By Glenn Barnes
Good deals on pre-owned handguns abound. Check your local gun shop to see what’s available.
Checked the price of new guns lately? I have, and they’re definitely not getting any cheaper. With the cost of living high and family budgets stretched, adding a new handgun to the hunting arsenal is out of the question for many of us.
Fortunately, there’s a way to save a few bucks and get the hunting six-gun you want. The answer lies in the used-firearms counter at your local gun shop. Savings can be quite dramatic. Buying a pre-owned handgun makes sense whether you’re on a tight budget or not. Here’s what to look for in a hunting revolver:
Overall appearance - Check for any signs of obvious abuse: dents, dings or heavy scratches. Examine the screw slots carefully. Damaged heads mean the owner used a poor-fitting screwdriver. This might seem like a minor detail, but consider it a clue that more serious problems might exist.
How’s the finish? Has it worn evenly? Most hunting handguns are carried in a holster. Normal holster wear reveals itself in three areas: at the muzzle, around the cylinder and the front-bottom area of the frame. If the finish is worn in areas other than these, more than likely it was carried it in an ill-fitting holster.
Sideplate - Most double-action revolvers have a sideplate that protects the gun’s internal lockwork. Inspect this area thoroughly. If the sideplate has been removed and reinstalled incorrectly, you will know it. A sideplate’s edges are easily peened by thoughtless removal and installation. Consider it a red flag that the owner toyed with the lockwork.
Bore and crown - A good clean bore and crown are crucial to accuracy. The bore should be bright and free of any bulges. Usually they appear as circular rings. You can often feel them by running your fingers down the outside of the barrel.
Revolvers are typically cleaned from the muzzle. One slip with a metal cleaning rod can damage the crown and ruin accuracy. This may not affect your ability to take game up close, but at ranges beyond 50 yards, it could cause you to miss that buck of a lifetime.
Cylinder-crane gap should be practically non-existent. If more than a little is present, pass on that handgun and find another.
Forcing cone - Today’s high-pressure handgun loads wreak havoc on the forcing-cone area. Generally, a little wear will not affect accuracy. But if the revolver shows more than minor erosion - and you’ll be shooting heavy hunting loads - don’t buy this gun!
Notice the top strap just above the forcing cone. If the revolver has been fired a lot, you’ll likely notice a straight line cut into it from hot gases escaping from the barrel/cylinder gap. As unsightly as it might appear, this is normal.
Barrel/cylinder gap is usually set by the manufacturer around .004 to .006 inch. You can easily check the gap with a simple feeler gauge. The larger the gap, the faster the top strap erodes. Fortunately, it only erodes a certain amount and then stops.
Breechface and recoil shield - Every time a cartridge is fired in a revolver, it’s breechface takes a tremendous beating This abuse eventually wears away the blueing and imprints the cartridge’s headstamp on the breechface. Stainless-steel handguns are subject to this as well - the breechface just gets shinier as it wears. Don’t be too concerned about this. It just means the gun has seen a lot of use.
The recoil shield, usually a separate piece of steel surrounding the firing pin, should be firmly staked or set in place. Not all handguns use an independent recoil shield; some are integral to the breechface. Whichever type it is, make sure the firing-pin hole is free from any burrs or dings that might interfere with ignition.
Cylinder ratchet shoulders - A revolver’s cylinder rotates as the hand pushes upward against the ratchet shoulders. This eventually causes wear to the ratchet shoulders. Sometimes they are damaged when the cylinder is removed for cleaning. It slips out of oily hands onto a hard floor, damaging this area beyond repair. Single-action revolvers are more prone to this, since normal maintenance chores call for removing the cylinders from these guns.
Extractor pins - These two pins, located directly underneath the extractor, serve to hold it in line. You won’t often encounter a revolver with broken or missing pins, but it does happen. The manufacturer or a good gunsmith can replace missing or damaged pins on a Smith & Wesson, while the entire cylinder must be replaced on a Ruger.
Timing - Slowly cock the hammer. The bolt should slide into the cylinder notch just before the gun reaches full cock. Generally, an out-of-time revolver is due to a worn hand or one that needs adjusting. Either way, it’s a simple fix for a qualified gunsmith. A slightly out-of-time handgun will only get worse the more you fire it, so keep this in mind.
Examine the fit of cylinder locking bolt to the cylinder notches. The notches should be sharp and exhibit little to no wear. Checking for excessive wear is simple. Just cock the hammer and manually rotate the cylinder from side to side. A little movement is normal. A lot indicates excessive wear and more trouble than its worth.
Endshake - When a firing pin drops on a primer, igniting the powder charge, the cartridge and cylinder move slightly forward. Pressures cause the cartridge case to expand against the cylinder wall, and the backward propulsion forces the cylinder to the rear. This constant battering and abuse will eventually cause excessive endshake.
Grasp the cylinder between your thumb and middle finger and attempt to move the cylinder forward and backwards. A little movement is normal. Even brand-new revolvers have a small amount of endshake. Excessive movement usually means the handgun has been fired quite a lot and needs repairing.
Hammer - Cock and gently push forward on the hammer. Nothing should happen. If the hammer falls, you can anticipate a trip to the gunsmith. The bill will not be cheap.
Metal under the grips - Many hunting revolvers leave the factory wearing rubber grips. It has been my experience - and misfortune - that rubber grips attract and hold moisture underneath. Check under the grips for rust.
Reprinted from the November 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine