© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

The biathlon rifle: an object of desire!

The Winter Olympics are in full swing, and shooters have one event to watch and cheer: Biathlon. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and easy to follow. The bonus is that it uses really cool rifles!

Vera Koo: a role model for young shooters.

Do you know the name Vera Koo?

If you have daughters, you should. This lady should be their role model.

Smith & Wesson introduces two 9mm revolvers!

Smith & Wesson has announced several new revolvers to be shown at SHOT Show, and two of them are creating some buzz on the ‘net. Why? Because they’re chambered in 9mm!


Ruger announces two new revolvers!

Just in time for SHOT Show, Ruger has added a couple of new revolvers to the line.


A true story about my Ithaca Model 37 shotgun.

A number of years ago some friends and I belonged to the same gun club. One day the club was holding a “shotgun speed steel” match, and my friends talked me into going. The only thing I had with me was my old Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge and some birdshot (perhaps #4 or #6, I don’t really recall.) My Ithaca had a Modified choke tube installed, which is what I normally keep on the gun.

We got to the match and found lots of reactive steel targets (as opposed to the fixed plates typically used for Steel Challenge-style handgun matches.) The crowd was a serious one; most of the competitors were running ‘tactical’ autoloading shotguns in 12 gauge, usually 3” magnums, with extended magazine tubes and fiber optic sights and all that kind of stuff. My little wood-stocked 20 gauge Ithaca looked grossly out of place.

I was especially hesitant when I watched the competitors taking on a Texas Star. (For those not familiar, the Texas Star is a large 5-spoked wheel, perhaps 5 or 6 feet in diameter, with a round steel plate at the end of each spoke. When hit properly, the plates drop off of the spoke; the wheel, which runs on bearings, is then out of balance and starts to turn. Every time a plate is knocked off, the opposing weight is less and the remaining plates are able to cause the Star to spin faster. The key is to knock all of the plates off as fast as possible, so that the wheel doesn’t have a chance to really get up to speed. They can be frustrating!)

This particular Star was set (if memory serves) about 30 feet from the firing line. One by one the shooters took on the Star, and each of them — despite their powerful, high capacity shotguns — had a great deal of trouble knocking the plates off. You could see that they were hitting, but the plates were very resistant to being dislodged. One fellow had to reload his long magazine tube twice before finishing!

You can imagine my trepidation when I stepped to the line with my poor old 20 gauge. The buzzer sounded, I shouldered the Ithaca and started shooting. BANG—clank—BANG—clank—BANG—clank—BANG—clank—BANG—clank. Five shots, five plates, in what would turn out to be the second-fastest time of the match!

The reason I beat the other shooters wasn't entirely my skill; rather, it was the poor choices they'd made.

There is only one goal in a steel shooting competition: speed. Hit your targets faster than the next guy, and you win. Their gear and techniques are all chosen to gain an edge, to shave tenths of a second off their time. It doesn’t always work out that way!

First, all of the other shooters picked 12 gauge guns with cylinder (or improved) chokes. The idea was to give a wider shot pattern so that even if their aim is a little off while transitioning between targets, they could still get a hit. That’s not a bad idea for fixed plates, where any hit counts, but when you’re dealing with reactive targets the ball game is different: you need a certain amount of shot on the target to move the thing. Any less, and the targets won’t go down.

This is where my more tightly-choked Ithaca had its first advantage: the shot column was smaller in diameter but the result was that more pellets made it onto the plates. When I hit them, they went down. Yes, I had to take an ever-so-slightly bit more time to make sure that I was solidly indexed on the plate when I pulled the trigger, but it was faster than missing!

Because of the looser shot patterns of the cylinder-choked 12 gauge, many of the competitors had chosen magnum-length shotshells to get more pellets into the air. Their thinking was that more pellets would compensate for the spreading of the shot column. That obviously didn’t work, and the increased recoil of those rounds caused them to slow their shooting pace. The result is that their misses (because of too few pellets hitting the target) were coming much slower (because of the increased recoil.)

In contrast, the smaller but denser shot charges of the 20 gauge meant that most of the payload hit the target with less recoil, allowing me to get on the next target faster than the guys with their hard-kicking magnum 12 gauges. The small-framed Ithaca was much lighter and more maneuverable, even with its extended magazine tube, so I was moving between targets faster, too. Combine that with solid hits and my performance wasn’t all that remarkable after all!

(Oh, the best part? One of the other shooters was heard muttering under his breath “maybe I should just buy an old 20 gauge”!)

Are there lessons for defensive shooters in this story? Yes, there are — but I’ll save those for another day.

-=[ 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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

So, just what is the .357 Magnum like in a confined space?

A number of years back my wife and I served as coordinators for the defensive pistol matches at our gun club. Our matches were somewhat similar to IDPA, but without the endless rules to make everything "fair." We enjoyed a cadre of participants that were very involved, and loved to build sets for stages.

(Some of them got a little carried away; one particular gentleman once designed a stage that featured cardboard cows. Yes, cows, complete with udders. He's a very creative sort.)

We held our matches on our club's metallic silhouette range, so we had only a large open field in which to set up stages. We'd usually set up four "open" stages (you could see the entire thing), but also liked to set up one secret stage - the participants couldn't see anything until they were actually in it. The way we usually accomplished this was to hang large tarps on portable stakes to block the view, but there were other approaches.

One particular match several guys got together and constructed a dark tunnel. The premise was that you were walking down an alley at night, and targets would swing out or come charging toward you. It was a technical marvel, and all contained in a narrow structure made of wood and black plastic ("visqueen.") As I recall, it was about 8 feet wide, 8 feet tall, and perhaps 30 feet long.

Since the premise was darkness, the entire thing was sheathed in that black plastic - including the roof. It took quite some time to build, so the guys had been on the range the day before to do the construction. When we arrived the next morning to start the match, we found that it had rained overnight. That wasn't a problem, because the black plastic roof had kept everything dry. What we didn't think about were the large puddles of water on that plastic.

Since I was the match director, I got to shoot first. I was using a Ruger SP101 with the 2-1/8" barrel and fire-breathing 125grain JHP magnums. The range officer and I entered the structure, closed the door, and the buzzer went off.

I saw the first target and put two rounds into it, and immediately heard peals of laughter behind me. Outside of the enclosure, the other shooters were becoming hysterical.

I finished the stage (as I recall, there were three more targets) and exited the enclosure to find the laughter had diminished only slightly. People in the crowd told me that my first shot had created such a large amount of pressure in the enclosure that the sides were pushed out and the pooled water on the roof had been thrown twenty feet into the air. The effect, they said, looked like a Looney Toons cartoon of a stick of dynamite exploding in a barrel.

In the heat of the moment I didn't really notice the concussion, but the range officer mentioned that he didn't want to follow me so closely any more!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

I've been collecting conspiracy theories for the ammo shortage, and I recently heard a great one that supposedly came from a local gun store: FEMA has been buying ammunition companies, then shutting them down to eliminate all civilian ammunition sources.

One needs an awful lot of foil for a tin hat that big...


Uncle and I have something in common: here in Oregon, our legislature also passed a "no texting" law. We went further, though - we added that you couldn't use a handheld cel phone at all. Then we enacted $2 billion of new taxes and spending in the state with the second-highest unemployment in the nation. We're number 49! We're number 49! Go team!


I'm really excited about the rifles
Savage has been introducing lately. I like this concept, though I'm not at all wild about the buttstock:

I'm more intrigued by
this one:

If it's as accurate as expected, I may have to own one. (Sure, I could build one myself, but I'm too busy doing guns for other people. Remember the parable about the shoemaker's children?)

Now, if we could just get them to cease doing business with H-S Precision...


Dr. Helen brings us the story of a woman who fought back against her knife-wielding rapist. Read the comments - some insightful, and some very amusing (in a train wreck sort of way.)


From the Irish Times comes news that the powers-that-be want to ban "practical" shooting (i.e. IPSC, IDPA.) The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, had this to say:

“It’s simply not in the public interest to tolerate the development of a subculture predicated on a shooting activity which by the liberal standards of the US is regarded as an extreme shooting activity." He said any cursory research on the internet showed that these activities were marketed as being at the “extreme end” of handgun ownership and were “anathema to the tradition of Irish sporting clubs”.

Hmmm...such preoccupation with America leads me to suspect his national pride is still smarting from the
shellacking his team took back in 1874.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Facing your demons.

I used to love shooting steel. The plates dropping, the loud "clang" from a Steel Challenge target - no matter what the venue, reactive metal targets are just addicting. This addiction, I discovered, can be broken - even if you don't want to!

A number of years back I was shooting a Steel Challenge-type match. On one stage I was watching someone else shoot when a piece of bullet jacket bounced back from the steel plate, sneaked around my safety glasses, and caught the corner of my eye. (Mine was not the only injury that day - my buddy Hunter Dan suffered a leg cut from shrapnel, and another fellow caught a piece on his cheek.)

My physical damage was minor - lots of blood, though no permanent damage - but the psychological impact was greater than I could have imagined. You see, I'm somewhat paranoid about my eyesight to begin with; always have been. I don't like the thought of anything heading straight for my eyeball, let alone touching it. (In the old days, when glaucoma exams meant a little pressure gauge touching the cornea, having my eyes checked was absolute agony.)

This close call with the jagged piece of copper left me more than a little skittish around steel targets. Ever since then, regardless of size or distance of the target, shooting a steel plate causes me to blink just as the sear releases. (The problem never occurs on paper targets, only steel.) I can't help it, and I shouldn't have to point out that it makes hitting the target more than a little challenging!

Early last year I resolved to cure this affliction. I'm lucky to have a range on my own property, and last year I acquired a self-resetting, half sized Pepper Popper. Whenever I go out to shoot, I make it a point to do so on that target first. I shoot it repeatedly, and with every shot I consciously force my eyes to remain open.

The first few times I tried this were pathetic; no matter how hard I concentrated, my eyelids always won by doing what they're designed to do - protect my eyes. As time went on, and the round count increased, it became easier to keep them open, though I still have to do it consciously as opposed to subconsciously. (The latter will only occur when my mind has been retrained to accept the idea that shooting a steel target is perfectly safe, and that nothing will happen to my precious eyesight. I'm still working on it.)

I could have just ignored the whole issue and simply avoided shooting steel targets, but a) it's not practical - they show up in the most unexpected places, and b) it's not very much fun. Instead I decided to address the issue, and I'm hoping to be in shape to finally shoot a steel match again this summer.

Whether sports, music, or martial arts, if all you ever do is practice stuff that you've already mastered you'll never make progress. When you go to the range, work on those things that you don't do well. By facing your demons with your eyes open and brain engaged, you can eventually conquer them.

-=[ Grant ]=-