Recently I had a friend ask me what I knew about the Benelli Model 76. I told him I had one of the first ever made back in the real early 80s. He asked if it was a good gun as someone was offering to sell him one. I remember it shot well, even with some funky lead bullet handloads. I was at the time writing a weekly column for a newspaper in Nashville called the Southern Sportsman. It was a column, much like this one, in which I went over new guns, wrote hunting stories and did some tests on new guns. I had loaded up some 9mm for a test of the Interdynamic 9mm KG-9, which was somewhat of a copy of the European Swedish K sub-gun. As it was fired from an open bolt it was very easily converted to full auto and was later changed to a closed bolt and the name changed to the KG-99. It ended up in later years being the gun of choice for many of the gangbangers and other gang groups. It is even today one of the most often seen pistols in the movies, either being carried by some low life gangbanger or some scantily clad big breasted blonde who mows down the bad guys by the dozen.
 
Anyway I had loaded up some lead  truncated cone bullets along with hollow points and round nose bullets for testing the KG-9 and to try out the new Benelli I scrounged up a cup full of odds and ends 9mm to do the testing. I don’t remember a lot about the gun other than it was smooth in the hand, it shot well and take down was easy and simple. This was back in the day when I thought I was supposed to clean a gun pretty often.  The Benelli was a nice 9mm but must not have impressed me a lot as it didn’t stay in my possession very long. That was 30 years ago in late 1982 and early ‘83. When I look back now at some of my old columns and read where I was sure this gun or that one was going to set the industry on fire, it amazes me how many of those guns are not even around these days.
 
Thirty years ago, 1983. It was memorable as being a time of renewed interest in standard revolvers and semi autos. We had survived the Jimmy Carter days and the  survivalist movement of the late 70s and early 80s. Dozens of new handguns were being released in mass, and some of these were actually decent handguns.  I was a partner in a gunshop just outside Nashville so I got a chance to try out a lot of these new guns. I had quite a few friends at our distributors and they would send me one of the first of a new batch of guns knowing I was a sucker for something new. I remember the KG-9 I mentioned above had a low 2 digit serial number.
 
Unusual would be the word for many of the new guns released 30 years ago. The ODI Viking was one of them. It was actually a full firearm and also a kit to install on your Colt 1911 that made it a double action. My gunsmith and hunting buddy, Mike Thompson got one of the kits and couldn’t wait to get it installed on his Colt. That excitement didn’t last long though as no matter what he did, he couldn’t get it to be reliable.
 
Charter Arms came out with a semi auto pistol called the Model 79K which was a double action 380. All the gun magazines of the day raved about it, but I never saw one. Never knew what ever happened to it.  It was a time of revolver makers making semi autos and semi auto makers making revolvers. Charter Arms being the revolver makers. Detonics was the semi auto maker that delved into revolvers, for a short time. They came out with a gun that was a Webley design top break revolver. I never saw any of these either.
 
The L.A.R. Grizzly was released and I immediately bought one in 45 Winchester magnum. It was also available in the 9mm Winchester Magnum. I heard at the time that Winchester was lagging behind on the ammo for this one and very few guns were actually made. There were a lot of copies of older famous guns being made in 1983. There was a true copy of the Browning 1910 in 380 auto. It was available in stainless and blue from a new company called Lone Star Arms. Other copies of John Browning’s pistols were the Baby Browning clones. One was by Bauer in stainless and another Baby Browning clone was by a company called Fraser Arms. I heard or read that Fraser had once worked for Bauer. Whether that is true or not really doesn’t matter as both companies are long gone. That is a shame as both companies made some very well made pistols. For many years I carried a stainless Bauer in a special nylon holster in my cowboy boots. Lone Star Arms is also history as only a few were actually made.
 
It is funny how the way people think changes thru the years. For years I carried the 25 ACP Bauer and felt comfortable with it as a back up gun. Somewhere along the line I either sold it or traded it off. I then went to a double action Budischowsky 25 ACP, a tiny little semi auto that dropped right in my pocket.  The Colt 25 ACP was still popular as a back up gun, as were several little foreign guns in 25 auto and in 32 auto. The Iver Johnson TP-22 and the several models of Berettas in 22 and 25 were also very popular pocket guns. Sterling Arms had a little 25 auto out, as did American Arms along with a 22 LR.  Taurus had their little Beretta copy out as the PT-22 and PT-25. And there were dozens of other tiny little pocket autos out at that time
 
Semi autos weren’t the only little pocket or boot guns 30 years ago. Freedom  Arms had their little 5 shot 22 LR revolver out as did North American Arms with their Mini revolver, both in 22 LR and in 22 Magnum. They even had the  little revolver that came in a belt buckle. That model didn’t appeal to the U.S Government and was soon dropped from production.
 
There were also several derringers back then that would easily rate as pocket back up guns. The main company making these little 2 shot beauties was American Derringer out of Texas. They made what was almost a perfect copy of the old Remington 2 shot derringer. The one by American derringer came in calibers from 22 LR, 22 Magnum and 25 ACP all the way up to 44 Magnum. One version came out later chambered in 45-70.  High Standard had their little 2 shot double action derringer out in 22 LR and 22 Magnum. They even had a wallet holster for it that the little gun fit in and thru a hole in the “wallet” you could fire the derringer without taking it out of the holster. Just about every cop I knew back then carried one of these little guns in a boot or ankle holster.  F.I.E had a copy of the Remington derringer that was Italian made and Don Mitchell, former head honcho of High Standard had gone on his own and had come out with a rough copy of the Remington derringer also but like the F.I.E. was chambered in 38 Special. There was even a little 2 shot derringer made by Ljutic called the Ljutic LJ2 chambered in 22 Magnum. A tiny pistol that was double action and retail on it was almost $1000.  And in 1983, that was a LOT OF MONEY.
 
Looking back I have often wondered what ever happened to all the little 22 LR and 25 ACP pocket guns. Many of them were very well made little guns but even so, few of the ones mentioned above are still around and very few folks these days would even think about using a 22 LR or 25 ACP as a back up gun. A few years back when we got a little Bauer in on trade at our gun shop I was looking it over, even thinking of buying it myself for a little boot gun. I was thinking of all these little back up guns and remembered 2 others and I realized why the 22 LR and 25 acp are not really looked upon as decent carry guns anymore. What killed them? That’s easy now that I think about it. The Jennings 22 LR and 25 ACP and the Raven in the same calibers.  Those little pot metal pistols flooded the market 30 years ago. They sold for anywhere from $49 to $69 for the “deluxe” model. Junk guns. But soon when one thought of a pocket 22 or pocket 25, they no longer thought of the Baby Brownings, the Bauers, or even the Beretta Minx, or Jetfire.  They thought of the Jennings and Ravens. These little pot metal clunkers ruined the concept of carrying a tiny little back up gun. They actually killed the market for a decent, well made back up gun in a caliber under 380.
 
In 1983 we had a lot of guns to choose from, from the tiny pocket guns to the big magnums. Wildey had been out for a couple of years, had gone under and come back with their big Wildey pistol in 45 Winchester magnum. We had the Grizzlys I mentioned above. We had various 44 Magnums out. The Dirty Harry craze was finally over and we could easily find the S&W Model 29 and the brand new Model 629 in stainless steel.  Our other choices in 44 Magnums included the Llama Super Comanche, the new Redhawk, the new High Standard Crusader, and the Dan Wesson in double action revolvers, along with the Mossberg Abilene, the German made F.I.E Hombre and Mitchell Arms, the very well made United Sporting Arms Seville, the Interarms Virginian Dragoon and of course the Ruger Super Blackhawk.  We had many 45 Long Colt revolvers to choose from from all those makers also along with a large contingent of 357 Magnum revolvers from probably twice as many companies including Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, Rossi, Dan Wesson Charter Arms among others. The 357 Magnums were available from all the companies listed above including the Lawman, Trooper MK3, Trooper MK 5, and of course the Python, all from Colt.   In 22 LR the list was almost endless. Harrington & Richardson alone had over 20 different series of 22 LR revolvers.
 
Our semi autos were in good supply also with over 75 different companies producing them, and some companies like Beretta, Walther, Star, Llama, H&K,Colt,  and Browning with 8 or 10 different series of guns each. There were long gone names like Bren Ten, Arminex, Astra, Detonics, Coonan, Erma, F.I.E., Mauser, MAB, Benelli, Randall, Star, Sterling, Wilkinson, Universal, Steyr, Stoeger Luger and countless others available back then.  Smith & Wesson was mainly a revolver company back then with only a small handful of semi auto pistols in their stable. Ruger, another company now big into semi autos, had one lone pistol out back then, the 22 Mark 2. Some of these names are being brought back today, such as Detonics, as the New Detonics, and Coonan who is coming out with their new updated 357 Magnum semi auto. Some that were big into handguns 30 years ago are still around but mostly into long guns today, line Benelli, Mauser and Steyr.
 
Some guns in 1983 didn’t live long due to the fact that they simply didn’t work. There was one that every gun writer know to man tried to make work and failed. It was a miserable gun. It was the L.E.S. P-18, an 18 shot 9mm. It was also listed as being offered in 30 Luger and 45 ACP but I never saw one. The gun was a disaster. No matter what we did or anyone else did it just wouldn’t function. Amazingly Steyr bought the design out, modified it somewhat and came out with it as the Steyr GB. Bad luck never seems to go away and this one was soon dropped also.  Another maker that seemed to have a black cloud hanging over them was Llama. They actually made fine pistols, especially the earlier ones. The steel framed little 380 and 22 LR were excellent pistols. The late 60s and early 70s 45 autos and 38 autos were also fine guns. They came out later with a competition pistol in 9mm called the Llama M-87. Kase used one in combat shooting for a while and never had any problems.
 
1983, 30 years ago. We had so many choices in handguns. And from so many manufacturers. From the Bauers to the Wildeys, we had them all. Today, most of these guns are only a vague memory to most shooters. The guns that are being brought out today are excellent pistols. It just seems they have no character, no soul. The Glocks are about as close to being the perfect semi auto as one could get, but it ends there. A lot of my older guns, I hang on to mainly because I can’t replace them. I can replace them with a similar caliber, maybe even a gun that looks the same, but it just doesn’t have any soul. There are no revolvers on the market that compare to the old original S&W Model 29 in 44 Magnum. The semi autos like the old Combat Commander by Colt. The original Browning High Power, the power of the Auto Mags,or  the Grizzlys, the feel of the S&W Model 39, the Star PD, the Bren Ten,  the comfort of the 2½” S&W Model 19, the smoothness of the S&W Model 58, the early Colt Pythons and Diamondbacks,  all gone and replaced somewhat by a reasonable facsimile thereof. Today we have all the plastic fantastics that hold half a box of ammo, shoot like a handheld sub gun, will probably last forever, are probably the wisest choice in a carry gun,  but they have no soul. 
 
Our next Handgun Hunter’s Challenge, HHC, is now 4 months away. We already have almost 30 hunters signed up. Join us. You won’t regret it.  Call or e-mail me for more info.
 
Til next time, take a youngster or a lady shooting, they are our future.
God bless,
Gary