July 24, 2012
By James Tarr
I attended a local USPSA match this past weekend at one of my local clubs, the Detroit Sportsman's Congress. I arrived a little late, and ended up squadded with some people whom I'd never shot before.
There were nine of us on the squad. I knew Chris, the FBI agent, and Arlan, the recently retired UPS driver, but everybody else was a stranger. I wasn't sure if they were new shooters to the sport or not, but I like to think of every shooting match as an opportunity to have fun, so I was looking forward to shooting with some new people.
Three of the shooters I didn't know seemed to know each other. The men were all of recent retiree age, and not bad shots. I noticed that one of them was shooting an old Browning Hi-Power, possibly an Inglis. It had a round hammer and an adjustable rear sight---not the kind of pistol you see often, especially at an IPSC match.
Conversation revealed that the three older gentlemen were all Vietnam veterans. The owner of the Hi-Power had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and flown all sorts of missions in Vietnam and Cambodia. He'd even been shot down a time or two. I also learned that the Browning Hi-Power was the pistol he'd carried while flying those helicopters.
If there is one thing to bind a gun to a man's heart, it's carrying it in combat. I commented that he probably wouldn't sell that gun, ever, for any amount of money. It could be considered a family heirloom. This made me think about my own collection of guns. Did I own a pistol that I just would not sell for any amount of money?
My father didn't pass down any guns to me, and I haven't carried any of the pistols I own in combat. I have had to point pistols at a few people over the years, but I never had to pull the trigger, and ironically I don't own any of those guns anymore. So which gun is nearest and dearest to my heart?
It was easy to narrow it down to two choices. The first pistol I thought of was my Springfield Armory .45. I bought it used sometime in the mid-nineties for $350. I bought a used pistol because I planned to have a lot of work done on it, and figured the extra money for a new gun would just be wasted.
This wouldn't be the first 1911 I'd owned, but it was the first one I was having customized where I really knew exactly what I wanted. My local gunsmith, Russ Carniak, was really good, having first learned the trade behind the front lines in Korea, getting damaged guns back into service. I gave Russ the gun, and about $1000, and what he produced was a 1911 that never jammed on me (except because of bad ammo or a bad magazine).
Russ checkered the front strap by hand, and cut off the rounded trigger guard to weld back on a square one, the front of which he checkered also. He tightened it up, but not so tight that it had to be broken in, because he knew I was going to carry it. I picked the parts for him to put on it — the thumb safety is a King's which I filed down to the size and shape that I wanted, and he installed it. He contoured the frame to fit the Ed Brown beavertail, which I then adjusted so that it stuck out as far as possible and required only a slight amount of movement to disengage, as I have issues deactivating most grip safeties due to thin hands.
I carried that Springfield every day for five years or so, and made Master Class in USPSA with it. It has needed refinishing for years, because it was simply blued, and I carried it in a Kramer horsehide holster. If you look closely at the picture you can see the bluing worn off on the front strap checkering in the shape of fingers, that's how much I carried and shot it. The tritium insert in the front sight is so old that it doesn't glow enough to be visible to the naked eye. Currently it has fancy G10 grips on it and a TechWell magwell, but for most of its life it wore traditional cocobolo wood grips and a bolt-on Wilson magwell.
Russ Carniak, "The Accurizer", passed away about ten years ago, making this pistol something that can never be duplicated. I love my Springfield, and trusted my life to it, but the fact is that I haven't carried it for years. For the last 6 years I've been carrying a Glock 34.
Even though they are ugly, simple, and inelegant, I can shoot Glocks better than I ever could 1911s. I shoot a Glock 34 9mm in competition, and carry one every day. Currently I only own one, and would never sell it, just because I shoot it so well and trust it completely. Even though my Glock has been lightly customized (trigger job, aftermarket sights, steel recoil spring guide rod and reduced power recoil spring), there is nothing special about it. In fact, it is rather battered. A customized Glock to me is nothing like a custom 1911, and I have a lot more nostalgia and emotion invested in my Springfield than I do my Glock. If I had a second Glock set up right I would have no qualms selling the one I have. I love the design, but not this specific handgun.
So I guess my Springfield Armory .45, even though I haven't carried it in years, is the pistol that I just wouldn't sell. I know I'm not the only gunowner who has such a piece.
Do you have a handgun that you just wouldn't sell, for any amount of money?