Closing out 2011.

Tomorrow night we'll be celebrating the arrival of the New Year and looking back at what 2011 has wrought. I, for one, am glad that 2011 is almost behind us (and on Monday you'll discover one of the reasons why!)

I look forward to 2012 with both elation and trepidation. This next year will bring a presidential election that is already shaping up to be one of the most hideous of recent memory, in the midst of a fragile economy and growing discontent amongst the citizenry. The threat of violence on a large scale has never been as high as it is right now, and giving some attention to your own personal protection plans would be a prudent resolution to make this weekend.

On a more optimistic note, there are a lot of really neat things in the works for 2012! I hope to kick the new year off by breaking some big news in January, and if the rumors I'm hearing are true the upcoming SHOT Show may hold some great things for revolver enthusiasts.

In the next couple of months I’ll be adding a new lever action class to my course offerings, as well as a few other surprises - including videos!

Enjoy your weekend, celebrate safely and sanely, and check back in on Monday for a raucous and somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog entry - one sure to get some people's blood pressure up!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Numbers don't say things. Words do.

A man is sent to prison. At night, after the lights have been turned out, his cellmate yells "number eight!" The whole cell block breaks out laughing. After things quiet down, someone else calls out "number eleven!" Again, everyone laughs.

The new guy asks his older cellmate what's going on. "Well," says the other prisoner, "we've all been in here for so long that we all know the same jokes. So to save time, we just yell out the number instead of repeating the whole joke."

Feeling like he's now a full-fledged part of this fraternity, the new guy yells "Number twelve!" No one laughs - not even a snicker. Confused, he yells out "number three!" Silence.

Dejected, he turns to his cellmate and asks "what's wrong? Why didn't I get any laughs?"

"Well," said the older man, "some guys just don't know how to tell a joke."

I've written before - many times - about how I abhor what I call "Traditional Rule One ("treat all guns as if they are loaded.") For those coming in late,
read this for the whole explanation.

It's obvious that my opinion has had only minor effect on the shooting fraternity as a whole, as I continually see that silly rule referenced in blogs, forums and articles. That's bad enough, but there's something else that gnaws at me: the use of a number as shorthand for the rule itself.

I see references all the time to "Rule One", "Rule Two" and so on. No explanation of what those numbers mean, just the number itself - as if everyone both understands and agrees. The problem with safety rules, obviously, is that not everyone understands them in the first place. If they did, we wouldn't have so many accidents!

Particularly when dealing with people who don't have a lot of experience with firearm safety, numbers obscure the meaning. Those folks don't know the rules terribly well to start with, and throwing shortcuts at them only compounds the problem. Have you ever taken a class where the instructor assumes that you already have every bit of the background he or she does, and refers to things with abbreviations and acronyms that you don't recognize? Frustrating, isn't it? That's what we as a community do by continually referring to safety rules with only numbers.

Even for people with solid backgrounds in a subject, abbreviations blur definitions over time. For instance, can you identify all of the words in the common acronym "NAACP" without Googling? You've seen it all your life, but I'll bet for many the words have long since been forgotten. The same, I believe, happens with the safety rules.

Right now, can you recite "Rule #2" perfectly and without hesitation? What if your version of "#2" isn't exactly the same as the next guy's? What are the safety implications? Don't you think that's something you should know?

Rather than agreeing on a number, wouldn't it be a whole lot safer to agree on the actual subject of the rule? What if your numbers don't even refer to the same concepts - how is that in any way promoting safe gun handling? It's not, and that's my point.

If you're an instructor, using numbers in place of words is a sign that you're not paying full attention to the safety of your students. If you're a blogger, it's an indication that - like our hapless con at the top - you're more interested in being part of the "in group" than of actually promoting gun safety.

Stop contributing to the problem: put safety in words that everyone can understand. Say what you mean instead of abbreviating. Even if people don't agree with you, at least they'll know what you’re talking about!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Happy Holidays, looking forward, and the gun goes mainstream.

Welcome back!

I trust everyone had a good weekend, and I hope your Christmas was a joyous and meaningful time with family and friends.


From news stories it was apparent that firearms were a major item this year. Various explanations have been suggested for this, from concern about new purchase restrictions to fear of economically-inspired criminal violence, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that the pendulum has inevitably swung: guns are once again becoming socially acceptable.

Those who remember the 1950s and 1960s will recall that shooting was a big thing amongst the Hollywood crowd, and thus with the general public as well. Actor Robert Stack, for instance, was a champion shotgunner, and many recognizable names participated in 'quick draw' competitions as a hobby. This stands in stark contrast to recent decades when Hollywood has been the source of virulent (and hypocritical) anti-gunners.

I’m not yet convinced that the era of guns-as-common-recreational-objects will be resurrected, but they at least seem to have shed the worst of their manufactured reputation as evil objects to be avoided. The gun seems instead to be assuming the role of the speciality tool: something you own or use to do a specific task. The days of the anthropomorphized, self-propelled mayhem machine appear to be waning, and none too soon. Many people - yours truly included - have been equating the gun with the fire extinguisher or first aid kit, and I'm hopeful that those analogies are helping to fuel this resurgence in gun ownership.


This last week before New Year's Day is a good time for reflection and contemplation. From the standpoint of you and your family's safety and security, I hope you'll give some thought to getting good training in the coming year.

What is "good" training? Training which is congruent with the kinds of situations in which you anticipate using your gun. If you carry a handgun for personal protection, a course that teaches the best response to a surprise criminal attack would be advisable; if you keep a gun for home defense, a class on how to handle the scenarios you're likely to face in your own house might be in order.

There are any number of quality classes and instructors available today, more so than probably any time in history. (
Permit me to toot my own horn in this regard!) Resolve to make 2012 the year that you increase your knowledge and skill level with the guns you own.

(If you're an instructor yourself, there will be opportunities for you to advance your teaching skills and professional standing. Take advantage of them.)


And now, a little tease: the first Friday of the new year will feature a really neat Ed Harris article which I just received. All I'm going to say is wait until you see what he got for Christmas!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Jack Delano returned. And stayed.

Jack Delano produced some of the better-known photographs at the Farm Security Administration, and during that time he visited Puerto Rico and fell in love with the land and its people.

After WWI he and his wife moved to the island, and Jack continued to make pictures of his new home. The Lens Blog at the New York Times has a
nice selection of photos from his Puerto Rico work. No overt political or propaganda messages here, just a nice pictorial made from the heart.

Enjoy, and have a good Christmas holiday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Keeping ourselves honest - with ourselves.

Kelly Muir at the
Instructor Revolution blog put up an interesting post the other day. She was at a shooting class* and saw someone she knew, a martial arts instructor of some renown. She was impressed with the fact that this fellow enrolled in a class where he was a real student, amongst students (and probably an instructor) who didn't know who he was or what he did.

The reason she was impressed goes well beyond the "always a student" phrase so many instructors use (and mostly don't really mean.) It's one thing to be a shooting instructor and go to another shooting class; it's a very different thing for a shooting instructor to go to an archery class, or a Tai Chi class, or perhaps a calligraphy class as an absolute beginner.

It's not so much what is learned, though that may be beneficial, but rather the attitude that is developed. It keeps us honest; it keeps us from believing our own bovine excrement.

Kelly puts it beautifully:

The idea that we as instructors need to place ourselves at risk for looking silly, making a mistake or simply not knowing, is a critical component to our own effectiveness.

I've more than once watched in horror as a shooting instructor, being asked a question to which he/she simply did not know the answer, made up something stupid on the fly to quell the inquisitive student. That's the kind of hubris that develops if one is not open to admitting that one is not infallible. It’s bad for the teacher, it’s bad for the student, and it’s bad for the rest of us who are tasked with cleaning up the resulting mess.

Unbridled conceit is an inhibitor of growth, either as a teacher or simply as a human being. Putting ourselves into a position where we
actually are a student, learning something about which we don't really know anything, is a great antidote for that conceit.

Go read the whole thing. It's worth your time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

* The class was the first ever interactive simulcast shooting class which I talked about
a few weeks back.

A new site for gun owners!

Gavin Gear, who runs the terrific
Ultimate Reloader website, sent me an email recently about his new venture: Northwest Gun Magazine.

It's an online magazine especially for shooters and gun enthusiasts in the Northwest part of the country. (For those east of the Rockies, that generally means Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Montana.) Of course interest in firearms knows no state boundaries, and people from all over the country will probably find something they like. People in the Northwest, however, will find shooting topics specific to our area a prominent feature of

Gavin's planning on showcasing news, product information, and resources related to all kinds of shooting in the Northwest. I’m looking forward to seeing it grow like Ultimate Reloader did!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Using the .45ACP - in a rifle!

Tales from the Back Creek Diary - A .45 ACP Rifle?
By Ed Harris

I like having at least one long gun capable of firing each caliber of handgun ammunition I keep around. Rifles chambered for center-fire handgun calibers provide greater kinetic energy than any rim-fire, but also have low noise, usually not needing a suppressor.

The .45 ACP and .38 Special are my favorite cartridges for this, because standard pressure (non +P) loads are quiet when fired in a rifle, their report comparing to firing a .22. They also have sufficient energy to kill deer-sized game at short range and useful self-defense potential, while presenting a less threatening profile than a military-caliber EBR (Evil Black Rifle) so as "not to scare the natives."

The .38 Special and .45 ACP work best for such purposes because they are loaded with fast powders which burn completely in a barrel length of only 5-6 inches. Ordinary 158-gr. lead bullet .38 Special loads gain about 150 f.p.s. when comparing a 4 inch revolver to a 20 inch lever-action.

In .45 ACP the expansion ratio produced by firing from a rifle-length barrel, combined much greater bore contact area, hugely increases bore drag which negates the effects of adiabatic expansion. Result is that little velocity gain is achieved when compared to firing the same ammunition from an M1911 pistol. Muzzle-exit pressure is very low so that the report compares to firing standard velocity .22 LR from a sporting rifle of greater than 20 inches.

The velocity of any common .45 ACP ammo is subsonic when fired from a rifle. I don't try to see how fast I can load for handgun-caliber rifles, because assembling specialized “rifle ammo” which cannot be used in the handgun defeats the purpose. The combination of substantial bullet weight, adequate accuracy and low noise is both pleasant and effective.

About 25 years ago Wayne Schwartz rebored a Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum to .45 ACP for me and this worked really well. I let Wayne talk me out of the rifle when I left Ruger and regretted it ever since, so I've had another done.

This time I took a .45 Colt Cowboy II and sent it to John Taylor who set the .45 Colt barrel and magazine tube back, rechambered the barrel, fitted a new extractor, and reworked the lifter. It holds twelve rounds in the magazine tube, as finished with 22-1/2" barrel), is 39" overall and weighs 6 lbs.12 ozs.

I use this rifle mostly with Saeco #954 230-gr. lead FN Cowboy slugs and 5 grs. of Bullseye, which gives about 1000 f.p.s. in the rifle, vs. 830 in an M1911 pistol and about 800 f.p.s. in my S&W Model 625 revolver. Given the limited powder capacity and faster powders used in the .45 ACP you only get modest velocity gains in a longer at permissible chamber pressures (20,000 cup max.)

The .45 ACP Marlin is not as accurate as my best loads in the .357 lever, but it meets my original intent as a fun camp gun and plinker. Shooting iron sights, I get 1-1/2" groups at 25 yards which stay in proportion to 100 yards. The front sight covers a 6" gong at 100 yards.

I've zeroed the gun to hit about 3" over the top of the front sight at 50 yards, and under the sight when I blot out the target at 100. Groups to 100 yards are about the same as an accurized M1911 hardball gun, but with the peep sights and longer sight radius it is must easier to ring the gong.

With correct hold-over it rings the 12" gong at 200 yards almost every time. The bullet's time of flight is long enough for the gun report to fade away as you hear the bullet strike "ding!" against the steel like the Scheutzen troll swinging his little ball peen hammer each time.

One of my favorite walking guns is a Beretta Model 412 folding shotgun for which I have .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .410 shotgun barrels. Firing the .45 ACP in the 26 inch rifle is a satisfying “blooper” which you can watch and hear a video of at this link:

The following table is compiled from my firing logs recorded over a period of more than 25 years. The Mk.IV Webley was originally a .455 which was converted to fire .45 ACP using moon clips in the 1960s. S&W 625 is a 1989 custom shop gun. The M1911A1 is a 1967 National Match pistol, the Marlin is the converted 1894 Cowboy. The Beretta is a model M412 folding shotgun with a 26 inch .45 ACP barrel produced by John Taylor.

A .45 ACP rifle will not appeal to those whose concept of a satisfying firearm makes your shoulder hurt and ears ring. If, however, you enjoy being able to actually watch big bullets fly downrange and to be able to comfortably fire occasional rounds outdoors at varmints without ear protection, consider a rifle chambered for any common handgun caliber and firing subsonic cowboy loads. They are out there and they are fun. If you want gunsmith project, then build yours in .45 ACP!

The blog of Massad Ayoob.

Those of us who know Massad Ayoob chuckle at his self-proclaimed aversion to technology. My favorite "Mas-ism" is his oft-repeated line "to you it's a me it's a typewriter with a suppressor." Yet his supposed technophobia hasn't stopped him from writing a
pretty good blog over at Backwoods Home Magazine.

(I’ll digress just a bit to tell you that he also writes a monthly column for BHM. BHM is a magazine about country living, but without the shallow yuppie poser crap -- pardon my French -- of Mother Earth News. My wife and I have subscribed to the magazine since before we even knew who Mas was, and today it remains one of the few we still look forward to getting. If you're a country type, or perhaps aspire to being one, you should subscribe. End of commercial.)

Anyhow, this week Mas starts off his Christmas gift guide with the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver, and says some very nice things about it too. Thanks, Mas!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Real data from the mean streets.

Tom Givens is someone you should know. Tom and his wife Lynn run
Rangemaster down in Memphis, Tennessee, where they teach people to protect themselves with a handgun.

Now, Tom and Lynn aren't your average instructors; while you may not have heard of them, they command respect from the rest of us in the defensive training field because of the top-flight instruction they provide to their students. Rangemaster occupies a very interesting place in the self defense universe because their students have been involved in (at last count) over 60 self-defense shootings -- with stunning results.

Memphis, as Tom tells me, is a very violent city that exists inside of a strong self-defense gun culture. The result is that bad guys in Memphis very often come up against legally armed good guys, and if those good guys (and gals) trained at Rangemaster they almost invariably come out on top.

Tom has taken the time to interview those students who had to pull the trigger in self defense, and today has the best database of private sector defensive shootings that exists. He's very thorough in his debriefs, and because of that the rest of us have hard data on which to base our training.

Recently Tom sat down with Rob Pincus and produced a DVD in the Personal Firearms Defense series. Titled
"Lessons From The Street", it details ten of his student's incidents with lots of detail and lessons learned. I recently got a copy, and it is definitely worth your effort to acquire.

The realities that he presents may change your perceptions of what actually happens in a fight, and can help you evaluate (and perhaps change) your own training to reflect the realities of a criminal attack.

Tom tells me that he’s still got a few copies left, and you can get yours for $14.95 plus postage. To order, get your credit card ready and give Rangemaster a call at 901-370-5600. It’s a terrific and unique resource that you shouldn’t be without.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: 2012, training, and a couple mysteries.

2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Lots of stuff I can't yet discuss, but suffice it to say that there are intriguing things afoot on several fronts. Stay tuned.


One thing I can talk about: I've had requests for a lever action rifle class, which I plan to work into my offerings this year. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles and blogs about handling the lever action, and I'm surprised at how poorly conceived most of them are. The lever action is different from other types of rifles and needs to be handled on its own merits. Trying to make it into an AR-15 is just as silly as doing the opposite, and this new class will teach techniques and procedures tailored specifically to the lever action. I'll have a section for this class added to the training page sometime in January.


Speaking of training, I'm still open to booking classes for 2012! Check out my
training page for the courses I'm offering, and read the page about hosting a class. Remember that no class happens until someone steps up to the plate to hold one -- maybe that someone is you?!


If you like the writing of Ed Harris, and if you like the .45ACP, you won't want to miss this Friday's blog! (Trust me, it's not what you're thinking. No, I'm not giving you any more clues -- you'll just have to wait until Friday!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: To me, he'll always be Mayor Perkins.

A couple of days ago I heard the sad news that veteran actor Harry Morgan had died. Most people remember him as Colonel Potter from "M*A*S*H", or possibly as Joe Friday's partner from "Dragnet". When I think of Harry Morgan, though, I think of my absolute favorite movie of all time:
"Support Your Local Sheriff!"

It was a late-60s western spoof starring James Garner, Morgan, Bruce Dern, and Joan Hackett. Surrounding them was a panoply of character actors including stalwarts Jack Elam, Walter Brennan, Henry Jones, Walter Burke, and Kathleen Freeman.

Morgan plays Ollie Perkins, the slightly goofy mayor of Calendar - a gold rush town where his daughter (Hackett) is the largest mine owner (and, according to her, "THE richest" girl in the entire state.) In rides Jason McCullough (Garner), who takes the job as the town's Sheriff, and spends the rest of the movie dealing with a gang of outlaws and the odd residents of the town he’s protecting.

Morgan gets the majority of the great one-liners in the movie, and he delivers them with aplomb. Take the scene where he's trying to get his tomboy daughter married off to the new Sheriff:

Ollie: "She's a rich little ol' gal in her own right, Sheriff - sole owner of the Millard Fryemore Memorial Mining Company."
Jason: "Meaning...whoever marries her gets the mine?"
Ollie: "Shaft and all!"

One of my favorite scenes is when Jason has just taken the job of Sheriff and asks the Mayor if there is a badge that goes with it. Perkins hands him the badge, apologizing that it's all bent up:

Jason (fingering the dent in the badge): "It must've saved the life of whoever was wearing it!"
Ollie" "Well, it sure would've - if it hadn't been for all them other bullets flyin' in from everywhere!"

Another gem comes when the Mayor is showing Jason around their new jail:

Jason: “Well, everything seems to be in order.”
Ollie: "Our last Sheriff was a good organizer. Yellow clear through, but a good organizer!"

I've made no secret of the fact that I've worn out multiple VHS copies of this movie over the years and am now testing the lifespan of a DVD. I've seen it hundreds of times and have the dialogue memorized, which my wife can exasperatingly confirm.

Even after all those viewings I never fail to start laughing at the opening scene. The dialogue is crisp and witty, with nothing extraneous, and delivered by pros. Morgan's performance is one of the reasons it's so memorable, and the reason I will always think of him in this role.

If you've never seen it, sit back and enjoy.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A gun safety failure that goes deep into training methodology.

From Washington state, our neighbor to the north, comes an
interesting news article about a fellow who managed to put a round into a neighbor's abode while practicing his "quick draw".

There's a lot to say about this incident beyond just the safety failures. What struck me, however, wasn’t his gun handling stupidity; is was the erroneous training decisions he made before he ever committed a safety violation. It's one of those decisions that I want to discuss today.

First, an illustrative digression: many years back I was in (ironically) Washington state shooting a "tactical" match. One of the stages had the shooter standing in front of a single cardboard target with simple directions: at the buzzer, draw and put one round into the IPSC "A" zone as fast as you can; re-holster, and repeat for a total of five shots.

I was using a Colt Python in a straight-drop tunnel-loop holster and realized that I could easily 'game' the stage. The target was set abnormally low for a person of average height, which made it just right for me. All I needed to do was pull the gun from the holster, raise the muzzle to place it parallel with the ground at roughly my mid-torso, and fire. I never reached extension; it looked very much like an old FBI point shooting technique. My first draw and fire was .85 seconds and they got a little faster from there. If my memory is accurate, the fastest was something like .70 seconds. All were hits.

It was an interesting exercise and I'm sure that there are those out there who think it a good defensive shooting drill, but it's not. I was standing in front of a target which had been identified for me, the area of precision I needed to hit was predefined, I had already determined exactly what I was going to do, and I had my hands in the perfect place waiting for a buzzer which I knew was my permission to shoot. It meant nothing other than I was really fast under those artificial conditions, regardless of the importance given it by anyone else.

The fellow from the news account made a similar error of concluding that his "quick draw" was a significant thing to practice -- so much so that he absolutely needed a realistically weighted magazine to make the drill complete. There are legions of people out there just like him, oblivious to the reality that how fast one can draw is really of little importance in a defensive shooting encounter. Far more important is the ability to first recognize that an attack is happening, then efficiently process that information and recall the skills necessary to respond appropriately. The time sink isn't in the execution of the learned skills -- the quick draw -- it's in the recognition and recall.

Practicing the drawstroke by itself is called “skills in isolation", and it's a common error people make in practicing for defensive shooting. Is getting the gun out of the holster important? Yes, it is. But learning to react to a threat stimulus, efficiently process that information and develop the mental linkage which allows relevant skills to be performed without cognitive thought, is more important. Skills need context, a real relationship to the circumstances in which they'll be used, in order to be useful.

Draw practice, pulling the gun from the holster after getting ready and knowing ahead of time what you're going to do, is a simple mechanical action. It's an athletic skill, nothing more, and relative to all the other things you need to do in a critical situation not even the most important. Figuring out that you actually have a situation where you need to shoot, and figuring out WHO you need to shoot, is more important and usually the most time consuming.

How should one realistically practice? Read the last two sections of
this article over at the Personal Defense Network. A good defensive practice routine involves processing information and making decisions. It requires a random start command, one that forces the shooter to think about what he's doing, identify what he's dealing with, recognize the precision required, and recall the skills necessary to make the shot(s).

Can this be done at home? To a certain extent, yes. Having a training partner, or a smartphone app which randomizes the target calls and rounds needed, is a must. Couple that with one of the laser shot designators which are affordably available allows the kind of contextual training which is actually valid to developing self defense skills.

(There is a caveat: this is no substitute for doing the exercises in live fire. Shooting multiple 'shots' without recoil and muzzle blast is of no use. This kind of training is really only valuable to the extent of developing the necessary processing skills and verifying that the first 'shot' hits.)

The way I see it, this fellow set himself up for failure by insisting on practicing something of relatively minor importance, and doing so without any context to a real need. Forget about the safety rule violations for now -- his first mistake was making a poor decision about what he was going to "practice". The rest was simple negligence.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another great review of my book!

Gila Hayes over at the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network (ACLDN) just posted a
very nice review of The Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver in their monthly journal. (In the interest of full disclosure, Gila is both a friend and the person who introduced me to my publisher. She is also known for her scrupulously ethical writing, which makes me doubly proud of her review.)

For those waiting for my book to come to the iPad, the publisher assures me that it's coming "soon" to the iTunes Bookstore. Not sure what's taking it so long, but they tell me the delay is on the iTunes end of things. As soon as it shows up I'll let you know.

(Speaking of the ACLDN - are you a member yet? The ACLDN is the premier organization for anyone who keeps a gun for self-protection. It's not unusual for justifiable self defense cases to end up in the courtroom, and the ACLDN provides support to its members should that ever happen. They also provide educational resources, attorney and expert witness referrals, and much more.

Take a good look at their benefits, look at the renowned experts who sit on their board, and seriously consider putting all that to work for you by becoming a member.

I know there are competing organizations with similar-sounding products looking to make a quick buck from you, but the ACLDN is where your money should go - they're the professionals. Regular readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve praised the ACLDN, and I'll continue to do so because I believe they are the best and most trustworthy resource in the field.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A short history of Unix, and a caution for the future.

A couple of months ago I brought you the news of the sad
death of Dennis Ritchie, the co-developer of the Unix operating system. As it happens, his death occurred just before the 'official' anniversary of the birth of Unix - the publishing of the first Unix manual in November of 1971.

Spectrum, one of the publications of IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), has a
great article of the birth and impact of Unix. It's a must-read for anyone interested in computers or the history of technology.

One thing in the article struck me: that an original copy of Unix did not exist until it was recreated (and only then after great effort) by some software engineers. It's interesting to think that a vital part of technological history was essentially lost, and might have remained that way had someone not cared about it.

Electronic creations are fleeting; they're jettisoned wholesale when new and better creations are introduced, and nowhere is that more true than with software. We upgrade our software and throw out the old versions; the media deteriorates or the ability to read it is lost. It's hard, for instance, to find an actual copy of any early software for any computer, let alone the more obscure stuff. Software is planned obsolescence in its highest form, and one where the old literally disappears permanently at a keystroke to make room for the new.

The topic of preserving our technological heritage is one I think about frequently. There are many early and important computers which no longer exist; in a few rare instances, like the first version of Unix, enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to build replicas. The Colossus project in England is a perfect example, without which we would have no record of the pioneering machine or the people who built it.

There is only one SAGE - the largest computer ever built - left in existence, and it is non-functional. These and many more achievements, and the people who made them, are fading into obscurity.

This is of particular interest to me as an author. My work here on this blog (and the rest of my site) exists only as ones and zeroes on a computer somewhere. At some future point all of what I've done will simply disappear; electronic copies of my book can disappear too, no longer left to future discovery on the dusty shelves of some thrift store.

Nooks, Kindles and iPads may in fact be the future of reading, but I'd still like to see paper books available if for no other reason than to serve as a marker to future generations: we were here, this is what we did, and you don't need to restore some ancient device (if it's even possible) just to read them.

'Ephemera' is the term used to describe things that weren't meant to last, things that were never expected to leave an imprint on the world. If we're not careful, everything we do - and our very existence - will end up in that category.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: holidays, old guns, my book.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend - ours was filled with windstorm destruction and a blown head gasket on my primary vehicle. My spare time for the next couple of weeks will be filled with hauling debris and fixing an engine. Why can't these things happen in summer, when it's nice to be outside working?


Thanksgiving weekend seems these days to be filled more with thoughts of football than of peaceful coexistence with one's fellow man. Here in Oregon we had our annual Civil War Game - Oregon State University versus University of Oregon, the prize being the opportunity to play in another game of some sort. (No, I don't follow college football - does it show?) I personally find it rather sad that folks can tell you who's playing, why they're playing, who the head coaches are, and even the names of a couple of ousted coaches from a college clear back in Pennsylvania - but can't name five of the top physics programs in the country.

(Just for the record, this is not age-related curmudgeonliness - as my siblings will gleefully tell you, I had precisely the same opinion as a kid.)


Someone (could have been
Tam, but I’m not absolutely positive) recently turned me on to a cool gun blog: Forgotten Weapons. Lots of great stuff about guns you may not even know existed, presented with a decidedly scholarly bent. Immediately became one of the few in my daily RSS feed.


A couple of days ago I found out that my new book, The
Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, is being sold in the U.K. by Amazon. As of this morning the folks across the pond only had two copies left, which sounds as though it's a big seller over there. Then again, they may have only ordered three copies total - this realization serving to keep my ego in check!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Revisiting The Full Charge Wadcutter

Happy Black Friday! Today I am pleased to present another great article from Ed Harris, this time about an old load that he’s finding useful in the modern era. It’s helpful to note that Ed lives in a very rural area, and regularly hunts small game with his handguns. This gives him an enormous amount of experience, the kind that is getting hard to find in these days. Sit back, relax, and enjoy his article on the “full charge wadcutter”!

Revisiting The Full Charge Wadcutter and the “FBI Load”
By C.E. “Ed” Harris; pictures by the author

Several friends and I have been re-thinking our decision several years ago to pack semi-auto .22 target pistols in our survival rucks. We normally carry .38 snubbies as EDC. Having an extra, longer barreled .38 Special revolver in the ruck with extra ammo useable in either gun seemed like a good idea.

We decided to standardize on the .38 Special because it had better anti-personnel and defense animal potential than the .22s. We all owned several fixed sight, “service revolvers” which were reliable, accurate enough, readily available and familiar. A wheelgun is simple anyone to operate and requires less training and practice to maintain proficiency than an auto pistol. We have confirmed to our satisfaction that four inch service revolvers, fed good ammunition are accurate enough to make 20-25 yard head shots on small game. There is no doubt that a .38 is a more sure killer than a .22 on larger varmints such as coyotes and larger small game animals such as raccoons or groundhogs.

I started carrying my four-inch .38 Special Colt Official Police in one ruck and a 4 inch Ruger Police Service Six in the other. Both revolvers are sturdy, reliable, and accurate. The .38 Special is not your first choice as a bear gun, but a more likely threat is an upright, 2-legged human criminal actor or large dog such as a pit bull. This thought process was initiated by an experience in which an acquaintance had difficulty stopping a pit bull attack with a .22 handgun despite multiple hits, several of which were well placed

Animal control officers stated that in their experience that .38 Special +P would have probably likely stopped such an animal attack quickly. Had the first .22 hit been a head shot which penetrated the skull, the outcome would have been different, but little data is available on how well .22s penetrate a large dog skull at oblique angles and frankly, my experience with .22s does not inspire confidence in hot-blooded situations with large toothed animals.

Today I now carry 100 rounds of .38 Special ammo in the ruck in addition to the six rounds in the gun and an A.G. Russell belt pouch with three Bianchi Speed Strips. This "Blackberry" carrier does not look like an ammo pouch, fits flat on the belt, tight against the body, and is low profile, yet holds eighteen .38 Special rounds. Just unzip, grab the center strip first, then the others won’t drag against the zipper in the event that you do need another. See it here Speed Strips are loaded with Federal 147-gr. HydraShok +P+.

Our boxed spare ammo is a full-charge 146-grain double-end wadcutter, Saeco #348, which we cast ourselves from wheel weights. A charge of 3.5 grains of Bullseye gives 850-870 fps from a four-inch revolver, which falls between standard pressure 158-gr. SWC and +P lead HP FBI loads in energy. This load groups as well as target ammo and penetrates 30 inches of water. The bullet does not expand, but its blunt profile gives full-caliber crush and has proven effective.

The choice of a full charge wadcutter sounds strange today, but the load has an interesting history. During the 1970s and into the early 1980s 158-gr. lead RN and SWC standard velocity loads were issued by D.C. MPD, Baltimore PD, NYPD, LAPD and many others. Hollowpoints were deemed unacceptable during that era due to political concerns. I knew well several now-retired officers who were involved in shootings, and who had consciously carried wadcutter ammo, because it was “more effective.”

While this was strictly against regulations, it was not an uncommon practice. The officers involved seemed to get away with the excuse "we had just come from the range and that was the ammo we had." A friend who is a retired Major in the Military Police reported the same, because wadcutter ammo obtained from the MTU pistol team was better than the Army’s M41 Ball. Unlike today, it was common for cops to shoot wadcutters on the range and change to LRN or SWCs for carry, as they were not required to practice with “duty ammo.”

Observations in the ER and on autopsy table from that era confirmed that a wadcutter makes a larger hole than the LRN and SWC and penetrates deeply, without tumbling. Entry and exit holes produced by LRN are smaller, bleed less and show less damage in the wound track. Tumbling improves the performance of RN bullets, but is unpredictable. Fackler and others have stated the performance of solid SWCs is little better than LRN loads.

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) conducted "energy deposit" studies in 1970s in which rounds were chronographed near the muzzle, and again after the bullet exited a 20cm (7.8") gelatin block. A standard velocity 158-gr. lead round-nose .38 Special bullet fired from a 4-inch revolver at 755fps produces 200 ft-lbs of energy, and exits the gelatin block at about 655 fps with a residual energy of 150 ft-lbs.

Permanent crush cavity volume in gelatin is measurable and in direct proportion to kinetic energy. A round which deposits twice as much energy in the gelatin block produces approximately double the crush volume. A target velocity factory 148-gr. hollow based wadcutter fired from a 6 inch K-38 which strikes the gelatin at 780 f.p.s., produces the same 200 ft-lbs of kinetic energy as the LRN load fired from a 4 inch gun, but it exits the gelatin at 474 fps, having a residual energy of only 74 ft-lbs and depositing 126 ft-lbs! This compares to many common .38 Special JHP +P loads, but with deeper penetration approximating .45 ACP hardball.

To produce a "full-charge" wadcutter load 3.2 grains of Bullseye and a Remington HBWC factory bullet, or 3.5 grains of Bullseye with the Saeco #348 cast double-ender. These approximate the 6 inch revolver velocity of factory target loads, but do so when firing from a 2-inch snub. Velocity from a 4 inch revolver exceeds standard velocity 158 gr SWC and LRN loads by about 50 fps. We have confirmed the effectiveness of the full charge wadcutter on game in 30 years of field use.

In the mid 1970s the FBI started using Winchester's 158-grain all-lead hollow-point load X38SPD. Federal followed with its 38G and Remington the R38S12. Of these, the Winchester and Remington loads performed best. Federal went through several design changes using several different bullet alloys and cavity geometries before they got their load working. To get reliable expansion requires softer alloy which causes +P loads to foul bores and impair accuracy after 18 rounds or so. The Federal 38G load in particular which used a dry lube with no cannelures on the bullet caused severe cylinder binding in revolvers which do not have a cylinder gas shield.

A gas shield or cylinder hub prevents gases carrying vaporous lead residue out the cylinder gap, from being deposited between the crane arbor and the cylinder recess on which it rotates. Remington and Winchester versions of these loads had grooved bullets with a heavy, waxy lube were less cranky in that respect, but you still have to be careful about cleaning and lubrication.

At Ruger, revolvers were assembled with a proprietary lubricant similar to Militec to help prevent the lead from binding. Applying a few drops of Mil-L-63460B (Break Free CLP) in the crane arbor each time you clean also helps. Ruger developed a "hubbed cylinder" version of the Security Six, Speed Six and Service Six revolvers to mitigate the binding problem.

This required milling a small flat across the barrel extension, which protrudes into the frame opening at the 6:00 position, to clear the hub on the cylinder. Machining the flat reduces the cross section though the barrel extension, which caused heat cracking problems when those revolvers were shot extensively with .357 Magnum ammunition. The hubbed cylinder was used only for law enforcement contracts for revolvers to be fitted with .38 Special cylinders when the lead +P ammo was specified.

In designing the GP100 revolvers, the charge hole spacing, and distance from the bore to cylinder axis was increased so that the cylinder gas ring could be incorporated without reducing barrel wall thickness through the exposed forcing cone region.

Today's best .38 Special hollowpoint load by a major US manufacturer is probably the Speer Gold Dot 135gr +P. Richmond PD issues this load to officers who carry .38 snubs off-duty and they have history on a number of officer involved shootings where it performed well.

The lead "FBI load" is still produced by Winchester (X38SPD) and Remington (R38S12), if you can find them, and will perform well and expand even from 2 inch barrels. No argument there. Federal discontinued the 38G, but their 147-gr. JHP +P+ law enforcement load gives similar performance and gives 900 f.p.s. from a 2 inch Ruger SP101, if you can find any.

While jacketed +P loads do not suffer from the cylinder binding problem, getting a jacketed bullet to expand reliably from a barrel shorter than 4 inches requires +P pressures. High volume use of +P and +P+ ammo is proven harder on the guns, particularly blue steel S&W K and J frames having a frame hardness of less than Rc20, (typical values for non-magnum revolvers of 80-90 "B" scale were common of Model 36 and Model 10 production before about 1990).

If money were no object my friends and I would be happy to buy 2000 rounds of Gold Dot to divide among us. To be realistic, however, the cost, about $1 per shot, and spotty availability of proven .38 Special factory defense loads is a real issue.

We would like to practice with the same ammo we carry, but have to satisfy ourselves with a well-established hand load we have experience with, and confidence in, which works well in the field and shoots to the same place from fixed sight revolvers as our +P factory loads. We have decided to carry a limited, (though 24 rounds is probably adequate) supply of +P law enforcement loads for actual personal defense use. Our extra ruck ammo is intended for shooting meat for the pot or for protection against aggressive animals. The non-expanding, but deep penetrating, full-charge wadcutter load has the advantages of less meat damage, but has great crush cavity characteristics and deepest possible penetration. It works. Reliable, predictable, accurate, and economical.

Col. Fackler's observation, and one with which my friend “ER Doc” agrees, is that the hollowpoint .38 Special is not the "magic bullet." When a bullet expands in the classic mushroom fashion, it reduces penetration. The best JHP defense loads such as Speer Gold Dot meet FBI penetration criteria. Not all JHPs do.

We believe that maximum frontal area and tissue crush, combined with deep penetration adequate to defeat reasonable cover (a defensively positioned arm or heavy clothing), which can still penetrate the breastbone and get through ribs into vital organs, is important. Particularly in calibers of "marginal" energy, (200 ft-lbs or less) it is important to have the maximum meplat diameter (frontal area) consistent with reliable feeding. The wadcutter in a revolver makes the most of this.
You also need adequate sectional density to ensure through and through penetration. Our reasoning is that if the FBI considers 14 inches of gelatin penetration adequate, we'd like 20+. Being able to shoot through both shoulders of a deer and exiting is desired.

Yes, the wadcutter is a compromise, but I would rather use a wadcutter handload of proven reliability on groundhogs, feral dogs (or putting down the occasional stock), than a jacketed hollowpoint which may not go through a pit bull's skull. Which begs the question: why don't the manufacturers produce a full charge wadcutter like they used to (before WWII)?

Cast double-ended wadcutter bullets awaiting loading. Note the full-caliber face (meplat.)

The finished product: the full-charge wadcutter ready for shooting!


Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver electronic editions!

My new book - the
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver - is getting terrific reviews. Besides the traditional dead tree version, it's also available on the Kindle, Nook, and Sony ebook readers - and coming very soon to the iPad!

Paper version - Amazon store

Kindle format - Amazon store

Nook ebook format - B&N store

Sony reader format - Sony store

Have a great Thanksgiving!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings.

This being a holiday week, I'm going to refrain from any major articles. Black Friday, however, will feature an interesting piece by Ed Harris! If you're tired of shopping, be sure to check in for his exploration of a load that most of us know nothing about.


If you live near a Gander Mountain store, listen up! They're building
Gander Mountain Academies into many of their stores, and you need to check them out. They haven't gotten a lot of press yet, but the GMAs are state-of-the-art shooting facilities unlike any others. Combining both live fire and computer simulation ranges, they provide a shooting experience that very few places can. These are major investments, and they show that Gander Mountain is serious about firearms training.

All of their locations can be video conferenced together, which is (to the best of my knowledge) the first time any shooting facility has done so. The great thing is that they can have a senior instructor in one location who can watch people in all other locations, and provide two-way feedback on what they're doing and how to correct errors. This is going to give people across the country far greater access to top-flight instructors than has ever been seen in this field.

The first such class is going to be with Rob Pincus, who will be teaching Dynamic Defensive Handgun on December 17th and 18th. If you've got a Gander Mountain Academy near you, take advantage of this opportunity to be at the leading edge of shooting education!


Have you gotten your copy of the
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver yet? It's my new book dealing with all aspects of owning and shooting the double action revolver, and it's getting rave reviews. Even my lawyer said that he didn't expect a gun book to be this good! Get a copy now for yourself, and be sure to pick one up for each of your shooting friends. (Remember: orders over $25 at Amazon ship for free! There’s also a Kindle version!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Another blow to film.

Many years ago I was sitting in a small room at the Eastman Kodak Marketing Education Center near Rochester, New York. In that room were a number of movers and shakers in the photographic industry, talking with some Kodak VPs about the state and future of the business.

At one point they asked us what we felt was the biggest threat to photography. When my turn came, I told them that in ten years photography would cease to exist, to be replaced by what we then called electronic cameras. My belief was based on the fact that video cameras had, in less than five years, destroyed the home and serious amateur movie business. I reasoned that the same would happen to film photography, and for the same reasons.

The Kodak folks were nothing if not self assured, and they told me I was dead wrong in both my analysis and predictions: "people will always want to hold their memories in their hands", said one executive, and another chimed in that "real movies will always be made on film."

I was wrong about the timeline - it took twice as long for digital photography to take hold as I had thought, and the last bastion of silver halide on acetate as a common imaging medium has in fact been the movies. But that, too, has changed. Another era is ending before our eyes.

That’s because the major makers of movie cameras - Arriflex, Panavision, and Aaton - are now focusing exclusively on digital, and are no longer making film cameras. These companies have discontinued the production of all film cameras simply because no one buys them anymore. The rise of HD video, and their immediacy coupled with lower production costs, is making video the dominant form of movie production today.

There is certainly a place for film, and film production itself has not completely disappeared, but the used market is glutted with 16mm, 35mm, and even 70mm cameras - enough so that the makers of these things,
according to an article in at, have decided that there is no longer any need for new examples to be produced.

It's fun to be vindicated, at least occasionally.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Spitfire machine gun fires after 70 years in the earth.

Ahh, peat - is there anything it can't do?

You may be familiar with peat as an important part of whisky production, but did you know it could do even more amazing things?

Todd Koonce sent me this link last week of a M1919
machine gun recovered from a peat bog in Ireland. Turns out that a peat bog is a terrific place to preserve metal objects, like the British Spitfire Fighter from which the gun was pulled.

The plane went down in the bog in 1941 and lay undisturbed for precisely 70 years. The wreck was in superb condition, thanks to the clay under the soft peat. The clay was anaerobic - being absent of oxygen - and shielded the aluminum, brass, steel, leather, rubber, and even paper from disintegration.

When items were brought out of the deep pit they were dirty, but un-corroded. A simple swipe of a gloved hand cleaned the .303 British cartridges sufficiently to read the sharp, clear headstamps.

The plane made contact with the earth at over 300mph, and there was damage to many (if not most) of the parts - including the machine guns. Thanks to the otherwise fine condition of the wreck the crew was able to gather enough serviceable parts from the eight guns on board reassemble a working example. The article has video of the gun being fired on the test range.

What is astonshing is that the organic stuff - the rubber tires, leather flight helmet, and even instruction books and papers - were equally well preserved. The history buff in me finds that even more exciting than the guns!

Neat article from the BBC, but I couldn't help noticing some jolting cultural differences between "us' and "them". In the article it mentions that the historic guns were "made safe" (i.e., permanently rendered incapable from ever being firing) before being put on display. Second, read through the comments - you'll see more than one that bemoans the article's focus on "deadly weapons." That is testimony to life in the Land Where Great Britain Used To Be.

Me? I watched the video and thought “it would cost me a lot of time and money to reload all those casings..."!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Data sets, plausibility, and defensive shooting.

As I sat eating lunch last week I found myself perusing a gun forum with which I'm not all that familiar. On it I ran across a post from a fairly well known trainer, one that most shooters would not recognize but those familiar with the training world might. I've never met the guy, let alone trained with him, but his comments left me distinctly perturbed.

The statement was in reference to some particular techniques that he finds important to teach. In defending his approach, he wrote "I know, statistically, it is unlikely that you'll ever need these skills. Of course, statistically, it is unlikely you will ever need a gun at all."

I’m not at all sure that he understands the implications of what he said.

Let me start with some perspective. The American Cancer Society tells us that approximately 1.5 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year. With the U.S. population standing at a tad over 307 million as of the last census, that puts those patients at about .48% of the population. That’s right - less than one-half of one percent of the population of the U.S. can expect to be diagnosed with cancer, which one would have to say is a pretty small number. (As it happens, it's still quite a bit smaller than the percentage of people that Kleck and Gertz tell us will use a gun in self defense the same year, by roughly half. Keep that in mind.)

Those numbers make it statistically unlikely that any one person will develop cancer in any given year; the total number of cases is small compared to the whole population. Even though cancer of all types is not terribly common, we all know that not all cancers (nor diagnoses) are equally likely, let alone have the same outcome. Some cancers are far less prevalent than others; salivary gland cancer, for instance, occurs in perhaps 6,000 people per year - compared to nearly a quarter-million who develop who develop prostate cancer. That’s a huge difference despite the fact that neither is likely to occur.

What medical science doesn't do is to flail about and proclaim that since any cancer is "statistically unlikely" to begin with, they’ll throw the same treatment at all of them in hopes that something works. That's not how science is done, and it's not how lives are saved.

Within that small data set of cancer cases there is a huge range of probabilities and outcomes. It's that very fact that enables medical science to classify each case and use the best treatment approach based on where it falls in the data matrix. Since not all are alike, all do not get the same treatment.

This extends to the research realm as well. We don't spend as much time and money developing cures for salivary gland cancer as we do for prostate cancer. We put our research resources where they will do the most good, where they will save the most lives.

Am I saying that defensive shooting is the same as cancer? Of course not. What I am saying, though, is that just because an occurrence of an event is unlikely doesn't mean that all such occurrences are the same. A small data set does not imply homogeneity; even in small data sets there are differing circumstances and results. To imply otherwise is ignorant (or manipulative.)

Of course it's statistically unlikely that at any given time you'll need to use your gun. This is not news. Needing to use a gun to defend yourself is about twice as likely as you developing cancer this year, mind you, but it's still unlikely. Just because it's unlikely, however, does not mean that all skill sets related to a defensive shooting are of equal value!

Just as some cancers are more common than others, some defensive scenarios are more likely than others. For instance, how often in private sector self defense incidents are people called on to make 100-yard hostage rescue headshots with a handgun? It may have happened somewhere or at some time in history, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single case - let alone any sort of trend. Is that of equal probability to dealing with a simple assault in a parking lot after dark? Of course not.

Should we train equally in the skills necessary to deal with those two disparate events simply because neither is "statistically likely"? I don't think so.

When we look at defensive shooting threats and scenarios, there are some that are possible but have rarely (if ever) happened; there are some which happen occasionally but not often, making them at least plausible; and there are those which happen often enough that we can see some sort of likelihood, a certain probability of occurrence. Our problem as students is that none of us has the unlimited time or resources necessary to train for everything which is merely possible. We have to take into account the likelihood, the plausibility, of what can happen when we make training and technique decisions.

Using the "statistically unlikely you will ever need a gun at all" argument in relation to training is a smokescreen, a way to ignore the concept of plausibility. It's an attempt to deflect the student's attention, to get them to suspend their critical thinking so that they don't question the actual value of the technique. Yes, it is unlikely that you'll need to use your gun - but saying so doesn't magically transform "possible" into "likely", and doesn't elevate a rarely needed skill into something which is vital to learn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris: Casting and reloading the .38/.357

(Editor's Note: for those who don't know him, C.E. 'Ed' Harris is an engineer who's worked for Ruger and the NRA. Ed is one of the great repositories of technical shooting knowledge in the field; his expertise extends to all areas of shooting, and trust me when I tell you that he can't be stumped. I've tried. Ed has forwarded several articles to publish, and I'm going to start with one of particular interest to me. Look for Ed's articles on Fridays, alternating with the Friday Surprise.)

Today's article is about casting and reloading the .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges. Ed has a particular interest in bullet casting and reloading, and this is his primer on the equipment and techniques needed to cast and reload bullets for these great cartridges. He’s stuffed a ton of information into this article, so read carefully!

Q: I read your articles on the .38 Special with great interest. My wife and I live out in the country, far from town. We have decided to buy two revolvers for personal defense and a lever-action utility rifle, which uses the same ammo. I reload rifle ammunition with jacketed bullets for hunting, but am new to bullet casting. I want more production capacity than my single-station press. Please recommend a progressive reloading package for the 38/357 which to include casting equipment & mould. I would appreciate suggestions as to cheap sources for components to load in large quantity.

A: If you intend to cast your own bullets, do not use the same casting pot to render your dirty, gleaned scrap lead into ingots. Instead, get a propane fired turkey cooker or plumber’s burner with round-bottomed, cast iron pot which will hold about 50 pounds or more of melted alloy at a time.

Buy no fewer than six ingot molds; ten are better. Use the propane pot outdoors to render your scrap lead alloy into ingots. Wear coveralls with long sleeves, a floppy hat, gloves and full face shield when you do this!

Automobile wheel weights or indoor range backstop scrap work fine for revolver bullet alloy. Range scrap is more troublesome to deal with, but the jacket material you skim off, after you pull out any steel with a “cow magnet,” is worth more than enough to a scrap dealer to pay for the propane it takes to melt it. With luck you may have a little extra to trade for roll-ends of tin bearing solder, wheel weights, type metal etc.

While many experienced casters prefer to use a dipper, most people find a bottom-pour pot easier to learn with. I use an RCBS 20-lb. bottom pour pot with a pair of molds and handles, alternating between them, by setting each one down after it is filled. It will solidify while I open, dump and refill the other. This provides a consistent mold temperature, necessary to get good castings.

I cast outdoors on a covered, screened in porch to ensure good ventilation, and use an electric hotplate to preheat the molds. This is important, especially in winter. Placing a layer of plain crushed clay kitty litter over the melt helps maintain heat and reduces the need for frequent fluxing.

A pair of double-cavity RCBS or Saeco molds present the best value. Or buy a pair of LBT or Saeco 4-cavity blocks if you want higher production.

For general use in the .38 / .357 lever-actions and revolvers, the Cowboy style rounded flat-nose designs work well if you get a bullet with meplat not less than 1/2 of bullet diameter for hunting purposes. Suitable designs are the RCBS 38-158CM or Saeco #358.

For hunting use a hollow-point bullet is useful. On the Saeco 4-cavity blocks only the center 2 cavities can be modified for hollow-point, because of the way the sprue plate hinge, handle screws and alignment pins are located. This will produce a pair of solids and a pair of hollow-points with each pour.

With double-cavity Saeco and RCBS blocks both cavities may be modified using the inset bar conversion from

You may like one set of blocks modified for hollow point, and use the other to cast solids. Either way you have hunting and practice bullets, which will feed from the lever-action rifle. SWCs may not.

The best sources I have found for buying powder and primers are either Widener's or Graf & Sons. My shooting buddies and I buy primers by the case of 5000 at a time, and powder in 8-lb. kegs. An 8-lb. keg of Bullseye will load 16,000 rounds of .38 Special at 3.5 grains per pop. An 8-lb. keg of #2400 will load 4000 rounds of .357 Magnum at 14 grains per pop.

Graf will let you combine powder and primers in the same shipment under one hazmat fee for up to a 50-lb. box, which gets you 20,000 small pistol primers, a keg of #2400 for magnum loads and a keg of Bullseye for .38 Specials with nothing left over.

You won't get reliable expansion of cast hollow points from a 2 inch snubby unless bullets are cast soft, 8-10 BHN, such as 1:25 tin/lead alloy, or 50-50 wheelweights and plumber's lead, with no more than 2% tin added in in the form of bar solder - and only if needed to get sharp fill out of the bullets.

You want to cast bullets when the mold blocks are hot enough that bullets fill out sharply. Uniform frosting of well-filled bullets is perfectly OK. This fuzzy surface of dentrite arms look under an SEM (scanning electron microscope) like you’re flying low over a pine forest. The porous surface holds tumble-on lubes better.

You don't need to quench-harden bullets up through .38 Special +P. As-cast wheel weights or common range backstop scrap is about 10-12 BHN, and is fine for standard pressure loads up to about 20,000 psi.
Bullets cast from wheel weights and hot enough to be uniformly frosted, when dropped directly from the mold into water to quench, will precipitation harden to about 24-28BHN and which will stand up to 40,000 psi.

Quench solid-nosed bullets for .357 and .44 magnum loads when necessary to prevent leading, but don’t count on quenched hollow-point bullets expanding at all if you do.

To enhance expansion of properly designed hollow-point bullets from a sturdy, short-barreled revolver, such as the Ruger SP101, you may safely use up to 4.0 grs. of Bullseye with a 158-grain hollow-pointed bullet seated not less than 1.40” overall. This approximates +P velocity, vs. a "standard pressure" charge of 3.5 grains, normally used with cowboy bullets crimped normally, or a double-end wadcutter seated out to 1.20” overall.

For approximating the +P+ in .38 Special brass in the Marlin rifle or revolvers designed for .357 magnum, such as Rugers, L-frame and N-frame S&W, you could use 10 grs. of #2400 with the Saeco or RCBS Cowboy slugs, with WSP or Federal 200 primers, seated and crimped in their normal crimp groove. Do NOT use this load in pre-1974 Colts, Charter Arms, K or J-frame S&Ws unless originally chambered for .357 ammunition, because pressure exceeds industry +P standard by about 15%.

For loading .357 Magnums at supersonic velocities in revolvers or for rifles use an alloy not softer than wheel weights, 12BHN. With plain-based bullets you could load 11-12 grs. of #2400 in .357 brass with a 158-gr. cast bullet, the exact charge to be determined by whether you get unburned powder which may jam revolvers if any gets under the extractor, or leading which impairs accuracy.

Using a plain-based bullet without a gas check, keep revolver velocity subsonic, not over about 1080 f.p.s. The same loads will get from 1200-1400 f.p.s. in the Marlin, versus about 1600-1700 from an 18 inch barel for a "maximum .357 load." Keep charges with plain based cast bullets in the Marlin rifle about 10-15% below maximum to avoid impaired accuracy caused by bore leading.

In my experience 10 grs. of #2400 with WSP or Federal 200 primers is the least you can load in .357 brass and get acceptable ballistic uniformity. At 11-12 grains in .357 brass only, you have a very satisfactory "medium velocity" load, a bit lighter than factory, but still heavier than .38 Special +P+.

I feel that gas checked bullets are an unnecessary expense in revolvers, because the GC diameter is usually insufficient to seal the cylinder throats. They also cost about $30 per thousand and will require that you buy an expensive lubricating and sizing machine to put them on. That money will buy a good supply of primers and powder.

Instead, save your money by using plain based bullets, of moderate hardness, cast from cheap scrap allloy such as wheel weights. Keep velocities under 1100 f.p.s. in revolvers, and below 1400 f.p.s. in the rifles.

If you need a magnum load approximating factory velocity, buy a few hundred 158-gr. jacketed soft point bullets for rifle use and use 14 grs. of #2400, which is about 1/2 grain below maximum as published by Speer No. 13 or later. This will give about 1650 fps in the Marlin. Such loads are apparent by their distinct appearance so there is no guessing whether it is “hot” or not.

If you will use your compact revolver a lot for field shooting, consider a double-end wadcutter such as the Saeco #348 for one of your molds. Then pick a Cowboy style flat-nose for rifle use.

Wadcutters can be used for small game hunting in lever-action rifles as a “two-shooter,” inserting a round directly into the chamber, closing the action, and loading only one round at a time into the magazine tube. Each time you fire a shot and work the lever, you can shove a replacement wadcutter past the loading gate. You cannot fill the magazine tube with .38 Special rounds less than 1.4 inches overall, because two at a time will feed out onto the lifter and jam the gun.

Ideally you want bullets to cast of correct diameter so they do not require sizing. Then you can bulk lube with Lee Liquid Alox and use the money you save by not buying a bullet lubricator and sizer to buy powder and primers.

If you really want a progressive loading tool for loading multiple thousands of rounds, get the Dillon RL550B. However, if your requirements are less than 500 rounds a month, I would use a single-station press. If you have not used a progressive reloading machine before, and do not have an experienced mentor within convenient telephone distance, stay with the single-station press you know well.

For plain based revolver ammo there is no advantage to go any harder than about 13 BHN. Commercially cast bullets such as Meister, Lasercast, etc. are made from a 92Pb-6Sb-2Sn alloy, about 16 BHN, harder than necessary for non-magnum loads. They do so because this common commercial “hardball” or “magnum” alloy is widely available in one-ton heat lots, casts well from the automated Magma Engineering machines, and produces “pretty” bullets for marketing purposes, which are not damaged in shipping.

Hard lube which requires a heated lubricating and sizing machine is used for similar marketing purposes, because it is non-sticky, stays in the grooves, doesn't melt in summer heat and goes through progressive loading machines well. But hard lube is less able coat the bore, and unless bullet fit is perfect, may result in bore leading at standard pressures in the .38 Special. Soft alloys and lubes in moderate loads are more trouble-free for the novice.

Commercial cast bullets often lead more than softer home cast ones because the manufacturers size their product to fit the tightest minimum bore and chamber to prevent function problems. Novices who buy them don't know which size is correct. The old folklore of old Lyman manuals to size bullets to groove diameter is incorrect. Bullets should be sized to fit the ball seat of the rifle chamber or revolver cylinder.

If bullets are too hard, undersized, and inadequately lubricated with a hard lube, they will lead. A very common misconception is that cast bullet loads lead because the alloy is too soft. The opposite is usually the case.

An alloy harder than about 12-13 BHN is not going to expand when cast in a hollow-point bullet. Full .357 loads generating over 1400 fps when fired from a rifle may fragment, but not “mushroom.” My advise is to use straight wheel weights or range backstop scrap. Add 1/2 pound of 50-50 bar solder per 20 lb. potful when needed to get good castings.

Bullets of 12 BHN will not expand in standard pressure .38 Special revolver loads, but will somewhat in +P and do just fine when fired in the rifle or .357 or +P+ ..38 Special revolver loads over 1000 fps.
If you want to get expansion at standard pressures in a revolver cut wheel weight alloy 50-50 with soft plumbers lead, adding the same 1/2 pound of 50-50 solder, only if needed to get good castings. This alloy goes 8-10 BHN, does fine in subsonic rifle loads or up to .38 Special +P with 4 grs. of Bullseye in .38 cases, but you may get some leading after firing a dozen rounds of +P loads. Accuracy is OK for hunting purposes.

Brush the bore when done shooting and leave wet with bore cleaner, then just wipe the bore and chambers with a dry patch before shooting.

If reduced to using (free!) mixed head stamp, range pickup brass, tumble clean it in untreated corncob to remove dirt and grit before sizing. After sizing, do the best you can to sort it into batches of like head stamp sharing the same type face, identifying knurls, etc. Separate plated cases from plain.

Learn to identify and keep separate any cases originating from factory loaded wadcutter match ammo. Treat them as if they were gold! Wadcutter brass is identified by either one, or sometimes two knurls or cannelures at the midpoint of the case's length.

Their purpose is to prevent a wadcutter bullet being dropped into a loose-mouthed, powder charged case, from falling below flush with the case mouth. This maintains proper position until the bulleted, charged case reaches the crimping station.

The loading machines used by the ammunition factories full-length profile the case sidewall to fit gently, but tightly against the shank of the soft-swaged, hollow-based wadcutter bullet. It uniformly but lightly crimps the case mouth to remove any flare, imparting only a slight radius at the case mouth to ease loading into the chambers. Its design intent is to avoid at all cost any damage to the fragile, soft- lead bullet, which would impair accuracy.

This is also the principle of the Lee Factory Crimp Die and is why you should buy the Lee carbide die set to the exclusion of all others. The Lee Factory Crimp die does not depend upon case length to determine strength of crimp. It doesn't care whether case mouths are thin or heavy. Individual rounds are profiled full-length so that none will exceed maximum cartridge dimensions. This prevents tolerance stacking of oversized bullets in thick wall cases, which could cause a bulge that will jam your gun.

Cast bullets may be loaded unsized and simply tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox. If bullet sizing is necessary, this is done by compression inside the die, rather than by shear in an expensive, unnecessary lubricating and sizing machine.

Because wadcutter brass has a thinner case wall, intended to gently handle a soft lead bullet, it is work hardened less in assembly, so it will last longer!

Brass used for +P service loads often has a heavy knurl or cannelure closer to the case mouth, which is used to hold the bullet against the primer blast and maintain heavy bullet pull of a thicker case which provides a tight fits necessary for acceptable ballistic uniformity of slower powders. Such brass has a harder final anneal and is more heavily work hardened in assembly, so it may crack after only a few reloads, especially if it has been nickel plated. When obtained as once-fired brass, use this for your "shoot and let fly" combat practice ammo.

If you intend to buy new brass, get plain, unplated, uncannelured cases, from Starline, Winchester or Remington. Plated brass was once used to reduce corrosion of rounds carried in leather looped cartridge belts. Today it is done mostly for marketing appearance, so that old stock does not take on a patina and "look old."

Plated cases will not last long in repeated reloads as plain brass, but some brands fare better than others. Winchester uncannelured, plated cases last longer than similar Remington. Federal +P and +P+ plated brass also seems OK. Sellier & Bellot seems the worst. Reload only once, use it for shoot & let fly, or save for trade to the scrap dealer.

Humor in a desert of seriousness.

I had several things about which I wanted to write, but frankly I just can't muster the enthusiasm today. Some of them involve idiots outside our ranks who want to restrict our freedoms, while a couple more involve idiots inside our ranks who want to argue because they want to argue.

Instead I've decided to look at the lighter side of shooting. Presenting, for your edification and amusement, a couple of satiric YouTube videos which are so close to reality that some are apparently finding it difficult to discern the difference. First is the "Most Tactical AR-15 EVER!:

But wait, there's more! He's also done the "Most Tactical Loadout EVER!”, where he captures on video -- for the first time -- the super-sekrit Gecko45 reload using crossed, duct-taped magazines.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings

It's odd, really. This is the time of year that I pine for the long days of summer that are sure to come, and in the heat of that season I wish the early darkenings of winter would get here sooner. I guess I'm just never happy with the here and now!


The whole zombie schtick has long since jumped the shark, and my thoughts on the utility of a .410 shotgun revolver are well known. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that someone would
combine the two, and likewise it won’t be a difficult task to figure out what I think of the thing. (Thanks to Tam for ruining my breakfast with this news.)


Trying to catch up with emails, snail mails, parts orders, and everything else around the shop isn't being helped lately. You may remember that my wife decided I needed someone to keep my company during work hours, so she brought in Shop Kat. Turns out that SK is a girl, which we learned when she finally grew up enough to go into heat. When that happened I decided to take her in for a little surgical modification, but as it happens that can't be done until she's out of heat. I thought that if I kept a close eye on her during her infrequent and short outings during that time things would be under control, as I'd seen no stray cats in the neighborhood. You can guess what happened next.

I now have a pile (seven, to be precise) balls of fur who are about six weeks old. They're constantly underfoot, seem to think everything exists for their own amusement, and are generally making the shop difficult to work in. I wear an apron while I work and they seem particularly amused by the parts of it that they can reach. Anyone want a free kitten (or two?)


I've got a couple of interesting articles by Ed Harris which I'm going to run on coming Fridays in place of the Friday Surprise. Ed's got some great stuff and addresses areas of the shooting world that aren't in my normal purview. I think you'll find them interesting.


In the next month I'll be working on my teaching schedule for 2012. If you'd like to book a class now's the time to start the process!

Of course I'll be teaching my flagship Revolver Doctrine course; if you liked my book, you'll love this class! I take you through the revolver, showing you how to shoot it, reload it, manipulate it with one hand, and more. It's a one-day class that can be held on nearly any range, and doesn't require drawing from a holster. It's a great introduction for anyone who is new to the revolver, regardless of their past shooting experience.

I'm also available to teach
Combat Focus Shooting classes, both one- and two-day. CFS teaches you the most efficient ways to defeat a threat, ways that work with what your body does naturally. CFS classes are open to revolvers and autoloaders (much as I hate to admit it, I do know how to run an auto. Let's just keep that between the two of us, OK?)

A great combination is what I call the Defensive Revolver Weekend, which combines Revolver Doctrine on the first day and Combat Focus Shooting on the second. RD teaches you how to
operate the revolver, while CFS teaches you how to use it to protect you or those you love. This is a great way to take these classes, as there is some overlap which is eliminated when they're back-to-back. The result is that we get in more material than we would if the classes were separated. (This combined version of Revolver Doctrine does require drawing from a holster.)

I’m available for classes all over the western U.S. How do you go about booking a class? It's easier than you might think, and you can train for free just by hosting at your local range! Email me for the details.


Looking even further ahead, I'm considering teaching a master class on Colt revolver gunsmithing. This wouldn't happen until at least 2013, but I'd like to throw out some feelers now to see if anyone might be interested. If so, drop me a note; if I have enough interest, I'll develop the course tailored to your interests.


Well, I think that's enough for one Monday. I'm going to return some emails then go do battle with some very intimidating kittens!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: That first step is a doozy.

I've never been interested in skydiving. My personal excuse is that one would have to be nuts to step out of a perfectly good airplane with nothing but a knapsack on one's back.

Note the term "perfectly good airplane". If you've got an aircraft which retires itself while in flight you don't really have much of a choice: you bail out or die.

Those were the choices
William Rankin faced in 1959, and the results of his decision make for Damn Interesting reading.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A (long) Combat Focus weekend.

I returned yesterday from a long weekend at the 2011
Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference. (If you were wondering why there was no blog on Friday or Monday, now you know.)

The annual Conference is a chance for active Combat Focus Shooting (CFS) instructors to get together with peers to exchange ideas, learn new concepts, develop skills, and have a little fun at the same time. In this conference we looked at some of the latest information about how attacks happen and how the body reacts to them, and asked ourselves how that changes what we teach and how we teach it. We learned and we grew.

This DNA-level commitment to progress is one of the things that sets the CFS program far apart from others. In any field of human endeavor perspective changes along with knowledge, and defensive skills are no different. Collectively we learn more every day about how to survive deadly encounters; the problem is that so very few instructors or programs are truly committed to evolving with that increasing knowledge.

Let's face it: humans are often resistant to change, particularly when that change means admitting that we are in some way wrong. When we have a lot of ego investment in what we do and how we do it, it becomes darn near impossible to make substantive changes even when they're really necessary.

For instance, I've always considered myself reasonably fit. I'm no athlete, but owing to the heavy work I do around our homestead I'm in better shape than at least half of the people my age. As I learned this weekend I still need some work in that area, and it's important because fitness is critical to long-term survival. Being fit not only helps you survive a deadly attack, but also helps you to survive equally life-threatening but far more common things like heart disease and diabetes. Only by stepping away from my ego am I able to see that and make the changes I need to make.

In CFS we're able to make progress, to evolve our program, precisely because of this lack of ego. Don't get me wrong: there are a lot of Type-A personalities in our group, but very little ego. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's not! One can be very committed and very driven with regard to a topic without the exaggerated self importance that comes from ego.

Colleague Ricardo Pipa put it best: “we lack ego, we are collaborative." We acknowledge that sometimes new knowledge makes old positions untenable, and we change those positions to the benefit of our students and the defensive shooting community as a whole. That's what makes CFS, in the words of founder Rob Pincus,
the most progressive defensive shooting program "on the planet."

On a personal note I progressed toward a couple of additional certifications: one for the rifle (Combat Focus Carbine) and one for a new program aimed at absolute beginners in the defensive shooting world (more on that later.) I don't yet know if I passed either one - CFS instructor certifications are notoriously difficult to acquire - but I hope to hear good news later this week.

Regarding my fellow CFS instructors, I don't wish to be maudlin. I'll close simply by saying that they are, in the words of the original Hawkeye Pierce, "the Finest Kind."

-=[ Grant ]=-

Book Of The Revolver is now shipping!

My new book, the "
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver", is now shipping from Amazon!

BotR, for short, is a general guide to the world of the double action revolver. It covers all kinds of things a revolver shooter needs to know: how to fit the gun to the hand, caliber selection, mastering trigger control, sight picture and alignment, customization, reloading, one hand manipulation, and a whole lot more!

It's even got a foreword by "the man" himself, Massad Ayoob!

It's a one-stop source of information on living with the double action revolver. Perfect for the person who's just started shooting and has picked a revolver, or for the autoloader shooter who wants (or needs) to know how to run a wheelgun.

Buy it here. There’s even a Kindle version available!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some (more) thoughts on the defensive lever action.

Seems a lot of people are interested in the lever action as a home defense weapon. Any choice of defensive armament has pros and cons, so let's consider the lever action chambered in a pistol cartridge. Some of these are true of all long guns (rifles, shotguns) while some are specific to the one under discussion.

Pro: Good power level, likely to stop a threat with a minimum of shots.
Pro: Not overly powerful like a full sized rifle cartridge, less likely to over-penetrate target.
Pro: Good magazine capacity - nine rounds is the norm.
Pro: Generally ambidextrous operation.
Pro: Simple manual of arms for the less dedicated in the household.
Pro: Long sight radius results in better accuracy than a handgun.
Pro: Low recoil level makes it easy for everyone to shoot.
Pro: Increased lethal range over a handgun.

Con: Harder to maneuver in confined spaces than a handgun, is easier to take away in a struggle.
Con: Harder/slower to reload, on the slim chance that it be necessary.
Con: Requires some practice and dexterity to operate lever efficiently.
Con: Slower to deploy/employ than a handgun.
Con: Missed shots will penetrate typical exterior walls.
Con: Difficult to use with flashlight.
Con: Hard to run efficiently one-handed.

These are just off the top of my head; I'm sure you can come up with others.

Is the lever action right for you? That depends on the circumstances; in cases where the long gun makes sense the lever action is often a good choice.

If you live alone (or with your spouse), and won't be faced with the need to travel through your house to gather up loved ones, the long gun is ideal for defense of a barricaded position. If you have kids at home, and thus a very real need to bring them into the safe room which you control, the long gun is less than ideal. (Of course you can mix and match: use a handgun to get the kids back to safety, and switch to the long gun once you're in your safe position.)

If you live on acreage, especially if you have livestock that is subject to predation, a long gun might be an excellent choice as a "perimeter defense' tool.

If the long gun is appropriate for the intended use, the pistol caliber lever action has some advantages over the other choices in the category.

Compared to a regular rifle cartridge the pistol caliber lever action has less recoil, less muzzle blast, and substantially greater ammunition capacity. It's more than powerful enough for any plausible defensive use, enough so that it can even be used for hunting deer.

Compared to a shotgun it's easier to shoot. Even the light 20 gauge, of which I'm a huge fan, is substantially harder on the shooter than the lever action - there’s more recoil and the manual of arms is a little more complicated (you don't have carrier releases on lever actions, for instance.) I've found that the pistol-caliber lever action is a gun that even the least experienced and most sensitive shooters like to use. If you have non-enthusiasts in your household, having a gun that they actually like to practice with will go a long way to helping maintain their proficiency!

Again, the lever action isn’t perfect for everyone or every situation. It is, however, a compelling choice for many.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Another notable passing.

This week I got the sad news that
Pete Rugolo has died. Rugolo was a composer, arranger and bandleader, and an influential figure in modern jazz.

Rugolo is probably best known for his iconic work with Stan Kenton. Rugolo's tenure marked the band's transition from playing simple dance music to being one of the most progressive big bands in the history of jazz. Rugolo wasn't alone; Bill Holman and Bill Russo were also actively writing for Kenton in those years, but it was Rugolo who became perhaps most closely associated with the "Kenton sound" of that era. He combined elements of jazz and 20th century symphonic music to produce works that were quite sophisticated and complex.

June Christy left the Kenton organization to pursue a solo career she called on Rugolo to do the arrangements and lead the band for her first album, “Something Cool”. Rugolo's distinctive style was as important to her sound as it was to Kenton’s, and they recorded a number of albums that together define her best work.

He also worked with Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, and many other notable performers during his long career.

Rugolo did a stint in Hollywood doing film scores and television themes. One of his most well known arrangements was a jazzy reinterpretation of the "Leave it to Beaver" theme song, used for that show's final season. His Hollywood work was not as inventive as what he did for the great jazz bands and singers, but they still stand out amongst the tepid work normally associated with that town.

One of my favorite Rugolo arrangements for Stan Kenton was "Love For Sale." He did the original arrangement in the 1950s, and Kenton would perform it regularly over the years. Here is Kenton's 1977 version of Rugolo's work:

In this arrangement of "Lazy Afternoon" for June Christy you can clearly hear the influence of modern classical music on Rugolo's work:

Here's a sample of some of his Hollywood work, "Who's Sam" from the television show "Richard Diamond":

Here's Rugolo's modernistic interpretation of Claude Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun", performed by the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra:

Finally, one of Rugolo's most well known compositions for Stan Kenton, "Artistry In Percussion":

-=[ Grant ]=-

Now this is just weird.

This actually happened: last night I had a dream that I was living in my grandfather's beach residence. This was unusual inasmuch as I haven't seen that place since I was about five or six years old (my grandfather sold it shortly thereafter) and have only vague recollections of what it looked like.

Oddly, I remember his neighbors and their house more than his. My dream had me in my grandfather’s garage, engaged in firefight with a group of invaders who had seized the neighbor’s house. There were four of them - a man, woman, and two teenage boys - shooting at me as I vainly tried to get the police on the phone.

At one point I ran out of ammunition for my AR-15 and frantically searched the garage for more. I found one of those reddish brown bakelite magazines for an AK-74 (did they ever make them for the AK-47?), fully loaded, which I shoved into the magazine well of my AR. Strangely I got it in and it worked, and I resumed the imaginary firefight. The dream ended with my wife calling my cel phone, wondering why I was making so much noise!

Normally I wouldn't bore you with such a story, but this whole melding of the AK and AR came immediately to mind when I opened my RSS reader this morning. There I found The Firearm Blog reporting that
Russian arms maker Molot - a subsidiary of Izhmash, home of the AK rifle - is going to be making AR-15 rifles!

A number of job shops in this country have been building AK rifles for some time, though no major manufacturer has seen fit to do so. I suppose it's only fair that if we're building their guns, they should build some of ours. I doubt, however, that my magazine fantasy will be a part of their plans.

What's next - Rossi building double rifles in .416 Rigby??

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings

A personal item: I hate this whole getting older thing. This last week I stacked our winter's firewood supply in the woodshed - all five cords - and managed to do some soft tissue damage to my right elbow. The last time I remember doing this was about five years ago, when I was doing a lot of hammering during a kitchen remodel. My wife, however, tells me I did the same thing last year when I stacked wood for the winter. That's another part of getting older I can't stand: the memory lapses!

Anyhow, my elbow is quite painful and I'm none too happy about it.


Last month a Colt Paterson revolver sold at auction, setting a new record for the price of a single American firearm: $977,500. Yes, you read that right - within spitting distance of a cool million. Somehow the S&W I'm carrying at the moment seems tawdry in comparison.


My new book - the
Gun Digest Book of the Revolver (Gun Digest Books) - is due to be released this week! If you haven't gotten your order in at Amazon, click the link to go to their site!


For those who have asked, the Kindle version of my book is available NOW!


Just as I was going to press with today's blog post,
The Firearm Blog put up news of a new rifle: Advanced Armament Corporation's "Honey Badger", a subsonic .30 caliber rifle built on the AR platform. Tacticool rifles are getting common enough to bore me to tears, but I'm glad they named it what they did because it gives me the opportunity to link to one of my favorite YouTube vids: the (famous) "Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger"!

Have a good Monday.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Bell tolls for one of its own.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about one of our country's greatest research facilities, Bell Labs. Yesterday came the sad news that one of the Lab's shining lights has died.

Dennis Ritchie started working for Bell Labs in 1967 after graduating from Harvard with degrees in both physics and applied mathematics. This wasn't a tremendous surprise: his father Alistair was a scientist at Bell Labs and a seminal figure in switching circuit theory. The family business, and all that.

Dennis migrated to the relatively new field of computer science, where he made a name for himself by creating the 'C' programming language, co-authoring the definitive book on 'C', and - most dear to my heart - co-developing the UNIX operating system.

That dry list of accomplishments may not mean much to you, but a large part of what your computer does has roots in Ritchie's work. If you have a Macintosh computer, an iPhone or iPad, you owe him a special nod of appreciation: UNIX is the underpinning of the OS X operating system, which (in one form or another) is what runs all of those devices.

The development of modern software and the existence of the web as we know it wouldn't have happened the way they did without his work.

Thank you, Dennis.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some bits of rifle stuff.

The Firearm Blog (one of the few blogs I read religiously)
brings us good news: Alexander Arms (AA) has decided to stop gouging people who want to make 6.5 Grendel rifles! Apparently Hornady submitted the cartridge to SAAMI to be standardized, but AA refused to relinquish their trademark. That recently changed, and now the 6.5 Grendel is available to anyone who wants to use it.

This is great news; I'd once considered building an AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel but was put off by the insanely high price tag that AA had attached to all things bearing the name. Les Baer, miffed at that very situation, essentially duplicated the round and named it the .264 LBC-AR (try saying that three times, fast!) It didn't catch on.

Now that the 6.5 Grendel can be made by anyone, without paying royalties, I hope to see many rifles so chambered. The round would make the AR platform more usable for a wider range of shooting activities, and the availability of factory ammunition should speed its acceptance. With proper bullets it would make a nice deer round with good accuracy and downrange energy. Though nothing is ever perfect, the 6.5 Grendel is as well-balanced a round as exists in the AR platform.


Take a look at this old LIFE photo essay about a gun safety class in an elementary school back in 1956. I wish to call your attention to frame numbers 5, 6, and 7 - can you identify that rifle? (I can, because it was the rifle I used as a kid. I still have a very soft spot in my heart for it.) Make your guesses in the comments!


It's a tricky task to attach a sling to a rifle where any alteration could adversely affect the value. For instance, what if you have a very old but heretofore unaltered Winchester lever action which you want to take hunting? How do you attach a sling to the butt stock without drilling a hole? I'd never thought about it, but the answer appears to be a
butt stock cover such as those produced by these guys. (I could personally do without a lot of the embellishment, but the workmanship appears to be first rate.)


In response to my recent paean to the lever action rifle, Ed Harris sent some of his thoughts. As always, interesting reading from one of the most knowledgable guys in the shooting world:

If I had to “bug out,” riding my mountain bike around EMP-killed vehicles, getting out of Doge carrying only what I could in my ruck and pockets to get beyond the moderate damage radius before the fallout starting coming down, a lever-gun and revolver combo isn’t the world’s worst choice.

I have no plans to stand and fight off the whole world. If you attempt that by yourself, in the words of the late clandestine operator, Harry Archer, who ventured in dangerous climes on behalf of our country and lived to retire and die peacefully in front of his TV, “you’ll never live to shoot-‘em all.”

I just want to protect myself and my gear, put time, distance and shielding between me and any threat, escape, evade, “shoot and SCOOT” if needed, put meat in the pot and get the job done.

A compact, sturdy, fixed sight, double-action .357 revolver such as the Ruger SP101 is an affordable compromise. It is simple for anyone in the family to use. It is accurate enough within 25 yards, “hell for strong,” rugged, highly portable and has impressive ballistics for personal defense. It can use either .357 Magnums or lower powered .38 Special ammo.

Round out the package with a Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum. It offers adequate combat accuracy for “short range” (less than 200 yards in the infantry sense) and ten rounds magazine capacity. The magazine tube can be topped off without taking the gun out of action. Rapidity of fire is good. It is a natural pointer. The carbine is light in the hand, quick to the shoulder and fast to the first shot and follow-ups come easily. Teamed with a sturdy, concealable revolver, the combo is hard to beat.

The sad truth is that back East it is difficult to find someplace to practice with a military caliber assault rifle. Sure you can get a .22 LR upper for your AR, but it just isn't the same. Most indoor ranges will let you fire any rifle chambered for handgun ammo, so my most-used center-fire rifle these days is my Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum.

A .357 lever action is manageable by females and youngsters. It has low recoil and is fairly quiet when used with standard velocity lead .38 Special ammo. It is a fun camp gun which works great for small game, feral dogs and groundhogs. When firing .38 Special standard velocity (non +P) lead bullet ammo from a rifle, velocity remains subsonic, producing a mild report little louder than a .22, which has advantages for discreet garden varminting.

Its potential for home defense with .357 ammunition, is nothing to sneeze at. A .357 levergun with proper ammunition is fully adequate for deer within 100 yards and with peep sights is more accurate on silhouette targets out to 200 yards than your average AK. But leverguns are familiar and nonthreatening in appearance, so they "don't scare the natives" as a "black rifle" often does.

The Marlin lever-gun requires better sights, but you can install these yourself. The most rugged iron sights are the XS ghost ring peep. If cost-conscious stop right there and you will have a good outfit. If you have trouble seeing iron sights well, or want to improve your longer range and low light performance, add a XS Lever-Scout rail. This accepts a variety of quick detachable optics, such as a hunting scope or military reflex sight, leaving the peep sights available for backup.

New leverguns cost less than "black rifles." Use the money you save to buy a Dillon RL550B to load your ammo! Used .357 lever-guns sell for about 60% in stores of what a similar rifle would cost new. In most places the Marlin 1894C .357 Microgroove rifles sell for about $100 or more less than a similar used "Cowboy" model with Ballard rifling, because people think that "Microgrooves won't shoot lead."

In my experience of over 25 years, the 1894C with Microgroove rifling shoots lead bullets just fine, as long as you stick to standard pressure or ordinary +P .38 Specials at subsonic velocities.

Microgroove barrels handle jacketed bullet .357 Magnum loads best. The 158-gr. soft-point is what you want to use for deer from the rifle. The 125-grain JHPs are best for personal defense from the revolver, or for varmint use in the rifle. Jacketed bullet .357 magnum rounds are expensive. You will actually need and use very few of them, so just buy a several boxes of factory loads for contingencies.

Standard velocity .38 Special, 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters are the basic utility load for both rifle and revolver. This is what you want to set up your RL550B to assemble in quantity. Bulk Remington .358 diameter 158-grain semi-wadcutters assembled in .38 Special brass with 3.5 grains of Bullseye approximate the velocity, accuracy and energy of factory standard velocity loads. Velocity is about 750 f.p.s. from a 3 inch revolver, and 950 f.p.s. from an 18 inch carbine. Ordinary lead plinking loads shoot into 4 inches at 100 yards from the Marlin. Jacketed soft-point .357 magnums shave an inch off of that. If you buy powder and primers in bulk, component cost to reload free gleaned brass that you have saved with a plinking load is about 10 cents per pop. If you cast your own bullets from free scrounged scrap lead you will save a nickel. Jacketed bullets cost 15 cents eachInstead buy a good quality 4-cavity bullet mold such as Saeco #358. Buy only a few boxes of full up magnum factory loads for serious hunting and conserve them.

My “Cowboy assault rifle” has a Trijicon Reflex II sight Model RX09 with A.R.M.S. #15 Throw Lever Mount fitted into an XS Systems Lever Scout rail. XS mounts are dimensioned to accept Weaver bases. Fitting the military M1915 rail base requires that you to determine which cross-slot you will locate your optic onto. You want the optical sight at the balance point of the rifle.

After you have located the proper cross slot to position your sight, adjust the slot width and depth with a square Swiss needle file to enable the mounting clamp crossbar to press-fit snugly into it. Retract the thumb clamps and slide the A.R.M.S. mount over the front of the rail. The rear mount clamp tightens against the angled sides of the rail only. You want no “slop” after you have fitted the crossbar slot depth and corners.

After fitting, the A.R.M.S. #15 thumb-lever mount offers quick-disconnect with perfect return to zero. I can use the tritium illuminated, no batteries required ever, combat optic or backup ghost ring peeps at will. I zero 158-grain .357 magnum loads to coincide with the pointed top of the Tritium-illuminated chevron at 100 yards. Standard velocity .38s hit "on" at 50 yards. Holding the legs of the chevron tangent to the top of a 12-inch gong at 200 yards I can hit with magnums every time. Placing the chevron across the shoulders of an Army E silhouette I make repeat hits out to at 300 if I do my part.

Maybe I shouldn't have watched, "The Road" again...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings

This morning I read the news that Governor Moonbeam Brown in California signed off on legislation that prohibits the open carry of handguns (even if unloaded) by the general populous. Given that some of the more vociferous proponents of OC were from CA, it would seem that their “in your face” methods may have backfired.

While I don't live in that state and thus may not be intimately familiar with the timelines involved, it seems that OC came onto the legislative radar when local news outlets got wind of the movement via confrontational videos posted on YouTube. From there it was a short step to getting lawmakers to deal with this major "problem".

Despite my general objection to the way that OC is promoted in certain circles, I take no pleasure in their predicament. It seems to me, though, that if you poke the bear hard enough sooner or later he's going to bite - and the bite is sadly predictable.

It will be interesting to see if those OC advocates who arrogantly compared themselves to Rosa Parks will actually dare to do what she did now that their opportunity is at hand.

As my Dad once told me: nothing good comes from frightening the herd. I just hope this doesn’t spread to other states. (Even as I write this I know the absurdity of that statement.)


On the opposite end of the spectrum...who would think that
firearms would make an appearance on a seemingly left-leaning design blog?


Over the weekend I had a talk with a relative who was interested in the possibility of rechambering his rifle to something a little more potent than the .30-06 it currently fires.
I found myself recommending the .35 Whelen. His eyebrows darted skyward, amazed that I wasn't recommending some sort of SuperTinyShortenedUltraPowerful Magnum.

Though I've never owned one, I have passing familiarity with the Whelen. It is just a good, effective caliber that's not going to beat the shooter up nor destroy half the animal being shot. Someone once told me that it was "superbly balanced", which I understood to mean that it occupied a serendipitous intersection of power, accuracy, and shootability. It's capable of taking any North American game and doing so without excessive chamber pressure or throat erosion.

(The short-action version, the .358 Winchester, shares those same attributes and is one I've wanted for a while now. Someday I'll find a Savage 99 in .358, though I'd settle for a Browning BLR.)

This is evidence that I've come full circle on rifle calibers. When I was younger and convinced that more power was the answer to everything, I thought fire-breathing Magnums were the way to go. As I've grown up and gotten some experience under my belt I've come to appreciate the cartridges that have been well tested over many years and lots of game: the .30-30 Winchester. The 6.5 Swedish Mauser. The .30-06. Yes, the .35 Whelen.

There are more, but you get the idea. As I said recently on my Facebook page: Sometimes newer is in fact better. Sometimes not. The key is knowing why.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Great Communicator.

President Reagan was given that nickname during his tenure in office, but all Presidents before and after have needed to stay in touch with the world around them. Lots of stuff to deal with when you're the CEO of a superpower, and being able to reach out and talk with anyone and everyone is pretty high on the priority list.

Seems simple in the days of cel phones, but it's not. The President needs fault-tolerant communications that work even where he can't get any bars on his iPhone, which is why he’s usually accompanied by a communications team. Back in the 1960s, that team - and their huge amount of radio gear - took up an entire rail car. And then some.

These pictures, from the JFK library and hosted at, are of the Presidential train communications car shortly after President Kennedy's inauguration. The White House Army Signal Agency, which in 1962 was eliminated and its functions transferred to the Defense Communications Agency, was responsible for the operation and upkeep of the assets.

Known as the General Albert J. Myer Car in honor of the
first commander of the Army Signal Corps, it contained all of the radio and telephone equipment needed by the President and his staff while on the train. When stopped at a station the car’s switchboard was hooked into the local telephone exchange. While underway, all communications were handled via high frequency (HF) radio. It even had a separate (locked, of course) cryptography room!

Presidential train travel had effectively ended during the Eisenhower administration, and I was unable to find out of the equipment was ever actually used by Kennedy's staff. The Myer car was still being held in a ready state in Harrisburg, PA as late as 1970, but its fate beyond that point is uncertain.

It was reported to be awaiting restoration at the Gold Coast rail museum in Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, and later was rumored to have been transferred to the custody of the National Park Service's Steamtown historic site. Today no one seems to know where it is or even if it still exists.

(To correct a piece of misinformation: the train itself was NOT called the Ferdinand Magellan. That was the name of the President's private Pullman car, which was sold to the Gold Coast museum in 1959.)

It is a fascinating glimpse into state-of-the-art communications in the early '60s.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive training. iPhone. What's the connection?

Yesterday Apple announced a new iPhone, and with it an advanced software to add voice control to that phone. (“Siri”? Who names these things?)

Almost immediately the blogs and tech sites were abuzz with inevitable comparisons to the competition, complete with tables breaking down the products feature by feature.

I found it amusing that they all had one line that said 'voice control', with a simple "YES" or checkmark on each product. Some of the more adventurous would take pains to point out that the competition had 'voice control' for some time, and Apple was just catching up. What they failed to take into account was the relative sophistication and integration of the feature on all the products; love 'em or hate 'em, Apple's new voice assistant goes well beyond the simple "call Bill at work" kinds of control that phones have had for years. The software anticipates and evaluates natural language requests in a way that hasn't yet been done on a consumer device, and interacts with the phone's functions in a wider way than we're accustomed to.

(My best friend was the founder of a software company which did pioneering work in the field of computer control via voice recognition. Even he's impressed with how far Apple was able to push this technology, and he's about as jaded an expert in that field as you could ever find. He’s also one of the best shooting instructors I know, which gives me the perfect segue into this article’s actual topic!)

My point is not to sell phones - personally, I don't derive my self-worth from what I buy or what you don't buy - but rather to point out the folly of making bullet point comparisons. If you just looked at the bullet point of voice control and saw the checkmark, you wouldn't come away understanding the vastly different ways in which that feature has been implemented.

This goes well beyond phones, as lots of people do the same thing when they take defensive shooting classes. I call them "checklist students" - people who make decisions as to what school or class they'll attend by looking over a list of topics being covered. I've actually talked to people who have chosen one class over another because of the number of topics covered, without understanding the depth of the instruction or the unique approach of the instructor.

I've also seen students request refunds from instructors when the simple number of things they learned wasn't the same as in other classes they've attended, even though the student made no effort to understand or become competent in those things that were taught. The checklist is in control, not their desire to learn nor their appreciation of their own skill development.

There are instructors out there who will throw a million different topics into a class and give the students perhaps a couple of minutes with each, then dash on to the next item on the agenda. There are other instructors who cover a fraction of those topics but cover them thoroughly, giving students time and opportunity to really start to develop some proficiency. Unfortunately, the former tend to be the more successful - checklists, it would seem, sell classes as well as phones, cameras, cars, and just about everything else.

If you buy a phone via a checklist, the worst that happens is that you don't have the functionality of another phone. You can always get another. When it comes to your skill development, particularly the ability to successfully defend your own life, the stakes are a little higher. Make your training decisions based not on an ambitious list of topics, but on an understanding of what, how and why your instructor does what he/she does.

Leave the checklists to those who would rather brag than learn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Deer season opens, and thoughts turn to rifles.

I've mentioned once before that the .357 Magnum is a surprising cartridge. Its performance from a handgun is legendary, if not always deserving of the status, but when stuffed into a rifle it turns into another beast entirely.

Over at
The Truth About Guns they took a variety of loads and fired them from a revolver and a rifle, as well as comparing them to the venerable .30-30 cartridge. While the .357 will never replace the .30-30, and their data proves it, it's remarkable how much the little cartridge gains from the longer barrel of a rifle. They're showing a (rough) average 40% increase in velocity and just about a doubling of energy with every load tested; Magnums or Specials, there is a huge performance gain.

(Their results with the S&B 158gn suggest a very weak loading; my handloads, which are not at the maximum of any reloading manual, perform as well from a revolver as the S&B does from a rifle!)

The .357 Magnum makes for a decent short-range deer rifle (say, 50-75 yards) and a remarkably effective arm for things like coyotes up to about a hundred yards - perhaps a touch more if the individual rifle has sufficient accuracy. I've used mine on live game and never cease to be amazed at what it can do.

Recoil is extremely mild compared even to the .30-30, a cartridge not known for excessive recoil. In the hands of a decent shot there's no reason it can't harvest deer. Keep the shots under roughly 75 yards, which is typical of woodland hunting, and the .357 rifle will bring home the venison.

My experience has been that the 158gn JSP is as light as you should go. At the velocities achieved in the longer barrel, a bullet designed for handgun use is a little fragile. I've seen the 158gn JSP fragment on frontal shots of things like coyotes when it hits bone; a better choice would be a 180gn JSP, which seems to be a little tougher.

A 158gn hollowpoint simply explodes when it hits flesh, and I shudder to think what a 125gn HP screamer - already known for occasionally expanding a little too rapidly when fired from a handgun - would do out of a rifle. It might make a dandy pest control round.

This performance cements my view that the .357 Magnum revolver/rifle pairing is perhaps the most versatile set of guns one could ask for. You can shoot Specials from the handgun as target and plinking fodder, higher energy +P loads as defensive rounds, and Magnums for defense and handgun hunting. Those same loads in the rifle can be used for everything from small game to deer.

It’s hard to conceive of a wider range of activities from just two arms. I’m not usually one to play the “what if TSHTF” scenario game, but if I were restricted to one handgun and one rifle I’d be quite comfortable with a 4” .357 revolver and a matching lever-action carbine.

Of course a lever-action .357 Magnum makes a dandy defensive arm too, but that's another topic for another day.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Multi-caliber revolvers.

Every so often I get an email asking about the feasibility of building a multi-caliber revolver along the lines of a Phillips & Rogers Medusa. There have been several attempts to build and market such a revolver over the years, and none of them succeeded. The Medusa was probably the most successful of the efforts, and even it wasn't.

Aside from the general silliness of the concept (you can't get .38 Special during the Zombie Apocalypse, but you can get 9mm Largo?!?), I've always been leery of a chamber that would handle such a wide range of dimensions and pressures. Ed Harris, of course, has first-hand experience and was able to she a lot of light on the question. During his tenure as an engineer at Ruger they were working on just such a project:

"At that time the company was also building 9mm revolvers for the French police, and .380/200 British revolvers for India, as well with experimenting with a hybrid chamber for a government customer who wanted the ability to use 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Largo or .38 Super, with clips, or .38 Special +P without the clips.

This pipe dream did not work out, because when using fast-burning powders with soft bullets, including most JHP designs for 9mm, the bullet base may upset to conform to the .379" diameter chamber mouth [editorial note: the space just prior to the chamber throat, which is exposed with shooting the shorter cartridges], resulting in a steep pressure rise of over 10,000 psi as the upset bullet base had to squeeze down again as it transitioned into the smaller diameter ball seat in the front end of the cylinder. While the result was not dangerous when firing lower powered ammunition such as .38 S&W or .380/200 British, it was more interesting with 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Federal, and .38 Super.

Worst offender was US Treasury Olin Q4070 +P+ load which has 110-gr. JHP hollowbased bullet, same as current Winchester 110-gr. component bullet and most JHP +P+ 9mm. FMJ bullets usually OK. Problems with case splits [when] firing .38 Special +P and +P+ when chamber enlarged enough in back to accept 9x19mm. With good brass cases just came out looking 3 months pregnant."

So, there you have it. The multi-caliber revolver concept is just a Bad Idea.

Speaking of unsafe, Ed passed along information about their unauthorized experiments with the then-new 9mm Federal round, which was a 9mm rimmed cartridge made to fit the a version of the Charter Arms Pit Bull revolver. (You’d think Federal would be smarter than that, but...) Anyhow, Ed tells of their fun with a "non-approved" use, and finally we have part of the answer as to why the 9mm Federal disappeared as quickly as it arrived:

"Had some India Ordnance Factory revolvers in .380/200, copies of No. 2 Enfield which were provided as government furnished material on India contract. When 9mm Federal ammo arrived Roy Melcher was curious as to whether rounds would enter .38 S&W chamber and we didn't have any US made guns, so tried in the ROF No.2. Thanks to good range safety procedure they put it in proof box. Blew cylinder apart on first shot. Told Federal. They were NOT happy. They went on to take apart a bunch more .38 S&Ws of various makes and killed the project shortly afterward."

Ed really needs to write a book about his time at Ruger. He's got a lot more good material where this came from.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Context, perspective and gun testing.

Something I've noticed in the last year or so: as I've incorporated the concepts of reality-based training (RBT) in my teaching and practice, my point of view has changed. I'm not really aware of it until I'm around people who haven't had that exposure, and then the contrast becomes stark.

The realities of how attacks actually occur and our reactions (instinctive and intuitive) affect not only
how and what we train, but what we train with. My upcoming article over at the Personal Defense Network examines this idea with regard to the seemingly banal process of holster choice, and this weekend it cropped up during an informal gun test in which I participated.

I was assisting with a rifle class and one of the other instructors brought in one of the new uber-compact 9mm pistols that are all the rage. We all got a chance to shoot the thing, and the results were telling.

Most people's approach to testing a new gun is to get set into a 'proper' range-based stance, carefully line up the sights, and make a slow, smooth shot; repeat until the magazine is empty, and declare it a wonderful gun. Everyone at this range did that, and I used to do that too, but lately I've been testing guns under the conditions I expect to use them, conditions that are congruent with the gun's purpose.

For a defensive gun that means shooting as if I'm being attacked.

I'd already played with the thing, so I was familiar with how it worked and how the trigger broke. In terms of the gun's operation there were no surprises. I chambered a round and, from the high compressed ready position, extended and pressed the trigger repeatedly and rapidly. I shot at a pace that was consistent with how I shoot an Airweight 'J' frame, which frequent and realistic practice has taught me would deliver the balance of speed and precision needed to put rounds on the target (the ring in an IDPA silhouette) at the distance I was standing (about 5 yards.)

The results were awful. This particular gun is so slim and flat that the grip panels do not appreciably contact the palm of the hand, and the only points of real contact - the front and backstraps - were polished and finished in a smooth gloss. The result was an alarming lack of control when shooting at a realistic pace. My first three shots landed in the target area, but the final three drifted far to the right as the gun rotated against the pressure of my hands.

I inserted a second magazine and consciously tried to counter the torque of the little monster. The results were a little better, but the extreme amount of physical force I applied to the gun brought my group down and to the left. As long as the gun was shot sedately, like on a nice friendly target range, it performed. Pushed into a more realistic shooting circumstance, it simply failed because of design flaws - the people who built it didn't understand the context in which the gun would likely be used. They built a miniature target pistol, but they’re selling it as a fighting tool.

Are there some people who might be able to make it work under realistic conditions? Perhaps, but no one else that day even tried; the closest anyone got was to do a sequence of double-taps/controlled pairs (a shooting method which illustrates that a gun can't actually be controlled for a realistic string of fire) and the results weren't a whole lot better. Would more practice - familiarity - with the gun improve my results? Experience suggests this is unlikely, as the first couple of magazines/cylinders out of a new-to-me gun are almost always my best.

I’ve covered this before, and it bears repeating: any shooting you do has to be in context. Are you practicing for an IDPA match, or are you practicing for the time when you're surprised and in true fear of your life?

What I see when I watch videos of actual shootings isn't the carefully measured BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG.....BANG of the target range, and It usually isn’t the contrived BANGBANG.....BANGBANG.....BANGBANG of the shooting match. What I see consistently, when people are surprised and in true fear for their life, is BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG. That's because the human in full reactive survival mode wants the threat gone as quickly as possible, and knows that the only thing which will do that is rounds on target.

Whether or not he/she can control the gun in those circumstances is the variable, which is why I insist on training in context so that I know I can do so.

When training isn't congruent with the realities of the fight, or if the equipment doesn't work well in that context, the needed hits won't be there. We call that 'inefficient' - using more of our own resources (time, energy, ammunition, space) than necessary to achieve the goal (making the bad guy go away.)

Ironically, in these very small guns a lesser cartridge, like the lowly and maligned .380ACP, may actually be the better choice if it allows the defender to shoot with a balance of speed and precision that achieves the necessary efficiency.

The only way one can know for sure is to practice and test realistically. On this day, I did and it greatly affected my opinion of the hardware. If it weren't for the understanding of context in training, today I'd be telling you what a great little gun it is.

Just like everyone else.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Bell tolls.

When I was growing up, one of the foremost research labs in the country (and the world) was
Bell Labs in New Jersey. They had all the cool toys to play with, and a large amount of both pure science and technological research was being done there. The Bell Laboratories logo was a familiar one to science geeks like me.

When the Bell System was broken up by the government in 1984, Bell Laboratories became AT&T Bell Laboratories. That didn't have any effect on the quantity (or quality) of work coming out of the Labs, and even the mid-90s spinoff of the Labs into Lucent Technologies - with AT&T retaining some of the best staff for themselves - didn't stop their progress.

A complete list of all of the innovations that came from the Labs would fill a book, but just the stuff most of us know is impressive: the C programming language, cel phones, UNIX, modern solar cells, radio astronomy, wireless LANs, and more came from the fertile minds at the Labs.

Sadly, an eighty-three year legacy of top flight research ended in 2008 when the new owners - the French communications conglomerate Alcatel - decided that things like basic science and material physics were not remunerative enough and dismantled most of what remained of Bell's history. Today what's left focuses only on things that can be commercially exploited in a rapid manner. What was once a shining example of American leadership in the hard sciences was reduced to a 'profit center' of an offshore corporation.

It was a phenomenal run though. Luckily the AT&T archives contain a number of videos that the Labs produced over the years to help educate the next crop of American scientists and engineers. I remember seeing some of these when I was in school, and they always fascinated me.

You can peruse them yourself, but I'll start with one of my favorites: "A Sense of Hearing", which begins with a ultra-cool demonstration in what was once the world's quietest room - using a revolver, of course!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Charles E. Minsinger, 1918-2011.

Yesterday we said goodbye to my father-in-law, Charles "Chuck" Minsinger.

He's a hard person to talk about, mainly because he generally shunned such fuss. Reliable, quiet, and humble, he was one of those guys without whom this country would simply cease to function. He was a conductor for the railroad, an active Mason, a nurseryman, a husband and a father - all at the same time. Of the people I've known in my life, he came closest to the ideal of the "average American."

It's not the Hollywood celebrities or the investment bankers or the industry moguls who make our society what it is; it's guys like him. He never shied away from the job, but he didn't want undue attention for doing it. When he rescued a child from drowning in the ocean, he didn't call the media and hog the limelight; indeed, the next day the newspaper reported that the child was saved by an "unidentified man." Being of service to his community, doing the job that needed to be done, was its own reward.

He managed to stay married to the same gal for sixty-eight years, and in the twenty-nine years I was privileged to know him I never saw him fail to hold her hand when they were together. That, my friends, is commitment - and illustrates more than anything the kind of man he was.

I will miss him.

-=[ Grant ]=-

No blogging today.

Other things on my mind. I'll tell you about them later.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: You could always count on Hank. Not easily, though.

The latter part of September marks the birth - and the death - of an immensely influential, if not terribly recognized, musician:
Hank Levy.

Hank started out as a baritone sax player but made his mark as a composer/arranger for Stan Kenton, Don Ellis, and Sal Salvador. His specialty was 'odd' time signatures that often changed during the song, making for very complex compositions. It was his association with the extremely forward-thinking Ellis that perhaps most influenced his love of unusual times, where Ellis was a true pioneer.

Ellis' compositions tended to be raw, obviously difficult yet still exciting, still 'swinging'. Levy took that same energy but put it into compositions that were a bit more subtle. I remember reading a comment that Levy was the 'commercialized' version of Ellis, a criticism I think unfair particularly given the number of his charts that Ellis recorded. Take 'Chain Reaction', from Ellis' 'Connection' album:

Levy wrote quite a number of songs and the last few Kenton albums were heavily populated by them.
I featured a live Kenton version of 'Chiapas' in this blog some time back, but that was far from his only contribution to the Kenton legacy. One of his more sedate compositions for the Kenton orchestra, in the unusual-for-Levy-becuase-it's-not-unusual 4/4 time signature, transforms from a plaintive ballad to an absolute burner: 'A Smith Named Greg', from the superb 'Kenton '76' album.

Some of his compositions are rare; I'm still looking for a copy of his only work with Bill Watrous, titled "Bread and Watrous". Luckily, though, the bulk of his work with Ellis and Kenton is generally available. I'll leave you with my favorite Levy tune and one of my all-time favorite Kenton recordings, 'Time For A Change' - which (if memory serves from personally playing it back in '79) was actually notated as 6+3. Enjoy!

-=[ Grant ]=-

King of the road.

Over a year ago I read a review of a training course on one of the gun forums. It's been long enough that I don't remember what the course was, or who the instructor may have been, so I don't think I have any dog in the fight. Besides, it's not the particulars that matter in this story; it's the student's attitude that I find most intriguing.

The person in question had taken a weekend course at some gun school and was very critical of the instruction received. As I recall, it wasn't the material itself about which he was complaining - it was the instructor's attitude. The writer was upset because the instructor had insisted that his students perform the drills as he taught them, rather than as they were used to doing. According to the reviewer, the instructor took a "my way or the highway" approach to the material being taught. This, apparently, was a Bad Thing.

My thought was (and still is) that this illustrated not a poor instructor, but a poor student.

Why does one take a course? To learn a new skill, I should think. If all a student wants is validation of what they've already been taught, then he or she should simply repeat the courses already attended. Taking a new course will naturally expose the student to new material, and doggedly resisting that exposure is counter productive for both the individual and the other students.

If one is going to learn a new skill one must first be exposed to it and then take the time to practice. If someone goes to a class and decides immediately that they don't want to do that, what's the reason for being there in the first place? If you take a class, you do it the teacher's way - that is, after all, the whole point of the event, is it not?

Ultimately the student - not the instructor - is responsible for his or her own competence. The instructor's job is to present material competently, logically, clearly, and factually, but it's up to the student to take advantage of what is being provided. An instructor who insists that, while in the class, the student practice only what has been taught isn't arrogant. (As long as the material has been clearly presented and the students have been given an opportunity to seek intellectual clarity and comfort with that material, of course.) An unyielding commitment to structure provides the proper environment for the student to become competent if he/she so chooses.

Whether or not one "likes" new material is irrelevant, as we've all had the experience of disliking someone or something until we got to know them/it better. Part of the process is habituation, which only occurs with repeated exposure. If the instructor doesn't insist on that exposure, letting the students do it their own way, how are they going to really know if it's for them? What other frame of reference can one use to make any sort of a judgement?

Note that I’m not considering the quality or applicability of the material in this argument. If the student deems the techniques or processes are silly or illogical or superfluous relative to his needs, he is always free jettison them
after class has ended. During the class, though, they need to be done the way the instructor is teaching them - and he should insist on it.

(I am not addressing the very real instances where a physical issue prevents the student from doing something the way it’s been taught. That’s a separate issue, and the instructor should be willing and able to accommodate the student’s limitations.)

"My way or the highway", to me, is simply an instructor's insistence that a student pay attention and get in enough reps to at least start on becoming competent. I think a student should look for that attitude in a trainer, not complain about it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Hyperbolic training.

Sadly, I’ve seen it before: tactical 'expert' pronounces that if you don't use his pet technique, "you're going to get hit". A variation: "well, if you don't want to take a bullet you'd better do this."

Whether or not I agree with the technique being presented, I hate that method of getting a point across because everyone knows (or should know) it's nonsense.

Take, for instance, moving off the vector of an attack (which some refer to as "get off the X") while at the same time shooting at the threat. This has been raised to a religion in some schools, and one such congregant recently defended the idea by saying "people who stand still get shot."


If that's true, then there should be a whole lot of people around (whether alive or deceased) who can be used as examples. Humans have been defending themselves with firearms for more than a century, and the huge overwhelming majority of those people had no formal training before doing so. Since they were likely not trained to move, how did they manage to survive not getting hit? The fact that they generally did leads us to question the logic behind the statement.

I'm sure that with enough digging you could find one or two, but this fellow's absolutist statement would require that there be a whole lot of those folks - and I think even a little searching will show that there aren't.

This is the case with so much defensive training: when there really isn't logic or fact behind what's being taught, instructors will sometimes fall back on hyperbole to prevent the student from asking the hard questions. There may in fact be a benefit to a certain technique, but the benefit is less than the cost; there may, in fact, be zero benefit. It's up to the student to recognize when hyperbole is being used to mask a deficiency, and respectfully ask for a logical explanation of what's being taught.

Do I believe there is a benefit to moving offline during an attack? Yes. Do I believe that it is
always a good idea to continue that movement while I shoot back? No, and I think that I do a pretty good job of explaining “why” to my students without insulting their intelligence or trying to scare them into compliance. There is a cost/benefit ratio with any defensive move, and I think it’s a disservice not to communicate that to a student.

Reason. Fact. Ask for them by name. Politely, of course!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: I don't often like singers, but there are exceptions.

The reaction to last week's Surprise was, well, a little surprising. I had no idea there were so many June Christy fans out there, and not all of them old geezers like yours truly. (Can someone of barely 50 years legitimately call himself a geezer?) I'm really quite happy about that, as it shows that perhaps the unadorned human voice may yet win out over AutoTune!

In reality there aren't many singers I like listening to, making her one of a very select few. I should clarify: there aren't many
jazz singers I like listening to, because jazz to me is about the music, not the lyrics. It therefore takes a very special vocalist to capture my attention and make me focus on the voice rather than the instruments. June Christy did that.

Another who can do that, and more consistently even than Miss Christy, is Stacey Kent. Stacey is an American who lives (with her musician husband) in Europe. She ended up there not because she intended to become a singer, but because she had just graduated with a degree in comparative literature and decided that England would be a nice vacation.

While there she started singing informally and, buoyed by the reception, enrolled in London's famous Guildhall School of Music. There she met tenor saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, whom she would later marry, and started singing with him. Her unusual voice and phrasing quickly garnered a devoted fan base and won over critics. She's been recording and performing non-stop ever since.

Stacey's style is unique and instantly recognizable. I can't recall ever hearing anyone quite like her, and I think she’s one of the best things to happen to jazz in a long time.

Her first albums were mostly of standards that were simply done incredibly well, making even an old Cole Porter tune like "It's Too Darn Hot" sound fresh and interesting:

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the movie "State Fair"; one of the best tunes to come from it is also one of my all-time favorites: "It Might As Well Be Spring". I wrote an arrangement of it in college, but my version was utterly forgettable; hers isn't. It's set with a bit of a lilting bossa nova beat that is incredibly effective (and something I wasn't creative enough to think of):

Kent doesn't just do the familiar; here she is singing "The Ice Hotel", an original collaboration between husband Tomlinson and novelist Kazuro Ishiguro. It's fast becoming one of my most-listened tracks:

Very few singers can take on the signature tune of another artist and make it their own. Stacey does just that on a song nearly synonymous with Louis Armstrong, who first recorded it in 1968. Fans of the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam" will instantly recognize "What A Wonderful World", but you've never heard it quite like this:

Kinda makes you forget ol' Satchmo completely, doesn't it?

There's lots more of her work on YouTube, and of course iTunes has her albums. Give her a listen, and I think you'll become a fan like me.

Have a great weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The open carry debate rages anew.

On Monday, Rob Pincus posted a note on the
I.C.E. Training Facebook page about his opposition to open carry (OC). This is one of Rob's personal 'hot button' issues, and he doesn't shy away from the debate. (Rob doesn't shy away from much, actually, but particularly so with regards to this topic.) It garnered a lot of attention, making the cut at both Gunnuts and Say Uncle (amongst others.)

Given my association with Rob and I.C.E., it wasn't terribly surprising that I should receive an email asking, in essence, if I agree with everything he says. Sometimes yes, sometimes a little less so, but not for the reasons you might think.

On the self defense aspects, I think OC when concealed carry (CC) is available (which is darned near all of the country these days) is silly. I won't debate that point of view at this time, but for now I'll just say that I don't believe OC has any advantage over CC from a tactical standpoint.

On the social and political fronts the situation is a little less clear. I often wonder if the civil rights activists of the 1960s and the gay rights activists of more recent memory would have made the gains they did without their open and sometimes controversial exercise of their rights. Just fifty years ago restaurants and theaters were routinely segregated; thanks to the confrontational activities of civil rights advocates, today integration is so normal that we don't even think about it. The same could be said for abortions and being openly gay.

Whether you agree or disagree with those subjects isn't important to this discussion - what is important is that what was normal was changed, thanks to people who were willing to stand up for their rights and risk ridicule and arrest to mold society's opinions.

To say that such activity was acceptable for them, but not for Second Amendment advocates, seems on the surface to be a little inconsistent.

OC activists insist they're doing the same things for the same reasons, and it would seem to be a hard argument to dismiss. I do think, however, that there is a big difference between open carriers and civil rights marchers: the rights being defended here are already well established (if not in fashion), and are subject to a different standard of comportment. It's called "just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

Rosa Parks was doing something that the law said she couldn't. Open carriers are doing something that the law already says they can. That doesn't seem like a huge difference, but it is.

If OC advocates were carrying guns in areas where laws unjustly say they can't, then I'd support them fully. The problem is they're not, and in my opinion that removes the civil rights rationale from their argument. Carrying a gun openly in a city like Portland, where it is against the law, is advocating for change and pushing people to recognize other's civil rights. Doing it in an area where it's allowed, even if uncommon and misunderstood, is usually just grandstanding.

I understand the argument that rights which are not exercised are ripe for abrogation, and that OC is a strong exercise of Second Amendment rights. That doesn't mean one needs to do so from a posture of defiant confrontation, which seems to be the norm for open carriers. We already possess those rights, and it's incumbent upon us to exercise them responsibly and intelligently. Like it or not, that means not scaring the public.

Yes, people who are scared of the sight of guns are irrational. I agree. Yes, cops who don't know the nuances of the law are ignorant. I agree. Getting belligerent in public isn't going to change either of those. Want to advocate for actual social change? Open carry in a city where it's illegal; get arrested like the civil right marchers did, then use that to help publicize your case for the repeal of unjust and unconstitutional laws.

That's real political activism. Being a contentious loudmouth on YouTube isn’t.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Misty Miss Christy.

In 1945 Stan Kenton's capricious vocalist, Anita O'Day, quit to rejoin Gene Krupa's band. Stan needed a singer, and out of the auditions he held one stood out: a girl name Shirley Luster. He hired her and after a name change to the more stage friendly June Christy, she would become the singer perhaps best associated with the avant-garde Kenton orchestra.

In the beginning the young Christy looked and sounded a lot like her predecessor, but without the drug problems and erratic behavior issues that plagued O’Day. Her resemblance (and reliability) may have had a lot to do with her being hired, but she soon found her own unique voice and became a favorite of both the band and the fans. Though she stopped touring with the band in 1953, she would sing with Kenton off and on until the mid-60s.

After her retirement in 1965 she recorded only a single album, a hard-to-find work that was released in 1977. She died in 1990, at the relatively young age of 65.

I've read interviews with her in which she downplayed both her abilities and her importance to the jazz world. She simply didn't believe that her work, both with Kenton and solo, was of great musical value and that attitude no doubt had a lot to do with her decision to quit singing. The ironic thing is that she was not only the singer perhaps most associated with Kenton, but her solo debut album "Something Cool" is today regarded as one of the seminal vocal albums of the cool jazz movement that swept across the country in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

Not bad for someone who insisted she wasn’t a jazz singer!

This 1963 recording of "Fly Me To The Moon" showcases her unique style most effectively (despite the bad audio quality of the YouTube upload):

Gone but hardly forgotten, her most recent gig was on the show 'Family Guy', where her recording of the song "Give Me The Simple Life" was presented to a new generation:

Haver a great (and safe) holiday weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A different take on handgun stopping power.

An article by Greg Ellifritz, titled "
An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power", caused some waves a few weeks back. Like all such attempts at quantifying shooting incidents, it suffers from a lack of strictly filtered data and results in less adherence to statistical principles and methods than I would like (no confidence interval, for instance.)

I acknowledge that this is a problem with all shooting studies, simply because no two bullet paths are ever identical. I think it’s important to understand that one must be extremely careful about applying any such study in a prescriptive manner, and cognizant of the potential inaccuracies that are part and parcel of the kind of data being studied. That being said, I think Ellifritz gives us a much more realistic look at the topic than Marshall & Sanow ever did.

Even with my reservations, there much in his compilation that I think is interesting from a training standpoint (even if it might not be a completely reliable predictor.) Take, for instance, the number of people who failed to be incapacitated by shots fired. His figures for all calibers remain remarkably consistent, hovering around 13%, right down to the lowly .380 ACP. Below that, the numbers more than double but again remain surprisingly consistent.

The reason this is interesting is because today's training emphasizes engagement until the threat ceases activity. In the old days, when lots of people believed that certain calibers were magic wands, the common training was to shoot two rounds and assess the situation. This was aided and abetted by the bogus one-stop-shot percentages that were all the rage at the time (and continue to be in certain circles.)

Thankfully that changed as more and more people noticed that bad guys didn't always stop with the first round, and that the best course of action was to keep shooting until he did. That's the norm today: shoot until the threat ceases (though there are still some backwaters where the outdated techniques are still taught with gusto.)

If we’re going to shoot until the threat goes away, are there any calibers which won’t reliably achieve that goal? Not as many as you might think.

If his data is reliable it would tend to support my long-held view that there is a floor beneath which calibers are not terribly effective for self defense, and that the floor is probably lower than most gunnies will admit. I know more than one gunstore goon who sneers at the .380ACP, yet I've met people who've used it quite successfully. Ellifritz's article suggests that their successes were not unusual.

Those same people think I'm daft for loading my revolvers with "only" .38 +P rounds instead of the .357 Magnum, but I'm more than comfortable with my choice because I know it's based on a rational assessment of its performance over a long period of time.

One thing to keep in mind: a lack of incapacitation does not mean that the rounds failed their job! Even though not incapacitated, the bad guys may have changed their minds and stopped their activity without being physiologically forced to do so. That's just one of the problems with blindly applying data from these kinds of studies, because the lesser calibers might in fact be more useful than this would suggest. Still, it is a different way of looking at the issue.

Bottom line: pick your gun based on your ability to use it efficiently, practice frequently and realistically with it, and you'll be far more prepared than the average gunshow denizen who loudly proclaims that all good self defense calibers must begin with '.4'.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Change is inevitable. Growth? Not so much.

Rob Pincus asked one of his favorite questions on the (members only) U.S. Concealed Carry forum last week: "what have you changed your mind about?"

It's a simple question, and it's amazing how many people couldn't answer it. The most common reply sounds like something from a cookie-cutter PR firm: "Of course the world is in a constant state of change, and the prudent man, woman, or transgender individual is best advised to take note of such change and incorporate that which is applicable to his or her current situation to prepare for the future." Reading some of the responses reminded me of the old joke about the politician talking about prohibition: "some of mah friends are for it, and some of mah friends are against it. I tell you here and now, that I stand forthrightly behind mah friends!"

The question isn't concerned about what's changed around you, but rather in what has changed inside of you.

We all make decisions and adopt opinions based on any number of inputs, including raw evidence, our emotional reactions to factual information, and (all too often) what someone else thinks about those things. The problem is that we tend to treat those opinions and conclusions as static even as the world around us shifts. At some point our original positions are likely to become outdated, and some will be downright wrong. It's whether - and why - we make a conscious decision to amend or replace those positions that's important. If we're observant and engaged, we change our minds about things. If not, we persist in beliefs and practices that may not be congruent with the current realities.

Prejudices are like that. My late father grew up in a time and a place where anyone with white skin was deemed to be of lesser intelligence, honesty, and motivation. ("Stupid, lazy liars" in the vernacular.) Over the years he would be put into contact with one ethnic group after another and be forced to change his opinion of that group. Unfortunately he wasn't able to extrapolate those experiences to cover all ethnicities, but he was at least able to find common ground with Japanese, Hispanic, American Indian, and Chinese people. He changed his mind based on his first-hand experiences.

That kind of change is hard for some of us because it means admitting that, in some way, we're wrong about something. That might be because we misinterpreted something along the way, or it might mean that new facts or evidence were uncovered. It might mean that we relied too much on others to shape our opinions for us, or it might simply mean that we've grown up. We might have been right at one point, but the growth of the rest of society rendered our original position untenable.

Whether we changed or the universe changed is irrelevant to this discussion; what's important is how we ourselves adapt to that change. Can we accept new facts and evidence, or are we going to bury our heads in the sand?

Case in point: for a long time I've held an opinion about Taurus revolvers that is now evolving, based on their increasing levels of quality. Am I ready to put them on the same level as the market leaders - S&W and Ruger? Not quite, but I am willing to admit that perhaps they are making headway in product quality. I'm revisiting my opinions in response to what's going on around me, and I look forward to the day when I can say I've changed my mind about them.

Don't assume that I'm talking only about physical things (people, guns.) I'm also talking about concepts. How and what we train is subject to the same dynamic of change. For instance, I used to practice and teach one-handed shooting with the gun canted strongly toward the centerline. The idea is that it straightened the wrist (which it did) and increased recoil control (which it also did.) The problem is that it's much harder for the eye/brain combination to correctly align the gun on target when both the x- and y-axis are in abnormal positions. This is especially true when shooting quickly, as it significantly degrades one’s balance of speed and precision. The increase in recoil control, which enables the shooter to get back on target faster, is negated by the increased time required for the shooter to recognize and apply the necessary deviation control.

My opinion was wrong because I focused on an overly narrow aspect of the shooting task. I changed my mind based upon a broader understanding of what I was trying to achieve, and as a result no longer teach or practice that technique.

What specifically have you changed your mind about? What do you consciously believe or practice today that's different than, say, a year or two ago? Why?

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: It's the best one in our state.

I've never made any secret of the fact that, basically, I'm a country hick. Of course that doesn't mean I haven't been citified just a little! For instance, I can't stand country music (authentic cowboy songs are another matter, though - they have no connection to the dreck which flows from Nashville.) I don't own a pair of cowboy boots as they're useless things unless one is riding (which I don't), and I don't wear one of those silly pre-deformed hats that are all the rage amongst the urban cowboy crowd (instead I wear a Stetson Open Road.)

Despite having my rough edges worn a bit smooth I still revel in the things that typify rural life. I've written before of my love of the old-fashioned county fair (something I look forward to with great anticipation each year.)

The way things used to work was that winners of the various contests at the county level would go to the state fair, where everyone would gather to enjoy a good time before heading back to their own county to resume working. Where do you think the sports term “farm system” came from?

County fairs near major population centers have long since abandoned their agricultural heritage, and because of the inter-tied nature of the system state fairs have changed complexion as well. Our Oregon State Fair has lost a huge amount of its rural focus, and today brings in acts more suited for Cirque De Soleil than Anytown, USA.

Still I can't help but feel a twinge of excitement on opening day - which, for us, happens to be today.

In celebration of state fairs everywhere, here is video about Iowa’s state fair and its relationship to the great 1933 film “State Fair”. (That movie would come back in 1945 as a musical, which was bad enough, but was remade again in 1962 to an even worse musical. The music was great, but the acting and modified story lines weren’t.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Man and machines.

I don't know if this qualifies as a rant, but I'm annoyed when a gun is advertised as being "built with [insert well known firearm brand] machinery." Depending on the gun being peddled, you'll hear Colt machinery, S&W machinery, even Beretta machinery.

It's horse excrement.

Colt doesn't make machinery, and neither does S&W. The machines they use are produced by machine tool manufacturers; in the old days, before we allowed our basic manufacturing capabilities to be decimated, that would have been companies like Cincinnati and Monarch. Today that’s likely to be Komo and Okuma.

The cutters those machines use, for the most part, will be made by companies like SGS and Hanita. On occasion certain specialized cutters may be produced in-house, but if they're needed on a production basis the company will draw up the specs and have them made in quantity by a company that specializes in making cutters. Ditto for EDM (electro-discharge machining) tools and electrodes.

What things, aside from their products, will the company almost always make themselves? Jigs, workholders, and certain kinds of molds. Together those are generically referred to as 'tooling', and when people say that a certain gun is produced on 'machines' what they really mean is that they're using jigs that were at one time produced by the named company.

The ironic thing is that tooling wears over time and has to be replaced regularly. A gun that a decade ago might actually have been made on tooling that came from the larger manufacturer almost certainly won't today - the tooling will have been replaced, perhaps more than once, in that time period. The new tooling is unlikely to have been made by the original company.

Tools don't make guns. People do. It's the dedication of the machinists and foundry workers and quality control people that make a gun, not a machine or a jig. The milling center may have once been used by Colt or S&W or Beretta, but today it's operated by whatever company is making the product now. It's their people, their talent, and their management that dictates the quality of the gun you'll get.

Who once owned the machine is as relevant to the gun produced as the previous owner of your car is to your speeding ticket.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings, Aug. 22 edition.

Omari Broussard talks about 'cool' techniques
over at his blog this morning, and I agree with him.

About four or five years ago I took some heat from other instructors over the term 'Walter Mitty Training', which I used to describe techniques and courses that weren't grounded in reality. It's the kind of training one takes to pretend to be someone else (or somewhere else), because preparing for plausible scenarios just isn't a whole lot of fun.

Truth be told, I'd class most of the 'tactical' training out there as Walter Mitty or very close to it. There's a big difference between performing a tightly choreographed obscure skill after making ready, and trying to decide between fries and onion rings when you're unexpectedly forced to defend yourself.

Context. Plausibility. Two words that are absent from far too much training.


Someone emailed and asked about the new
Charter Arms Pit Bull revolver chambering .40S&W without the need for moonclips. My reply: "Ummm, OK. Why?"

As I see it, the only compelling reason to use autoloading cartridges in revolvers is because they require moonclips, making for blazing fast reloads. I suppose there might be some argument for the fellow who owns a .40 autoloader and wants a revolver to play with without the bother of stocking two kinds of ammunition, but really: how many of those people are out there?

The claim that it can be used as a backup to an autoloader and thus benefits from sharing ammunition doesn't compute: if you need the backup, it's probably because you ran out of ammunition for your primary gun. If that's the case, what are you sharing ammo with? It didn't make a lot of sense a couple of years ago when it was announced, and hasn't gained much in the intervening time.


Jeff Quinn over at GunBlast did a
review of a special edition Ruger GP100. The Wiley Clapp edition features non-standard dovetailed sights, an interesting matte stainless finish, and - hold still my beating heart! - a return to the original GP100 grips with inserts, dolled up for this gun.

(One of the dumbest decisions to come from Ruger’s management lately was replacing their perfectly usable grips with the execrable Hogue Monogrip. Glad to see they didn't throw away the molds!)

I'm not sure about the claim that the gun is "built for defense" - I'd have done things a bit differently and I see at least two important features missing - but it's a nice treatment of the old warhorse and an indication that Ruger still takes their revolvers seriously. Just wish they'd do so more often!


Everyone, it seems, has their name on a gun lately. The Firearm Blog tells us that Mossberg recently brought out the
Thunder Ranch Model 500 shotgun. Supposedly designed by Clint Smith, it features a shorter stock (12-3/4" length of pull) and a stand-off door breaching muzzle. In fact, very little other than the aforementioned muzzle and the much-appreciated shorter stock. And that huge TR logo with the expected higher price.

Seriously, a door breacher on a defensive shotgun? Someone has finally jumped the shark, but I can't decide whether it's Clint or Mossberg.

(It's my considered opinion that the perfect home defense pump shotgun would be an
Ithaca Model 37 Defense in 20ga with a few minor enhancements. The Ithaca is the smoothest, easiest-cycling pump I've used and is a joy to shoot. You listening, Ithaca?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Free radicals.

When you were growing up did you have a classmate who was, well, uptight? You know the type: boring, unimaginative, establishment, voted "most likely to become an accountant"? I sure did.

He was me.

I spent the first half (actually, more like the first two-thirds) of my life making
Alex P. Keaton look like an anarchist. Hippies? Hated 'em. I liked symmetry (LOVED symmetry), predictability; I couldn't stand the new, the non-conforming, the different. (My fourth grade teacher could tell you stories...)

Somewhere along the line I snapped and tilted a little toward the wild side. While I'm still anal retentive about many things, I've learned to embrace my adventurous tendencies. I'll always love opera, but I also like to listen to
The Fratellis. These days I'm a little less enthused with staid decoration and architecture and more interested in the crazy and creative ways some people find to enrich their personal environments.

That's why I found a recent entry on the
Salvaged Grace blog most interesting. It profiled a fellow named Jesse Hartman and his site Shift Build:Industrial Reclamation. Jesse's passion is making interesting things out of non-interesting things. He's very creative, something I try to be but rarely manage to achieve. At least, not at his level!

Check out his
reclaimed oak wall - then click on the '11' in the timeline to see its secret. Cool! I've GOT to do something like that, but I haven't figured out just where.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a junk pile to explore.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Silliness redux.

On Monday I commented about a video from an outfit called American Defense Enterprises (ADE.) In it, a group of black-clad aspirants show us what they can do with guns. It was apparently so embarrassing that ADE actually pulled it from YouTube, but
luckily someone managed to snag a copy and put it back up (and with a far more appropriate soundtrack!)

The whole video looks like a Hollywood caricature of firearms use; the word that kept popping into my head was 'choreography'. Hmmm....sure enough, ADE is headquartered on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. That would go a long way to explaining why the video looks more like a video gamer's wet dream than realistic defensive shooting.

You really need to watch the video, as it illustrates some vital principles about how you should NOT train. How plausible are the scenarios they're setting up? Look at the safety aspect of some of their drills - is there a benefit that outweighs the not inconsiderable risks? My answers would be ‘not very’ and ‘no’.

I'll go out on a limb here: it's damn near impossible to produce an exciting video clip of quality defensive shooting instruction, because at its core it is boring. Learning to shoot efficiently doesn't lend itself to flashy room clearing footage, and how one deals with a real threat doesn't look anything like an exciting team assault. Defensive shooting is as much about concepts and processes as it is techniques, and when was the last time you saw a blood-pumping video of a concept?

If you want to see good defensive shooting videos, you can find them at the
Personal Defense Network. If you want entertainment, watch the video under discussion.

Just don't confuse the two.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings, August 15th Edition.

My wife and I trekked up to
Firearms Academy of Seattle yesterday to spend a little time talking about revolvers, books, and assorted nonsense. Massad Ayoob and Gail Pepin were there, along with Marty and Gila Hayes, Jennie Van Tuyl, and several dogs. We recorded a rather raucous round-table edition of the ProArms Podcast (wherein I actually say some nice things about Taurus, and try to say some nice things about the Chiappa Rhino but fail miserably.)


Marty gave us a status report on the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network as well as a sneak peek of what's to come. As I pointed out last week, the ACLDN is unique in the field; it's the only place where the armed citizen can get high-level education and legal assistance in the event he or she is involved in a self defense incident. Glad to hear that they're growing and expanding their programs.


Jennie Van Tuyl and her husband Bill own
Rivendell Sales, a rather unique gun store. Among other things they specialize in customizing the Remington 20 gauge autoloading shotgun for defensive use, an activity which I wholeheartedly applaud.

I'm a huge fan of the 20 gauge as a defensive tool. No matter how well you shoot a 12 gauge, you'll shoot a 20 gauge better simply because of the huge reduction in felt recoil. The only difference between them is the payload; they both throw their pellets at the same velocity, it's just that the 12 throws a few more. As Mas Ayoob is fond of saying, if you shoot a bad guy the only person who'll be able to tell whether it was a 12 or a 20 is the coroner, and only then by counting the white specks on the x-ray.

(One point I think is often overlooked: many 12 gauge owners use the lower-velocity "tactical" buckshot loads to help tame the recoil of their gun. It's my firm belief that those loads have less effectiveness than a full-power 20 gauge with the same recoil. Any way you slice it, the 20 gauge is the best balance of lethality and shootability that exists in the shotgun world.)

The Remington autoloaders are slim, trim, light shotguns that are a joy to heft after lugging around one of the same guns in 12 gauge. Many years ago my wife and I standardized on the 20 gauge and picked up a Remington 1100 LT-20 Youth Synthetic model. The youth guns had a shorter stock than the regular line, a feature which both of us appreciate. Since there was no one who really worked on the 20 gauges back then, I installed a 20" smoothbore barrel with rifle sights, reamed the forcing cone, and generally spruced it up as a home defense gun. Today the Van Tuyls can handle all that and more, giving you a superb handling, easy shooting shotgun without having to become your own gunsmith.

Check out their site. (I’m jealous of the wood in their stocks.)


Over the weekend Tam exposed us to
yet another questionable training organization. Their video actually made me simultaneously cringe and laugh, which when you think about it is really a pretty good trick. pdb also picked up on their shenanigans, giving us his typically humorous critique.

I think, however, that both Tam and pdb wasted a lot of effort actually analyzing the video. They could have simply used my theorem: quality of instruction in a video is inversely proportional to the sound pressure level of the cheesy heavy metal music used on the soundtrack.

Correlation seems to be high.


Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: I'm such a ham.

I have a geeky confession: my name is Grant, and I'm an amateur radio operator. (Yes, I do have a grid dip oscillator --
and I'm not afraid to use it!)

I mention this because this week I experienced one of the more interesting phenomenon of radio propagation:
tropospheric ducting. This happens when a VHF or UHF signal, which is normally limited to line-of-site communication, is bent by a temperature inversion in the troposphere and is able to travel much greater distances than usual. In this particular case, it was nearly 300 miles from my house up to the other fellow's location in northern Washington.

'Tropo', as it's known amongst hams, isn't all that rare but it is a lot of fun. It usually happens in the summertime, especially near the coast where I am. Normally when conditions are favorable I can't find anyone who is also on frequency, and it was simple chance that I happened to be listening to the radio this last week when I heard the other party calling for a contact. When I got a chance to check the current
Hepburn tropo forecast map for that day, sure enough conditions were favorable between our two locations.

Ducting isn’t limited to the ham radio bands.
Television and radio broadcasts, in fact any wireless transmission in the 50 mhz and up range, can potentially be affected by tropo.

One of the fun parts of ham radio is learning about, and exploiting, atmospheric conditions. It's a little like sailing, I think, where you learn to use the air to take you places. In this case, I use the air to put me in contact with people I don't know but who share my fascination with radio waves.

Now, where did I put that 440mhz Yagi...

-=[ Grant ]=-

"I need a gun-friendly lawyer."

While easting my lunch yesterday I decided to do a little surfing. I bounced around a bit, watched a couple of YouTube videos, and ended up doing something I always regret: checking out some of the more popular gun forums. Why 'regret'? Because they usually make my head hurt; inanity does that to me.

Yesterday's was a thread with the title "I need a gun-friendly lawyer." The writer goes on to say that he needs to find one in his area in case he's ever involved in a self-defense shooting.

Sadly, no one gave him the correct answer: "no, you don't. You need a lawyer who's good at his/her job."

If you're involved in a defensive shooting, what you want is a lawyer who understands the intricacies of the justice system, but more importantly understands the unique demands of making the affirmative defense that exists in all righteous self-defense cases: 'yes, I shot him, and I had a darned good reason to do so.' Whether that lawyer happens to be "gun friendly" is beside the point - you pick the lawyer on expertise, not affinity with your hobbies.

Though not related to self defense, I have an illustration of the concept. A number of years ago I was a member of a large gun club. Our club had a big parcel of land, part of which was encumbered by a power company right-of-way. There were a lot of complicated legal issues about what could and could not be done on that slice of property, and we needed the best real estate/natural resource lawyer we could get. As it happened, he was at best ambivalent about guns; he told the Board that he didn't really feel comfortable around them and didn't want to be. At first this angered the membership, who felt their dues were going to pay an anti-gunner.

Luckily the Board used their critical thinking skills and decided that it was a good idea to have an attorney who understood land use law better than ballistics. He turned out to be a tireless advocate for our cause, prevailing multiple times against a huge legal department filled with good lawyers. If we'd insisted on a lawyer who liked guns, we might not have been so fortunate.

Don't start your search by looking for "gun friendly" attorneys. Instead look for attorneys who have experience with prosecutions for serious charges. That might be a criminal defense attorney, maybe a former prosecutor who now works the other side of the street, or perhaps the lawyer who defends police officers when they've discharged their firearms in the line of duty. What you want is someone who can defend you, not who agrees with you. Once you've found that person, then you can decide if his/her opinions on firearms are likely to be a help or a hinderance in your case.

Of course if you can find a good defense lawyer who is also sympathetic to the rights of gun owners, so much the better. You’re not likely to find them on some ill-defined list of “gun friendly attorneys”; instead, such people tend to hang with the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network. Because of that it's an organization well worth your time to investigate.

Critical thinking: much better than listening to some anonymous guy who calls himself “Rock-A-Glock47”.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It is time to revisit Taurus?

One of the most popular items on this site is the little essay
"Why I Don't Work on Taurus Revolvers". It generates a lot of commentary (and more than a little hate mail) because it points out the obvious: to produce a gun that sells for less than the competition, something has to give. If that something isn't on the outside, it's got to be on the inside. This is a simple fact of economic life.

Over the years I've tested several randomly chosen Taurus revolvers and generally found them to be seriously wanting in some important aspect. For instance, the model 445 (which was produced for a very short time, discontinued, and is apparently coming back) that I procured suffered from several serious issues, including a persistent ignition problem which required a huge amount of work to correct. Other examples showed other problems, including timing issues and accuracy woes.

Despite all that, I've said many times that if Taurus ever got their act together that they'd give Smith & Wesson a serious run for their money. I can't yet say that's happening, but a recent outing with a Taurus 856 shows definite promise. My first exposure to this model, shortly after its introduction, was not a pleasant one - the gun was out of time from the factory, sufficiently so that it was unsafe to shoot. That gun annoyed me to no end as I've been pining for a small-frame six-shot .38 Special revolver since the demise of the great Colt Detective Special (and the later Magnum Carry.) This is a category for which no examples other than the Taurus exist, and to have it prove to be a dog is a little like giving a glass of salt water to a man who is dying of thirst.

This most recent example, I'm happy to report, was much better. Not only was it in time, it also sported a decent double action trigger (for a small frame factory gun, you understand.) It shot to point of aim, was pretty accurate, and was generally pleasant to shoot.

All is not wine and roses, however, as the stock sights are awful. In fairness to Taurus this is not a situation unique to them, as many (if not most) of their competition's offerings suffer similarly. (I'm an advocate of the concept of using the sights when you
need to, and under that philosophy if you need to use your sights you probably need good ones.) That's a problem which can be rectified by a good gunsmith but I'm hoping for the day when it doesn't need to be.

Am I changing my stand about working on Taurus revolvers? I won't go that far, as one gun does not a sample make, but for the first time in years I was impressed with a Taurus product. They've always had potential, and perhaps now they're starting to live up to it. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Yeah, it's uncomfortable. That's not an excuse.

This week marked the 10th anniversary of my father's death. That's not tragic; what's tragic is that he didn't need to die.

You see, my Dad had colon cancer. By the time his symptoms appeared it had metastasized and was essentially untreatable, and it didn't take long before he was buried - along with tens of thousands of other victims that year. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in this country, and your chances of developing colon cancer are about 1 in 20. That's the bad news.

The good news is that colon cancer is incredibly slow to develop, and because of that it is the most treatable form of cancer. Caught early, the survival rate is better than 90%; caught in the pre-cancerous stage, it's damn near 100%. Because there are virtually no symptoms until it's too late, finding it early is the key to eradication. As my doctor says, it's the only cancer where the diagnostic tool is usually the cure.

That tool is the colonoscopy. A flexible tube containing a camera and a small scissors-like device is inserted into the colon; if any pre-cancerous polyps are found the scissors cuts them off and that's it! Having a colonoscopy every 10 years (twice as frequently if you have a family history or a propensity to develop polyps) is all it takes to keep you cancer free.

It's not a pleasant procedure, I'll give you that, but it's not painful nor terribly time consuming. It's uncomfortable, perhaps a little undignified, but it is the very best way to eliminate even the possibility of development.

If you're over 50, you should be getting regular colonoscopies. If you're under 50 but have a family history of colon cancer, you should get one too. It's quick, it's easy, and it can save your life.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Stick in the mud?

I will freely admit that I'm usually not the hippest guy in the room. Still, I can't for the life of me fathom the whole zombie meme in the shooting world.

Shooters talk about the 'zombie apocalypse', discuss guns suitable for zombies, and similar topics. Some of the gun radio shows/podcasts are featuring regular zombie topics, and questions about the best zombie calibers are staples in the gun forums.

I kinda-sorta understand the desire to humorously justify one's acquisitive nature ("but I
need this gun in case the zombies come!"), but what I can't figure out are the zombie targets.

the big boys have gotten into the action, selling expensive full-color photorealistic zombie targets replete with oozing sores and tattered clothing. (Frankly I think they look like just another day at People of Wal-Mart, but maybe it's just me.) I'm told that they're for fun, a way to enjoy a trip to the range. A game, if you will.

The issue, I suspect, is that I've never thought of guns as objects of fantasy. Either that, or I'm subconsciously compensating for the fact that I didn't jump on this trend early and make a lot of money!

Either way, I still don't get it.

-=[ Grant ]=-


You've probably heard about the flap MKS Distributing caused last week. MKS, a former promoter of Charter Arms, is the primary distributor for Chiappa guns - including the Rhino revolver.

Chiappa disclosed that starting in 2012 all their guns would carry an RFID chip. The chip is attached at the time of manufacture, and presumably contains information such as the gun's serial number, place of origin, lot number, and that sort of thing. Because it's applied at the factory, it can't contain any data on the eventual purchaser.

I can see why Chiappa would want to do this, even if their government wasn't requiring them to: it makes for more accurate inventory of a controlled item. While a barcode on a box ensures that the box is present, it doesn't say anything about the contents. The RFID tag allows inventory of actual units, as opposed to the boxes which surround them. Were I in that business, I'd probably consider something similar to prevent what is termed "leakage" - mysterious disappearances from stock.

RFID inventory tags are not new, but their application to firearms is. It's this novelty, the potential for abuse, and how their distributor has handled the news which is causing problems.

When the news hit the blogosphere, some of which contained rampant and ill-informed speculation, the distributor (through their PR agent - with whom I am familiar and not all that fond)
sent out a scathing release belittling not just the public's fears but also the blogger's concerns. It was that haughty and scornful statement which has turned the public against Chiappa and, by extension, MKS. The release, obviously intended to quash rumors, contained some erroneous information of its own.

There are, as I see it, two relevant facts. First, the RFID chip contains information about the gun, and only about the gun. It contains nothing about the purchaser or user. Second, an RFID chip can in fact be read at a considerable distance, although the extent of such reading is a matter of debate. I think it's generally accepted that a read distance of a few yards is easily doable, much more than the “2-3 inches” that MKS/Chiappa insists.

Beyond those two facts, nothing is clear. Could an RFID chip be used in the future as some sort of marker for a concealed weapon? Possibly. Could they be used to track a buyer? That might be a bit overblown, but the technology exists. Is it happening now, or could it in the near future? Not probable. Could legislation be introduced tomorrow requiring all guns without an RFID chip be destroyed to facilitate some draconian tracking scheme? Extremely unlikely. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, mind you, but I don’t think it’s worth your or my time to worry about. At least, not at the current stage of implementation.

It's the attitude, the dismissive manner in which the concerns of the buying public were addressed that's really at issue. Many people are calling for a boycott of MKS/Chiappa for that reason.

I find this amusing, inasmuch as Smith & Wesson - through their owners, Saf-T-Hammer Inc. - foisted a dubious internal locking system on the public and similarly (though far more politely) dismissed buyer's concerns over the efficacy and reliability of the mechanism. Many people, including yours truly, called for a boycott of S&W. It didn't happen, at least to any meaningful degree, and today their business is booming. What's more, you can go to any gun forum and find lots of people who proclaim in the face of evidence to the contrary that the locks are just fine. That’s what happens when corporate blunders are well handled.

People will find a reason to buy what they want to buy; giving them that reason is the job of the PR people, but sometimes that effort backfires - like it did here. Based on my past interaction with all three parties involved, I’m not surprised.

MKS and Chiappa are very small companies and I doubt that they can easily weather the storm that their inept PR has brewed. This faux pas may be the end of their aspirations in the American market, but I think it's a little silly for us to manufacture a reason not to buy their products when the flaws of those products should be reason enough to avoid them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Another musician I admire - Kei Akagi.

Kei Akagi, keyboardist extraordinaire, is a sadly under appreciated talent in the jazz world. He's not known as a leader (the Kei Akagi Trio being the exception, and a none-too-exciting one at that) but as a sideman for better-known acts. He played for many years with Miles Davis (where his talent was hidden behind Mile's banal compositions and overly amplified speakers) and Al DiMeola (who never excited me, but some people inexplicably love him. Then again, there are people out there who love Carrot Top.)

It's sad, because Akagi's improvisational talents are tremendous. Complex, insightful, and always interesting are his trademarks. I've found that he's at his best in small groups with lesser-known leaders, where he gets more solo time and a chance to really stretch his chops. This recording with Polish saxophonist Piotr Baron is a perfect showcase of his style and technique. Sadly, Baron is the weak link in this group - drummer Mark Ferber, who I remember from his time with Lee Konitz, is terrific, while bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, formerly with Art Farmer and Toshiko Akioshi, sadly gets cut off as the video ends just as he starts his solo. Had the videographer heard of a new thing called "editing", he could have cut the minute-long silence before they started playing and gotten more in!

Enjoy the tune, and be sure to check in on Monday -- I'll have my take on the Chiappa Arms RFID dust-up, and I think you'll find it interesting.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Big news. REALLY BIG news!

Mark your calendars: in late October, Gun DIgest Books will release a brand new title:
The Gun Digest Book of the Revolver - written by yours truly!

That's right, I've finally written my first book, and it's a doozy. With 240 pages and over 200 illustrations (all mine, except for the cover photo) it's a general guide to the world of the double action revolver. It covers all kinds of things a revolver shooter needs to know: how to fit the gun to the hand, caliber selection, mastering trigger control, sight picture and alignment, customization, reloading, one hand manipulation, and a whole lot more!

It's even got a foreword by "the man" himself, Massad Ayoob!

It's a one-stop source of information on living with the double action revolver. Perfect for the person who's just started shooting and has picked a revolver, or for the autoloader shooter who wants (or needs) to know how to run a wheelgun.
It's currently up for pre-order at Amazon, and they'll be shipping by November 10th. It's a big book, so it's not exactly a stocking stuffer, but it would make a great gift for anyone you know who likes revolvers. Heck, you could even treat yourself and buy a copy for your personal library!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Another musician I admire.

I haven't talked much about music lately, despite it being an important part of life -- not just mine, but everyone's. It's because of the importance of music to our social and intellectual development that I despair for the musical literacy of our country; American Idol has conditioned the population to consume the musical equivalent of fast food, substituting quantity and glitz for quality and interpretative insight. (It’s sad when a vocalist vying for national attention can’t sing in tune, a basic requirement that seems to elude virtually all of their contestants. Hey, but they look good on camera!)

While most apparent in the pop music genre, this lessening of audience discernment occurs in the classical and jazz worlds as well (though to a lesser extent.) There are musicians and singers who become sensations despite not being at the top of their game, and others whose prodigious talent goes unfathomably ignored.

An example of the latter is jazz trumpeter Claudio Roditi. Originally from Brazil, he moved to the U.S. in the '70s and has been hard at work ever since. Virtually unknown to the casual jazz listener but held in high regard by other musicians, he continually surprises with the complexity of his improvisation. While some players can concoct equally sophisticated solos, Roditi does it musically; in other words, his playing is still listenable, still "swings", while having great depth and displaying superb technique.

Still he remains a somewhat obscure. This might be because his subtle style gets lost when relegated to mere background music. To appreciate what he's doing one must actively listen (which is, in my never to be humble opinion, the case with all good music.)

Here for your active listening pleasure is Claudio Roditi at his best: "Gemini Man", from a great 2007 live session with pianist Helio Alves, bassist Leonardo Cioglia, and drummer Duduka da Fonseca. Happy weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Progress before our eyes.

Back in April
the Personal Defense Network published an interview with yours truly, wherein I opined that the future of defensive training would be integration: a fluid combination of both armed and unarmed responses. This month, we've been greeted with a big endorsement of that trend with the appearance of Rob Pincus on the cover of Black Belt Magazine.

The Black Belt article on Rob deals specifically with why and how unarmed combatives trainers should include armed responses in their repertoire. It's a good article, and you should pick up a copy of the magazine and read for yourself. I'm sure that there are some pure martial artists who will wail and gnash their teeth at the prospect, but the trend is now clear -- both sides have observed the same dynamics, and are headed in (roughly) the same direction.

Black Belt has published a Q&A with Rob on their website, where he answers questions about Combat Focus Shooting, what martial artists can bring to the table, and why novices need to train. Definitely worth the read.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The dangers of unbridled emulation.

There is a certain segment of the training community that makes quite a fuss about teaching techniques randomly collected from SWAT teams, Special Forces (ours or someone else's), or SEAL Team Six. (It's always Team Six, because they're apparently the coolest. And the only one which the average Mall Ninja recognizes. Good for marketing, you understand. I feel for the guys on Teams One through Five though, suffering with the knowledge that they're not nearly as cool.) These classes are usually sold to the public as being "full strength" or "not watered down for civilians" or some such twaddle.

I have two concerns with such courses. First is the applicability to prIvate sector self defense and the resulting drain on our training resources. Many of these techniques, such as shooting while running toward a threat, are offensive in nature and require either attaining initiative or being part a large enough group to be able establish and maintain sectors of fire. No matter how convoluted the logic (and I've heard some twisted justifications), this doesn't have much to do with the kinds of self defense incidents that you and I are likely to face. They are a lot of fun, I'll concede that point, but we need to keep in mind that we all have limited training resources (time and money.) If one spends precious training resources doing things that aren't at all applicable to the task at hand, it means that something which is really needed won't get trained.

The second issue I have is that of safety. For any drill or any technique, the benefit of the activity needs to greatly outweigh the perceived risk. Perception, I need to emphasize, is relative. What is risky to a real-deal SEAL is very different than what is to you or me! A SEAL puts himself in extreme risk on every active mission, and as a result his training is correspondingly riskier. That doesn't mean that they take foolhardy chances, but it does mean that the nature of their job requires them to practice things that are far more dangerous than what you or I need to practice. A drill that would seem boringly safe to them may in fact expose us to an unnecessary -- and correspondingly unacceptable -- level of risk. A downrange drill (one where students are downrange of other students shooting), for instance, has some value to those guys whose job it is to kill people and break stuff; in my never-to-be-humble assessment, it has near-zero value to those of us who face criminal threats here at home.

Getting hurt in a training drill that has no plausible application to the average citizen's life is a double fail. How to avoid it? Be discerning in your training. I realize the overwhelming desire to relate one's reality-show-like adventures to the guys in the office on Monday morning, but being practical will make you better prepared. It will also ensure that you leave the class sporting the same number of orifices with which you arrived.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Today is a proud day for our family: my cousin, Col. Julie Bentz, is being promoted to Brigadier General of the Army in a ceremony at the White House this afternoon!

Though she's achieved the highest rank, she's not the only family member to serve as an officer in our armed forces. Her brother, a West Point grad who also made Colonel, retired from duty just a few years ago; their father, who is unfortunately no longer with us, was a commissioned Army officer though it was not his career; our cousin Tim retired from the U.S. Navy back in the '90s after an eventful Cold War career (read
Blind Man's Bluff. Wink-wink.) My father was a Sergeant in the Army Air Forces, and I have several uncles who served as well.

It probably shouldn’t surprise you, then, that our family supports the men and women who wear our country's uniform -- whether it be Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. Even when we disagree with their Commander-in-Chief, which we seem to do quite a lot these days.

I only wish I could get away to attend the ceremony (invitations with the White House logo at the top are pretty cool and hard to resist.) Congratulations, Julie!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The snakepit of groupthink.

Every so often I'll have a spare moment and just happen to be sitting near the computer. It's at those times that I visit one of the gun forums (fora?) just to see what's up with the world. More precisely, what's up in some very small portion of the world, one which is usually severely skewed.

One such moment happened last weekend while I was waiting for dinner to finish cooking. (Actually, I was waiting for my wife to finish cooking dinner since my culinary skills are limited to "I'd like to place a to-go order".) I dropped in on one forum where the main topic of conversation appeared to be the emergence of flash mobs for nefarious purposes.

Up until lately flash mobs existed to do stuff like umbrella dances and public sing-alongs. I'd always found them charming in an urbanites-need-something-to-take-their-minds-off-the-cage-they're-in sort of way, but over the last several weeks they've come to be used for criminal activity. It was, in hindsight, inevitable.

The discussion on this particular forum centered on how to protect oneself from a flash mob attack. It started out with a discussion of how much ammunition you should be carrying on your person (naturally there was the obligatory picture of one guy's carry rig with the proud explanation that he'd found a way to tote over fifty rounds, ready to go at a moment's notice.) Talk quickly devolved to OC grenades and how many of them you should have in your car. Some were even wondering if they were legal for concealed carry.

Yes, grenades. Yes, they were serious.

You can't prepare for everything, if for no other reason than you can't carry everything you'd need for all contingencies. Like Steven Wright says: "You can't have everything -- where would you put it??" You have to decide what are the likely threats you'll face and pick your skills and equipment to deal with those situations. Whatever level that may be is going to be different from others, because the probabilities are dramatically influenced by your environment and your habits.

Just because some anonymous nut on a forum is carrying OC grenades doesn't mean that you need to. Remember, a dispassionate review of the risks involved would probably lead to the conclusion that HE doesn't need to either. Finally, keep this in mind: whatever hardware you decide is appropriate for you, it needs to be such that you can carry it all the time. Loading up for the Apocalypse on the weekend but having a .380 automatic in your pants pocket for the bulk of your week isn't consistent, and it's probably not congruent with the threats you're really facing and where they're likely to occur.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How fast can a revolver be reloaded?

An email came in last week asking just that question. The answer is a little more involved than you might think, because there are some variables involved that simply don't exist with the same action in an autoloader.

There are at least a half-dozen different ways that I've used to reload a revolver, and I've seen variations which exceed that number. Each technique has strong and weak points, and it's up to the shooter to decide of they fit his/her situation. For instance, it's possible to shave corners in technique which decrease the time required for the reload, but which increase the chance of failure (case under extractor jam, speedloader release binding, debris under the extractor, un-ejected case, and so on.)

There's also a big difference between using speedloaders and moonclips. The moonclips in and of themselves aren't all that much faster than, say, a Comp III or an SL Variant speedloader, but their all-in-one nature allows the shooter to cut those aforementioned corners without the associated risks. In my experience, using moonclips will shave .4 to perhaps .6 seconds off of the average person's reload times. In competition, that's a huge bonus over the length of a match. In self defense? I personally wouldn't carry a moonclip revolver for self defense, my rationale having been well documented in this blog and elsewhere.

All that being said, if you want to see what's possible when all the conditions are perfect (talented shooter, moonclipped gun, and lots of practice), check out the famous Jerry Miculek video:

Back here on earth, I'll share with you my personal experience. When I was shooting competition very regularly and thus "in shape", my average time with Comp II speedloaders was something in the 2.8 second range. A Comp II loader would typically cut that by only a tenth or so (I found the much larger Comp III to be harder to handle in my tiny mitts, which reduced their speed advantage over the Comp II. Most people do a little better than that.) When the stars were aligned and I was having a good day I could do noticeably better, having hit 2.5 seconds in competition more than once.

My considered opinion is that anything under three seconds using speedloaders is pretty darned good; most people can't do that with an autoloader!

My very fastest reload using speedloaders, and one which to this day I can scarcely believe, happened during a Steel Challenge-type match about a decade ago. I'd missed one target before I got to the stop plate, which means I had no room for error. If you've shot SC type matches you know what happened next: I missed the stop plate! I could tell as the shot broke that it wasn't going to be a hit (again, steel shooters know that feeling) and immediately started a reload. I hit the stop plate with round #7.

The guy holding the timer, who'd himself switched from revolvers to autoloaders some months prior, looked at the timer and said "If I could do that I'd still be shooting the wheelgun!" There on the display were my seven shots, and the split between #6 and #7 was 1.98 seconds. The gun was a Dan Wesson Model 15-2, the speedloader was a well-worn Safariland Comp II, and the bullet was a LaserCast 158gn SWC.

I don't remember it seeming all that fast; I do recall it seeming to be effortless. Never before or since, no matter how much I practiced, was I able to recreate the occurrence. In fact I haven't even come close, which leads me to consider the possibility that it might have been some sort of timer malfunction. If not, it shows what is possible under the right conditions.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Out to launch.

Today marks the final scheduled launch of our Space Shuttle. While one can argue about the merits of the program, it was a great example of what our country could do if we simply decided to do it. Back in '79 I could not have conceived that space launches would be so common that people would scarcely pay attention to them, yet that's exactly what happened.

As it turned out most of the Shuttle's jobs could be just as easily (and usually less expensively) be done using expendable rockets. Still, despite my avowed position as a critic of government involvement in most areas of life I'm glad that my tax dollars went to fund the Shuttle.

Sometimes, folks, you've got to do something outlandish just to prove you're alive. NASA has given us a collective way to be outlandish, the national equivalent of your local municipality's fireworks display.

Here is a great retrospective of the Shuttle program, via the LA Times. No matter how much a fan of space you may be I suspect you'll find many pictures that you've not seen before.

-=[ Grant ]=-

I'm not blogging today.

Haven't come up with anything to say.
Luckily Chris Byrne has, and I agree with his take.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Happy Independence Day!

This photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Did you know that there are extensive technical specifications for the appearance of our flag -- and that most commercial versions don't meet them? Neither did I!

Have a great holiday, and do take a moment to think about our country -- where we've been, and where we're headed.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The rocket's red glare, and lots of it.

Down in Florida's Everglades, well hidden from casual view, is the remnant of an idea: to build solid fuel rocket motors for the Apollo space missions.

In 1963 the decision between solid or liquid fueled boosters for what would be the Saturn V rocket had not yet been made, and there was stiff competition between supporters of the two ideas. General Tire Company, which had a subsidiary named Aerojet General, was solidly (pardon the pun) on the side of solid fuel.

They put their money where their mouths were, investing millions to build a rocket assembly and test facility in what was the middle of nowhere. They built facilities to make the fuel and assemble the rockets, a 150-foot-deep silo to test fire the motors, and even a canal to transport the finished rockets through their swampy surroundings to the Atlantic ocean.

The Aerojet-Dade facility, as it was known, built and tested only three motors -- but they were the largest and most powerful solid fuel rocket motors ever made. Liquid fuel was eventually chosen for the Saturn V, and in 1969 the facility was abandoned. Aerojet walked away, leaving everything behind -- including the third rocket still sitting in the test silo!

Someplace Else has a great recap of the whole Aerojet story, including some pictures of the last rocket in the silo. Florida's Forgotten History has a wonderful gallery of recent pictures of the abandoned plant, including the silo. has some more technical information and pictures, including one of Test #2 -- at night! (Think of the Independence Day celebration you could have with that thing!)

I'll leave you with this brief video documentary, shot by
Coffee and Celluloid Productions. Have a good Fourth!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Space Miami - Aerojet-Dade Rocket Site Documentary from Coffee and Celluloid on Vimeo.


Marketing. Someone's gotta do it.

I saw one again the other day: an after-action review of a "snubby" shooting class. I think I'm missing the boat.

A snubnose revolver is fundamentally no different in operation than a non-snubnose revolver. It will have increased recoil, a shorter sight radius, and generally be a little harder to efficiently reload than a larger wheelgun, but that isn't sufficient difference to drop them into their own special class. Apparently some disagree, because the snubby classes are a rapidly growing subset of the training business.

This tailoring of classes to fit a specific demographic is all the rage these days. Actually, that sentence is a little generous; it's more the tailoring of the title of the class to fit a specific demographic. My general rule of thumb is that a class whose enrollment focuses on a factor external to the skills being taught is probably more marketing than anything else.

That having been said, I might someday decide to compromise my beliefs and promote a snubnose class of my own. Should that happen, I promise to feel slightly guilty on my way to the bank.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another rifle I'm lusting after.

The Firearm Blog reported last week that Ruger is now chambering their Model 77 bolt-action rifle in .357 Magnum. I'm quite excited about the announcement, as I'm a fan of the .357 in longer barrels.

I believe (though I can't find it right now) that I've written about this before: the .357 Magnum coming out of a rifle is a very different beast than the same round coming out of a handgun. One 158 grain load I tested a while back gained nearly 400 fps velocity out of an 18" Marlin rifle barrel compared to the same load in a 4" Dan Wesson tube, traveling nearly 1600 fps.

I've actually used it on animals, and within its range -- say, 75 to perhaps 100 yards -- it's quite effective up to deer-sized game. I've heard some claim that it's suitable for elk "with proper shot placement", but I'd say that's more alcohol-fueled optimism than ballistic fact.

Regardless of such speculation it does make a great small to medium game round, though I've found it difficult to get bullets under 158 grains to hold together at the velocities the rifle can generate. Forget the light hollowpoints; the absolute minimum I'd consider would be a 158gn jacketed softpoint, and even that often disintegrates when it hits flesh.

Someone once told me that the .357 turns from Jekyll to Hyde in a rifle. That's not terribly far from the truth!

Up to this point the only rifles chambered for the .357 have been lever actions from Rossi, Marlin, and Winchester. The lever action is a great platform for the round, but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on one of the Ruger bolt actions. If nothing else, the stainless construction and synthetic stock would be a better choice for our damp Oregon weather than walnut and blued steel! Fitted with a decent 2.5x scope it could be a great all-around rifle for the farm and ranch, one that I wouldn’t need to worry about when the elements turn against me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The power of the atom.

Here are some rarely seen images made in Hiroshima shortly after the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945. The pictures were originally classified, but went missing some four decades ago and were presumed lost. The story is that they finally turned up in a suitcase in a pile of trash, at which time the International Center of Photography was able to acquire them for display.

Surreal stuff.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My newest article is up at PDN!

My latest project, "
New Concepts of Precision in Defensive Shooting", is now available at the Personal Defense Network.

This piece is probably going to be controversial, because it takes a fresh and different look at how we think about accuracy and precision in the context of self defense. In it I make the case that shooting 'better' shouldn't be our goal -- shooting more appropriately should be. If I may be so bold, I think it's one of the more important things I've written.

It's a longish article that explores these concepts at a deeper level than you're going to find in the gunzines. Read it thoroughly and consider carefully the issues raised.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Light primer hits with factory guns?

Over the last few months I've gotten several emails about light primer strikes -- and attendant misfires -- with the S&W 686SSR revolver.

The 686SSR is from Smith & Wesson's "Pro" line, which sits between the semi-customs of the Performance Center and the run-of-the-mill production items. The 686SSR has, among other features, a 'bossed' mainspring (which looks suspiciously like a Wolff 'Power Rib' spring.) The idea behind the spring design is twofold: first, reduce the spring force at the beginning of tension, making for a trigger which feels more progressive; second, preserve the mainspring arch at reduced spring weight.

The second point probably deserves an explanation. A common method of lightening the hammer spring on a S&W is to shorten the strain screw slightly. When done with a standard flat mainspring the arch is reduced, which often leads to interference between the grip screw and the spring. Having a higher arch, which the ribbed springs provide, allows for full grip screw clearance even at reduced trigger weights.

The problem is that even with the so-called 'full power' ribbed springs misfires occasionally happen. This seems to be due to the slightly lessened spring force at the beginning of hammer travel, which is also the end of the hammer travel -- when ignition occurs. This is exacerbated by the new California-compliant firing pins that S&W uses, which are shorter and lighter than the old versions. This presumably allows the gun to pass California's drop test, as I can fathom no other reason for the part to exist.

The short firing pin can easily be replaced by an extra-length version from Cylinder & Slide or Apex Tactical. This usually solves these kinds of ignition issues, though thorough testing needs to be done with any individual gun to verify reliability.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Get off my lawn or I’ll Photoshop you off!

Back in the 1980s digital imaging was still a laboratory experiment. Pictures were made on film, and if you wanted to do anything to the image after it was recorded you had to master (or know someone who had mastered) such arcane things as register masking, transparency stripping, and optical printing.

Toward the end of the decade very powerful (and expensive) graphics workstations came available that were able to manipulate digitized images. Note 'digitized', not 'digital'; the pictures were still made on film, and the negatives or transparencies were digitized on a drum scanner to be read by a computer.

The big boys on the block were Scitex, an Israeli company that made a name for themselves in the emerging field of digital pre-press equipment. Their digital imaging workstation was combined with a Hell drum scanner and a film recorder to provide a way to retouch and alter photographs. The negative or transparency would be scanned, manipulated by the computer, then sent to the film recorder -- which made a new negative or transparency which was processed and printed conventionally. The results were almost comically primitive by today's standards, but back then it was a viable alternative to having a very expensive stripped dye transfer made.

Scitex wasn't the only player in the market, but they were the best known. Eastman Kodak, in yet another of their half-hearted attempts to break into digital imaging, introduced their 'Premier' digital editing system in 1990. Like the Scitex it combined a workstation, Hell scanner, and film recorder. I never used a Scitex, but I did get some experience on the only Premier system installed in Oregon. At the time it was magical, but today we can do all of the things the Scitex and Premier systems did on an iPad -- only faster and easier!

Just a couple years later the Premier system I used was scrapped, already a victim of the emerging PC and Mac digital image applications. Cost was a factor in their failure; I seem to recall that the installation I used was well north of $200,000. About that time Scitex gave up dedicated workstations and develop a more cost-efficient system based around a Mac II microcomputer and Sharp scanner. That didn't last long, either; it was quickly surpassed by the emerging (and now ubiquitous) Photoshop.

Here's a great video from 1988 showing the then-amazing things a Scitex could do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Someone is spying on me.

Here's how things work around here: I collect interesting snippets of information that are relevant to the topics of this blog (namely revolvers, shooting, and self defense) and write posts inspired by those snippets. Sometimes it's a news story that sets things in motion, sometimes it's my own experiences, and occasionally it's a remark by another blogger.

I usually write something up and hang on to it for release when I have room. For instance, Fridays are always devoted to an off-topic surprise so I hold any topical things for the following Monday. This week the CenturioGroup nonsense about lumens popped up and I was so excited to comment that I bumped the article I'd planned to today. It was based on a post last month at another blog, but there was no hurry because it wasn't any sort of current event.

In the meantime several other bloggers jumped in to comment, making me look like a Johnny-come-lately. This isn't the first time I've been scooped, though; I've lost count of the number of times I've thought "I'll get to this next week", only to have the entire blogosphere jump on the topic while I was busy doing more important things -- like earning a living.

Just so you know: I wrote the following last week. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Miguel over at The Gun Free Zone recently wrote a piece
defending the 'shoot me first' vest -- that item of clothing, usually attributed to photographers, which is often the choice of the IDPA crowd. I don't like the things. Not necessarily because a bad guy will target the wearer of such a vest (there is no evidence either way on that assertion), but simply because they are an affectation. They always have been.

Back in the early 1980s I was working in a camera store and selling gear to actual working photographers. We had 'photographers vests' for sale, but rarely sold any -- and never to a real professional. Everyone considered them a mark of the dilettante, and no one I knew would be caught dead in one. Flash forward to 2011 and they still look silly.

That's not to say that you can't wear one (it is, after all, a semi-free country), but it's advisable to do so only if it's not out of place in your environment. I'm a big believer in blending in whenever possible, of not calling any more attention to oneself than necessary, and the 'photographer's vest' is almost always anomalous. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an environment where one wouldn’t stand out, save an IDPA match.

The funny part is that if one is fixated on concealing via a vest there is almost always a style that
will look right at home. Here in the Northwest, wool vests from Filson hit just the right balance between casual and business formal and look right at home in a wide variety of settings. For women, a patterned vest of some type usually looks good with just about any pants outfit. Canvas work vests are common in the trades, and in the trendier areas one can still occasionally find an argyle vest (though I think of them as quite hipsterish.)

When you get asked if you're a photographer or a fisherman that's not proof that you've pulled off some great feat of concealment; it's a sign that you've stood out enough to make people question your presence. I remain (while admitting that my Stetson occasionally puts me in that situation) of the opinion that such an event is not a Good Thing.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Mixing units, or how not to make buying decisions.

This popped up on my radar this morning, and I was so annoyed by the misuse of scientific data that I bumped today's post to comment.

The advertisement, from a European maker of flashlights, claims that the sun produces 6,000 lumens; which, conveniently, is less than their flashlights at a claimed 10,000 lumens. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt (though as you'll see I don't think they deserve it) and accept that their product does in fact put out that much light.

Here's the thing: lumens are a non-directional measurement. In other works, lumens are used to measure the total output of a light source regardless of direction. If you hang a bare bulb from a cord in the middle of a white sphere and measure the light falling on the sphere, you can measure the total captured output in lumens.

So, if someone insists to you that the sun produces 6,000 lumens "when it reaches earth", they’re either ignorant or lying -- because the only thing we can measure here on earth is the luminance on a known area of our planet, which is expressed in lux. (Remember that the sun radiates in all directions and the huge, overwhelming amount of its output is going somewhere other than our little slice of heaven.)

Knowing that, however, we can calculate the output of the sun and find out if the claim holds water.

According to reference sources, the sun's illuminance at the equator maxes out at about 130,000 lux -- 130,000 lm/m^2. At our distance from the sun, the earth's orbit describes a circle with a radius of about 150 million kilometers, or 1.5x10^11 meters. If we imagine the earth's orbit as a sphere instead of a circle, it becomes an easy task to figure out how much total energy the sun is emitting -- all we have to know is the inside surface area of that sphere.

The surface area of a sphere is calculated as (4*pi*r^2), which gives us a figure of 2.827 x 10^23 square meters. (That's a whole lot of zeroes!) Multiply that by our 130,000 lumens per square meter figure, and we arrive at a total output for the sun inside of our imaginary sphere of 3.6751 × 10^28 lumens. Or, if you prefer: 36,751
trillion trillion lumens. This is within the ballpark of figures I found online, so I think my math is good.

That's just a
tad more than the 10,000 lumens that they're claiming for their product.

Lumens, lux, cadelas, and candlepower are not the same, and you can't mix them. If you already knew that, CenturioGroup, shame on you for trying to pull a fast one on your customers. If you didn't, perhaps someone in engineering needs to go back to high school physics...freshman year.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: How to make an extreme sports video that doesn't suck.

I've mentioned before my annoyance with shooting videos that are accompanied by crappy heavy metal music. Apparently, simplistically repetitive bass lines played at ear-splitting volume keeps those with short attention spans from realizing they’re watching vapid footage. (Not that I'm thinking of anyone in particular...*cough*patrickflanigan*cough*)

It's not just shooting vids, though -- take a look at any random 'extreme' sport video and you'll probably hear the same thing. Skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, it’s the same tired formula: often good video ruined by sophomoric music. I usually switch the sound off, which seems somehow counter to the producer's intent. Their loss.

Imagine my surprise when I got turned onto a biking video featuring not some synthesized garage band rock licks but original acoustic music -- written and played by a local group, no less!

The video in question is of
Scottish rider Danny MacAskill, and features some of the most amazing bike riding I think I've seen. Here in the valley we have the nationally acclaimed Black Rock mountain biking area, so we have lots of really talented riders around, but MacAskill's street trials work is just in a different league entirely. He is scarcely believable.

The music is supplied by
Loch Lomond, a Portland-based group that plays "raw symphonic chamber pop". Trust me, that doesn't begin to describe their unique sound! They were a perfect fit for the images of the Scottish towns and countryside in which MacAskill does his magic.

Watch the video, enjoy the music. Gee, what a concept!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Where would you put it all?

If you think your logistics problems are daunting, go and read
the list of ammunition that Tam keeps in her bedroom. (Disclaimer: I don't know for a fact that it's all in her bedroom, having never been to her house. She might keep some there, some in the basement, some on the bottom shelf of the Lazy Susan in the kitchen, and who knows where else. My point is that...well, I forgot what my point is. Humor me and keep reading.)

It's a daunting list, and I understand the almost irresistible urge to collect guns in odd -- and even not so odd -- chamberings. I myself have rifles in both 7.5mm x55 Swiss and 7.5mm x 54 French MAS, so I'm not entirely free of the affliction, but beyond that my calibers are both few and common.

Though never approaching her staggering list, at one time I did have a much wider selection. Over the years I've whittled down my inventory primarily because of the headaches of storing and reloading a sufficient quantity of each. I decided that rather than reload a hundred rounds each of eight or ten calibers, I'd rather spend that same time and money reloading five times that much in each of two calibers.

Over the years I've gotten rid of a bunch of guns in calibers that I didn't shoot often. The Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag, for instance, was a heck of a lot of fun (especially with the 3" barrel on a dimly lit indoor range) but didn't have a lot of utility for me. Even more mundane chamberings, like the various .44 Magnums and Specials I've owned, went out the door; I didn't shoot them often enough to justify loading a whole bunch of rounds for them.

The last such gun was a neat little Detonics CombatMaster in .38 Super. I like the cartridge, but a sober analysis showed that it really didn't do anything the 9mm doesn't already do better. We turned it into something more useful.

I admire her list, and am actually quite envious, but it's not for me. The less complicated my life is, the more I like it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A great training weekend!

I spent this weekend up at the
Firearms Academy of Seattle teaching Combat Focus Shooting with Rob Pincus. This was the last leg in Rob's cross-country spring training tour, and a chance for me to see how he's pushed the state-of-the art forward in the year since we last taught together.

I've said that all instructors should jump at the chance to teach with (or at least observe without the distraction of being a student) a better instructor than themselves. It's especially useful to pick an instructor whose style -- and even material, in some cases -- is very different from one's own. It gives a fresh perspective and reveals the blind spots that we all develop over time.

This weekend was no exception. I came away with a whole bunch of new ideas that I hope to incorporate in my own work.

We had a good group of students, including one who had just recently bought his first gun. I always get a thrill out of watching someone go from zero to doing pretty complex tasks in just a couple of days, and this fellow really gave it his all. Two of the students were experienced instructors themselves and found that their first exposure to the advanced CFS exercises was as challenging to them as it was to everyone else.

Because the students were at various stages of ability, some came with bad habits from prior training. They weren't bad in the sense of being unsafe or dangerous but rather in the sense of not being appropriate to the task of surviving the sudden, chaotic events on which CFS focuses. We were able to have a good conversation about this important idea of context: that skills need to be judged in relation to the goal (efficiently making the bad guy go away after he's surprised you), and not to some separate and arbitrary measurement.

Marty and Gila Hayes, who run the Academy, are great hosts who bring in programs like Combat Focus Shooting in order to give their students a well-rounded view of the defensive firearms world. Even though CFS doctrine doesn't always agree with theirs, they know that perspective is important in this field. There are very few -- if any -- schools who are confident enough in the quality of their own programs to expose their students to new ideas. That's why FAS has evolved and stayed fresh over the years where other schools have become insular and hidebound.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to treat a badly sunburned elbow; apparently I missed a spot when applying the sunscreen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Root beer revisited.

It struck me last night that I'd not talked about root beer in a while, a sad state of affairs that must be remedied.

You may recall my telling you that my wonderful sister-in-law provided me with a couple week's worth of previously un-sampled brews last February. I binged for two weeks -- one bottle every evening -- but since that time I've gone back to one bottle a week, enjoyed with my wife while watching British comedies on PBS. That's all my primal/paleo diet will allow me to have!

Prior to her gift my all-time favorite root beer was Sparky's from California. The treasure trove of brews provided pushed it down to third place, but that's hardly anything to be ashamed of: it's a close race and all of my top picks are terrific.

My rankings have changed a bit since that last update. At this point I believe my favorite has become Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer. The name is perhaps a bit misleading as there is only the faintest hint of molasses taste, but the color definitely shows the ingredient. It is the darkest root beer I've seen; even the head, which is coarser but more fragrant than other brews, shows the dark blackish-brown color of the molasses.

The interesting thing is that Old Rhode Island wasn't my favorite in any one area: it's got good flavor, but from a purely objective standpoint Eli's is better. The head is good, but not the most impressive; the nose is pleasant, but there are others that are just as nice; the carbonation is darn near perfect, but so are others. In the competitive taste testing it came in a respectable tie for fourth place, but after drinking it a while it's popped up to the top of my favorites list.

It's the combination of things that makes it so pleasant, a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It's just a very pleasant root beer to drink. Everything comes together perfectly to make a great root beer experience. It’s a good illustration of why I consider the question “what’s the best...” to be inane when applied to just about anything. “What’s your favorite and why” is far more useful and appropriate.

Since I only get one root beer every seven days, I want it to be something to look forward to. Olde Rhode Island is one I definitely do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Appeals to authority work both ways. Badly.

Stan Kenton was a standout iconoclast in a field of music that is, by definition, iconoclastic. Some of his albums were a difficult experience because they demanded so much of the listener. If one is not conversant with at least a little music theory, much of what goes on flies right over the head.

I remember reading, somewhere in the intertubes, a critical review of a Kenton album from just such a person. The writer opined that Kenton's music just couldn't be any good, because none of his personnel had successful solo careers.

Aside from the sheer ignorance of that comment, it struck me that this person suffered a common logic fault: looking for some sort of validation of worth or quality based on an external factor. This fellow wasn't capable of assessing the music as it stood, but instead looked to a unrelated metric to back up his opinion (a metric that was't even correct!)

This happens frequently in all fields, to include that of shooting (specifically defensive shooting.) Rather than consider the logic of a technique or concept, many will evaluate what's presented to them on the basis of who else has adopted that same point of view. I've seen the question asked in all kinds of courses with all kinds of instructors: "what police agency/military branch/well known school teaches that?" A declarative version of the question is "so-and-so teaches something else, and he was a Navy Seal/in Desert Storm/on a SWAT team."

If one doesn't understand the material being presented, either due to not putting forth the effort to do so or because the instructor isn't taking the time to explain things, then one is left to rely on an external 'authority' to make decisions. If the context in which the authority evaluates something is different from the student's, it may not be relevant. It may not even be workable.

If you don't understand what you're being taught, and why, the burden is on you to ask questions. Respectfully, of course, but you still need to ask and get intellectual clarity on the subject. If your instructor himself uses the appeal to authority, justifying what he's teaching by telling you about the large police agency or secret military organization or champion shooter that uses it, that's not the answer you need.

When it comes to protecting your life, techniques and concepts need merit -- not endorsement.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A re-purposeful life.

I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm basically just a dumb ol' country boy. Being from a farming and ranching family (with a smattering of logging thrown in for good measure) I look at the world a little differently than people who don't share that background. Certain things that the city folk do just amuse me to no end.

One of those things is the current 'green' movement. Particularly here in Oregon, this is a Big Thing; folks flaunting their green credentials and one-upping each other over their sustainable lifestyles. Trouble is, they can't see the forest for the trees.

Take, for example, an article I saw recently about how to remodel one's kitchen. Emphasis was placed on such things as making sure the cabinets were made of sustainably grown bamboo and picking appliances based on the energy used in their manufacture. Sounds great, except the article completely ignored the very greenest solution of all: not remodeling the kitchen in the first place!

Simply continuing to use those things which have already been made is far more green, far more sustainable, than gutting the place and starting over -- no matter how much one frets over the carbon footprint of the floorcovering. Replacing perfectly serviceable (though no longer fashionable) items with new items that must be manufactured from scratch isn't ecologically sound, but don't tell that to the people who desperately want a guilt-free way to keep up with the Joneses.

If one wants to truly live sustainably, one does what us poor country folk have been doing for ages: make do with what you have. Part of that is finding new uses for old items that might otherwise be cast aside, and here's where I must admit a certain lack of ability. I'm just not all that creative; I don't look at things and see new ways in which they might be used.

Luckily there are creative people in this world from whom I can steal ideas. One of my favorite sites for repurposing ideas is called
Poetic Home; the author is more into the yuppie-chic aspect than the hardcore saving-money-while-not-contributing-to-the-landfills bit, but I'm cool with that because the ideas are pretty good.

A redneck like me reading an urban design blog -- what's this world coming to??

-=[ Grant ]=-

New article over at PDN!

My latest article for the Personal Defense Network has just been posted. It's all about how the heat and humidity of summer affects the gear we carry, and how to take care of it.

You can read it here.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Competition: it's what's for breakfast. Too bad I don't eat breakfast.

I've been chided just a bit for ignoring the growing field of revolver competition. It's not that I dislike competition, it's just that it's not my focus these days; self defense topics are what I'm most interested in and tend to write about.

When I want to know what's happening in the world of revolver matches, I read Paul Erhardt over at DownrangeTV.
This link will take you directly to his treasure trove of ICORE news and articles.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings.

Back on track - I hope: My apologies for not getting a post up on Friday. Thursday evening our dog fell ill and the very first thing Friday morning I made the half-hour drive to the vet, dog in tow. They put him under the knife shortly after arrival, and I made it back home with him in the late afternoon. We're still awaiting the results of a biopsy but at this point things are looking pretty good. Amazing how much of a scare a sick dog can be. (He now weighs in at 96 lbs. No wonder I can’t easily pick him up any more.)

Maybe not quite: This weekend I was working on a number of projects around the place. I've got three retaining walls to build this summer as well as lots of general land clearing to do (a perennial task here in the rainforest.) As I was hooking a brush cutter up to the tractor to work on the latter I managed to smash the middle finger of my right hand between a drag link and the tractor. This morning it's still quite painful, especially when typing. (When you're as bad a typist as I am you need every finger you've got!)

This just in: As I was preparing to upload this post an email from Ed Harris alerted me to a company selling free range squirrel in a can. Certainly less messy than doing it the old way, but less fun as well. (Don't think of them as cute - think of them as delicious!)

Happy Monday.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Not much going on, but I have a favor to ask.

I'm not going to blog a whole lot today, mainly because I'm busy trying to get a couple of tricky jobs out the door this week. There is something on the horizon about which I'm somewhat excited; more as it develops, but if it turns out as I hope I think a lot of you will be excited, too.

Now for that favor: do you know someone who is high up the food chain at Qwest Communications? I've got an issue with our DSL service at the house and have gotten several conflicting stories from their customer disservice folks. This morning I was greeted with a rather rude call from one of their people who grudgingly issued a rebate on my bill while simultaneously challenging me to go find someone else. Of course, he knows full well that there is no one else out here in the sticks. (There's always satellite, but from the people I've talked with it's hardly an alternative.)

I'd love to talk with someone who a) is in a position to give me a real answer, b) isn't a jerk, and c) might be able to actually cause the problem to be solved. I’ve been a reasonably happy Qwest customer up to this point, and I’m surprised they’d so easily write off a good customer in these sketchy economic times.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Relevance and role models.

A few weeks back I saw a picture of a defensive shooting instructor which bothered me. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about it gnawed at my subconscious. I know the fellow only by what he's written (and by his association with a much better-known trainer), so it isn't anything that would stem from a personality conflict, and yet the feeling remained.

It finally hit me the other day. In the picture this fellow is wearing what is apparently his 'normal' complement of two autoloading pistols, both carried appendix style: one for the strong hand, one for the weak hand. Of course he had the requisite spare magazines and folding knife clipped in a pocket.

What's wrong with that? It's a free country and people should be allowed to carry whatever they want on their person. I agree wholeheartedly. The problem I have is role modeling, and it's one that I've become increasingly concerned with over the past few years.

Many instructors (and I'd say all of those with any reputation), to include yours truly, live the instructor lifestyle: we spend a lot of time around guns and shooting ranges. What we wear, what we can get away with wearing, is not what most of the people reading this blog can wear on a daily basis.

When you live on a shooting range you get to dress casually as a matter of course. Oh, there is the occasional donning of more 'dressy' apparel for an event, but such things are few and far between (and the 'gunny' is usually cut some slack for having a suit that is not of the highest quality nor properly fitted.)

Contrast this with what most people wear to their jobs everyday. I don't know many who can get away with wearing the untucked polo shirts that are all the rage amongst the appendix-carry crowd, let alone the IDPA vests and other accoutrement that a lot of folks in this industry wear on a constant basis.

In my own family there is a hospital administrator, a media anchor, and a speech pathologist -- none of whom can adopt the kind of weaponry and the style of carry that the majority of trainers espouse. My nephew could possibly get away with wearing an unbuttoned tropical shirt over a colorful t-shirt, but only because he works for a company famous for producing such tropical shirts. The rest of my family? Not a chance. My wife’s family? No. My huge extended family (over 30 first cousins on my mother’s side alone)? Less than a handful could. My neighbors? Not in their jobs. In fact, almost no one I know outside of the shooting industry could; their lifestyles, jobs, or environments just won’t permit it.

This is important because students tend to emulate their teachers, adopting not just their techniques but also their weapons and dress. The problem comes when they spend their weekends training with what I call 'guru gear' (I ought to trademark that) but switch to their actual daily carry equipment at the beginning of their week.

Training with ultra-fast appendix carry of a high-capacity autoloader on the weekend, but defaulting to a 'J'-frame in a pocket holster during the week, is not training in context: in the manner in which something will be used. Training courses are too often set up to reward the use of specific equipment, which gives the student a false sense of their abilities with the equipment they usually tote.

Walking around a range and showing students the kind of gear they can't carry, in a manner that they can't in their workday lives, isn't encouraging them to train in context. Doing so tends to influence them, through aspirational psychology, to train with gear that is different than what they'll actually be relying on come Monday morning.

I'm not sure that's terribly responsible, and it’s why the picture -- which could be of most instructors -- bothers me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Maybe there is something at work today.

Not being triskaidekaphobic, I normally don't pay much attention to Fridays that happen to fall on the thirteenth of the month. This particular Friday, however, is a little different: it was Friday, May 13th in 1988 that the jazz world lost one of its more talented members in a very odd manner.

Chet Baker was a trumpet player of uncommon talent. His phrasing, often chided as being 'feminine', stood in stark contrast to the edgier playing of many of his contemporaries. His solos were deceptively simple to the uninitiated, but showed a sophistication that is intriguing even today. Miles Davis got all the attention, but it was Chet Baker who was more interesting to listen to.

Chet also sang, and in later years tended to do that more than play his horn. His singing was what attracted the crowds, but wasn't nearly as inspiring as what he could do with his horn.

He struggled with heroin addiction for most of his adult life, which drained him physically and landed him in jail on numerous occasions. He managed to get himself thrown out of a couple of countries, and at one point was reported to have lived on the street. Like Charlie Parker, he was known for pawning his horns to buy the drugs he craved. Despite all that, he managed several comebacks -- the most notable being in the late 1970s.

He fell to his death on this day in 1988 from a second-story hotel room in Amsterdam. The death was apparently accidental, and it was determined that he was high on both heroin and cocaine at the time.

Here are two clips -- one early, one late -- showing Chet at his best. Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Speaking of gun lust...

Last weekend I was on the range for the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long, helping out with a rifle class taught by my friend Georges Rahbani. One of the rifles on the line was an old Colt SP1, complete with skinny barrel, A1 sights and stock, and the teardrop forward assist.

I'd forgotten how light and handy those original guns were. My main AR is a mid-length Rock River with a very heavy barrel, and the SP1 felt like a feather in comparison. I was so taken (or would that be re-taken?) with the gun that I think I'm going to build a 'retro' AR-15.

There are companies that specialize in making
vintage-style uppers and lowers, the stocks and handguards are readily available, and the only issue is the skinny barrel. They’re a lot harder to find, especially if you want anything other than the 1:12 twist. I’d love a 1:8, but would settle for 1:9. Finding one of any decent quality is another matter.

If nothing else, I’m sure Pac-Nor could do something for me if I hand them enough money. It’s that last part that bothers me!

(And no, Jim, it won't be chambered in .32-20.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

This is a bad business to be in if you suffer from gun lust.

Every so often I work on a gun that I personally want, and this is one of them.

Three-inch GP100s are a little uncommon in the typical stainless, but the blued versions are downright scarce. The owner of this gun wanted something special, and I think he got it!

We started with a Super Action Job, which took the DA pull down to a reliable 9.5 lbs and the single action to 3 lbs. The muzzle was recrowned, the chambers were chamfered for more efficient reloading, and the trigger was rounded and polished smooth (with the sides finished in a contrasting satin sheen.) The back edges of the trigger were radiused to prevent pinching; a trigger stop was installed, which I adjusted to .010" of overtravel in single action.

The hammer spur was dehorned and rounded, and the sides of the hammer were finished to match the sides of the trigger.

The entire gun was dehorned (all sharp edges and corners removed) and finished in my Black Pearl blue. When it came out of the bluing tanks, a Gemini Custom fiber optic front sight was pinned into the front barrel, and to complete the two-tone look a stainless ejector rod was substituted for the blued part. The rod was satin finished to match the trigger and hammer.

To tell the truth, I didn't want to send it back to its owner. My personal stainless version seems so sterile in comparison!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Clothes don't make the man. Neither does the wallet.

Back in the late '70s and early '80s I was working in a camera store while waiting my chance to make it big as a commercial photographer (which, in turn, was my backup plan if I didn’t make it as a trumpet player. Good thing I had that major in accounting to fall back on! Ironically, I ended up doing none of those things. Life is like that sometimes.)

But I digress. The employees in the camera store would regularly hang their own work on the walls, giving a chance to showcase their talent while establishing a baseline of credibility with the customers.

One of the most common misconceptions was that our photos were good only because of the 'fancy cameras' we possessed. Despite the availability of photography classes (many of which I taught), people would routinely choose to spend gobs of money on expensive gear instead of a mere pittance on developing their skills with what they already had.

Often such people would wander back after a few months and complain that, despite spending all of their savings on the latest and greatest gear, they still couldn't get good pictures. "Why won't a good camera take better pictures?" Sometimes we could get through to them, most times not. The American belief in equipment over ability was, and still is, pervasive.

There are still folks today who do what my colleagues and I did: attempt to educate rather than encourage consumption. Over at Fstoppers, they've posted
a video about the making of some great photos using a camera many people have with them all the time: a cameraphone, in this case an iPhone 4. Watch it and see what they do with just a couple of reflectors and a cute girl.

(Think those reflectors fit the definition of ‘fancy gear’? You don't need a commercially produced item - a sheet of white foamboard, spray glue, gold foil from the craft store, and some aluminum foil from your kitchen will make a very serviceable two-sided substitute for a total investment of under $10. You can also use one of those reflective car heatshields, which come with silver on one side and gold on the other.)

The funny thing is that back in the '80s we did the same thing with a Kodak Disc camera. It wasn't about the gear then, and things haven't changed at all. Regardless of the topic at hand, opening a wallet is unlikely to make a person any better at anything -- unless the credit card is paying for an educational activity to help develop a skill.

Invest in yourself first. Always.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Containing my desire.

I've worked on many Colt Police Positives in .32-20, and it's a cartridge which has always intrigued me. I'm not one to believe that it would make a good defensive tool, but there is more to shooting than just that!

I've often thought that I'd like to have one of the long-discontinued Marlin 1894 CB in .32-20; it would make a great farm & varmint cartridge in the hotter loadings, and loaded to moderate velocities would make a dandy squirrel gun.

Tempering this is the realization that I don't need yet another cartridge to reload, having too many as it is. The thing about the .32-20 is that it's just so darned (pardon the expression) cute. I don't know why this is, but the cartridge reminds me just a bit of the scraggly tree in the old Peanuts Christmas special: "all it needs is a little love."

I’d pretty much gotten over my lust for that gun (oooooh, look at the half-length magazine tube!) in that caliber when, just a few days ago,
The FIrearms Blog put up an article on the .32-20 cartridge. Now the madness will start again; the voices in my head are already tempting me.

Pardon me while I channel my inner Shatner:!

Seriously though, it's a great article about a neat cartridge. Go read.

-=[ Grant ]=-

No blogging today.

Too much to do, not enough time to do it. Maybe later.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Mussolini had nothing on these guys.

How would you fill the blank in this sentence: "Accurate as a _____________ watch" ? If you're like most people, the word would be Swiss. To most people Swiss watches are the epitome of timekeeping, and have been since, well, forever.

But that's not entirely true. Today, perhaps, but for nearly a century the country that produced the most accurate portable timekeepers was the United States, and we have the locomotive to thank for it.

Back in the days of steam, in any given locale there would be but one set of track to carry all rail traffic. The rail line that went through town and country would carry freight in both directions, with the direction of travel being determined by schedule. There were no electric signals or radio in those days, so the only way to avoid a crash was to know who was supposed to be using a stretch of track at any given time. Thus, the rigid scheduling.

As tracks got more crowded with more trains, these schedules became tighter and tighter -- down to merely minutes in a lot of cases. The crews of the trains had to know where they were in relation to the schedule, because if they were off by a couple of minutes instead of clear track they'd run headlong into another train.

By the mid-1800s Increasing traffic meant ever tighter schedules, and with little room for error accidents increased. A head-on crash was very costly for the railroads, because not only did it destroy rolling stock and highly trained crews, it could close a valuable line for days or even weeks. Some method to increase safety had to be found.

The railroads figured out that what they needed was a better way to maintain schedules, and the only way they could do that was to give their crews better ways of keeping time. With watches being accurate to perhaps a couple of minutes per day, even a few days of accumulated error could result in death and destruction. The key, they decided, was to get better watches and make sure that they were always of a set accuracy.

The railroads generally agreed in principle, and though there were some differences early on between rival timekeeping administrators eventually everyone came around to pretty much the same standard. Thus the "railroad standard" was born.

The technical challenge was staggering. The goal was to get a watch into service that would maintain accuracy of 30 seconds per week. The best watches available at the time would generally do perhaps +/- 30 seconds per day; there weren't a lot of precision clocks that achieve the goal, let alone a portable timekeeper. American watch companies took up the challenge.

The first railroad approved watches were production models that were 'tweaked' by timekeeping companies that had sprung up to service this new requirement. Men like Webb Ball and B.W. Raymond opened firms that would manage the timekeeping for a railroad - a sort of 19th century outsourcing. They'd buy movements from various watch companies, do some work to make them more accurate and install approved dials, and then sell them to the crews who needed them. Over time the factories started producing their own railroad grade watches which met the stringent standards out of the box.

To put this into perspective, what the railroad demanded and got were watches that kept better time than some observatory clocks, were portable, could endure temperature extremes, would keep their accuracy no matter how they were carried in a pocket, and -- here's the real kicker -- were affordable enough that the working man could afford them. These were not issued, they were simply required. If you were an engineer, brakeman or conductor you were to furnish your own watch, and it had to meet 'standard'.

American watch companies were able to mass produce a product that just a few years earlier was literally a laboratory tool. There was no precedent, but they did it anyway.

That would be enough of a feat, but these watches had to be continually certified and checked by approved watchmakers. With railroads traveling all over the country that meant that this service had to be widely available, fast (a railroad man couldn't be without his watch), and (again) affordable. Watchmakers all over the country scrambled to become 'railroad approved' so that they could handle this regular and guaranteed business. (Not every watchmaker was, and it was a point of pride to those who had made the cut.)

In the space of a few years accidents had been dramatically reduced as a result of this massive system of technology and service. American pocket watches literally set the standard for portable timekeeping worldwide; though there were a few Swiss pocket watches which passed the exacting American requirements in the mid-1950s, most wouldn't. They simply weren't good enough. (Canadian railroad standards were slightly less stringent, and so Swiss pocket watches were able to make inroads into that market a bit earlier.)

Even though the Swiss were able to make a handful pocket watches which were approved for service, their vaunted wristwatches weren't able to meet standards. It wasn't until 1962, with the introduction of the Bulova Accutron, that a wristwatch was approved for railroad use.

It's really a remarkable story, even today. The railroads established unheard-of standards, spurred the development of the technology to meet those standards, and enabled the infrastructure to support and maintain compliance with those standards. It was a phenomenal technical achievement that today is barely a footnote in history.

The entire American watchmaking industry collapsed in the 1960s, and today essentially no longer exists. For that brief period of time, however, it was the best on earth.

Some background for the terminally curious:

Just what is a railroad watch? by Kent Singer
Making a railroad watch, circa 1920 by Edward Hahn.

-=[ Grant ]=-

To progress requires change, but not all change is progress.

I've been bombarded with emails over the last couple of days about (yet another) lever action rifle adorned with a red dot scope. I've heard it called everything from "tactical cowboy" to "poor man's Scout Rifle", but all such sobriquets miss the point.

The lever action rifle, as historically outfitted, needs none of that nonsense.

Please understand that I'm all for moving forward. I'm a technology junkie; I love what is new and demonstrably better. Sometimes, though, we spend a lot of time and energy to re-create something which we already had in simpler, more reliable form. Just because something is a change doesn't mean it's really a step forward.

The red dot scope affixed to the old lever action is a case in point. The lever action has traditionally been fitted with a buckhorn or semi-buckhorn rear sight, the operation of which seems to be a mystery to everyone under the age of 40. Buckhorn sights were designed for fast acquisition in poor lighting conditions, but were capable of delivering higher precision when necessary. They were the reason that the lever action was regarded as the premier reactive hunting arm, as contrasted with the bolt action which was viewed as a more contemplative, proactive piece.

Today the red dot sight is touted as being the ideal reactive tool, but in my experience really isn't any better than the good old buckhorn. It's no faster, it's no more accurate, but it does add weight, complexity, battery dependency, and a disturbing tendency to drift out of zero with no apparent provocation.

(In nearly every rifle class over the past several years, at least one of the ubiquitous red dot sights brought by students has proven itself incapable of being properly zeroed. I don't want to point any fingers, but the usual suspect starts with 'E' and ends with 'ech'. If you simply must have a freakin’ red dot sight, at least make it an Aimpoint. Rant off.)

My suspicion is that people are looking to technology to make up for improper handling of the lever action. I've watched lots of people live and far too many on YouTube, and very few (if any) illustrate an understanding of the dynamics of the gun in action. The lever action should come to the eye immediately, and one should be capable of triggering a suitably accurate round at almost the instant the butt touches the shoulder. It takes a bit of practice and requires proper handling techniques, but it’s hardly rocket science.

In the not-too-distant past we called it ‘snapshooting’, and it combines manipulation, continuum of sighting, and an intuitive comprehension of the balance of speed and precision. That can’t be gotten from a holographic sight, no matter how much money one spends.

One of these days, when I have some free time, I'll delve into this in more detail. For now I remain firmly in the traditionalist camp until a
real improvement on the old design has been demonstrated. It’s not that I’m averse to change, but if I’m going to spend the time, effort and money to make a change I want some benefit from it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the Facebook message that just popped up on my iPhone. Could a real Luddite say that?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Spontaneous deconstruction.

This case has apparently been making the rounds as of last week:

Courtesy of Armed and Amphibious.

Speculation abounds, and without the gun in hand that's all we can do. There is, however, one likely cause that has historical precedent.

S&W has over the years experienced cases of incipient cracks of the frame boss underneath the barrel in several models, the 442 Airweight Centennial being perhaps the best-known example. The cause has usually been attributed to over-torqued barrels. Whether that is the case here remains to be seen.

There could have been other flaws in construction or materials, or the ammo used may have exceeded the design parameters of the frame (more precisely, the gun's design parameters didn't encompass the entire range of projectile energies allowed under SAAMI specifications.) However, the kind of damage shown would be consistent with a catastrophic failure at the point described.

Glad the shooter was (by all accounts) uninjured.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Happy birthday, Giuseppe!

Today is the birthday of Giuseppe Torelli. The 353rd birthday, to be precise.

Torelli was an Italian composer who was a key figure in the development of the concerto form as we know it today, and particularly so with regard to the
solo concerto -- where a single instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.

Up until the mid-17th century the concertino form was the norm, wherein a small group of solo instruments was accompanied by the orchestra. The solo concerto, which today is the dominant form, put a single performer into the spotlight. It was the new thing in Baroque music, and Torelli was one of the leaders in that movement.

Torelli authored a large number of major works, over a hundred of which are fairly well known, and was the most prolific Baroque composer of trumpet works (which is why he's a hero to me!) I've never been to the basilica of San Petronio to look at his archives, but I understand it contains many works which are no longer activel published.

Here's a great video of a performance of one of his best-known works, the
Concerto in D Major for Trumpet and Orchestra. This is a performance recorded at the 15th century church of Chiesa del Carmine in Cagliari, Italy. The soloist is Giorgio Baggiani, one of the (oddly) few well-known Italian trumpet soloists. It's refreshing to hear his interpretation of this sometimes overdone piece. Note his rotary-valve trumpet, an instrument not commonly seen in this country:

Finally, a much rarer piece: the Sinfonia for 4 Trumpets, Strings, and Continuo. Torelli composed this just around 1702, and it went unpublished until after his death in 1709. He wrote it specifically for the basilica of San Petronio, and that is where this recording was made.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What happens when a competitor goes to a tactical conference?

He discovers that maybe he didn't know as much as he thought he did.
Great writeup of the NE Shooters' 2011 Summit over at The Tactical Wire.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The start of a new week.

You may have noticed that there was no Friday Surprise last week. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed there was no Friday Surprise! Apparently I simply lost track of what day it was, one of the risks of working by and for oneself.


I need your help. I'm looking to scope a few old .22 rifles, and would like to find some vintage scopes to do so. What I'm looking for are the Weaver Model A4 (4x power, 3/4" tube) or the '60s vintage Bushnell Custom jobs with the integral full-length dovetails (also 4x magnification.) Yes, I've tried the usual places (eBay, etc.) and for such a common item they just don't show up very often. They're not exactly high dollar attractions, and I suspect that's the reason no one bothers to list them on the auction sites -- not enough return on investment.

Should you happen to possess one of these, and should its optics be in excellent condition, and should you wish to part with it, drop me an email.


Speaking of .22 rifles: there are tons of inexpensive autoloading .22s in the marketplace, and if they're not Ruger 10/22s no one seems to take much notice. I've talked to more than one person who bought a Mossberg or Savage or Marlin .22 auto at a gunshow and sold it off immediately because it "didn't work right." They usually end up going to Wally World (or the local equivalent) and getting a 10/22 on sale, secure in the knowledge that the Ruger will work where those "cheap guns" wouldn't.

I've salvaged several of those gun show rejects, and with only one exception (where I had to replace an extractor) they were returned to proper function simply by cleaning the bolt. A .22 rifle is a dirty beast, and over decades of shooting the extractor and firing pin channels become caked with goo (a technical term used by gunsmiths.) By pulling the bolt from the gun and getting rid of that sandy, greasy mess you can solve 90% of functioning problems.

Cheap .22 rifles are to be celebrated, not feared. They're easy to fix and loads of fun, even if you can't buy carbon fiber geegaws for them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Someone is talking about me. Oh, wait, it's me!

Over at the Personal Defense Network,
they've put up a profile of yours truly. Based on an interview I did recently, it covers my views on teaching and the state of the training business. Hope you enjoy it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

One of my cardinal rules.

Years back I remember being taught never to shoot someone else's reloads. I violated that rule only once, when I bought some "factory reloads" from a vendor at a gun show. Luckily I didn't damage anything with the shoddy 9mm fodder, but I still have the remainder -- in a sealed ammo can labeled "Dangerous Ammo - Do Not Shoot!" -- somewhere in the garage.

That cemented my rule: no reloads that I didn't make, not even one round. Why?
Because you don't know if that one round came from this guy's reloading press.

Could I accidentally make a reload that achieves a similar level of destruction? Yes, but I know what my reloading precautions are; I take great pains to make sure that the ammo I reload is safe. No matter how well I might know the person proffering his handiwork, I have no idea if his attention to detail is similarly sufficient to keep me out of the emergency room.

I once knew a fellow who was a great guy. Well educated, important white collar job, meticulous in everything he did. One day he took some of his reloaded ammo to the range with two guns, a Glock and a Hi-Power. His first magazine blew up the gun, at which point he switched guns and proceeded to blow it up, too. No matter how bright people may be in the rest of their lives, sometimes they're just not cut out to make ammunition.

Neither you nor I want to be one of their "oopsies". If you didn't make it, or it didn't come from a well known factory, don't risk it in your gun.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did on Spring Break.

It wasn't really Spring Break, but this last weekend was our annual Sage Rat Hunting Trip to the dry half of Oregon. Sage rats, for those of you who may be new here, are actually ground squirrels, the exact species varying depending on location. Belding's Ground Squirrel is grey with a tan underside, while the Richardson's Ground Squirrel has a brown back with a buff belly. I have seen both varieties in eastern Oregon, but the Richardson's seems more common as one travels south, and the Belding's more common in the central part of the region.

Sage rats are incredibly destructive creatures. They eat seeds and grasses, and in large populations make it extremely difficult for a rancher to raise feed for other animals. Their extensive burrows drain scarce water away from alfalfa roots and stunt growth. As hard as it is to make a living as a rancher, the sage rats make it all the more difficult.

As recently as a couple of decades ago the populations were kept in check by a combination of predation and poison, but in the mid-90s legislative pressure curtailed to use of poisons to protect the raptors that feed on the squirrels. The sage rat turned from a minor annoyance to a full-blown infestation, and it's almost impossible to find a field in eastern Oregon that is free from the prolific pests.

The populations exploded almost immediately, and by the turn of the century shooting the pests had become something of a sport. Today there are sage rat shooting competitions and outfitters who put together tour packages for hunters who like shooting a lot during the day.

The preferred weapon is a rimfire rifle. The .22 LR has long been the dominant caliber, but today the .17 HMR is on the verge of taking over that title. It's not unusual to shoot 500 rounds in a couple of days (sometimes two or three times that in a good field), and the cost advantage of the rimfire - as well as its relative safety due to shorter ranges - keeps centerfire rifles at home in the safe.

We and a group of cousins go over to one of our other cousin’s ranches in an effort to help him keep ahead of the alfalfa-killing pests. Our efforts seem to be paying off, as over the past several years his fields are consistently less populated than those of his neighbors. Pest control is not a glamorous part of hunting, but when you grow up on a farm you learn that it is a necessary part.


One of the best things about being in the sparsely populated high desert of eastern Oregon are the people you meet. Folks are just friendlier out there, largely because a smaller community requires more cooperation and deference. In a large city you can get away with treating people poorly, but when everyone knows you - and you in return depend on them for your livelihood - you're going to be more polite. The occasional visitor is the beneficiary of that ecosystem.

There are exceptions, of course, and unfortunately we ran into one of them this weekend.

For nearly two decades our party has stayed at a little place called Crystal Crane Hot Springs outside of Burns, OR. The hot springs fill a small pond, and over the years it's been developed a bit: there's a bath house with soaking tubs and a series of very rustic (to put it charitably) cabins for rent. Between us we've stayed there every year for two decades, through a succession of owners (my brother actually considered buying the place at one point.)

A few years ago a new owner took over and started making changes. The accommodations didn't get any better (though they did add a wireless internet connection), but prices skyrocketed. It's the only place to stay in the middle of nowhere, and the new owners apparently figure that they've got themselves a captive audience. Between the sage rat hunters and the earthy types who travel the hot springs circuit there is a seemingly endless parade of new people to be bilked.

Pricing to what the market will bear is one thing, and I can accept that. What I can't tolerate is rudeness, and we got a heaping helping of sheer nastiness from the owner this weekend.

Suffice it to say that I have never in my entire life endured verbal abuse like we did this weekend. This wasn't the "I'm having a bad day and you're unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time" sort of rudeness, it was an active and surprisingly vitriolic attack on a lucrative long-time paying customer. At one point the proprietress said that we "must be new here", at which point my brother informed her that we'd been staying there every spring for many years longer than she'd owned the place! Repeat customers don't seem to be a concern of hers, as she blew the comment off with yet another round of harsh language.

We won't be staying there again, which breaks a long tradition for me, my brother, his son, and our cousins. If you're traveling in eastern Oregon and are tempted to spend money at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, don't. There are many other places in this state that would welcome your patronage, especially in economically hard-hit Harney County. Crystal Crane Hot Springs doesn't deserve your (or anyone else's) business.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetops.

I'm entering my second childhood, though the fact that I haven't grown up yet makes it hard to differentiate it from my first.

I mention this because our property has a surplus of trees - and I've been itching to build a tree fort, or treehouse as some call them. I had one when I was a kid (I’m speaking strictly in chronological terms), and it was a marvelous abode suspended above the creek on our farm. Now that I think about it, that was prime real estate!

As an adult (again, in age only), my desire to once again enjoy sitting in the treetops was always stymied by lack of suitable timber in the suburbs where I lived.

What's odd is that when we moved back to the country I didn't immediately put up a tree fort. I should have; things like a roof on the house and proper septic system seemed to edge it out of its proper priority. Now that I have a little time between projects, I think about how I'd build mine.

Of course I need inspiration, and I discovered that there is a Flickr pool called
"Treehouses of the World"! Excuse me, but I need to go back to, uh, work. Yeah, that's the ticket!

-=[ Grant ]=-

If you can't laugh at might be a Mall Ninja.

Last week I brought you a video that, sadly enough,
should have been a joke but wasn't. This week, we have a real joke: a delightful tongue-in-cheek sendup of the tactical knife community.

"Ferris wheel of death" - that's funny right there!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Short memories.

One of the joys of having recently turned 50 (a figure I still write with a combination of bemusement and astonishment, having
not actually grown up yet) is that I can poke fun at the younger guys. 'Younger', of course, means anyone under about 48.

I say this because last week
The Firearm Blog had a piece about a 'new' multi-projectile load that was 'developed' by Constitution Arms. My first thought was "Steve must be a youngster!", because the load is a dead ringer for ammunition that I remember seeing back in the late '70s or early '80s.

The new Tri-Plex load uses three stacked lead disks, each of which has a button on the forward side that mates with a similarly shaped recess on the back side. The projectiles are stacked in their case like coffee cups and separate in flight. The idea is to increase the size of the wound cavity and enhance the incapacitation capability of the round. The disks weigh roughly 50 grains each and are of .38 caliber (nominal.)

I'll dispense with my critique of the maker's claims regarding the supposed performance of this 'new' development, and simply point out that not much has changed with regards to either ballistics or human anatomy in the last two decades or so. You'll note that the original wasn't on the market for a very long time, and that it took a while to be rediscovered. Things that work generally stick around, or are at least remembered fondly. The triple-projectile load was neither, which should tell you all you need to know about its performance.

At the risk of repeating myself,
there is no such thing as a magic bullet. Even if you stuff three of them into the same case.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: France in spring.

Joel Meyerowitz ranks as one of my all-time favorite photographers. He jumped into the spotlight with the 1979 publication of his groundbreaking book "Cape Light" and has been going strong ever since.

At the time that book came out I was shooting mostly B&W. As I'm now known as "the revolver guy", back then people knew me as "the black-and-white guy'. I tried to embrace color as a means to interpret a scene, but couldn't get past the concept that it was merely a recording tool. For me, B&W was the expressive side of photography; color was what you took boring vacation pictures with.

I’d been exposed to the work of acknowledged masters of color such as Gordon Parks and Ernst Haas, but neither really said much to me. Meyerowitz's work, on the other hand, resonated deeply. It changed the way I looked at color, even though my work and his look nothing alike. His work had feeling, capturing how his scenes felt rather than merely appeared.

Now, at 73 years of age, Meyerowitz has embarked on a new project. He's gotten a commission for yet another book, this time on Provence. He's spent a lot of time in Tuscany (and did at least one book there), but apparently this is his first time seriously photographing the French countryside. It will no doubt be a great set of images.

He and his wife Maggie are
blogging about the project. Their blog is only a couple of weeks old, but I'm already hooked on charting their progress. Naturally it's liberally illustrated, and it will be interesting to see what makes it into the book.

That is, if he can just stay away from the hot water tap. (You'll have to read the blog to find out...)

-=[ Grant ]=-

I hate doing tune-ups, too.

Regarding organization, I'm like the guy with his feet in a bucket of ice and his hair is on fire: "on average, I'm comfortable." On average, I'm organized.

My organization goes in streaks. I'll get the urge to clean, arrange, and organize my workspace, and once done it slowly - over a period of time - degrades once more into chaos. At some point the organization mania comes back, I fix everything up, and the process repeats itself. The cycle takes months.

I'm in the organization part of that cycle, and it hit yesterday afternoon: I finally got tired of digging my way across the shop to find the lathe ("I know it's here somewhere.") I started by clearing some of the workbenches of their layers of stuff: at the bottom of one pile were some new FedEx boxes I'd gotten from their depot perhaps five - maybe six, who knows - months ago.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon inventorying bags of commonly used parts that had simply been dumped in a bin on arrival. (If I need a spring, for instance, I go to the organized parts drawers to see if I have one. If not, I paw through the incoming parts bin. I always find what I’m looking for, but the routine chews up precious time. And it’s annoying.)

The great part is that once I'm finished the shop will seem newly spacious. There are times I think I need to move to a bigger location, then I clean everything up and I find space I didn't even know I had! That's the payoff, but unfortunately it never lasts. Sooner or later the clutter returns, and I'm back to scouting new digs. Won't I ever learn?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find the broom and dustpan. I think I saw them over by the lathe...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Paging Dr. Ayoob.

We need 100cc of Factual Information, stat!

This splashed onto several blogs last week, and it's just too good a train wreck to ignore. Do not be mislead: the advice this guy gives is a sure ticket to a jail cell. The ‘term clueless loon' comes to mind...

For years people like
Mas Ayoob and Marty Hayes have been educating people on the realities of the legal side of self defense, but apparently this guy missed every freaking memo - or, perhaps as likely, willfully ignored them. Rest assured that if you follow any of his advice, you will go to prison.

Don't be this guy; learn about your rights and responsibilities, how shooting cases are investigated, and how claims of self defense are tested in court. The information is out there,
it's readily available, and it can keep you from making stupid mistakes.

(This video also serves as a perfect illustration of why you should never take medical, legal, or self defense advice from anyone who hides behind a pseudonym on the 'net.)

-=[ Grant ]=-


I read recently that a minority of the grand kitchens that are a staple of suburban houses are actually used to cook. By 'cook', I mean making food from scratch, as opposed to heating up pizzas or 'making' cookies from frozen pre-made dough. Given the pressures of careers and overburdened elective activity schedules, people don't take the time to cook let alone learn how to.

When I grew up that wasn't the case. Way back when (exactly how far back I'm not saying, in order to protect the innocent) schools had classes where students could learn to cook. Yeah, most of them were girls, but in the ‘70s you could find guys taking those classes too. Even if they didn’t avail themselves of those courses, most kids had moms at home who could teach them the finer points of preparing for human kind’s most basic need: to eat.

As it happens one of the girls I knew in high school had learned to cook, and she was very good at it. She got married and had children, which further necessitated the need to cook. Seems those offspring-things like to eat; who knew?

Unlike most, however, she wasn't content with a small collection of favorite and endlessly recycled recipes. She was always trying something new, always expanding her repertoire. Her recipe file became less like a cute box and more like a four-drawer lateral filing cabinet. And that was in 1995. I shudder to think what it's like now, but if you'll recall the final warehouse scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" I think you'll get where I’m going with this.

Thanks to the magic of the interwebs she's now sharing some of her bounty with everyone.
In The Kitchen With Mummsie is her new recipe blog, and though only a couple months old she's off to a roaring start. Her recipes have always been delicious; take her version of roasted chicken, for instance. It’s quickly become one of my favorites (though my wife substitutes raw honey for the sugar; I hope she’s not offended!)

I just wish our paleo/primal diet allowed us to indulge in her
Overnight Banana-Walnut French Toast. Oh, the agony!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another self defense blogger appears on the horizon.

I keep my ear to the ground for new self defense blogs, and a colleague recently alerted me to this one:
Kicking Sacred Cows. Written in a distinctive style, the author says that the blog is about change and evolution in self defense and martial arts training.

It presents some interesting ideas. I'll be checking it regularly.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The sacred cows of Austria.

Seems that Todd Green over at caused a bit of a stir last week with
his report that the newest Glocks aren't quite as reliable as we've come to expect. While his sample size (of two examples) isn't statistically meaningful by itself, it parallels many other reports of failure-to-feed and failure-to-eject problems with Gaston's latest models.

I've personally seen it happen to students in class, and I've received reports of many others with the same issues. Glock built their reputation largely on reliability, but it appears they may be resting on those laurels just a wee bit. Here’s hoping that they address the problems in a timely manner.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Brian Lanker, 1947-2011.

Brian Lanker, Pulitzer-prize-winning photographer, died last week at only 63 years of age. He lived here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, in the college town of Eugene.

Brian started out at the Topeka Capital-Journal, where in 1973 he shot a surprisingly controversial essay on childbirth. At that time there were almost no published pictures of a child actually being born, which might seem odd today. This was 1973, however, when a father's presence in the actual delivery room was still a rare occurrence. It was a time when mothers went in by themselves, and a nurse or doctor would walk into the waiting room to announce "Mr. Smith, you're the father of a beautiful little girl!"

That essay - featuring the woman who would end up becoming Brian's wife - netted him a Pulitzer Prize and catapulted him into the 'big leagues.'

After earning his Pulitzer Brian was hired at the Eugene Register-Guard as their Director of Graphics. His tenure changed the face of photojournalism across the country, affecting the ways in which much larger newspapers approached the use of visual information. What your paper looks like today can be traced directly back to the work that Lanker did in what many would think to be a ‘backwater’ of journalistic ability. He also mentored younger photographers, and there are a number of good photojournalists working today who got their start in his department.

Of course his tenure at the paper didn't stop his photography. He continued to do assignments for magazines, corporate advertising, and along the way published several books of his work. Brian was versatile enough to jump from shooting the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (two years in a row) to doing “I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America” with equally superb results. Very few photojournalists have that kind of ability (though they all think they do!), but Lanker did. He did it all, and did it well.

You can read more about his incredible legacy at the
New York Times Lens Blog (which includes a great retrospective of his work), an interesting personal viewpoint from his lawyer published in the Eugene Register-Guard, and see a small sampling of his work at his own website,

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday Wanderings.

Sorry for not having a post on Monday. If you tried to check in, you probably found that the site was down. My hosting company, Dreamhost, experienced a system-wide outage on Monday which took down all of their client sites as well as their own. My site came back up, sporadically, sometime Monday afternoon. It wasn't until Tuesday night, however, that I could actually get access to upload anything. Everything seems to be back to normal (knock on wood.)

First things first: On Monday I taped an interview with Doc Wesson for the
Gun Nation Podcast. He'll be playing it tonight on a LIVE streaming podcast episode he's calling "The Wheel Of Love". It starts at 9:pm EDT, and you can listen live at this link. He'll even be taking call-ins (which gives me an idea...)

Yesterday Breda over at
The Breda Fallacy posted a little rant about lightweight snubnose revolvers for women. Tam picked it up this morning. I read both and agreed with pretty much everything they said, but I had this odd feeling I'd read it all before. Oh, now I remember! That's because I've written the same thing. More than once. More than twice. Great minds? Well, I don't know that I can claim to have one, but they certainly do. (If you listen to the Gun Nation podcast tonight, you'll probably hear me tell Doc that the snubnose revolver is an 'expert's weapon', not something for a beginner.)

In a previous life I dealt with police reports on a fairly regular basis, and I was always amused at the language and syntax in the writing. One Deputy, who was forever on 'the outs' with his supervisors for not playing the game, was once reprimanded for using the phrase "I watched him...” instead of the more official-sounding "I observed as the suspect..." This memory came back when I read a
Miami Herald article about a Florida Highway Patrol firearms instructor who was shot in the derriere by her supervisor. The official report was that the supervisor was 'inspecting' the weapon, which is apparently FHP-speak for "screwing around with". Were I in charge I'd be sorely tempted to allow Trooper Mellow Scheetz ('Mellow'? Seriously?) a penalty kick at her supervisor's privates, just to bring home the lesson, then do some remedial safety training that doesn’t allow for the “but I thought it was unloaded!” defense.

That's it for today. Be sure to check out the podcast this evening!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Stuff happens. Don't let it happen to you.

I've been a little peeved this week at the news outlets. While the Middle East is destabilizing and governments here at home experience financial and leadership deficits, the main story for many 'journalists' has been of the most shallow nature: the mental and emotional short-circuiting of a two-bit Hollywood denizen whose initials are 'C.S.'


In light of the incredible earthquake in Japan last night, the distraction that the Friday Surprise exists to provide seems a tad shallow as well. Today, I'd like to instead remind everyone that it's not always all about the gun.

Sometimes, it's about the first aid kit.

Sometimes, it's about the shortwave radio.

Sometimes, it's about the camp stove.

Sometimes, it's about the water purifier.

Sometimes, it's about the emergency generator.

Sometimes, it's about the stored food.

Sometimes, it's about the solar battery charger.

I know that your neighbors laugh at these things; heck, there are probably more than a few readers of this blog who laugh at such things. To those people I simply ask: if that happened here, would you still be laughing?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Cleanliness, judicially-speaking.

Some time ago Force Science News told the
story of a police officer named Dan Lovelace. He shot and killed a suspect who tried to run him down and was almost convicted of second degree murder. Prosecutors argued that he lied about the shooting, and one of their sterling pieces of evidence was the location of a single piece (Lovelace fired one shot only) of expended brass.

One. Single. Piece. (Note that I'm not commenting one way or the other about Mr. Lovelace's guilt or innocence, only on the reliability of certain kinds of evidence that might be entered into any 'righteous' shooting investigation.)

Force Science recently did an interesting followup
study about the patterns of ejection from autoloading pistols, and basically found that one piece of brass told nearly nothing about where the shooter might have been during an altercation.

As I've said before, and as I'll continue to say, there is no such thing as a 'clean' shoot - at least until a jury says there is. It behooves you to understand all of the things that can affect the evidence presented, how they’re interpreted, and most importantly the counter-arguments to neutralize them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Gun show blues.

My wife and I attended a largish local gun show this past weekend. We used to hit every one that came within driving distance, but over the last few years I've been having trouble working up any enthusiasm for them.

First is the fact that I work with guns every day. No matter how much I enjoy the work, I'm really not all that interested in doing it during my off hours. I'd rather be playing with my ham radios, working on projects around the farm, listening to music, or simply sleeping. A gun show is too much like work.

Second, I get tired of looking at rack after rack and table after table of guns. After a while my eyes simply glaze over and I don't see anything. This weekend it happened about two-thirds of the way through the show, and at that point it became more of an endurance contest than an enjoyable activity.

Third, there's just not much I really want. I'm only looking for a few items - none of them are revolvers, incidentally - and I can't seem to find any of them. I'd like to find an Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge; found a lot of twelves, but no twenty. I've mentioned before of my desire for a Mannlicher-stocked rifle in some 6.5mm chambering (though I'd settle for .308 or .358 Winchester.) I saw exactly one, a real Mannlicher in .270. Very pretty gun, possessing all the grace and finish typical of the marque, but I don't want a .270!

Was it a total loss? Well, I got to spend time with my wife, which is always a highlight for me. I ran into a few people I don't see all that often. Oh, and I did pick up a cheap laser pointer so ShopKat would have something to chase.

I guess there are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: All steamed up.

On more than one occasion here at the Revolver LIberation Alliance I've griped that all of the 'cool stuff' seemed to exist back east. ("Back east", for a child of the west such as myself, might mean anything from ‘east of the Mississippi River’ to ‘all lands to the right of the Rocky Mountains’. Take your pick.)

I've lamented about the old subway tunnels we don't have, to the gigantic industrial machines that are absent from our part of the world. It turns out, though, that there is a very cool place darned near in my backyard: the last operational vintage steam powered sawmill in the United States lies right here in my own Willamette Valley!

Hull-Oaks Sawmill was built in 1938, a time in which steam was still a most viable way to power any large machinery. The main steam engine which powers the gigantic bandsaw blade, is an Ames Iron Works twin cylinder that was built in 1906. It's still running strong, and according to the mill's owner suffers fewer breakdowns than any other piece of equipment in the mill. So famous is this particular engine amongst steam aficionados that there are companies selling
working models and kits.

There is a
great story about the mill at Lots of pictures! There are even multiple videos on Youtube of the mill in action - like the one below. Yes, I'm planning to visit the mill as soon as the weather warms up!

-=[ Grant ]=-


A self defense article for you to read.

I've mentioned Ohio-based self defense instructor Kelly Muir before. She's on the forefront of teaching self defense not as a series of barely related skills, but as an integrated response.

She's got a
great article up at the Personal Defense Network, one which I highly recommend that everyone read.

Her remarks about physical fitness resonated with me. Thanks to lots of heavy chores around the farm my strength level is pretty good, but because of my general lack of aerobic exercise (despite daily woodsplitting) my endurance isn't what it should be. According to my physician I'm also 15 pounds heavier than ideal, which is a lot on a short guy like me.

I think losing the extra pounds just became a higher priority.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A slightly different perspective on personal safety.

I'm sorta 'into' guns. If you're reading this, I suspect you are as well. Because of this interest it's tempting to focus on the gun part of safety preparations to the exclusion of everything else. No, I'm not talking about knives or canes or even empty hand skills, but rather the more mundane stuff like CPR and first aid and fire extinguishers.

Let's be honest: it's more likely that you're going to need first aid skills than you will need to perform a sub-one-second reload, but how many of us put the same effort into CPR that we do to pulling a trigger? I'd wager that most of us don't, and that's a misallocation of resources. (Time is a finite resource, believe it or not.)

Please take some time to read
this article at the Washington Post, regarding the importance of first aid kits at the recent Tucson shooting.

Do you have a trauma kit? Do you truly know how to use it? Do you practice those skills as assiduously as you practice shooting? If not, why not?

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Hiding her light under a basket.

A couple of years ago one of those self-storage concerns in Chicago auctioned off the contents of one of their units. This is not an uncommon occurrence throughout the country; when a storage unit's rent goes unpaid, the storage company opens the unit and auctions off whatever they find. (I went to one such auction, and when the unit was opened it was discovered that the renter had disassembled an entire automatic car wash and stuffed it into the space!)

In this particular case the unit had been rented by one Vivian Maier, who - as it turned out - had died in April of 2009. Ms. Maier had no heirs, no one who apparently knew of this rental, and so her belongings went to the highest bidders.

As it turned out Ms. Maier was something of a photography buff. In this unit were hundreds of thousands of negatives and slides, and hundreds of rolls of exposed but undeveloped film. Several people bought several lots of this stuff, and there the story might have ended were it not for the fact that Ms. Maier was, by all appearances, a talented photographer - a
very talented photographer.

The bulk of her collection ended up in the hands of two different gentlemen: John Maloof, described as an "eBay entrepreneur and real estate agent", and Jeff Goldstein, who apparently has a background in art galleries and shows. Maloof and Goldstein have become crusaders of sorts for their desire to expose Vivian Maier's talent to the world.

NY TImes LENS Blog has a pretty good article about the discovery, along with some of her images, while Maloof's Vivian Maier Blog and Goldstein's Vivian Maier Prints site show some more of her work, along with their takes on her life and legacy.

And what work it is! Her photos are very compelling and show a photographer who is in full control of her craft. Technically and artistically, her work is as good - better, in many ways - as photographers who have made much bigger names for themselves. Her pictures are worth examining closely, because they really are a find.

There is, however, one nagging question in the back of my mind: was she for real? There's something I can't quite put my finger on, something that leaves me with doubts about the poignant picture that has emerged of Maier - unmarried, no children of her own, living out her life as a nanny while maintaining a secret identity as an ace street photographer. The thing that comes to my mind as I look through her photos is that they’re
too good.

It’s not just the images. Her whole story just seems too good to be true, so like a movie plot that it could almost be a very slick viral marketing campaign for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster. That she looks a lot like actress
Nancy Kulp, best known for her portrayal of Miss Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies, only intensifies the doubt.

Goldstein and Maloof, of course, insist that everything is on the up-and-up, but it's worth noting that they both stand to profit from their ownership of her work. I'm not saying that's their motivation (at least, not their sole motivation), but the possibility must be considered.

In the meantime, there are the photographs: undeniably good, wonderful to peruse. Whether Vivian Maier took them or not, they're still terrific. Go and have a look.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's spring cleaning time.

Over the next week or so I'm going to be deleting some of the older posts here. Don't worry, nothing important is getting dumped, but I am getting ride of the superfluous stuff: a lot of the Friday Surprises, news announcements that are no longer news, and that sort of rot.

The reason? The blog files are taking up far too much space on the server (hey, this costs money!) It's also taking longer to upload each new post, as the server doesn't calculate things like the tag cloud on the fly; it's generated as the files are uploaded. This means that each day's upload gets slower than the last, and I'm impatient!

The plan is to do the housekeeping on a rotating basis, so that at least the last six months are maintained in their entirety. After that, the less useful or noteworthy stuff will go into the
bit bucket.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some thoughts on the FAL rifle.

I have more than a passing acquaintance with Fabrique Nationale's
Fusil Automatique Léger, more commonly known as the FN-FAL. I've owned a number of examples, from 'pre ban' milsurp guns to commercial examples to kit guns built on commercial receivers. Over the years I've fired literally tens of thousands of rounds of 7.62x51 through those rifles, many of them in training venues, to the point that at one time I'd become something of a local curiosity: "hey, that's the guy who shoots .308 all the time!" Putting eight or nine hundred rounds of full-power thirty-caliber fodder through a rifle in a weekend, multiple times, will do that for you.

In addition to my own experience I've been pleased to make the acquaintance of four gentlemen who actually carried the FAL (or its inch-patterned variants, the L1-A1 and C1-A1) in service of their respective countries - at least two of whom were presented with the opportunity to use them in live fire against people who were (presumably) trying to kill them.

From all this I've come to a conclusion about Dieudonné Joseph Saive's most enduring design, and it's sure to displease the romantics in the audience: the FAL ain't all it's cracked up to be.

From an ergonomic standpoint the FAL is from a decidedly earlier era in arms design. The safety/selector is difficult to operate from a firing grip, while the horizontal-style takedown lever has a disturbing tendency to unlatch the receiver if one does try to operate the safety from a firing grip. The rear sight on most examples wobbles, making it difficult to attain decent precision from the gun, while the horrid triggers (which even with the best gunsmithing never get really good, just less horrid) don't help matters.

The gun gets very warm - hot, actually - in any sort of sustained fire. Shooting a fast-paced 60-round qualification course, which I've done more times than I can remember, makes the gun unbearably hot. (Unbearably as in "I've sustained burns from trying to hold onto the gun". It reminds me for all the world of the original HK P7, which was notorious for frying digits in as little as four magazines of rapid fire.)

The worst part of the FAL, and this is sure to annoy fans of the gun, is that it's just not all that reliable - certainly nowhere near what people make it out to be, largely because of flaws in the piston design. If the gun is not assembled exactly right the piston will bind in the extended position and keep the bolt from closing. This is because the front of the piston is carried on the barrel, in the front sight block, while the back of the pistol protrudes through a snug hole in the upper receiver. If those two pieces aren't perfectly aligned the piston travels at a slight angle relative to the bore and binds at the most inopportune time, the return spring not being strong enough to work it loose. This is particularly the case after there has been some carbon buildup in the gas block, which reduces the tolerances in the system's expansion chamber.

The piston is also subject to bending, causing the same problem. If the gas pressure isn't properly adjusted for the ammunition lot, too much gas pushes the piston too hard and bends it slightly. When that happens, the piston once again binds in the frame boss and brings the gun to a sporadic halt in chambering.

I realize gas piston AR rifles are all the rage these days, but anyone who's had to fight with an FAL gas plug in order to do the necessary cleaning of the piston will understand why I continue to be less than enthusiastic about the things.

The FAL is not a tremendously accurate gun, at least in its off-the-shelf military configuration. I've shot only one FAL that could be justifiably called 'accurate', and it was a heavy-barreled Israeli 'FALO' once sold by Springfield Armory as the SAR-48. It is a wonderful gun, will easily keep up with the best AR-10 pattern rifles, and the owner is quite unwilling to sell it. (Of course I've only been asking him for the past 15 years, so maybe one of these days he'll tire of my blandishments and agree to sell the thing to me!) Other than that one, all of the examples I've shot have been 'rack grade'. Not bad, certainly suitable for infantry work, but not something that really interests me in a Whelenist sense.

Over the years the weaknesses of the FAl design have prompted me to divest myself of many examples that just didn't measure up, none of them proving to have the combination of reliability, ergonomics, and accuracy that I want. Even my favorite FAL was only average in accuracy, but it least it ran - and with a FAL, that's half the battle.

One veteran of a military force known for their pragmatism once told me "there's a reason we dumped the things." Much as I like the FAL - and I do - I understand the sentiment. Living with a FAL must be a little like living with a British sports car; I'd say that it’s like living with an Italian car, but the Fiat convertible I once owned was more reliable than the average FAL!

I'm sure there are those who will disagree with me, but I've got a lot of trigger time behind a lot of different incarnations, and they all share the same faults. The fact is that the more you shoot a FAL, the more flaws you'll expose. It was a great design in its day, but that day has passed.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Getting to the root of the matter.

I have the world's coolest sister-in-law. A couple of weeks back she gave me the perfect gift: 13 bottles of rare (in Oregon) root beers, brews that I'd never tasted before. For the last 13 evenings I've savored a randomly selected bottle, carefully comparing them to my benchmark favorite suds, the hard-to-get
Sparky's Root Beer.

What happened? Well, Sparky's - as wonderful as it is, and as much as I like it - has become my third favorite. I feel like such a tramp.

The top spot in my root beer favorites list is now held by
Jackson Hole Soda Company's 'Buckin' Root Beer'. It has a very intense pure root beer flavor, a very traditional taste. It's one of the few root beers in this batch that had a strong nose; creamy and rich. When the bottle was gone I found myself wondering how hard it would be to hijack a semi truck and head to Wyoming. It takes a special root beer to make me contemplate sitting in a Peterbilt for 20 hours straight!

Number two on my list is
Capt'n Eli's Root Beer. Personally, I've not encountered many products from the state of Maine, and if you'd told me a few weeks back that they knew how to make good root beer I'd have laughed in your face. That was then, this is now. Capt'n Eli's, like Buckin', is a traditional root beer with strong sassafras and vanilla flavors, but without the wintergreen hints that give Buckin' (and Sparky's) that little extra 'something'. The aftertaste of Capt'n Eli's is what sets it apart: five minutes after the last sip my mouth still tasted like root beer. Hmmm...I wonder how long it takes a semi to drive to Maine from Oregon?

Sparky's sits in a comfortably secure third spot, with its unique wintergreen and vanilla overtones giving it a slightly different take on the traditional root beer. Its only major failing is a rather weak carbonation, which makes the taste just a little flat compared to the others.

Fourth place brought a couple of newcomer that tied with an old favorite.
Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer is an old recipe, and it's still unique because of the cinnamon and spice notes in the normal root flavor. (Caveat: the stuff in the cans doesn’t taste the same as what comes in the old-fashioned bottles. Different recipe, perhaps?) Kutztown Birch Beer tied with Dad's because of it's earthy, fruity quality. Birch beers are a close cousin of root beer, and Kutztown is the best of the breed I've yet tasted.

The other tie was
Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer. It has a very slight hint of the molasses in its name, and the color and the head are incredible. Very sweet brew with slight anise and citrus tones, this is the only root beer on my short list that can be said to have 'bite', thanks to a very slight citric acid tang. Of the beers I’ve tasted, this is one of the most memorable.

Yes, I'm serious about my root beer!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Presented for your consideration. Again.

I've been pretty clear over the years about my belief in the myth of the 'clean shoot'. It's a phrase that comes up with amazing regularity in various forums and in gunshops all across the country: as long as your shoot is 'clean', nothing else matters.

As I've pointed out, the people who decide if your self defense act was 'clean' sit on a jury. Whether you think it was a 'good' shoot, whether I do, whether your instructor does, or whether the anonymous guy hiding behind a pseudonym on your favorite gun forum does, is completely irrelevant. The people who decide if you were in the right, if what you did and how you did it was reasonable, are the men and women on your jury.

The problem is that it can take a lot of time, money, and anguish to get to the point where they decide you're clean, time/money/anguish that could have been saved had you paid some attention to your situation ahead of time.

Yet another cautionary tale in how things can go from bad to much, much worse
comes from the life of one Gerald Ung. It's obvious that he did some stupid things, but according to internet experts all over those things shouldn't have mattered if his shoot was 'clean'. They did matter, and it took some time and money and stomach lining to get a jury to exonerate him.

Don’t be ‘that guy’.

(Another illustration of why I never take medical or legal advice from someone who won't use their real name.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I'm dealing with this week.

Our illustrious legislature, in their zeal to protect all Oregonians from any perceived harm, has
introduced a bill that would essentially eliminate gunsmithing in this state.

I'm hoping that by the time counsel is done with it, it will die on the floor. But given the make-up of our new legislature, heavily populated by prohibitionists of the left-wing variety (who hate guns, as opposed to prohibitionists of the right-wing variety who hate fun) it's possible that it may make it further into the machinery.

(In Oregon, the legislature is made up of committees. A committee will sponsor a bill, which can be written by a committee member or by a citizen. The bill then goes to the legislative counsel, which does the actual drafting. From there it goes to the floor, where it is officially introduced. In this case, the Senate President would assign it to a committee, which holds hearings and makes amendments and votes to send it back to the floor. Then it gets passed around, voted on, read several times, then goes to the other chamber where the process is repeated. Luckily there are enough nooks and crannies into which a bill can fall, but some weird stuff has made it through the process.)

With any luck we can derail this thing before it gets up to speed.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

One of my favorite places to buy quality tools is the
Harry Epstein company. They've been in business at the same location in Missouri for over 80 years, and though I've never been there (in fact, I've never been to Missouri) I enjoy shopping through their retro-themed website.

This isn't their first foray into mailorder, however. Back in the days before the internet, when Al Gore was still getting his privileged education at a private boy's school in D.C., Epstein's had a catalog from which one could order all manner of things: baseballs, wrenches, hatchets, rifle scopes, cleaning supplies, and all the other stuff a well-stocked homestead might need.

They recently scanned their 1965 catalog and
put it up for viewing. (If you prefer, you can download a .pdf copy.) If you remember the 1960s, sit back and reminisce. If you were born after that time, read it with the understanding that the federal minimum wage that year was a whopping $1.25, making the surplus Enfield on the back cover worth very close to two full days of labor.

So much for reminiscing!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some more thoughts regarding 'force on force' training.

The limitations of the equipment that we discussed in the
previous installment aren't the only things that affect the utility of force-on-force training. The way that drills and scenarios are approached is important as well.

I'll use two terms to describe broad categories of FOF training. Drills are man-against-man tests of mechanical or physical skills: drawing the gun, moving off the vector of the attack, and so on. Scenarios, on the other hand, test decision making and information gathering skills. They may also include a physical/mechanical component, but their primary purpose is to test judgment.

At the top of the list, as it always should be, is safety. FOF training demands a sterile, segregated environment. Any course that doesn't enforce both should be avoided at any cost. The risk of accident is too high to trust anything other than a rigorous, and rigidly enforced, exclusion zone for live weapons. That means all weapons: firearms, knives, chemical and electrical weapons. The only weapons allowed inside the FOF training area should be simulated - and that goes for the instructors, too! If you encounter a FOF course where the students are required to disarm but the instructor(s) aren't, that's your cue to leave. Vociferously, I would add.

As I mentioned last time, a drill or scenario which continues past the first shot is suspect. As I’ve pointed out, the lack of ballistic effect on both ends of the muzzle means that multiple shots from a simulated handgun have little to no value. If the scenario or drill is set up so that the gun serves as a marker, a device to signal force has been used and how successfully placed that force might be, then there is no need for more than one shot. If, on the other hand, it is set up so that some predetermined number of shots have been fired or - worse yet - unlimited shots are allowed, then its value as a teaching tool must be questioned. Remember that any simulated munition has value only in that it provides first round accountability; after that, it's just recreation.

It’s common to see FOF drills that attempt to teach something which is affected by a student's foreknowledge. For instance, a student knows that he's in a FOF class, he's got a loaded sim gun in his holster, and he knows that the drill is testing his reaction time or ability to do a specific task. His anticipation of the need to shoot is sky high. If the technique works, all it shows is that the student could do it when he had advance warning of the event. Would it work if he wasn't already primed for action? The trouble is that this can't be tested in FOF, because there will always be that anticipation. FOF drills must be carefully selected so that the skill being developed or tested isn't negatively affected by that anticipation. They also can't be used to justify training that benefits from anticipation, a fault I see all too often.

I've seen FOF courses that employ students as both attackers/antagonists and defenders/protagonists. With the possible exception of what might be akin to a martial arts flow drill, where the same pattern is repeated multiple times to build familiarity, I don't see the point in letting students fight things out. The antagonist in a FOF drill or scenario is the agent by which the protagonist, the student, learns whatever lesson is being considered. I don't see where the learning occurs if both parties are ignorant of the lesson.

Allowing two students to go at each other, no matter how well coached, seems to invariably devolve to the the equivalent of a dodge ball game. This is exacerbated by the lack of ballistic effect which we discussed last time. Students as counterparts works; students as teachers, I'm not at all sure of.

Scenarios that test decision making are a natural use of FOF. Here, too, care must be taken to ensure that there is actual instruction. One flaw I see is that scenarios are designed with arbitrary outcomes, and the student spends his or her time not evaluating the environment for what it actually is but rather for what the instructor wants it to be. In other words, the scenario becomes a puzzle where the student is figuring out the instructor, not the situation. This is very common in 'tactical' shooting matches, and is part of the reason that even the best stage design isn't all that realistic. The scenario has to be designed so that the situation, the interactions, and the conclusion are all plausible.

That's easier said than done! It is very difficult for a scenario designer to avoid bringing his or her idiosyncratic biases into the design. Scenarios shouldn't be puzzles and shouldn't be difficult to figure out, but it seems that many people are intent on making them so. If the student is forced to examine vague and misleading clues in order to arrive at the 'correct' solution, how does that in any manner relate to a plausible real life interaction? It doesn't, and that's the point.

At the same time, the people playing the antagonists in scenarios have to be good actors. A thug on the street behaves in ways that we all recognize (or should recognize), and the person playing a thug needs to be able to replicate that behavior. If he/she can't, then the protagonist is back to figuring out the puzzle rather than reacting to a real stimulus. The actors must be well practiced and disciplined - again, another strike against students being used in such roles. (Heck, it may even be a big strike against many instructors. I know how a crackhead acts, but I also know I’m not a good enough actor to recreate one realistically enough to teach a student what such an interaction is like!)

This is true even in drills. The antagonist already knows what the student is going to do, or at least has a very good idea. That foreknowledge allows him to act and react in ways that a real attacker couldn't or wouldn't. This skews the results of the lesson, and requires that the instructor both take the role and be able to play it as 'straight' as possible.

It sounds like I'm not a fan of FOF. That's probably true on some level, because I don't think it has the wide application that so many think it does. I think that it has some use in very specific circumstances, but not as a general teaching tool. Its utility is probably in well thought out scenario training, and less so - perhaps much less - in simple mechanical drills. To be valuable it has to be carefully conceived and implemented, something that doesn't seem to happen all that often. It's not the ultimate test of defensive preparation, as some contend, but properly and sparingly used it can be valuable.

If, of course, it's done with care.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some thoughts regarding 'force on force' training.

Force-on-force ('FOF') training has become all the rage in the last couple of years, with some instructors making it a hallmark of their courses. Everyone, it seems, is buying Airsoft pistols and touting their FOF credentials. Supporters of the concept have done a very good sales job, as I routinely am asked if my courses have a force-on-force component.

Such questions remind me so much of my college days working in a camera store. People would walk in, look at a lens, and proceed to ask how many elements it contained. That's a useless bit of information to anyone other than an optical engineer, but these folks had been told by someone, somewhere that it was an important question to ask. They didn't understand the question, and certainly didn't know how to interpret the answer, but by golly they were going to ask anyway!

I've played with FOF a bit (yes, I bought the requisite gas-powered Glock lookalikes.) Understand that I don't claim to be guru at FOF, nor am I a super-tactical-high-speed-low-drag-tier-one-operator kind of guy. I am, however, fairly intelligent, reasonably well informed, and possess an inexorably analytical mind. I can truthfully claim to be a good diagnostician - figuring out how things work and, more importantly, why they don't. I also don't believe everything I'm told, no matter how well sold it may be.

What I see too often with regard to FOF promotion is a certain lack of critical thinking about the concepts, and it starts with the equipment used. FOF naturally is limited to the ability of the equipment, so it's important to know what the gear does and does not do.

Whether AIrsoft or simulated munition, FOF guns all do one thing: to the extent that they mimic a gun you actually own, they give you first shot accountability. That's it. Read that again, because it's important to the discussion. This is all they do!

When you discharge an Airsoft in a drill or scenario, where the first round hits will probably be pretty close to where it would have hit had you used a real gun (within the range limitations of the pellet, of course.) In other words, if you used a simulated Glock 19 and you regularly carry a Glock 19, you can be reasonably sure that the first simulated round would be representative of a real round.

Understand that this is only true if the guns match. If you use the Glock Airsoft in FOF training, but actually carry a Beretta 92, the value of that first round has been diminished. You don't know for certain that you would have shot your Beretta just like you shot the Glock simulant.

Beyond the first round, the predictive value drops to near zero. This is because of a lack of ballistic effect, from the standpoint of both the shooter and the shootee. Simulated rounds don't have the recoil and muzzle rise of a real gun, so each additional shot can be made much faster, with greater precision, than can real rounds; the shooter's balance of speed and precision is skewed. If the technique you're learning in FOF only works when you can discharge 10 rounds in under a second, how valid will that be when you're using a real gun with which you can't?

Just because a person can land multiple, fast shots with an Airsoft does not mean that he'll be able to do so with a real gun. At the very least, he'll shoot a real gun slower and with greater deviation than a simulated gun. Any conclusions drawn from the second, third, fifth, or ninth shot with Airsoft or Code Eagle has virtually no predictive quality with regard to a real gun with real ammunition.

The first time I picked up an Airsoft and started doing drills this became clear. As I was going through the exercises I thought "I'm kicking butt!" I quite literally put down the Airsoft, picked up a real Glock, and tried the same thing on the same target. Surprise! I couldn't shoot nearly as fast, with nearly the deviation control, that I could with the Airsoft gun. What, then, was the value of those extra simulated shots from the standpoint of the physical shooting skill?

The lack of ballistic effect is important on the other end as well. The pellets - be they Airsoft or paint capsules - don't stop people. There is no effect on the target other than a small sting (if that), and there is no cumulative damage. This means that where a real bad guy might start slowing down with the first shot and might be on the ground with the third, the simulated opponent can continue full speed, full power charges through the tenth, twelfth, or fifteenth round. The rejoinder, of course, is that one never knows how many rounds it will take to stop an attacker (true), so one should keep shooting until the threat goes away.

This also is true, but we have to go back and reconsider the lessons from the preceding paragraphs: you can't shoot a real gun that way, and the target won't react that way, so where's the learning happening? It's a vicious circle: with simulated guns, the more rounds you fire in an attempt to be 'realistic' the less 'realistic' the exercise becomes.

This is the basis for my belief that, in most cases, force-on-force drills which continue beyond the first shot are probably not of great value. They may be fun, may be exciting, but one has to critically examine whether they're really teaching us anything that is relevant to an actual encounter.

Next time we'll look at the structure of FOF drills and scenarios, and some of the issues they raise.

-=[ Grant ]=-


My buddy Hunter Dan sent this to me - a video about the phenomenon of 'frazil ice' in Yosemite National Park. This is so cool (pardon the pun.) Yet another thing to add to my list of places to go and things to see. Have a good weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wrong Woman now has a blog!

Kelly Muir at
Wrong Woman has put up a blog to discuss the unique aspects of this new self defense program. Called Power Play, I can already tell that it isn't going to be your average self defense blog: her third post talks about serial manipulators and the language they use.

It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. This is something men don't normally deal with, and thus I'd never really thought about such nuances of interpersonal conflict. I've read studies that put the number of sexual assaults where the victim knew her attacker at something on the order of 80%. Now I've got a little better idea of how that happens.

It's this kind of insight that's going to put the holistic approach of Wrong Woman on the map. Mark my words.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Doing good work.

I've never been much on television commercials; I routinely ignore them, and the most annoying I mute. Such is the case with Larry Potterfield's ads for Midway USA. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a satisfied Midway customer and will no doubt continue to be, but it's just that I can't stand Mr. Potterfield's voice. He annoys me to no end.

However, I think it's worth celebrating the fact that he is among the most generous figures in the shooting industry. He, his wife, and his companies have donated huge sums to the shooting world over the last few years. The latest is a
$1 million grant to the National Wild Turkey Federation for a new youth shooting sports program they have planned.

A million dollars. That's a lot of scratch by anyone’s standards, and it's not the first gift he and his wife have given out - to all kinds of shooting activities and organizations. Ol’ Larry may not make the best pitchman in the world, but he's doing right by the shooting fraternity.

Good on you, Larry.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: What matters to you?

David Friedman is one of my favorite bloggers. His posts, though few in number, are always thought provoking. (Just what you'd expect from "an academic economist who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field.")

This is a few months old, but it's worth reading. He wonders if, in the coming years, we will see the rise of yet another division in society: the real and the virtual. Which matters most?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Check out my latest article!

My newest article, "
The Myth of Situational Awareness", is up at the Personal Defense Network.

This one is sure to raise a few eyebrows. In it I question the value ascribed to situational awareness as it is taught in most self defense courses today. Note that I don't suggest that it has zero value, only that it has a different value than what most believe. It's that difference which affects how and what we should train.


-=[ Grant ]=-

Comprehensive self defense is becoming a reality.

This is such an exciting time in the field of self defense study! More and more reality-based courses are being offered, and we're finally starting to see true integration of all the pieces of the defensive puzzle: armed and unarmed, lethal and less lethal.

One the newest and most innovative approaches comes to us from Columbus, Ohio. Kelly Muir, an accomplished martial arts instructor, has put together the first truly integrated and comprehensive self defense course for women. Called
Wrong Woman, it teaches intuitive skills across the entire range of response.

The course starts with a Fundamentals class, where the students learn the basics of intuitive skill development. From there they can choose to take classes tailored to their particular interests: unarmed response, use of chemical/electrical tools, and firearms. Many of the classes are offered in both basic and advanced form and there's even a class devoted to risk assessment and decision making.

It's a great new building block approach to personal defense, where everything that's taught has the same basis and progression. As the student's life evolves she can simply 'plug in' the course that best applies to her current or anticipated situations.

My wife, herself a longtime student of defensive shooting, is anxious to take Kelly's course and is just waiting for her to come to the west coast! Those who are fortunate enough to live anywhere near Ohio should get to Columbus and
enroll in Wrong Woman. Be sure to check out the Wrong Woman Facebook page, too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The remains of the day.

Last week I linked to an article about an eery graveyard behind a sanitarium, and fellow gunsmith Todd Koonce wrote to remind me of the Library of Dust here in Oregon. It’s something we all know about, but sadly tend to ignore.

The Oregon State Hospital, the current 'PC' name for what was once the Oregon Asylum For The Insane, once boasted a cemetery of their own where unclaimed patient remains were buried. Around 1913 the hospital, occupying property close to downtown Salem, decided that they needed the real estate being taken up by those graves. They had the bodies exhumed, cremated, and stored in copper urns bearing a distinct resemblance to paint cans.

These urns were put on shelves in the hospital's basement, added to over the years, but largely forgotten until the mid-1970s. That's when public outcry resulted in the urns being properly buried in a special crypt on hospital grounds. This is Oregon, though, where it's tough to find a dry basement; water infiltrated the crypt, destroying hundreds of paper labels and corroding many of the cans. The patient's remains - some 5,000 of them - were exhumed again, and the corroded and sometimes dented copper cylinders were put back on shelves in a small room in the hospital.

BoxVox has a great story and many of the best pictures of these morbidly fascinating objects.

-=[ Grant ]=-

"It's got electrolytes!"

A Bad Idea is not magically transformed into a Good Idea simply by virtue of a rise in the MSRP.

When reports of a Smith & Wesson .410/.45 revolver began making the rounds on Monday, my initial reaction was great skepticism. Then it was confirmed by a
trustworthy source, and finally showed up on S&W's website. It’s real. Unfortunately.

If truth in advertising laws had any teeth, they would require this thing to be called The Brawndo.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's party time!

Well, for some of us, at least.

This is SHOT Show week in Las Vegas, and you'll notice that I'm not there. I'd love to be, but I've got far too much work to do to justify taking the time off right now. Well, that - and the fact that I spent more money than I should have last year. There are times when being independently wealthy would be a welcome burden!

I'm not alone. At least one well-known gunwriter is also on the sidelines, snowed under by a combination of work and deadlines. That doesn't mean that either of us have to be out of touch with the goings-on, however.

Last year I finally found a legitimate use for Twitter: following what was new and unusual at SHOT. I found out about a number of products that I didn't see reported anywhere but in people's tweets. I also know people who are prowling the show floor, and they're usually kind enough to forward the interesting stuff to me. That is, when they're not attending all of those private parties and digging the latest gossip. Which I'd be doing if I weren't working.

Next year, I'm going to pack up and go regardless of my workload. Of course I said that last year, but this time I really, really mean it. Just like last time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Things that make you go "hmmmm...."

A cemetery behind a former lunatic asylum is unnerving enough, but one in which most of the graves are...unmarked? Now that's just weird.

Picture courtesy of

Creepy. Read about it at Deena Warner’s
Odd Staunton blog.

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: This one's for you, Gail!

A new idea in AR-15 lowers.

A large percentage of accessories produced for the AR-15 comes under the heading of "tacticool" - fashionable, but of dubious value. Every once in a while, though, someone comes up with something that screams "now why didn't I think of that?"

AXTS Weapons Systems has introduced a slightly modified AR-15 lower that addresses the issue of manually locking the action open. With a normal AR, to lock the bolt back you have to find and manipulate a tiny bolt catch with your left hand, while operating the charging handle (designed for left-handed use) with your right hand. Whether you're trying to clear a double feed under fire or just locking the action open as an administrative task, it's a juggling act. If your hands are a little on the small side, like mine are, it's even more awkward.

The A-DAC Lower Receiver adds one internal part: a plunger that goes between the magazine catch and the bolt catch. When the magazine catch is pressed, the bolt catch is activated. With this system, locking the bolt back is simply a matter of pressing the magazine catch with the right hand (like we always do) and operating the charging handle with the left hand (which we always do.) The procedure is now consistent with all the other ways that we normally handle the AR, and consistency is a big contributor to efficiency.

The Firearm Blog has an article and a video about the lower. (The comments show a certain lack of comprehension: the magazine catch is not transformed into a bolt release, only a bolt catch, and the gun still functions completely normally for those people who aren’t aware of the modification. From a training standpoint, I don’t see a downside. I do agree with the rants about the stupid 'action' music, but then again most of the shooting shows on television do the same cheesy thing. I'm talking to you, 'American Guardian'!)

My only concern is whether the plunger can get bound by oxidized lubricants or dirt, thereby activating the bolt catch inadvertently. Time will tell; I'll give the system a year or so, and if this concern proves to be unfounded I might just buy a couple for myself.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A few updates.

- I wrote a few weeks back about
a new feline inhabiting my workplace. Some disagreement exists regarding the name of said feline - I think "ShopKat" is perfect, my wife prefers "Cali" - but the little furball is already doing good work. Mice infiltration is down, and she's managed to snag one or two rodentia herself. This is in stark contrast to the lazy cat at home, who spends all of his productive time curled up in front of the woodstove.

- Several people have asked if I managed to find a line of
shirts I like. So far readers have suggested two good candidates: the Overland long sleeve from Triple Aught Design ($$$ but made in the U.S.), and the Safari Shirt from Long Grass (made in South Africa, but not so much $$$.) I’ve not actually ordered either yet, but I'll get around to trying them in the next month or so. Thanks for all the suggestions!

- My wife came home with a big surprise recently:
Sparky's Root Beer, elixir of the deities, is once again available in Oregon. I can't tell you how happy and excited I was to find that I now have semi-regular access to my absolute favorite brew! I say semi-regular, as it's only carried by the local speciality food retailer, but the fact that I can get it at all is cause for celebration. My fellow Oregonians, gettest thou to your local Market Of Choice and try Sparky's for thyself!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: "What's a bathing suit?"

We learned this week of the death of actress Anne Francis; a little more than a month ago Leslie Nielsen passed away. What did the two have in common? Why, the great 1956 science fiction flick "Forbidden Planet", of course!

Forbidden Planet is one of my favorite films. As a kid I liked the adorable Anne Francis, the special effects (remember that this was made more than fifty years ago, but still holds up pretty well), and Robbie The Robot (I had a battery powered Robbie toy when I was growing up; too bad I destroyed the thing during adolescence.) As an adult I appreciate the story line and philosophical questions the film raises (and, well, Anne Francis. Some things never change.)

If you've never seen this classic film, here's the trailer to give you a taste. Have a great weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The back-slapping starts in 3...2...1....

On Monday I got an email from a reader who alerted me to this
press release from the Discovery Channel. Seems they're premiering a new reality series about a Louisiana gunsmithing concern and their day-to-day activities building, selling, appraising, researching, and shooting a wide variety of firearms.

Titled "Sons of Guns", it starts on Wednesday, January 26th. (Hmmm....trying to take a bite out of the Outdoor Channel's "Wednesday Night at the Range", are we?) It sounds interesting, and I'll no doubt tune in - unless it turns out to be a sensationalistic train wreck like Top Shot, of course. In that case I’ll curse their waste of my extremely limited television viewing time!

Though I haven't checked the intertubes for confirmation, I suspect that there's a lot of talk about how this is somehow proof we're winning "the culture war" around guns. Don't get me wrong, I think mainstreaming gun ownership and use is a good thing, but I've always been uncomfortable with the whole premise of the "gun culture." I don’t believe that we should be Balkanizing our country by creating our own subculture, but instead educating the rest of the country that responsible gun ownership and use is an indelible part of our shared
American culture.

(If one accepts the notion that a tool can and should become the identity of a societal subset, then why isn’t there a "cast iron frying pan culture" or a "socket wrench culture”?)

Folks, when ESPN finally figures out that POKER IS NOT A FRICKIN' SPORT and instead gives Todd Jarrett and Julie Goloski-Golub a show of their own, then I'll celebrate. Until then I'll simply watch and be happy that someone is catering to our uniquely American interests.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My virtue remains unblemished.

Welcome to 2011! I hope everyone had a happy and safe New Year's celebration.

Whether you're just tuning in, or you've been here for a while, I think it's worth pointing out the three things that make my blog different from every other in the firearms/self defense field.

First, I long ago made the commitment to writing a large percentage of original content. That is, things that I wrote myself, as opposed to taking from others. My goal was (and still is) to provide information to my readers that they may not find anywhere else. Many bloggers simply link to other's work, perhaps adding a few comments of their own along the way. Don't get me wrong - sometimes that commentary is insightful and adds to the enjoyment of the material. It's just not what I want to provide to my readers.

I want my readers to come away informed. Sometimes I'm forced to resort to linking to other's original work, namely because I don't have time to write lots of original content each week, but my goal is to have at least half of what you read be mine alone. I think over the past few years I've done a little better than that.

Second, I'm not attempting to monetize this blog. Monetization is the act of leveraging ones readers to generate income, and it's the big thing these days. There have been books, DVDs, websites, podcasts, and - yes! - blogs devoted to earning big money by blogging. Supposedly the way one does this is to write lots of short posts linking to other's work (bringing us back to that whole original content thing), which in turn attracts readers to the blog - the end game being to derive ad revenue from their visits.

That's just not 'me'. You'll notice that there aren't any Google ads, pop-ups, or resource-hogging Flash animations here. That's because I'm not trying to fund this blog; it rides for free on the website to which it's attached. The website carries the expense, leaving me free to deliver original, informative content in a way that doesn't try to extract money from my readers. Someone who just wants to read my scribblings can do so in peace and without ever venturing into the rest of my site.

Finally, I don't "hit whore". Hit whoring is the practice of writing something about a currently popular topic that raises the passions of the reader and virtually dares him/her to visit and respond. Entries sprinkled with phrases and keywords calculated to appeal to search engines also come under this classification. This is a very popular technique to use when monetizing a blog: one simply links to someone else's content, adds a few lines of emotional appeal to one side or the other, formats it in such a way as to mimic the likely terms someone might Google, and presto - the hits are a'comin!

For instance: this year you're going to see a lot of hit whoring related to the centennial celebration of a certain autoloading pistol invented by a certain gun designer who lived in a certain western state known for having a large population of a certain religious group. If I were hit whoring, I'd mention all of those proper names (and the gun's nomenclature, and its caliber, and the certain self defense teacher from a certain other western state who retired as a commissioned officer from a certain well-regarded branch of the military to open a certain training facility whose symbol was a certain black bird and who was famous for popularizing this gun during the '70s and '80s.)

Once I'd mentioned that gun, and it's designer, and it's caliber, and everything else a reader might Google, I'd make it hit bait by writing such things as this certain gun being "the best EVAHH!!!!!", and this certain designer "the greatest EVAHH!" and the caliber with which it was most identified as being "the best EVAHH!!!!" This would be carefully crafted to appeal to the myopic, die-hard fans of the gun/designer/caliber, and impressionable youth who can't spell.

I could also engage in reverse hit whoring. That's where I do the same kind of name-dropping, but instead of fawning praise I write things like this certain gun being an inefficient, unreliable example of design-by-committee (the gun's manufacturer and end user having significant input into the design) or how the gun's inventor was a hack with limited talent (after all, the guy couldn't even design a revolver.) That is, if I wanted to engage in such nonsense.

You'll kindly notice that I've not mentioned anything or anyone specifically, and because I was careful not to use any common search terms or proper names in any of the preceding no one is going to find this original post by Googling. That means I'm not a hit whore, which means I can't monetize my blog, which accounts for the fact that I'm not rich!

So much for virtue.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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