How did I find a Sterling 302? Well, it’s a long story. I’ve become a pretty big fan of auctions. Not Gunbroker-style auctions, but real auctions that move in real time.
I have a local firearm auction that I hit up every time they host an auction. I typically aim for historic, largely affordable firearms. Sometimes I see a gun get zero bids and if the price is right, I hit the bid button.
One such firearm was a little .22LR-looking pocket pistol from a company called Sterling. I had never heard of the company, never seen the gun before, but no one put in a bid, and the opening bid was $80.
Little did I know that I had purchased the Sterling 302, a surprisingly robust little pocket pistol from the 1970s. I thought it might be a pot metal-ish little thing, but I was surprisingly wrong.
The Sterling Arms Corporation
Not only did I end up with an interesting pistol from the 1970s, but the company that made it is rather interesting, too. The Sterling Arms Corporation is a bit of a mysterious company. Kevin at the WeaponsMan blog wrote an in-depth article about Sterling Arms Corporation, and this article contains the majority of information we know about the company.
As a company, they made some interesting little weapons, including a High Standard HDM design with the barrel trimmed to nothing and chambered in .380 ACP. They made some cool pistols but, as a company, were rather secretive.
Who designed the guns? Who knows? Where did they come from? No idea. Why did they use certain cryptic initials and numbers in the names of their guns? I dunno. They weren’t really open about it, and in the 1970s, firearm marketing wasn’t anything like it is today.
The Sterling Arms Corporation isn’t related to the British Sterling by any means. Another Sterling produced cheap revolvers out of California, but there is no evidence the companies are connected. The Sterling Arms Corporation was originally based out of Buffalo but quickly moved to Lockport, New York. The most notable thing they did was import the SIG P232.
The company shut its doors in 1983 or 1984. According to Massad Ayoob, Sterling Arms Corporation was sued out of existence. Long story short…a babysitter had her boyfriend over. The boyfriend found the family’s .380 Sterling. He removed the mag and, thinking the weapon was unloaded, pulled the trigger and fired the weapon, striking the child and leaving him paralyzed.
Final Firearms – The Sterling 302
Sterling made a number of seemingly odd and interesting guns, but in the mid-70s, they produced some fairly practical and seemingly boring pocket pistols. These were known as the Sterling 300, which was a .25 ACP, and the 302, which was a .22LR. According to a 1978 catalog, the Sterling 302 cost $73.95, so when you account for inflation, me picking one up for $80 is a bargain.
I figured it was a Saturday Night Special-style pistol that was popular in the era. Imagine my surprise when I picked up my firearm, and found the Sterling 302 is clearly not a pot metal Saturday Night Special. The frame and slide are blued steel. The grips might be plastic, but the gun looks fantastic.
The gun weighs thirteen ounces, is 4.75 inches long, and is 3.5 inches tall. It’s one inch wide and sports a 2.125-inch long barrel. It has a simple six-round magazine and, predictably, it uses a simple blowback design.
The Sterling 302 has a manual safety mounted right above the trigger that’s easy and quick to use. Across the top, you won’t find any sights, only a trench. I’ve never shot anything with just a trench sight, so this would be an interesting adventure.
The magazine release is mounted to the bottom of the grip in a very European-style design. The weapon came in blued, nickel, or even stainless steel, with the stainless being the most expensive at all of $90.
At the Range With the Sterling 302
With a little Winchester and Federal ammo, I hit the range with the stout little Sterling 302. I set up two steel targets and one paper target. I attempted to group the weapon at 10 yards. The trench sights threw me off, and I hit substantially low in a position I felt was comfortable. In my first attempt, I created a group that was 2.14 inches at ten yards. That’s not terrible for the little gun.
The trigger has a fair amount of takeup and gets a little stiff, but it isn’t bad. I need a class on trench sights, and I just applied a little Kentucky windage to my shooting. At ten, fifteen, and even twenty-five yards, I made effective hits.
At ten and fifteen yards, I hit a 10-inch gong with the Sterling 302. In fact, I went six for six at both ranges. At 25 yards, I went three for six on the gong and six for six on an IPSC steel target. With real sights, I think I could have done a fair bit better.
Recoil wasn’t an issue. It’s an all-steel .22LR, so this wasn’t an issue. Reliability wasn’t bad. The gun worked best with Federal Automatic, and my only issue with the Winchester is that every so often, the last round would fail to feed. The Federal Automatic worked without issue. I caused an issue myself by having my hand too high on the gun.
That caused a problem once when shooting, which created a failure-to-feed situation. Don’t tighten up too high when shooting these little guns.
The Sterling 302 is a fun little gun, and I’m impressed by what I assumed would be a cheap little pistol I picked up at the auction. Now I want to get a few more Sterlings, especially a PPL.