Steve Comus' Blog

    Steve Comus is a former Guns and Hunting Editor at WON. Before joining the staff at Western Outdoors more than a quarter-century ago he had a complete career as a frontline journalist with the L.A. afternoon daily Herald-Examiner, including quite a bit of foreign correspondence and years of investigative assignments.

    Since he took a break from WON, he has written articles for most of the major publications in the shooting sports industry, authored a couple of books and published a couple of others, spent a while as editor of Gun World magazine and is currently director of publications for Safari Club International.

     His writings focus on guns and shooting and all of the things that affect them, as well. 
Right measure: The full scoop on powder
When I first started reloading ammo in the mid-1950s, a friend who was the local guru of handloading helped me make, from scratch, the press, dies and everything that went with them.

He even ground down an empty .35 Remington case to hold the proper powder charge. I used that rig for years and still have it as a reminder of what it was like back in those days.

Recently, I was reminded of the old powder scoop days when I set out to load some ammo for a S&W Hand Ejector chambered for the .32/20 Win. cartridge.

great for loading some cartridges. Here, the scoop from the Lee die set is shown with that die set, as well as a Lyman M die, powder, primers, cases and bullets for the Smith & Wesson hand ejector chambered for the .32/20 Winchester cartridge.

Coincidentally, I also had recently been discussing reloading with a young prepper who was interested in having at least the minimal amount of gear needed to keep his guns going. Flippantly, I told that young guy that so long as he used certain powders, that he could dispense with a powder scale and just use a scoop to ration out powder.

Anyway, when I set out to load some .32/20s, I grabbed my dies, which happen to be from Lee, and which happen to include a small, yellow plastic scoop. Although I already had set up my powder measure and adjusted it in conjunction with my powder scale, I chuckled to myself and decided to see how dead-on the scoop would be and how it would stack up, load to load, with the powder measure.

Bear in mind that through the years, I had used the Lee scoops for different cartridges, and had found them to be quite accurate.

Much to my pleasure, I found that the powder charge from the scoop was precisely the same as that from the powder measure. And, the scoop was as accurate from load to load as was the measure. Makes sense, because both are volume measuring propositions.

My point in all of this is that if a person sticks to the relatively few powders listed in the data that come with the Lee dies, using only the powder scoop can work fine.

Overall, I like Lee dies for pistol and revolver cartridges. I recommend use of Lee’s carbide factory crimp dies for handgun cartridges — they should be considered mandatory for ammo to be used in semi-autos, because it puts the finished round totally in spec. I use those Lee dies in an RCBS Rock Chucker press.

For the larger centerfire rifle cartridges, I use the Redding Big Boss press, generally with either Redding or RCBS dies — that is when I am not using my Bonanza press with Forster dies.

When it comes to straight wall cases, consider the Lyman M die to be a must. It opens the mouth just right, without over-flaring as can happen with other expander dies.

One thing is certain: there is always room for more loading equipment, whether a shooter is just beginning or has been at it for over 60 years. Too much is not enough. Shoot straight and shoot often.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Time to get ready for Dove season
Recently I returned from a birding expedition to Uruguay, where high volume dove shooting was mixed with great upland perdiz hunts and some waterfowling.

That may have been a world-class warm-up for the upcoming dove seasons here. And it did reinforce the concept of pre-hunt preparations and practice. 

AUTHOR GETS LEG up on the upcoming dove hunting season by going south – way south to South America where it is winter and dove hunting is in full swing. Pre-season practice can help success when the dove season opens here Sept. 1.

It may seem like a bit of way off, but the Sept. 1 opener for dove hunting here is coming on quickly. For most who have jobs and other commitments, there really is not a lot a time left to do the kind of practice that can help increase the percentage of hits on opening morning.

First, clean the shotgun and make certain that it is in good working order. Not good to show up just before dawn on opening morning and find that something isn’t working right. This also is a time to make certain the gun can hold no more than three shells. If it needs a plug, put it in now. If plans call for a new gun for doving this year, now is the time to address that situation and make certain that no waiting period gets in the way.

For dove hunting, just about any legal shotgun can work fine. Most common are 12- and 20-gauge guns. But 16, 28 and .410 guns also can do the trick. Get the ammo over the next few weeks. Usually there are nice sales on dove hunting ammo.

For practice, there are several presentations that imitate the flight of doves available on most sporting clays courses. For those who have access to a skeet field, but not to a sporting clays range, practice from all eight of the skeet stations. But remember that skeet and sporting clays targets slow down as they traverse the sky. Doves don’t. In the field, give a bit of an extra kick to the swing just before pulling the trigger on doves – your hit percentage will improve, since most folks miss doves by shooting behind them.

Try to practice at least twice (on different days) before the dove opener – more if possible. This is because we all have good days and not-so-good days. It is important to know that you can repeat successful shooting skills.

Finally, figure out what a proper shot distance looks like. If you can see the dove’s eyes and/or individual feathers, blast away. If the bird appears small and high, probably best to pass.

With respect to lateral distances, it is a good idea on opening morning to put some kind of marker (dove decoy works great) at whatever your maximum shot distance is going to be. That way if the dove is between you and the marker, it’s a good distance. If the dove is on the other side of the marker, let it go. No need to waste ammo.

What is that magic distance? Depends on the hunter, the load and the conditions. Anything beyond 30 yards is beginning to stretch it for a lot of hunters.

Big Iron
Powerful revolvers are good crossover guns

Many discussions of handguns focus on “tactical” semi-autos and easily concealable revolvers. That’s fine. But there is more. There are full-size, powerful revolvers that can be used for virtually anything involving handguns. They come to the fore where tactical/concealable arms are less than the best choices.

Hunting is one such application. For mid-size or larger game (hogs, deer, etc.), “magnum” revolvers are the best handgun picks.

CROSSOVER REVOLVERS INCLUDE the .44 Mag (upper left) and .41 Mag (upper right). They compare with the 1911 in .45 ACP.

Big revolvers can be pressed into defensive service, as well. When concealed carry is not a requirement, a big, powerful revolver has many things going for it.

I am not suggesting that anyone should abandon the tactical/concealable arms if those types serve the shooters’ purposes. Rather, I suggest that shooters consider expanding their effectiveness.

What is a big, powerful revolver? For some, that type of handgun begins with .357 Magnum. For me, big/powerful begins at .41 Magnum. The .357 Magnum is a superb cartridge. But it is a bit light as a primary hunting cartridge for medium to larger game.

I consider the .41 and .44 Magnums to be performance equals. The next step up in power is the .454 Casull/.460 S&W. Both are significantly more effective than the .41/.44 Mags. The .45/70 revolvers also fall into the mid-size biggies. For me, a true big, powerful revolver shoots the .500 S&W Magnum. The .500 S&W is primarily a hunting handgun.

Those considering a hunting/defense crossover revolver, the .41/.44 Magnum size makes most sense. Enough power for hunting, yet not overwhelming in other applications.

SERIOUSLY BIG REVOLVERS include the .500 S&W (top) and .454 Casull.

Big revolvers can shoot ammunition that is less than full power. For example, the .454 Casull/.460 S&W revolvers can shoot ammo that replicates the performance of the .45 Colt. There is the .500 Special ammo that is loaded to less power than the .500 S&W Mag.

Let’s look at the relative performance of cartridges. For comparison, the classic.45 ACP load used in handguns like the 1911 sends a 230-grain .451 bullet out of the barrel at a nominal 855 feet per second for a muzzle energy of 405 foot/pounds.

The .44 Magnum sends a 240-grain .429 bullet out at 1,350 fps for a ME of 971. A .41 Magnum sends a 210-grain .410 bullet out at 1,300 fps for a ME of 788.

The .454 Casull sends a 300-grain bullet out at 1,350 to 1,600+ fps for ME ranging from 1,220 to 1,750. The .460 S&W sends a 250-grain bullet out at 2,000 fps for ME of 2,309. Or, the .500 S&W sends a 300-grain bullet out at 2,000 fps for ME of 2,800 or so.

All of the cartridges above are available in a number of different loadings, but the ones listed show how they compare to each other when it comes to power. They all dwarf the performance of the normal “tactical” cartridges like the 9mmP, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

Big, powerful revolvers are not for everyone. But for those who can handle them, these handguns expand opportunities and increase the fun factor in the process.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

MAGNUM REVOLVER CARTRIDGES compare here with the .45 ACP at far left. From right, the revolver cartridges are .500 S&W, .454 Casull, .44 Mag, .41 Mag and .357 Mag.

Want to get bigger performance from a little gun?
Smaller is better

In recent times there has been a resurgence in the sales and numbers of small, concealable handguns.

Although many purchasers of the small guns carry them concealed, a significant percentage of folks also get the little guns for home defense – never actually carry them around at all. Those guns tend to spend most of their time tucked away in a safe or somewhere else that is handy, yet out of the way.


FEDERAL INTRODUCES THE 9mm Micro HST ammo, designed specifically for small handguns with short barrels.

Regardless of the way the guns are kept or carried, small guns with short barrels often deliver less actual performance than the owners think they are getting. This can happen easily if the little gun shoots a cartridge that is loaded for guns with longer barrels.

All kinds of things affect delivered performance. For example, one kind of powder can deliver outstanding velocity through a longer barrel, but only mediocre velocity out of a short barrel.

Also, some bullets are designed to perform within parameters that are outside the performance delivered by the short-barreled guns. In other words, if a reduction in velocity due to the shortness of the barrel ends up being under the speed needed to make a particular bullet work right, then there is a problem – even though that same bullet and load in a handgun with a longer barrel might work very well.

Different companies have come up with various ways to address this phenomenon. Federal calls its ammo line that is designed specifically for short-barreled guns Micro HST.

Recently, Federal Premium Ammunition announced its expansion of the Micro HST lineup to include a 150-grain 9mm Luger load. The new 9mm Luger load is specifically designed for short-barreled, concealed-carry pistols. Shipments of this new product are now being delivered to dealers.

“To perform to their peak, subcompact firearms need the right ammunition,” Federal reports. “The line, introduced in 2015 with the 380 Micro HST, provides consistent expansion, optimum penetration and superior terminal performance with bullet weights and propellants optimized for the most efficient cycling and accuracy in subcompact handguns.”

There’s a few benefits and features to the new bullets:

— The new 9mm Luger load for micro-size concealed carry pistols offers a heavy bullet and lower velocity, which decreases felt recoil and noise.

— The expanded diameter and weight retention produce the desired penetration for personal defense situations, without over-penetrating.

— Bullet nose profile, nickel-plated case and Federal primer provide the ultimate in function and reliability in semi-automatic handguns.

— Clean-burning, low-flash propellants.

It is nice to see the industry responding to the needs and desires of the customer base – especially when it comes to marrying just the right ammo to a particular kind of firearm.

Years ago, about the only way to get some types of loads was to handload them yourself. Now they come right from the factory, ready to go.

Federal Premium is a brand of Vista Outdoor Inc., an outdoor sports and recreation company. For more information on Federal Premium, go to

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Liberty ammo: f-a-a-s-t stuff
When it comes to home or self-defense, the object is to stop whatever the threat is. There also are other things to consider, as well.

Self-defense ammo has seen more meaningful development in recent years than in all of the history of Gundom combined. On the leading edge in this arena is Liberty Ammunition, which makes some of the world’s highest velocity handgun rounds.

LIBERTY AMMUNITION WORKED great in Ruger Vaquero revolver chambered for the .45 Long Colt cartridge.

Liberty Ammunition has done its homework and come up with an entire line of really high performance ammo that focuses on a combination of bullet material, bullet design and velocity that results in maximum terminal effect at minimum felt recoil. That’s a lot to ask for. It is delivered.

“Liberty’s performance across virtually every metric from accuracy, penetration, terminal effects, stopping power and effective range is unmatched,” the company reported.

Although Liberty makes high performance ammo for all popular centerfire handgun cartridges, I figured it would be interesting to see what happens when one takes a 19th Century cartridge known for sending a very heavy bullet out of the barrel at moderate velocity and transforms it into a whiz-bang, super high velocity 21st Century defense round.

So, I checked out Liberty’s .45 Long Colt load that sends a 78-grain copper, monolithic, hollow-point fragmenting bullet out of the barrel at 1,800 feet per second (compare that to the original .45 Long Colt loading of 255-grain lead bullet at 930 fps). To check out the Liberty load, I used one of my Ruger Vaquero single-action revolvers. The Liberty loads shot as well through that handgun as anything else I shoot through it, so that part of the performance went without a hitch.

THE AMMO FRAGMENTS violently when it hits. This is what is left of one of the Liberty Ammunition .45 Long Colt loads after fired into water.

Also, there was a noticeable difference in felt recoil. It was less with the Liberty load than with a standard 250-grain load at roughly 900 feet per second. However, the Liberty load was also a little snappier – logical, given the fact that it goes out a lot faster. Bottom line: The Liberty load is totally shootable in that it hits where the shooter looks and doesn’t kick as much in the process.

One consideration when it comes to defensive ammo is over-penetration where the bullet goes through the target, but still has enough velocity and energy to go through, say, a wall, and then possibly hurt an unintended target on the far side. This Liberty ammo eliminates virtually all of those kinds of concerns.

Yet, when it hits the intended target, it delivers roughly three times the terminal effect. Something to think about. It delivers less recoil than a traditional .45 Long Colt, taking the discomfort out of range practice and making the big bore caliber manageable for all levels of shooters.

Liberty Ammunition currently offers 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .380 Auto, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 10 mm Auto, .45 Long Colt and .223 Rem in its Civil Defense line and .308 Win in its Animal Instincts hunting line.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

GOING HOG WILD is what happens when Liberty Ammo hits a ham – things fly apart.

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