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American Handgunner May/June 2011 - Page 40
Mike “Duke” Venturino SHOOTINGIRON TM Photos: Yvonne Venturino THUMB BUSTIN’ MUSINGS FROM THE DUKE MODEL A fter 50 years of hundreds of guns passing through my hands by buying, trading and even having them given as presents, I’ve tended to develop the attitude there’s not much I haven’t tried. Still there was a little autoloader that always intrigued me even though I had never even fired one until 2010 — Colt’s little Model 1903 .32 Auto Pocket Pistol. Why the attraction to an obsolete pistol chambered for a dinky little cartridge? Because anyone who looks at a Colt Model 1903 has to see it was ages ahead of its time. In fact, in regards to pocket pistols, it’s still ahead of its time, except for the dinky little .32 Auto chambering. And John M. Browning and Colt addressed that issue in 1908 by making another version chambered for .380 Auto. Why do I think the Colt Model 1903 was ahead of its time? Look at the photos: no exposed hammer, a grip safety, very thin and not a sharp edge THE COLT 1903 .32 After firing a Colt 1903 .32 Auto it was only natural he scoured gun shows for one for himself, albeit this is not so illustrious as one issued to a general. anywhere on it. Today gunsmiths get paid actual money to “melt” the edges of autoloaders. That means make them curved and smooth. The Colt Model 1903 came right from the factory already “melted.” And show me a modern “pocket pistol” as thin as an ’03 Colt. The gun itself is only .80" wide but the grips make it 1.10". Look at pocket pistols designed much later than the little Colt and you will see exposed hammers. Examples would be Walther’s famous PPs and PPKs which appeared in the late 1920s. Certainly Walther’s designers recognized the problem with exposed hammers on pocket pistols because those handguns got burrs instead of spurs to help prevent snagging on clothing. Better yet to not have one showing at all. Right now someone is saying, “Yeah but those Walther pistols had doubleaction triggers and the old Colt was single action only.” So what? The Colt 1903 had a grip safety and a thumb safety meaning it could be carried with a round chambered. There’s no way the thing can go off until a hand firmly grasps it, which incidentally is when the thumb lays right on the safety. I’ve shot DA pocket pistols and I think the Colt ’03 can be put into action just as fast as any double-action pocket pistol. ack in the spring of 2010, I got my first chance to fire one of these little .32s, and what a specimen it was. It belonged to a friend here in Montana named Bill Smart, whose father, Jacob E. Smart just happened to retire from the US Air Force as a four star general. For many decades, and possibly still for all I know, when an American Army or Air Force officer attained general rank he had his choice of at least three handguns. Those were either a Colt Model 1903 .32, a Colt Model 1908 .380, or a US Model 1911 .45. General Smart picked a .32, and friend Bill let me introduce myself to the model by shooting his father’s. Consequently, it was only natural at the very next gun show I attended my eyes were searching tables for Colt Model 1903s. If there is any good at all to come from the downturn in this nation’s economy it’s that gun prices have dropped a bit. I was able to buy one cosmetically worn but mechanically fine for a darn good price. Colt introduced this model with a 4" barrel but that was soon reduced to 3.7". Grips started out as hard rubber and Duke Likes It B evolved to checkThe US Government ered wood about bought many thousands of 1924. Mine wears the little Colt Model 1903s. hard rubber grips. Weight is about 24 ounces. As usual for pocket pistols, sights hardly exist. The front sight is a little nub and the rear is a dovetailed blade with a tiny notch. When I can actually see them my ’03 hits point of aim at 20' with 71-grain FMJ factory loads. Also as befits the Shooting Iron title of this column the entire gun will hold a magnet. According to the 2005 Standard Catalog of Firearms by Ned Schwing, between 1903 and 1945 Colt made 572,215 Model 1903s for the commercial market. About another 200,000 were sold to the American military. To put that in perspective more Model 1903 .32s were made than all the 1st Generation Colt SAAs and Colt New Service double action revolvers combined. With that many in circulation it’s amazing more are not seen on used gun racks in stores or at gun shows. I guess I’m not the only one who likes them. Duke’s first firing of a Colt Model 1903 .32 Auto was with this general officer’s version belonging to a friend. * 40 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • MAY/JUNE 2011