|Image from Indy Gear|
I was a teenager when Raiders of the Lost Ark was originally released. From the first moment I was caught up, and Indiana Jones quickly became one of my favorite fictional heroes alongside Capt. Kirk, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. I mention that because it plays into what comes next.
I turned 45 earlier this year and thought the best way to commemorate the milestone was to buy a 45 caliber handgun. I already had a couple 1911’s so instead I picked the United States Revolver, Caliber 45, M1917, also known as the Smith & Wesson Model 1917.
The S&W M1917 was developed during World War I when the U.S. Army desperately needed handguns and 1911 (no “A1” yet) production could not keep up with demand. Instead of trying to add another 1911 manufacturer, the government instead asked S&W (and later Colt) to modify an existing revolver design to fire the standard .45 ACP cartridge as used by the 1911. This would provide the needed handguns while avoiding the logistical problems of adding a new handgun caliber.
(Editor's Note: See this previous Monday Gunday post for an explanation of the differences between .45 Colt and .45 ACP.)
Smith & Wesson took their Hand Ejector, Second Model (HE 2), rechambered it to .45 ACP, cut down the cylinder a bit and, in a stroke of brilliance, invented the sheet steel “half-moon clip” to allow the rimless .45 ACP rounds to load and headspace correctly. Each half-moon clip held three rounds and tossing in two clips to load the cylinder was much quicker than loading cartridges one at a time.
Even though I collect military firearms, and the M1917 has a distinguished military association, that wasn't why I picked it as my birthday gun. The real reason is much simpler: The HE2/Model 1917 is Indiana Jones’ gun: This is the gun he tossed in a suitcase while talking about what a “cautious guy” he was, this is the gun he used to save Marion as her bar burned around her, and this is the gun he used to show why you shouldn’t bring a sword to a gunfight in the movie’s funniest scene. The big S&W is as an iconic part of his character as his Fedora or leather jacket.
In “Raiders” there were actually two prop guns; one in Europe and a second in the U.S. The European gun was a HE 2 in .455 Eley, and the U.S. gun was a commercial M1917 in .45 ACP, identical to the military model except for markings. Both wore checkered commercial style grips instead of plain military grips and both had their 5’5” barrels cut down to a handier 4”. Since the movie prop is based on a real gun, and a relatively common one (as collectibles go), I’d always planned to own one someday, and my Birthday proved the impetus I needed to find one.
I found this gun through a friend. It’s a military 1917 that retains most of its original bluing. (Most were Parkerized between the wars.) Some previous owner swapped out the original smooth military grips for checkered commercial grips. Since the commercial grips are correct for Indy’s gun, this is actually a plus for me.
I had planned to cut the barrel down to 4” to more closely match the movie prop, but I decided the gun is too nice to mess with the originality that much. No one but a die-hard fan will know the difference anyway.
I’ve had the gun at the range a couple times. The first time I was dropping steel plates, six for six, at about 12 yards with no problem. On the second trip I was able to shoot at paper at 25 yards and discovered that, even with the small sights, the gun is a shooter. I could consistently keep all my shots pretty well centered on a paper plate shooting both single-action and double-action. Not bad for a 92 year old gun and 45 year old eyes.
This Indy gun (sort of) replica now goes with my Indy jacket replica into that weird area where my fandom and real world collide. I may not be Indiana Jones, but I’ve got his gun!