Monday, July 22, 2013

Initial (and Possibly Final) Review: Smith & Wesson 325PD .45ACP

Cross Posted at The GunDivas

Those that know me well know I like guns. I like all kinds of guns. Big guns, small guns, wheel guns, long guns, shotguns, giggle switch guns, quiet guns, loud guns…pretty much any kind of gun will do. Okay, maybe not a Jennings or a Lorcin…maybe. I have a wish list of guns that runs fairly long, and today’s item up for review has been a longtime resident on my wish list. In fact, I’ve been looking for one of these for at least two years. It had become a bit of a Grail Gun for me in that it was only made for three or four years in what I can only assume are small quantities because I never saw one for sale (until recently).

I present to you the Smith & Wesson 325PD in .45ACP with a 4 inch barrel:

You won’t find technical specs for this gun on the Smith & Wesson website any longer as it is a discontinued gun. According to the Blue Book of Gun Values (the freebie info available without paying for the full enchilada), Smith & Wesson only made this model from 2004 to 2007 in two and a half inch and four inch barreled versions. It weighs in between 21 and 25 ounces. I assume (because I do not have a scale handy) that the four inch version is the 25 ounce “heavy” weight. This is possible because of the “airweight” scandium frame and titanium cylinder. Smith & Wesson has also done .357 Magnum (the 327PD) and .44 Magnum (the 329PD) versions. For reasons that escape me, the 329PD is still in production while the 325s and 327s are not.

The gun comes equipped with nice but not gorgeous wood finger groove stocks as well as a Hogue replacement should you so desire (…and, truthfully, you probably should). The sights are fully adjustable. The front sight is a HiViz fiber optic which you would have to be blind to miss. The rear sight is a simple, black V-notch. Since it fires the .45ACP cartridge, moon clips come as standard equipment (five, I think). It has the dreaded and much maligned Infernal Lock complete with two keys. Supposedly, the lock can be removed and the hole plugged; however, I have no plans to mess with it. I think it’s a completely stupid idea to have a lock on a firearm, but no one asked me.

The finish is matte black on the frame and barrel and matte grey on the cylinder. The only shiny parts on this gun are the trigger and the end of the barrel (which is just begging for someone to engrave “smile and wait for the flash” into it).

Speaking of the trigger, let’s talk about the important stuff now. Supposedly, the scandium framed PD models were Performance Center guns. I can’t find anything specific from the horses mouth to confirm that; but, based on the smoothness of the trigger, I believe it. I don’t own a trigger pull gauge, but I would estimate the single action pull somewhere between a loud thought and a quiet whisper. Seriously. It’s a Rule One violation waiting to happen. Do not put your finger on the trigger in single action unless you are really sure you want what’s in front of the barrel destroyed. My first two shots out of the box were high as I was not prepared for the trigger pull and hadn’t fully lined up my sight picture. In double action, the trigger pull is very smooth, controllable and predictable. I would estimate it somewhere in the eight to ten pound range.

So, how does it shoot? I have heard/read the recoil described as being “snappy”. Some have reported problems with ammunition backing out due to the recoil. Personally, I am not recoil averse. I have shot .44 Magnum from a Smith & Wesson Model 29, .357 Magnum from snubbies, .45ACP from 1911 platforms in several sizes, .45 Colt from a Single Action Army, 9MM and .40S&W from Glocks and other stuff besides. Point being, I am no stranger to major caliber handguns and their recoil.

Having said that, the 325PD is a different animal in recoil altogether. This is not a gun for a new shooter. Using standard 230 grain FMJ rounds, I would put recoil on par with or slightly more powerful than the .44 Magnum. A firm grip is a must. Limp wrist this gun at your own peril. Some people have said this is a gun you carry a lot and shoot a little. I can see why. The Hogue rubber stocks may tame the beast somewhat; however, I have not tried them as yet to verify that theory.

Accuracy is mixed based on my abbreviated range outing yesterday. I was able to run about 26 rounds through it at seven yards before I needed to be elsewhere. I am accustomed to one ragged hole groups at that distance using other guns. The first cylinder was shot in single action. Aside from the two learning curve shots mentioned above, the last four shots from this cylinder grouped well enough to ruin a bad guy’s day but were still high.

The next two shots were 230 grain, hollow point, self defense rounds (I can’t remember which brand as I type this). They grouped more to my expectation, and I would probably chalk that up to better quality control in the hollow point manufacture over that of ball ammo.

The last two targets were a mix of single action (two cylinders) and double action (one cylinder). By then, it was time to go. I was a little disappointed in the results; however, that may be attributable to the fact that it was a sauna in the range (I tried out an indoor range near my inlaws’ place that I’ve driven passed for years), and my glasses were steaming up from me sweating like a pig. That’s another story. Suffice it to say, Texans go to indoor ranges to get away from the heat. I won’t be back there for the range, but they did have reasonable prices on guns (I didn’t price their ammo).

Some final thoughts. For me, the fantasy of this gun was better than the reality of this gun. I had an idea in my mind’s eye of using this gun for IDPA competition. Unfortunately, the recoil using factory makes that a pipe dream without more practice than I can afford. I suppose hand loading a lighter round might make that feasible, but I don’t have the reloading experience nor the free time necessary to make that happen. Additionally, this is not a casual plinker by any stretch. This is a serious weapon for someone who wants serious firepower in a light weight platform.

My question is: who in their right mind buys the 329PD in .44 Magnum?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hobie MirageDrive Oasis Kayak Review

I am way behind on completing this review. I started writing it the week after Mother's Day, and here it is a month after Father's Day and still not finished. Time really flies when you are busy, sick and tired. Any excuse, here goes nothing.

This year, The Queen and I finally celebrated her first "official" Mother's Day. When I asked The Queen what she wanted for Mother's Day, her response was that she wanted a weekend of camping and fishing. Due to some complications, a weekend of camping was not in the cards. Efforts to arrange for a guided fishing outing also failed miserably. I never would have guessed that it would be so hard to get a fishing guide to take my money. Oh well. Such is life in the big city as they say.

So, Mother's Day Sunday found us searching for last minute options to get on the water and put a line in. Enter the marina at Lake Granbury. They have boats, kayaks and canoes for rent. Well...kayaks and canoes at least. They have boats which they have rented in the past, but the lake level is so low that they are not renting them out right now because they feel it's almost a guarantee that the boats will come back damaged due to people not knowing the lake and running aground. People like me for instance.  

So, our initial plan was to rent a canoe. That plan lasted until we saw a Hobie Mirage Oasis kayak on display in the marina pro shop. A kayak that you can pedal with your feet instead of or in addition to paddling it with your arms? Where do we sign up? We, of course, asked if they had one for rent. They informed us that, yes, they did indeed. Money was exchanged, and we were led water side where a bright red kayak awaited our pleasure. 

After a brief explanation of how everything worked, we were on our way. 

I should take a moment to give a brief disclaimer. With the exception of a camping trip with The Queen in 2005, the full extent of my canoe experience took place in Boy Scouts in pursuit of the merit badge. I had never sat in a kayak much less used one. So, this was virgin territory for me.  

While we are on the subject of disclaimers, let's get the FTC stuff out of the way. One of these days I will get around to writing a standard disclaimer for reference on all posts subject to noted exceptions. That day is not today. For the record, neither Hobie nor Lake Granbury Marina gave me anything for this review. I paid for the kayak rental out of my own pocket. My opinions are my own. Deal with it. 

You can go to the Hobie website ( to get all the geeky technical specs you want on the kayak. They have several models to choose from. Some are traditional paddle only models, but about a half to two thirds of the models are Mirage pedal system models. So, having directed you to the best source for minutiae, let's get on with addressing the things that I think deserve particular comment.

First, the fold down rudder system is awesome. Release a cord, and the rudder drops into place at the stern. Pull the cord, and the rudder comes out of the water tucking neatly out of the way. I have only one minor gripe about the rudder system. It can be controlled from the front or rear seat, and you need to be sure that the cord is released from its stays at both seats before it will raise out of the water. Found that tidbit out the hard way. The dual controls is nice because it eliminates the need to switch positions if you want the other person to steer for a bit. Also, it eliminates the need for one person to waste pedaling/paddling energy while the other person uses their paddle to create drag that turns the boat. It's a more efficient system all the way around. 

Speaking of efficiency, let's get to the Mirage system. There's a cool video on the Hobie website that shows you exactly how this works. Rather than tell you what it does, just go click the link above, watch the video and come back. I'll wait. You back? Good. Don't ask me how that works as well as it does. I don't know. Just accept it, and let's move on. The Queen and I used our paddles in very little. The Mirage system is that good. The folks at Hobie made it easy to stow the paddles on the gunwales of the kayak, and that's where they stayed most of the time. My one gripe with the pedals is that I never could figure out how to adjust them. Supposedly they are adjustable, but that trick eluded me. At 6'4" tall with a 36" inseam, the pedals were set way to close for me. I felt like I was ready to give birth. Let's just say I am glad that there is no video of my efforts. Having said that, after two hours on the water, neither The Queen nor I were tired from our efforts at cruising the lake for fish. 

Other cool items of interest. The back rests were very helpful to me in particular. The seat cushions were functional, but I wouldn't want to spend all day on one. The water tight storage compartment in front of each seat, while not huge, was spacious enough to hold some snacks, wallet, keys and cell phone. Hobie very thoughtfully included fishing rod holders just behind each seat on either side that were quite functional and easily accessible. There are cargo areas on the stern and bow deck areas complete with bungee cord cargo nets. The kayak is not stable enough to access the one on the stern while on the water. At least, not for me. The Queen had no trouble with the bow cargo area; however, she had the advantage of having it in front of her. 

The only major complaint I have is the price. These puppies are not cheap. New, the Mirage Oasis runs north of $2500 from what I have seen on the net. Used ones do not appear very often; and, based on the few I have seen for sale, they hold their value fairly well. BUT, and this is the key, "normal" kayaks from other manufacturers are available for considerably less at big box sporting goods stores such as Dick's, Academy and Bass Pro. So, it boils down to the classic value proposition. Are the neat little extras and the Mirage system worth the extra scratch. For an older fart like me who just wants to cruise the lake once in a while, you betcha. For a younger guy who wants to take on major whitewater, probably not. 

As always, your mileage may vary.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Tire Purchases

It's been a while since I've written anything here and for good reason. I've been busy. But, I've had a couple of experiences with tire purchases within the last couple of weeks that I thought might be educational. Everyone who drives a car needs tires eventually. So, one would think that there would be some healthy competition for those tire buying dollars. Allow me to share a couple of data points for your consideration.

First up, my experience with and my local Walmart Tire & Lube Center. My wife drives a 2007 Lincoln Navigator (we bought it used for a price substantially lower than they go for, don't get any ideas about our wealth or lack thereof) that sports 20" rims. Stupid me didn't price tires for 20" rims before buying the vehicle and had the equivalent of a minor heart attack and stroke when I set about pricing replacements for the skins that were already about half gone before we put 40,000 miles on them. had a decent price for a set of four Kumho Ecsta's in the right size that was about $4.00 to $10.00 per tire cheaper than any other store. I placed my order for shipping to the nearest store which happens to be in a decent sized suburb of a suburb of Dallas. What follows is my email to the store manager (suitably redacted to protect the guilty from alleging that I libeled or slandered them):

Dear Mr. Store Manager,

Please accept this in follow up to our telephone conversation a moment ago. I am writing to you to express my dissatisfaction with the service I received at your store yesterday. 

On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, I purchased four tires for my vehicle through the Walmart website. I received an email from yesterday at 12:54 PM confirming that the tires had arrived at the [Suburb of a Dallas Suburb] store and providing instructions for pickup. So far, so good. At approximately 3:00 PM, I called the auto service center at the [Suburb of a Dallas Suburb] store to confirm their hours of operation as I know they do not stay open all day as the store does. I spoke with a gentlemen whose name I did not get and explained that I received the above mentioned email and that I needed to come have the tires installed. I was informed that the auto service center was open until 7:00 PM, and I was not informed of any limitations upon when I should arrive in order to have the tires that I ordered installed. 

I arrived at your store at 6:00 PM which was the earliest I could arrive due to traffic and went to the auto service counter as instructed by the email received from I presented the email to the woman working behind the counter and explained that I needed to have the tires installed and get an oil change for my vehicle. The woman, whose name I did not get, informed me that I needed to the site to store area of the store to pick up the tires. This is in direct contradiction to the instructions on the email received from (see below), but not a huge concern. I again asked if there would be any problem getting the oil change and tire installation completed, and I was assured it would not be a problem and told to "...just talk to the guys."

This is where the service provided by your employees began to go off the rails. The site to store area of the store promptly located and brought my tires out from the back of the store. However, the tires were brought out to me on a flat bed cart with a "here you go" and not some much as a thank you or an offer to assist me further. I asked if I needed to take them to the service department or if they needed to do that, and I was told to take them myself. I'm not opposed to pushing a cart of tires; however, I am opposed to it being assumed by a customer service employee that I am okay with that or that my business with that employee is concluded. 

Upon returning to the auto service department, the same lady who had helped me earlier advised me to leave the tires at the counter and bring the vehicle up to see the service writer outside. I pulled my vehicle up to one of the two lube bays and waited. There was an employee working on another vehicle (later identified as [J]) who barely looked in my direction. Another employee (later identified as [L]) walked up staring at me like I was an alien and greeted me with "It's 100 degrees. Whatchu want?" 

Let me tell you, if the service was heading off the rails earlier, that greeting sent them hurtling off the cliff. 

When I explained my needs to [L], he responded that it was after 6:00 and they closed at 7:00. I explained that I was assured that the work could be completed by the staff inside. [L] proceeded to call [J] over at which point they engaged in a conversation in front of me complaining about the situation. I interrupted them and explained that I was the customer and that they needed to sort this out with the staff inside. 

[J] eventually instructed [L] to write up my service requests at which time we embarked on a 30 minute adventure in cluelessness. At first, [L] could not pull up the tires I had ordered on the hand held service writing tool. He asked me what size and brand they were which I told him. He showed me the hand held and said "Do you see any Kumho tires on here?" I pointed to the tires in the bay that had just been brought out from the service counter and told him those were the tires. After being repeatedly asked the tire size and reiterating that the tires were right there in the service bay [L] finally succeeded in getting the order written up with assistance from [C]. This, however, was not before I was briefly told that they could not install the tires which I had ordered because they were 20 inch tires. 

At 6:45, my vehicle was finally brought into the service bay for work after [L] made what appeared to be a last chance effort to discourage me from having the work done last night by saying that it would take a couple of hours to complete. I assured him that I was there until it was done at which point it appears that [L], [C] and [J] as well as an assistant manager whose name I never saw broke a world speed record for an oil change and installing four tires completing both tasks in just under an hour. 

One last thing, I was not offered the road hazard warranty which I would gladly have paid for in light of an upcoming road trip. I would still very much like to purchase that coverage if it is not still too late and you can tell me how to accomplish that without a repeat of yesterday's poor customer service. 

Finally, at no time was there an apology or a thank you for your business or a have a nice day. To be fair, I was no longer a pleasant person to deal with by this point, and I just wanted to leave. However, I challenge you to remain calm and polite after the preceding experience. 

In closing, I would strongly urge you to address the customer service provided by your employees. I know my business means exactly nothing to Walmart as a corporation; however, I would hope it means something to a store manager who has goals and objectives to meet.
I will sum up this sad tale by relating that an assistant manager with the store did get back with me and arranged to meet me at the store to take care of the road hazard warranty purchase. That was another exercise in frustration for both me and the assistant manager lasting about an hour. In the interest of full disclosure, the assistant manager paid for the cost of the warranty ($40) and charged it back to the store as a good will gesture despite my protests that I wanted to pay for the warranty myself and only wanted the poor service addressed so that others would not have the same experience. I acquiesced in the end and accepted the peace offering in the spirit in which it was intended.

Now, moving forward to today's experience. A few weeks ago, I had noticed a wobble developing in the front end of my aging Nissan Maxima. It's a 2000 year model with over 335,000 miles on it (I like to get my money's worth...what can I say). The original struts were still on this thing and had long since ceased being useful for much of anything; and, so, I inquired of my cousin the mechanic as to the possible source. He suggested tie rods or ball joints as the possible culprit. We had been planning on him coming by to address the front struts already. So, I just treated the car gingerly and waited for the parts to arrive so we can delve into the subject a little deeper. Yesterday, everything was in place and cousin B came by to do the work.

Lo and behold upon removing the front tires, we discovered this:

That wasn't there in April when I did the brake job.

So, I jumped on the iPad and began the search for a set of new shoes for the Maxima. Within about 10 minutes, I had located a set of Yokohama YK580s on the Discount Tire website for a reasonable price. The website indicated that my local store had 8 tires in stock, ready to go. I was able to select the tires and schedule an appointment for this morning at 8:15 AM in short order, and I went back to kibitzing with the cousin while he wrenched on the front struts.

When I arrived at the store this morning at a little after 8:00 AM this morning, the three counter guys were helping other customers. I only had to wait a few minutes until one freed up. He immediately addressed me by name before I had even approached the counter or as much as said "hello" (there is something to be said for 1) being expected, and 2) a customer service rep being observant). He had my car pulled into the service bay in less than five minutes, and I was told that it would be ready in about 15 minutes. It would have been done in that time too but for the fact that the passenger rear tire had a frozen wheel stud that refused to let go (and I had already broken off one of the studs in April). They can't let it go with only three studs and don't have the parts to fix it on the spot (both understandable points on their part).

So, I have a little work to do this evening, and I will get the last tire installed tomorrow. Even with that, I was out the door and on my way to work by 8:30 AM. Everyone at the Discount Tire store was courteous and professional. They knew what they were doing, and they did it efficiently without fuss. I was so impressed after my dismal experience at Walmart that I sent a customer feedback email from the Discount Tire website praising them.

So, in closing, Discount Tire is covered in awesome sauce. Walmart is not so much. Your mileage may vary.