Not too long back, I purchased an old Harrington & Richardson .32ACP self-loader.
On my very first range trip with the homely little gun, I chambered a round, thumbed the safety down, lined up the sights and…nada. Thinking I hadn’t run the slide far enough rearward to cock the piece, I actually ran the slide again before remembering that, contrary to nearly every other frame-mounted safety lever in Christendom, the H&R’s moves up to fire and down for safe. D’oh!
This is why new pistols come with instruction manuals (unfortunately old pistols often don’t). While there is some standardization, controls aren’t always in the same place, and when they are, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work in the way that is familiar to you.
I’ve seen an experienced and talented shooter pump his thumb two or three times on his new-to-him SIG Sauer P6 before remembering the heel-mounted magazine release…
Just as a for instance, consider the common slide-mounted hammer-dropping safety. Made popular by Walther, most pistols that use one follow the Walther convention: Beretta, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson all use the “down for safe, up for fire” pattern of the PPK, which is great, until you get your hands on a Makarov, since the Russian design uses a lever in the same place, but with the control positions reversed.
Magazine releases can be buttons, levers under the trigger guard, or a catch on the heel of the butt. I’ve seen an experienced and talented shooter pump his thumb two or three times on his new-to-him SIG Sauer P6 before remembering the heel-mounted magazine release, and was once stumped myself by an old S&W Model 35 auto before realizing that its heel-mounted magazine catch moved sideways, rather than rearwards, to release the magazine. Perhaps just out of sheer cussedness, the mag release on the Savage 1907 is on the frontstrap and operated by the pinkie.
This is the part where wheelgun owners usually snicker, at least until you point out that the cylinder releases on Smith and Colt revolvers function almost exactly opposite to each other, and Rugers use yet a third method of activation. Their cylinders don’t even rotate in the same direction; if you wanted to fire just one round from your revolver, do you know which charge hole to put it in so it will index properly with one pull of the trigger?
… make sure you get plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the controls on any new-to-you firearm.
Many years ago, when I had a Mateba Unica 6, I brought my new toy to show to some friends. With one round of .357 left, we carefully placed it in the cylinder, closed it, and Rob Pincus pulled the trigger, only to get a “click!” Rob, Marko Kloos, and I all stood around scratching our heads and opened and closed that cylinder another two or three times before remembering that the Mateba fires from the bottom chamber. D’oh, again!
So remember to Read The Flippin’ Manual, and make sure you get plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the controls on any new-to-you firearm. You definitely want their operation to come as second nature before you holster that gat up and trust your life to it.
[ Tamara Keel has been shooting guns as a hobby since she was eighteen. She has worked in the firearms business since the early 1990s. Her pastimes include collecting old guns, writing, and being bossed around by house cats. ]