Thanks Dave


Staff member
Thank you Dave
Dave started off as a beat cop in Omak, WA. Like many small-town PD’s, they didn’t have an armorer, but they did have a “gun-guy”, and Dave was that guy. After a few years he decided to become a full-time gunsmith and moved to Spokane and hung out his shingle and started doing business as “Spokhandguns”. Once a year, American Handgunner would run a spread on the top 100 pistolsmiths in the country (2 from each state), and Vernon (Dave) Ewer was the man behind “Spokhandguns”, and was listed in American Handgunner for many years as one of the country’s best. His work was described in a number of gun magazines over the years (GUNS, Gun World, etc.), by writers like Elmer Keith.

I first became aware of Dave Ewer’s skills as a pistolsmith in the late 1980s when I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1988, but I didn’t actually meet Dave until 1995. I got into bullseye pistol competition in the early 1990’s and I was building up a bullseye 1911 for the .45 portion of a 2700 match. I was doing some of the work myself, but I needed a real gunsmith to mill the slide and mount the Bo-Mar rear sight and dovetail the slide and dovetail the slide and install a Patridge blade front sight for me. A friend recommended his work, so I called Dave and arranged a time to meet with him and drop the gun off. After driving the 25 miles out to his house, I sat down in his living room and discussed the project with him. He systematically outlined each step required and how much he charged to do each one (this impressed me, after some of the vague gunsmiths I had dealt with previously). I left the job with him, and a few weeks later I got the phone call telling me it was ready and I could come pick it up the next evening, after work. Throughout this whole process, he was very quiet, and very reserved, almost to the point of being morose. I learned later that his best friend had died very unexpectedly just a few months earlier, and Dave was still in a funk, mourning the death of his friend.


Over the next couple of years, I had a number of projects that Dave did for me; some little (action jobs, new sights, etc.), some not so little (full blown custom-built revolvers). Mostly revolver work, some semi-auto stuff, and then later on there were a few Contender projects.

Like many shooters, we talked about all kinds of wild-haired ideas for shooting projects. At one point, and Dave found out that I had a Remington Rolling Block in .43 Spanish sitting idle in my gun safe. Turns out he had been looking for one for quite some time, but didn’t have any money at that particular moment, so he started proposing various ways in which he might trade for that .43 Spanish. We eventually settled on him converting a S&W Model 29 I had sitting around into a tight-chambered and tight-throated .45 Colt, with good target sights, target trigger, and target hammer – my goal was a .45 Colt wadcutter gun for bullseye competition. During these discussions, we learned a number of things about each other, and that there were a number of similarities in our lives, one of which was that we shared the same wedding anniversary. A number of things clicked that day, and we were no longer just a gunsmith/customer doing business, we became friends.


One project is a little funny in hindsight, and remains one of my favorite memories of Dave. One Saturday morning in the late 1990s, we had been out shooting and I had a CS-1 revolver (a 3” S&W 686 .357 Magnum made for the US Customs Service) that I had been shooting and had complained that I was unhappy with the DA. “Well, you gotta a minute?” he asked. Yeah, I guess. “Bring it by the house.” He called Jane and asked her to brew up a pot of coffee (we were about 15 minutes away from his house). We showed up at the house and Jane was just pouring up 2 freshly brewed cups of coffee for us. We thanked her and went down to the garage. Dave had my 686 apart and laid out on a shop rag in what seemed like seconds, explaining what he was going to do as he went along (Dave loved to teach). Once he had it apart, he checked this, tweaked that, and was making micrometer measurements of several other things. He straightened the ejector rod, he polished the trigger return spring housing, he clipped 1 ½ coils off the trigger return spring, he fired up his torch and heated the hand to a dull red and tapped it gently with a ball peen hammer, then polished both sides of the hand when it was cool. He put it all together, lubed it, and tested the DA. He wasn’t happy with it, tore it back down, and stoned one specific surface, re-assembled it, tried the DA, and smiled. He re-assembled the gun and handed it to me. It was perfect. It was exactly what I had been looking for.

I was halfway through my cup of coffee. He was smiling. Yeah, he was THAT good.


Today, thanks to what Dave taught me over the years, I think I could more or less reproduce that particular action job (what he called his “duty action job”), but it would probably take me a couple hours, and here he did for me in about 5 minutes, while he was using this as a teaching moment and explaining each step (and pitfall) to me. Dave knew his guns, and he knew how to teach. I was lucky enough to be one of his students.

The guns that Dave built in Spokane, and later in Benton City (up through the 80s) were all stamped "SPOKHANDGUNS". Then he closed that business and stopped using the name. The guns he built for himself, he stamped "EWER CUSTOM" and added the year he built it. He built several .44 Specials for me over the 90s. The last one, in 1999, was a 5 inch full-lugged 624 .44 Special, with an action job and a Patridge front sight blade. I told him that this gun was a tangible manifestation of our friendship, and I was touched when I got the gun and it was stamped "EWER CUSTOM 1999", but I didn't fully appreciate how special that was until much later. He told me the week before he died that this was the only gun he marked that way on a customer’s gun, all the rest were his own personal guns -- mine was the only gun he had built for someone else that he had ever put "EWER CUSTOM" on. This .44 Special is very, very special. No, it is not for sale.


We spent decades shooting together. We loaned tools back and forth (something both of us were reluctant to do with most other people, but did freely with each other). Dave was one of a very small number of people that I would loan bullet moulds to (and they always came back clean, oiled, and in good shape). Dave loaned me reamers and started coaching me through gun projects, instead of doing them for me. Later he outright refused to do gunwork for me, but would say, “I’ll be happy to drink coffee and coach you through the job while you do it.” , and then he would giggle mischievously. We both learned a lot, and we had a helluva good time doing it. These are some of my favorite memories of Dave.

Yeah, but let’s talk about shooting….

Dave loved speedloaders and had them for everything, even his beloved S&W 617 .22 LR (and a separate set, painted red, for his .22 Magnums). He would show up for a plinking session with 10-20 of them loaded up, and ready to go. And then we would shoot….

One Saturday morning we were out plinking. He was shooting his 617 and I was shooting an old beater Ruger Single-Six that I had just picked up in a pawn shop. Earlier, somebody had been shooting a lot of clay pigeons and there were lots of bright yellow 20 gauge shotgun hulls lying on the ground – targets of opportunity. Pretty soon we decided that just hitting the shotgun shells was too easy (they were at about 20-30 yards), we needed more of a challenge. So, the only hits that counted were the ones that hit the brass and made the shell fly. Dave was doing this double-action, more or less on demand. I was working hard trying to keep up, and I was shooting single-action. Yeah, he was one helluva good shot.

Which reminds me of another favorite memory. Along about 1999 or so, 5 years after Andy had died and 5 years after he had quit shooting competitively, Dave showed up at one of our Saturday morning plinking sessions with his DAO 8 3/8” S&W 681 he had built as his personal PPC competition gun. He looked at me and said, “I haven’t shot this gun since Andy died. I wonder if it’s still sighted in?” We had been shooting at NRA Silhouette targets, and they were all knocked over. The closest was the chicken, at about 30 yards, with only the “foot” showing (about 1 ½” tall, and about 4” wide). He leaned back onto the hood of his pick-up with his left elbow, raised that S&W 681 up one-handed, and put 6 consecutive shots, double-action, into the foot of that chicken target at 30 yards. At that point he looked at me, grinned, and said, “Well, I guess it’s still on.” with a devilish grin, cased it, and put it away. At that point, I knew I was in the presence of marksmanship royalty. I saw nothing to change that opinion over the next 20 years.

I like spicy food, but Dave LOVED hot, spicy food. One time I had dropped off a gun job with Dave. Jane was out of town, and Dave was baching it. He finished the job and called me to tell me that I could swing by after work the next day and pick it up. So a little after 5:30 the next day, I knocked on the door, and as usual all the dogs started going bonkers, barking up a storm. I heard Dave’s hearty baritone shout, “Come on in!” so I opened the front door and started in. Something was cooking, and it smelled pretty darned good. “Come on up, I’m in the kitchen.”, so I started up the stairs. When I got to the kitchen I found Dave bent over the stove, stirring a skillet full of sizzling hot stir-fry with his right hand, and using a kitchen towel to mop the sweat off his face and forehead, both of which were red as a tomato. “I’m making some habanero chicken – one chicken breast, sliced, stir-fried with 2 habaneros, some onions, garlic and bell peppers.” I knew that if it was hot enough to make Dave turn red and sweat enough to need a towel, that it was WAY out of my league. I smiled and politely declined.

I have always been a big fan of the Thompson-Center Contender, and Dave and I did a few very interesting Contender projects together. Perhaps the most interesting was the first one we did in the late 90s. I had had a 14” .44 Magnum barrel rechambered to .444 Marlin back in the early 90s using a SAAMI spec reamer, and the standard Marlin throat (i.e. no throat, and about a 45 degree leade). That first barrel shot OK, but was at best a 2 MOA gun. I learned a LOT with that barrel, and did a bunch of load development with it, but I was never really satisfied with it. One day, I was voicing this dissatisfaction over breakfast, and Dave started asking me lots of questions. He asked me for some sized cases, some factory rounds, and some handloaded rounds. It’s no secret that T/C tends to chamber its barrels with long, and sometimes sloppy throats. Dave took some measurements from a factory .44 Mag barrel he had, and then some measurements from the rounds I provided him, and determined that if he set things up with .003” chamber clearances that he could just barely clean up the factory .44 Mag chamber/throat (the SAAMI .444 Marlin chamber has more like .008” clearances). He came back to me and presented his sales pitch. With a 5 degree leade it would be more forgiving for cast bullets (a big plus for me), as well as more forgiving for OAL for jacketed loads. It didn’t take much, I was sold! He had the reamer made to his specifications, and while it was being made, he ordered 2 stainless .44 Magnum Hunter barrels. When the reamer came in, he rechambered both barrels – one for him, and one for me. I put a Leupold 4x handgun scope on mine and immediately ran it through its paces. It passed with flying colors. I have 20+ Contender barrels currently, and enjoy hunting with them all, but there are only a small number that are personal favorites, and this stainless .444 Marlin is one of them. 100% reliable, on target, 1.5 MOA, 300 grain cast bullet, 1900 fps, no surprises. If I get lucky enough to hunt Africa someday, this barrel and I have a date with a Cape buffalo bull…


We had other conversations about Contender projects. I told him about a .338 wildcat (based on the .356 Winchester case) I did back in 1993, and his one question was, “Why neck it down to .338?”. This led him to put together a .356 Winchester reamer, with .002” chamber clearances. We talked about it, but I didn’t know he had actually done it until after his death. I think he was going to surprise me, once he got some load data worked up. He got started, but died before he completed working up the loads. I am enjoying working with it now, and it shoots 200 grain cast bullets very nicely at 2150 fps, and the SAECO 245 grain cast bullet at 1950 fps, and the Hornady 180 SPP bullet 2200 fps (with Re 15 and 2520). He understood that a strong rimmed case, at moderate pressures, just flat works in the Contender.

He had a number of other Contender projects -- .30-40 Krag, .222 Remington, .22 LR Match, etc. He liked building guns and making them perform up to his expectations. If they didn’t, he worked on them until they did.

The last time I saw Dave was on the morning of Thursday Oct. 19, 2017. A group of us met at the range that morning and Dave was working on a S&W Model 27 that he was re-building. Dave was very happy, he was at the range shooting with friends, his latest gun project was coming together nicely, and his doctor had just given him a clean bill of health that morning. I met my sister over in Seattle that weekend. Saturday night, we were in a funky little bar in Seattle drinking really good single malt Scotch, and I was emailing Dave pictures of their Scotch list, and pictures of a couple of the bottles, etc. (Dave loved Scotch). I drove home on Sunday afternoon. I got a call on Monday afternoon from Jane, telling me that Dave had passed away quietly in his sleep Sunday night, Oct. 22, 2017. I was stunned.

Dave and I retired at about the same time. He had some health issues come up shortly thereafter, but got those dealt with in a few months. After he got to feeling better, we started shooting together on a regular basis, once or twice a week. Usually, this would take the form of meeting for breakfast at a small café near his home, and then going out to a stretch of BLM property outside of town and shooting until about noon. We discussed many diverse topics in these breakfast chats – life, death, disease, family issues, estate planning, “sonsabitches”, and of course, shooting projects (both real and hypothetical). The last shooting project I discussed with him was hypothetical, or so I thought. Back in 1999, he had built me a beautiful stainless .44 Special on the S&W N-frame, with a 5” full-lugged barrel, Patridge front sight, full action job (this was the gun he marked “Ewer Custom” for me, see above). Since then, I had purchased a matching 5” full-lugged S&W 629-3 .44 Magnum. The thought occurred to me that it would be cool to have a matching stainless 5” full-lugged .45 Colt, with tight .480” chambers and .452” throats (from a rechambered .44 Mag cylinder). We discussed the project over breakfast. He had done a number of conversions like this over the years (like that Model 29 he converted for me 20+ years earlier), and he had loaned me the reamers so I could do a couple of my own. Back around 2008 or 2009, he had dropped both reamers and badly chipped the flutes on both of them, so they were no longer available, but I was open to buying new reamers for us to work with (on this and future projects). As soon as I told him that I would buy the reamers, he just looked at me, smiled sardonically, and stated the obvious, “Well then, all it takes is a barrel.” I asked him if he had a 5” full-lugged .45 barrel in his sizeable stash of S&W spare parts. No, he did not. I checked Brownell’s, I checked Numrich Arms, I checked ebay, and I could not find one anywhere. “No point in buying the reamers until you find a barrel.” he said. So the 5” .45 Colt project got put on hold, until I could find a barrel.

Dave died about 3 weeks later. Suddenly, hypothetical shooting projects were of little importance. Helping the family took priority over pretty much everything else. The family picked out certain guns that they wanted to keep, and then arrangements were made to sell the remaining guns off through a local gun shop. We met one Saturday morning to get everything loaded up, so Matt could inventory them all, and figure out prices. As we were getting things loaded up, Jane pulled me aside and said, “If there’s anything you want, you make sure to speak up so Matt can put your name on it.” I was taking pictures of some of the unique guns Dave had built, and wasn’t really in “keepsake mindset”, I was just trying to capture some of these images before the guns disappeared. I just happened to look up as Jackie walked by with a stack of S&W revolver boxes on her way to the truck. One of them had something crossed out on the endflap, and “5 INCH” written boldly in black felt tip pen next to it. “Hold it! Can I look at that please?” Jackie handed me the box. Honestly, I expected to find a .44 Special (Dave built a lot of .44 Specials), or a .357 Magnum (Dave really liked Model 27/627s). I was stunned when I opened the box and pulled out the exact gun that Dave and I had been discussing building just a few weeks before.


Based on the stampings on the frame, he had built the gun in 1992 (long before I met him). He had never once mentioned, or even hinted at, the fact that he already built one.

The gun was unfired. For 25 years it sat in Dave’s safe, unfired.

Also of significance to me was the fact that this gun was chambered and throated using the exact same reamers that had cut the chambers and throats of the various other .45 Colts that Dave and I had built over the years.

I got a chance to take this fine revolver out in pursuit of feral hogs a few months later. It was a bright sunny April morning, and I was looking for a meat hog in the 150 pound class. I picked out a good hog, and as I snuck in to get close, she was milling about with the rest of the herd, making a clear shot difficult, if not impossible. Eventually, she moved out to the right and separated herself enough that I had a clear shot. The bright orange front sight stood out against the black hairy shoulder of the little sow like a neon light in the night sky. I placed my first shot just a touch too far forward, hitting the front of her right shoulder, and passing just under the spine. She started running, from my left to right. I snapped off a running shot, but pulled it low, sliding it just beneath her belly (I’ve never been very good at running shots). She ran another 10 feet or so and stopped, and I placed a Keith HP at 1100 fps into the center of her ribcage. The Keith HP expanded well and exited. The little black sow hit the ground with a thump and was done. I could hear Dave chuckling to himself, and telling me that if I practiced my DA shooting more often, that running shot would have been easy. He’s right, you know.


As the months wore on, and the family was getting more and more done with the estate, I thought things were winding to a close. Then I got a panicked email from Jane, “Oh my God! I found a GUN!” My first thought was, “Jane, you spent 40+ years married to a gunsmith. There probably hasn’t been a single day in your married life that there WASN’T a gun in the house.”, but I didn’t say anything. Long story short, it turns out that she found a revolver in the bathroom. I had to chuckle. Years ago, John Taffin wrote a piece about bathroom guns. I remember discussing the subject in detail with Dave many years earlier over one of our many breakfasts, with him nodding and saying, “You know, that makes a lot of sense.” The fact that Dave had a bathroom gun surprises me not one bit. What surprises me it that Dave, a supremely talented and reflexive DA shooter, had a SA revolver stashed in his bathroom – a stainless 4 5/8” Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum, loaded with some warm .44 Special cast bullet handloads. He was ready for pretty much anything that came through the front door…


Tonight I’m drinking some very old whisky out of one of Dave’s favorite bucket glasses, reflecting on how extraordinarily fortunate I have been, all because I had an old beat up .45 that needed new sights back in the mid-90s. I got that, and more -- much, much more. Good teachers are a blessing indeed.

I miss you buddy. Salud Kimosabe!
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