was simply gone, along with the spring and rubber pad. While it seems logical the broken extractor was simultaneous with the rupture of the case, I cannot be sure. Another photo shows the damage.

Broken extractor on USPc 40.

Broken extractor on USPc 40.

I do know the extractor was functioning earlier, as I cleared the pistol after the prior three strings of fire. I’m presuming the extractor broke during the case rupture, but that is a presumption. (I went back to the range and did not find either the broken portion of the ejector or the spring.) To fix the problem, I must replace the extractor, spring and rubber pad that sets under the spring. Simple enough, but will cost me just over $70.00 (U. S. Yankee money) in parts. And I have to order them from H&K.

The last gun I fired is one of my long time favorites. It is a retired U. S. Property 1911 (not A1) made in 1918. The “AA” stamp on the frame leads me to believe it was rebuilt at the Atlanta Arsenal at some point. The slide was made by Remington Arms UMC Co Inc. When I bought it in the middle 1990s, it had been surplused out of the government and built into a ‘hardball’ competition pistol. I changed the sights back to a less obtrusive style of fixed sight, more visible than the original sights, but lower and easier to holster than adjustable target sights. It still has a flat mainspring housing, long trigger and full beavertail hammer. As I tend to shoot heavy bullets at full velocity, it sports a 22 pound recoil spring (normal being 16 pound.) I consider it a proper fighting handgun.

Today I shot it with some old bullseye target loads; a 185 grain lead SWC bullet over 2.2 grains of Clays gunpowder. It is a fairly low velocity load, but the fast burn of the powder gives a quick impulse and operates the pistol briskly. Even with the heavy mainspring.

What I learned about this arrangement is the target level loads will positively work the old warhorse, even when dirty. I should have cleaned this old dear last year some time, but it ran perfectly. (He said with respect, stood and tipped his hat to John Moses Browning.)

I also learned that hits on a bowling pin with this rather weak load will clear them off the table; provided such impact is in the upper third of the main section of the pin and fairly centered. In contrast to the skidding results of the round shouldered .40 bullets, the combination of flat front and square shoulders of the 185 SWC bullet seems to ‘grip’ the pins on impact.

Also, I remember how pleasant shooting a Government Model can be. After 102 years, they are still dandy pistols.

Post and orders remain the same. Nothing unusual to report, except as noted above.

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