Sunday, December 1, 2013

A little more about Duke, our handgun expert in Japan

WWA members know Duke Hiroi, and are a bit familiar with his background. He's a member of Western Writers of America, though he's never published a word in English. Duke and I attended the WWA convention in Las Vegas in June 2013. And, while some of us were engrossed in workshops and coffee conversations, Duke took some time off and went off to a desert rifle range and went through some old-time weapons for an article in a Japanese magazine called COMBAT.

Duke's article--Old Gun Shot!--told about the black powder guns he shot and analyzed out in the desert south of Las Vegas.

He states with pride that "I took a trip to the Western Writers of America conference. I went last year as well, and as an expert on weapons of the period, I was accepted as a full member, the only Japanese member in the entire organization."

At first glance, COMBAT has nothing to do with the west. But readers of the magazine devour anything to do with weapons, period or modern. Hence Duke's article. (He writes on modern weapons, too, and is scheduled to do one on shooting at a rifle range just outside Mesa, Arizona. He'll concentrate on modern weapons Americans own for pleasure and for self defense.

This time, however, he's concentrating on a Spenser carbine, a Model 1848 Dragoon, and an SAA Third-Generation Colt. Duke says, "To a historical gun freak like me, it looked like Treasure Island."

Here we see the opening spread of Duke's three-spread article. The subhead under the English headline says, "These are some of the guns that helped win the West; they were used in the Civil War first, western expansion after."

First, he says, we have the Spencer Repeating Carbine, developed by Christian Spencer. It was the world's first repeating rifle. Its M1860 was used in the Civil War from 1861 to 1866 (sic) in .56-56 caliber. According to existing records, the Union bought a total of 94,196 rifles and carbines in M1860. When M1865 came out, it was .56-50 and more than 200,000 were produced. Furthermore, these repeating rifles came into Japan at the end of the feudal period.

Spencer .56-56 M1860s used a Spencer rimfire cartridge, and fired seven cartridges with its repeating lever action before needing to be reloaded. Spencers are loaded through the butt with a tube magazine that accepts a follower spring to push the loads forward. Lever action incorporating the trigger guard made the carbines easy to load and fire.

Duke goes into more detail that I will leave to your imagination, but one thing he does mention is that Arnold Schwarzenegger uses and M1887 Spencer repeating shotgun in the movie Terminator II.

The lefthand page shows Duke loading the Spencer, shooting it, and posing for the camera. Somehow he managed to catch yours truly with his camera, IDs me as Chuck Tyrell, that well-known Western novelist (and former USMC). Duke put at least 50 rounds of black powder ammunition through the Spencer. Don't duel with Duke. He's a very good shot.

Duke moves on to the M1848 Colt Dragoon. He says the Dragoon takes care of some of the problems in the Walker Colt M1847. The Walker Colt's loading lever, for example, had to be removed for use. The Dragoon's is attached beneath the barrel and need not be removed to load the pistol. The Dragoon served the US Army from 1848 until the Colt Army M1860 was adopted. It was a cap-and-ball pistol that required the powder and bullet to be loaded from the front of the cylinder and a fulminate cap placed on nipples at the rear of the cylinder before firing. Although the loading process was took time, the ability to fire six shots without reloading was a strategic advantage. Because loading was slow, men often carried several pistols.

The Colt SAA available that day was a Colt Original 3rd Generation 4.75-inch .45 caliber weapon firing .45 long Colt ammunition. Says Duke, "I've fired many Colt SAA weapons in my career, but guns made by Colt seem to have dependable quality and fire straight and true. I continue to be impressed by their quality.

We spent a good day in the sand dunes south of Las Vegas, and WWA, Western novels, and Western weapons received an excellent explanation and portrayal from Duke Hiroi.


  1. Thank you both. For someone who knows little to nothing about weapons this is most useful. Although I have a black powder replica of an 1851 Navy Colt I realize there is more to learn. Doris

  2. The Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. went out of business in 1869 and never manufactured a shotgun. The shotgun used by Arnold in T-II was a Winchester M1887.

    Bob Tinsley

  3. Bob, you're absolutely right. Upon re-examining Duke's article, he says the Spencer repeating system was picked up (better word?) by William Winchester and used in the M1887 repeating shotgun. He further says that it didn't work well with shotgun shells and was discontinued shortly. Did we get it right?


  4. Great article! I had no idea we had a Japanese gun expert ... maybe I should pick his brain sometime...

  5. English limited, gun knowledge prodigious. He's on FB at Duke Hiroi.

  6. Charlie, a repeating shotgun is a difficult thing to get right. They were very finicky and delicate things for a long time. The design of the Winchester M1887 and its smokeless powder version the M1901 (10-guage only) was by John Moses Browning, an up-scaling of his Winchester 1873 action. Browning told Winchester at the time that he thought a pump action was more appropriate for shotguns, but Winchester wanted the lever action presumably as a tie-in to their line of lever-action rifles. Browning was right. When the 1893/1897 pump shotguns (also a Browning design and also finicky and prone to part breakage) came out the demand for the lever shotguns evaporated.


  7. I misspoke in my earlier comment. I meant to say the M1886 rifle. The Winchester 1873 was not a Browning design. His first Winchester production lever action design was the M1886 rifle which incorporated a much stronger action than the previous toggle-lock actions. The M1887/1901 shotguns utilized a roller-block lock-up.