Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Number 1": My First Hi Power...

Just before the '70's got here, I saw my very first Browning HP, a fixed sight "T-series" pistol in plain blue with the checkered walnut stocks. Not only was I surprised at its petite size compared to the old GI 1911 a friend had, but also it was not double-action! Though it would be a couple of years before I got my hands on my very own Hi Power, the pistol struck a chord with me and the Hi Power pistol remains my favorite general purpose automatic handgun to this day.

My first HP was a 1971 commercial model with adjustable sights and was bright blue with walnut stocks. Immediately I learned that it would bite the hand that shot it, but didn't have enough sense to have the hammer spur shortened. Range sessions almost always ended up with the web of my right hand bleeding at least a little!

Eventually, I grew weary of constantly having to reset the high adjustable sights. At that time the rear sight was screw adjustable (no clicks) for elevation and windage was set by loosening one screw and tightening an opposing one. I'd used Loctite, but just was not happy with the very high adjustable sights. As I'd read everything Jeff Cooper had written on single-action automatics and their carrying, I was not pleased with the tiny thumb safety, either.

I took the pistol to Lou Williamson, a gunsmith at Knight's Gun Shop in Ft. Worth, Texas to be customized. Lou bobbed the hammer spur, made an extension for the small thumb safety and machined the slide to accept S&W K-frame adjustable revolver sights which was just the thing back then. I really liked having them on there, as they were much lower and looked like something Armand Swenson would do. Even though I couldn't outshoot the gun with the existing barrel, I had Lou fit a then-new Bar-sto stainless steel match barrel to that pistol and hard chrome the whole thing, guts and all. Only the stainless steel barrel was not refinished. I still don't know why, but Bar-sto barrels for the Hi powers at that time were a full 5" long so to this day, that Hi Power has sort of a "Beretta look." I've been meaning to get it cut to proper length and recrowned for about 30 years now. These early Hi Power Bar-sto match barrels were also made from one piece of steel rather than two. (I've noted no improvement in it over the more conventional two-piece barrels.) Lou also made and silver soldered a serrated ramp front sight to the slide, complete with a red, plastic insert like some of the Smith & Wesson revolvers.
Shown with the stocks that came on it, this is my first Hi Power and one that's still used today. This one has been with me for over half the time I've been alive. It's affectionately known as "Number 1."

The gun came with a very nice trigger so no trigger work was done and the removal of the magazine disconnect only made it better, but all was not paradise.

At that time, all Hi Power barrels had the humped feed ramp and these could be problematic with the very few JHP rounds on the market. Failures to feed were common, particularly with the old 90-grain Super Vel JHP. If handloading, the situation was a little better in that LOA could be changed to help a specific pistol's reliability, but choices were few. Speer made a 125-grain JSP that didn't expand while Hornady and Sierra offered JHPs that wouldn't feed, particularly off of full magazines! My only consolation during this time was that the 1911 guys were having the same problems with "expanding" ammunition!

About the time that I was fighting the feed reliability problem, a dangerous thing happened; I bought a Dremel tool! Fortunately, I used it only to polish the feed ramp to a high shine and that helped a bit more, particularly since I was handloading Sierra's 115-grain "Jacketed Hollow Cavity" to a longer than recommend LOA. This combination gave me a fairly reliable Hi Power with expanding ammo. Download the magazine by one or two rounds and it was nearly 100% reliable!

Eventually, I learned how to remove the hump without eliminating case support and problems went away, at least with certain magazines (Inglis) and JHPs having a fairly normal LOA. It's my observation that magazines made back then gave no particular emphasis on holding the rounds at a slightly upward angle as they'd feed the common ball rounds even if they held the top cartridge with no upward angle! (The transition of police in this country in the '80's has resulted in better magazines in this regard.)

For the better part of two decades, Number 1 was fired almost exclusively handloaded ammo. 9mm ammunition was not found at the bargain prices it is today and I just wouldn't shoot ball. I foolishly used a stiff handload with Sierra's 115-grain JHC for everything from paper punching and small game hunting to personal defense!

Some of the best shots I've ever lucked into were made with Number 1. One was a running jackrabbit, shot at night at about 75 yards while holding a spotlight! Why, I don't know, but I knew I'd hit the thing before the shot was fired. My uncle and best friend were there and amazed. I was darned sure proud of the shot, but somehow knew it would be "right" before I fired it! A few other times, this same "knowledge" has been there before the shot was touched off, though not always with this same handgun. I cannot explain it.

Though it took several years to do, as I'd not take anything but "perfect" shots, this gun cleanly took three Texas whitetail deer with one shot each. All of the animals presented themselves in ideal conditions and no farther than 30 yards and were not aware that I was there. It's been used on bullfrogs, snakes, armadillo, jackrabbits, coyotes, fox, raccoons and other animals as well. PETA would put a bounty on this Hi Power if they knew the number of animals I've shot with it!

In the late '70's, I was able to buy a small house and wound up sleeping there before the air-conditioning was in as there was a delay, yet all my possessions were there. As luck would have it, that night was a very hot one and you could drop a feather and it'd go straight down; no breeze. I was on a pallet in a front bedroom as close to an open window as I could get when I heard a bumping noise at the back porch area of the house. Sure enough, a dude was pulling and yanking at the sliding glass door. There were no curtains in the house and I think he believed he'd just relieve the unoccupied dwelling of its contents. Anyway, I headed for the sliding door and promptly tripped over a coffee table and cursed. The trespasser and would-be burglar took off on foot through the open fields behind the house. It was a moonlit night that you could read a newspaper with so … I fired one shot at the ground right behind his right foot, spattering his calves with dirt! He just thought he could run!

The pistol was Number 1.

Some years later, I had access to a trailer house on 400 acres of wooded area and would go there on my days off to varmint call or just get away. Usually, my best friend would go, too, but on this occasion, no one could go but me. The trailer was 7 miles down a dirt road and about 3/4 mile from the road when you got to the property. I'd called some canyons and shot a few fox with my Ithaca Model 37 shotgun, but Number 1 was on my right hip as well. Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, things slowed down and it was starting to mist. I began the trek back to my truck to head in for some sleep. I'd estimate that I'd been asleep a couple of hours when I hear a loud crash at the trailer's front door. Without thinking, I found myself sitting up in the bed with Number 1 in a two-hand hold aimed at the open bedroom door. I heard the crash again and quietly rolled off the bed so that it was between the door and me and went prone, aiming upward from the foot of the bed, but at the bedroom door. Nothing happened. I don't know how long I waited, but eventually I eased out barefooted into the trailer to find the intruder or intruders. Turned out that the crash was the wind whipping the combination glass-and-screen wire door outside the wooden one. A violent thunderstorm, just like in the werewolf movies had blown in and the glass in the "screen door." I was relieved. Even though no bugger was there in the dark, lonely place, such events tend to foster a bonding between one and a trusted handgun, particularly if it's "special" in the first place.

I have no idea how many rounds have been fired through this pistol, but it is considerable. I still shoot it these days and it still performs although in later years, the pistol has a Wolff conventional 18.5-lb. recoil spring and a Buffer Technology buff in it. It's not been hunting in several years and generally just gets limbered up at the firing range on occasion.
Over the years, I've had a few offers to buy it, some quite high, but I just won't sell this pistol. It really taught me many things and was there when I thought I might need it for serious purposes. Much of my "teething" as a fledgling shooter was done using Number 1. It served briefly as a police service sidearm, but I replaced it with handguns not having as much sentimental value, a silly thing I know, but something I just had to do.

It can still "cut it" today.

I hope to use this pistol another 30 years.