Saturday, August 05, 2006

Star Pistols

By Stephen Camp

Though Star pistols are no longer made, there appears to be many out there and at reasonable prices. The pistols do generate some interest among shooters so I'll pass along my experiences with them, good and bad.

The first centerfire pistol I purchased as an adult was a Star Model B 9mm. It was bought in the early '70's and I think cost around $70 or $75 NIB. I just couldn't come up with the extra thirty or so dollars for a new Colt Government Model .45 ACP. As it turns out, I'm kind of glad I tried the Star.

That first Model B had the very small military fixed sights common to most automatics at that time, but they were spot on with 115-grain JHP ammunition. The pistol fed handloads using Speer 125-grain JSP bullets, but the short 90-grain Super Vel ammo would regularly fail to feed. Their 112-grain JSP ammo did a little better, but the gun was basically reliable only with ammunition having a round nose profile.

Eventually I sold the pistol and to this day I wish I hadn't, but only for sentimental reasons.

Several years later, I saw an ad in the American Rifleman for a chance to buy some of the last Star Model B and Model B Supers in 9mm. Supposedly, these were from a military overrun and no more would be produced. I ordered one of each NIB for something under a couple of hundred dollars each. Upon receiving the guns, I noticed that the feed ramps had been "throated" and were pretty well polished and both fed most JHP rounds well. In the meantime, I'd seen a couple of Star aluminum frame lightweight pistols essentially ruined by the use of hot handloads combined with doses of Super Vel factory ammunition. I'd also spoken to several gunsmiths who counseled me to shoot only standard pressure ammo in the Star handguns.

Accuracy was fine with both pistols and both were nicely blued with some kind of gray phosphate finish on the sights, barrel, barrel bushing, thumb safety, slide stop lever, grip screws, magazine release and lanyard ring. The sights were more "high visibility" than my original Model B, but hit far too high at any range you care to mention until you get out to about 150 yards! To remedy this, when I would shoot the guns, I'd put a targ-dot at 6 O' Clock about 8" below the X-ring on a standard NRA 25-yard pistol target. This let me shoot the pistols some, but really was not satisfactory. I wound up using the pistols less and less and wound up selling the Model B Super, keeping only the plain Model B. Along the way, I'd been picking up spare magazines and bought a few spare parts, as is my habit with about any handgun I own.

Eventually, I had Lou Williamson of Williamson Precision Gunsmithing in Hurst, TX customize the Star Model B. I have more in the pistol than it is worth, but "worth" can be a frame of mind. The pistol was not being shot and was one I liked so I figured I might as well get it "fixed" so that I could use it for more than shooting at paper…and then only with the targ-dot thing I mentioned.

Here's the customized Star Model B as done by Williamson's Precision Gunsmithing. Though taken to Lou, the "old man," his son, Scott, did the work. The gun's front strap has received 20 LPI checkering and a new front sight was silver soldered in place. Millett adjustable revolver sights were added and hold the firing pin retaining pin in place. Scott made the wooden grips shown and though smooth, with the factory checkered rear grip strap and the 'smith-checkered front strap, the pistol offers good purchase. I do not shoot "hot" loads in this pistol and the ammo pictured is Federal 115-grain standard pressure JHP. The hammer spur was bobbed and the gray-finish seen on the trigger, magazine release, etc, is as it came from the factory. The slide and frame as well as the barrel were blued. The Model B is lightly sprung and while Wolff Gunsprings does not offer a replacement spring for the Model B, I found that I could substitute those for the 9mm CZ-75 just fine. The gun has such a recoil spring in place along with a buffer. The buffer was cut down slightly from one meant for a 1911. The combination's worked fine.

With either cast bullets loaded to the 1050 to 1150 ft/sec velocity range, the gun groups pretty well and does fine with most FMJ or JHP. Again, I do recommend using standard pressure ammunition in any of the Star pistols made before the Firestar Model 43 compact.

I'm satisfied with these groups from the Star Model B. None of these are "hot," but serve just fine for shooting holes in paper and are fine for plinking, informal competition, or just knocking around in the boonies.

Somewhere I wound up with a smaller version of the Model B. It's called the Model BM and is sort of like a "Commander" version of the gun. Both use an 8 round single-stack magazine. Though the Model BM has an unfortunate name, the little gun's been satisfactory and has been used on occasion as a "loaner" in CHL classes I instruct. Though visually similar to the 1911, these guns are very different internally and thinner as well. They have been described as "graceful" in feel and I do find them most pleasing in this regard. The Model BM is stock, other than my bobbing the hammer spur to avoid hammer bite and dressing down the front sight just a small amount to adjust POI with POA at 15 yards.

For those not familiar with the Star Model BM, here it is pictured with the Taurus PT-92, a gun the size of the more familiar Beretta 92 series pistols. The BM is all steel and heavier than one initially thinks, but it does shoot pretty well. I find that I get better groups with the Model B, but don't know for sure if this is due to better mechanical accuracy or just the longer sight radius!

Both of these single-action automatics come with a magazine safety, but one that is easily removed if desired. Unlike the Browning Hi Power, removal does not affect the trigger pull, but does allow magazines to fall free. Should you desire to remove the magazine safety, which is entirely your decision, you start by removing the grips. On the left side of the frame and at the rear of the magazine well which is normally covered by the grip, you will see a flat piece of spring steel that runs parallel to the rear of the opening in the frame. It's secured to the frame with an attached hollow tube at the bottom. From the right side, simply drive out the tube and the magazine safety is gone. It can be replaced just as easily if desired. Both my Model B and BM have had theirs removed.

One evening at the police department, I was working evening shift when a detective friend called me aside and said, "Got something you might like." Knowing he was a "gun person," I got pretty interested. He produced the smallest little 9mm single-action pistol I'd ever seen; it was a Star Firestar Model 43 9mm and had the "Starvel" (E-Nickel) finish. Grips were checkered rubber and unlike my Model B and BM, the frame was cast. The fixed sights were easy to see and it had ambidextrous thumb safety levers that were very positive in either "on" or "off" position. Trying not to seem interested, I asked, "How does it shoot?"

He advised that it did fine and was reliable with anything.

"Where did you get it?"

"Gun show."

"How much."


At this point, he mentioned that "Doc Avery" over in a nearby town had them for sale. I told him I liked the little thing and we went about our respective rat killing. That night at home, I continued to think about the little gun.

Anyway, I got up early, called Doc's phone number and bought one before 10AM, an ungodly hour for me to even be out of bed during that time of my life. I also bought 4 extra magazines. Like the detective's, my M43 had the Starvel finish. I removed the magazine safety and took it to the range. My particular pistol hit about 2" low at 15 yards, but this was satisfactory as I meant it for a back up pistol. I wore it for quite a long time in an ankle holster. The little all steel M43 is quite the little brick in weight and I wouldn't have been able to carry it this way except that the top of my duty boot supported the thing as the end of the grip rode on it. Unlike earlier Star handguns, the M43 did have an internal firing pin safety as well.

Another Star I really like is the Model 28. This is a full-size, all steel, 9mm pistol that sported a 15 round double-stack magazine. It is a conventional DA/SA automatic and has reversed slide rails ala CZ-75, but incorporates a take down feature from the SIG P-210. With the slide and grips removed, a spring-loaded detent at the lower rear of the rear grip strap can be depressed while lifting upward on the (uncocked) hammer. The hammer, sear, and mainspring will lift out of the frame as a unit. The front grip strap is vertically grooved similar to a Colt Gold Cup and the gun's fixed rear sight is screw-adjustable for windage. Unfortunately, it is not for elevation and the darned gun hit about a foot high at 25 yards. So did the second one I bought! Internally, the pistol works much like a CZ-75 and the front of the trigger guard is hooked and has vertical grooves for anyone still trying to shoot with such a hold. I'd have preferred a rounded trigger guard. They do have magazine safeties, but they're removed in a different fashion, but I left them in place as they do vigorously eject empty magazines, but mainly because their removal from the forged frame leaves a void with very thin walls. The pistol also has an interesting thumb safety set up. Slide-mounted like those from S&W or Beretta, depressing the safety does not drop the hammer. Cocked and locked carry is available, but there's really nothing "locked." All the safety does is to retract the rear of the firing pin below the rear surface of the retaining plate so that the hammer does not hit it. With the safety on, pressing the trigger will drop the hammer. I've tested it at the firing range and there's never been a problem, but since the thumb safety has to be moved the "wrong direction" anyway, I just carry this one and either thumb cock the hammer for target work or use the very smooth double-action for the first shot.

I had Scott Williamson ply his magic to the guns and had the following done to my brace of Star M28 pistols:

· Narrow the trigger to the same dimensions as the CZ-75 and round the edges

· Install Millet adjustable revolver sights as had been done on the Model B

· Hardchrome the barrel, hammer, external controls and guts of the guns

· Refinish with a matte blue on the frame and top of the slides, but with polished slide flats

Here's one of my Star Model 28 pistols after the custom work from Williamson Precision Gunsmithing. The gun shoots better than might be expected.

I normally don't fire much of the hot stuff in my Star pistols, but this group fired using Corbon 124-grain +P XTP is plenty tight enough for me. That load is no longer available as Corbon uses Sierra's 125-grain Power Jacket Hollow Point these days after replacing the XTP bullet with the Gold Dot Hollow Point.

Though I never owned one, I've been favorably impressed with Star's PD, a very compact, aluminum-framed single-action pistol in .45 ACP. While forty-five velocities from short barrels is more greatly reduced than from 9mm pistols in the same barrel length, the PD was more accurate than I'd expected and fed about anything. I do believe that they were somewhat "fragile" and meant for much more carrying than shooting. Like the BKS and BKM 9mm Stars, the lower portion of the feed ramp was part of the aluminum alloy frame and very subject to nicks, gouges, and wear from blunt or sharp-edged JHP ammunition. While this can be a problem with any pistol having an aluminum feed ramp, the Star pistols are the only ones I've really seen it regularly.

Such was not the case with Star's Firestar in .45 ACP. Bigger than the 9mm, this pistol had a one-piece feed ramp and was reliable with everything I tried, including handloaded CSWC, JHPs, and ball. It fed all manner of factory JHP ammo reliably and the thing would group. Recoil was minimal for caliber, no doubt because of its all-steel, robust construction.

Today, many Star pistols can still be found and with some reservations, I do recommend them if you understand that:

· Spare parts can be a problem to find.

· Dry-firing the Model B or BM will break the firing pin eventually.

· Recoil springs can be a problem in replacing unless you know which to substitute.

· Spare magazines, still readily found NIB, are relatively expensive.

· No aftermarket parts exist.

· Except for the Firestar versions as well as those with polymer frames, I'd counsel against very much +P ammunition being used in these pistols.

On the other hand, if you like these little things as I do and find one "right," I'd get it, but would not do any dry-firing with other than the Model 28, 30M, or 31PK as these had their firing pins retained via the traditional retaining plates and did not have any internal firing pin safety such that the firing pin would have to be notched.

I keeping my eyes open for a Model S .380 ACP myself!