Tag Archives: firearm review

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — And tips on gun collecting


Beretta 81FS Cheetah — The complete kit

We’ve looked at the Beretta 80 Series Cheetah before, but the Cheetah in today’s article is one you seldom see imported anymore. How seldom? The Beretta 81FS Cheetah is chambered in .32 ACP/7.65mm, and .32 ACP is frowned upon in the U.S. and mocked as a ‘mouse cartridge’ unworthy of use for defense (it most certainly is not, but that’s a discussion for a later date). As such, I’ve not seen a newly imported 81FS in any gun store ever. I know they’ve been imported in small batches over the past several decades; I’ve just never seen one before this. Today’s example was manufactured in 2016, and the distributor shipped it out to my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) just nine months ago. That means this Cheetah probably sat out pretty much all of 2017 in a warehouse somewhere in Gardone Val Trompia, Italy.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah box and label

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

For a shooting review of the .380 ACP versions of Beretta’s Series 80 Cheetahs (the double-stack 84FS with 13+1 capacity, and the single-stack 85FS which hold 8+1 rounds) please see: Shooting a Pair of Cheetahs — Comparing the Beretta 84FS and 85FS.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah 12+1 rounds of .32 ACP/7.65mm

First, the relevant statistics for the .32 ACP/7.65mm 81FS:

  • Length: 6.77 inches/172mm
  • Width: 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Width (at grip): 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Height: 4.8 inches/122mm
  • Weight (with empty magazine): 24.2 ounces/685 grams
  • Barrel: 3.82 inches/97mm
  • Capacity: 12+1

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Double-action/Single-action

Interestingly, while the barrel length, total length, width, and height measurements match those of the .380 ACP/9mm kurz 84FS, the 81FS comes in weighing .9 ounce/25 grams more (probably from a thicker barrel padded out so as to use the same slide as the 84FS) and loses one round of capacity (which really makes no sense no matter how you slice it). Thrown up against the single-stack .380 ACP/9mm kurz 85FS, the weight disadvantage stretches to 2.3 ounces/65 grams. Ammunition advantage between the latter two, however, swings to the 81FS at 12+1 over the 8+1 capacity of the 85FS.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

Fit and finish among these three recent Cheetahs (the 84FS and 85FS were manufactured in 2012 and 2016 respectively) is comparable, meaning excellent as usual for Italian-made Berettas. All three have Beretta’s superb, highly durable, and, in my view, very attractive semi-gloss Bruniton finish on both the steel slides/barrels and the alloy frames.

The double-action/single-action trigger is excellent. Double-action is smooth and consistent all the way to trigger trip. Single-action has a crisp break, but only after a longish take-up. The only disappointment, and I’m not a short-reset snob by any measure, is the seemingly endless third of an inch/8mm reset. That may not sound like much, but compared to most of my other handguns, such as the superlative Walther P99c AS, it feels ridiculous.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Rear sight

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Front sight

I personally feel that the Beretta 80 Series Cheetahs are among the most attractive compact handguns in existence. True, they are large and a bit heavy for the calibers they handle, but they exude a certain panache simply not found in more current designs. They are natural pointers, almost on par with the Walther PP-series (my original concealed carry weapon being a PPK/S in .380 ACP/9mm kurz) in that regard, but they are not nearly as ammo finicky. The sights are certainly better than the Walthers, and unlike the PP-series the Cheetahs give you a slide stop release and an ambidextrous manual safety. The gun seems to soak up recoil much better, especially in the .380 ACP/9mm kurz round, which results in more control and faster follow-up shots.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

Beretta — Makers of the world’s largest ejection ports!

Gun Collecting Tips using this Beretta 81FS example:

Fortunately, I knew in advance that Collector’s had one of these 81FS rarities coming into the shop, as they gave me a call when it shipped from the distributor. Unfortunately, the Cheetah arrived the day after we departed for a month-long trip to Shanghai, China; various cities in Japan; Petropavlovsk, Russia; and several locations in Alaska. By the time we returned, that Beretta 81FS Cheetah was snagged on layaway, and Collector’s owner Paul Lee informed me that his distributor had already shipped out the last of his meager supply.

Ambidextrous manual safety

But then a funny thing happened on the way to disappointment. Two weeks later I got another call from Collector’s telling me that the person holding this rare, recently imported 81FS had found something in the shop that he liked even more. Unbelievably, he decided that he wanted a Ruger Mini-14 Paul had in stock more than the Cheetah. Knowing my disappointment for having initially lost the chance at the 81FS, Paul did nothing to dissuade the layaway swap, and two days later I was in luck.

Ambidextrous manual safety

Now, far be it from me to complain here, but this is where a little firearms knowledge comes in handy, especially if you’re just starting a collection. Mini-14 Ranch Rifles are very commonplace, and there is currently no danger that you’re going to miss out if you don’t take the first one you see. Or even the hundredth, for that matter. Not so on a newly manufactured, recently imported Beretta 81FS Cheetah. In my book, that’s a bit like passing on a bargain-priced, minty-condition stainless Colt Mustang Plus II (Friday’s subject) in favor of a current production Ruger SP101; or forgoing what appears to be a barely used original, first-year-of manufacture Ruger Police Carbine with a red dot sight included (Wednesday’s featured firearm) in order to snag a dime-a-dozen Mosin-Nagant 91/30 (a subject for a future article, I’m sure).

You’ll also notice that my established relationship with Paul Lee and the salespeople at Collector’s Gun Exchange, forged over many years, helped me in acquiring something Paul knew would interest me. By now, they know what I like, they call me when something is either coming or being shipped to them, and they give me a good break on the price. Same with Henry Bone over at Sportsman’s Elite. If you’re serious about collecting, it pays to establish a bond with the locally owned gun store rather than the big box operation (I’m looking at you and your ridiculous used gun prices, Cabella’s) that may occasionally undercut them in price on new firearms. It also doesn’t hurt to have that local store sell you a box or two of ammunition now and again, even if you might pay a fraction of that amount over at Walmart.

By the way, don’t bother going to the U.S. Beretta site to look for any Beretta Cheetah, not even the more popular .380 ACP 84FS and 85FS versions. They’re not listed there anymore (but they are on the Italian site), even though they’re still made in Italy and occasionally imported. So, if you see a new one, don’t pass on it if you even think you may be in the market for one at some point. You may not see it again. This is especially true of the 81FS, which isn’t even listed on the U.S. Beretta site for warranty registration; only the 84, 85, and 87 (.22 LR version) are listed as options, and the 87 isn’t even made anymore.

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Fun Firearm Friday — Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine” tribute


Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

Quick. What’s that rifle above? Any guesses?

If you took a quick glance before answering, you probably said, “That’s a .30 M1 Carbine.” You’d be wrong. I placed that rifle atop an M1 Carbine magazine just to throw you off. Here’s that same rifle, with the sling lowered to reveal an accessory rail, next to Inland’s new .30 M1 Carbine (see: Firing Review — The new Inland .30 M1 Carbine):

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

This is a Ruger 10/22 Carbine, which is a standard 10/22 receiver with an 18.5-inch/47-centimeter barrel residing in a walnut stock patterned after the M1 Carbine stock, clear down to the oiler slot for a sling.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

Other M1 Carbine touches include a peep sight (not as good as the original) and a front sight with protective ears.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

Unfortunately, the weak point in this M1 Carbine tribute is the front swivel and barrel band. Unlike the original, where the swivel is attached directly to the band and the tightening screw is independent of the swivel, on the Ruger the screw functions to both tighten the band and hold the swivel. Tighten the screw too much and the swivel freezes up. Back off the screw too much and the band becomes too loose. It’s definitely a flaw in an otherwise fun concept.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

While that’s not a minor quibble, in my view, it’s not enough to take the fun out of Fun Firearm Friday. This 10/22 weighs in at 5.2 pounds/2.4 kilograms. The original M1 Carbine upon which this rifle is visually base weighs . . . wait for it . . . 5.2 pounds/2.4 kilograms. That makes the Ruger a very practical rifle for hiking — light, relatively small, easy to maneuver, and if it’s anything like any other 10/22 I’ve ever fired, fun to shoot. It also comes with a 25-round magazine.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

The Ruger 10/22 Carbine will also accept other 10/22 magazines, including the more typical 10-round rotary magazine that fits entirely into the magazine well. As for the sling and oiler, you’ll have to order that separately. Any sling/oiler combination made for the .30 M1 Carbine should work in the 10/22 Carbine.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

The accessory rail does detract from the ambience, but not too much. And it does provide you with the option to add optics ranging from a simple red dot to a magnified scope.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

I’m really looking forward to taking this rifle to the range. Perhaps I’ll even fire it alongside the Inland. At any rate, it’s a good companion piece to the Inland in a cheaper caliber.

Ruger 10/22 “M1 Carbine”

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Western Wednesday — American Western Arms Peacekeeper


American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

I’ve done a couple of articles on clones of the 1873 Colt ‘Single Action Army’/’Peacemaker’ line of guns:

But today I’m going to present something even more rare than the USFA listed above. The original American Western Arms (AWA) began importing single-action pistol parts from Italy around 1998-1999. They then finished assembly in the U.S. with rich blueing on the barrel and cylinder, case hardening on the frame, and a highly tuned trigger.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

So, Peacemaker vs. Peacekeeper. Starting to see a problem here? Colt did, because at the time Colt was also make a double-action/single-action revolver called the ‘Peacekeeper’. But if that wasn’t enough to get Colt’s legal department moving, these grips were:

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

They’re almost indistinguishable from a pair Colt used on a version of their Peacemaker, except on their grips the Colt is rearing, and the ‘E Pluribus Unam’ banner rides higher on the eagle. Even cocking the hammer is very reminiscent of the Colt; the four clicks are much more pronounced than on the Uberti El Patrón Competition or the USFA Rodeo.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

Colt were not amused, and their legal department sued on a point of trademark law called ‘Trade Dress,’ in which the copy is deemed too close in appearance to another company’s offering to the point that the aggrieved party can claim that the copy intentionally misleads the buying public or trades off the good name of the plaintiff.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

The AWA Peacekeeper was in production for only two or three years, around 2000 to 2003, before Colt put a stop to it. Total production of this fine reproduction was about 2,000 copies, and many of those copies were abused in Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) and Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Finding one of these in the condition shown here is not easy.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

The owner of my favorite local gun store, Paul Lee of Collector’s Gun Exchange, is an avid CAS participant, and he knows a good Colt replica when he sees it. When this particular weapon was placed with him on consignment, he decided to try it out. His verdict was that the AWA Peacekeeper is the most accurate 1873 he’s ever fired, and he’s fired a lot of them. Paul put three bullets into a target placed 20 yards/18 meters downrange. Two bullets went through the same hole, and the third was touching! Note: Paul is a lot better shooter than I’ll ever be.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

In my previous article on the USFA Rodeo, I called it the premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action, and it is when compared directly to Colt, I’m told. But, apparently, the AWA Peacekeeper has both beat in the accuracy arena.

USFA Rodeo (top); AWA Peacekeeper

Here’s a comparison of the Rodeo’s more correct conical firing pin and the Peacekeeper’s tapered version:

USFA Rodeo (top); AWA Peacekeeper

Removing the grips on the Peacekeeper reveals that the hammer is powered by the traditional leaf spring. Also, note that the grips are serially matched to the weapon.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

One feature that sets the Peacekeeper apart from either the original Colt design or the Rodeo is a two-notch cylinder base pin. I’ve seen this feature before in Italian copies of the 1873, particularly the Uberti El Patrón, so it’s not surprising to see it on another gun that was partially manufactured in Italy.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

This acts as a safety. Regardless of what you see in westerns, where the good guy peels off six shots (or more if the continuity editor isn’t doing his or her job), the 1873 is only loaded with five rounds. The hammer and firing pin are then placed over an empty cylinder chamber, as this is the only way to safely carry a single-action six-shooter unless it incorporates a modern transfer bar system, such as on the Ruger Vaquero.

If the cylinder base pin is inserted to the first notch, the gun can be fired.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

But if the base pin is pressed farther into the weapon, locking in at the second notch, the end of the base pin will protrude out the back of the frame. This keeps the hammer/firing pin from contacting the cylinder, thus making the weapon safe from unintentional discharge even with all six cylinders loaded.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

It’s an interesting idea, but not very practical in my view. It’s not very intuitive to activate, and even less so to deactivate. Better to just do it the way Paladin would have loaded his 7½-inch barreled Cavalry-model 1873 Colt — load one, skip one, load four, drop the hammer.

I hope you enjoyed today’s bit of western nostalgia. Tune in later this week for a really Fun Firearm Friday.

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