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Guns and Gear

Practiced Perfection

Engraving BY "A LOT," HE MEANS ABOUT A THIRD OF HIS WAKING HOURS—A LEVEL OF DEDICATION HE'S kept up for the last three and a half decades. As a result, he's become so well respected in his field that he regularly gets invited to events all over the world. Currently, he divides his time doing engraving work between North America, Europe, and Australia. He also plans to travel to South Africa once their shooting events grow large enough. "It's better than having a real job," Downing quipped. "Cowboy shooting is a wonderful place to make a living. Everyone is in the same state of mind, and in cowboy duds, you can't take yourself seriously, so it's like a party."
Making a point to be the life of that party, Downing spends his time at shows laughing and joking with the crowds that gather around him. "I talk the whole time I'm engraving," he said. "I'm a performer—always have been. I love to talk and have a good time as much as I love to cut, so I do a combination of the two." It turns out this setup works as both an enjoyable pastime and a smart business model. "Little shows set me up for bigger jobs," Downing explained. "Little $100 jobs lead to $1000 jobs. Sitting right there, how much more convenient could it be?"
Most clients start by asking him to engrave a backstrap—a cheaper, less personal job that tends to serve as a test of sorts. Once they see his work and learn they can trust him, customers are much more comfortable handing over their guns to be engraved with Downing's signature flair. "Sometimes they'll say to me, 'Jim, have fun, keep it under $1000, and work in my initials,'" he shared. "Once you've succeeded and become somewhat known, you have a style, and people come to know you for that style. It's a freedom you earn after 35 years of doing it."
Downing described his personal style as inspired by the designs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "I love Old West style—1911 and earlier. My style is of that period," he said. "I stick to what I do best—if you stick to what you do best, it's more efficient and you don't have to reinvent the wheel every day." He added, "I'm more of a craftsman rather than an artist. An artist has to have inspiration every day. I engrave every day—it's more commercial. I don't have to wait for the stars to align for inspiration."
By the age of 20, Downing knew he was meant to be a craftsman. After learning woodworking from his grandfather, a master carpenter, he started doing shows around New Orleans. In 1979, he fell in love with the art of scrimshaw, and a year later Downing was working for himself full-time doing ivory work. As he traveled all over the country to display at various shows, his interests expanded to include metal work—first jewelry, then knife engraving, and eventually firearms. "It was a natural progression," he said of this process. "I grew up fishing, not shooting. But things happen in a different way than people envision."
Now master of his own craft, Downing has taken it upon himself to pass on his knowledge. He teaches hands-on, weeklong courses in engraving to help others get started in the field. "I can teach you how [to engrave] in one week, but it will take you 10 years to figure it out," he said. "For every hour in the class, you need to spend 1,000 hours practicing. 10...20...30,000 hours is what it takes to master any craft. You have to want to do it, and you have to practice."
He went on to explain, "Very few people do [engraving] as a hobby and do it well. Either commit and do it all the time or don't bother." With his personal success a clear result of that level of dedication, it's obvious Downing's advice is solid. After all, if anybody knows about committing to a craft, it's the man who has spent the last 35 years "practicing."

The Italian Touch

The Italian Touch Established in 1960 by Knight Giuseppe Pietta, F.A.P. F.lli Pietta started earning its reputation as a gun manufacturer with the production of side by side as well as over and under shotguns. During the sixties, the family business started to grow and Giuseppe decided to tackle and carve his reputation in a very difficult market: the historical black powder replicas. Already then, most of the original six shooters, lever-action rifles and buffalo guns were worth thousands of dollars, and were either on display in museums or part of private collections. Companies like Pietta allowed many gun enthusiasts to experience the thrill and romance of shooting Old West firearms. This was also the era of the spaghetti westerns which contributed to increasing the demand for Old West firearms in Italy. Consequently, the 1851 Colt Navy was the first replica Pietta produced. Shortly after, other replica models followed, such as the 1858 New Model Army, the 1860 Colt Army, or the Le Mat.
In 1976, Giuseppe received a request from Val Forgett Sr., considered the pioneer of Navy Arms and the promoter of shooting sports in the US, to export black powder replicas to America. This new opportunity prompted the company to increase its line of Old West firearms, starting a new venture across the Atlantic.
In 2002, Pietta decided to broaden its already wide range of Old West replicas by adding the most famous revolver to date: the 1873 single action Pietta model. The world's most popular six shooter was introduced to the US market in September 2002. "A lot of work was involved in the design of this gun," Giuseppe's youngest son, Alessandro, conveys. The following December, during the SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) convention held in Las Vegas, NV, this Pietta model won the "Best Gun of the Year" award after being in production for only three months.
Over the years, as Pietta's craftsmen gained experience, the company increased its production by adding more and more Old West firearm models. Today, Pietta manufactures 45,000 guns a year but because of very strict gun laws in Italy and the rest of Europe, 80% of the production goes to the US where the company caters to a large market of mounted shooters and cowboy action shooters. Pietta's firearms are exact replicas but the advancement of materials and technology allowed improvements over the originals.
Although Pietta offers a wide range of Old West replicas, including rifles and shotguns, the 1873 Long Colt 45 caliber with 4 ¾ inch barrel remains the best selling item in the US.  "Many of our revolvers come in different versions, with various finishes,  hand engraved by master craftsmen, with PVC ivory looking grips or customized with special names, awards or tributes," Alessandro explains. Some of Pietta's most popular guns also include the 1858 Remington New Model Army, caliber 44, the 1858 Remington New Navy Model, caliber 36, or the 1858 New Model Remington Army Nickel 36/44 caliber, available in brass or steel frame. "Our range also covers customized versions, fully identical in the mechanism but with small cosmetic variations," Alessandro comments.

Giuseppe continues to hold the company's reins, assisted by his wife and two sons, Alberto and Alessandro. The two brothers are respectively in charge of engineering and marketing and their mother oversees the bookkeeping department. "This is a family business. We all work together and share our goals and ideas. Our desire is to manufacture good quality guns and to respond to our customers' needs", explains Alessandro whose passion for Old west firearms was fueled by watching westerns and reading books and magazines about cowboys and the West. "I love the cowboy way of life," he adds.
While in the Phoenix area, Alessandro had the opportunity to try mounted shooting and was immediately enthused by the experience. As he was negotiating the course and engaging each target, he thought: "I am DOING it! Yeah!"
Unfortunately, it might be difficult for Alessandro to renew his thrilling mounted shooting experience in his home country where shooting any type of weapon while riding a horse is considered illegal. Nevertheless, Pietta caters to American mounted shooters with a line of low profile single action revolvers with short barrels. A new short stroke action will be available soon.
Pietta is currently working on new prototypes and plans on expanding their line of semi automatic shotguns. Besides its range of revolvers, rifles and shotguns, Pietta also offers a full line of accessories to outfit its various models. Known for their quality and craftsmanship, Pietta firearms have set the standard among hunters, mounted shooters and cowboy action shooters. "Our passion is what sets us apart," Alessandro declares.


Cimarron 1873 Competition Shorty

Winchester’s original 1873 rifle was the “Rifle that Won the West.” It was chambered in a new, more powerful cartridge, the .44-40—a .44 caliber bullet, propelled by 40 grains of black powder.

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Taylor's & Company

TaylorsTaylor's & Co. was started 26 years ago in Winchester, Virginia, by Sue Hawkins and her daughter Tammy Loy. Today the company is flourishing and proudly still operated by the mother and daughter duo. The company started after successfully importing a couple of cases of revolvers for some local gun shops in Winchester. Small shipments quickly evolved into pallets of muskets and other Civil War reproductions for local re-enactments. Shortly after that, cowboy action shooting was taking off nationwide, and shooters needed guns. Taylor's became a full importer and distributor of reproduction firearms now ranging from the Civil War Era all the way through the Cowboy Action period, to modern day firearms. In the past few years a new brand has been developed known as Taylor's Tactical, which encompasses a more modern flare on the standard reproduction items.
Cowboy action has always been a primary focus for Taylor's, and for 2014, Taylor's is still developing new products for that market. In an industry that is constantly changing, it is important to be innovative and keep meeting shooters needs. Employees within the company are gun enthusiasts that enjoy shooting competitions, hunting, and other outdoor activities using Taylor's firearms. This hands-on approach has allowed Taylor's to customize many of their products to meet specific needs. Notably, the company is introducing a new line of mounted shooting revolvers that make maintenance and cleaning of the revolvers a breeze after using black powder blanks.
In 2013, Taylor's introduced the 1892 Alaskan Takedown Rifle, taking a traditional 1892 we gave it a modern edge.  Targeted toward the survivalist market and hunting market, this rifle has been featured in various publications that the company has never received coverage in previously. Originally introduced in .44Mag, the company quickly learned of the need for an Alaskan in .357Mag which is being introduced for 2014. Taylor's has also began distributing a line of 1911 pistols and other compact handguns to diversify their products and meet customer requests.  New finishes and other special options are being developed to expand the Taylor's Tactical brand for 2014. Taylor's & Co. is not only marketing to cowboy action shooters, but the intention is to continue 'Keeping the Legend Alive' by introducing the history and heritage of their company to an entirely new audience of shooters. ?
Being able to reach out to a larger audience with these modern products allows Taylor's to also share the heritage products of their line, such as the Smoke Wagon™ revolver and the 1873 Lever-action rifles such as the Comanchero™. The Smoke Wagon™ is a custom-tuned revolver that allows shooters to have a smooth action and trigger pull decreasing stage times for competitors, and comfort for the general shooter. A large focus has also been placed on meeting the needs of junior shooters and ladies. A company owned by women is able to relate to the special needs of these demographics and introduced the Ladies & Youth Carbine in 2012. This has been a top selling rifle that has been the decision maker in getting many women and youth shooters to participate in shooting sports, namely cowboy action shooting.
With all of the expansion Taylor's has seen over 26 years, the company still focuses on maintaining a high level of customer service. If you contact Taylor's during normal business hours you will get a person on the phone to answer questions, or transfer you to the necessary contact. That's right, you will speak with an actual person on the phone every time. The company understands the value of standing behind a product they sell, and offering this personalized customer contact is a very important structure in the business.
If an individual has the chance to meet representatives of Taylor's & Co. at a trade show or a local shooting event, stop and say hello. Chances are you might meet the women that started it all or maybe the third generation, Keri and Ashley, who share the same passion for reproduction firearms. Three generations of women that know about guns is a force to be reckoned with in an ever-changing industry. Taylor's & Co. is center stage as one of the few companies who have been able to maintain the legacy of reproduction firearms, and they pride themselves on personalized customer service. We hope to see Taylor's for many years to come.

Ruger Single Nine .22 Magnum Revolver

For those who love to plink around with the .22 caliber rimfire cartridge, get ready for a little more fun.  Ruger just released a new single action revolver called the Single-Nine and the nine-shot beauty is chambered in the powerful .22 Winchester Magnum.

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American Derringer Legendary Model 1

THE DERRINGER PISTOL has a long and lustrous career as one of the first concealable guns to pack a punch.

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Taylor’s 1887 T-Model Shotgun

The 1887 T-Model shotgun is a replica of the shotgun immortalized in Sci-Fi thrillers like “The Terminator.” Based on the Chiappa Firearms 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun widely used in Cowboy Action Shooting competition, the T-Model has been modified sans the butt-stock.  Instead, the shotgun features a pistol grip that seems to be more for fun than practical hunting or target shooting uses.

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Cimarron 1883 .410 Shotgun

In a recent Western Shooting Horse article, mounted shooter Matt Sronce explained the details as well as the guns used in the shotgun competition. One of the points he made was the existence of a .410 gauge shotgun that would easily accept the standard .45 caliber blank ammo sanctioned by such organizations as the CMSA and MSA.

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Winchester 94 Takedown

Winchester Repeating Arms recently unveiled John Browning’s original takedown design in the new Model 94 Trails End Takedown design. A favorite among firearms enthusiasts, the Winchester Model 94 has gained the reputation of being a reliable and accurate firearm for more than 100 years. The versatile design of the Model 94 allows it to be used for hunting a wide range of game.

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Product of the Month

Balloon Pegsballoon pegs

The balloon pegs are 1/2 inch in diameter and 6 inches long.  They have a lip to secure and seal the balloon and a value stem to easily inflate the balloons with the air value attached to the AJ Horses Balloon Tray.