Smith and Wesson Archives -
July 14th, 2016 by AmSJ Staff

[su_heading size=”30″].44 Russian A Stubby, But Accurate Load[/su_heading]



The nostalgia of shooting blackpowder – pistol or rifle – is a lot of fun, and the .44 Smith & Wesson Russian blackpowder load is known for its accuracy. That’s demonstrated (inset) by Mike Nesbitt’s (left) and Lynn Willecke’s (right) offhand 12-yard shots on target. americanshootingjournal

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he .44 Smith & Wesson Russian is a rather stubby little cartridge. It has an overall cartridge length that is just a bit shorter than a Sharps .45-caliber paper-patched 550-grain bullet, but its performance outshines its size. In recent years cowboy-action shooters have brought new life to this fine old load.

One attraction for me is shooting blackpowder revolvers and lever-action rifles from the 1870s. Of course for me, shooting those guns is rather restricted to using the newly-made copies. Regarding revolvers – which we’ll concentrate on for the rest of this short tale – my guns are mostly second- and third-generation Colt Single Actions in .45 Colt and .44-40, and the Uberti versions of the S&W Russian Model 3. For me, the .44 Russian has a particular appeal because it actually predated the Colt Single Action and, well, the S&W revolvers did make their mark on the Western frontier, didn’t they? There is evidence of the slightly older S&W .44 American revolvers being present at The Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874. Maybe I’m just trying to justify my preferences, but even so, the Uberti copies of the S&W New Model Russian 3 are very good and certainly worthy of consideration as a nice shooting handgun.


The famous S&W New Model Russian revolver is made as a replica by Uberti, a company known for replicating guns of the Old West.

HISTORICALLY, THE .44 RUSSIAN goes back to 1871, and it was a trendsetter because inside it used a lubricated bullet with the lube grooves seated down inside the cartridge case. It was also a trendsetter because of its accuracy; it has an accuracy that other cartridges often strive for but seldom duplicate.

Joining me with his own .44 Russian revolver was Lynn Willecke, whom I’ve been shooting with since the 1950s. We shot using bullets from Lyman’s mold No. 429383, which is still being made for the .44 Russian or Special. We often remarked that the bullet shot out of a .44 Russian seemed to be made for it. It turns out that it was. We shot blackpowder loads, using Olde Eynsford 2F powder in new Starline cases.
IN MIKE VENTURINO’S book Shooting Sixguns Of The Old West, he gives the .44 Russian quite a bit of attention. He comments on the accuracy of the cartridge and he even used an original S&W Russian 2nd Model with a 7-inch barrel to test it. Venturino also used Lyman’s No. 429383 and checked load speeds using 19.0 grains of GOEX FFg at 690 feet per second. He also checked speeds using the same weight of FFFg at 740 fps.


Lyman’s mold No. 429383, used to make the .44 Russian.

Willecki and I chronographed the load we were using. You can consider our findings to be an extension of Venturino’s published data. Our results were not quite the same since our Uberti revolvers have 6½-inch barrels, and we shot with 20 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F powder under Lyman bullets. Olde Eynsford was not available when Venturino tested his round, or I’m sure he would have included it. The average velocity from the five shots we checked was 705.3 fps, and the extreme spread of those velocities was only 10.7 fps. The tightest extreme spread of velocities Venturino recorded was 19 fps and that was with GOEX FFFg powder. In my opinion, the data from Venturino’s book (written about 20 years ago) and what we recorded supports one another very well.

A loaded .44 Russian cartridge (right) is compared to a paperpatched .45 bullet weighing 550 grains (left).

A loaded .44 Russian cartridge (right) is compared to a paperpatched .45 bullet weighing 550 grains (left).

THERE WERE A FEW differences between Venturino’s test and ours. Venturino shot at a distance of 50 feet with the gun firmly rested over sand bags. That’s the proper way to check accuracy. Willecke and I wanted to test ourselves just as much as our guns, so we shot offhand with a two-hand hold, and our targets were only 12 yards out. The results were very pleasing. I complained because Willecke outshot me – again – by getting a higher score (50-3X), but he too complained because my five shots fell into a slightly tighter group. Actually, we were both very satisfied.

WE MOVED ON to plinking and our hits were more frequent than our close misses. Neither one of us kept track of our hits, but the blackpowder loads were just as accurate as those loaded with smokeless powder, which were mainly loaded with Unique. All our bullets were lubed with a blackpowder lubricant because with good lube, blackpowder loads don’t seem to get the gun dirty.

The .44 Russian certainly lives up to its reputation for accuracy – if you accept our judgement, rough testing and all. We enjoyed our time so much that you can count on seeing us with one of these .44 Russian revolvers again. ASJ

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , , , ,

September 8th, 2015 by AmSJ Staff

[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]Air Plinker Extraordiniare[/su_heading]

Review and photographs by Pascal Pierme

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]I[/su_dropcap] was looking for a gun. Not a real gun, but something I could use for target practice in my house or studio, and safely develop gun-handling skills. I am not a shooter by trade or hobby, but I wanted my new interest to look and feel just like a real gun. I also wanted it to provide some back pressure or a bit of recoil.

PHOTO 3 Gun is case

My Model 586 pellet gun came in a case that was well padded with proper cutouts for all the extras.The S&W Model 586 looks and feels just like a real gun. The model I reviewed was the 6-inch barrel version.

While perusing Pyramyd Air’s website, which is filled with all sorts of air gun options for any gun enthusiast, from pistols for plinking all the way up to .50-caliber air hunting rifles, I settled my sights on the S&W Model 586 revolver with a 6-inch barrel. It’s a bit of a cowboy gun to me, but the simplicity appealed to my senses. When I received my package in the mail – no FFL processing is a nice benefit – the revolver came in a solid box, just like a real gun, with proper foam padding and inserts for all the components. When I picked it up, I was pleasantly surprised to feel that the weight gave it a genuine feel. The gun did not come with an orange tip, as I had somehow expected that all non-real guns had them, but this made it look even more authentic. I later learned that orange tips are only found on airsoft guns that fire plastic BBs.  Pellet guns and steel BB guns do not have this.

My new Model 586 came with two 10-round pellet clips, a CO2 cartridge, although I purchased several CO2 cases when I bought the gun, and an extra front sight.

PHOTO 4 Cartridge in grip

The CO2 cartridges are loaded into the grip by unscrewing a tensioning screw.

The grip is made of hard rubber, so it felt strong and nice in my hand. I could actually put pressure on it without slipping like you might find if it were made of plastic. After reading the instructions – and thank goodness I did – I found that the CO2 cartridges that power the gun are located inside the grip. There are specific steps to take when replacing the cartridge, such as having to put one side of the grip on first before the other and in a certain manner.  It was easy to understand once I read the directions. There is a tensioning screw that keeps everything solidly in place, which is good.

PHOTO 8 Full Target

The trap target I created was made using a wooden crate and a piece of cardboard over the front and a padded interior. 

After I loaded my CO2 cartridge and pellets, I started firing onto a target that I made. If you are using this gun inside, you will definitely need a hollow target or one that has some depth or density to literally trap the rounds as they hit. The ricochet factor is pretty impressive, so eyewear is recommended for anyone in the area. The target that I built measures 24 by 24 inches and is about 2 inches thick. I used cardboard for the fascia and on the front stuck Shoot*N*C targets, which are great because of their reactive colors, plus you can just keep sticking them on top of each other. If you want to buy a trap target, Pyramyd Air has those too. I would recommend the Leapers UTG Accushot Pellet & BB Trap to avoid all the trouble I went through.


The accuracy was pretty impressive and at an initial 12-foot range, I was achieving about 1 minute of angle shooting single handedly, and about 5 MOA at 25 feet. As for the pellets, they are powerful enough to penetrate the target and front cardboard. Don’t think that just because this is an air gun that there isn’t enough power. You would be mistaken.

PHOTO 6 Target at 12 feet

The cartridges that I had lasted for about 50 to 70 rounds, which I thought was pretty fair. The one thing I noticed was that once I started getting to the end of a CO2 cartridge and tried to continue shooting, the pellets started to jam in between the clip and barrel. This was simply from lack of force to propel them through, but something to note. Instead of counting all my rounds, I found that when I started to hear a little bit of a lag between the gun firing and the pellet penetrating the target, this was my signal to replace the cartridge. Once I did that, no more jams.

PHOTO 5 Jammed clip

After about 75 or so rounds, the air pressure to propel the round was no longer sufficient and started to cause a jam between the barrel and the clip. Knowing when this lag is likely to begin is key to avoiding this common problem with air guns.

If I have one negative thing to say, it would be about the cartridges, and this is not a negative on anything but the industry overall. I am a big recycler but I have no idea what to do with the spent CO2 capsules. It would be nice to have guidance on how to dispose of them instead of simply throwing them away. My research has shown that most places, like recycling bins and scrap-metal yards, simply won’t take them. That is a shame.

PHOTO 9 CO2 Cartridges

CO2 cartridges are very convenient and allow you to take your gun anywhere unlike a compressor-required model. Check to see where you can recycle these CO2 cartridges because many recycling places simply won’t take them.

Overall, I love this gun. I love the realistic feel, the grip, the power. Even if it is not a real gun, it did exactly what I wanted it to do. Couple this with excellent customer service and you have a winner. When I called Pyramyd Air, I spoke to Tyler Patner who not only took the time to break everything down for me, but also sent me links to all sorts of air guns that fit my requests. Patner explained the benefits of each, what I would need because I wouldn’t have known what to get, the differences between a CO2 cartridge gun and a compressor pressurized gun – there are differences and you should not assume you know what you want without talking to them. Overall, it was a really great experience. Bravo! ASJ

PHOTO 1 Smith-Wesson-586-4inch-Revolver_SW-2255000_pistol_5

Editor’s note: If you want a plinker or high-quality air gun, visit Pyramyd Air at or call  (888) 262-4867.



Posted in Product Reviews Tagged with: , , , , , ,

June 15th, 2015 by AmSJ Staff

John Johnston (4)

Story by Danielle Breteau • Photographs by John Johnston

When I first heard about something called Ballistic Radio, which doesn’t sound like two words that go together, I did what anyone would do: I Googled it! One of the first websites I landed on was for the Ballistic Radio Youtube Channel. The description? “A channel that is dedicated to making the Internet cry by destroying popular gun and shooting myths.” I immediately needed to know more.

“I don’t want there to be any stupid gun owners.”

PHOTO 1 John Johnston (3)John M. Johnston is the owner and host of Ballistic Radio. Johnston may not be what you would think when you visualize a guy in a radio station, sitting behind a DJ’s microphone. Johnston is a 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound man, with lots of tattoos and a shaggy beard that conjure up images of a cave man crossed with an ornate Aztec warrior. Maybe that is what he is going for, but my interview with him proved to be something more than a discussion with only grunts and sign language. Johnston is actually quite brilliant and has a diverse background in psychology, real estate office management and fashion photography, to name a few. Ballistic Radio seems to allow Johnston to express his deep-seated passion for bringing gun-industry news, tactics and concepts to the world in a very intelligent and sometimes humorous manner.

PHOTO 3 John Johnston (1)Ballistic Radio is a syndicated weekly radio show that covers topics about self-defense, firearms and training without politicizing it. “Stereotypes of gun owners have nothing to do with politics, and how you feel about guns is not a point to be made when someone is kicking down your door,” Johnston threw out during our conversation, making a very poignant point. After listening to multiple podcasts of the show to get a feel of the conversations, subject matter and demeanor, I found that they refreshingly incorporate industry experts with intelligent conversation and a good dose of humor to top off the content. I think this is great, since the average age of his audience is younger than you might expect, around 32 years old. It seems to be doing well so far, and as of this issue’s press deadline, they are on their 101st episode, with plenty more content yet to cover.

PHOTO 6 John at the radio

While dodging occasional death threats, which Johnston honestly gets from time to time, he tries to be a mediator between the folks who speak “gun” and those who may only attempt to understand the attraction.

I asked Johnston what he was trying to do with his radio show. He said, “I don’t want there to be any stupid gun owners. I would like to see people understand that there is more to self defense than just having the gun. It is not a magic talisman that wards off evil just by existing. You’ve got to have the knowledge of how, when and why to use it, as well as familiarity with local laws, which can make a huge difference in how a gun owner can react in a bad situation. I feel like there are lots of different sides to this vast topic, and I am able to help breach the language barrier between them. I love being able to talk to people from all walks of life, and have even received an email from a couple who fall into at least six minority/specialty groups combined and are professed liberals. They own guns and said they felt like I wasn’t alienating them by talking about things outside of the self-defense topic, and that is why they love the show.” Johnston went on to say that he felt that we as a community are fighting against the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon where people without knowledge, experience or expertise pass along bad information as fact, while ignoring and arguing against accurate information. He feels he runs into this quite often, and almost seemed defeated when he said it.

“I do product torture tests, not dumb ones like shoving a ham sandwich into the action and seeing if it will fire, but realistic ones”

PHOTO 7 John at the radio5

John Johnston welcomes conversations from all facets of the gun industry.

The start of this radio show was a combination of luck and good timing. After a rough divorce, Johnston found himself working in a gun store. Johnston said he often heard gun store clerks say things around him that he simply couldn’t believe. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a clerk at a store suggest something like a Smith and Wesson J-frame .357 magnum (subcompact revolver) as the perfect self-defense gun for a woman because it’s small. The problem, of course, being that they’re incredibly uncomfortable to shoot and almost impossible for a new shooter to shoot well. Can you imagine trying to train with that if you have never shot before?” Johnston went on to explain that there are everyday questions that inspire him to want to help the industry. “I’m probably strange for enjoying this, but I like having conversations with people who say things like, ‘I don’t need to have a flashlight handy because I have night sights on my gun.’ Having to explain the importance of knowing what you are shooting at before you shoot pushes me to try and help educate gun owners.”

The gun store where Johnston was working was given an opportunity to have a radio show on a local station. He ended up running it and tailored it with his personal ideas and topics. That show subsequently became very popular locally and online, according to Johnston. “After some time I offered to buy the show from my boss and he agreed to sell it,” Johnston said, and that is how Ballistic Radio started.

PHOTO 5 Ballistic Radio (6)

Wilson Combat 9mm 1911 put to the torture test.

Among Johnston’s hobbies, and much to the entertainment of many, he spends a great deal of time destroying guns through hard use, then  documents his efforts. “I do product torture tests, not dumb ones like shoving a ham sandwich into the action and seeing if it will fire, but realistic ones,” he emphatically states. As an example of what he calls a test, he took a Salient Arms International MK25 Tier 1 Prototype and shot 25,000 rounds through it in 18 days in the middle of winter, a test which he himself barely survived physically.

PHOTO 4 Ballistic Radio (1)

Salient Arms International MK25 Tier 1 Prototype suffering from abuse.

Another of Johnston’s gun-torture tests involved practically submerging a Wilson Combat 9mm 1911 in the mud, and immediately after rescuing
it, demonstrating a successful firing sequence. You can see videos of some of his torture tests like this at His next victim will be the LWRC Tricon MK6 with a SilencerCo suppressor. Johnston says this will be the first public high-roundcount test of a suppressor ever done.


You can find Ballistic Radio on multiple radio stations to include: 1100 KFNX in Phoenix, 55KRC in Cincinnati, 820 WWBA in Tampa, among several others, with 20 to 30 more on the way. If you are more of a podcast person or mobile-app type, there is a Ballistic Radio podcast and you can listen via iTunes, or you can catch the live stream Sundays at 7 p.m. EST on iHeart Radio (55KRC channel). You can also check out Ballistic Radio at to keep up with all the latest action in the gun industry, as well as gun and shooting experiments, AKA “torture tests,” that are quite entertaining. ASJ

Editor’s note: When I explained to Ballistic Radio show host John Johnston that I would need some photos to share with our readers, even though he is a former fashion photographer, he couldn’t imagine what I wanted. I flippantly suggested a photo of him geared up in camouflage, covered in mud, holding a gun and radio microphone would be a good start. Well, you get what you asked for, and this is just another glimpse into Johnston’s level of effort and humor, which we applaud.

PHOTO 2 John Johnston (5)



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