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Crapshoot: Sterling Arms .25 ACP Model 300S



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STERLING REPUTATION?

When the name “Sterling” is mentioned in the world of firearms, it summons the iconic British SMG with a side-loading magazine or the British-made Sterling Armalite AR-180. But this is not that. When it comes to sub-$200 handguns, there is another: Sterling Arms, founded in 1967 … and out of business by 1983. That’s what we found this time at the Cabela’s/Bass Pro Shops in Reno, Nevada.

This inexpensive stainless steel blowback pistol in extremely nice condition was a mere $79 and simply marked “Sterling .25 Auto.” A little research through old Gun Digest Annuals (Number 69, 1978) revealed that this one was the Model 300S. The “S” is for the stainless steel version. Back then, it sold for the princely sum of $89.95, which was $16 more than the blued version ($442 in today’s dollars).

It features “indestructible cyclone grip panels,” and it can hold six rounds of .25ACP. The magazine release is European-style located at the base of the grip frame. There are no sights, just a guttersnipe-type groove for point shooting. Let’s see what a $79 gamble gets us.

BACKGROUND

Sterling Arms was founded in 1967 in Buffalo, New York, as a manufacturer of .22 target pistols nearly identical to the High Standard line. The following year saw the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, so they shifted their designs and moved to Lockport, New York. By 1969, they essentially made a copy of the Italian Rino Galesi pistol, which was banned from importation per GCA ’68. However, they soon ran into difficulties obtaining parts. In 1971, they contracted E&R Machine to make parts for them and by 1973 E&R bought the company.

This wasn’t your typical junk gun company. They made a single-shot target pistol in the style of the Thompson Center Contender and were an early importer of the SIG Sauer P230 pistols. They were probably known more for their inexpensive semiauto pistols though, like the 300 but also chambered in

.22LR, .32ACP, and 380.

The target customers for this lineup were people who wanted inexpensive handguns for personal protection. Most of the horror stories about reliability out there concern the .22LR and .380 models.

As stated, the company shuttered their doors in 1983 after losing a product liability lawsuit. Someone playing with a Sterling Arms Model 300 removed the magazine, and without clearing the chamber, pressed it to his head and fired it. This person didn’t die but became a paraplegic and sued Sterling Arms for their own oversight.

The Sterling Arms 300S is chambered in .25ACP (aka 6.35 Browning). Most shooters, us included, scoff at this round for its low power, but some outliers love it for the low recoil.

After cleaning and lightly lubing the pistol, it was time for shooting. A decade-old box of PMC 50-grain FMJ and a newer box of Privi Partizan were used for this initial outing. The magazine is easy to load. At 7 yards, the average group size was around 3 inches. This wasn’t bad for a pistol with no sights, but certainly nothing to write home about.

THE AWESOME

Not expecting much, this pistol was surprisingly reliable. There were no malfunctions, no failures to feed, nor any of the other horror stories you might’ve expected from a Sterling Arms pistol. This is a well-made little handgun despite its low cost.

The exterior is extremely smooth and free of sharp edges. Coupled with its light weight, this would make for an effective deep-carry-type of pistol. Build wise, it’s more of a Seecamp than a Raven or Lorcin.

THE OK

As with any out-of-production gun from 40 years ago, spare parts can be a challenge to find. Your best bet might be the various auction sites or Numrich Gun Parts. Be forewarned that the parts may not always be a true drop-in fit, and regarding the firing pin, there are different versions depending on when it was produced.

Regarding holsters or accessories, there’s not much out there. It was able to fit in a Seecamp pocket holster, so there might be some hope there if you happen upon one of these.
The pistol has no sights in the traditional sense. This is more of a point-and-shoot variety handgun if you need to use it for self-defense.

THE AWFUL

It’s chambered in .25ACP, which is essentially a centerfire version of .22LR with a worse reputation. This is a suboptimal round to begin with, and this caliber is pretty much ignored by new firearm manufacturers; ammo can be relatively expensive and hard to find.

Also, if you manage to find defensive loads, do not count on the hollow points to expand reliably. Just hope for penetration with FMJ or hard cast lead rounds from a company like Buffalo Bore if you’re depending on something like this to save your life.

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