Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 9

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Stick with what works.

You’ve all heard of the “Gun of the Week” club, right? That’s the term used to describe an “enthusiast”, the guy (gals are too smart to engage in such nonsense) who carries or competes with a different gun every time he goes out. (Closely related is the “Holster of the Week” club. I’ll post an amusing story about that, soon.)

There is also the “Bullet of the Week” club. Some folks read the gun magazines assiduously, loading up ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 8

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“So, smarty pants – what the best self-defense caliber?”

I receive many emails asking, in essence, what the “best” self-defense caliber might be. (Those emails, in fact, have served as the motivation behind this series.) The correspondents are probably expecting sage advice, the wisdom of years, a sort of Ballistic Oracle. What they get is a non-committal “it depends!”

If you take nothing else from this series, take this: there is no such thing as “best” – there is only “suitability for ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 7

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There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet

What does that mean, you ask?

One of the last bastions of the snake oil salesman is in the field of ammunition promotion. Claims that would make Professor Harold Hill blush are the norm, and are repeated in gunstores, shooting ranges, and deer camps across the country. They sometimes even make their way into magazines and the internet – though the latter’s instant exchange of information has helped to quell the worst of ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 6

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“What would I want with a reputation? That’s a good way to get yourself killed!”

– Jason McCullough, as played by James Garner, in “Support Your Local Sheriff” (my favorite movie of all time!)

What about “reputation”? Some cartridges or loadings have reputations for better effectiveness than others. Sometimes that’s valid, but other times it may not be.

Let’s take the mighty .357 Magnum, one of my favorite cartridges. The 125 grain semi-jacketed hollowpoint loads have the reputation of being superbly effective; ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 5

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More energy can be a good thing – as long as it actually does something useful.

Last time we discussed the concept of the hollowpoint as a way to increase the frontal diameter of the bullet in the target. I also introduced the idea that it takes energy to expand the bullet, energy that is also needed to push the projectile into something that it needs to reach.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the bullet ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 4

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The bullet is more important than the caliber.

We know that our bullet needs to do damage to whatever important thing it manages to find. How, exactly, is that going to occur? It just so happens that most animal tissue (including that of the violent felon who has just attacked you) is remarkably elastic, and consequently difficult to damage. Most tissues have a tendency to “close up” around puncture wounds, in the same way that they close up after a hypodermic ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 3

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Once it gets there, it has to do work.

In today’s installment, we’re going to look at the second of the Twin Tasks:

2) The bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

It may not be self evident, but kinetic (moving) energy is either used or conserved (stored.) In the case of a bullet, it starts being used simply by fighting the friction caused by traveling through the air. Unless it encounters a target, the bullet ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 2

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If it doesn’t get somewhere, it can’t do something.

OK, so we know about the Twin Tasks, the two things that a bullet has to do in order to stop an attacker:

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

Today we’ll be taking a look at Task #1: getting to something important.

Let’s start by pointing out that the user of the bullet ...

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Self defense, stopping power, and caliber: Part 1 of a series.

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I’ve gotten a bunch of emails recently regarding the choice of an appropriate self-defense handgun caliber and/or bullet. Around this one topic swirls more misinformation – and outright inanity – than any other I can think of. And now, here’s mine!

What follows is a layman’s understanding, backed by research of available literature and years of hunting and shooting experience, of the practical mechanics of wound ballistics. It is not intended to be a complete and exhaustive study of the subject. ...

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A gripping story about revolver grips. And speedloaders.

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So, you’ve got snazzy new grips on your wheelgun — congratulations!

Have you checked them to make sure that they won’t get in the way of the operation of the gun?

It’s surprising how many revolver grips, even from respected manufacturers, interfere with the use of speedloaders. Sometimes they even obstruct the ejection of fired cases! This is an especially common problem with grips on the Smith & Wesson “J” frame revolvers (like the Model 60, 640, 642, 442, and the like.)

Check your ...

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Foreign ammunition plus your gun equals ignition troubles?

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I’ve gotten a number of inquiries over the past few months regarding ignition troubles in otherwise stock revolvers.

As ammunition prices continue their climb, many enthusiasts find their budgets strained. In order to continue shooting, those who do not reload their own ammo have been looking at less expensive options for feeding their guns. Brands like Fiocchi and Sellier & Bellot (“S&B”), brands that didn’t have many takers a couple of years ago, are now being featured at many sporting goods ...

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Why revolvers?

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I got an email the other day, asking in effect “why revolvers?” I dashed off an answer (with so many emails demanding a response, it’s hard to write essays for each one.) I always feel that I haven’t done the subject justice, so here is yet more about why I choose the round gun over the flat one.

Why revolvers? Because I like them! I like their lines, their reliability, their accuracy, their power; I like their history, and that they ...

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Defensive ammunition for the revolver: an update on Speer Gold Dot!

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It’s been several years since Speer introduced their Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection 38 Special +P loading. It looked good on paper, and the Gold Dot line has a superb reputation for performance, but many of us prefer to carry well-tested ammunition. Let someone else be the guinea pig!

Sporadic reports have come in that the Gold Dot load is “working”; Massad Ayoob told me that he’s heard around the country that people are “satisfied” with the performance. Still, I’d ...

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Following the safety rules religiously.

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In last week’s article, I mentioned that there was an ancient religious principle that can help keep you safe from firearms accidents. Allow me to digress for just a moment to give you the necessary background.

As you may know, Orthodox Jews have a rather rigorous set of rules that they follow. According to their tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah (their Bible, which consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, ...

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The Safety Rules.

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A reader alerted me to this thread over at GlockTalk, where yet another debate about the first of Jeff Cooper’s “Four Rules of Gun Safety” is raging. Specifically, the argument centers on the allowable “exceptions” to Rule #1: “All guns are always loaded” (or, alternatively, “Treat all guns as if they were loaded.” Cooper himself said “All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.” That comes directly from an ...

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Reloading equipment round-up, 2007 edition.

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This last year I’ve been using a number of new reloading tools and components. I’m generally one to “stick with what works”, but that doesn’t stop me from looking for something better!

Late last year I bought a new Hornady Lock-n-Load progressive press (known as the “LnL AP”.) This is a five-station auto-indexing press with a motorized casefeeder. I bought it after becoming disenchanted with my Dillon and Lee presses – though I can always find something to like about any ...

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Do you need a trigger job?

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It occurs to me that not everyone who stumbles into my little corner of the internet necessarily knows what they really need. I receive quite a number of emails that essentially ask “should I have a trigger job done on my revolver?”

(I am aware that asking someone who became known as a gunsmith that question is tantamount to requesting that the fox guard the henhouse. Still, I’d like to take a crack – hopefully a fairly objective one – at ...

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More on the use of +P in older Colt revolvers.

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The internet “experts” just can’t let this one go!

If you’re new to this discussion, please read this short article on the use of +P ammunition in Colt revolvers. Apparently, the fact that a manufacturer would dare tell a customer what kind of ammunition they should use rubs some people the wrong way!

The latest argument from the “experts” delves into Colt advertising history. Way back when, Colt’s advertisements stated that their small revolvers were suitable for use with the .38-44 ...

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A different (and old) approach to the backup revolver.

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A gentleman wrote in asking about small backup revolvers – that is, a revolver to carry as a backup to a primary revolver.

I know that many people carry their primary gun on their hip, with a lightweight (aluminum, titanium, scandium) wheelgun in an ankle holster, and I know a couple of folks who carry a S&W “J” frame in a front pants pocket as a second gun.

This is not what the writer had in mind, though. He was thinking of ...

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The case for the double action only revolver.

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I endorse the practice of rendering defensive revolvers double action only (DAO.) Many people ask why, and I thought I’d give you my thoughts on the matter.

Let’s start with the usual argument for retaining single action capability, which I call the “Walter Mitty scenario”: the mythical need for making precise long range head shots. Let’s face it, folks – this just never happens in real life!

However, let’s say that you’re having a Jack Bauer kind of day ...

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Getting beyond the hardware: an inspiring little essay.

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I may have mentioned that I spent a period of time in the early 80s as a commercial photographer. Honestly, I didn’t make it all that far; though a good technician, I wasn’t creative enough on demand to sustain a career. I did learn a lot, though, and I took some of those lessons and put them to good use in other areas of my life.

One of those lessons – and one of the most important – came in the ...

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Yes, there are people who still think warning shots are a good idea. Don’t be one of them.

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Xavier Thoughts chronicles the story of an elderly gentleman who, using his gun, confronted a burglar in his home. The outcome was that the perp got sent to jail. Great, right? Well, maybe not. This may get ugly when the inevitable civil suit is filed.

You see, the perp was injured because the homeowner fired an unaimed “warning shot” which fragmented and struck the intruder. As if that wasn’t bad enough in these litigious times, the gentleman couldn’t ...

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How NOT to spend your training dollars.

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What is one thing I advise potential defensive shooting students?

Avoid “checklist” shooting classes. What do I mean by “checklist” classes? Those where the instructor provides a long list of the things that you will (ostensibly) learn in his/her class, implicitly (or explicitly) inviting you to compare how many things he teaches versus how many things another instructor does. It’s a variation of the “mine is bigger than yours” game played by adolescents of all ages.

This topic came to mind recently ...

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Are ammo prices keeping you from learning?

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Lately I’ve been hearing from people who’ve decided against attending training courses because of the cost of ammunition. If I may, I think that this is a shortsighted attitude!

Yes, ammo prices are the highest they’ve ever been. Yes, the number of rounds necessary to complete a decent shooting class is a significantly higher expense than it used to be. It’s still worth it, and it’s a bargain that you should take advantage of.

If you plan to carry a handgun, or ...

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What causes stacking?

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Stacking is defined as an increase in trigger pull weight toward the end of the trigger’s rearward travel. Some people like it, some don’t, and different guns have varying amounts of it. What causes it?

Some people come up with odd explanations. I recently got an email asking about stacking; the writer had read “on the internet” that stacking was caused by the type of spring – coil or leaf – used in the action. It’s a simplistic answer, and it’s ...

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Sight options for the defensive handgun.

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Much as it pains me to admit this, my eyesight is degrading with distressing rapidity. No, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it anything serious – it’s just that I’m getting older!

I’m close enough to the big “five-oh” to count the years left on one hand (with fingers left over), and the closer it gets the further out I need to hold the restaurant menu. Oh, yes, my prescription is current – but after wearing bifocals for the ...

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Another day in the life of a famous gun-person. (That would be me.)

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I spent part of last Tuesday at the range, schmoozing with A Famous Gun Writer Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous (hereafter referred to as “AFGWWWTRA”.) We tested a few guns, talked about revolvers – the kinds of things you’d expect two industry gadabouts to do on a range.

AFGWWWTRA happened to have a Ruger Alaskan model in .454 Casull that was being evaluated. Since I hadn’t yet gotten the chance to shoot one, I really wanted to see what it was ...

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My favorite powders for handgun reloading.

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Every reloader has his or her favorite powders. When I first started reloading handgun cartridges, I used what everyone around me used — which I found wasn’t always the best choice for my needs. After experimenting with lots of powders, I settled on a few favorites.

As a general rule I prefer flaked powders over ball (spherical) powders. I’ve found that they meter more consistently in a wide variety of measures, and they seem to burn a bit cleaner than their ball ...

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Allow me to elaborate on the Ruger Mini-14 magazine issue.

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In a recent post I mentioned that the Ruger Mini-14 demands factory magazines to work reliably. That statement may have given a bit of a wrong impression.

The point I was trying to make, and apparently didn’t, is that the only reliable Minis I have seen were using factory magazines. I have actually encountered many examples which wouldn’t run and a change to factory mags got them to working properly.

All is not perfect in Ruger-land, though – in my experience, there is still ...

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