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November 06, 2003

Melissa Learns to Shoot, and Reviews of the Buckmark Camper and Ruger 22/45

Melissa has never shot a gun before, so I offered to take her to the local pistol range, Guncraft Sports, which I've blogged about before. This is a wrapup of her first time shooting, and a review of the Browning Buckmark Camper and Ruger 22/45 pistols.

GunCraft requires that all shooters take a short, 15 minute orientation session before using the range for the first time. The range attendant was very helpful. Once he found out that Melissa had never shot a gun before, he spent some extra time with her, going over basic gun safety and the basic operation of the gun controls for the guns we were renting: safety, magazine release, and slide release. Kudos to the staff at GunCraft. The person who did the orientation for my first visit was likewise patient, professional, and safety-conscious.

I had Melissa practice handling and firing the gun before loading it. Then we worked on firing live ammo. Her grip was awkward at first, and a little scary. It's a bit frightening to watch someone handle a loaded gun for the first time. I showed her how to wrap her fingers around the thumb grooves on the grip, and she did much better. Once she understood how sights are supposed to line up, she did great, hitting 9 out of 10 times. That's really impressive when you consider that she forgot to bring her glasses (she's slightly myopic).

Initially, I loaded and unloaded the magazine for her, and worked the slide to chamber the first round. By the third box of ammo she could do it herself, and only needed help when a gun jammed. (I kept an eye on things just to be sure. She tried to load a magazine with the bullets facing the wrong way, which was kind of cute.) She also caught on to using the target trolley and taping over holes in the target so she could count the hits for the next magazine load.

Browning Buck Mark vs. Ruger Mark II 22/45

Browning BuckmarkThis was Melissa's first time shooting, so .22 target pistols were the natural choice. They're lightweight, have very little recoil, and the ammunition is inexpensive. We chose two guns from the rental counter at Guncraft: the Browning Buck Mark and the Ruger Mark II 22/45. Melissa was excited about the Browning .22 because one had played a role in an episode of NBC's Law and Order.

Both guns have adjustable target sights that are big and blocky, with a clear sight picture. Both feature 10 round magazines that are easy to load thanks to thumb-friendly follower buttons we could use to compress the magazine springs. The sights are mounted to the frame, so they don't move back with the slide.

The grips on the Buck Mark have thumb grooves that mated perfectly with my hand. Balance is excellent. The 22/45's integrated slab grips didn't inspire the same confidence. With the Buck Mark's backstrap design I could comfortably wrap my thumbs around the handle for a secure, two-handed grip.

 Browning Buck MarkRuger Mark II 22/45
Weight32 oz35 oz
The Buck Mark we shot had a blued steel barrel. Our 22/45 had a stainless steel barrel, but you can get yours in blued steel to match the receiver color. Like all 22/45s, the receiver is made from fiberglass-reinforced polymers rather than steel. Being made of stainless and polymer, this model Ruger is largely impervious to corrosion.

Both guns weighed about the same, though the Browning balanced much better. The Ruger seemed muzzle-heavy, which resulted in the front sight wandering around. After two boxes of shells Melissa developed a preference for the Browning, and shot it the rest of the evening.

The Buck Mark's controls were much easier and more definite to operate. (I could only find right side pictures of the Buck Mark, which unfortunately don't show the controls.) The 22/45's slide release was a little finicky for me, and very finicky for Melissa. One design nitpick: all of the Ruger's controls look like buttons, but in reality only one of them (the magazine release) can be pressed inward. The other two are switches that must be thumbed up and down. Not only is the design confusing, it's poor ergonomically. Controls that are moved by sweeping motions need broad, flat surfaces, not conical buttons.

The biggest difference was in the trigger. The Ruger trigger was just OK. The Browning trigger was a delight. It required just a short, light press, which is what you want in a target pistol. I could easily touch off a round using the pad of the first digit of my index finger.

Comparing two similar pistols side-by-side is enlightening. It reminds me of wine tastings, where you compare, for instance, two Australian Chardonnays. Even though they're similar, the differences stand out in sharp relief.

Of the two, the Browning was our favorite by far. At just $309 for this mid-line model, it's a steal. Both guns are available in higher-trim versions. Another pistol in this same price range is the SIG Hammerli Trailside, which has been the subject of rave reviews.

Melissa had lots of fun, and I think she's trying to talk Allison into going with us one night. Next time we may shoot a larger caliber, like a .380 or 9 MM.

A night out at the pistol range was relatively cheap. We didn't pay any range fees because I'm a member and Melissa is a lady (and Tuesday is Ladies Night). Rental fees for two pistols plus 200 rounds of ammo totalled just sixteen dollars. That's cheaper than two movie tickets and a trip to the concession stand.

Posted by Les Jones