Yeah, it’s that time again.
This one follows up almost immediately after The Raccoon Story, in case you’re wondering.
So, High School age.
I’ve detailed before the house we lived in, which rested on a square lot in the heart of middle suburbia, all manicured lawns and welcome mats and ranch style houses.
But amidst all the perfect Leave it to Beaver subruban homes and lawns sat this wooded lot with a house in the middle. There was just the driveway disappearing into the trees.
Now, the funny thing is that the woods weren’t very thick. The overhead foliage caused tons of shade, and the trees and scrub were just thick enough to cause drivers passing by to see nothing, but if you stood at the front door or the garage and looked towards the street, you could clearly see through the woods, and watch the houses sitting in the sun out there in the real world.
My father was a police officer for the city at the time, and across the street from us was a deputy with the Sheriff’s office, and the deputy had two sons about my age, so as you might imagine, our fathers thought it would be perfect for us to hang out all the time.
Now one of the pursuits that I mentioned in the Raccoon article, was that I had a Ruger Mark 2 with a bull barrel, and I’d do some silenced target shooting in the back yard.
The thing with the Ruger Mark 2 is, the bull barrel outer diameter is the exact same size as the inner diameter of a 2 liter coke bottle neck. What you’d do is, you’d unscrew the front sight blade of the pistol, you’d slip the 2 liter coke bottle over the barrel, and put a longer machine screw in place through a hole in the neck to hold the bottle in place.
When you fire the pistol, the expanding gases fill the bottle as the bullet passes out the bottom. The only sound you get is the action of the slide jacking. A .22 is a subsonic round, so no crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier. A 2 liter bottle would last about 8 to 10 shots before just blowing the bottom out, if you spaced the shots far enough apart to let the pressure in the bottle go down between rounds.
I eventually used a lathe to make a permanent mechanical silencer with internal leather baffles, but for the most part I liked the redneck backwoods field expedient silencer. It just kept the gun from being loud enough to bother the neighbors when we did some plinking.
So, yeah, that’s fine, but it’s still outdoors in the suburns, and while we were shooting with the woods as a backdrop, I didn’t like the safety factor of using real ammunition. My dad was a cop, and he didn’t care (and that tells you something right there), but I was afraid of ricochets from a soft lead bullet hitting hard trunks or bark, or just of some terrible accident. So I wanted to get away from doing that.
Now, at the same time as the plinkin, I was also working on a masterpiece of leatherworking. I had crafted a hand-tooled leather gunslingers’ fast draw rig, belt and tie down holster for my exact size, for my Ruger .44 Blackhawk. I’d finished it, and put a lot of fancy scrollwork on it. Now it was time to put it to use, and I was practising the fast draw in the garage against a full length mirror, and I wanted to be the fastest gun you ever saw.
Hey, I was young. I thought it was cool.
So once I got the draw down, and I’d worked through the hammer pull and smooth snap, I wanted to practise with live ammo. It’s great if you’re the first to draw, but if you can’t hit shit, well, the other guy can take his sweet time, can’t he?
What I did was, I melted some paraffin in a metal pan, the kind of pan you bake small loaves of bread in. I melted it to about 1/4″ thick, and it was colored red. Um, paraffin is, well, it’s wax, basically.
Then as it dried, I’d go to the reloading press, and set up some brass. I’d clean it, resize and reshape it, seat a primer, and then instead of adding any powder or crimping a bullet, I’d take the primed cases and push them into the paraffin. This left me with a shell that had a primer in the base, and a 1/4″ plug of red wax. Useless for an automatic, but in a 6 shot revolver, it worked perfect. The way a centerfire cartridge case works, a firing pin strikes a primer in the base of the cartridge, the primer ignites, blasting fire and expanding gases into the cartridge casing. This expanding fire and gas is supposed to ignite the charge of gunpowder inside, which actually provides the force to drive the bullet out of the cartridge and down the barrel.
What I found was that the force of the primer was sufficient to throw a wad of colored wax a good distance in a flat trajectory across the garage, and splat my targets.
So I practised quick-drawing and firing at the targets on the wooden garage door, and seeing how accurate I could get. And DAMN was that fun!
If I had left it there, I probably wouldn’t even remember doing any of this. But no, I couldn’t leave it there.
My dad got involved, he had made his own gunslinger fast draw rig for his Ruger Super Blackhawk, so of course we took to having fast draw competitions… still against the targets on the door.
And my dad loved my idea with the wax… but he had to take it to the next level.
We also did a lot of black powder shooting, I had a .50 Hawkins rifle I’d made from a kit. I also had a Navy .44 black powder revolver.
Well, the Navy .44 throws a soft lead ball, it’s called a cap and ball revolver. And teh .44 soft lead ball is JUST the right size for reloading gently into the .44 magnum cases.
What he figured was, if the large pistol primer was strong enough to throw a plug of wax, maybe it would be strong enough to throw a simple solid lead ball.
So he set up some cartridges, but instead of pushing it into the wax, he seated a lead ball into the case. No powder, just primer.
If the ball wasn’t thrown hard enough, well, we were both amateur gunsmiths. That’s not a big deal to get a lead ball out of a barrel.
It did take a little playing around with crimp pressure, crimping the ball to the casing, but we found that it worked. At a range of about 10 feet, we could shoot a lead ball with just enough force to have it imbed halfway into the solid wood garage door, without deforming. We even had reloadable bullets!
We would fast draw, unload into the door, pry the bullets out, and then reload them. We could use the same bullets three or four times before the crimping and impact would deform them.
And this, also, would have been fine if we’d left it there.
But, oh, HELL no. We had to go that last little bit.
We started playing with powder charges.
See, the primer was sufficient… but it didn’t provide much of a muzzle flash. And we wanted to see if we could get the muzzle flash in there, for that ‘real’ experience.
And that worked too! We played around with some green dot powder, measuring grains and seeing how far we could push it. And we got it down to a perfect cartridge; case, primer, powder and ball just perfect. A solid shot, a strong impact on the garage door but easy to pry out, a bright flash… it was awesome.
And I’ll tell ya, nothing beats actually practising when you want to get good. We could throw some lead into a small area like you wouldn’t believe, FAST.
Again, as with the blowgun… not a marketable skill. It’s funny the things I did in my free time before computers came along.
One morning, I got up a little late for school, I had to hustle to make the bus. But first, I had a tray of 50 cartridges that I had run through the polisher to clean, and had then resized and seated some primers late the night before. I wanted to do some shooting in the garage right after school, so I hustled out to the garage, ran them through the powder stage of the press, and then ran out the door to school.
Now, I forgot I did that. when I got home from school, I couldn’t remember having done that at all. All I remembered was that I had quit late the night before after seating the primers.
So I ran all 50 cases throgh the powder stage of the reloading press. Again.
Now, here is one other thing I didn’t know. My dad came home during lunch, and he wanted to shoot that afternoon also. So he saw I had the cases ready to go, and he ran them through the powder stage of the press.
Uh huh. Triple powder load.
Normally, one charge of powder is plainly visible in the case. But with the teeny amounts we were using, the case walls shaded the bottom so you really couldn’t see it was in there, not in the poor light we had over the reloading bench.
I seated the balls, ran them through the crimper, and loaded up. When my dad got home, so did he.
I squared off on the target on the garage door first. I relaxed, let my hand just rest on my belt buckle.
My dad said “Draw!”
I pulled, I fired, and a massive explosion rocked the garage. The muzzle blast was strong enough in the confined space to simultaneously blind us and blow out the light bulb in the overhead light, plunging us into darkness.
My ears were ringing. Hard.
I stood in silence for a few minutes, doing a mental replay of what happened.
Load, check. Pull, check. Fire, check.
Why did I have an earth shattering kaboom?
My dad opened a door, but I can’t remember if it was the garage or the breezeway door. I think it was the garage door. See, the garage door was heavy wood. Very heavy. It was super thick and reinforced with cross braces. It opened like a barn door, swinging wide, rather than retracting into the ceiling. that’s why we used it as our target.
Light came streaming in, beams of it that struck the heavy dust and smoke that filled the air of the garage. I looked at my dad. He looked at me. I suddenly realized I had charged the cases twice. That’s when he revealed that he had also charged the cases.
That’s when we looked for the bullet. Instead of a lead ball stuck in the garage door, we had a nice, big round hole going in one side of the door, and a blown out hole splintered out the other. And if you stood where I had been, and drew an imaginary line from me to the hole in the door, and looked through…
The bullet had passed about three inches over the hood of my dad’s take home squad car, parked in front of the garage…
Why, what do you know! Looking through the trees, there, right there, is the Sheriff’s car the deputy across the street drives, parked in his driveway!