Guns in Nicaragua

By Pat Werner

I was once married to a lady who hated guns. Why I did that I do not recall.  She had many fine characteristics, and we lived together for some years.  But the gun thing was a problem. I was raised with firearms, getting my first .22 at the age of six.  Giving up firearms, shooting, and hunting because my wife felt it was uncivilized, just never happened.  She always  wanted to housebreak me, and I was untrainable. It did not work.

One fine day I moved to Nicaragua in 1987, the bloodiest year of the Contra War. There was no conflict around Managua and in the south because the Contra tried to set up urban cells in Managua using Sandinista double agents.  One named El Pez was particularly successful in talking not so sophisticated Contra directives into setting up new urban cells, that always were stamped out after they reached a certain size.  No matter, life in Managua was frolicky, if gray.  And arms were everywhere.  When the formal Contra War ended in 1990, not much changed, except the price of legal and illegal forearms, slightly increased.  AK 47s were worth $25 on the street.

The National Police began taking back the AKs and substituting shotguns, usually the Mossberg 500, with a short barrel and folding stock, a pretty effective  personal defense weapon and guard gun. Things changed in 2005 with the passage of a new, comprehensive firearms law,  510, with regulations.  This redefined how citizens, and residents, could acquire, carry and use firearms. It defined what arms were allowed, what arms were prohibited, and what sorts of ammunition you could own. It created, inside of the National Police, a National Administration For Firearms, Explosives, and Ammunition, DAEM in Spanish.

How The Law Works

Any citizen or legal alien with a residencia cedula  may purchase and possess firearms. There are no restrictions on number of firearms a person can own.   Folks with a tourist visa are just out of luck.  When you tentatively purchase a firearm, you have to start the process for firearms ownership. Usually done with a lawyer,  you have to get physically and psychologically examined, get an up-to-date police report of any prior activities, and get instructed on firearms safety and firearms use. It sounds like a lot of things to do, but all are necessary to obtain and carry a firearm.  Once all requisites are met,  DAEM will inspect the firearm and issue a plastic plate, like the residence plastic card.  With that plate, called the portación, the bearer can carry the firearm as desired; it is like a concealed weapons permit in the states. In fact you get the plate whether you want one or not, no tap dancing between possession and concealed carry here. Everyone one here has concealed carry license. The culture wars in the states regarding gun control and the right to bear arms do not exist in Nicaragua.  Law 510 defines everything.

There are some limitations.  On some holidays, like Semana Santa, and Purísima, the National Police will issue an order prohibiting carrying of firearms. That must be followed. All fully automatic weapons are prohibited, and any modifications to the serial number are prohibited.

Firearms are numerous and they are expensive, especially compared to the prices of used weapons in the 1990´s. While firearms can be transferred between private parties, it is risky. No firearm should be purchased unless the seller has an up to date portación for himself and the firearm.  All firearms by law must be kept under lock and key, and are subject to inspection by the National Police at their request.  Any firearm without the portación is contraband and can land the purchaser in jail with the firearm confiscated. Firearms transfer  should  be handled by a lawyer who knows the firearms law and can produce a legal bill of sale that will be accepted by DAEM.

Best place to purchase firearms is at a public armería, or gun store.  I mention two.  Tienda Magnum, located in the Centro Commercial, Managua, is owned and operated by Salvadore Luna and Emilio Chamorro. Both have been in the business for 30 years and are nationally known to everyone.  They are also owners of the Polígono Magnum, the country´s finest shooting range, located at Km 20 on the Masaya highway. Another long time gun shop owner is Evelio Gutierrez, who has his shop and shooting range, called El Especialista, just off the Masaya highway across from the entrance of the Masaya Volcano National Park.  He is also nationally known and has some arms for sale at his range. There are other armerías out there, but I have known Salvador, Emilio and Evelio for 30 years and can highly vouch for them. Some perspective can be gotten by looking at the other Central American countries.

In Costa Rica all hunting is prohibited and there are no organized  shooting sports.  In Honduras, there is no real, organized shooting sports and weapons are only for self protection and highly restricted.  Ditto for Salvador and Guatemala.  In Mexico all private firearms are banned and everyone has illegal firearms.  Probably because of its civil peace,  in Nicaragua there are  thriving,  completely legal, shooting sports throughout  the country.

Regarding ammunition, during the Somoza years and Contra War millions of rounds of 30-06, 7.62, AK, 7.62 x 54R,and 9mm ammo found their way to Nicaragua.  With caveats: some 30-06 ammo is corrosive, some not, and you need to know the difference to not have your barrel rotted out.  All 7.62 is non corrosive, some 7.62 x 54R, and most Russian 9mm is highly corrosive.  As an oddity, Somoza imported millions of rounds  of  30-06 Israeli ammo in 1978, so there still is some floating around with Israeli head stamps.  Sometime they go boom and sometimes not,  as the primers are starting to go dead.  I have been shooting Somoza bullets for decades and they are always interesting. They are not corrosive.  The cost of surplus military  ammo has gone from free,  during the war, to pretty pricey now, approaching a dollar a round.  Newly imported  commercial rounds are quite a bit pricier  than that. Shooting is not a cheapo sport.

What to Do With A Gun

An obvious use for a firearm is for personal or home protection. On this no advice is given and the reader should choose a weapon that works for him or her.  Teaching someone how to shoot is relatively easy, with women, because of their eye-hand coordination, usually a bit easier than teaching men, who may have seen one movie too many and usually are terrible shots who get worse with practice and testosterone.  Teaching someone when to shoot someone is really quite difficult.  What matters is not what the shooter has seen on CSI, it is how the facts will be viewed by a Nicaraguan prosecutor, jury, and judge.   I leave the reader to his own devices.

But there are many peaceful uses of weapons. I mention two, hunting, and organized target shooting. Many years ago I worked in Nicaragua as a market hunter, not exactly in line with Peta doctrine, but a lot of fun.  I found that Nicaragua has world class wing shooting for white winged doves, blue winged teal, and the spot bellied bobwhite quail.  I used to think that the most fun you could have standing up was hunting for woodcock in upper Michigan with a good pointing dog  while the migration was on; I soon amended that idea to include quail hunting around Jinotepe with a field full of quail and a good pointing dog.  That must be the highest form of hunting that exists.  In the fall millions of white winged doves migrate to Nicaragua from up north and provide quantitative wing shooting without bounds.  The blue winged teal may be the fastest flying duck in the world.  A sort of pygmy duck, they approach 100 feet per second in flight and sound like a flying arrow as they fly past your ears.  They can wheel and turn on a dime at top speed.  Many shoot at them, and few hit them.  They are the bane of rice growers in Sebaco, who try to poison as many as possible at harvest time.

Problem with wing shooting is that its legal status is unclear.  For several years the Nicaraguan Department Of Natural Resources, MARENA refused to issue hunting licenses or announce seasons and bag limits.  In 2014 they finally issued defined species, but are still not issuing any hunting licenses.  Where that leaves the intrepid expat bird hunter is unclear.  There are a couple of guiding services that offer dove and duck hunting.  How they do that I do not know.

But there are other  organized shooting sports  that are alive and well in Nicaragua.  For pistol aficionados, there is IPSC, bullseye, and steel challenge shooting. And for rifle shooters, there is  precision .22 rifle shooting, and high power rifle shooting at longer range.  The most popular pistol matches are IPSC matches, held weekly at Evelio Gutierrez´ range.  Salvador Luna also schedules matches.  These use the standard IPSC scenarios, which  are somewhat like DEA wannabe training exercises:  you burst into a room and shoot up the bad guys.  Good thing is that the targets do not shoot back. Used are the latest sorts of semi auto pistolas, 9mm, 40 S&W, and few .45s.  Almost no one shoots a revolver, me being the only exception.  You will shoot up a lot of ammunition, and learn to love the smell of gunsmoke.  Almost no expats participate, as is typical of all organized shooting sports in Nicaragua. Everyone is welcome and here is an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship and enthusiasm for new shooters.  Everything is done in Spanish, please.

Bullseye shooting is quite different.  It is a slight modification of the sort of pistol shooting that the NRA has been sponsoring since 1907 at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio.  The course of fire in Nicaragua is 10 shots in seven minutes at either 25 or 30 meters, on the modified ¨A¨ target, probably perfected by my old friend, Major General (retd) Oscar Balladares. There is no timed nor rapid fire.   The target is very much like the  NRA 25 yard timed and rapid fire target, though it is shot slow fire. Stance is the same with a two hand hold.  The World Series of shooting in Nicaragua is the Nicaraguan Army´s National Matches, held each August at the Sergeant´s School at Xiloa.   Upwards of 800 shooters take part, including  all the best shooters in the nation. Shooting in a bullseye match psychologically is much like playing golf, and is an exercise in Zen Buddhism.  It is simple, but very difficult. It has little to do with practicing to shoot someone. Here the most accurate pistols, in 9mm. 40 S&W and ,45 acp,  compete. For years I was the only American who participated as a civilian; the American Embassy usually sent along a  military attaché or two, who almost always shot poorly and were a sort of embarrassment.

The second largest shoot is the National Police Matches, held in August or September, right after the Army National Matches, at the Walter Mendoza Police Academy. Same shooters,  with a more difficult target, and winning here is just as prestigious, almost, as winning the Army National Matches.  Sometimes, to make things interesting, they change the rules, like restricting the caliber to 9mm only.  In addition, there are several regional Army and Police matches held around Nicaragua.  Evelio holds a monthly match and gives a league prize in December.  This sort of shooting is probably the best place to learn about precision pistol shooting and the basics of firearm safety, and meet a whole lot of decent people. This is where the Generals and officer corps  of the Nicaraguan Army shoot.  It is the crème of the Nicaraguan shooting public.

Steel Challenge is a new course of fire, a sort of  IPSC  with a sense of  humor, as it does not take itself so seriously.  I can shoot my revolvers here, and it is also the only course of fire where you can use a .22, revolver or semi automatic.  In the states Steel Challenge is a newly recognized college sport and is a lot of fun.  The only down side is that it takes about 250 rounds to shoot a match, so you better have enough bullets. Salvador Luna holds these matches and has a big enough shooting range to accommodate eight scenarios simultaneously.

There are active rifle matches that take place, because of the winds, in the rainy season.  Salvador holds both .22 rimfire matches at his range, shot  with precision rifles, many Olympic shooters and rifles. It is very  much like NRA gallery matches at 50 meters.  For the more romantic, Salvador´s range is the only really long range rifle range in Nicaragua, and I believe, in Central America.  If the shooter is able, targets can be set up out to at least 700 meters.  It takes some skill to be able to reach out and touch someone at that range, and it is impressive to make a hit at that range, at least for me.  Matches regularly are shot at 200 and 300 meters, using mostly scoped sighted rifles. A few, like old Salvador, his son Danny, and myself, like to shoot accurized,  old battle rifles with iron sights, and so we have matches for us old guys, with the model 1903 Springfield, MI Garand, and modified M 14.  I once in a while also shoot at 300 meters with a modern M 1874 Sharps, in 45-70. It is quite accurate and a killer on both ends. Using these old rifles, even with very fine aperture sights, really teaches one a lot about the flight of the bullet over long distances.

If one is interested in doing some shooting, these are the sorts of shooting available.  You should get a gun, and shoot it. If you have never shot before, I strongly suggest that  you consider contacting Salvador Luna and take lessons for shooting and firearms safety from him. He speaks flawless English and is a complete gentleman, and usually available at his range on the weekends.  Call in advance.   I used to teach firearms safety but I almost got shot a couple of time and am a bit scared to do it anymore. Nothing is scarier than a middle aged person learning gun safety for the first time.

Lastly, I should mention that Nicaraguan artisans produce some very fine shooting accessories, gun belts, holsters, and pistol grips.  I detest  plastic holsters, plastic pistol grips, and plastic pistols, so I spent some time finding artisans who can make things like I like.  Getulio Aleman Sosa of Monimbó has been making  fine holsters for me for 25 years.  He can make just about anything in leather. His holsters are very much like the Mexican double loop holsters, and  a couple of famous holster makers from the history of the American west.  I show him a picture and he makes the holster.  Material for pistol grips is another item that is worth searching.  Tropical hardwoods abound, and I mention three Nicaraguan species, Laurel, Cocobolo, and Lignum Vitae, or here called Guayacán.  Laurel looks and works like French Walnut. Cocobolo looks just like Cocobolo, and Guayacán is yellow and looks like ivory. It is the hardest wood in the world, and makes magnificent grips.  Other types of wood abound, and one is Níspero, that works like very hard plastic.  I have a Níspero beam in my home that is 100 years old, no termites, has a slight orange sheen, and it looks new.  And Níspero  produces fine fruit.

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References To Persons and Places Noted Above

All shooting in Nicaragua is done in Spanish, with the exception of Salvador Luna and Emilio Chamorro, who both speak impeccable English.

Gunshops, Guns,  and Shooting Ranges

Evelio Gutierrez, El Especialista, km 23 (approx) on Masaya highway, across from the Masaya National Park. Tel 3406 0352.

Salvador Luna and Emilio Chamorro, Tienda de Armas Magnum, Centro Commercial, Managua, Tel 2278-2780. Shooting Range, Polígono Magnum, km 20 on the Masaya highway, where the lava field starts.

Leather Work

Gunbelts, Holsters, and all kinds of fine leather work, like mutton leg double barrel shotgun leather cases,  leather chairs, and whatever else you can dream up, Getulio  Aleman Sosa, Monimbó.  Tel 8617 5911.  I have been buying holsters and gunbelts from old Getulio since 1990.   Catywumpus from his shop is the best saddle shop in Nicaragua, Talabarteria la Montura, owned and operated by Eduardo Soza, Monimbó tel: 2522 4578, 8808 6314. He is the cousin of old Getulio, and just as fine a leather worker.  He can make any saddle to order, and I have been making and buying saddles from him for 25 years.

Pistol Grips

Juan Arauz, Ciudad Satelite, Managua,  Tel:8772 0998.  He sometimes has Laurel in stock.  You will have to find Guayacán yourself.  Check with the carpenters in Masatepe.  The wood is unmistakable, very heavy, very dense, ivory colored sometimes with a shade of green or brown.  You have to leave your pistol but he is trustworthy and will do a good job.  As with the rest, have a good idea of what you want,  and maybe  make a drawing, to be sure the product you receive is what you want.

Lawyer Well Versed In Firearms Law and Obtaining Gun Permits

Agustin Huete Zepeda,  San Marcos, behind the Olympic Stadium, Tel 2535 22156, Celular 8820 1475. He is the most knowledgeable lawyer I have ever met regarding   all aspects of firearms law. He has gotten all  my gun permits for the last 15 years.

For Further Reading About Nicaraguan Hunting and Firearms

1993 Gun Digest: One Good Gun, a Smith and Wesson  M1917 .45 acp

1999 Gun Digest:  Tropical Pistolas

2001 Gun Digest: Tropical Carabinas

2002 Gun Digest:  War Horses

2012:  Gun Digest:  My Pistolas Of The Contra War

Spring 2002, Double Gun Journal:  Hunting The Nicaraguan Quail

Autumn 2009, Double Gun Journal:  The Doves And Ducks of Managua

Pat Werner – Bio

Born in Michigan in 1948, Werner received his education at Michigan State University and Wayne State University.  He began working in a gun shop at the age of 14, and began competitive shooting at 16. He worked as a friend of the court in family law matters, assistant prosecutor, and entered private practice, specializing in family law and bankruptcy.  In the intermountain west, he became involved in ranch management, began gold prospecting as a hobby, and got post graduate education in handling green broke horses.

Werner moved to Nicaragua at the later part of the Contra War, and was engaged by various news agencies, including Izvestia and the Los Angeles Times, taking reporters into various places in the northern mountains, and the Miskito Coast. He had the opportunity to wander the northern mountains and Miskito coast, and worked exporting fish from the Miskito Coast to Costa Rica in 1989. He worked at the American School and later began work at the University of Mobile, San Marcos campus.  He continued to work at the campus in various positions, including professor and Academic Dean at Keiser University, retiring in December 2014. He served for several years on the board of the CCNN of the American Embassy.

His scholarly interests include Nicaraguan archaeology and anthropology, ethno-botany, Hispanic colonial law and Nicaraguan history. He has published seven books, including the first guide to Nicaraguan orchids in English and has also written 10 manuscripts, and presented 60 papers at international conferences on botany, archaeology, anthropology, and Hispanic colonial law.


Two Pistols

First pistol is a Ruger stainless steel revolver, .45 Colt, my favorite pistola for the jungle. Grips are guayacán, made by Juan Arauz. Second pistol is a Smith and Wesson Model 586 .357 magnum, favorite pistola for shooting in steel challenge, with light .38 special loads. Grips are Laurel, made by Juan Arauz. They very much resemble French Walnut in color and feel.

Three Pistols

Three pistols, from the top 1. Colt Model 1911, issued to US Army in 1913. I carried it for years. Grips are guayacán, made by Juan Arauz; holster is Austin style, made by Getulio Aleman Sosa. 2. Walther PPK, .380 caliber, handy as a pocket pistol for Managua; grips are guayacán, made by Juan Arauz; holster is Austin style, made by Getulio Aleman Sosa. 3. Walther PP, .380 caliber, handy as a pocket pistol that does not pull down your pants; grips are genuine Cocobolo from Western Nicaragua; holster is Austin style, made by Getulio Aleman, Sosa.

Four with Trophy

Ave Maria University´s pistol team at the 2010 Army National Matches. We won the championship. I shot my ancient Colt M1911 .45 acp, made in 1913

Dog on Point

Quail hunting at Jinotepe, dog on point, New Year´s Day

Saddle and grip

Getulio Aleman Mexican double loop holster and gun belt, with Smith and Wesson .22 revolver, sitting on a Sosa saddle. All items made in Monimbó.

Pistol Range with Pat

Pat shooting at the event.

Scott Vaughn

Scott Vaugh chomping at the bit to shoot next.