Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm just a Debby Downer on guns lately...

"Hey, Tam! Check out what I scored at the last Fun Show!"

"Hey! You got a new gun? Awesome! Oh... it's a... um, Mini-14/Henry Big Boy/Norinco 97*. Hey, that's great. I bet you're happy."

"You don't sound too enthusiastic?"

"I'm not faking it very well, am I?"
And you know, under a lot of circumstances, that's just me being bitchy.

I mean you didn't come up to me and say "Hey! Look at my new Mini-14 I'm going to shoot High Power rifle matches with!" or "Hey, look at my new Henry Big Boy I'm going to take to a 1,500-round carbine class!" or "Hey! Lookit my new 3 Gun shotgun!" did you? No, you didn't, because that would be stupid and my friends are not stupid people.

You got it because you thought it looked cool, and it's perfectly up to the task of riding around in a pickup truck and whacking the occasional 'yote or going to the range to shoot tin cans and paper zombies every other month. Not every gun needs to be up to the rigors of shooting a zillion rounds a weekend because most guns don't.

Grandpappy's deer rifle could bag two Bambis a season, plus sight-in shots, for most of a century  and not use a half-case of ammo, and these days, a surprising number of them seem engineered to do just that and nothing more. If that's all you're looking for the gun to do, it's really a pretty low bar: Be able to keep the bullets on a pie plate at a hundred yards and go BANG! a couple hundred times without breaking anything.

That said, I really do think that the average consumer vastly overestimates the ruggedness of a sporting arm vis a vis firearms designed to survive rough handling and high round counts with sketchy maintenance in a service-type environment. "I've got my (Mini-14/Henry Big Boy/Norinco Winchester 97 clone) in case of the zombie apocalypse!" My personal rough rule of thumb is that if a firearm can't be disassembled without tools, then it's an indication that it was meant to be cleaned and serviced someplace where there was a light and a workbench and a stool on which to sit.

Darryl "Nyeti" Bolke summed it up nicely when he wrote:
I am a big fan of "the ability" to use "sporting guns" in a defensive role, and find it to be critical for those who live in highly restrictive, gun averse, and heavily regulated areas of the country. On the other hand, they are, in fact, sporting guns and are not designed for heavy field use with little maintenance. We also find that they don't temporarily "go down" in class where a little wonder lube in the right place or a quick take down and clear out and you are back on the line. We have found when these things "go down" in class (or worse,in the field when being deployed) they need to go to a gunsmith or the factory.
 If you're just buying a gun for pride of ownership, as a bit of a dreaming aid, a range toy, the yearly hunt, then obviously the availability of spares or whether it starts stringing shots when the barrel heats up or the fact that it can't be fixed without the right Torx bit for your screwdriver doesn't matter. But if you think you might need more use out of it, it's something you want to think about.

*And don't get all wrapped around the axle over "Mini-14/Henry Big Boy/Norinco 97" being used as the example here; there are dozens of firearms you could plug into that blank and it would work just as well.


Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I haven't announced the Judge I'm getting for Xmas...


Scott J said...

I know you said don't focus on the Mini-14 but I *wants* one bad.

I have ever since I was first exposed to one as a newbie. A friend had a stainless factory folder and to my new shooter eyes it was waaaaay cool.

I have since learned its limitations but I still want one. I just can't justify the inflated prices they fetch knowing those limitations.

Jim said...

You asperse as not worth mentioning my new best friend, my Mossberg 152? With two magazines, a +tactical+ web sling, and a Weaver K2? How dare you, you who wrote:

I'll see your Papoose and raise you a Winchester Model 74.

Anonymous said...

But But the Mini 14 is designed to be taken down with out tools!?!?!

Have one, wanted one since I saw it in the 70's, great fun to shoot, eats any ammo, throws spent casings into the next county.

We must remember that the Mini 14 was the tacticool toy with the most accessories/options prior to the 94 Clinton ban; AR's really came into their own after that when the dreaded assault carry handle became a verboten thing that goes up.

Montana said...

I've kept by gun purchases pretty rugged, but I have one that I spent way to much on that is not designed for field conditions. My FNAR is a great gun that shoots little tiny groups, weighs to much, and magazines are silly. I love it to death though, it puts a deer in the freezer every year, loves playing at the range, and needs a real cleaning every five hundred rounds. Which isn't a big deal, unless you take it to an appleseed.....

Tam said...

"We must remember that the Mini 14 was the tacticool toy with the most accessories/options prior to the 94 Clinton ban..."

I don't seem to remember it that way.

Joseph said...

Here's the thing. I know a helluva lot more about keeping a '97 running than I do an 870 or Mossy 500 having run them in matches for over a decade. I've run thousands of rounds through them with little maintenance over the course of years. I would even bet that I could just as easily fix one with a screw driver and nail file in a hotel room as one could, say a Remmy 870.

So why would I trust one of those other guns to what I know best and know to be tried and true?

Please don't take this as me being butt-hurt, I'm truly not, I just think you don't know a whole lot RE: Norinco '97 clones and how good the later ones really are, seriously.

Jim said...

It wasn't. I bought my first (and last) AR15 in 1986, and you could spend a year's pay dressing it up even then.

og said...

I buy guns to make me happy. other people sometimes find them cool, but that's not the purpose. My criteria for firearm purchase, in order of importance:
1: I like it.
2: It may have intrinsic value beyond my desire to own it.
3: Everything else.

Since I'm not shooting competition I place mega-round reliability low on the list, though it would be hard to find anything more reliable in the long term than arisakas and springers and garands. I already have meat guns and yes, they sometimes do two rounds a year- one to confirm the scope alignment and one to take down a deer. I still have most of the box of ammo I bought to hunt on Frank's farm with Brigid and friends several years back.

Sometimes I buy guns just because I find them very pretty, like the Savage 99- but I realize others don't find them pretty at all.

I'm always happy to see anyone buying any firearm, it just means there's one more armed person out there. I expect a lot of them are dumbasses, but I don't care all that much.

Tam said...


"Please don't take this as me being butt-hurt, I'm truly not, I just think you don't know a whole lot RE: Norinco '97 clones and how good the later ones really are, seriously."

This is true. I've only owned the one, and sold but a couple dozen, tops, and only had to fix a fraction of those.

(And what makes you think the 870 doesn't fall into the definition of "sporting arm"?)

Tam said...


I think you responded to the wrong post?

Anonymous said...

I read the "dreaming aid" link. My first thought was "Wow, this guy is a good writer." Then I looked at the name... Well, that explains it.

Kristophr said...

Yea, I do have some guns that are neat, but possibly not up to three gun.

So what do you recommend for a serious match gun set?

A well built M-4gery, and an 870? What pistols would you consider using?

I'm all ears.

Sebastian said...

"We must remember that the Mini 14 was the tacticool toy with the most accessories/options prior to the 94 Clinton ban..."

Only if your Mini-14 had a fun switch, you liked to shoot it from a hip with a cigar in your mouth, and you drove a black GMC van with a big red racing stripe on the side.

The Mini-14 got a lot of attention during the years leading up to the ban because Bill Ruger went through Chamberlinian levels of appeasement in order "to save our little gun."

Anonymous said...

This is why I read Tam's blog: more good sense in one short post than in 10 other blogs put together!

You may have to go back to around 1980 or so to find a time when the Mini-14 or Ranch Rifle was the hottest thing going, by the way.

Mike W.

Tam said...


"So what do you recommend for a serious match gun set?

A well built M-4gery, and an 870? What pistols would you consider using?

I'm no fountain of 3 Gun knowledge, but just from looking around at the last two CTC matches, I'd say the hot tickets are AR, an auto-shucking gauge, and whatever flavor of drastic plastic is currently floating your boat.

Based on my limited experience, if I were buying a shotgun specifically for 3 Gun, I'd probably get an FN SLP all gamered out. (I've overheard a lot of people say that the Mossenberger autochuckers were drastically exceeding everybody's admittedly low expectations, so were I on a budget, I might look at one of those.)

Don said...

I believe you, 'cause I kind of think this particular thought was probably dislodged by a Remington 7600. ;)

However, the Mini-14 was long the favored arm of US Special Forces units operating in urban civilian environments with limited support*, so your argument is invalid.

*Source: "The A-Team"

og said...

"I think you responded to the wrong post?"

Could very well be. Could be I just rambled off on a barely related tangent because something you said scraped the top off a memory pustule and out it came. Either is possible, apologies if it was rude or ill placed.

Tam said...


No, no! Just momentarily disconcerting.

Heck, this whole post is a tangential rambling anyway. :o

og said...

If I can be momentarily disconcerting on a regular basis, I will not have lived in vain.

Anonymous said...

Mini-14s are very well built and can shoot all day long without problems.

That's a plus because you need all day long to hit the target.

Critter said...

is my mauser still a thing?

Tam said...


"is my mauser still a thing?"

Is a Mauser: "A firearm designed to survive rough handling and high round counts with sketchy maintenance in a service-type environment"? Or do you maybe think the Kaiser's troops used them for deer hunting?

Eck! said...

Some of the best hunting tools were certainly able to stand abuse and in some case had done so for more than a few decades before me.

My wishes are handheld, Rifle and shottie of reliability and ammo availability so I can make leaky paper plates.

Tacticool is not me. But they are fun at the range. ;)


RevolverRob said...

Eh, I must be bitchy too, then. When a friend shows me his shiny new XD/Glock/M&P or Remington 700 I just kind of go with, "Cool, that's nice." I'm not into them and never have been honestly.

These days I'm really into more obscure customs or stuff I built myself. Four thousand dollar 1911s? No thanks. How about a Novak's built 5906 with a Deltapoint on top? Oh yea, my gun hipster cred is seriously intact, that gets me going. But so does an original 5.5" Registered Magnum.

I do like some of the current stuff. I've recently gotten into Lego guns, building my first AR15, but true to my gun hipster persona, I built my first in 9mm and my next will be .300BLK, because 5.56 is so passe.

Either way I can sympathize. I'm not into sporting guns or boring guns or the types of guns you can buy in a gunshop anymore. But that's the reality of any hobby really.


Tam said...


I was talking about my opinions on working guns, which are pretty dull and prosaic.

Now, if we want to talk about stuff that flips my cool switch, let's chat about my M1871/88 Beaumont-Vitali!

Joe in PNG said...

Like many others of my generation, I still harbor a desire for a Mini-14 factory sidefolder. However, the first one I coonfingered one, the stock wiped out the 'Crimson Trace' display on the counter. Not the best way to start my Hannabal Smith impression!

Anonymous said...

No way! My Mossberg 464 SPX is awesome!!!!11!!1

Steve Skubinna said...

Okay, fine. I won't bother showing you my new Red Ryder BB gun with the built in compass and sundial.

Although you have nicely articulated something that most of us probably know but haven't worked out before. My guns can be divided into "sporting" and "military." The latter includes actual MILSURP as well as civilianized military designs. Yeah, I have a Mini-14. It's for plinking, and not what I'd grab on the way out of the house to join up with the Wolverines. Nor would I bring it to Gunsite.

I suppose there's a third category, the "too cool to pas sup." That's where my Stoeger Coach Gun fits.

I expect most of us here have the same basic philosophy, but have never worked it out as you have. Nicely done.

global village idiot said...

Guns either answer a need or a want.

Whether the owner knows this is of no concern to the gun. How well the gun answers a need or want is also of no concern to the gun.

I have guns for "answering a need" and others because I want them. The shotgun, the Garand, the Hi-Power and the air rifle are the "answering a need" guns. Everything else is here because it pleases me to have it here.

That said, sporting guns may well answer another owner's needs perfectly well. They're not mine so I can't gainsay him.

And there's something to be said for budget. A person ought to get the best guns he or she can afford, taking all-in-all into account (care/feeding/maintenance/etc). If the best that Joe or Mary Sixpack can do is an SKS, an NEF breaker, a second-hand wheelgun and a cheap .22lr, it's condescending to sniff at their choices.

But Tam is perfectly right when she brings the snark on people who think this-or-that gun will do more than exactly what it was designed to do.

If it was designed to function in places like Khe Sanh and Goose Green and Mogadishu, in the hands of a 22-year old whose "maintenance bench" consists of the contents of one of his backpack pockets and who knows nothing more about guns than what he's been taught by drill sergeants (the average soldier, like the average cop, doesn't really know that much about guns he's not issued), it's a different class of gun than one made for people on a budget, however much the two may resemble each other in appearance.


Steve Skubinna said...

(And what makes you think the 870 doesn't fall into the definition of "sporting arm"?)

Isn't the new media approved term of art "Law Enforcement Style" shotgun? Since Aaron Alexis blew the whole "assault weapon" narrative out of the water and a new term was needed to demonize a common sporting arm..

TV Norn said...

This. Word. What she said. Totally. I spend way too much time trying to clue friends in about why I carry prosaic, plain (did someone once say, "disposable plastic wheel chock"? :-) pieces instead of fancier,
eleganter things. I try to point out the difference between 'tools' and 'objets d'art'...
...That being said, I have to be reminded that not EVERY piece has to be a tough-as-nails piece for the grim end-of-days. I can be sanguine about my toys...

Ancient Woodsman said...

Loved this post.

I still keep an old Mini and take it out once in a while. It is very reliable, and I can rely on it to heat up quickly and start stringing shots all over the place. Unfortunately, how they string and where is not always reliable nor predictable. But it is a fun gun nonetheless and I'll probably keep it for my lifetime. It won't surpass any of the ARs in the safe, any one of which I'd grab for serious use before the Mini.

And I won't whine about folks disdain for the Taurus. I've got two 92s, and I can absolutely rely on the oldest will reliably fail to touch off the first round out of most magazines, but after that it is flawless and for my shooting is as accurate as a Beretta 92. But for work it's a SIG 229, and for the two Tauri in the safe there's two Glocks and 10 SIGs of various flavors, any one of which I'd want if the Zombies showed up. The Taurus fills a fun quotient and will most likely have to be passed to someone in my will.

It was fun to work in a large gun store and listen to the "but it sh**s where it eats" and "built right in an old Beretta factory anyway" discussion by folks who somehow 'knew' more than the combined experience of folks who actually had to rely on firearms daily, and that was long before the internet and I'll admit that in the early years I believed more than half of the stories of why a Mini was better, or a Taurus was 'just as good' and so forth. Maybe I hold on to them to remind me of reality, why when the bad days happen I'm glad to have a Glock or SIG in the holster and not that old PT92, and why when the coyotes start posing problems it is always an AR that fills the semi-auto role and not the Mini. Or maybe it's just because they are fun. Pretty much all guns are fun if they work. But some guns are much better for work than for fun.

Anonymous said...

Before there was Vickers/Howe/Lamb there was these guys:

And they carried Mini-14!
Over and Out!


Ian said...

My most recent acquisition is a Steyr M88/90 staight-pull that was used in the Spanish Civil War. Does that count as cool?

Fred said...

Well I still think my last score is cool, I mean it's a Winchester Winchester 1897, not a Chinese knock-off.

Unknown said...

Glad it's not just be being the wet blanket.

Tam said...

-100 Reading Comprehension Points for everybody who thought this post was saying their old guns aren't "cool".

-1000 if you've been reading this blog longer than a week or are aware that I have another blog.

Goober said...


I also think this all depends on what work you need your working gun to do.

I've seen amazing round counts through Remington 1100 autoshuckers. My uncle norm held Washington and regional championships for quite a few years. All he ever shot was 1100 sporting guns. 20,000 rounds through one gun, or so he claimed.

My ruger m77 probably has 3,000 rounds of hot magnum stuff through it. Magnums usually only last 8,000 rounds before they throat the barrel.

Neither gun requires tools to break down unless you want to remove the trigger on the ruger, then you need a screwdriver.

But really why remove the trigger on a bolt gun?

Anyway, point being, I think these sporting guns are tougher than you give them credit for.

Tam said...


Yes, I'm aware of the kind of round counts sporting guns will handle; I worked for years and years in places that fixed guns, remember? ;)

3,000 rounds in the gun book is a lot of rounds, indeed. Most magnums would be showing accuracy degradation by then.

J.R.Shirley said...

Well articulated. My favorite sporting guns ARE "hard use" guns, with the possible exception of a S&W or three, and maybe a single-shot H&R.

staghounds said...

It's interesting to see people actually taking "sporting rifles" like lever actions and hunting style bolts into more challenging environments. The people who make them will benefit from the free product testing and pass that on to the consumers.

Farm.Dad said...

My little CZ is about as tacticool and reliable as i need to get in .223 and most of my safe is full of dreaming aids , well at least the section not devoted to stupid crap like the 1911 " carbine " LOL
I am trying to slip right into the high drag , low speed lifestyle with hardly a ripple .

Marc Pisco said...

Aw, nobody chimed in about how much he trusts X because he's been carrying one for 20 years and it never let him down that one day he shot it. That was, let's see, that was the year great-grandma had the... no... let me think... pretty sure that might have been '87... helluva gun...

Tom the Impaler said...

Some portion of her post seems to have been missed by most. That the "sport" guns, and probably many NOT marketed as sport guns, have a life span that is embarrassingly short. The revelation that common lever guns won't hold up to a carbine class is news to me, bad news. There's no reason to use crap parts to shave pennies on something that costs $600-$1000. We should be kinda pissed about it. Now I want to know if my CZ 550 African will survive 1000 rounds. I've only fired 60 in 6 months but hey, that lion won't care if I ever get the chance.

Steve Skubinna said...

Joe in PNG: After playing around with my Mini-14 for a while I got a nifty ATI side folder for it, and then tricked it out with a wicked cool red dot sight.

And it was... was...

Stupid. I stared at it a long time, pondering the way dumb ideas worm their way into my head without being detected prior to execution. So I restored it to the original, very nice and practical stock. And it's still fun to shoot, plus the stupid has been removed.

So... you want a barely used, never fired ATI side folding pistol grip stock (with RAILS!!!!!) let me know. It's yours for the postage.

Goober said...

I bought the ruger to replace my 30-06 Winchester 70 when I wore the barrel out entirely.

I didn't do it all. It was my uncle's rifle before me. Best guess was 8 k rounds through it when I retired it. Had it been a pre64 I'd have re-barreled it. But a new barrel costs more than the rifle is worth.

Love shooting.

And at least so far the ruger is still driving tacks. I'm lucky enough to have access to a long distance range with steel gong targets out to 989 yards (no idea why 989) so I find myself there a lot shooting to blow off steam.

Steve Skubinna said...

Jeez Goober, it's obviously because 989 yards converts to... uh...

904.34 meters. Crap. Never mind, I'll be sitting over here wondering if no one will rid me of this turbulent ATI stock.

Papafah said...

Apparently you've moved way past me on the gun interest scale. I'm still stuck on "Ooooooo, new gun? Can I see it?"

Shortly followed up by "Can I shoot it?"

og said...

Tom: I wouldn't sweat the CZ, I've been inside them and they're rugged well made rifles. I've carried them hunting in .375 belted magnum and in 30-06 and I don't think it's possible to wear one out. Full length extractor and mauser design. Hard to hose it up.

Goober said...

Already thought of that. My guess is they were trying for 1000 but the lay of the land made the choice for them. Its up on a hill above the range.

Kristophr said...

Now I'm tempted to do a three-gun with SASS gear and garb.

Just because I can.